On Sikaris, anything desired can be had, but only for a price…
Written by Khylaren
Release 9 Jul 2003
The corridors of Enterprise were quieter during Gamma shift, Harry Kim observed as he led his wife and daughter to the holodeck, the latter still yawning and looking half-asleep. He grinned as he caught her in another yawn, and Katrina returned the grin sheepishly. His wife, as usual, looked fully rested and beautiful as always, and he privately envied her ability to function so well on fewer hours of sleep.
He waited patiently until his small family had arranged themselves comfortably on the simulated couch before opening the hyperlink transmission. Several seconds passed before a familiar looking older couple materialized before the Kim family, looking as if they were merely sitting across the room from them.
"Happy birthday, Dad!" Harry said warmly, smiling at the older Kim sitting next to his mother.
"Thank you, son," John Kim replied, obviously pleased. "It’s good to see you again. Annika, Katrina, you are both looking as beautiful as ever."
"Thank you, Grandpa," Katrina smiled happily. "Happy birthday."
"Happy birthday, John," Annika replied. "It is good to see you looking well also."
As his father exchanged greetings with them, Harry noted that, despite his obvious pleasure at seeing his son and family, John Kim looked tired. His face appeared more lined than usual, more wearied, and his brown eyes less clear. Harry frowned, noticing that the gray in his father’s hair had retreated even more since the last time he had seen him, leaving it almost completely white. (Also mention his father’s frailty)
"How have you been, Harry?" Mary Kim asked, looking over her son in a critical, motherly fashion. "You look tired."
"It is 03:30 in the morning our time," Annika said with a small smile, giving her husband a fond look. "He is entitled to look somewhat tired."
Mary looked briefly surprised. "Harry, you didn’t have to call us this early." Her voice held the lightly scolding tone he remembered so well from his childhood.
"I wanted to catch you before you left for Aunt Cecil’s," Harry replied by way of explanation. "Give her my love for me when you get there."
"We will," John said with a smile. "We sure miss seeing you on the holidays."
"I wish we could be there with you to help you celebrate," Harry said a little wistfully. He couldn’t help but wonder how many more birthdays his father would live to celebrate. It was a sad thought on what should be a happy occasion, and he firmly pushed it away.
"Well, we know you would be here if you could, Harry. It’s just so wonderful that we can talk like this," his mother said. "Not like the last time, eh?"
Harry chuckled, remembering only too well how hard it had been when Voyager had been lost in the Delta Quadrant, and how thrilled his family had been when they had finally been able to establish communications with home.
Katrina fidgeted on the couch, waiting for the right opportunity to break in.
"The girl looks like she’s about ready to explode, Harry," Mary Kim scolded. "What’s on your mind, honey?"
Annika looked at her daughter’s impatience disapprovingly and sighed. "She has something for you, John."
Harry’s father looked both surprised and pleased, and he favored his only grandchild with a warm smile.
"Mom! I wanted to tell him," Katrina frowned, not wanting her mother to steal the moment from her.
"What is it, Katrina?" her grandpa asked kindly, watching the exchange between the two.
"I made you something in art class for your birthday," Katrina dropped her head, suddenly shy. "I can’t give it to you until we return, but I thought you might want to see it."
"Of course, I’d love to see it," he replied, his eyes squinting as he tried to see what his granddaughter held. Harry looked on with pride, seeing the small painting, a portrait, and a fairly good one, of his parents. The girl had a good eye for detail for such a young age, he thought.
"That’s beautiful, Katrina," John said honestly, obviously pleased to see her flush at his praise. "I look forward to hanging it on our wall here at the house."
The conversation between the Kims turned to recent family events back at home, and Harry was surprised to find out his youngest cousin was expecting her first child. It was moments like these that reminded him strongly how much time had passed, and as his father and mother spoke of yet another cousin’s engagement party, he was reminded again of how much older his parents were looking, particularly his father.
They’re not the age I always remembered them being, he thought, noting again the lines on their faces and the gray in their hair. When did they become old? It dawned on him that if his parents were older, then naturally, so was he. He had to admit, the thought didn’t sit well with him at all.
"You look worried, Harry," his mother said, bringing him out of his reverie. "Are you sure you’re getting enough sleep?"
"That’s your mother’s way of saying you look terrible, son," John teased. "I think she won’t be happy until you’re back home and she can make sure you eat a decent meal and get a good nights rest."
"Annika and Katrina take good care of me, Mom," Harry managed a grin, banishing his previous gloomy thoughts.
"I know they do," his mother replied, regarding her daughter-in-law and granddaughter with love.
It was nearly time for Harry to head for the bridge, so the Kims reluctantly said their goodbyes to each other. With smiles and well wishes, and tears of farewell on his mother’s part, the transmission was ended and a new day aboard Enterprise begun.
Quag fiddled with the sequins on his official robes while he waited impatiently for an answer to his call. He sat on a holographic representation of an elaborate, throne-like chair, his staff of office clutched firmly in his left hand. He was irritated and insulted by the wait, and was prepared to take it out on the individual who had the poor taste to make him, a Grand Proxy of the Ferengi Alliance, wait for a reply to his holo-conference call.
A low, musical like chime informed him that the call had been accepted on Ferrenginar, and he quickly straightened up from his usual slouch, his right hand resting on the golden headpiece of his staff. He arranged his features into an arrogant scowl and waited for the small-lobed secretary to appear. His scowl fled when he saw who answered his call.
"Brok?" he sputtered in surprise. "I wasn’t expecting you to answer."
The Ferengi across from him smiled, flashing pointed teeth. "My secretary is currently busy counting my profits from my latest business venture. How are profits for you?" he inquired solicitously, folding his hands across his considerable stomach.
Quag smiled broadly. "Profits are good," he lied smoothly. "You cannot believe the opportunities to be had out here."
"Really?" Brok said skeptically.
Quag stammered, hiding his embarrassment. "Things have been…proceeding well, I’m pleased to say. Did the Grand Nagus receive my report on how instrumental I was in negotiating the Talaxian/Haakonian treaty? I…"
"Yes, Quag," said Brok wearily. "The Nagus is well aware of that. Just as he’s aware of the fact that you failed to secure any exclusive deals for the Ferengi Alliance with both parties."
"That," Quag countered, "was not my fault. The captain is so very persistent in his demand that I not compromise their precious Prime Directive that I was robbed of any opportunities to make any private business ventures outside the auspices of both governments."
Brok nodded with the appropriate amount of sympathy. "That is unfortunate."
"I must speak with the Grand Nagus. He could demand that Captain Kim allow me to conduct my business as I see fit!" Quag thumped his staff on the floor for emphasis. "I’m not part of this so-called diplomatic effort to gain allies," he said with a well-practiced sneer. "I’m the representative of the Ferengi Trade Alliance, after all."
Brok shook his head. "Grand Nagus Rom will not see you, Quag. He has other business to attend to and you’re very low on his list of priorities."
"What?" Quag was sputtering again. "But…the mission…"
"The Congress of Economic Advisors met yesterday," Brok informed him with a smug smile. He continued with a voice dripping with sympathetic concern, "They are greatly disappointed in your lack of progress towards gaining profitable technology or information. Taron on the Majestic has already secured a very lucrative trade contract with the Tak-Tak. What have you to show for your efforts, Quag? You’re supposed to be Ferenginar’s representative on the flagship of the Delta Fleet. This mission was supposed to be your opportunity to redeem yourself."
Quag sat back, feeling as if the air had been knocked out of him.
"You are officially persona non-grata until you can show something of value, something to offset cost of sending you on this venture." Brok terminated the connection abruptly, and his image winked out of existence.
The Grand Proxy shook slightly, his stomach tied in knots, as he tried to think. He had been out of favor with Rom already, hence being selected for the ‘rare and glorious’ opportunity on board the Enterprise, out in this profit-forsaken Quadrant, as far from Ferrenginar and Rom as possible. But Quag had been determined to make the opportunity a profitable one, and hoped that with the light-years separating them, Rom would find favor with him once again. With Brok’s latest news, however, any dreams that Quag had of Rom forgiving him had vanished as quickly as latinum on a rigged dabo table. If he didn’t find any profit soon, he would never be able to return to Ferrenginar, except in a state of total disgrace. And that was unacceptable on any terms.
"Round eight, Harry Kim," the computer announced in a precise feminine tone. Harry grinned at Katrina, panting slightly and wiping the sweat from his forehead.
"Nearly had you, Dad," Katrina crowed, laughing and barely perspiring. She was already crouched down in preparation for the next round. "You better get the next one or I win."
Harry shook his head at her, still smiling, and adopted an anticipatory stance. The disk appeared between them and he fired, rolling instinctively to the left, keeping his eye on the target. Katrina’s shot fired the disk back towards him, and he barely had enough time to fire at it again, sending it in a high arc towards his daughter. She tagged the disk easily and it flew back at him at an increased speed. He ducked, rolling out of the way, trying to track the disk as it made its way back towards the center of the playing field. He grinned, hitting the disk just as it began to arc towards him, causing it to ricochet, hitting Katrina squarely in the chest.
"Round nine, Harry Kim. Winner."
"Aww!" Katrina groused, scowling slightly.
Harry stood up, panting from the exertion. "You were watching me, not the disk," he chided, feeling the muscles in his back complain as he straightened. "Keep your eye…"
"On the disk," Katrina completed, swatting at him with her towel playfully. "I know, Dad. Its just that its so much fun to watch a grown man your age roll around on the floor, it keeps distracting me," she teased.
Harry mock-scowled, ruining the effect by wiping the sweat from his face with the towel he had swiped from her. "Haven’t we taught you to respect your elders, young lady?"
"Uh-huh." She stood with her hands on her hips and eyed him. "You’re not that old, Dad."
"Old enough," he sighed, handing her the towel.
"Want to play another game?" she asked hopefully.
Harry shook his head, wincing as the movement twinged the muscles in his back. "I think we’ve had enough for one day. Besides, your mother is expecting us for dinner." He smiled down at his daughter. "She’s making your favorite."
Katrina’s eyes brightened. "I’ll race you home?"
Laughing, he half-pushed her out the holo-deck doors. "Absolutely not. How would it look to the crew if they saw their captain running down the corridors like a teen-ager? You go on, I’ll meet you there." He watched with a rueful smile as Katrina dashed down the hall, and followed his daughter at a much slower pace.
Harry finished drying his face and tossed the towel in the recycler, pausing for a moment in front of the bathroom mirror. He studied his reflection objectively, noting the lines around his eyes and mouth, and the amount of gray present in his hair, and sighed. He shut off the bathroom light and left, his bare feet making almost no sound on the carpet of their bedroom floor.
Annika looked up from the HPADD she was reading and watched him cross the room and climb into the bed beside her.
"Something is bothering you, Harry," she said quietly, shutting her novel off so she could give him her full attention. "You’ve been quiet this evening, and that is not like you."
Harry pushed the pillows up behind him for support and leaned back against them with a sigh. "Nothing is wrong, Annika." He turned his head, ignoring the soreness in his neck, and smiled at her.
She didn’t look convinced. "You have sighed 27 times this evening," she said firmly. "And I have seen you on at least four occasions study your reflection and frown."
He smiled at her detached and clinical tone – it reminded him of their first years together. She rarely used what he called her ‘Borg-voice’ any more, but when she did, he knew she was worried.
"Fine," he said, sighing again and earning a pointed look from her, causing him to chuckle feebly. "I’m getting old, Annika."
Both eyebrows shot up in surprise. "Old?" she repeated, shaking her head slightly. "You are older than when we first met, but that is obviously logical given the progression of years that have passed." She eyed him shrewdly. "I do not believe that is what you mean."
Harry’s lips twitched briefly. "No. I guess I mean that I’m feeling my age."
"You are fifty years old by the Terran calendar," Annika agreed with a small frown. "That is not old, considering that most humans live well past 120 years."
Harry stifled another sigh, linking his fingers through hers as he tried to explain what he was feeling.
"When I saw my parents this morning I was struck by how old they looked, particularly my father. He looks tired, worn out. It bothered me to see him that way. That’s not the way I remembered him. It made me realize that I am getting older too." He squeezed her hand briefly. "I don’t have the energy I used to. I tire more easily, my muscles get sore."
"Katrina mentioned that she nearly beat you this evening at Velocity at least six times." Annika couldn’t hide her small smile when Harry chuckled.
"Yes, she nearly had me. And that’s just it. After nine rounds of Velocity, I was exhausted." He shook his head. "I’m getting old."
Annika tugged at his hand, bringing his attention back to her.
"You are a mature and healthy man," she said firmly. "And you are in fine shape for your age. Considering the alternative to ‘getting older’ is death, I believe I prefer the former." She leaned forward and kissed him briefly. "I find nothing wrong with your age, and since there is nothing you can do about it, I do not see the benefit of causing yourself to worry over it." She kissed him again, much slower this time. "Besides," she said, her voice dropping provocatively, "I do not feel that your years have slowed you down in any areas of significance."
Harry returned her kiss, then pushed her away gently, and reluctantly. "I’m sorry, Annika. I’m worn out. I don’t think I’m up for that tonight."
Disappointment briefly clouded her expression, before she kissed him softly on the cheek.
"Tomorrow night, then?" she asked, before settling beneath the covers.
Harry nodded, tucking the covers firmly over her before telling the computer to turn off the lights.
"Tomorrow night," he promised, stretching out beside her. Within moments, her breathing slowed, telling him she was asleep. Harry rolled over onto his back, his hands behind his head, and stared up at the darkness of their bedroom. Despite how tired he was, sleep was a long time coming.
Dr. Tila Saldeed finished sorting the samples of plasma burn ointment with a sigh she felt down to her toes. It was quiet and peaceful in Sickbay, a drastic change from what she had been used to, but she found herself wondering why it was that medical emergencies typically happened during either the Alpha or Beta shifts, and were a rare occurrence during the Gamma shift.
Since Captain Kim’s discovery of her less than perfect past, she had been working Gamma shift, a change that had surprised many, and had no doubt fueled further rumors as to the reason she had fallen into disfavor with the captain. Though she found she was much more productive during the much quieter hours of the late-night shift, she had to admit that – at times- she missed the contact with other people that she had gotten used to. Not that she was lonely; she quickly and firmly denied the thought. It was just that sometimes, especially on the nights when she hadn’t seen a single person in Sickbay, the quiet tended to get to her.
As if in response to her thoughts, the doors to Sickbay opened, and the one person Saldeed never expected to see stepped through them, looking calm and unflappable as always.
"Good morning, Commander Vorik," she said, stepping out from her office. "Did you need something?"
"Good morning, Dr. Saldeed," Vorik replied with a small nod. "I do not require any medical treatment at this time."
Saldeed’s eyebrows quirked upwards briefly. "Then why are you here?" she asked bluntly, in no mood for pleasantries.
Typically, Vorik did not react to her rudeness. "I wanted to see how you were doing," he replied. "I have not seen you in several weeks."
The Romulan snorted. "Missed me, did you?" She crossed her arms across her chest, looking up at him.
Vorik’s eyebrow arched briefly. "Despite your tendency to attempt to annoy me, doctor, I did find our conversations in the officer’s mess to be interesting. You have insights and ideas that I find intriguing. I consider our acquaintance important, and therefore your wellbeing is of my concern."
Saldeed’s eyes widened in surprise. For a Vulcan, Vorik was being downright sentimental. She relaxed her attitude slightly and gestured with a free hand. "Well, as you can see, I’m doing quite well. I’ve got plenty of time on my hands now to see that things get done properly." She couldn’t quite keep the bitterness out of her tone.
Vorik hesitated, obviously considering his next words carefully. "Are you content in your current situation?"
She snorted again. "Ecstatic. I’m doing exactly what I wanted to do on this mission. I’m out of everyone’s way, and I have all the time I want to do research without the distractions of holodeck bruises and skinned knees. What’s not to love?" Reaching out, she snagged a nearby stool and sat on it, looking up at him with a frown. "Sit down, Vorik. I’m getting a crick in my neck looking up at you."
Obligingly, Vorik sat on the stool she offered, although he didn’t look as comfortable perched on it as she did.
"Your concern is touching, Vorik," Saldeed said sarcastically, folding her arms once more. "But it’s more than I’ve gotten from most of the crew."
"I am not the only one concerned, doctor. The crew is talking, and some have admitted they are worried about the reasons behind the captain’s decision to reassign you to Gamma shift."
"Really?" Saldeed leaned forward. "Do tell." Her interest was not feigned, even though she pretended it was.
"Rumor, it is said, travels through the ship faster than light-speed," Vorik said. "I have heard several, and considered them carefully. Some are purely fantastical and therefore unlikely."
"You know the truth, of course," Saldeed retorted.
"Of course. But I am under orders not to reveal the truth to anyone, as is the rest of the senior staff. The captain believes that, not only would it be detrimental to the ship’s morale, but it could very likely put your life in danger, should the other Romulans on board discover the truth."
Saldeed nodded. The last was most certainly true. "What have you heard?" she asked, honestly curious.
"The most popular and most plausible rumor at the moment is that you are ill with a life-threatening disease that prevents you from performing all your duties as the Chief Medical Officer. You tire easily and Gamma shift allows you to rest between cases." Vorik looked around the empty Sickbay for emphasis. "Another popular but less plausible rumor is that you refused to work with a holographic nurse, and Captain Kim ordered you to work a different shift to prevent conflict."
"I see. That’s the best they can come up with?" Saldeed chuckled.
Vorik shook his head. "There are some that come closer to the truth, but are not widely accepted. There are several that involve a disagreement with the captain, or a falling out with the Romulan government. I have even heard one rumor that speculates that perhaps you are wanted for some crime on another planet and that Captain Kim agreed to hold you prisoner until we return to the Alpha Quadrant, whereupon he will return you to the proper authorities."
Saldeed’s chuckles faded abruptly. "That one is a little too close for comfort."
"Indeed. Although, as I have said, it is not a widely accepted rumor. Most of the crew are honestly puzzled by this situation, and some are quite offended that you have been treated in such a manner." Vorik stood up, looking down at her seriously. "The Romulans on board are among those who seem the most outraged, considering that you are the highest ranking officer among them."
Saldeed nodded absently, absorbing the implications of his words. "Is the captain aware of this?"
Vorik shook his head. "If he is, he has not spoken of it to me." He turned away, pausing briefly. "I must report for duty now, doctor."
"Yes, of course." Saldeed slid off her stool, watching Vorik disappear through the doors of Sickbay. He had certainly given her something to think about.
Harry stifled a yawn as the rest of the senior staff settled themselves around the table of the briefing room, briefly wishing he could have had just a few more hours of sleep. His eyes narrowed slightly as he observed Dr. Saldeed enter, late, and take the remaining seat at the end of the table. Considering that she had just ended her work shift, he supposed he should ignore her tardiness, although if she made a habit of it he would be forced to speak with her, something he had been avoiding for several weeks. Once he saw that everyone was settled and looking expectantly at him, he stood up.
"Starfleet has sent our next mission," he began without preamble, moving to a small display board next to the table. "Sikaris, an M-class planet located on the edge of Kazon space." He touched the holographic display controls, and an image of the planet and surroundings was displayed in the center of the briefing room table. "Voyager visited Sikaris during the first year of our journey homeward, and it was a welcome respite from our travels." Harry waved his hand over the controls and the display disappeared. "The Sikarians are a peaceful race, warp capable, and very technologically advanced, many centuries ahead of our worlds. Our mission is two-fold: since Voyager’s parting with Sikaris was less than diplomatic, we are here to make amends, and hopefully re-establish a peaceful relationship with them. Secondly, hoping that the first succeeds, we are here to invite the Sikarians to become part of the alliance against the Borg."
He took his seat, folding his hands and leaning his chin on them. "The Sikarians are a humanoid race. They enjoy, first and foremost, pleasures in all their forms. From what intelligence Voyager gathered on them, and from my own personal perspective, pleasure and enjoyment are paramount to these people. They love new and exciting things, and constantly seek new forms of distraction and entertainment. It is my hope that our arrival will provide them with this."
Bartok chuckled. "You’re saying we’re going to go visit a planet full of hedonists?"
Smiling briefly, Harry nodded. "Exactly."
"Despite being a technologically advanced race, the Borg have never encountered them," Annika spoke from her place beside Vorik. "They knew of them, of course, from the assimilated memories of species, but despite repeated searches of this sector of space, the Borg were unable to locate their planet."
Nearly every face at the briefing table, with the exception of Vorik and Harry, looked uncomfortable at her matter-of-fact explanation.
"Perhaps they have technology which allows them to successfully hide from the Borg," Vorik said, breaking the silence.
"That would be something worth investigating," Harry agreed.
"What kind of goods and services do they have on this planet?" Quag spoke up, ignoring the snort from Saldeed next to him. "Do they have any type of trade?"
Harry eyed the Ferengi. "They trade from all corners of the quadrant in their search for items and goods that will give them pleasure. I am sure you will find something to take back with you."
"Perhaps, then, they might be interested in trade with the Alpha Quadrant?" Qaug’s eyes lit up in speculation.
"Which is always a possibility," Harry conceded. "But in the far future. Remember, there will only be 14 ships in this quadrant, and it will be many years before any type of regular commerce can happen."
Quag sat back, his enthusiasm showing no signs of deflation. "That goes without saying. But there are all kinds of trade, Captain. Information, for instance, has intrinsic value. Isn’t that part of why you’re seeking them out?"
"If the Sikarians have technology that allows them to hide from the Borg, they would be valuable allies," Kalan added, ignoring the solicitous Ferengi across from him.
"True, but we must remember that the Sikarians have their own version of the Prime Directive, one which prevents them from sharing their technology with other species. We must respect that," Harry replied. "We are not here to gain technology from them, only their assistance against the Borg. The last thing we want to do is give these people any reason for offense. I fear that may already be the case based on our last visit here."
Kalan nodded. "Understood, sir."
"That’s it. Dismissed."
Harry watched them file out of the briefing room and stifled another yawn.
"We’ve reached the coordinates of Sikaris, Captain," Miral reported from her station at the helm.
"Sensors are showing that there are several ships of different design in orbit about the planet, Captain," Naomi said. "None of them match known configurations." The computer chirped at her. "Sir, we’re being hailed from the surface."
"Put it through," Harry said, leaning forward in his seat. "This is Captain Harry Kim of the starship Enterprise," he began, then stopped, taken by surprise as a familiar face filled the viewscreen of the bridge, a face that didn’t appear to have aged or changed at all in the past twenty-seven years. Quickly, he composed himself to continue. "We are explorers from the far side of the galaxy."
"Oh, yes!" the man exclaimed. "I remember very well. You are the people who wanted to reach their home so badly I could not convince your lovely captain to stay. Please tell me you are not still lost?"
Harry shook his head. "Captain Janeway got Voyager and her crew home years ago. We have returned to explore the quadrant and renew old acquaintances."
The man chuckled, practically beaming. "I remember you, Harry Kim. I am pleased to see that you have done so well for yourself. I hope you will accept my invitation to visit our planet?"
"Of course," Harry replied. "We would be happy to."
"Then I will await your arrival with pleasure, Captain."
The termination ended, and Harry glanced at Kalan, who was looking at him with surprise.
"Who was that?"
"That, Commander, was Gathorel Labin. The very same Sikarian who greeted us on Voyager so many years ago," Harry replied. "He hasn’t changed at all."
Kalan grunted, casting a suspicious glance at the now blank viewscreen. "He seemed awfully happy to see you, considering how worried Starfleet was that we would not be welcomed back."
Harry shrugged. "I’m not sure if he’s happy to see us because we represent a new diversion, or if he’s got something else up his sleeve entirely. He was like that when Voyager encountered him before. Most likely he is genuinely delighted that we’re here, but we’ll stay alert just in case he’s not."
Kalan nodded seriously. "Aye, captain."
Harry tapped his combadge. "Bridge to Counselor Bartok."
"Report to Transporter Room Two. We’re beaming down to Sikaris and I want you there to observe."
"On my way, captain."
Harry smiled briefly, wondering what the big man would think of the pleasure-seeking Sikarians once he met them.
"Mr. Vorik, you have the bridge," Harry said, getting up from his chair. "Commander, you’re with me."
With Kalan following close on his heels, Harry made his way to the turbolift.
"I don’t believe it," Kalan said as he and Harry came around the corner and stopped in the hallway outside transporter room two. With a scowl, he began walking again, stopping when he reached the two men who were waiting for them. "What are you doing here, Quag?" he demanded.
"I’m coming with you to Sikaris," the Ferengi said, clutching his staff in front of him protectively.
"The captain did not request your presence on this away mission," Kalan stated flatly. "You may not accompany us."
Qaug stiffened, deliberately ignoring the Klingon as he turned a beseeching face to Harry. "The Ferengi government has expressed their desire for relations with Sikaris, and as their due representative, it’s my place to be there when you meet with the magistrates. The Grand Nagus expects me to be present on his behalf."
Harry struggled not to roll his eyes at such a grandiose speech. "Very well," he managed, halting Kalan’s sputtering protests with a raised hand. "But I hope you understand that this is a diplomatic mission, first and foremost. We’re not here to open trade negotiations, unless the Sikarians wish it. I hope that’s understood, Grand Proxy?"
Quag smiled and gave a half-bow. "Completely, captain." He gave Kalan a brief glare before turning to enter the transporter room, his elaborate robes trailing behind him.
Bartok gave a cough that sounded suspiciously like a laugh, but the other two men ignored it, following behind the Grand Proxy to take their places on the transporter pad.
Sikaris certainly hadn’t changed all that much, Harry thought with some surprise when the transporter finished materializing himself, Bartok, Kalan and Quag. It looks just the same as it did twenty-seven years ago. He stepped away from the others for a moment, scanning the large plaza with its numerous marketers and vendors, until his gaze finally rested on a familiar figure, complete with entourage, striding confidently towards them.
"Captain Kim," Gathorel smiled warmly, extending both hands in greeting. "I cannot tell you how much pleasure it gives me to see you and your people again."
Harry smiled in return, grasping the hands that Gathorel offered him uncertainly. "Thank you, Magistrate, for welcoming us to your planet once more. I must admit I was surprised to be greeted by you so warmly."
"You were not certain of your welcome?" Gathorel’s smile dimmed briefly, then resurfaced, brighter than before. "But surely you knew what a great treasure you left with us when you traded your Federation library for the technology my aide offered you." Gathorel finally released his hands. "You have given us years of pleasure with the stories from your numerous and varied cultures."
Harry’s eyes widened slightly in surprise. "You knew of Jaret Otel’s trade?"
Gathorel laughed, his brown eyes crinkling with enjoyment. "Of course, Captain. I was the one who suggested it to him. Our Canon of Laws is very strict, but there are ways around it." He shook his head, causing the small bells he wore in his hair to tinkle with the motion. "I could not officially sanction the trade, my position as Magistrate prohibited it. However, Jaret, as a free citizen, could certainly do so."
Harry nodded slightly, smiling in a relieved fashion. "I was worried that my former captain’s actions would prevent amiable relations between your people and mine."
The Sikarian laughed. "How delicately you put it." Gathorel’s smile faded once more, and for once, his expression became quite serious. "Your captain had placed me in a very unpleasant position. Had she not forced the issue between us," he hesitated, turning his hands palm upwards in a gesture of regret. "It was not a pleasurable experience to tell her she had to leave. I did not enjoy doing it, but she did not offer me any other choice. I could only hope that Jaret would be able to trade with you before you left."
Harry smiled briefly. "My captain was very determined to get us home."
Gathorel’s smile returned full force. "Ah, yes. She was a very determined and strong-willed woman. Until then, I enjoyed being with her very much. Tell me," he said, placing a companionable arm on Harry’s shoulder. "Did your people use the matrix to help them get home?"
Harry shook his head. "Unfortunately, your technology and Voyager’s technology were not compatible." He left unsaid that the attempt to use the matrix had nearly caused a warp core breach, which would have, in turn, completely destroyed the ship. He didn’t think Gathorel would derive any pleasure from knowing how close he had come to causing the deaths of 140 people.
"Ah, that is unfortunate," Gathorel said sympathetically. "I would have wished otherwise. But you did arrive home, and now you are back to visit our lovely planet once more." Gathorel’s arm dropped from Harry’s shoulders and he turned to greet the others.
"This is Commander Kalan, my first officer." Harry introduced the Magistrate to the serious-looking Klingon. Gathorel showed no hesitation in greeting him just as warmly as he had the captain, despite the lack of smile on the other’s face.
"Commander Finnegan Bartok, my Ship’s Counselor," Harry continued, watching as the large man grasped the Sikarian’s hands with enthusiasm.
"A pleasure to meet you, Magistrate," Bartok grinned. "I have heard much of your wonderful hospitality."
Gathorel’s smile widened as he released Bartok’s hands. "Please, I insist you call me Gath. It is a pleasure to meet you."
The corner of Harry’s mouth twitched slightly as he eyed Quag, who was practically salivating at the chance to meet the Magistrate, and he hoped, for the sake of any future alliance, that the Grand Proxy would be on his best behavior.
"This is the Grand Proxy of the Ferengi Trade Alliance, Quag."
"It is a great honor to meet you, Magistrate." Quag bowed diplomatically, pointed teeth flashing in a wide smile. "The Ferengi Alliance extends to you its warmest regards and looks forward to future relations with your people."
Gathorel looked amused at the pompous tone, but greeted the smaller diplomat without reservation. "I am delighted to make your acquaintance, Mr. Quag. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to make your stay more pleasurable."
Harry stepped in before Quag could take advantage of the opening that Gathorel had unwittingly given him. "I’m sure Mr. Quag is most interested in seeing the unusual sights of the market place," he said, giving a warning look to the Ferengi.
"Certainly. One of my aides would be delighted to give him a tour," Gathorel replied, gesturing to a young Sikarian who hovered nearby. "My cousin, Delinar Teret," he introduced.
Delinar flushed with pleasure at being chosen for such an obvious honor. "I would be delighted to show you the sights and pleasures our people have to offer you, Grand Proxy."
Harry carefully hid his smile as Quag followed the tall, fair skinned youth towards the market stalls and vendors. He was relieved to have distracted the Ferengi for the time being. A thought occurred to him, and he frowned, turning to his first officer.
"Commander, would you mind keeping an eye on our Grand Proxy?" Harry asked, dropping his voice lower so that his next words were for Kalan alone. "I’d prefer he didn’t cause any diplomatic incidents."
Kalan nodded, moving purposefully off in the direction Delinar and Quag had taken.
Bartok grinned. "If you don’t mind, Captain, I’d like to tag along with them. You did say you wanted me to help keep an eye on our friend, the Grand Proxy."
Harry gave a nod in ascent, wondering how much of a kick the counselor was going to get out of keeping the peace between the Ferengi and the Klingon. Stifling a sigh, he turned his direction back to Gathorel, who had watched the whole exchange with barely hidden amusement.
"I would not worry about the Grand Proxy, Captain Kim," Gathorel said with a nod in the direction of the market. "We have certainly had dealings with his type before. It’s clear that he’s mostly interested in our technology. I am certain we can find some kind of arrangement that will please everyone, yes?"
"I sincerely hope so, Gath," Harry replied with a brief grin. "Mr. Quag has a tendency to forget that our true mission is not to extend trade routes and accumulate profits."
Gathorel chuckled. "The tell me, Captain, are you here for pleasant entertainment? Recreation and relaxation? Or do you have some hidden agenda?" The smile was still there, but Gathorel’s eyes had hardened slightly.
Harry shook his head. "My agenda is not hidden. We are here to reestablish contact with Sikaris, and to, hopefully, establish an agreement with your people and the Federation."
Gathorel’s eyebrows shot up. "An agreement? Well," he paused, tugging briefly at the cuffs of his tunic. "That will be a matter for the magistrates to decide, yes? But I hope you are not here simply to ask for technology. Our Canon of Laws has not changed in that regard."
Harry regarded the Sikarian in front of him, realizing that there was much more to the man in front of him than the simple hedonist he had originally thought.
"We are not here to ask for technology, Gathorel," he said carefully. "We respect your wishes with regards to that matter. We simply desire to have an alliance with Sikaris."
Gathorel looked up, his smile returning. "Then I will relay your wishes to the other magistrates. They will want to convene a meeting to speak with you about your proposal. It will give me great pleasure to see what your Federation has to offer Sikaris in trade."
Harry nodded. "That is our hope. How long do you think before I will be able to speak with them?" he asked, hoping Gathorel would not feel he was being pressured.
The Sikarian shrugged gracefully. "I should be able to arrange something immediately if you like."
Harry smiled. "Oh, yes. We are looking forward to that. With your permission, I’d like to arrange for my crew to have shore leave and enjoy the pleasures your planet has to offer."
Gathorel laughed, his eyes lighting up with amusement. "Your diplomatic skills are worthy of your former captain, Captain Kim. Your crew is most welcome."
"Thank you, Magistrate."
"Please," Gathorel held up his hand. "Call me Gath. I greatly look forward to meeting the rest of your crew. In the meantime, enjoy the marketplace. I’ll contact you as soon as I can arrange the meeting." He turned on his heel, his elaborate robes trailing gracefully behind him.
"Harry?" a soft, feminine voice came from within the ranks of Gath’s entourage.
Harry turned to see who had called his name
"Eudana," Harry exclaimed in surprise, having no trouble recognizing the attractive Sikarian as she made her way towards him, away from the group that had dutifully fallen behind Gathorel. He had difficulty with the fact that, despite the years that had passed since he had last seen her, she looked no different – no older than she had been when she had taken him to Alastria.
"Harry," she said again, her face lighting up in delight. "It is good to see you." She reached out and touched his cheek briefly. "Still so very handsome," she said warmly, giving him a hug.
Surprised, he returned her hug, before stepping away from her. "You haven’t changed a bit," he said with a brief laugh.
"Thank you," she said, her eyes twinkling. "How have you been? Did your people finally make it home?"
Harry nodded with a smile. "We did. Now we have returned to explore and visit old friends."
"What a story that must be!" she exclaimed with a light laugh.
"It is," he agreed, noting Kalan, Quag and Bartok were approaching. Kalan and Quag wore equally disgruntled expression. Bartok’s face was serious, but his eyes were twinkling with suppressed laughter. "If you would excuse me, Eudana," Harry said hurriedly. "I have some matters to attend to."
She nodded. "We can meet again later, if you like," she said softly, touching his arm. "I would very much enjoy hearing how your people got home."
"Of course," Harry replied. "I would be happy to."
He watched for a moment as she walked away, before steeling himself for the problem that was about to present itself, if Kalan’s expression was any indication.
The chamber where the four magistrates met was impressive, Harry thought as he waited, along with Bartok and Kalan, for the magistrates to appear. Gathorel had contacted him just shortly after Quag had reluctantly returned to Enterprise, and Delinar had guided the three of them to a large rectangular building made of white stone, leaving them to wait in the room where the magistrates routinely met to discuss the issues of the Sikarian territories. There were four magistrates, one for each of the major territories on the planet. They were the voice of the people, bringing problems and solutions before the People’s Council, the government of Sikaris. Delinar had left them with refreshments, stating that Gathorel and the others would be with them shortly.
Shortly turned out to be exactly that, and before Harry had even had a chance to take a sip of the fruit juice Delinar had left for them, Gathorel and three other Sikarians swept gracefully and regally into the room.
"My esteemed colleagues, may I present for your pleasure, Captain Harry Kim of the USS Enterprise," Gathorel introduced him with a flourish. He turned to his companions, introducing them each in turn.
"This is Magistrate Menazar Otello, Magistrate Ysella Parel, and Magistrate Winseld Jerem."
Harry accepted their greeting, and introduced Kalan and Bartok. Once the introductions were made, they wasted little time in taking their seats. When he had their attention, Harry began to speak.
"Thank you for welcoming us to your planet and for your generous hospitality," he began formally. "I appreciate you agreeing to meet with me on such short notice.
Ysella Parel, a tall, spindly Sikarian from the Dekla Territory leaned forward, her hair ornaments tinkling with the movement.
"Why have you requested to speak with us, Captain Kim?" she asked, her thin face expressing interest, which was mirrored in the faces of Menazar and Winseld. Gathorel’s expression, Harry noted, remained carefully neutral.
"I am here as a representative of the United Federation of Planets and our allies in the Alpha and Beta Quadrants, which is compromised of many different people and cultures who share the same goal of peaceful coexistence and exploration. I am here at their request to seek out potential allies against the constant threat of the Borg." Harry paused, seeing the looks of recognition flit across their faces, before continuing. "It is our hope that Sikraris will join with the other planets of the Delta Quadrant in an alliance against another Borg invasion."
Winseld Jerem’s white eyebrows shot up in surprise. "Your people have been invaded by the Borg before?" he asked incredulously.
Harry nodded. "They have made more than one attempt to assimilate my home planet of Earth, as well as other planets belonging to the Federation. We have driven them back each time, but not without suffering great loss of life. It is the hope of the Federation that by gaining allies in the Delta Quadrant, we can prevent future attacks, possibly even defeating them."
Menazar Otello frowned, tugging at his long black mustache thoughtfully. "So you are asking if Sikaris would join this alliance?" He shook his head, his shoulder length braids twitching with the movement. "What possible benefit would we hope to receive from such an agreement?"
"You’ve mentioned the great value that our literature and culture has been for your people as entertainment these many years. Much has happened among our worlds since our last visit to Sikaria. I’m certain that we have many more stories and dramas to share with your people, ones that provide many hours of enjoyable entertainment." Harry finished, leaning back slightly in his chair, confident that he had offered the Sikarians exactly what they most wanted.
There was a moment of silence as each of the magistrates considered his words, before Ysella finally spoke.
"If you will give us a few moments to discuss your proposal privately, Captain?"
Harry nodded. "Of course."
Kalan and Bartok followed him out of the council chamber, taking seats on the couch and chairs in the waiting room.
"Do you think they will agree to take it before the Council?" Bartok asked quietly, with a look at the closed door behind them where the voices of the magistrates could barely be heard.
Harry shook his head. "I’m not certain. They seemed attentive, if interested, in what the Federation offered."
"Gathorel was unusually silent, for someone who seems to enjoy hearing the sound of his own voice," Kalan observed with a brief scowl. "He asked no questions at all."
Bartok shrugged. "Perhaps he had none that were not already being asked."
The door to the council room opened, halting any further discussion between them as Gathorel stepped out and gestured for them to return. The three of them took their seats once more. Harry’s shoulders tensed with anticipation.
Ysella regarded him kindly. "We thank you for your proposal, Captain Kim. It gave us quite a bit of pleasure discussing what we would do with more wondrous tales of your people and their adventures. However," she paused, her thin features pinching slightly. "We have agreed to decline your offer of joining the alliance."
"May I ask why?" Harry said quietly, looking at each of them in turn.
"What you are proposing," Gathorel replied with a small shake of his head, "Is an alliance of war, Captain Kim." His hand rose and he gestured at the other magistrates seated beside him. "Sikarians detest war. We derive no pleasure from fighting or from politics. We are a peaceful people, content to observe others as they fight among themselves. We do not become involved."
Kalan frowned. "You would be involved if the Borg decide Sikaris is the next planet they wish to attack, despite your wishes to the contrary."
Amused smiles flitted across the faces of the four magistrates.
"I assure you, Commander Kalan, that the Borg are of no threat to us," Gathorel replied, his white teeth flashing in a smile.
"What do you…" Harry began, but was interrupted by the insistent chirp of his combadge. "Excuse me," he said politely, before tapping it. "Kim here."
"Sir, three Kazon cruisers have just arrived and are approaching the planet," Vorik’s voice came calmly over Harry’s combadge. "They have not initiated any hostilities, but I have raised shields as a precaution."
"Put the ship on red alert," Harry said, his pulse quickening. "Do you have firing solutions on them?"
His jaw tightened. "Stand by to beam up." A hand on his arm halted his rise from the chair.
"Tell your ship to stand down, captain. There is nothing to fear from the Kazon ships while they orbit Sikaris," Gathorel said smoothly, his grip on Harry’s arm firm. "They are simply here for trade and shore leave."
"Captain? We’re standing by," Vorik reminded him.
Harry glanced disbelievingly at Gathorel. "We’ve had trouble with them in the past."
"I assure you, captain, they would not dare fire upon your ship while in orbit of our planet. I give you my word." The Sikarian released his grip slowly. "Any ship that fires upon another while orbiting Sikaris is forced to leave. They know that quite well, and they will not risk being sent away, never being allowed to return."
Harry looked at him a moment longer, then slowly nodded. "Very well," he said quietly. "Go to yellow alert, Commander. Do not fire on their ships unless they fire first."
"Yes, captain," Vorik replied.
"We will be returning to Enterprise shortly. Kim out." He regarded the Sikarians once more. "I ask you to reconsider your decision, magistrates, to consider the other races and cultures that would benefit from your help by joining the alliance."
Winseld smiled condescendingly. "We understand that others would benefit from our knowledge and technology, captain. But you must understand that it goes against our Canon of Laws to become involved in what would be a war against another culture."
Ysella and Menazar nodded their agreement.
"Even if we brought your proposal before the Council of Peoples, it would never be accepted," Gathorel added. "I am truly sorry, captain, that we cannot help you in this matter."
Harry nodded, getting carefully to his feet. "Thank you for your time, magistrates." He turned to look at Kalan and Bartok, who had also risen to their feet. He turned, with a polite nod to Ysella, Menazar and Winseld, and left the council room, Kalan and Bartok following close behind him.
The door was barely shut behind them when Harry sighed, leaning against the wall and taking a moment to reign in his disappointment.
"Do you still want me to arrange shore leave for the crew and civilians, captain?" Kalan asked with a frown. "Especially considering our Kazon friends orbiting close by?"
Harry considered his options carefully. He didn’t want to offend the Sikarians by showing a lack of trust on his part, but he wasn’t entirely comfortable with having the Kazon so close, despite Gathorel’s assurances that they were not a threat.
"Yes," he said finally, stepping away from the wall and walking towards the outer entrance of the building. "But I want to satisfy my concerns about the Kazon first. If it truly appears that they aren’t a threat while they are here, then go ahead and arrange leave." Harry paused, turning towards Kalan. "Everyone is to check in once every hour while they are on the planet. That should help prevent any serious trouble from brewing."
"Yes, captain." Kalan nodded.
Harry resumed walking, pushing open the heavy and ornately carved doors that lead back to the market square. Kalan and Bartok exchanged a quick glance, and followed their captain silently outside, the heavy doors swinging shut behind them.
A warm breeze playfully ruffled the back of Harry’s neck as he walked through the marketplace, trying not to dwell on the rejection he had just received from the magistrates. Part of him, albeit a very small part, still hoped that they would change their minds. The rest of him was resigned to the fact that his mission, for all intents and purposes, had failed. Still, he had to grin as he watched Bartok and Kalan wandering through the market with obvious interest. The benefit of having shore leave on a planet as diversified and wondrous as Sikraris couldn’t be denied. He knew that Kalan would be returning shortly to the ship to arrange leave for the crew and civilians aboard Enterprise.
Harry’s head turned to follow the sound of the voice and smiled as he spotted Eudana emerging from a small crowd of Sikarians who had gathered around Kalan and Bartok. She walked towards him with a warm smile, her eyes glowing with pleasure.
"I was hoping I’d catch you before you returned to your ship," she said when she reached him, her hand touching his arm. "Are you free for a moment?" she asked, smiling up at him.
He looked towards Kalan and Bartok and saw that Bartok was obviously engaged in some sort of trade with a food vendor, while Kalan looked on with bemused tolerance.
"It looks like it," he said, shifting his attention back to Eudana.
"I really want to hear about your adventures returning to your home," she said, running her arm lightly up his.
"Of course, its all been logged and is part of Federation history. I’d be more than happy to give you a copy of it."
"Oh, no," Eudana shook her head. "I mean, I’d love to have a copy of it, certainly. But I want to hear you tell it."
"All right," Harry agreed, feeling momentarily overwhelmed by the smile she gave him, accompanied by the light pressure on his arm from her delicate hand. Feeling a bit guilty about his reaction, he cleared his throat several times to regain his composure. "Well, you see, after we left Sikaris…"
"Could we go someplace more private?" Eudana asked, placing a soft hand on his. "Its very distracting here, and I would like to be able to concentrate on you."
Harry blinked, wondering if what she said was a double entendre or not. Her fingers tightened slightly on his arm, and Harry found himself nodding.
She led him to a shop, tugging at his hand to pull him inside the building. It took him several seconds for his eyes to adjust, and when they finally had, he noticed that the shop was empty of customers. Before he could say anything, Eudana had closed the door and placed a small but neatly lettered sign in the window. She turned back towards him, and he noticed a provocative sway in her step that hadn’t been there before. Something else was definitely going on behind her pretty brown eyes, and Harry looked away, feeling belatedly, that this might not be such a good idea.
His gaze rested on the contents of the shop, and he took the moment to look around at the wares she sold there. Jars and similar containers of liquids, powders and finely chopped items were displayed on shelves and tables throughout the shop. He used his curiosity to distract himself for the moment, picking up a small but beautifully made bottle and examining its contents.
He turned to look at Eudana, who was studying him with a patient and bemused expression. It was an improvement over the almost predatory one she had given him earlier. "Is this your shop?" he asked. When she nodded affirmative, he continued on what he hoped was a safe topic. "What kind of wares do you sell?"
"Potions and powders, aphrodisiacs and stamina enhancers," she replied, her coy smile returning.
Oops, he thought, hastily placing the bottle back on its shelf. Not a safe topic after all. "I s-see," he stammered slightly. "You gave up on meteorology, then?" he asked.
She stepped closer to him, running a finger down his chest playfully before looking back at his startled face. "Not entirely," she said, watching with amusement as he backed himself into the glass display case behind him. "But I find much more pleasure here," she continued, stepping close enough to him that she could feel the fine trembling of his body. As she leaned forward to kiss him, he gave a yelp and ducked, almost stumbling away from her.
"Eudana, wait!" He held his hands out to stop her from closing the distance between them.
She pouted, ignoring his silent plea for her to stay where she was and stepping closer to him once more. "What’s wrong, Harry?" she asked, rubbing a hand over his broad chest. "You didn’t object last time you were here. If I remember correctly, we have some unfinished business between us."
Harry struggled to keep from bolting out the door. He didn’t want to risk the mission by offending her, and he had truly liked her when he had met her previously, but this was not at all what he wanted.
"Things have changed since I last met you, Eudana," he said, capturing the hand that was trying to worm its way beneath the collar of his uniform. "I have responsibilities and obligations that I did not have before."
She pulled back slightly, tilting her head up so she could look at his face. "You’re a captain. I understand that." She rubbed her face against his chest. "That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t enjoy yourself."
Harry took a deep breath. "I’m married, Eudana. I have a wife."
Eudana stopped her exploration of the fine hairs on the back of his neck and stepped back slightly, her face drawn slightly in confusion. "What does that mean…married?" she asked.
Having her not touch him was a definite improvement. He found he could think clearly once more.
"It means that I am committed to another woman who would not be very happy with me if she could see us right now," he explained as gently as he could.
Eudana tilted her head slightly, thinking. "She would not like you to be with me? Even if it gave you pleasure?"
Harry sighed. "I apologize, Eudana, if I lead you to believe I would want to continue any type of physical relationship with you. That was not my intent. I like you, Eudana, and you are very beautiful. But I love my wife very much, and I have no desire to seek elsewhere for any kind of pleasure." He looked pleadingly at her, hoping to see understanding there.
Eudana nodded slowly. "The Sikarians do not have this marriage you speak about. We don’t believe in permanently tying ourselves to one individual. But," she paused, her smile returning gradually. "If she gives you pleasure, then I will respect that." She looked up at him, her eyes glinting with humor and regret. "She is a lucky woman to have you all to herself."
Harry let out the breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding and nodded, laughing shakily. "I consider myself lucky to have her." He took her hands and squeezed them gently. "Thank you for understanding. I didn’t want to hurt your feelings."
Eudana leaned forward and kissed his cheek, pulling back. "You are welcome." She released his hands and gestured at the wares in her shop. "Perhaps you would like to take something home for her as a gift?"
Harry watched her move around the shop, examining bottles and containers of powder until she selected a small jar from the shelf. He shook his head. "No, I don’t think so. Thank you."
Eudana’s smile turned mischievous as she took the lid off the jar. She took a small handful of the blue powder and carefully replaced the lid, turning back to Harry.
"Then perhaps she would appreciate this gift from me, as an apology for trying to take what belongs to her." Without warning, she blew a puff of air across the powder in her hand, causing it to scatter and fly directly into his face.
Harry coughed, inadvertently inhaling the powder that clouded briefly around him. When it cleared, and he could see again, he frowned at Eudana, wiping his eyes.
"What was that?" he demanded, noticing that the powder had dissipated the moment it had touched his skin.
Eudana’s smile broadened. "Nothing harmful, I assure you. Now, go home, Harry." Her hands propelled him out the door. "Go home, and enjoy your wife."
Her parting words had a sharp edge to them that Harry recognized as jealousy. He shook his head at the door that stood between them, feeling a momentary regret that he had hurt Eudana, wishing there was some way he could take it back without creating an even bigger mess.
Harry frowned, scanning the marketplace for the familiar faces of his first officer and chief counselor, but they were nowhere in sight. Mildly concerned, he tapped his combadge.
"Kim to Commander Kalan. Where are you?"
It was several moments before Kalan responded, during which Harry’s frown grew.
"Captain, we’re in the food vendor section. There is a situation here – I think you should," his voice broke off. Harry could here raised voices in the background.
"On my way," he responded, moving toward the center of the market in the direction he remembered the food vendor’s stalls being. Within moments he spotted both Kalan and Bartok, standing stiffly next to a drink vendor’s stall. Kalan’s posture was defensive, and he understood the reason for it as he followed Kalan’s gaze to a small group of Kazon who were rapidly approaching them. He’d arrived none too soon, he thought as he stopped beside Kalan, watching the party of Kazon approach.
Their leader strode arrogantly ahead of the rest of his group, his narrowed eyes glaring at Harry as he came to a halt directly across from him. The four other Kazon grouped themselves around him, their hands resting purposefully on their weapons.
"Is there a problem here, gentlemen?" a smooth voice interrupted. "Ah, Maje Battok, is there something I can assist you with?" Gathorel asked politely, stepping purposefully between Harry and the red-faced Kazon.
"This man is wanted for crimes against the Kazon Union," Maje Battok said, looking down his flat nose at the Sikarian. "I am under orders to take him back so that he may be tried before the Grand Maje."
"Crimes? What crimes?" Harry scowled, crossing his arms and meeting the other’s glare unflinchingly. "For not quietly going to my death when your crazy Grand Maje kidnapped me and my wife?"
Maje Battok and the other Kazon stiffened at the insult."You are accused of the destruction of several Kazon vessels and their crews," Battok growled. "And for the personal assault against the Grand Maje himself."
"I don’t believe this!" Harry sputtered angrily, looking back at Kalan and Bartok for support. Kalan was scowling, but Bartok was looking more shocked than angry.
"Gentlemen." Gathorel attempted to interrupt.
"Believe it, Federation!" Battok sneered, nodding to one of the subordinate Kazon beside him. "You are under arrest."
Harry surged forward, nearly pushing Gathorel aside in the process. Only Bartok’s restraining hand kept him from taking a swing at the Kazon. "I’d like to see you try and take me," he snapped, baring his teeth in a jeering grin and ignoring the surprised gasp from Bartok. "You don’t have what it takes, Kazon! You or your crazy psychopathic Grand Maje!"
The expression on the Kazon’s face was murderous as he lurched forward, intent on grabbing Harry.
"Gentlemen!" Gathorel’s normally pleasant voice became forceful enough to stop both men in their tracks. When he saw that he had their attention, he cleared his throat gently and continued. "I’m afraid that there will be no arrest while you are both here as my guests on Sikaris. Everyone is welcome here, as you know, but if either of you decides to pursue this matter while on the planet, you will be asked to leave."
Gathorel’s placating tone managed to wear through the red haze of anger that had been clouding Harry’s brain from the moment Maje Battok had spoke. Silently, he nodded and stepped back, his arms held away from his body in a non-threatening gesture.
Battok sneered, but he also stepped back, joining his comrades. "You will not get away so easily next time, Federation. I will capture you the moment you leave Sikaris."
Harry opened his mouth to fire back an angry retort, but Bartock’s hand on his shoulder cautioned him. Instead, he smiled. "You can certainly try."
Disbelievingly, they watched the group of Kazon turn and leave, several of them casting dark looks behind them as they left.
"I’m surprised they gave up so easily," Kalan muttered, watching their retreating backs.
"Oh, they won’t cause you any further trouble while you are here, my good friends," Gathorel said with a generous smile.
"What is stopping them from attacking us our my ship while we are here, besides the threat of banishment?" Harry asked, shaking his head.
Gathorel’s eyebrows flew up in surprise. "My dear captain, nothing the Kazon have is any match for Sikaris’ planetary defenses. They are quite aware of our capabilities and, as foolish as they may act at times, they are not completely stupid."
"I wouldn’t count on that," Kalan muttered again for Harry’s ears alone.
Apparently, however, the Sikarian overheard Kalan’s remark. Rather than be offended, he chuckled. "You don’t believe me? Very well then, perhaps a demonstration would satisfy your curiosity as to the effectiveness of our defenses?"
Kalan’s bushy eyebrows flew up with surprise and interest. "What did you have in mind?"
"It’s quite all right, my dear captain. I am not offended," Gathorel smiled at Harry who was shaking his head. "Commander, if you would be so good as to attack me, I think that would be sufficient enough for the demonstration?"
"I don’t think so," Kalan replied, showing his teeth in a large grin. "You are prepared, that wouldn’t be a test at all."
"Very well, if I cannot persuade you," Gathorel began when Kalan let out a roar and swung both fists at his head. In a blinding flash, Kalan disappeared, leaving Gathorel standing alone, looking bemused.
"Where is Commander Kalan?" Harry demanded, rounding on the smug-looking Sikarian. A moment later, his combadge chirped.
"Enterprise to Captain Kim." It was Kalan’s voice.
"Does that answer your question?" Gathorel chuckled.
Ignoring the sudden urge to throttle the superior look off of Gathorel’s face, Harry hit his combadge. "What happened, Commander?"
"It appears the planet’s defense system picked up on my ‘attack’ of Gathorel, and transported me back to the ship," Kalan’s voice held a tinge of embarrassment.
"You aren’t hurt?" Harry asked.
"I appear to be just fine, captain. If you insist, I will report to Sickbay for a scan to make sure."
Shaking his head, Harry glanced at Bartok, who was carefully holding his neutral expression, although his eyes twinkled with humor.
"Not necessary, Commander. I’ll speak with you when I return to Enterprise. Kim out."
"As you see, Captain, Sikaris and its citizens are well protected," Gathorel said smoothly. "There is no need for you to be concerned while you are here."
"So I see," Harry replied flatly. "Thank you for your demonstration." He turned to Bartok and nodded, tapping his combadge. "Kim to Enterprise, two to beam up."
Bartok was silent as they left the transporter room, and it wasn’t until he and the captain had stepped into the relative privacy of the turbolift that he finally spoke.
"Harry, I must say I’m surprised by your outburst at the Kazon back there. That isn’t like you."
Harry shook his head, faintly embarrassed. "I don’t honestly know what got into me, Finn, reacting the way I did." The corner of his mouth quirked upwards in a half-grin as he turned to look at Bartok. "It certainly wasn’t the most diplomatic approach I could have taken."
"Certainly not," Bartok agreed, studying his friend closely. "Do you want to talk about it?"
Harry shook his head again. "Not really. It’s nothing. I think they just took me by surprise, that’s all."
Bartok frowned, obviously not completely satisfied by Harry’s answer, but chose not to press the other man.
When the lift stopped, Harry stepped out, pausing long enough to look back at Bartok.
"I’m headed for home. I’ll talk to you later."
"Sure," Bartok nodded, watching Harry’s retreating back until the doors closed on the lift.
He leaned back against the wall as the lift began to move once more, considering once more Harry’s behavior and his attitude towards his over-reaction. Honestly, it troubled the counselor more than he had let Harry know. It was his responsibility to try to identify possible issues with the crew before they became real problems. Harry’s display of temper was unlike his usual, calm, level-headed self, and it caused him to wonder if the pressure of being responsible for a ship and crew so far from home was getting to him. Bartok knew it was something he would have to approach Harry carefully with, but soon.
The doors of the Kim family quarters opened and Harry stepped through them, crossing the living area before the doors had shut once more. He smiled, spotting his wife at the dining area’s replicator, an attractive frown of concentration on her lovely features as she entered the program she wanted. She heard him enter and looked up with a small smile.
Harry closed the distance between them and enfolded her in a hug, which she quickly returned before turning back to the replicator. He watched her, noting the few hairs that had escaped confinement from the elaborate twist she wore, and the charming way they curled around her face as she worked.
"How are you this evening, Harry?" she asked, looking briefly up from her programming to smile at him again. "Did everything go all right on the planet?"
"Uh-hum," he said, admiring the way her uniform slacks fit her curved posterior. "How was your day?" he asked absently, stepping closer so that he could play with the loose hairs at her neck. She smelled wonderful he thought, bending close to nuzzle her neck.
"Harry?" Annika asked, turning towards him, but whatever she had been about to ask was forgotten as he kissed her with growing passion, his fingers nimbly retrieving the pins in her hair and setting it free. His kisses grew more forceful, as did the movements of his hands as he held her, and it wasn’t until they heard Katrina’s gasp that they both came up for air.
"Sorry to interrupt you," Katrina asked, her cheeks flushed with embarrassment as she carefully studied the pattern of the carpet at her feet. "I was wondering if I could spend the night at Pana’s tonight."
"Great," Harry said, his fingers playing with the fastener at the back of Annika’s uniform. "Have a good time."
"Have you finished your homework?" Annika demanded, trying to push Harry’s hands away and giving him a quick look of surprise.
"She can do it this weekend, Annika. Let her have the night off for once," Harry replied, giving her waist a firm squeeze.
"Well," Annika hesitated, obviously torn between the delightful prospect of having an entire evening alone with Harry and the need to ensure her daughter’s educational welfare.
"Please mom? I have a project that Pana and I can work on together while I’m there, it’s for extra credit with Professor Nott," Katrina pleaded, trying to ignore the embarrassing display her parents were giving.
Harry kissed the back of her neck, sending tingles up her spine, and the decision was made.
"Fine, have a good evening, Katrina. Be home tomorrow by 1100," Annika smiled at the quick grin her daughter gave them and watched her dash off to her room to grab her overnight bag.
"Bye guys!" Katrina called with barely a backward glance as she headed out the door.
The doors had barely slid shut before Harry’s hands wound themselves around her once more and he was kissing her. Surprised but pleased at his sudden amorousness, she managed to push him away long enough to ask, "What about dinner?"
Harry grinned wickedly at her, his hands making familiar and distracting patterns on her body, making it impossible for her to think clearly.
"I think dinner can wait a bit, don’t you?"
As Harry bent to kiss her once more, Annika found she could only agree with his assessment.
Many light years away from Sikaris, the Kazon dreadnought Ravager hovered menacingly in orbit over the repair depot of Tarok IV. The damage from her last battle was nearly erased, but the wounds to the pride of her master would not be so easily mended.
Nagan, Grand Maje of the Kazon Union of Sects, had trouble sleeping that night, which was not uncommon for him. One beneficial consequence of his hybrid parentage was a reduced need for sleep. He often found that three or four hours were enough for him. That is, when he was able to sleep at all, for his mind was often too active to allow him even that little degree of rest.
The Kazon leader stormed restlessly about his private bedchamber, pulling his silken sleeping robes about him. He was alone tonight, his concubines dismissed for the evening. Sex brought him no comfort anymore, and neither, as he looked down at his scarred right forearm, did the pleasures of the blade. The latest reports from the front lines were not encouraging. The Krowtonan hordes were beating back the combined armies of the Kazon militias, resulting in the loss of three critical star systems to the enemy. At this rate, the Union would lose their hold over the entire Oblissa Sector. Without a major campaign turnaround, the Krowtonan Guard would soon be able to seize the strategic Ocampa system. And with that, they would be within easy striking distance of the territories of the Kazon-Ogla. For the first time since the war began, the Kazon would be on the defensive, fighting for their very sovereignty.
This could not be allowed to happen, Nagan thought furiously. His path to glory, his destiny, all depended upon a guarantee of victory for his people. If one thing united the varied Kazon sects, it was the value they placed on their independence. Should an enemy ever occupy the Kazon homelands, his own future would be in question. The people feared and obeyed him for now, but would they still do so tomorrow?
He looked about his bedchamber with fear and trepidation. He had enemies everywhere; of that he was certain. Great men such as himself always had enemies. He had killed or suborned most of them during his rise to power. But there were always more out there, looking for a chance, waiting for a moment of weakness before striking out from the shadows. His retinue of kazon’ai kept him safe and secure, but how long would that continue? What if they too joined his list of enemies?
"Grand Maje," a voice came over the intercom, that of one of his guardsmen. "Forgive me for disturbing your rest…"
"I was awake," Nagan growled, privately grateful for the distraction from his brooding. "What is it?"
"We’re receiving a transmission from Maje Battok of the Sharpened Blade. They’re on leave at Sikaris…"
"Leave?" Nagan sputtered. "Kazon warriors lounge in the sun with the hedonists while Oblissa is on the verge of falling?"
"Your Excellency," the voice continued, "The shore leave was approved by the War Council. Sharpened Blade and her battle group have been on the front lines for two years."
"Yes, yes," Nagan waved his hand dismissively. "What does Battok want?"
"It’s a matter concerning you, sire," the guardsman continued. "The Enterprise is in orbit over Sikaris."
"What?" Nagan went pale at the news. It was common knowledge that Enterprise and her sister ships were traveling about the quadrant, seeking allies for some nefarious purpose. If there was even a chance that Harry Kim, the enemy who had humiliated and attacked him personally, was forming some alliance with the hedonists of Sikaris, then action had to be taken. "Put him through to my private line! Now!"
Nagan stormed to his communications console and saw the nervous face of Maje Battok appear on screen. "Grand Maje. It is an honor to…"
"Never mind that!" Nagan barked. "Harry Kim is on Sikaris, you say?"
"Yes, Grand Maje," Battok groveled humbly. "From what I have learned, his people have come to the Sikarians seeking their participation in an alliance. They claim it’s to fight the Borg…"
"Lies," Nagan snorted dismissively. "The Borg haven’t been seen in this part of the galaxy in decades. It should be obvious to a child what Captain Kim intends. This alliance of his is meant to suppress our glorious Union and its ambitions for the quadrant."
"Yes, Grand Maje," said Battok. "I have…a reliable source… who tells me that the Sikarians have no interest in this alliance."
"Very good," said Nagan, his grin showing teeth. "And what of Captain Kim himself? How do you intend to bring him before me to answer for his crimes?"
"Sire?" Battok replied in confusion. "I…my options are limited. The magistrates of Sikaris say that he is a guest of theirs and under their protection. They won’t allow me to take him off world."
"They won’t allow?" Nagan hissed. "You are a warrior of the Kazon Union, Battok! Do you allow yourself to be frightened by cowering hedonists who lack the spine for battle? We do not answer to these people!"
"But…Grand Maje," Battok faltered as he tried to speak. "The Sikarians…their technology is far beyond ours. If we should offend them…the same thing could happen to my ship that happened to the Vengeful Demon…"
"Maje Battok," Nagan cut him short. "The one thing that I find more intolerable than the fact that Harry Kim is allowed to roam the galaxy unimpeded is that he does so while hiding behind the skirts of a weak and spineless race of libertines. I may be forced to tolerate the Sikarians’ refusal of my offers of protection, but there are limits to my tolerance. Kim won’t humiliate me twice. Return to me with my enemy in chains, or you won’t be returning at all. Is that understood?"
"Yes, Grand Maje," said Battok, his eyes cast downward.
The connection was severed, leaving Nagan to return to his brooding. Kim’s presence on Sikaris was only a further reminder of the Kazon strategic disadvantage in this war. Their earlier victories had come from the benefits of technological superiority against their enemies. But that advantage was narrowing, perhaps lost already. The Union needed the assistance that was guaranteed them, but was no longer receiving.
It was time to call for help.
Nagan returned to his nightstand and keyed in a console, accessing a biometric pad that responded to his hand geometry only. That being done, a bright light manifested itself in the center of the room, an isomorphic projection field that was well beyond anything the Kazon could build. The communications unit employed transmission technologies that were undetectable by any other race native to this region, guaranteeing him a secure communication line to his contact, many sectors away.
"Grand Maje," came a gentle and soothing voice from the shadowy figure within the isomorphic field. "It has been too long since your last communiqué."
"The situation is changing," Nagan said harshly. "The Union is losing the war. Our fleets are being forced back from our advance systems."
"That is unfortunate," said the voice calmly.
"Unfortunate?" Nagan shouted. "You promised me victory! Once the Krowtonan Axis is subjugated, I would be in a position to command all the non-aligned worlds of the surrounding sectors! That was our agreement! You said the Vidiians would aid me! But they’ve not answered any of my calls in the last two months!"
"We are aware of the agreement, Grand Maje," he said. "Unfortunately, there have been setbacks with the Vidiians. Our agents are no longer in power there. There has been a political upheaval within the Vidiian Sodality, one that could go in any number of directions. Their reliability at this point is suspect. Perhaps, Grand Maje, if you had followed our recommended strategies, the war would have been closer to completion before these…random elements…appeared."
"To hell with your strategies!" said Nagan. "I know the Kazon people and what their needs are better than you. Your strategies haven’t taken the events in the last few months into account, have they?"
"No," said the voice. "The appearance of this…Delta Fleet…was unexpected. Already their appearance has seriously derailed our agenda for the quadrant."
"So your guarantees are worthless now, is that it? Or do you plan on finally sharing some of your advanced knowledge with me directly instead of hiding behind your go-betweens."
"We entered into a bargain, Grand Maje, and we will honor it. As we have told you before, your victory and rise to power suits our purposes and goals. But we do not feel that the situation at this time warrants direct intervention on our part. The Krowtonans have yet to consolidate their victories into clear strategic superiority. Your Union’s fate can still be turned around by your own efforts, Nagan. We will, however, continue to monitor the situation."
With that, the isomorphic field dissipated and Nagan was left alone, his fists balled in fury. If the war was to be turned around by their own efforts, thought Nagan, then it would have to start now, and with another source of advanced technology.
"Contact Maje Battok," Nagan called out over the intercom to his guards. "Tell him there is one more task that is required of him."
Annika stretched slowly, feeling the pull and ache in muscles that hadn’t been used in such a satisfying faction for quite a while. She smiled, feeling Harry’s arms snake around her midsection and pull her close.
"Good morning, beautiful," he murmured, placing a kiss on the nape of her neck, causing her to wiggle with pleasure.
"Good morning," she replied, tucking his arms firmly around her and enjoying his closeness. "I’m still sleepy."
"We were awake a little later than usual." Harry chuckled, his warm breath tickling her ear.
"Yes," Annika smiled in a sleepy yet pleased fashion. "It has been a while since you were so enthusiastic – and persistent."
"Hmm," Harry replied, kissing her neck once more. "I have to admit I had more energy last night than I’ve had in a long time. Of course," he continued, freeing his hands from her grasp, "it helps that my wife is irresistible."
Annika’s yawn turned into a gasp of delight as his hands found interesting places to explore. She rolled towards him, turning her face up for a kiss, when the door to their quarters chimed, announcing that someone had entered.
"What time is it?" Harry asked, nibbling her earlobe.
Annika sat up enough so she could see the clock by their bed.
"It’s 1059," Annika replied with a sigh. "That is Katrina." She went to get out of the bed, but Harry pushed her back gently on the pillows.
"Stay here," he ordered softly with a grin. He grabbed a pair of sweatpants and pulled them on, along with a faded blue t-shirt. He felt Annika watching him bemusedly as he crossed their bedroom in bare feet.
Katrina looked up as her dad’s head popped out their bedroom door, crinkling her nose in surprise at his disheveled appearance.
"I’m back," she managed to say, before her keen nose caught the scent of something she took several seconds to recognize. Oh, EWWW! She thought, her nose crinkling again. They were having SEX! "I’m going to my room," she announced hurriedly, getting up from the couch.
"Actually, I was wondering it you wanted to spend some more time at Pana’s?" Harry asked, his cheeks flushing slightly with embarrassment as he caught Katrina’s look of shocked disgust.
"Great. Call me when you want me to come home," Katrina replied, shaking her head as she headed back out the door.
Harry chuckled, not blaming his daughter for her reaction in the least. He knew he’d be mortified to find out what his parents had been up to. Closing their bedroom door, he padded quietly back to the bed, stripping the sweats and t-shirt off before climbing back under the covers with Annika, who was looking at him suspiciously.
"Did you just send our daughter back to Pana’s?" she demanded.
"Uh-huh," he said, reaching out to draw her close for a kiss.
"You are incorrigible," Annika replied, before surrendering to his amorous intentions once more.
Quag strolled through the marketplace in the early morning hours, seeking to get a fresh start on any possible business negotiations. So far, there was nothing that he saw that would generate any excitement among his peers back on Ferrenginar. For a people in possession of such supposed technological prowess, he noticed, the Sikarians made a strong effort to downplay their advances when it came to their everyday lives. The marketplace stalls featured only local foods and handicrafts, nothing more remarkable than what could be found on hundreds of planets across the Alpha Quadrant. Any advanced technology on this world appeared hidden beneath a façade more concerned with aesthetics than power.
The Grand Proxy had tried to make appointments with the Council of Peoples, hoping that the magistrates could be persuaded to part with a few trinkets. Unfortunately, despite his desperate offers, the magistrates’ representatives had firmly but politely declines his offers. They did, however, express a willingness to trade in craftworks and culinary delights. But technology was strictly off limits, and Quag knew that a meager art trade would never generate enough latinum to get him back into the good graces of the Grand Nagus.
Wearily, Quag slumped into an empty seat in a nearby outdoor café, hoping that a cool beverage might clear his mind. He was a Ferengi, after all. Even in these times, when the Ferengi Alliance seemed more concerned with earning the respect of aliens than making a profit, a Ferengi always found a way to create an opportunity where none existed.
"Enemy’s Blood!" a loud, hoarse voice called out from a nearby table. "Another round! And be quick about it!"
Quag looked up to see a party of eight Kazon gathered around a table too small for them. They were clearly the most vocal group in the establishment, and had clearly gotten an early start on their drinking and carousing. They looked surly, frustrated, and eager for a fight.
Of course, Quag knew he had found his opportunity.
"Waitress!" Quag called out to the young serving girl who had just left the Kazon party. "Give these gentlemen whatever they like. This round is on me."
The waitress smiled politely at the Ferengi and went about her business. Several of the Kazon, however, seemed less certain and got up from their table to approach him in a menacing fashion.
"You!" said a gruff older man who was clearly the leader. "Why do you buy drinks for us? We don’t know you!"
"Maje Battok," said a second Kazon, pointing to Quag’s combadge. "He wears the emblem of the Enterprise. He’s one of Kim’s minions."
"Is that true, minion?" Battok leaned forward threateningly. The odor of his breath was a clear sign that he and his men had indeed gotten an early start of their drinking. "Did Kim send you here? Are you here to spy on me? Or taunt me?"
Quag could see that the situation was getting dangerous and struggled to regain control. "You misunderstand my intentions, good sir. Please, let me introduce myself. I am Quag, Grand Proxy of the Ferengi Trade Alliance. And while it’s true that I travel with the Enterprise and my government and Captain Kim’s are allied, I am very much my own man. I’m nobody’s minion."
"What is it you want?" Battok replied curtly, looking down at the smaller man with a suspicious glare.
"Only your friendship, Maje…Battok, is it?" Quag answered with a toothy smile. "My purpose out here is to meet new people and to offer…opportunities. Opportunities to men of vision, men such as yourself, I believe."
"As I said before, Mister Grand Proxy," Battok growled, the liquor getting the better of him, "I don’t know you. Why would you want to offer me your friendship, unless it’s to get something from me in return? The only opportunity my men and I want is to enjoy our time on Sikaris. We’ve been on the front lines for two years, killing Krowtonans and seizing territory in the name of the Union and the Grand Maje. Two years of bloodshed, of filth and sweat. And now, despite all my service to the Union, I’m destined to die here on this planet of vree’han."
"I understand exactly, Maje Battok," said Quag contritely. "You and I are both men who are underappreciated for our contributions. But our time will come, I’m certain of that."
Battok looked crossly at him, saying nothing. He then stepped back and glanced at the frothy mugs being deposited at his table.
"Do you drink Enemy’s Blood, Mister Grand Proxy?" he said flatly. "My men and I do not share willingly with those who won’t drink with us."
Quag smiled heartily. He wasn’t a drinker by nature, but he was willing to do whatever it took to open negotiations. He knew that these Kazon, brutish and stupid as they were, could be useful to him later on. As these Kazon learned to trust him, he would learn what their needs were, and how he could best supply them. After all, what was Taron’s pitiful deal with the Tak-Tak compared to the prospect of him becoming the sole distributor to the Kazon Union of Sects?
Harry whistled tunelessly under his breath as he stepped out of the turbolift, moving cheerfully across the bridge to take his seat next to Kalan.
"Good morning, Commander," he said with a smile. "Would you like to share your report with me?"
Kalan eyed him suspiciously, but nodded. "Gamma shift was quiet. Not a peep from our Kazon neighbors out there."
"Good," Harry replied, turning towards Bartok. "Anything else?"
"Captain, I was wondering if I could schedule some time with you," Bartok began, watching Harry fidget restlessly in his seat. "It is nearly time to schedule the crew for their counseling reviews, and I would like your input before I begin." The statement was not exactly true, but it would give him the opportunity to talk to Harry privately in his profession as a counselor.
"Fine, let me know when you’re ready to do that then," Harry replied, his gaze wandering restlessly around the bridge. His eyes rested briefly on Miral, watching the graceful movements of her hands as she touched the holographic controls of the ship, adjusting a minute change in their orbit. Her hair looked different today, he thought, his eyes lingering on the curly brown locks that just reached the top of her shoulders. It looked softer than usual, and he wondered what it would feel like to plunge his hands into its silky length.
"Sir?" Kalan’s voice brought him out of his reverie, startling him. He was a little embarrassed to have been caught, although there was no way Kalan could have known the direction his thoughts had taken.
"Yes, Commander?" Harry replied, peeling his gaze away from his chief helmsman.
"I asked you if you had any further thoughts on how to convince the Sikarians to join the alliance?" Kalan repeated his previous question with surprise.
Ensign Salas chose that moment to walk across the bridge to speak with Miral, and Harry found the view of her slim figure provocative enough that he jumped to his feet. He had nearly crossed the distance to them when he realized what he was doing. Puzzled, and disturbed by his sudden interest in two female members of his bridge crew, Harry backed away, nearly bumping into Bartok.
"Are you all right, captain?" the big man asked with concern.
"Fine. I’m just a little tired. Didn’t get much sleep last night," he leered, then stopped, shocked again by his behavior. "I’ll, uh, be in my ready room if you need me." He turned on his heel and practically fled to the safety of his office, leaving his first officer and chief counselor completely taken by surprise.
The two women spoke with the ease that spoke of years of acquaintance as they walked down the long corridor of the ship.
"Are you planning on taking shore leave with Katrina and Harry while we’re here?" Naomi asked, tucking a stray blonde hair that had escaped its braid behind her ear.
Annika gave a small smile. "Perhaps. We haven’t discussed it, however I think it would be a good opportunity for Katrina, a chance to see a culture that is quite different from ours."
Naomi rolled her eyes good-naturedly. "You’re not supposed to make it a field-trip, Annika. It’s supposed to be fun and relaxing." She looked at her friend and was surprised to see a faint blush stain her cheeks. "What?"
"Well, apparently Harry found it very relaxing," Annika replied, following Naomi into the lift.
"What do you mean?" Naomi asked as the lift doors closed. "Bridge." She turned to Annika with a worried expression. "He’s all right, isn’t he?"
Annika nodded with another small smile. "Oh yes. Very much so."
Naomi looked at her blankly for a moment, then felt her face redden as she caught onto Annika’s meaning. "Oh, well. That’s good then."
"Yes it was."
Too much information! Naomi was saved from having to frame any kind of tactful reply by their arrival on the bridge. She didn’t look at Annika as she made her way to her station at Ops.
"Doctor Kim, would you please report to my ready room?" Harry’s voice came over the bridge intercom, startling Annika. She caught several curious looks from the bridge crew as she passed them, most especially from Bartok, which she couldn’t decipher.
"Come in," came Harry’s reply as she chimed the door for entry. It opened for her and she stepped into the captain’s office, her own curiosity piqued.
"Is there something you wanted, Harry?" she asked, surprised to see him standing next to his desk, instead of sitting at it.
He grinned, taking the few steps that separated them and pulling her into his embrace with enthusiasm that rivaled the previous evening.
"You," he said without preamble, kissing her deeply.
Surprised and shocked by his behavior, Annika pulled away, attempting to capture his hands that were wandering freely over her uniform.
"Harry, what are you doing?"
"I’m making love to my wife," he answered with a lascivious wink, reaching for her once again.
"In your ready room?" Annika backed away, still trying to put some distance between them.
"I’m the captain, it’s my ready room. Why not?" He succeeded in capturing her once more in his embrace, kissing her soundly. "I’m ready if you are."
His methods of persuasion were effective, and Annika found her protests falling by the wayside as he managed to divest them both of any obstacles that stood in the way of his goal.
The tactical computer chirped an alarm, catching Krell’s attention, as well as that of Commander Kalan.
"What is it, Lieutenant?" Kalan asked, looking up from the shore-leave roster he had been working on.
"Four Kazon vessels are approaching Sikaris, sir. They appear to be Predator class," Krell reported, his brows meeting in concern. "They are rendezvousing with the other Kazon ships." He waved his hands over the holographic tactical controls, scanning the vessels. "Their weapons and shields are not online."
"I still don’t like it," Kalan grumbled. "Kalan to Captain Kim." Several seconds passed before Harry responded.
"I’m a little busy at the moment, Commander," Harry’s voice came peevishly through the intercom.
Kalan glanced at Bartok, who shook his head, looking worried.
"I thought you’d like to know, captain, that four Kazon Predators have just taken orbit around the planet."
"I trust you can handle the situation, Commander. Kim out." Harry terminated the transmission abruptly.
Bartok gave Kalan a significant look, one that plainly said he was concerned about their captain’s recent behavior.
The Klingon simply nodded, frowning. "Lieutenant Wildman, contact Gathorel Labin."
"Yes, sir." Naomi initiated the proper commands, and seconds later she looked up from her terminal. "Got him."
The image of Gathorel appeared on the viewscreen, seated on an elaborate lounge chair and surrounded by veiled women who were busy fanning him and feeding him delicacies.
"Ah, Commander Kalan, what a pleasure to hear from you so unexpectedly. What can I do for you?" the Sikarian asked between bites of fruit.
"Magistrate Labin, four additional Kazon ships have arrived in orbit around Sikaris," Kalan reported, ignoring the elaborate display before him.
"Yes?" Gathorel smiled with an eloquent shrug. "You have nothing to fear from them while you are in orbit of Sikaris." He intercepted another bite of fruit that was offered to him and swallowed it, before continuing. "I assure you, they would not dare attack your captain or your ship in our space."
"Fine. Thank you for your time, Magistrate." Kalan nodded brusquely to Naomi to terminate the transmission. The sound of the ready room doors opening caught his attention, and he watched, unable to hide his surprise as Doctor Kim entered the bridge, looking much less immaculate than she had when she had entered. Her face was flushed, and she was trying unsuccessfully to pat her hair back into place as she took her position at her post. She studiously ignored the looks she was getting from the rest of the bridge crew.
Moments later, Harry emerged from his ready room, unaware of the curious and bemused looks cast in his direction as he took his seat. He pulled up the HPADD of the crew shore-leave roster without a word and settled back to study it. He didn’t see Bartok’s eyes widen in surprise nor Kalan’s look of disbelief as they looked at him, taking in the sudden change in his appearance with astonishment. If they had handed Harry a mirror, he would have been equally amazed at his appearance: the lines on his face had lessened to the degree that he now looked like a man in his early 40’s, and the gray in his hair had receded to the point where it was merely a peppering of white amidst the raven-black.
Quag was sitting with Maje Battok in a café in the marketplace on Sikaris when he learned of the flotilla of Kazon ships overhead. It was the same café where he had first extended himself to Battok and his Kazon crew. Several rounds of Enemy’s Blood later, and the Kazon become quite open to him with their current dilemma.
"The ships are there as an intimidation tactic," said Battok. "We don’t dare open fire on the Enterprise or other ships in orbit. Not if we don’t want to disappear forever."
"Disappear?" Battok had sobered up considerably since their initial meeting, but the way he was talking now had Quag wondering if the Kazon leader wasn’t still suffering the lingering effects of Enemy’s Blood.
"That’s what happened to the Vengeful Demon when we first came to Sikaris," said the Kazon maje. "They demanded that the Sikarians turn over their technology to us, and began firing on their cities from orbit. But none of our torpedoes hit their targets. Then the Sikarians…made the ship disappear."
"They destroyed the ship?"
"Not destroyed. She just…vanished. At least, that’s the way I heard it. After that, the Sikarians had the gall to invite our ships to visit Sikaris anytime we liked, as long as we behaved ourselves and refrained from violence while we were their guests." Battok grew angrier as he drank another swig from his mug. "Can you believe that? Bad enough for one of our ships to be destroyed, but they had to humiliate us further, remind us how much more advanced they are, like we were children compared to them."
"It doesn’t seem right," said Quag patiently, as he nursed the vile beverage. He was quietly grateful that the Ferengi immune system was so potent, as it gave him a much strong tolerance to alcoholic beverage than most humanoid races, allowing him to keep his wits about him longer while Battok drank.
"And now my own future is lost to me," said the Kazon. "What a fool I was! I told the Grand Maje that Harry Kim was here, hoping that I would be rewarded. Instead. I’ve been commanded to bring back Kim and some kind of advanced technology to him, all without triggering the wrath of the Sikarians. Now how am I supposed to do that?"
"Technology, you say?" Quag’s ears perked up. After hours of hearing Battok sharing his tales of battle and woe, he finally had some information that was useful to him.
"We’re losing the war," Battok grumbled. "I shouldn’t be saying it, but everyone knows it. The Krowtonans are fighting back with new weapons. We need new weapons of our own… something, anything to give us an edge."
"And the Sikarians won’t share?" said Quag, slowly reeling his customer in. "That doesn’t seem right at all, them and their Canon of Laws. Why, the Federation isn’t any better with their Prime Directive."
"Oh, the Sikarians aren’t the problem. Stealing technology isn’t that difficult."
"The Sikarians aren’t as ethical as they like to let people believe. They’re a corrupt and decadent race, easily willing to part with a few gadgets if you approach the right sort, and if you offer them something they want."
"Is that so?" Quag’s smile gleamed with delight. Perhaps there was something he could gain from Sikaris after all.
"Believe me, there are a few Sikarians, especially females, who are…agreeable," said Battok, baring his teeth in a lusty grin. "These Sikarian women have been surrounded by effeminate fops for so long that they’d give anything to be ravaged by a real man, a Kazon man, if you get my meaning."
"I understand completely."
"The problem is that their technology is too advanced for our people to figure out," Battok lamented. "We’re a warrior people, not scientists. It would take us years to understand how their science worked. And by the time we do learn to copy their technology, it will be too late. The war will be lost."
"Perhaps," Quag offered, "if your people had a technical edge that was a bit…closer to your own level, that might make the difference."
"What do you mean?" said the Kazon, leaning in with interest.
"What if I were to get for you the complete technical schematics for, say, the Enterprise," said Quag. "She’s more advanced than anything in your fleet, but I think her technology might be easier to copy than anything you’d get from the Sikarians. And just think about how grateful your Grand Maje will be when you give him the technical edge your people need to become the dominant power of the quadrant."
"Yes…" said Battok, his eyes gleaming with delight. "But what of Captain Kim? The Grand Maje wants him for himself."
"Obviously that’s not going to be possible with the Sikarians protecting him," said Quag. "But just think. With a ship that’s the tactical equal of the Enterprise, you should have no trouble hunting him down and taking him at a later date."
"And what do you want in exchange for this generosity, Mr. Quag?"
"Oh, simply that you reach out to one of these…agreeable females of yours. I’m sure my people on Ferrenginar will be more successful in figuring out how Sikarian technology works. And who knows? Perhaps when your Union dominates this part of the galaxy, I might be in a position to share more technical secrets, in exchange for your…preferred patronage."
"And for this, you’d betray your own ship?"
"As I told you, Maje Battok, I’m my own man. Like you, I want to get ahead. Too many Ferengi back home have forgotten what it takes to climb the latinum staircase, but my family hasn’t. A relationship between our two peoples will benefit the both of us quite handsomely, wouldn’t you agree?"
"Agreed," said Battok, as he spat into his hand, and then offered it to the Ferengi. Quag concealed his disgust at the Kazon gestured and shook his hand gingerly. "How soon can you be here with the data?"
"I’ll have to beam back to Enterprise. With your ships overhead, everyone should be easily distracted. Some of the heavy weapons systems will be classified, but the rest should be available in their engineering texts. I can be back here in less than six hours."
"Excellent," said Battok. "I’ll find my…lady friend. I’m sure that six hours will be more than enough time to convince her to help us."
"Then let’s drink a toast," Quag said as he hoisted his mug. "To a lasting and profitable partnership."
"Yes," said Battok, with a menacing grin. "I’ll drink to that."
Alpha shift had ended without any further mishap, but Harry couldn’t deny any longer that something was different about him. Bartok had managed to pull him aside shortly after his ‘intermission’ with Annika and pointed out that, unless Harry had been coloring his hair while in his ready room, there were some definite physical changes in his appearance to be accounted for. Bartok had then asked him to come to his quarters after the shift ended for a talk, friend to friend.
Harry sat on the edge of the couch in Bartok’s quarters, his hands clasped together over his knees, watching the big man bring two steaming cups of tea over to the table and set them down. Gratefully, he took the nearest one, bringing the cup to his lips for a cautious sip.
"I’m concerned about you, Harry," Bartok said quietly as he sat down in the chair across from him. "You’re not yourself lately, and I don’t just mean your appearance."
"I don’t know what is wrong with me," Harry sighed, setting aside his cup. "I feel restless, like I’ve got too much energy all of a sudden, and all it’s all I can do to keep my hands off my wife for any length of time." He looked up at Bartok’s chuckle and frowned.
"I’m sorry, Harry. Most men wouldn’t complain about the last one, but I understand it is distracting you from your work." Bartok sobered, looking thoughtful. "With the changes in your hair and face, I’d say whatever is going on with you is most likely physical, rather than mental. I really think you ought to go to Sickbay."
Harry shook his head. "Absolutely not. Other than having more energy than usual, I feel just fine."
Bartok frowned. "But you’re not ‘just fine’, Harry. What is the problem with going to Sickbay?" His eyebrows rose in realization. "Saldeed?"
"I don’t trust her, Finn. I definitely don’t trust her to examine me." Harry crossed his arms.
"So what are you going to do, Harry?" he asked. "Continue to run around and lose sight of your responsibilities while you continue to…"
"To what, Finn?" Harry demanded.
"You know what," the counselor stated. "You’re growing younger, Harry. And not in a positive way, I might add. If this keeps up, there’s no telling what might happen. You might become a danger to the ship if your judgment is compromised."
"What do you think is going to happen, Finn?" he replied harshly. "That I’m going to turn into a reckless teenager or something? That’s crazy! Just the other day, I was telling Annika how much I regretted the years that I’ve lost, how the obligations of being mature and responsible have drained me. Well, look at me now! I’ve got the energy and vitality of a first year cadet! I’ve never felt this alive, not even when I was twenty! There’s nothing I need to go to Sickbay about, certainly nothing that’s worth having Saldeed poke around inside my head for. Now, if you’ll excuse me." And with that, Harry got up from his seat and stormed out the door.
Bartok sighed, knowing that unless he could come up with a convincing argument, there was no way he was going to change Harry’s mind. He finished his tea in silence.
It wasn’t quite Gamma shift yet, but Saldeed was tired of sitting alone in her quarters reading. Deciding that her time would be better spent working on a new batch of antihistamine for the crew, she abandoned her holonovel and made her way to Sickbay.
Nurse Baker, forever on duty it seemed, looked up from her work and smiled in a friendly fashion.
"I hope you don’t object to me starting my shift early, Nurse Baker," Saldeed said acerbically as she stepped through the doors of Sickbay.
"Not at all," the holographic woman replied. "You’re the Chief Medical Officer, after all."
"Nice of someone to remember that," Saldeed replied more sharply than she intended. Baker, however, didn’t react to the tone, but simply returned to her work. Sighing, Saldeed accessed the HPADD that contained the information she wanted on preparting allergy treatments.
The doors to Sickbay hissed open, and Saldeed turned from her HPADD to see who it was.
Katrina Kim, with Miral following close behind her, entered Sickbay, making a beeline for Saldeed. The Romulan’s eyebrows arched in surprise, but inwardly she was pleased to see her former student.
"Something I can help you with?" she asked, deactivating the HPADD.
Katrina fidgeted, shifting from one foot to the other and casting occasional mute glances at Miral before she managed to speak. "I just wanted to know how you were doing," she said lamely.
Saldeed snorted. "I’m busy. What are you doing out this late?" To her surprise, she saw Katrina blush. She looked past the young girl to see Miral standing behind her, still remaining silent during the exchange. "What about you, Ensign? Was this your idea, her coming to see me?"
"No," said Miral. "It was hers. But to be honest, I also wanted to know how you were doing."
"It’s nice you’ve taken an interest, Ensign," Saldeed replied coolly. "I wasn’t sure what your take was on my…recent situation."
"To be honest, I’m not too sure myself," said the young officer, shifting uncomfortably as she spoke. "I’m not comfortable with what you used to do for a living, that’s for certain. I didn’t know what to say to you if I saw you again."
"And now that you see me?"
"I’m still not sure," said Miral. "But I guess I should be willing to take a chance. Lord knows my family has had its share of checkered pasts. And besides," she added, showing a nervous smile, "I remembered you said something about owing me a drink."
"Well, that’s an honest answer anyway," said Saldeed, showing a grudging smile. "Now," she continued as she turned to face Katrina, "suppose you tell me what really brings you here, seeing as how the good ensign has now come clean."
"Well, um, that is my Dad told me to go find something to do for now." Katrina mumbled, looking away quickly. She took a deep breath and met Saldeed’s gaze. "I’m worried about him, my Dad I mean. He’s not acting like he should."
Curious, Saldeed grabbed a nearby stool and sat on it. "What do you mean, exactly?"
"Well, um, he acts like he’s phased or something. I mean, they never let me out this late before, and suddenly, the past two days, Dad is telling me to go find something else to do so he and mom can be alone," the last was said with significant eye rolling so Saldeed could not mistake her meaning.
"I found her wandering the corridors outside the Galleria," Miral added with a shake of her head. "The Captain and Annika have always been very protective of Katrina. This isn’t like them at all."
"And it isn’t mom, really. Its just dad," Katrina said, obviously worried. "He’s acting so weird."
"I see," Saldeed said, folding her arms across her chest and looking down at Katrina. "Well, as much as I’d love to investigate your father’s sudden strange behavior, he and I have a little understanding: I stay away from him, and he stays away from me. Besides, if it’s a behavioral problem, then that would fall under Counselor Bartok’s purview, not mine."
"You’re the Chief Medical Officer!" Katrina retorted, not liking the doctor’s answer at all.
It was the second time in several minutes that someone had reminded her of that fact, and she found it greatly irritating. "That’s right, I am. So I decide if someone needs an examination or not," she said, her lips thinning in an angry line.
"You’re responsible for the health of everyone aboard this ship, including my dad," Katrina argued. "Just because you and he aren’t getting along." She choked, turning away as tears threatened to embarrass her further. "Please," she said finally, turning back to face Saldeed once she had regained her composure. "I’m really worried about him."
Saldeed took one look at those brown eyes turned so pleadingly towards her and threw her arms in the air in resignation. "Fine!" she said with a sigh, disgusted with herself for allowing Katrina to get to her emotionally. "If you can get him to come here, I’ll examine him."
"And don’t tell anyone what I told you, please?" Katrina asked. "About, you know." She rolled her eyes again.
"Not a soul," Saldeed agreed, hiding a smile as she watched the two women leave Sickbay.
Annika was busy tidying up her personal workstation, trying to reflect on her actions earlier that day. It had been grossly irresponsible of her, giving in to passion the way she did, having an afternoon encounter in the ready room of all places. What had she been thinking? More importantly, what had Harry been thinking? And did Harry’s appearance seem different somehow as she hustled onto the turbolift?
She was considering talking to someone about it, but she wasn’t sure how to bring it up. It was all so embarrassing, more so for Harry. Fortunately, it didn’t appear that the bridge crew was aware of what they had been up to in the ready room. But how many more incidents like this had to happen before Harry’s ability to command was called into question?
She heard the door slide open behind her, and looked back over her shoulder, only to see her husband, staring at her with lascivious hunger.
"Now there’s a beautiful sight," said Harry as he came towards her.
"Harry," said Annika coolly. "I think there is much for us to discuss."
"Honey, there’s always time for talk later," he said as he came up to her, his arms wrapping around her midsection.
"I think we should talk now, Harry," she said seriously as she squirmed against his embrace. "Your behavior is not normal. Even Katrina has noticed it and it has made her concerned. I believe you may need medical treatment."
"Baby, whatever problems there are, we can always work them out in bed," he said as he gripped her tighter. "Now why don’t we…"
"No!" said Annika forcefully as she pushed him off of her. "Have you heard nothing that I have said? You are acting like a stranger. And your face…" She could see it clearly now. The gray was dwindling, his hair mostly the solid black she had known since those early days on Voyager. His face also was smoother, more youthful, the familiar boyishness she remembered, before time and responsibility had set in. Only his eyes seemed older beyond their apparent years.
"This is not you," she persisted, her tone gentler, more worried. "In all the years we have been together, you have never had to force yourself upon me. Something has happened to you, Harry. It frightens me."
"I…" Harry stammered, then slumped his shoulders and hung his head in shame. "I don’t understand what’s going on with me. I feel…so much energy. It’s like my whole body is on fire, and I have to quench it somehow. At first, after last night, then this morning, I thought it would be enough. But…it’s all I think about. I can’t focus on my work, the ship…god, I think I’m losing my mind."
Annika came up to her husband, slowly and tenderly wrapping her arms around him, pulling him close to her.
"You need help, Harry. Whatever is happening, I know there is an explanation for it. We must go to Sickbay and…"
"No!" he snapped as he stepped away from her. "I told Finn and I’m telling you. I’m not going to Sickbay. I won’t let that…Inquisitor…get her mitts on me."
"Do not be foolish," said Annika. "Katrina has already spoken with Doctor Saldeed and told me that…"
"She did what?!" Harry sputtered. "I specifically told her not to got anywhere near that woman unless it was an emergency. Was someone else helping her on this? Because if…"
Annika crossed her arms, but for once her look of disapproval was not directed at her daughter, but rather at her husband.
"This is an emergency, Harry," she tried again, concern coloring her voice. "Katrina has every right to be worried about you. We both are."
"She had no business going to that woman," he began, but was cut off by Annika’s angry glare.
"Your problem with Dr. Saldeed’s past is not the issue here, Harry. Your health is, and if you think that there is nothing wrong with you, then I suggest you look in a mirror," she retorted. "She had every right as your daughter to take her concerns to the ship’s doctor. I should have done that myself," she added, "but I let my own interests get the better of my judgment." She took a deep breath, and continued in a much softer voice, "You need to go to Sickbay, Harry. Something is wrong with you, and we need to find out what it is."
Harry silently nodded his ascent, knowing that arguing with Annika once she had her mind made up was futile. The two of them left their quarters together and headed for Sickbay.
Dr. Saldeed was waiting for them, as was Katrina, and indicated the biobed she wanted Harry to sit on without comment. She reached for her tricorder and began her scans under the watchful eyes of the Kim family.
The tricorder gave a chirp when it had finished, and Saldeed read the results, shaking her head slightly as she did so.
"Well?" Harry demanded, crossing his arms and fixing the doctor with a sharp look. "What’s wrong with me?"
Saldeed bit back the sharp reply that immediately sprang to mind at his question.
"Your bloodstream is saturated with some kind of complex molecule," she replied, placing the tricorder carefully back on the instrument table. "It appears that these molecules are aggressively cleaning your cells of toxins, and also increasing your endorphin levels to a much higher degree than normal." She looked up at him to gauge his reaction to her diagnosis and was relieved to find his hostile expression fading. "It is, in effect, reversing the aging process. According to my scans, you have the body of a 34 year old human male in his prime." She took a deep breath, locking her gaze with his. "The bad news is that the enzyme responsible for your sudden youthful turn is not compatible with your human DNA. Along with increasing your endorphin levels, it is destabilizing the other hormones, particularly those associated with behavior and brain activity. In short, while you grow younger, you risk permanent brain damage and possible insanity."
Annika’s face echoed Harry’s expression of alarm and dismay. She managed to ask, "Is the condition permanent?"
Saldeed shrugged slightly. "Without treatment, it is probable that his condition will continue – but with treatment, the prognosis is good. I will try to cleanse the molecules from his bloodstream, and we’ll go from there."
Harry swallowed, not liking the uncertainty of the situation one bit. He was, however, grateful that his family had convinced him to come before he lost control in front of the crew.
Saldeed muttered silently under her breath as she worked, feeling uncharacteristically nervous about treating her patient. She had hoped an opportunity would arise where she could convince the captain of her honest desire to do her job as the chief doctor of Enterprise, but she wished it was for something where the prognosis and treatment were a little more simplified, and where there was a better chance of success.
As she systematically began cleansing his bloodstream of the molecules, she monitored her results. A frown appeared, growing deeper each passing moment until she finally dropped the instrument she had been using on the instrument cart and shook her head.
"I’ve managed to stabilize your condition, captain, but it’s only temporary. It’s not a cure," she said with honest regret.
Harry felt his stomach sink at her words, and he saw his feelings echoed in the faces of his wife and daughter. "Can we try something else?" he asked hopefully.
"Without knowing what caused your condition in the first place, I’m afraid my knowledge of options for treatment are limited," Saldeed replied, shaking her head once more.
A look of realization crossed Harry’s features and he sat up straighter. "Eudana!" he exclaimed, turning towards Saldeed. "She blew some kind of powder on me while I was on the planet. I completely forgot about it until now," he said, feeling foolish.
Saldeed raised an eyebrow Vulcan-fashion but resisted the urge to snort. "Well, you haven’t been your usual self, captain. I’m not surprised you forgot about it."
"Perhaps then," Annika said, hope dawning slowly on her face, "the answer lies with Sikaris. They might have a cure." She looked down at Katrina, who was holding her hand tightly, her small face pinched with worry. "We need to contact Gathorel Labin immediately."
The estate of Magistrate Labin fit the Sikarian’s personality perfectly, Bartok thought as he followed Annika up the red stone pathway that was bordered with lush and exotic looking plants. The house itself stood at the end of the path overlooking a perfectly manicured lawn, three levels of flawless white brick casting a long shadow across the grass. Bartok’s eyes wandered up the long, white columns of stone that supported the overhanging porch, providing shade to the oversized double doors. The doors, as well as the roof of the house, matched the red stones of the pathway.
The master of the house was there to greet them as they reached the doors, smiling pleasantly at them both.
"Welcome to my house," Gathorel said with a slight bow. "It is a pleasure to have you both as my guests."
Although anxious, Annika was equally gracious. "Thank you for receiving us on such short notice, Magistrate."
Gathorel caught her left hand deftly between his own and brought it to his lips for a kiss. "I only hope I can be of some assistance," he said, holding her hand for a moment longer, before releasing it. "Please, come inside where it is cooler. May I offer you some refreshments?" he asked over his shoulder as they followed him inside.
"No, thank you, Magistrate," Annika replied. "We are actually rather pressed for time."
Gathorel halted in mid-stride and turned, his expression serious. "Ah, yes. Very well then, we’ll use my study."
They took the comfortable looking chairs he offered them, taking one of his own across from them, behind a large and well-organized desk. "Now," he began, his hands meeting in a point under his chin, "What can I do for you?"
"When Captain Kim was on the surface two days ago, he met with an old acquaintance of his from the time when Voyager was here," Bartok said, leaning his bulky frame forward slightly in his chair. "She blew some type of powder on him shortly before he returned to the ship. Whatever is in that powder is harmful to humans."
"My husband has been acting strangely since the incident," Annika continued, her blue eyes troubled. "He has undergone physical changes as well. Our ship’s doctor does not have the ability or the technology to cure him."
Gathorel sat back, his hands dropping easily to his thighs. "I see," he said, the pleasant expression he usually wore slowly fading. "You are here to ask for a cure for this mysterious illness he suffers?"
Bartok saw Annika’s face flush with anger at the Magistrate’s condescending tone. "Both the doctor and the captain believe that this powder is responsible for his symptoms," he explained quietly. "That is why we are here."
"That is a possibility," Gathorel agreed slowly. "Tell me, who was it that your husband met with?"
"He said her name was Eudana," Annika replied, the flush still coloring her cheeks.
"Ah!" Gathorel’s smile returned briefly. "I know her well. She’s one of my aides." He turned in his chair and tapped a control pad on the desk. After a moment, he turned back to them. "I have requested that she come to the estate. She should be here in a moment."
"Do you have any idea what the powder was that she used?" Annika asked hopefully.
Gathorel shrugged. "It could be any number of items that Eudana regularly carries in her shop, for all I know. That is why I have summoned her here."
Bartok’s bushy eyebrows rose slightly. "Shop? What kind of shop does she have?"
The Sikarian’s smile took a suggestive turn. "Mainly aphrodisiacs and sensory enhancers."
Bartok didn’t look at Annika to know that she was silently fuming. He could well understand her anger, and felt a brief moment of pity for his friend when he was well again. Annika had a sharp tongue when she was angry, and she wasn’t afraid to use it. What he couldn’t quite understand was why Harry went into the shop in the first place.
The doorbell chimed a brief musical sound that brought Gathorel to his feet. "If you’ll excuse me for a moment. Most likely that is Eudana."
"Did you know anything about this, Bartok," Annika said in a low voice, turning to fix him with a firm look.
"Thankfully, no," he said with a brief grin. "I’m sure Harry had a good reason. Let him explain before you let your anger get the better of you."
Slowly, Annika nodded. "I’m just so worried about him right now," she said quietly. "I think I’ll be happy just to know he’s okay."
Bartok was about to reply, when Gathorel returned with Eudana in tow.
Annika eyed the young and attractive Sikarian woman with a challenging look.
"Oh," Eudana said with a small smile. "You must be Harry’s wife. He told me all about you. Tell me," she dropped her voice suggestively. "Did you enjoy my gift?"
Annika’s eyes widened slightly. "What did you give him?"
"We call it Lifeseed," Eudana replied easily, not understanding the other woman’s concern. "We use it to maintain our youth and zest for life. There is nothing harmful in it."
Annika took a deep breath. "Your harmless powder is destroying my husband," she said, her voice trembling with emotion. "It brought him youth and vitality, but at the price of losing his mind."
Eudana’s look of dismay was heartfelt and genuine. "I would never have given it to him if I thought it would hurt him," she exclaimed, shaking her head. "Everyone on Sikaris takes it every day of their lives. It’s the reason we live so long and stay so young."
Gathorel’s expression was equally dismayed. "She would not have known it would be harmful, Dr. Kim. You must believe her."
Annika searched Eudana’s face deeply, looking for any sign that she was dissembling. Finally she nodded. "I believe you. Now," she turned her attention to Gathorel, fixing him with a penetrating gaze. "What are you going to do about it?"
Gathorel’s eyebrows flew upwards in complete surprise. "Me? Dear lady?" He shook his head slowly. "I’m afraid there is nothing I can do about it."
"Why not?" Bartok demanded with a frown.
With a heavy sigh, Gathorel leaned back in his chair and shook his head again. "Our canon of laws strictly forbids giving technology to non-Sikarians. That includes medical technology, which I’m afraid your ‘cure’ falls under."
"But…one of your people is responsible for this," Annika retorted, her eyes flashing in anger.
"And you have my deepest, most sincere regrets that this unfortunate incident has occurred," Gathorel replied smoothly. "Captain Kim is a fine man, and it troubles me that he has been so affected. I truly wish there was something I could do."
Annika had risen from her chair, and angry reply forming on her lips, when the computer on Gathorel’s desk chirped for attention.
"Excuse me a moment, please?" Gathorel turned away from them to address his computer, tapping a few commands before responding. "Yes?"
"I apologize for intruding on your evening, Magistrate," a male voice issued from the speaker across from him. "But a situation has occurred that requires your attention."
"What is it?"
"An Illidarian ship was intercepted en route to Sikaris. They managed to get a message through to us, however, and it appears that the Kazon have massed ships just outside our space and are blocking any ships from trying to reach Sikaris."
Gathorel frowned. "Can our planetary defenses remove them?"
"I’m sorry magistrate, but they are too far away. We have also received a communication from Maje Battok."
"And what does Maje Battok have to say?" Gathorel’s voice was flat.
"He informs us that the embargo will continue until Sikaris delivers Harry Kim to the Kazon. Do you want to send a reply?"
Gathorel sighed, glancing at Annika and Bartok to see how they were registering this new threat. "Not at the moment. Inform me if there are any changes."
He terminated the transmission and sat back, folding his hands across his flat stomach.
"We will not, of course, give the Kazon what they want," he said to Annika and Bartok with a small shake of his head.
Annika turned on her heel, pausing just before the doorway of the study to look back at Gathorel.
"Of course not," she said coldly. "You don’t like to give anyone what they want."
"Please," said Gathorel. "I understand your anguish. We are not a cruel people. But there are laws and standards that must be upheld. The consequences for failing to uphold are more important than even the life of one man. I truly am sorry."
"If you are so sorry," Annika seethed, "then you will come to the Enterprise and see for yourself what your advanced technology has done. Look my husband in the eye and tell him yourself why he is to be condemned."
Unexpectedly, Gathorel nodded his head in solemn agreement. "You are right, of course. I should pay my respects to Captain Kim. It is because of us that this has happened. We owe him at least an explanation, and an apology. Do you not agree, Eudana?"
Annika, of course, had not expected a response like that from the magistrate. She was certain that the Sikarians would simply wash their hands of any responsibility or moral obligations. It softened her stance towards the magistrate, but the woman, Eudana, seemed less obligated.
"Sir, I…I think it would be awkward. Not to mention there are things I need to get done. There’s someone I have to meet with, and…"
"Tend to your meeting, then," said Gathorel with a parental tone of disapproval. "But when you are done, I will expect you back here. It doesn’t please me that we – or rather, you – are the cause of this woman’s sadness."
"Yes, magistrate," said the young woman humbly. She looked up to see the icy glare that Annika was giving her. "I will not be long."
The alleyway was in one of the quieter parts of the village, Quag noticed, as he looked about anxiously, trying his best not to be seen. He clutched at the small isolinear chip tucked safely into his vest pocket, making sure it was safe.
Everything had gone smoother than he had expected. While the crew of the Enterprise was distracted by the increasing belligerence of the Kazon ships, he had been able to request a quick beam up without anyone giving it a second thought. His diplomatic access allowed him to download the ship’s engineering files without raising any alarms. Of course, the weapons, slipstream, and cloaking systems were all off limits, but there was no reason to go into that much detail with Maje Battok. Just the hull and shielding data alone would give the Kazon Union the edge they needed, enough to earn their eternal gratitude and trust, enough to make these backward savages dependent on continued Ferengi generosity.
Just like in the old days, Quag thought with satisfaction, as he waited for his contacts to arrive.
"Mr. Quag," a gruff voice came from behind him. "My men had their doubts you would actually go through with it."
"Maje Battok," he said, nodding his head, as he patted his vest pocket. "I’ve kept my end of the bargain." He noticed that in addition to Battok, there were at least five of his men flanking his side. A rather large number for what should be just a simple exchange.
"And I’ve kept mine," said the Kazon leader.
"Your contact was able to obtain something of value?" Quag asked hopefully.
"You could say that," Battok answered with a broad grin. "Show him, my lovely." At his command, a slight feminine shape emerged from the shadows behind the Kazon group and walked into the lit alleyway, holding a white boxlike shape in her hands. The young woman was dark-haired, young looking, and somehow familiar to Quag.
"You…" he said, as recognition dawned on him. "I saw you when I first arrived here. You’re one of Gathorel Labin’s people, aren’t you?"
"Yes, Grand Proxy," said Eudana with an immodest smile. "How else would I be able to obtain this?" She held up the object in her hands for him to see.
"Is that what I think it is?"
"A spatial trajector," she announced proudly. "I took a great risk in bringing this to you. But Battok said it would be so worth it if I did."
Quag noticed the Kazon and the Sikarian woman exchanging odd, almost bestial looks, but paid it only a moment’s notice. He was practically salivating at the prospect of holding the forbidden device in his hands. The Sikarians used technology such as this to transport people to distances up to forty thousand light years in an instant. And soon, he would be bringing this same technology back home to Ferrenginar. A simple scan and a hyperlink call back home and the schematics would be in the hands of a small army of Ferengi researchers, all prepared to reproduce the device and unlock its secrets.
"Our people couldn’t figure out how to make it work," said Battok. "Perhaps your government will have better luck with it."
"I’m confident that they will," said Quag, watching with feverish anticipation as Eudana came closer with the device. But Battok stepped forward and put his hand on her shoulder, stopping her.
"First things first, Mr. Quag," he said. "Your data."
Quag understood and stepped forward to meet them halfway, extending the isolinear chip to the Kazon’s waiting palm.
"Excellent," said Battok with delight. "This will guarantee the victory of the Union, Mr. Quag. You’ve done a great service to my people."
"And to you, Maje Battok," said Quag. "Now, the trajectory, if you please."
"Of course," said the Kazon as Eudana stepped forward and handed the device into Quag’s eager grasp. "This calls for a celebration. The first of many successful dealings between our two people." Battok reached into his tunic and tossed the Ferengi a small metallic flask. Quag caught the flask with his right hand as he gingerly clutched the trajectory in his left.
"A drink, to seal our bargain!" said Battok heartily.
Ecstatic at the prospect of his newfound wealth and status, Quag eagerly popped the top of the flask and quaffed down the beverage as the Kazon sipped it slowly.
"It’s not Enemy’s Blood," said Quag, gagging slightly as the liquid seared his throat. "It tastes different."
"It’s supposed to," said Eudana, with a wide and malicious grin, one that was shared with Battok and the other Kazon. Suddenly, Quag felt very unsteady, his legs weakened, and his eyes grew heavier.
"I should…" he began, turning to leave, but he found his movements harder to control. Gripping the trajectory tightly, he tried to move, only to stumble ungracefully to his knees. The case of the trajectory cracked under his fingers as he clutched it too hard, and quickly fell apart in his hands.
"W-wha?" Quag tried to say, but words were failing him. The ‘trajector’ appeared to be no more than some kind of plaster fabrication. He looked up pleadingly at his Kazon associates, but the men were now openly laughing at him, and none more loudly than his ‘friend’ Battok
"Did you really think you could lead me around by the nose, little man?" he sneered, as the Sikarian woman snuggled up next to him. "That I was such an ignorant rube that could be dazzled by a few trinkets and then promise to share results that you had no intention of delivering? We Kazon are not greedy merchants, Mr. Grand Proxy. We are warriors. What we want, we take."
"We?" Battok chuckled nastily, shaking his head. "There is no we, troll. The Kazon were once lured into slavery by the false promises of Trabe moneymen, and we won’t be so easily fooled again. The Union stands alone, and your generous gift assures that we will stand in victory."
Quag’s eyelids were so heavy he found it nearly impossible to keep them open. His brain grew foggy, making it difficult for him to think straight. The drink had to have been poisoned somehow, he thought fuzzily, his head spinning. Was this how it was to end for him, to be found dead in an alley on some planet seventy thousand light-years from home? He had no answer as the world around him went black and he faded into unconsciousness.
The Kazon surrounded him, looking down and making sure that he was indeed out cold.
"How long will he be asleep?" Battok asked, leering down at the woman at his side.
"At least four hours, maybe more," said Eudana. "If anyone finds him, they’ll just assume he had too much to drink."
The two looked into each other’s eyes with unrestrained animal lust, and then locked lips in a ferocious display of passion. The other men looked on and sniggered, as if eager receive their own share of the attention.
"We shouldn’t leave him here," ventured one of Battok’s lieutenants. "He knows too much. We should silence that tongue of his…permanently." The younger Kazon reached for his harness and to unsheathe a long curved knife.
"No!" Eudana exclaimed sharply, breaking away from Battok’s embrace. Her outburst earned her hostile glares from the other men, who were not accustomed to females speaking up to contradict males. She shook her head warningly. "Any violence, and the sentries will react. It will be very bad for you and your ship."
"Sentries?" Battok looked around anxiously, scowling. "Are you saying we’ve been watched the entire time?"
"Of course not," she said. "Sikaris isn’t a police state. People are free to do and say whatever pleases them, as long as there’s no violence."
"Then we’ll leave him," decided Battok, poking the prone form of Quag with the toe of his boot. "We must return to the ship. We won’t do anything to spoil our plans, not when we’re on the verge of becoming heroes of the Union." He held up the isolinear chip proudly, like a symbol of victory. "We have much to analyze before can decide what to do about our friend, Captain Kim."
"He’s still on the Enterprise," said Eudana with a pleased smile. "He won’t be traveling anytime soon. Not in his current condition."
Battok held her chin, as he looked at her plainly. "You have no regrets, my hearty wench? I know that you once desired the good captain?"
"That was a long time ago," she said bitterly. "He’s not the same man he once was. He no longer pleases me."
"But what about him?" the young lieutenant said, gesturing to the slumped form of the sleeping Ferengi. "What if he tells his captain or the Sikarian magistrates?"
"Don’t be foolish," Battok laughed. "He just tried to betray his own ship. He won’t be talking to anyone."
Maje Battok stepped onto the bridge the Sharpened Blade, while his lieutenants stood at attention, awaiting his command.
"Have you analyzed the data?" he demanded eagerly. "Is there anything we can use? I need to know what to report to the Grand Maje!"
"Yes, Maje," said Lupek, his chief engineer, a skinny Kazon with a sallow complexion. "Unfortunately, the data tells us nothing about their weapons or cloaking systems. But it’s more than enough to give us the edge over the Krowtonans."
"Yes, never mind that," said Battok impatiently. "How soon can we adapt this new technology to the Sharpened Blade?"
"To attack Enterprise?" said Lupek with surprise. "Maje, it would take the Union months to reproduce this information alone. And it would be months more to retrofit an entire Predator."
"Then this doesn’t help us!" Battok growled furiously as he slammed his fist against the nearest bulkhead. "The Grand Maje will not be satisfied with the promise of a ship that one day may be able to fight Enterprise. He wants Captain Kim in chains now!"
"There may be a way," said Rebat, his tactical officer, who was hearty and stout where Lupek was pale and thin.
"What way is that?"
"We can’t augment Sharpened Blade," said Rebat, "but we have the deck plans for Enterprise. And according to your…friend…on Sikaris, Maje, Kim is in the ship’s infirmary. We can use the transporter and beam Kim off the ship."
"The transporter?" repeated Battok, shaking his head uneasily.
Everyone on the bridge shared Battok’s apprehension. The Kazon Nistrim had stolen transporter technology from Voyager over twenty-five years ago. But even now, most Kazon were still ambivalent about using a device that disassembled their molecules and claimed to reassemble them intact. They were crude devices, used only for cargo loading, or moving people in emergencies. But in this case…
"How long would it take to get Kim off his ship?" Battok asked finally.
"Only a few seconds," said Lupek. "If we catch Enterprise by surprise, we can have him off before they can raise their shields."
"Excellent," said Battok with a satisfied grin, his good humor restored. "We can take him without firing a shot. By the time the Sikarians know what we’ve done, we’ll be in warp and far away."
He turned to the helm, glancing up briefly at the viewscreen, where the bright sliver that was Enterprise hung over the pristine blue and white globe of Sikaris. "Hail the other ships. Tell them to step up the harassment but not to fire any shots. I want the Sikarians and Enterprise looking elsewhere when we make our move."
"Sir!" Cyrus Krell called out from the tactical station on the bridge. "The Predators are dispersing. They seem to be locking on to different targets in orbit over Sikaris."
Kalan’s brow furrowed as he leaned forward in the command seat, considering the Kazon strategy. "Are any of them powering up their weapons?"
"Negative," said Krell. "They’re just locking sensors."
"Hmmm," Kalan mused as he focused on the viewscreen, watching the nearest of the Predators moving in their direction. "They may be trying to step up their war of nerves. Continue tracking each vessel."
"Aye, sir. They…sir, one of the vessels is bearing down on our position."
Kalan’s first thoughts were to arm phasers and target the Predator amidships. But he knew the Captain would not approve, nor would the Sikarians, especially since a delegation from the planet’s surface had just beamed aboard.
"Hail the Kazon," Kalan ordered. "Inform them if they don’t alter course, their actions will be seen as an aggressive act and we will respond."
"Sir, they’re not stopping or acknowledging our hail," Naomi called out. "They’re not arming their weapons, either. They’re just…moving closer."
"Prepare to raise shields on my command," Kalan ordered. "Go to Red Alert."
Doctor Saldeed and Nurse Baker stood over the weakened body of Harry Kim on the biobed, helpless to do anything. The captain now looked barely old enough to be a Starfleet officer, like he had just graduated from the Academy. But his youth was no indication of good health. His face was bathed in a cold sweat, his body shivering with the increased metabolic energy that came with his unnatural rejuvenation.
The doctor and the nurse were not alone in their vigil. Annika Kim and her daughter looked on at the man they knew as husband and father, grief-stricken while watching him twitch and babble incoherently. Gathorel Labin and Eudana were also there with a small gathering of Sikarians, their faces a mixture of silent regret and forced emotional distance.
"It’s gotten worse since you’ve left," Saldeed reported to Annika. "The molecules are reproducing again, and I can’t cleanse his blood fast enough to get rid of them."
"Remarkable," said Eudana, stepping forward, her attention riveted on Harry. "He looks just like the boy I remembered from all those years ago. He was so beautiful back then."
"Do not touch him!" Annika hissed. "You are the cause of this! What were you thinking, giving him a substance that would alter his body without considering the physiological differences?"
"I was trying to make him happy. And if you must know, I was hoping you would have enjoyed the results too. Or are you telling me you didn’t take advantage of the situation?"
If looks could kill, then Annika’s fierce glare would have easily landed her in the brig. But she said nothing. Katrina on the other hand, was not so diplomatic.
"Shut your clamp, bitch!" she snapped harshly, fixing the Sikarian woman with a furious look. "You did this to my dad! What are you going to do about it?"
Before Annika could comment on her daughter’s language, the alert klaxon went off. Everyone looked about, not sure of what was happening.
"I hope that isn’t anything serious," Gathorel commented, perhaps the most inappropriate thing he could say, given the circumstances.
"Mom!" Katrina shouted in alarm, pointing to the biobed where her father lay. It was being enveloped in sparkles and energy waves, with an eerie familiar whistle pervading throughout the room.
Someone was trying to beam Harry off the ship.
"We have a lock," Lupek reported from the sensor station. "Captain Kim will be aboard within moments."
"They haven’t raised their deflectors yet," Rebat said with surprise.
"Of course not," Battok declared as he reclined comfortably in his command chair. "They’ve underestimated us," he sneered, then added, "Just like that fool Ferengi."
"Should we raise our shields, Maje?" asked Rebat, swiveling in his chair to look at his maje.
"No," Battok answered confidently. "We’re still in mid-transport. Besides, Enterprise won’t dare to fire upon us." He smirked. "Not with the Sikarians watching.
"We must raise the shields!" Annika stated frantically as she slapped her combadge. "Commander Kalan, someone…"
But Saldeed was already one step ahead, slapping her own combadge, establishing a link to the ship’s computer. "Initiate Quarantine Protocols, authorization Alpha Epsilon D’hara N’eh."
Once the command was given, there was an immediate shift in the room’s air circulation as Sickbay disconnected from Enterprise’s life support system and switched to its own self-contained generator, all vents and access hatches now vacuum-sealed. A brief flicker of light at the door signaled that the quarantine force field was in place. Sickbay was now entirely cut off from the rest of the ship.
The quarantine field immediately cut off the transporter lock, and Harry’s molecules returned to their ground state.
"That should hold him," Saldeed said with satisfaction. "These quarantine fields have automatic harmonic modulation in case of rapid viral mutation. No one’s going to be beaming around that."
"You…you saved him," said a bewildered Katrina. "You saved my dad’s life."
"Of course I saved him," she replied with a crooked smile. "I’m a doctor. That’s my job. If I can’t cure the man, at least I can keep him from being beamed away."
Before anyone could respond, Kalan’s voice came over the intercom. "Doctor, we detected transporter activity in Sickbay. What’s happening down there?"
"It is under control, Commander," Annika replied with obvious relief. "The Kazon attempted to transport the captain off the ship."
"A kidnapping?" said Kalan. "How could they…it is no matter. We’re preparing to fire on…"
"No, Commander," interrupted Gathorel. "We cannot permit any violence in our space."
"But Magistrate," Kalan replied. "Our vessel has been attacked. We must respond."
"Do not concern yourselves with the Kazon, Commander," replied the magistrate smoothly. "We will handle them." He reached for the jewel-studded bracelet on his right wrist.
"Magistrate," Eudana rushed to Gath’s side, gripping his right arm, "surely it isn’t necessary for you to…"
"Feeling sympathy for your Kazon friends, Eudana?" Gathorel asked with bemused smile.
"I…I don’t know what you mean, Magistrate," Eudana stammered nervously.
"Really, my dear, you should learn to be more discreet with your liaisons." He raised his eyebrows suggestively. "You know how people love to gossip. Now," he said, turning away from her in dismissal. "If you will excuse me, I really must attend to this."
"What happened?" Battok demanded with a heavy scowl. "How could we lose the lock? They haven’t raised shields!"
"I don’t know, Maje," Lupek replied, frantically trying to adjust his sensor readings. "They must have some kind of force field around the Sickbay. I could try to adjust…"
But Lupek’s protestations were forgotten when a bright glow manifested in the center of the bridge. An isomorphic projection took shape, gradually assuming the form of Gathorel Labin.
"Maje Battok," said Gath disapprovingly, shaking his head. "You have been a most ungrateful guest. Harassing other visitors to our planet is rude enough. But did I not warn you that Captain Kim was under my protection, and that I would not countenance any actions on your part to harm him?"
"Magistrate," Battok said in a more diplomatic tone. "Surely whatever the Enterprise crew has told you…"
"They didn’t have to tell me anything. I am aboard Enterprise right now."
Battok and every Kazon on the bridge went white, realizing that they had been caught in the act, and there was no way of denying it.
"I’m afraid you’ve left us very little choice," Gathorel said with an eloquent shrug. "I do hope that should you ever return to Sikaris, you will have learned some manners by then. Relying on the kindness of strangers is going to be a very important skill for you in the near future."
"Sir!" Naomi Wildman exclaimed as she watched the scene on the viewscreen. The Kazon Predator flickered for several seconds…and then vanished.
"What happened?" Kalan demanded. "Have they cloaked?"
"No sir," Krell reported. "I’m not getting any emissions or tachyon readings. They’re…they’re just not there anymore."
"And the other Kazon ships?"
"They’re breaking off, sir. I think that whatever happened, it has them spooked. Several are going into warp as we speak."
"Commander?" Naomi piped up. "What…what just happened here? If the Kazon didn’t escape, then what…?"
"Good question, Lieutenant," replied Kalan, shaking his head. "I believe the Sikarians have chosen to deal with the problem themselves."
Eudana had fallen to her knees, her face ashen, as she watched on the monitor from Sickbay the disappearance of the Sharpened Blade.
"You…" said Harry weakly, as he managed to sit up in the biobed. "You destroyed them?"
"Destroy?" said Gathorel in mock offense. "Goodness, Captain, do you think me a barbarian? I told you that the Sikarians have no taste for war or violence."
"The spatial trajector, Captain. As you can see, in addition to being an invaluable tool for travel and entertainment, it makes for a most effective defensive system. Should anyone arrive in our space who doesn’t please us, we simply send them on their way."
"Extraordinary," said Annika. "Then in fact, the Kazon vessel was sent…"
"Approximately forty-thousand light-years away," Gathorel continued. "It will take Battok and his men at least another fifty years to return to this region of space." Looking down at the fallen woman at his side, the magistrate offered a mocking grin. "Perhaps you will be waiting for his return, Eudana? I suspect he won’t be quite as desirable a lover to you by then."
"What do you know of it?" she spat back at him, rising to her feet. ""Battok was a real man, more than anyone on Sikaris! He had passion and vigor. He lived for the moment."
"You…you were in league with him?" Harry looked at the young woman with disbelief, this pathetic creature a far cry from the playful nymph he remembered from so long ago.
"He also had a mate back home," she said spitefully back at Harry. "Two, in fact. But he didn’t let that stop him from taking what was offered to him. " Her face twisted in a mixture of jealousy and fury. "I would have done anything you asked, Harry, given you any pleasure you desired. Back then, and now. But you rejected me, twice, for other women! What kind of fool denies himself pleasure given freely?"
"I was a novelty to you," Harry replied coldly, his spine stiffening in anger. "A new toy for the girl who has everything. It was all just pleasure for you. With my wife, I feel love. Does that word mean anything to you either?" He looked at Eudana with cold contempt. It was clear to him that either the passage of time had changed her, or that he had never really known her at all. "And I think that if I had taken the time, I might have found out that the gift being offered to me was only as pretty as the wrapping it came in."
"Eudana," Gathorel said in a tone of patronizing disapproval, "I think you’ve caused enough trouble here today. Now, step aside. I believe the time has come for more adult conversation. Go wait in the hallway. I wish to discuss matters privately with the Kims." He fixed her with a stern look that brooked no argument. "You and I will have much to discuss later on Sikaris."
The Sikarian woman fumed silently as she relented. Without another word, she stalked out of Sickbay and into the corridor, the doors hissing shut behind her. No one was sorry to see her leave.
"Boy, what a spoiled little bitch," Katrina commented, before realizing that she might have crossed the line with her language. But the smirk from both Saldeed and her mother showed that no one in the room was disagreeing with her.
"I do apologize for everything that’s happened here, Captain," Gathorel said smoothly, shaking his head in regret. "Eudana’s behavior has been most unforgivable and unpleasant."
"But you still will do nothing for him." Annika’s tone was icy.
"Not necessarily," he replied with a broad smile. "I said I could not give you a cure for his condition, nor allow you to partake of our medical technology. But I do believe it would be well within the bounds of our laws if our healers were to repair the damage themselves, provided your doctors make no effort to copy our science. In light of recent events, I do not believe Eudana’s actions were as innocent as she claims."
"You would do this?" Annika asked with growing excitement, seeing hope for the first time today. "Thank you."
"It is…my pleasure, Doctor Kim," he replied with honest delight.
"Yes, thank you," Harry chimed in. "Being young again hasn’t been as much fun as I’d thought it would be. At least…well, it did have its moments."
Katrina blushed. She didn’t need that visual in her head.
"What will happen to Eudana?" asked Harry curiously.
"She’ll be discharged of her duties, of course." The magistrate gave a small sigh, shaking his head slightly in disapproval. "Clearly she’s shown that she cannot be trusted with any responsibilities. But I can’t say that I’m too surprised by all of this, Captain. After all, she’s barely a century old and still has much growing up to do."
Harry had to do a double take. "A century?"
"Ninety five years, to be precise," Gath said with an amused grin.
"But…that means…when I was here before, she was…"
"Old enough to be your mother," Gath chuckled. "One of the benefits of lifeseed, and its curse. Why else do you think my people value the pursuit of pleasure? When you can live for more than a thousand years, you need something to do to pass the time, to stave off the endless centuries of boredom."
"I had…no idea."
"It isn’t something we choose to advertise," said Gathorel. "Too many races have come to our planet seeking eternal youth, only to find out that the lifeseed doesn’t always work for them the way it was intended, or worse, that extended youth carries a price of its own. Would you believe that I am over six hundred years old, Captain?"
"You don’t look it," Saldeed commented wryly.
"I’ve seen much in my time," Gath went on. "Once, many thousands of years ago, we were much like your people, Captain. We were explorers and builders, long before anyone ever heard of the Borg or the Vaadwaur. But over time, such activities lost their appeal. We simply became bored." He shrugged gracefully. "We may have created a paradise on our world, Captain, but even paradise loses its appeal after a few centuries. We encourage outsiders to visit, so that we may relish in their experiences, but even that doesn’t seem to be enough anymore." He sighed again. "Too many young people like Eudana are pursuing dangerous pleasures, engaging in self-destructive sports and drugs, and even sexual liaisons with violent primitive species. It’s causing much concern within the Council of Peoples, but no one seems to know how to solve the problem."
"Perhaps," said Annika, with inspiration in her eyes, "what is needed is a new challenge for your people, something of significance that would occupy all their attentions."
"A new challenge, you say?" Gath asked, intrigued at the prospect. "What precisely do you propose?"
"Something where you can contribute something positive to the galaxy, to the betterment of all sentient beings," she replied with a small smile.
"I think what she’s referring to," said Harry, smiling weakly, "is the coalition to oppose the Borg."
"Intriguing," said Gathorel, his eyes lighting up in speculation. "I hadn’t considered your offer from that perspective before. Our magistrates simply assumed you saw the coalition as a means to acquire our technology."
"We understand and respect that, Magistrate," said Harry honestly. "All we’ve wanted from your people is the benefit of your experience, and your voice, especially if your history dates back as far as you say it does. Besides," he said, smiling briefly, "If your planet is as well defended as it appears, then Sikaris may be the safest place in the quadrant for our delegates to meet."
"Yes," agreed Gathorel with a nod as he considered what they were saying. "With so many races coming together, it would be a glorious opportunity to experience more worlds."
"Do you think you can convince the other magistrates to change their minds?"
"I can certainly try."
"Should those reasons fail to convince them, Magistrate," Annika couldn’t help saying, "then you can at least tell them that the battle to come would make for a great entertainment. Sikarians will choose to join if only to see how it turns out."
Gathorel burst out in laughter at Annika’s remark. "Well, said. Captain Kim, your wife’s insight is truly remarkable."
"Now you know why I married her. She’s definitely smarter than I am."
"Yes," Gathorel said with a chuckle. "Perhaps there are certain benefits to this…monogamy…of yours after all."
Harry looked at himself in the mirror, relieved to see the face he had become familiar with over the years staring back at him, wrinkles, gray hair and all. He gave the mirror back to Amarel with a sigh. The Sikarian healer looked bemused as she took it.
"Your doctor may want to run a few tests for any lingering damage the lifeseed may have caused," she said, tucking the mirror away in the small satchel she had brought with her from the planet. "But the danger is over now." She smiled at him, tucking a stray braid behind her ear. "You should take it easy for the next few days, if you can. Drink plenty of liquids and get as much rest as possible."
"Thank you, again," Harry said, watching her pack up the rest of her medical equipment. "I owe you my life. Is there something I can give you in return that won’t violate my Prime Directive or your Canon of Laws?" he asked with a quick grin.
Amarel looked thoughtful for a moment, then smiled. "If it’s possible, I would love a copy of your ship’s medical database. I’d like to read what your people use for treatment."
Saldeed, observing from the other biobed next to Harry’s, quirked an eyebrow at her comment. "I doubt we have anything in our database that would compare to your technological advances in medicine, but if the captain agrees, I can make you a copy to take with you."
Grateful to have something of value to give to the healer who had saved his life, Harry nodded. "Done." He carefully slid off the biobed, feeling every one of his 50 years of age as he straightened. He gave a rueful smile as he felt his back protest when he stretched.
"I’m going home," he announced, walking stiffly past Nurse Baker towards the doors. They opened automatically for him, but he paused before stepping through, turning to look back at Dr. Saldeed.
"Thank you," he said quietly, noticing her start of surprise at his words. "You also saved my life."
"I’m a doctor," she replied dryly, inwardly pleased. "It’s my job."
He eyed her a moment longer, then spoke. "You’ve been missed on Alpha shift, doctor," he said finally. "If you’re interested in coming back, I’m sure you’d be welcome." He paused a moment longer and caught Nurse Baker’s eye. She nodded almost imperceptivity. Despite his words of compromise, she would continue to keep watch over Dr. Saldeed. With that, he turned and left, the doors of Sickbay hissing shut behind him.
A small, but pleased smile gradually crept across the features of Dr. Saldeed.
First Officer’s Log: Stardate 78849.8
Captain Kim is now recovering from the affects of his involuntary rejuvenation with the help of the Sikarians. He is taking the next few days off for medical leave while we remain in orbit. The crew and civilians are enjoying their shore leave without incident, especially now that the Kazon have left the area completely.
The Sikarians have agreed to join the coalition against the Borg, albeit as observers only, without sharing their technology. They will monitor this quadrant and watch for any signs that the Borg are on the move. They have also agreed to allow the use of their planet as a gathering point for any future coalition meetings. Magistrate Labin was a persuasive voice in favor of the alliance, and considering the recent actions of his aide, I feel his efforts were only appropriate. As for Eudana, Magistrate Labin would not elaborate as to the nature of her punishment, only that it was suitable. Considering how effective the Sikarians have proven in ‘handling matters’, I can only be satisfied by his answer.
The Grand Proxy Quag was reported missing shortly after the Kazon fled the area, and was eventually found, wandering and incoherent in the back alleys of the city. He claims to have no recollection of how he would up there, but witnesses recalled seeing him drinking in the company of several Kazon. I can only guess that he tried to engage the Kazon in a trade agreement, a deal which no doubt included large quantities of alcohol. If that is the case, he is fortunate that the Kazon didn’t do anything more besides dump his unconscious body in an empty alley."
Kalan sat back and terminated the recording. He couldn’t add, of course, that it was too bad the Kazon couldn’t have taken the Ferengi with them. Quag had been immediately taken to Sickbay for detoxification. However, even after treatment, he couldn’t answer Kalan’s questions regarding his condition, and finally, Kalan was forced to admit that whatever the Ferengi had been up to, there was no way he would ever find out.
He did give Quag a stern lecture on his choice of drinking companions, and surprisingly, the Ferengi held his tongue. He reminded Quag that, although he was not part of the crew, he was expected to act in the best interests of the Fleet.
Kalan engaged the recording again to finish his log.
"We will stay at Sikaris another three days, while the captain is on medical leave, before we continue onward to our next mission. End First Officer’s log."
Harry entered the family quarters, moving slowly across the living area. He had aged nearly thirty years practically overnight, and he understood his body’s weariness, although he didn’t have to like it. The sight that greeted him as he reached the eating area, however, momentarily pushed his weariness away.
Annika and Katrina looked up from their meal with expressions of joy and relief. Almost as one, they moved to embrace him, hugging him tightly against them.
"Dad! I’m so glad to see you!" Katrina’s voice came muffled from his chest as she gave him a particularly enthusiastic squeeze. "We were so worried."
Harry gave his daughter a kiss on the top of her head, hugging her back. "I love you too, princess," he said, his throat tight with emotion.
Annika’s look told him she had a much more private welcome waiting for him as soon as they were alone, and he smiled in return.
Noticing her parent’s looks, Katrina stepped back from her father’s embrace, tucking a stray lock of hair behind her pointed ear.
"If it’s all right, Dad, I mean, you and Mom would probably like some time alone and all." Her cheeks flushed slightly and she studied the carpet a moment before looking back up. "Can I visit Dr. Saldeed? I’m way behind on my language lessons."
Harry considered his daughter quietly for a moment, then nodded. "But don’t stay too late. You have school tomorrow."
A quick and grateful smile blossomed over Katrina’s youthful features as she thanked him and raced out the door, eager to renew her acquaintance with her teacher – or afweirrea as the Romulans would say – once more.
Annika kissed Harry softly, before releasing him.
"Hungry?" she asked with a playful smile.
He sighed and smiled in chagrin. "Just for food, at the moment."
They laughed together as Annika went to the replicator to program a meal for her husband. Harry watched her work, taking a seat on the couch, leaning his head against the back of it and positioning himself comfortably where he could see her.
Annika made a few trips from the replicator to the table, positioning his favorite dishes close to his plate. She was reaching for the pitcher of iced tea when a sound froze her in her tracks, and slowly she turned around and located the source of the noise. Placing the iced tea on the table, she quietly walked over to the couch and peered down at the sleeping form of her husband, the gentle sound of his snores filled the living area.
Shaking her head with a small sigh, she couldn’t help but smile. So much for taking advantage of their evening alone together, she thought. She put the food in stasis to keep it warm. Just in case, when he woke up from his nap, he was still hungry.