Strange Relations

Written by  on September 14, 2003 

A soldier bred for battle must become more than just the sum of his parts.

Written by MarqEDman

Stardate 78861.2
Release 14 Sep 2003

Sabrina Wildman strode stiff-legged, accentuating the stomp of her feet, with her left arm stiffened and swinging in time to match the movement of the Jem’Hadar First Jor’Marak as he made his way down a corridor of Enterprise on his way towards Holodeck Three. Her right arm was outstretched with her fist gripping a bowl of ice cream. The Jem’Hadar soldier abruptly stopped and the six year-old bumped into his back before coming to attention behind him. She tightened her grip on the bowl to balance it and avoid spilling any of her ice cream. Jor’Marak, knowing of his pursuer’s presence, slowly turned his head titling it downward.

"Sabrina Wildman," he pronounced in a firm voice, before softening his tone, "are you following me?"

"Yep. I’m practicing how to march like a Jem’Hadar," she said, rising up on her tiptoes, while her hand reached up to cover her broad smile and a giggle. She then set her heels back down, squeezed her lips together, and squelched her eyes in imitation of the warrior’s natural serious scowl.

"And why would you want to learn to march like a Jem’Hadar? Do you intend to become a soldier?" he said with a quizzical look on his face.

"It just looks strong," Sabrina chirped, stiffening her body in a soldierly stance. "You’re not ascared of anything. Where are you going anyway?"

"I am going to the Holodeck to meet with Security Chief Krell. We will be reviewing some of his new, advanced combat training simulations in order that the Jem’Hadar may remain strong and stay in combat readiness."

"Can I come and watch?"

"That could be quite dangerous for one of your … meager size. Perhaps you should get the permission of your parent, Lieutenant Naomi Wildman."

"Aww shucks. She’ll never allow it. I never have any fun."

The Jem’Hadar considered the child’s words carefully. "Fun? You have mentioned that once before. What is … fun?" asked Jor’Marak as he watched the small human taste a spoonful of ice cream. His eyes looked at the mysterious substance.

"Something you like, I guess. Combat simulations are fun, aren’t they?" she asked.

"I suppose they are. Then you should get permission and we will have fun together."

Sabrina let out a laugh. "That won’t happen. She never lets me have any fun." She scooped another morsel of ice cream and shoveled it into her mouth.

"What is that you have there?" Jor’Marak inquired.

"Its ice cream, silly. Vanilla," she giggled and ate some more. "Umm, it’s delicious. Do you want to try some?"

"I do not consume food. It is unnecessary. But I see that it is something you enjoy. Is eating considered … fun?"

"Oh yeah. Come on, have a taste. You’ll love it. Here, just one spoon."

Jor’Marak studied the spoonful of ice cream carefully. He had never had to consume ordinary food before. Ketracel White was the only thing he and his fellow soldiers needed to sustain themselves. "Just one taste," the soldier relented, thinking that perhaps knowing what food was like would help to increase his understanding of these humans. He bent down and lowered himself to her level and Sabrina stuck the spoon in the Jem’Hadar’s mouth.

Immediately his senses were overwhelmed by the sickeningly sweet taste and rush of carbohydrates in his hyper-efficient bloodstream. "Agghh!" he reacted, spitting out the white substance, splattering it across the floor, and on Sabrina’s skirt.

At that moment Sabrina heard a voice yell, "Sabrina! What are you doing?" Lieutenant Naomi Wildman rushed to her daughter’s side. "I told you not to bother the Jem’Hadar!"

"But, Mom! I…"

The young officer quickly pulled Sabrina away from Jor’Marak and glared at him menacingly, even though he was a head and a half taller than her. "First Jor’Marak, I’d rather not have my daughter associate with you or your men. She’s only a child and she’s very impressionable."

"But, Mom!"

"Sabrina!" Naomi hissed, before turning back to Jor’Marak. "Stay away from her or I will have the Captain speak to you," she threatened. "And you, young lady, are in for a time-out. Come on." Naomi shuffled her daughter away, while the child looked back at the Jem’Hadar over her shoulder, her eyes tearing with sadness.

Jor’Marak watched as mother and child disappeared around the corner. It should not have bothered him that he was both an object of fascination and fear to the crew of this ship. That was what the Jem’Hadar had always been, for as long as they had been the premiere soldiers of the Dominion. It was to be expected, even encouraged.

Yet for some reason, Jor’Marak felt a slight pang of regret, one that he couldn’t begin to explain.

Harry Kim leaned back comfortably in his Captain’s chair and released a light sigh. The starship Enterprise was free to enjoy some peaceful exploration into uncharted space. No diplomatic associations to stress over, no uncomfortable formal dress and strange foods his palate and stomach had to get accustomed to, no pulling teeth – who whatever else an alien species may have – to negotiate another alliance or technology swap. Just smooth sailing ahead and boring run-of-the-mill science, he thought, at least for a while.

From elsewhere on the relaxed bridge, Harry heard the uplifting words, "Time to go boldly where we’ve never been before, eh Captain?" said Finnegan Bartok, the ship’s counselor, sitting to his right. "That’ll be a refreshing change."

"No argument there, Finn," Harry concurred. Their next target for exploration was a region of the quadrant that local races called the Metabol Drift. The Drift was formed over half a million years ago by five simultaneous supernovas within four parsecs of each other, resulting in an area of space similar to the Badlands back home. The entire area was a maze of self-sustaining plasma storms, but with the addition of dozens of rogue planetoids cast adrift, all highly enriched with super-heavy elements not normally found in nature. Most of the local civilizations avoided the region as a navigational hazard, but some brave souls were willing to risk the violent storms in ramshackle starships, in hopes of finding the mother lode of elemental treasure that would make them wealthy for life.

Of course, the Enterprise was more than capable of navigating the Drift safely with her enhanced shielding, but they were more interested in science than mineral wealth. Even so, Harry knew that despite his wife’s normally calm demeanor, Annika was chomping at the bit to explore the implications of such an unusual scientific find.

He glanced over to the ops station, where young Lieutenant Wildman was eyeing her HCARS console intently. Something was definitely on her mind when she came on shift this morning, he noticed, but Harry chose not to press the matter, not as long as her work was unaffected. He also noticed the young Klingon officer, Ensign Ch’tall, standing at the Tactical station. Harry remembered that Lieutenant Krell had been on Gamma Shift last night and was now off duty.

"Ship status, Lieutenant?" he called out.

"All secure, Captain. All stations report optimal operational conditions," Naomi responded.

"Very good. Ensign Paris, set our new heading."

"Aye Captain," Miral acknowledged with a sense of mild dignity at her chief’s directive, withholding her enthusiasm. "Course plotted, sir. Ready to engage at your command, Captain."

"Ahead Warp 5, Ensign. Let’s set sail. Time to explore the unknown," he remarked with tranquil recognition.

"On course for the Metabol Drift, sir. Warp factor 5. … We’re just cruisin’ along, … singing a song, la dee dee da," Miral piped up in her typical off-beat manner as she looked back at him beaming. Harry tittered, not quite sure which of her parents she reminded him of most, her jovial father or her snappish mother. Probably somewhere right in between, he imagined, as he tried his best not to smirk at Commander Kalan’s exasperated look.

Perhaps some wild, exciting adventure was out there ahead of them. Just the thing the beleaguered crew was ready and eager for. Someplace where known enemies, like the Kazon, wouldn’t be plotting against them. And maybe, just maybe, they would meet some new friends. Of course, Harry acknowledged to himself, they could never be sure when or where the Borg might put in an appearance. But if they were anywhere in the area of space they were heading for, then the Federation was better off knowing about it sooner than later. Hopefully later, and not on this leg of the trip.

But as the ship pressed on at warp speed, the tranquility was soon broken, as Enterprise made its way towards the outer tendrils of the Metabol Drift.

"Astrometrics to the bridge," came the voice of Yola Mahat.

"Go ahead, Professor," Harry replied. "Anything of interest up ahead?"

"You might say that, Captain. We’re picking up an unidentifiable object moving slowly out on the farthest rim of the region," she said.

Commander Kalan nodded sagely at the news. "A mining vessel, most likely. The Talaxians informed us that we might encounter others hoping to harvest the Drift’s resources."

"Do we have anything on it?" Harry asked.

"No sir, nothing more than that. It’s just a blip on our sensors at this time, way too distant for any further readings. They’re deeper in the Drift than we are, so it’s hard to get a lock on its signature. We can only tell that it’s rather large for a ship," Mahat spoke calmly. "There are also definite signs of a transwarp signature in the area, as yet inconclusive as to its origin. It is possible that it’s Borg, Captain, but it’s moving uncharacteristically slow," she said with a slight edge of concern in her voice.

"How long until we’re in range for a better look?" Harry inquired, with a chill running down his body.

"At Warp 5, we can be within sensor range in one hour, sir. I wouldn’t advise going any faster around these plasma clouds."

"Acknowledged. Let me know as soon as you have more on it," Harry said, rubbing his chin and turning to his first officer. "Commander, advise the senior staff of our findings and tell them to come to readiness."

"Aye, Captain," Kalan responded.

Harry thought about his dinner plans with his wife and daughter, and wondered if they would have to be cancelled now that a new encounter might be in the offing.

Chief Security officer Cyrus Krell rambled about in Holodeck 3 examining his model combatants when the doors slid open with a soft swish. His artificial eyes glowed in intense concentration as he tapped last minute codes into the computer console tweaking the new program. The sound of heavy boot steps and clinking armor parts caught his ear.

"Ah, Jor’Marak" he called out without turning his head to acknowledge the new arrival. "On time, as usual. There’s something to be said for timeliness and reliability."

"First Jor’Marak of the Jem’Hadar reporting as scheduled," the warrior retorted in a formal tenor.

"Um, I guess there’s something to be said for propriety as well. I apologize for my casualness, First. No disrespect intended. Are you ready to begin?"

"None taken, sir. Your informality is unimportant," he said, before reconsidering his response in lieu of his efforts to fittingly interact with Starfleet personnel. "But noted. I am primed for combat."

"Okay then. Let’s start."

A facsimile of the inside of a Borg cube flickered into view in front of them. The narrow dark corridors were bracketed by black metallic beams and decked out with incessant oscillating lights. Several somnambulistic drones lined the walls upright in regeneration alcoves while others tramped back and forth as if they were zombies, unaware of the presence of the two observers. One drone, with an outstretched half-arm, half-mechanical apparatus, stepped before them as if to confront them, only to twist quickly to the right, step to a wall and plug the device into a console. It was clearly unaware of their presence, intent on performing its assigned duties and nothing else.

Krell changed the view to that of the inner control chamber of the central plexus. A drone sauntered about the room examining viewscreens and holoimages. Every once in a while, it tilted its head, as if it were silently receiving information via the invisible network of voices that comprised the Collective. Then it approached a side chamber and adjusted the controls at a cylindrical console.

The console clattered in response, letting out a beep when it was done. The robotic humanoid then removed an information chip and slipped it into a receiver slot along its left forearm.

"Ship schematics," Krell ordered the computer. Up popped a three-by-three visualization of the central core section of the Borg vessel. His index finger traced the planned path of penetration from starting point to their target.

"Here’s our mission," he said, waving his hands at the changing surroundings before them as the original corridor scene reappeared. "We will transport into this section of the ship. We must avoid or overcome more than twenty drone soldiers, make our way to the central plexus, and access the Borg’s transwarp technology specs. Then, we extract ourselves and return safely to Enterprise. Understand?"

"Don’t you have anything more challenging?" the First protested. "This is child’s play, Lieutenant. My soldiers require more taxing battle scenarios."

"Don’t be so sure of yourself, my friend. It will take as much planning, wisdom, stealth, and ingenuity to accomplish the task at hand. Not to mention efficient teamwork." Krell smirked with annoyance.

"Subtlety is not the way of the Jem’Hadar. I shall dominate and annihilate this enemy with no difficulty," Jor’Marak proclaimed with confident ease. "My brood was created for the express purpose of fighting the Borg."

"Let’s just see, shall we? Computer, activate program. Begin."

The two stepped forward into the Borg complex. But before they advanced more than a few steps, they were nudged backward by a pulsating force field.

"We are the Borg," blared a chorus of voices over the intercom, coming together into a single eerie echo. "Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated."

Four drones stopped their activities and turned to confront the invaders.

The Jem’Hadar was quick. He smashed his fist into the head of one of the drones, immediately twisting toward a second, clutching him around the neck and snapping it. Krell shot a third drone with a remodulating phaser rifle. He turned to grapple with the fourth defender, grabbing his arm as the Borg injection chords extended and wiggled near his neck. But before the drone could succeed, the Jem’Hadar knocked him to the floor and chopped his fist at his throat.

The two men quickly scurried off down another corridor when they were attacked again by three more oncoming aggressors. Jor’Marak eliminated two of them quickly and Krell downed the other with his phaser, but it took two shots and by that time two more figures materialized out of thin air behind them and plunged their assimilation tubules into their necks. The program froze.

"Not so good, my friend. We’ve been assimilated. You killed six drones single-handedly, but we failed our mission. Let’s start again, shall we?" Jor’Marak grunted and pounded his chest.

Cyrus Krell and Jor’Marak were holed up in Holodeck 3 for four hours, repeating the challenge of the new battle simulation. Krell’s shielded Borg characters offered the kind of contest that the First found stimulating. They dodged force fields and felled dozens of drones, but were stopped over and over again. It took three tries before they finally managed to make their way to the central plexus. Twice the Borg succeeded in setting the self-destruct mechanism and blow them all to hell.

Finally, Krell’s advanced tactical training came into play and allowed him to manipulate Borg technology enough to bypass the destruct mechanism and accomplish their mission. After rerunning the program six times, their final two replays were successful. They overcame the Borg sentinels and downloaded the transwarp data, making their escape.

"Ok. Let’s call it a day. We’ll reconvene here at the same tomorrow. We can still do better," Krell related, leaning against the Holodeck gateway, breathing deeply and massaging his leg.

"Agreed. We must continue to perfect our strategy and fighting skills against this most difficult adversary. Commander, please accept my apologies for my initial doubts and my gratitude for a most excellent challenge. Your program is truly well designed with surprising sophistication and force. The Jem’Hadar will be well greatly challenged and hone our fighting skills in defense of Enterprise." Jor’Marak bowed his head slightly to Krell and crossed his right hand over his heart. He came to attention, turned on his heels and exited the Holodeck room with great satisfaction. After all, even he had been bested by the simulation on numerous replays. The Enterprise’s security officer stood frozen in his boots at the surprising accolade.

"Sir, we’ve been following the object’s trajectory and can say with certainty that it is some kind of vessel, as yet unidentifiable," Kalan reported an hour later. "Shall we go to Yellow alert, Captain?" he asked, itching for the chance to bring the crew to attention.

"Not yet, Commander. We still have plenty of time," Harry advised. "We don’t know who they are or if they have any hostile intentions. We can’t even be completely certain that it’s a starship. Unless they engage a transwarp propulsion system, they can’t sneak up on us any time soon. And we don’t want to seem over-eager," he cautioned his Executive Officer. "They sure are way out in the middle of nowhere. I wonder where they hail from?"

Five minutes later, Annika Kim’s voice filled the bridge via the com system. "Dr. Kim to the bridge," she called out.

"Go ahead," Harry replied, maintaining the neutral tone he reserved for his wife whenever they were working in an official capacity.

"Captain, long-range sensors have a clear reading now," she said. "It is a very large elongated vessel, at least five times the length of the Enterprise. Its size would indicate a deep space station, only it is clearly a mobile starship …"

"Very large! It’s HUGE. …" Mahat’s exclamation could be heard in the background in the Astrometrics bay. "It seems to be hovering in orbit above a rogue planet," she added.

"Five times our size, you say?" Harry said with bewilderment. That would have put the mystery ship at over eleven kilometers long. The only vessel Enterprise had encountered in the Delta Quadrant that came even close in size was the Kazon dreadnaught, Ravager. Even that menacing ship lacked the technical sophistication to navigate the plasma storms of the Metabol Drift as this vessel was clearly able to do.

"Our databank identifies the vessel as matching that of a Voth City-Ship, but the markings are indistinguishable at this time," Annika said, without the usual certainty in her tone. "We’ve met them before, Captain. Or rather, Voyager has met them before."

"I remember," Harry said, recalling the encounter from more than twenty-five years ago. "Voyager did encounter the Voth," he continued, turning to Kalan, considering the previous contact with the reptilian species. He wasn’t exactly looking forward to this reunion. Things had not ended on the friendliest of terms with the Voth during that encounter. He also knew that their territory was well past the Nekrit Expanse, many hundreds of light-years from their current position. He wondered what would bring a Voth starship this far away from home.

"Hail them," the Captain ordered after a moment’s pause.

"No response, sir," replied Naomi Wildman.

"Keep trying, Lieutenant," Harry ordered before turning to his first officer. "Commander, its time," the Captain looked over to his first officer, "Bring the ship to Yellow Alert."

"Aye, Captain."

"We’ll need to be on guard," Harry confirmed. "The Voth, as I recall, weren’t overtly hostile, but their technology is powerful enough to easily overwhelm Enterprise. Until we can gauge their intentions, I want to keep the ship on standby. And Commander, assemble the senior staff in 20 minutes. The bridge is yours. I’ll be in my ready room."

"Sir?" Kalan said in puzzlement.

"XO, as I recall, the Victorious is supposed to be patrolling along the region the Voth claimed as their territory, am I right?"

"Indeed, Captain," the Klingon acknowledged, understanding where his captain was going.

"Lieutenant," Harry ordered as he turned to Naomi at Ops. "Open a hyperlink channel to the Victorious and patch it into my private line."

"Aye, sir," came the reply.

"I’ll be talking to an old friend, XO," he said, turning back to his first officer, "Someone who I hope can provide some information for us."

Harry took the time before the meeting to adjourn to his Ready Room, waiting until the hyperlink connection was established. By now, Victorious was nearly a thousand light-years away from Enterprise’s current location, a difficult distance to bridge via subspace, thus necessitating the use of a hyperlink signal. Seated behind his desk, he activated the communication holoscreen. The face of the commander of the Victorious, Captain Nog, materialized before him within moments.

"Good to see you again, Captain. And so soon," the Ferengi grinned broadly. "I didn’t think we’d be hearing from any of our sister ships this quickly."

"Its good to see you too, Captain," Harry beamed. "It’s always a welcome relief to see a familiar face. I’ve been reading up on your first contact reports with the Tribari and the Naylanx. Both of them helium breathers, you say?"

"Only if you use the term ‘breathe’ rather liberally," said Nog. "Who’d have thought races like that were possible, and that they’ve been able to share their planet peacefully for over eighty thousand years?"

"Remarkable," Harry replied. "But I have a more urgent matter to discuss with you right now," he became serious.

"What can I do for you, Captain?"

"Nog, I understand that your mission plan takes you near the region of space that was thought to be occupied by the Voth. You do remember the briefings on the Voth, I assume?"

"Indeed I do. Quite an interesting story, the Voth. In the past few weeks, we’ve followed up on several of Voyager’s earlier contacts. We’ve heard a number of stories about the Voth out here. Anything in particular you wish to know?"

"Yes, what in heaven has happened to them?" he asked in a subdued voice. "We’re on approach to one of their City-Ships as we speak, and it’s a long way from home. They were a formidable force in this sector of space when Voyager was here and I’d like to know whether they’re likely to shoot at us or not."

Nog was silent as he considered what Harry was telling him. "You’ve actually spotted a Voth City-Ship?"

"We think so."

"Well, then you’re one step ahead of us, Captain Kim. We haven’t seen any trace of the Voth during the whole time we’ve been in this sector."

"Are you sure?" Harry asked. "From what we learned before, their territory is vast. They’ve supposedly occupied their region of space for thousands, maybe millions of years. They can’t be easy to miss."

"It’s exactly as I’ve told you," replied Nog. "We haven’t encountered a single Voth ship. In fact, none of the races we’ve contacted have seen much of them either. It used to be that they’d encounter City-Ships all the time, especially if you crossed into their territory. Now, they see maybe one or two every few months and they never stop to talk, not even with the races they used to trade with regularly."

"But … that doesn’t make any sense," Harry protested. "How can an entire civilization just… disappear?"

"Nobody knows," Nog replied with a shrug. "From what their neighbors have told me, the Voth have always been a rather insular people, especially with mammalian species. But it looks like the Voth have, indeed, abandoned their domain. They’ve simply packed up and moved out. I’ll tell you what I’ve heard, but these are just rumors. Apparently they’ve either had a major plague among their people, found nirvana in another far away galaxy, or been practically wiped-out by the Borg. Take your pick, Captain, whichever story you want to believe. Whatever the truth, it all happened starting over ten years ago," Nog told him resignedly. "So no one really knows for sure."

"Well, hopefully we will find out the truth soon. That is, if they decide to talk to us. I’ll let you know what I find out."

"I wouldn’t expect a warm response," Nog said. "It’s a pity you don’t have any reptilian species among your senior staff."

"I’m not sure I follow you," said Harry.

"As I’m sure you know from prior experience," the Ferengi captain continued, "the Voth don’t communicate well with outsiders, especially warm-blooded folk like you and me."

"Oh, I know that well enough," Harry chuckled bitterly. "They snatched up Voyager and practically treated us like something you wipe off the sole of your boot."

"Yes, that’s why I had my Chief Medical Officer and one of my engineers pressed into makeshift diplomatic duty when we approached Voth Space. Dr. Zelth is a Saurian and Lieutenant Commander Delesh is a Gorn. I figured the Voth might respond better to a summons from a race that shared the same reptilian features as their own. It’s a shame we never met them."

"Yes," said Harry, scratching his chin and reflecting on his counterpart’s suggestion. It was a standard practice among Starfleet first contact missions to approach a new species with representatives that closely resembled themselves, so as to lessen the shock of meeting beings from another world. Humans had been fortunate that their own first contact on Earth had been with the Vulcans, a race that closely resembled them physically. Had another race landed that day, say either the Tholians or the Sheliak, thought Harry, humanity’s introduction to the larger universe might have been a lot less smooth than it had been.

Granted, the Voth were not some naïve race new to star travel, but rather an ancient culture whose spacefaring history might well have preceded humanity’s entire existence as a species. Perhaps the same principle could be applied here…

"Good luck with your encounter, Captain," Nog concluded. "Let me know how it turns out, just in case I run into any Voth myself someday."

"I will. Thank you for all your help, Captain. Have a good journey. I’ll get back to you when I have more to report. Kim out," he said as he ended the conversation.

Harry Kim sat in the staff room waiting for the assembly of his officers to be complete.

When they were all settled into place, the Captain called the meeting to order. Now he had to tell the gathering about their status and new mission, to contact this race of travelers who were far from friendly upon first contact with Voyager those many years ago. Hopefully, the Voth would be more receptive to them with the passage of time.

"Okay, everyone," Harry started as soon as they were all seated. "We’re going dinosaur hunting, both literally and figuratively," he announced, smiling at the quizzical look on everyone’s faces around the table. "I’m sure you’re all familiar with the mission briefings on the Voth."

Harry noticed the unsettling look on the face of his wife, recognizing her awareness of the details of the past encounter. Annika was part of the Voyager crew, but she was yet to be released from the Borg collective at the time of Voyager’s contact with the Voth.

"As you all know, we first met the Voth twenty-six years ago on Stardate 50899.1. Two of their scientists beamed aboard ship, unknown to us, using some sort of individual cloaking system, a technology we would be well served to have in our own arsenal of goodies, if there is a way to convince the Voth to share it with us.

"Their City-Ships are gigantic, so huge that one of them was able to take Voyager aboard as easily as we might take on a shuttlecraft."

Harry could see Miral Paris giggling lightly at the analogy, having already heard some of the details of the tale many times over the years from her parents.

"Now here’s the ironic twist," Harry walked over to the viewscreen on the wall behind him and pointed to the picture of the reptilian-like Voth that now appeared before them. "A controversy arose over the fact that one of their scientists had proposed a hypothesis that he called ‘The Distant Origin Theory’. Later, both the scientist and Voyager’s own doctor, the famous Jonathan Doe, were able to find evidence to support the proposition that our two species are, in fact, related.

"The Voth are ancient descendants of hadrosaurs of old Earth." Harry paused again as his staff shifted in their seats. "These saurian, aah … people, were found to carry in their gene pool some of the same fabric of life floating inside … humans. But I can tell you from experience, they were none too happy to hear about it. They were so outraged that their own scientist, who made this discovery, Professor Forra Gegen, was, shall we say persuaded, by his superiors to renounce his own findings in order to save the Voyager crew from imprisonment."

"But what of their situation today, Captain?" Kalan inquired, to the point as always. "What capabilities do they currently possess? What can we expect from their vessel?"

"That … might be harder to determine, XO," said Harry. "At the time of Voyager’s experience with the Voth, they dominated the area of space now being patrolled by our sister ship, the Victorious." With a wave of his hand, a large holographic map of the galaxy appeared above the briefing table, quickly zooming in towards a large region in the midst of the Delta Quadrant. "From what Captain Nog has learned from the other races in the region, the Voth controlled a territory more than four times the volume of the Federation, with a population in the hundreds of trillions. More than ninety percent of the Voth lived aboard millions of City-Ships similar to the one we’ve just encountered, all moving from system to system, with the rest scattered among thousands of planets used mostly for mining, recreation, and as ecological reserves. They were easily the dominant power in their region of space at one point."

"You’re talking in the past tense, Captain," Bartok spoke up. "I take it that something has happened since then?"

"You could say that, counselor," Harry replied. "According to Captain Nog, the Voth appear to have abandoned their domain and seem to have almost disappeared. Their planetary colonies have been completely abandoned and there have been few sightings of any City Ships in the past decade."

"Abandoned?" Dr. Tila Saldeed added in disbelief. "No one just abandons a realm that large on a whim, Captain. Was it some kind of catastrophe? A plague of some sort?"

"We don’t know," said Harry. "The Victorious found no evidence of any virus or disease on any of the former Voth planets they visited. Nor does there seem to be any evidence of a war or other violent manner of destruction. Their space and planetary facilities were simply stripped of everything valuable and left behind. Whatever happened in their domain, it was apparently subtle and gradual. So, while we are uncertain as to the warmth of the reception we’ll get, our goal is to make contact with them, find out what they are up to, and see if we can strike an alliance with them." Harry glanced in the direction of his chief engineer. "Mr. Vorik, do you have anything to report on the City Ship’s current status?"

The Vulcan nodded quietly and the holographic display switched to an image of the large Voth starship. It was orbiting silently over a dark and airless ball of rock, while a strange, shimmering energy pattern radiated downward to the planetoid’s surface.

"As we theorized," said Vorik, "the Voth City-Ship appears to be employing some variety of transporter technology to mine the surface of the rouge planet. From our long-range scans, vast sections of the surface regolith are being sliced out of the planet and beamed aboard their ship where they are most likely broken down into their basic molecular components. Judging from the level of transporter activity, I estimate that the Voth vessel is transporting more than two million metric tons each hour."

"Incredible," said Harry, shaking his head. "I’m sure this gives you all some idea of the level of technology we’re dealing with. The Voth could be a valuable ally, assuming that they were willing to talk with us. I gather there’s been no luck in that area, Commander?"

"None," Kalan reported. "The Voth have repeatedly refused to acknowledge our hails, nor have they made any threatening gestures against us. We appear to be unworthy of their attention."

"Any indication of weaponry?" asked Harry. "We never got the chance to do a full tactical inventory of the Voth on Voyager, though from what Captain Nog reported, their neighbors never regarded the Voth as a race of conquerors."

"None that we could detect so far, but that means nothing," said Kalan. "Their mining transporter alone could be used as a very potent weapon against us."

"What about the Borg?" Naomi asked, turning to Annika. "Surely there must be some information on the Voth in the Collective’s memory that could be useful?"

"Indeed," said Annika silently. "The Borg have encountered the Voth in the past. Approximately six centuries ago, the Collective assimilated several Voth starships. It was from this encounter that the Borg first acquired transwarp propulsion and multi-spatial technology, and through this they were able to rapidly expand their reach across the galaxy. One might say that the current technical capabilities of the Collective stem directly from that one encounter."

"So we have the Voth to thank for the Borg being the threat they are today?" Saldeed quipped. "Maybe we should open our dialogue with a thank you letter," she said with a huff.

"That will do, Doctor," Harry said sharply to Saldeed. He was still trying to get used to the idea of having her attend these briefing sessions after the revelations of her Tal Shiar past, and already she was abusing the privilege. Turning back to his wife, he inquired further. "What kind of follow-on contact was there between the Borg and the Voth since then?"

"Very little," she replied. "The Voth had nothing of physical distinctiveness to add to the Collective, and their rate of technical progress was static. After the first encounter, nothing more could be gained from further assimilations."

"A curious fact," Vorik commented with casualness. "If the Voth are indeed the descendants of the dinosaurs of ancient Earth, then they would have been a starfaring species for at least 65 millions years. Yet one would think that a species of such antiquity would be far more advanced than they are today."

"You don’t think a race that can build millions of city-sized starships and mine planets from space is advanced enough?" Bartok asked from across the table.

"That is not what I meant, counselor," the Vulcan answered. "The Voth’s technology, while considerable, appears to be only somewhat more advanced than our own, roughly the equivalent of a Class O on the Richter Scale of Culture. Given the Federation’s own rate of progress, it seems likely that we will be capable of surpassing them within a millennium. I find it illogical that even the most conservative and static society could maintain such a low rate of technological progress over so long a period. After 65 million years, even the most incremental of changes would have resulted in a near-transcendent state on par with the Bajoran Wormhole Entities or the Metrons, or even the Organians."

"So you question the ‘Distant Origin Theory’ then?"

"I find that it leaves many questions unanswered," Vorik replied.

"If I may?" Yola Mahat spoke up from her seat near the back of the room. "I think I might have something to add regarding that."

"Please do, Professor," Harry said, gesturing to the front of the room next to him. He also noticed the disapproving look on his wife’s face at the mention of the Cardassian scientist’s granted attention. Ordinarily, the Associate Science Director did not attend the staff briefings, but Harry chose to include her as she had insisted that her own research was of importance on this subject.

"Thank you, Captain," she said with self-assurance as she stood up to address the observers. "As some of you may or may not know, the Institute of Truth on Cardassia Prime has been working very closely with the Museum of Natural History on Earth in studying the Distant Origin theory. Since Voyager’s return, there’s been a great deal of scientific interest on the matter of the Voth and discovering the existence of their ancient Earth ancestors. Several deep quantum tomographic surveys were done on Earth’s mantle in hopes of finding some evidence of the existence of an ancient dinosaur civilization."

"And nothing of consequence was ever found," Annika answered coolly.

"That’s not entirely true," said Mahat defensively. "There were several deposits of synthetic molecules that couldn’t be explained except as being the products of intelligent activity. But beyond that, no artifacts could be found. After 65 million years, erosion and geological upheavals have erased all traces of any ancient technological civilization on Earth."

"But what about in space?" Miral protested. "If there were ancient spacefarers on old Earth, then wouldn’t they have left some traces after landing on Luna or some other airless body? There has to be something the original Voth left behind."

"Nothing was ever found in Earth’s solar system," Mahat said, "at least nothing dating back to the days of the dinosaurs. It seems that when the dinosaurs took to the stars, they cleaned up after themselves very well. However, we did manage to find evidence of a different sort." The holographic map in the center of the room changed again. This time, a new star chart appeared, displaying the image of the galaxy rotating serenely on its axis.

"This is our galaxy as it appeared 65 million years ago, during the time of the alleged Voth departure." The image zoomed in to a narrow section of the galaxy, showing a field of many stars. One star in particular was highlighted with a blue circle.

"The Institute did a comparative genetic analysis on several reptilian civilizations in the Alpha and Beta Quadrants. The results were … well, remarkable. When we compared the results of Voyager’s analysis of the Voth to our genetic records of two-dozen studied reptilian cultures, we found an even closer genetic convergence. The Gorn, the Saurians, the Imerians, the Lissepians, the Seleyans, the Kaferians … all were compared to the Voth genome, and they all showed a common evolutionary precursor, one that closely paralleled the dinosaurs of ancient Earth."

"Professor," said Harry, "are you saying that every reptilian species in the galaxy may have come from Earth?"

"Yes, Captain," Mahat said proudly. "The Institute calls it the ‘Distant Exodus Theory.’ We believe that the precursor civilization that fled Earth and founded the Voth civilization may have seeded reptilian offshoot societies all across the galaxy as they made their way towards the Delta Quadrant. You see, none of the known reptilian species ever developed their own independent theory of evolution until they contacted other planets. There were never any fossils on their homeworlds connecting them to other native species."

"Why was this convergence never noticed before?" Saldeed asked. "Many of these species have been known to the humans for centuries. Hell, the Saurians are one of the oldest members of the Federation. No one ever noticed their similarities to their old dinosaur relatives until now?"

"It wasn’t possible until we had an analysis of the Voth for comparison," said Mahat. "You must remember that all carbon-based bipeds share at least a gross genetic similarity as we were all seeded by a common ancestral species, at least according to the Galen Hypothesis. The Voth genome, on the other hand, served as an important ‘missing link’ for the more recent exodus from Earth. It proved the evolutionary connection between the various reptilian species.

"The Institute believes that the Voth may be simply another offshoot species of the original dinosaur race, whoever they were, but one that is perhaps the most closely identical, genetically. The other races – the Gorns, the Saurians, the Seleyans – they all began to diverge biologically from each other in adapting to their local planetary environments. Why it’s possible that even the Jem’Hadar might have a relationship to the Voth on some level."

All eyes turned towards Jor’Marak, curious to know what his thoughts were on this revelation. But he appeared unperturbed by the news and simply stood quietly by, listening to those around him.

"Come on, Professor," Bartok said with a barely concealed laugh. "You’re not saying that the Jem’Hadar are descended from dinosaurs also?"

"That’s harder to tell," Mahat replied. "The Founders have so heavily modified the Jem’Hadar’s DNA over the centuries that it’s hard to know how much of their sequences are original or not. What’s more, the original Jem’Hadar species is, as far as we can tell, extinct. But there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to indicate that the dinosaur race may have spread as far as the Gamma Quadrant."

"That, Professor, is pure supposition," Annika said icily. "The ‘Distant Exodus Theory’ is precisely that, a theory, one that remains unproven. In fact, the Gorn Hegemony has strongly disavowed its validity."

"But it is possible, Doctor," Mahat disputed. "And it certainly alters our understanding of the evolution of life in our own region of the galaxy. It is fascinating to contemplate, you must agree."

Annika tried to ignore her entreaty, turning her head to look away from her assistant and back towards her husband.

"What has this to do with anything?" Kalan snapped. "How will this affect our ability to communicate with the Voth, assuming that communication is even possible at this point?"

"My hope, Commander," said Mahat, "is that perhaps the Voth won’t be so closed-minded to the Distant Origin Theory if they can see its larger implications, that they have brothers and sisters among the stars not unlike themselves. That alone might get them to initiate contact with us."

Harry pondered the professor’s words and considered them in the context of his conversation with Captain Nog. It was a wild idea, but one that just might work. "Everyone," he called them to order, "this has all been an interesting discussion. But I think that for now, our only options are to keep the Voth ship under observation and avoid provoking them if at all possible, especially regarding any possible genetic link to humans. We’ve made that mistake once already. That’s all for now. Dismissed."

The Enterprise continued along its approach toward its target, while Harry sat in his Ready Room hosting an impromptu meeting with Commander Kalan, Annika, and Counselor Bartok. "I’ve asked you to join me so we can further discuss our attempts to contact this Voth ship," Harry addressed the group. "An alliance with them could be very beneficial to us, if they are willing. But of equal importance is the need to find out why are they leaving this sector of space? If there is something going on that we should know about, hopefully they will tell us."

"Perhaps they are simply tired of occupying this area of space and are setting out to lay down new roots," Bartok spoke up.

"It is more likely that they wish to conquer new territory," Kalan countered, ever the warrior.

"I’m afraid none of this is even worthy of discussion until we find a way to convince them to meet with us," Harry stated. "And I have a rather unusual, and possibly risky plan to discuss with all of you," he eyed them. "Professor Mahat suggested that the ancestors of the Voth may have seeded numerous planets with their offspring. So perhaps a species we are already familiar with, such as the Saurians or the Imerians, may be a better representative for Enterprise."

"It is possible," Annika mused. "Chakotay did say that the Voth have had difficulties dealing with mammalian life forms. Perhaps a reptilian ambassador would be less off-putting."

"Who do you suggest?" Kalan inquired. "We have no such individuals among the senior staff."

"Maybe we don’t have to pick someone from the senior staff," Harry interrupted him, struck with a recollection. "Don’t we have an Imerian among the science staff?"

"Yes, Professor Mardeen," Annika answered him. "He is a xenolinguist, part of the historical research staff. He possesses a very intelligent mind, but is soft-spoken. And his species does have a passing resemblance to the Voth."

"Send for him," Harry ordered.

Several minutes later, Professor Mardeen nervously came through the entrance of the ready room.

"I… I… Professor Mardeen reporting as ordered," he announced hesitantly, his arms hanging limply astride his scaly sides.

"Professor, I’m pleased to make your acquaintance," Harry stood to greet the crewmember for the first time. He tried to make it a point to get to know everyone aboard Enterprise but there were just so many, and many of the civilian scientists in particular tended to remain cloistered from the regular crew. "I understand you are a bright star among the science team. Please have a seat. I have a very important assignment to propose to you, one that will give you the opportunity to make an invaluable contribution to our mission here in the Delta Quadrant. I’m sure you will be excited at what I have to say," he said with assurance.

The Imerian flustered uncomfortably, slinking down into the only empty chair in the room, while looking warily into the eyes of those around him. He hadn’t even learned what was being asked of him, Harry noticed, and already he looked terrified.

"Professor, we are about to make contact with a species called the Voth. Like your people, they are a saurian race. They think quite a lot of themselves, but aren’t very receptive to mammals. We would like you to take the lead on an away mission to initiate relations with the Voth," Harry pumped up that last part, confident that his crewmember would be honored by the privilege of this undertaking.

"M-m-m-meee?" Mardeen stammered, looking about the room anxiously like he was trying to find the exit. Seeing that there was no means of obvious escape, the Imerian promptly leaned sideways and did what came naturally to his species in these circumstances. He fell asleep.

A riled Kalan jumped quickly to his feet and reached over to grab hold of the insolent slumbering reptile. A stunned Harry Kim ordered him to stand down, turned to Annika and Bartok stammering, "What the …?"

Annika immediately arose saying, "Captain, what you may not be aware of is that the Imerians are a rather gentle race that tend toward narcolepsy as a defense mechanism when they come under stress and start to panic."

"What?!" Harry sputtered in disbelief. "A narcoleptic? How the hell does he manage himself during a Red Alert?"

"Quite peacefully, so it would seem," Annika replied in deadpan fashion.

"Oh, well that’s just great!" Harry snorted. "Finn, do we have anyone else on board that fits the bill?"

"Well, I think there’s a Lissepian who tends bar at the Delta Café," said the counselor sheepishly.

"Captain," Kalan interjected, "surely you are not considering handing this mission over to a bartender, are you?"

"Relax, XO," Harry sighed, but it was still a disappointment. He had been hoping to find the right species to carry the load for their mission, but it looked as if nothing was going to make it easy for him. Nearly three thousand crew and civilians aboard ship, he thought bitterly, and hardly a reptile among the lot.

At that moment, Jor’Marak entered the room. "First Jor’Marak reporting as ordered, Captain," he said, staring at the pathetic sight before him.

Kim stared at his personal guard and his eyes opened widely. Was this the man for the job? He looked over at Kalan to see the expression of alarm that locked onto Harry’s eyes.

Harry made his decision …

After Annika and an irritated Kalan hauled the limp scientist off and departed, Harry summoned Cyrus Krell and Finn Bartok to join him. After briefing the two officers of his plan, he turned to the Jem’Hadar.

"When we are in visual communications range, I would like you, Jor’Marak, to be at my side when I speak to the representative of the City-Ship. I’m going to take the optimistic view that we’ll succeed in convincing the Voth to meet with us and talk, especially if they see you standing beside me. Mr. Krell, Finn, I want the two of you to form the away mission with First Jor’Marak.

"Jor’Marak, let me explain why I have asked you to be part of the away mission …"

"To protect your interests and safety. That is obvious, Captain."

"Well … yes, I do want you look after our interests, but not in the way you are thinking. Certainly, your strength as my personal guardian is appreciated. However, I don’t want you on this away mission to serve as a guard, as a soldier, but as a peacekeeper. It’s called diplomacy. Finn, I want you to serve as Jor’Marak’s advisor."

The Jem’Hadar looked askance at his Captain. "But Captain, I know nothing of … diplomacy," the soldier replied, almost pleadingly.

"Jor’Marak, look at that picture," he pointed to the hologram where the image of the Voth appeared. "Notice anything interesting?"

"There is … a similarity in the features of these people with that of the Jem’Hadar. Is that what you are referring to?"

"Exactly. This may not sound like an honorable approach to you, but I am hoping that the Voth will view you as a sort of a … well, with kinship. While I know this role may come as counter to your …"

"I live to serve," he said proudly. "I will do as you ask."

Jor’Marak walked into the ship’s bay that was cordoned off for the housing of the Jem’Hadar. The three-dozen warriors milled about in their ‘quarters’, some of them halting their discourses and combat activities to acknowledge the entrance of their First. Jor’Marak took his place at the center of his troops and called them to attention.

"Jem’Hadar warriors, gather around to hear my words. I, First Jor’Marak, leader of the Jem’Hadar soldiers privileged to be placed abroad the Starship Enterprise, have news to share with you," he announced, without trepidation or emotion.

"We are here to serve the will of the Founders, who have placed us under the leadership of Captain Kim," he began with aplomb. "The Captain has assigned me to an away mission that will require my absence from the ship for a period of time. For now, know this, while I am away, I hereby place Second Adan’Alam in charge of our forces. He will serve as First in my absence."

"We live to serve," the gathering thundered in unison, waving their fists in the air. "Death to the enemy. Victory to the Founders."

Acknowledging the roar of the gathering, Jor’Marak raised his hands, palms outward to temper their enthusiasm. "No," he started, "this is not a mission of conquest, but one of … peacekeeping."

He turned and stared at his Second, Adan’Alam, and his Third, Terem’Bakal as the remainder of his troops mumbled questions to each other. Jor’Marak leaned his head sideways to his two subordinates to indicate his order for them to follow him to a secluded corner of the ship’s bay.

"Adan’Alam, you are my Second," he affirmed. "And you, Terem’Bakal, are my Third. I will explain my mission to you alone and place in you my confident leadership of the Jem’Hadar. While I am absent from the ship, you will conduct yourselves as I would. Swear now your allegiance to the Founders, to protect this ship and to Captain Kim."

"We live to serve. We serve the Founders, the Enterprise, and Captain Kim," they mouthed their response unsure of what he was up to. But Adan’Alam was not satisfied. He stood stiffly staring wide-eyed at his leader.

"You will keep this peace by a demonstration of our unstoppable force, will you not?" he asked, but did not wait for an answer. "Allow me to prepare our best weapons for you to take on this deadly mission," he panted with excitement turning to head for the weapons locker.

"Stand your ground, soldier," he ordered before lowering his voice. "I will not be taking any weapons with me! This is not a fight."

Adan’Alam froze in his tracks. He slowly twisted his head to lock his flabbergasted eyes on Jor’Marak’s. "No weapons? Surely you are testing me with one of those human jokes. You are spending too much time with their kind. I do not know of their humor and laughter, First Jor’Marak."

"I do not joke, Second. I am being sent on this special undertaking to seek to create …" he hesitated and lowered his gaze, "harmony with this species. I am to be … a diplomat."

"A diplomat???" he puzzled. "But that is not our purpose in serving this ship. Surely, we will become a joke among the crew. They will no longer fear us," Adan’Alam unsteadily pleaded with his arms drooping at his sides. "How will the other Jem’Hadar continue to place their unquestioning loyalty in you? This will lead to unrest among our soldiers."

"Ahh," Terem’Bakal perked up. "That is it, isn’t it? That is what you are seeking to do, rile them up with some secret strategy? That is a brilliant, though unusual plan you have, Jor’Marak," he gloated with his head nodding admiringly. "Please tell us what you are plotting. We will follow your lead," he spoke almost gleeful.

"I have no such plan," he retorted with exasperation. "I have spoken the truth. The Captain wishes me to entice an agreement with these people. You two will not reveal any of the details of my assignment to any of the others. And you will enforce their loyalty until I return. We live to … serve." Jor’Marak grunted to his two officers, then turned and walked away without the habitual stiffness in his strut.

Adan’Alam and Terem’Bakal stood baffled behind their First, turning their heads to each other in confused amazement.

As Enterprise reached sensor range of the Voth City-Ship, they picked up the launch of three cruiser ships heading in their direction. Captain Kim chose to keep Enterprise at Yellow alert so as not to have the oncoming vessels think he had any hostile intentions nor was unprepared to act.

"Three ships approaching in delta formation," Krell said, monitoring their approach from his Tactical station on the bridge. "No signs of targeting weaponry. They are scanning us."

"Let them scan away," Harry said calmly. "Communications, let’s send them a ‘Hello’. Jor’Marak," he called to the Jem’Hadar leader, who was already standing at a rear corner of the bridge. "Please come here and stand alongside me."

"Channel open, sir." Naomi announced.

"Voth vessel, this is Captain Harry Kim of the starship Enterprise. We send you our greetings. We are on a mission of peace and exploration. Please respond."

"No response, sir. They are receiving our hail."

"Let’s give them time. Maybe they’re still checking us out for signs of aggression."

After several minutes passed, the viewscreen came alive and was filled with the profile of a saurian pilot.

"This is Heklin Argoz, Commander of the Voth Defender Var Ox. We have scanned your vessel and its weapons systems. State your intentions," the serious looking dinosaur said.

"Greetings Commander Argoz. I am Captain Kim and this is my First, Jor’Marak. We are on a mission of peace. Our intentions are non-hostile. We have met your people before, many years ago in another sector of the Delta Quadrant. We would be honored to be reacquainted with your people and …"

"I am aware of your previous contact with our people," Argoz responded curtly. "And I do NOT believe we shall welcome …" he hesitated at completing his sentence. He leaned forward instead, seeming to intently study the figure standing beside Kim. "… your company. Would you please restate the name of your First," he requested in a more conciliatory tone.

"This is First Jor’Marak of the Jem’Hadar."

"Jem’Hadar… I’ve never heard of them. Is your species kin to the Voth?" he asked, as if Harry Kim did not exist.

Harry stood rigid, then turned slightly to his side facing Jor’Marak, nervously hoping the Jem’Hadar would remember the coaching that Harry had given him after the staff meeting. Perhaps he should have sought a real acting coach from among the crew.

"That is … a possibility. We may be brethren soldiers. Your features are as handsome and strong as my own," the First responded as instructed, looking somewhat ill at ease as he answered, glancing over to his Captain.

"Captain Kim," Argoz eased back, squaring his torso. "If you will permit me time to report back to my leaders and communicate my findings. I will get back to you shortly. Perhaps the Chief Minister will grant you an audience after all."

"Gladly, Commander." The viewscreen went blank as Harry beamed proudly with the flush of success.

Twenty minutes later, the away team was transported over to the Var Ox. Apparently Argoz was quite convincing in his case to Chief Minister Arsik and the Council of Elders in his presentation and suggestion that the Enterprise representatives, who included a member who looked intriguingly like one of their own, should be given a hearing.

As the Var Ox approached the great City-Ship, Cyrus Krell and Finnegan Bartok gazed at the Voth vessel through the forward window of the cruiser. It seemed enormous to them even at that distance. As they drew nearer, they couldn’t help but hold their breaths as Commander Argoz barked guidance instructions to the flight command center of his home ship.

They watched in silence as the stanchions on the outer spires of the station-ship extended for miles like spikes rising from outstretched arms, also miles long and massive in girth, protruding from the center section of the ship. It was as if they stood on a sidewalk beneath the tallest of skyscrapers on Earth, contorting their necks backward to gaze up to the grandiose heights, never able to see the apex. Floating past the outer edge of the City-Ship, their eyes were riveted and focused on the approaching central blocks of bulkhead that glistened with tiny dots of light shining from portals of chambers that made up the thousands of segments of living and working quarters housed within its hull. Moving further toward the core, they could barely catch a full view of the rising spire that dominated the midsection of the remarkable vessel when they noticed the rectangular doors of a docking bay draw open ahead of them with teeth-like clamps.

When the shuttle set down in the docking bay of the great ship and the area was pressurized, a ramp gently descended to the floor and they disembarked, the Jem’Hadar poised in the foreground. Another doorway then slid open near them and they were greeted by a contingent of dignitaries in long flowing colorful robes preceded by a half dozen armed security troops.

"I am Turic Garu, Chief Security Advisor to the Council of Elders," uttered the tallest of the lizards as he stepped forward in marked authority. His eyes were warily fixed on Jor’Marak’s as if sizing him up, while displaying an uncaring inattentiveness to Krell and Bartok as if they were not even present.

"I welcome you to our home vessel," he said as he extended an outstretched arm to the Jem’Hadar, grasping his firmly up to the elbow, testing his strength. The First returned the gesture, clutching the Voth’s arm resolutely, not flinching at the challenge of power.

Satisfied by the resolute response, Garu released the soldier’s grip and beckoned him to follow his lead. "Please, allow me to escort you to the council room to meet with our Chief Minister and the Council of Elders. Have your mammals fetch your bags," he said, motioning to Krell and Bartok. "They can follow my aides," he directed as he waved his hands behind him, ever ignoring the astounded starship officers.

"Fetch his bags?" Krell said softly to Bartok.

"When in Rome, Lieutenant," the counselor replied with an amused shrug as he hoisted the nearest duffel bag over his shoulder.

The three men were escorted through a maze of brightly lit corridors with three of the armed soldiers marching ahead of them and the other three following closely behind. After a while, they came upon a pair of high-rising metal doors with inland etchings. When the doors were opened before them they entered an elegant chamber with high ceilings and ornate decorations. Bartok noticed the large lighted orbs that hung from the walls of the meeting room. They were led across a ten-foot long bright red carpet that was soft under their feet and offset by several rows of elaborate chairs on each side. Clearly this was an assembly room set off for conferences by high-level officials, Bartok surmised. At the end of the thick rug, the aide motioned to them to halt their advance at an area before a long solid table and stepped away, followed by the security contingent, moving aside the table. The table was shining to the point of reflecting the torsos of the seven men seated in tall-backed chairs behind it.

They were then introduced to Chief Minister Arsik and to each of the members of the Council of Elders. Behind them perched Security Advisor Garu with his security officers posted at each end of the table. Standing quietly and inconspicuously in a corner, among a group of lower officials and clergymen, was Veria Arsik, the Chief Minister’s daughter. She maintained a respectful and official, yet relaxed pose. A look of curiosity was pasted on her face and a smile beamed across it as her eyes locked onto Jor’Marak.

Krell and Bartok moved to each side of the Jem’Hadar, close enough that their arms brushed against his. This drew guarded glances from those seated at the table and those gathered behind them. But Arsik seemed to radiate with delight in the presence of the starship representatives, or at least at Jor’Marak.

"Greetings, honored guests," Arsik roared as he rose to his feet, piercing the clamor of the gathering with pompous authority and staring directly at the Jem’Hadar. "It is not often that our people are graced with the opportunity to entertain a distant brother. I want to welcome you to our home with openness and warmth. May this day bring to us all a refreshing new comradeship. Jor’Marak, you and your party are invited to partake of our hospitality. We would like to prepare a dinner in your honor for later this day."

Jor’Marak took a step forward in staunch command and authority, remembering the dialogue that Counselor Bartok had coached him on.

"Thank you. May our peoples come together in peace and harmony for the sake of mutual understanding and alliance," Jor’Marak offered with discomfort, not sure what to do with his hands. He knew the words he was supposed to say, but they felt uncomfortable to him as he heard them leave his mouth.

"Alliance?" challenged Torko Besak, the Voth Minister of Doctrine, seated to left of the Chief Minister. He and several other Voths clustered near him were clad in distinctive purple robes adorned with a crimson sash. "And just what do you mean by ‘alliance’? As I recall, your people sought to demote the Voth to the level of you … humans at our last encounter. You were rather contemptuous of our ways," he said with perturbed testiness, seeking to float a bubble of suspicion into the atmosphere of the proceedings.

Finn Bartok stepped forward and set his large body beside Jor’Marak, already advised by Captain Kim that he would be expected to take a lead role in any negotiations with the Voth, especially given the Jem’Hadar’s novel and precarious position. He ignored the looks of surprise on the faces as the Voth assemblage and smiled broadly as he addressed them.

"Your Honors," he interjected. "I am Counselor Finnegan Bartok, direct advisor to First Jor’Marak and Captain Kim," he stated with portentous authority. "The Federation, of which I am a humble representative," he bowed his head and extended his arms outward in rehearsed humility, "thanks you for your graciousness and hospitality. We are equally grateful for the opportunity to renew contact with the people of the Voth. We are also honored to make your acquaintance.

"We would be grateful for the opportunity to seek a new friendship with the Voth. We are visitors to your sector of space and we are your guests. We shall conduct ourselves accordingly, respectful of your rules and customs. But we are well aware, by virtue of our explorations in the Delta Quadrant, of the presence and potential threat presented by a species known … as the Borg."

The gathering around him released a hushed sigh and clamored amongst themselves, many of their heads nodding in recognition and concern.

"Clearly, you are aware of the Borg," he stated matter-of-factly, slowly rotating his large body from left to right, noting their affirmations as a pivotal piece of information. Surely, Captain Kim would take it as a key to opening the door to an accord. "Our region of the galaxy has also been victimized by their invasions and we have lost many lives to their attempts at assimilation," Bartok preached, well versed in the ostentatious tripe of political negotiation.

"We are listening," pronounced Besak, with antagonism.

"Yes, please go on. You have our attention," marked the Chief Minister, swiftly skewing his recessed eyeballs in Besak’s direction.

"Thank you, your honors. We appreciate your consideration," he started, clasping his hands together and bowing slightly, while shifting a suspicious eye toward Besak, then focusing his attention on the Chief Minister. "And we are earnestly motivated to seek a partnership with the Voth, an ancient and long esteemed people. An alliance among our races, with the greatest respect and honor to your antiquity and advanced realm, would be mutually beneficial. It would help to insure a peaceful co-existence among yourselves and the other races of the Delta Quadrant … and the exchange of cultural and technological expertise." Bartok bowed at the waist in exaggerated aplomb. He laid it on thick, like a political candidate seeking election.

The assembled audience murmured with apprehension, but was abruptly interrupted.

"And just what technological advancements are you seeking to abscond with from us?" Besak challenged, again seeking to foster fear of the strangers amongst his compatriots.

The assemblage once again murmured before him, this time in annoying qualm.

"We have no such interests, Your Magistrate," pronounced Bartok. He had no idea who this individual was or what authority he had, if any, but he could see Krell glaring witheringly at him, barely concealing a look that conveyed a willingness to beat the pulp out of him. But he was prepared to continue piling on the diplomatic double-speak to the fullest. "And I am certain that we can provide benefits and enhancements to you that would be equal to your own contributions," he bowed again, not without struggle, his large-bellied frame split in half.

"First Jor’Marak," glared the Chief Minister. "What have you to say to this?"

"My … subordinate," he spoke up, raising his hand halfway against Bartok and gently moving him slightly backward. He scanned the audience – taking a cue from the counselor – projecting out to them, "has well stated our desires and intentions. We are NOT here as conquering forces." That one got him in the throat. He could tear these toadying creatures into pieces all by himself, given the chance, but he was duty bound to his Captain and he would honor his role. Besides which, the look of these Voth creatures somewhat appealed to him. They seemed like … fellow broodmates to him, at least in appearance. Except for his interactions with Captain Kim, which were an altogether unique sort of experience, he was not used to challenges beyond that of a death battle – so he proceeded with inimitable deportment. "You have my oath," he concluded.

"And why should we trust your word?" Besak blared in confronting manner.

"Are you our friends … or are you our enemies?" Jor’Marak raised his voice with firmness and again scanned their faces, settling his glare on the priest. The Voth council was taken aback, but the soldiers seemed to respond positively to the boldness and power of his speech. More importantly, Chief Minister Arsik glowed at the bold defiance to the Minister of Doctrine.

"Very well, First Jor’Marak," proclaimed the Chief Minister. "We shall accept your accolades … and your friendship. Let our peoples begin a new relationship. … Provided you can be held to your word and will not seek to unravel our personal belief systems."

"I live by a code of honor, Chief Minister," Jor’Marak replied.

Arsik clapped his hands to summon his aide. "Let us show you to your rooms where you can prepare for the evening’s festivities while our Council considers the nature of such an … alliance."

Back on the Enterprise, Adan’Alam paced the Jem’Hadar facility with irritation. He watched his soldiers tussling about in combat exercises. He grumbled and growled with dissatisfaction at the sites before him. Terem’Bakal noticed his pacing and drew up beside him with concern, yet wary obligation.

"You are disturbed, First Adan’Alam. What is your concern?" he inquired.

"I do not like the nature of Jor’Marak’s mission. I do not understand this diplomacy the human captain has engaged him in. These humans like to talk and make friends with their adversaries. They do not understand that peace comes from force. That is the only way. This undertaking is an insult to the purpose of the Jem’Hadar."

"But we are bound by the will of the Founders to serve this Captain. And this is the task he has designated for Jor’Marak," Terem’Bakal retorted, bowing his head to his superior. "It is not for us to question his wisdom or orders."

"Orders!" he snapped. Just then he stepped forward to a pair of his fighting charges. "Are you weaklings?" he shouted. "Battle your enemy with the intent to kill him. You are all getting soft," he roared for the whole room to hear.

"Here, let me show you," he said, pushing one of the warriors away and taking his place to face his opponent. He crouched in attack position. The opponent lunged at him. Adan’Alam smashed his right forearm against the chest of the oncoming soldier, stunning him, and quickly followed it with a left-handed blow to the side of his head. The soldier buckled and fell to his knees. Adan’Alam growled in rage and connected with two more powerful punches, crumpling his opponent to the floor. He readied himself to stomp on him with his right leg, but he was suddenly restrained by Terem’Bakal.


Adan’Alam halted short of further contact, but turned to face Terem’Bakal.

"You dare challenge me?"

"Adan’Alam," he shouted, then lowered his voice in reverence to his superior, "we are bound not to kill one another … as long as we serve on this ship. Remember? We have sworn this to the Founders!"

"Agggh. More human rules," he let down his guard, then shoved Terem’Bakal. "And you remember your place is to obey me," he threatened before marching off.

Jor’Marak entered the living quarters following the half-bow and wave of Nusir Pegun’s arm. The council’s servant-advisor smiled with pride at the opportunity to lavish the Jem’Hadar guest.

Jor’Marak had never had a private room of his own and the silence inside the room left him feeling disjointed and restricted. He became even more unsettled by the pompously ornate decorations surrounding him. He sniffed at the air and let out a low murmur. Nusir lost his smile quickly at seeing the dissatisfaction growing in the admired guest.

"Is there something wrong, honored one?" he asked.

"What is that odor?" Jor’Marak responded with unease, sniffing again and shaking his head from side to side.

"That is Essence of Carmela root," Nusir told him. "Do you not like it? It is the sweetest scent in the entire galaxy. A very rare treat indeed, reserved for only the most important of our leaders and guests. We grow it in very limited quantities in a guarded botanical facility. It will lighten your mood and fill you with tranquility in a very short time. I already feel its effects, very peaceful. I am grateful for the honor of being able to share it with you, First Jor’Marak."

"I do not seek this … tranquility," the Jem’Hadar answered back. "Remove it, immediately."

"Yes, right away. As you command," the reptile answered with regret, moving swiftly to an urn situated in a corner of the room. He picked it up and laid it on the outside of the doorway in the hall.

"And what are all these … things covering the walls? What is their purpose? Is this camouflage? Are you hiding something?" he continued annoyed and confused, running his fingers through a piece of the soft, bright orange-red curtain material. He released it with a toss and stepped tentatively over to a far wall that was completely mirrored. "Aggh. What is this?" he grunted leaning his hand against the reflective panel.

"It is a reflector," Nusir told him, stunned by the guest’s reaction. "So that you may examine your image while you adorn yourself with the fine clothing we have provided for you to wear."

"I do not wish to view my own image. I know what I look like as much as I need or care to. Cover it up, use those fabrics to conceal it," he ordered, pointing to the curtains. "And what do you mean by fine clothing to wear? I do not require body dressings other than my uniform."

"But surely you will want to be properly attired and presentable when you attend the banquet arranged in your honor this evening," Nusir quibbled.

"Show me."

"Here you are," Nusir stepped shyly to an adjacent wall, slowly opening a sliding door to a closet that ran the entire length of the wall. "This is for you. You may choose any of the regal wardrobe items that appeal to you."

Jor’Marak moved quickly to the closet, stopping abruptly before the frilly outfits.

"Aggh," he repeated. "What am I supposed to do with this? It will encumber the free movement of my arms. How am I to respond to a crisis dressed in this?"

"Here," Nusir said, gesturing to a smooth, suede-like yellow sash decorated with blue and red diamond shapes. "You wear it like this," he demonstrated, removing the dressing gown from its hanging device and wrapping it scruffily around his torso. "This is a robe of honor," he advised, smoothing the material against his chest. "You must wear it for the banquet."

"Very well, I will wear that … piece of material for the gathering in respect to your customs," he relented, crinkling his nose in exasperation.

"Very good, First Jor’Marak," Nusir acknowledged, sighing at the minor victory. "And you may wear it with any of these fine jewels," he said, hopefully pleading.

"No. That is all. Now leave me. Retrieve me when the time comes for this banquet you refer to."

"Yes, your honor. I shall return at the appointed hour," the embarrassed servant relented, bowing as he stepped backward to exit through the room’s door.

In the meantime, Krell and Bartok were shown to their adjoining billet. It was a Spartan cubicle barely half the size of an ensign’s quarters aboard Enterprise, and it was clearly intended for both officers.

"What is this?" Cyrus moaned. "Surely you don’t mean to house both of us here? I don’t mean to be ungracious, but we are supposed to be guests here."

"This is your room, the servant’s quarters. They are adequate to meet your purpose," the Voth minion countered, turning quickly to leave.

"Well," said Bartok, trying his best to sound hopeful as soon as they were alone. "At least they provided clothes for the banquet."

Krell held up one of the garments draped over the bunk and held it up for inspection. They both looked like burlap sacks, only with a jeweled belt. And apparently, no pants, but rather a loose kilt-like extension. "They want us to wear this?" Krell muttered, shaking his head. "Give me a tactical assault mission any day."

"It’s all part of the game, Cyrus. Better get used to it. Besides, I’ve had to dress in far worse than this before on first contact missions."

"What could be worse than a damned skirt?!"

Bartok smiled playfully, albeit with a regretful look in his eye. "Obviously, you’ve never had to wear feathers."

Torko Besak, the Minister of the Circle of Doctrine, was granted entrance to Chief Minister Arsik’s elaborate residential quarters.

"Ahh, Besak, what can I do for you at this late hour? I thought surely you would be attending to your prayer of welcoming for the banquet. Come, come, please sit down and tell me why you have come."

"Chief Minister, I know that we do not always agree," he began, stretching himself out comfortably on a soft lounge chair in Arsik’s anteroom. "I believe you are somewhat lenient at times regarding the following of our doctrines, and I disagree with you on the invitation to accept these strangers into our midst. But there are many other things that we do agree on, such as the need to protect our people from threat. We both want the same abundant future for the Voth.

"But I am not here to debate Doctrine with you at this time nor to discuss the safety of our people. There is something much more close to my heart that I wish to inveigle upon you. … Your daughter, Veria."

"What about her?"

"I know that you are very taken by this Jem’Hadar visitor of ours. And she seems quite fascinated by him as well. But we both know that this … stranger, will not be among us for very long. Then where will she be?"

"I do not follow you, Besak. You are speaking in riddles. Please get to the point or I will fall asleep right in front of you."

"My proposal, Chief Minister, is that you consider a union between your lovely daughter, Veria, and me." He continued while Arsik stared at him in disbelief. "Do not take my suggestion so lightly, dear friend. Such a joining would be a time of great celebration among our people. And there are a great many other benefits to be had from such a joining."

"Such as?" Arsik contested.

"It would be a politically powerful mating … a joining between our two Circles. Your daughter is young and healthy and can produce many eggs. Our offspring would guarantee regal leadership for both our families for generations to come. It would also stave off disharmony within the various Circles. You know there are members of the Council who also question your leadership directions and capabilities. You are growing older, you know. And some have even whispered that you range too far away from our tenets, even to the point of blasphemy."

"That is rubbish, Besak. I am proactive for the advancement of our people. Our youth grow disenchanted at our decision to relocate, not to mention the restrictive nature of our doctrines. Things change with time, often because change is thrust upon us. The Great Project should be ample proof of that. So you’d best watch your tone with me before you sling about false allegations."

"Now, now Minister," Besak countered. "I am not espousing your overthrow. But others are. A marriage between your daughter and myself would go a long way toward demonstrating your adherence to the primacy of Doctrine."

"And how do you know that Veria would want you?"

"I’m sure you could persuade her. After all, I would certainly be a better choice for her than any of those egg eaters you have welcomed into our midst."

"You may leave now," Arsik replied obstinately, rising to a standing position with his arms crossed in front of him.

"And so I shall," he said, rising to depart. "But consider my offer. You could do worse. She could do worse."

Nusir returned to the Jem’Hadar’s room at the appointed hour. He stood aghast at the sight of the soldier adorned in an unkempt and disheveled manner, the robes flopping sloppily about his body.

"They’re all backwards, First Jor’Marak," he howled, grasping his hands to the sides of his face. "And you’re missing the outer layers. Oh, what will people think?"

"That First Jor’Marak does not wish to be confined in garments that serve no practical purpose," the First groused, removing the garment from his figure and tossing it to the floor. Nusir picked up the robe and held it out before him, his face pleading.

"Here, try to put it on again. I will help you."

"No. Do not touch me," he responded with exasperation, taking the robe from the advisor’s trembling hands. "I will do it." He lifted it up and held it out in front of him, upside down. He struggled to slip the arm hole over his hand, tugging it halfway up his muscular biceps and onto his shoulder.

"No, no, no. Not that way. Oh," Nusir reached forward before quickly withdrawing his hands at the fear of losing them.

Jor’Marak pulled his arm from the garment and tossed it through the air.

"Enough of this," he complained, picking up a yellow sash and flipping it over his shoulder. "There. That’s it. This is all I will wear. Take me to my companions."

Nusir cowered and led Jor’Marak to the room Krell and Bartok occupied. The door opened to the sight of the two officers struggling to put on their ill-fitting bland-colored outfits, complete with kilts that came down just above their knees, while bumping into each other in the confined area.

The three finally headed out into the corridors side-by-side following a frustrated Nusir who could only shake his lowered beleaguered head. He turned to make sure the three visitors were following him. "No, no, no" he hollered out, "You two must walk behind the First," he instructed. "At least three paces … please."

"You know," Krell grumbled to Bartok beside him, "I remember a time when I used to have some dignity."

"Be glad the Jem’Hadar don’t have egos," came Bartok’s reply.

When they entered the huge banquet room, they were immediately overcome by the clamor of the large gathering and the sound of Voth rhythmic syncopations. The flowing organ-sounding pulses and the soft tingling of bells seemed to grow louder as a hush went through the attended multitude as they turned and stared at the strange guests.

Chief Minister Arsik chuckled at the dropped jaws of the elders of the Council and clergy who were aghast at the inappropriate manner of the Jem’Hadar’s attire. He greeted the visitors, paying attention only to Jor’Marak, and led them to the gold-clothed head table. The mumble of disapproving voices coming from the elders intrigued Bartok, who then flushed with embarrassment as the Jem’Hadar was seated at the lead table while he and Krell were pointed to a smaller, bare table situated behind the other. As the counselor looked about the room he noticed a gathering of Voth military youth who were lined up in rows and smiling in appreciation of the Jem’Hadar’s seeming defiance of their customs. Krell merely frowned and took his seat.

"He is a brave one," said one of the youth, leaning to several of his counterparts.

"Such boldness," said another.

"This leader is very radical," acknowledged yet a third. "He does not fear the Circle of Doctrine at all."

The Chief Minister scurried up to Jor’Marak and clasped his arm onto the Jem’Hadar’s in thrilled greeting and allegiance.

"First Jor’Marak, welcome. We would be honored if you would inspect our First Guard, the elite troops of our City-Ship. Please, follow me."

Jor’Marak was well familiarized and comfortable with this sort of proceeding as he measured his own Jem’Hadar troops on a regular basis, inspecting their readiness to take on any enemy at a moment’s notice. A Jem’Hadar force must always be ready and primed for battle. So he followed the lead of the Chief Minister passing rows of the armored soldiers.

Viewing the rows of warriors standing at firm attention, the Jem’Hadar leader was impressed by their show of strength and steadfastness. He spied each of them with focused attention and even reprimanded one of them.

"Your weapon is not immaculate and honed for battle," he chastised. "No soldier exists apart from his weapon. It is your only reliable companion, your protector. A soldier does not enter the battlefield without the amity of his weapon."

The soldier nodded in shamed respect.

After the inspection, the Chief Minister called the assemblage to order and introduced the First Jor’Marak. He then asked Minister of Doctrine Besak to step forward and lead the ensemble in a ritual prayer.

Besak stepped forward in all his ostentatious glory.

"May this day bring unto us, the civilization of the Voth, a greater understanding of our purpose, in the grander scope of the universal plan, laid out before us by our forefathers. May we meet our enemies in powerful persuasion and fend them off in unmerciful conquest."

"And may we also greet our friends with warmth and companionship," added Arsik, not to be outdone by the minister. "And welcome them among our court of stately guidance and leadership." Then he tested the resolve of the Minister of Doctrine … "May our principles of honor and dignity be outstretched into new realms of acceptance."

After the prayer, Arsik clapped his hands together and sat down. All in the room followed suit, except for the half dozen guards posted near the head table.

An announcement came and a class of young school children were marshaled before the council table and posed in order in front of the honored guest. The sound of delicate yet lively music filled the room and the children performed a routine of combined dance and gymnastic movements in synchronized fashion. Their faces radiated at the tribute bestowed upon them to entertain such an esteemed congregation. After the completion of their presentation, a group of colorfully dressed musicians took their place carrying an odd assortment of instruments. More Voth cadences filled the air.

Food was then brought to the head table, and to all the other tables thereafter.

Jor’Marak was seated at the right hand side of Minister Arsik. To Arsik’s left sat his Security Advisor Garu. To Jor’Marak’s right was the Minister’s daughter, Veria, who immediately tried to engage the Jem’Hadar in flirtatious conversation.

"Where is your home, Jor’Marak? And do you have a companion waiting for you there?" she inquired.

"As with yourself, my home is my ship, the Enterprise. I have many companions in my service. They are my soldiers, sworn to serve and protect the Enterprise, and we protect each other," he answered matter-of-factly.

"Yes, I have seen your ship. I watched as Enterprise drew near to our vessel," she told him, thinking of another tack to appeal to him. "You will have to allow me to show you around our home ship and extend to you my personal hospitality," she cooed, leaning her face close to his.

"I would like to view more of your City-Ship and take part in your hospitality," he stated without emotion, leaning slightly away from her flanking approach.

"Then perhaps, I too can be your companion," she tried again, hoping he would get her meaning. "I admire your daring manner, First Jor’Marak," Veria whispered coyly, blowing a soft breath into his ear. "Not many would dare to defy Voth customs and doctrines by such dinner dress."

"Doctrines are restrictive if they serve no practical function," he rejoined. "As are excessive body drapings. I have no use for either of them."

"But doctrines are necessary to guide a people and help them to grow strong in the ranks of leadership. Our clothing also demonstrates our respect of our social standards. The virtues of cultural standards are key to any society. Don’t you think so?" she asked, her eyes wide and blinking rapidly.

"We Jem’Hadar have rules of order and a code of honor to live by. We live to die in defense of our superiors. More than that is unnecessary. Such rituals as you follow are shallow and frivolous gestures that add nothing to the physical strength of the individual. They contribute nothing to one’s development of supremacy over opponents," he spoke solemnly, his head staring forward avoiding the female’s fascinations with him. "But even we have been developed to adapt to the circumstances of our assignments and battle arenas so I will try to adapt to your standards."

Jor’Marak fidgeted in his seat, ignoring the food placed before him … and trying to be diplomatic while somewhat reserved in his interaction with the female Voth who now had her arm wrapped around his. Clearly he was uncomfortable with the interface, Bartok noted, keeping a watching eye on the finely bred soldier.

"Have you tasted the sessmack yet?" she said, changing the subject. "It is one of our finest delicacies. Here have some," she offered, raising a piece of yellow flowery leaf before his face.

"I have no need for food," he said curtly. "The White is the only sustenance that I require." An abrupt cough coming from Commander Bartok reminded him of his orders to be …diplomatic… while on this mission. "But I thank you for your offer," he added hastily.

Not satisfied, Veria Arsik prodded him to give it a try. He hesitated as he considered her insistent offering, recalling the unpleasant attempt at tasting Sabrina Wildman’s ice cream. Then he countered the thought considering his mission and his desire to experience the traditions of other species in order to enhance his own understanding and effectiveness.

Behind them, Bartok nudged Krell and pointed his focus to the couple. Bartok wore a sly grin of his face; Krell frowned with the absence of amusement.

The Jem’Hadar finally relented and allowed the female to place the yellow substance in his mouth. Once again the fowl strangeness overcame him and he spit out the matter. Veria chuckled uncontrollably. Her pompous fellow citizens seated at the table, on the other hand, huffed in disapproval. The Chief Minister joined her in the hilarity of the moment and laughed aloud. Minister Besak, of course, did not approve.

As the dinner affair drew to its conclusion, Veria Arsik waited aside until all the dignitaries paid their respects to Jor’Marak, taking note that Minister Besak was brusque in his tribute of the visitor. Finally seeing her opening, Veria pounced upon the First again, locking her arm through his.

"Would you come for a walk with me? I am simply captivated by your views on the lack of necessity for doctrine. I would also love to hear more about your theories and your life aboard Enterprise," she flattered him, her face still aglow.

"I … will join you," he answered hesitatingly, uncomfortable with what she had in mind. "But first I must confer with my … I mean, instruct my subordinates."

At that, Jor’Marak hastened over to Bartok and Krell.

"Counselor, I must seek your advice. The Chief Minister’s daughter has engaged me in … taking a walk with her. I am uncertain as to her intentions, and I do not feel comfortable with the physical contact she continues to make with me."

"So I’ve noticed," Bartok said, failing miserably at his effort to restrain his gleeful smirk. "What is it you wish to know?" he said with a foolish conspiring wink.

Krell stared at the advisor, not certain whether or not to scold him for his lighthearted attitude in what could be a serious problem for them if things went badly, even though he was his superior.

"I do not understand your facial expression. Are you mocking me? I do not understand the ways of fraternization. Please instruct me as to how to handle this situation," Jor’Marak stated matter-of-factly.

"Um, yes … yes I see your predicament," Bartok answered seriously. "This could be an embarrassing circumstance. At the same time, it could be an excellent opportunity to build a stronger association with these people. I suggest that you go with her, accept the invitation, and accept her companionship. Try some flattery, you know, words of adoration. Like, tell her she is attractive, has nice eyes. That sort of thing. But, whatever you do, do not accept any invitations to go to her room. And make no promises to her. Okay?"

"What would I do with her in her room?" Jor’Marak looked at the humans quizzically.

"Oh, brother," Krell shook his head as he joined in. "I take it the Founders never had any friendly talks with you about where little solids come from?"

"If you are referring to sexual reproduction, I am entirely aware of that capability in your species. The Jem’Hadar are not capable of such things. We do not have the necessary…"

"Biological compatibility?" Krell finished, showing some diplomatic skill of his own.

"Precisely. Surely Minister Arsik’s daughter knows that such a thing cannot occur between us."

"I am not so sure that she does know," Krell replied.

"And I’m guessing she’s going to be damn disappointed when she finds out," Bartok chimed in.

Jor’Marak stared at them blankly. "Return to you rooms and wait for me there," he finally directed them, loud enough for Veria to hear and believe that he was given them an order. He spun and returned to her.

Veria led the Jem’Hadar through the corridors of the great ship and into a turbo lift to a lower level. They approached a large door that slid open to reveal a dimly lit lush garden. It was not unlike the Botanical Garden aboard Enterprise, but even more expansive. They made their way along a pathway while Veria told Jor’Marak about her people, her family, and her upbringing on the City-Ship. They strode down a deserted path that wound its way alongside a large pool of water that resembled a natural lake.

"We Voth are a noble and ancient people. There are legends in our archives dating back almost one million years. Some people think our race dates back even father, but we have nothing from those times on record anymore. Our culture is so old that it can sometimes take weeks, even months, to sift through our oldest chronicles, and even then our historical records may be more often myth than verifiable fact. You have no idea what a burden so much history can be. Is it that way with your people?"

"No," said Jor’Marak. "The Jem’Hadar do not have a history. We record nothing of ourselves. We live only for the moment. When a soldier passes, he is forgotten."

"How horrible," Veria cringed. "I can trace my lineage and family Circles back fifty generations. Won’t your family keep any sort of remembrance of you when your end comes?"

"We do not have families, only our squad mates. And we do not think about those who have fallen in battle, or the Honored Elders who die of old age. When a soldier passes, he is no longer relevant. It keeps our attentions focused on the present, where it should be."

"I see," said Veria, quickly trying to change the subject to something more uplifting. "As you can see by our ships, we have advanced to a point where we are quite satisfied and well able to meet our needs."

"But you have ceased to continue that advancement to the point of power and conquest over other races. Why is that? Surely your people can reign supreme if you choose to," he probed.

"Yes, if we chose to take that path, we most surely could. But we are not a warring race. We are content to maintain a level of defensive capability by which to protect ourselves, and instill order around us by the demonstration of our power. But that is all. We are happy to keep to ourselves and trade with those who have what we need. And we do not impose our force upon other races unless our own salvation is threatened. Is that so surprising to you?"

"It is not the way of the Jem’Hadar. We are bred for war and conquest. At least, we used to be. The Founders have also chosen to seek an alliance with the Alpha and Beta Quadrants in order to maintain peaceful coexistence with other species. They now believe that it enriches their own lives. Though I do not fully understand it, I follow the will of the Founders. So I accept your ways. But I do not understand why culture and doctrine are so important to you."

"Our culture has developed to a state of order where all our citizens have structure and security in their lives along with a wide breath of freedom to aspire to a great variety of lifestyles and Circles. We have many prolific artists and musicians. We have many learned scientists and wise teachers in the manner of the universe as well as religious leaders."

"Religion? I do not understand. Please explain."

"Our spiritual beliefs in a higher order that we aspire to align ourselves with, engender the quest for an inner and outer development of peace and harmony. Our clerics, such as Torko Besak, are part of the Circle of Doctrine. They maintain and guard our spiritual beliefs so that all Voth will live in respect of each other. And we respect the diversity of species under the higher order as a natural and beneficial evolution of the universal whole … with the Voth being the first among them, of course."

"Is that why Minister Besak appears to bear animosity toward those I serve? Because he believes your race to be the rightful masters of the galaxy?"

Veria looked at Jor’Marak oddly. "You serve them? But I thought you were the leader of your people. Now I’m the one who does not understand," she said perplexed.

"I am the First among the Jem’Hadar. I lead my forces in order to serve the Founders, the Enterprise, and it’s Captain. It is much the same as Minister Besak’s leadership under that of the Chief Minister, your father. But I ask again, why does Minister Besak appear to harbor such hostility toward those of the Enterprise?" he resumed his inquest.

"I suppose he is afraid that your people will spread a false ideology and create disharmony and dissent among our kind. We are contented with our way of life and don’t want it disrupted. The previous encounter with Voyager brought ill will between us and … those you serve. And we are a proud people. It is not wrong to be satisfied with our way of being and wish to uphold the doctrines and ways we are accustomed to, is it?"

"No, it is not. Those I serve do not wish to interfere with the lives of your people. That is not their way," he rejoined.

"And we do not wish to interfere with the lives of others either. We are happy to cloister ourselves in our City-Ships and make our way through space."

"Yet you are departing from the sectors of space that your people have dominated for centuries."

"Yes. We want to find a home space far away from the threats of … other races. But that is something I gladly leave to the Council of Elders to address and deal with. I don’t want to think about them right now. Not when I am enjoying your company so much. You don’t know what its like to be the daughter of the Chief Minister. I always have to be at my best and play the ambassador role and it makes it hard just to be friendly and social on everyone else’s level. Not to mention how hard it is to meet someone … interesting," she ventured to the Jem’Hadar hoping to peak his interest.

"What do you mean?" he asked in ignorant bliss.

"Well, usually the male asks the female to spend time with him, after he has received the approval of the Eldest of her Circle, to meet and go someplace romantic like this garden we are in. …"

"Then this would be what the humans would call … a date?" he answered, remembering a term he had overheard many times aboard Enterprise. Sometimes it seemed that mating rituals were all that humans appeared to care about.

"A date," Veria mused. "What a curious word. Your human companions seem to have a colorful way with verbal interplay."

"That they do," he replied.

After walking around the lake for a ways, Veria stopped them and turned to face him straight on.

"Jor’Marak," she spoke up. "Do you find me pleasing?" she gleamed, glad for the opening to lean her body against his. She started to stretch her arms up to encircle his head.

"What is this?" he blustered, stepping backward at the unnerving physical contact.

"Oh. I am sorry. I did not mean to offend you by my boldness," she withdrew.

"I was not offended. It is just something that a soldier is not accustomed to."

"This is my favorite spot," she said, bypassing the awkward instant as she took his hand again in her own, turned and led him to a grassy incline where she invited him to sit down next to her.

"I prefer to stand, thank you."

"But you must sit beside me. I insist. Come, relax."

"Relax?" he questioned under his breath, then thinking to be accommodating, just mirrored her action.

When he joined her on the ground, she suddenly leaned against him again, rubbing her hand across his chest. The First sat stiffly, not knowing what to do in response.

"My, but you are a strong handsome male," she cooed.

"Yes … ah, thank you. You are also a handsome specimen of your species," he said, rolling his eyes while trying to remember Bartok’s confusing instructions he called flattery. "And you have nice eyes."

"Why, thank you too. That is very charming of you to say. So you are attracted to me?" she pursued.

Alarms went off inside his head at the sound of her words. He remembered Bartok’s warning to him not to accept an invitation to anything that would imply a desire to procreate. "No. Wait," he said directly. Veria was taken aback.

"Don’t you think we could become good mates for each other?" she pleaded. "Can’t you tell from my body signals?" she responded bewildered. "My dilitus lobe is inflamed and my pheromones are flowing. Don’t you sense my interest in you?"

"I do not know. Please explain it to me. Then I can give you an answer."

"It’s… when you are attracted to someone of the opposite sex and want to get closer to them, to get to know them better. Especially if they’re a handsome, virile male like you," she tried to explain; gripping his arm more tightly and batting her eyes at him again with a longing look. "I find you so alluring. I know Doctrine frowns on such brazenness, picking a mate outside of one’s Circle. But I think you could be …"

"I do not think so."

Veria twitched her head in surprise and alarm. "Did I say something wrong? Do you not want to mate with me?" she prodded on, standing up alongside him. "Is there another female aboard your ship, one that you desire?"

"That is not what I meant," he said, floundering, not wanting to offend her. "What I meant is …the Jem’Hadar do not mate. We do not procreate or bond with a companion. There are no women among our kind anymore. The Jem’Hadar are specially bred by the Founders for our strength and fighting abilities. We are genetically engineered … for one purpose only, to serve the Founders and defend our superiors."

Veria stared at him in stunned amazement. "You mean …you’re… engineered?" She said it as though he had some type of disease. "You …can’t even… mate?"

"I cannot. Does that offend you?"

"No," she lied, still visibly shaken.

"But you do not agree with the engineering of a species?"

"No," she repeated. "… you don’t understand. Doctrine expressly forbids any altering of the Voth form. It’s one of our most ancient beliefs. If Minister Besak were to learn of this … he’d regard you as little more than an animal, even lower than your human companions."

"It is what I am," he said sternly. "Do you consider me as such? An animal?"

"I… well, no. Of course not."

"It was not my intention to lead you to believe that we … we could become mating companions. We can only be allies."

"Oh," she stuttered, trying to regain her composure. "No, it was my misunderstanding and I… thank you for your honesty. Yes, I would like us to be … um, allies," she recanted, removing her hands from his body. "Then why have you come to our people? For our weapons?"

"No, not for weaponry. I am here to make contact with your people and to try to forge an alliance between your race and the people of my ship. And to find out what your people are doing in this part of space, far from where you came. Why are the Voth abandoning this region of space? Can you help me to answer these questions?"

"I can answer some of your questions. Years ago the Voth were a powerful race that ruled over a vast sector of space, as you have said. We were feared, and respected at the same time. We flourished by forging our dominance and instilling fear throughout the sector to ward off predators while allowing other life forms to go about their business and engage in trade with us and each other. It was a peaceful coexistence. That is, until the Borg came to our space. They were a vicious and destructive enemy that rampaged through our dominion. It was a terrible blow to us. Our doctrines tell us that the Voth are the most advanced form of life in the galaxy. Yet this enemy showed no deference to us. So, we stood our ground and tried to fight them off, but we failed. They overwhelmed many of our ships and came as they pleased, taking what they pleased, which made them even more powerful. Over the last few centuries, we’ve watched their power grow, but did nothing about it, convinced that we were too great a race to ever be at risk from another."

"Clearly that is no longer the case," the Jem’Hadar observed.

"Eventually we had to make contingency plans to deal with the problem. In the end, when we no longer had a choice, our Elders decided it would be best for our people to flee from this region of space, to go somewhere far enough away that they would never find us instead of fight. We’ve been planning this for some time, but recent events forced us to accelerate our timetable. We had to relocate quickly as the Borg grew stronger.

"So, you see, an alliance between our peoples is impossible. We want only to be left alone. The only reason we accepted your people’s invitation to meet is because we thought you, Jor’Marak, might be an offspring of our species."

"I see. I too am … sorry," he said, trying on the new and unfamiliar word, "…that I cannot give you what you want."

Before returning to his room, Jor’Marak decided to scout about the ship and see if he could learn more about the Voth and ascertain whether or not they would be a threat to Enterpirse. Veria’s words about the Borg’s growing strength intrigued him in particular. If the Voth ministers on this ship knew something about the current state of the Borg Collective, then it would be his duty to learn all that he could.

Along the way he passed a meeting hall where he noticed a small gathering of the Council of Elders in a heated discussion. He slipped into the darkened chamber and shrouded himself, listening carefully to what they were saying. It was when the words "destroy the Enterprise" came from Minister of Doctrine Besak that he took a particular interest. Without revealing himself, the soldier decided to eavesdrop on the meeting. Hiding in the shadows of the room, he listened attentively.

"These creatures are not our friends," Besak insisted, waving his arms to the rest of the gathering. "They are a threat to our society, to our very way of life. They will only contaminate us with their perverted culture and deceptive ways. Mammals by nature are liars and cheats. We all know it."

"Now, now, Minister, there are no such indications that these people wish us harm. Quite the opposite, in fact. They’re far inferior to us and pose no threat at all. Clearly they also fear the Borg and have suffered great losses to their attacks just as we have," Chief Minister Arsik admonished.

"So they say, but can we believe them? Remember what happened when our two species last met. They tried to impose the views of the Distant Origin Theory upon us? It nearly created havoc among our people before the Circle of Doctrine succeeded in containing the heresy. They are trying to catch us off guard. They will infect our society with their belief that our two species are related. Imagine the Voth reduced to comparisons to a lowly race of mammals! It’s preposterous! They should be eliminated before they learn of the Great Project."

"And if they do learn of the Great Project," said Security Advisor Garu defiantly, "they might try to follow us and appropriate the great resources we have discovered."

"They will not follow us. They cannot," one of the other elders, Minister of Labor Janko Debar. "Their ship does not have the means we have at our disposal by which to make such a journey. I believe you are exaggerating their threat to us. I believe they truly are a harmless people who may be of some benefit to us."

"Even if that is true," Besak continued, "if we reveal our plans of the Great Project and our destination, what would happen if they themselves are assimilated by the Borg? For that reason alone, the Enterprise must be destroyed!"

The group muttered amongst themselves with concern at that possibility.

"Very well," Arsik announced. "We shall not reveal our Great Project to the visitors, but neither shall we destroy them. We will simply decline their offer of an alliance and send them on their way."

"But we must at least consider the option if they are stubborn and insist on pursuing their agenda and follow us," Besak was adamant. "We must have our weapons and Defender ships at readiness."

"I humbly agree with the Minister of Doctrine," Garu concurred.

"Very well. Chief Security Advisor, bring your troops to readiness," Arsik relented.

With that, Jor’Marak had heard enough. He knew he had to get back to his quarters and advise Krell and Bartok of what he had discovered.

Upon his return to the area of the ship housing his room, Jor’Marak went not to his own quarters, but pressed the signal for the entry into Krell and Bartok’s dwelling. He immediately reported what he had overheard, glossing over most of the details about his association with Veria Arsik.

"The Enterprise is at risk. We must attack them immediately, find and strike at the heart of their weakness," he calmly suggested.

"No," Krell countered decisively. "Our first task is to find a way to warn Enterprise. After that, we need a way off this ship"

"And how do we do that?" Bartok asked. "The plasma storms in this region of space limit the range of our combadges. And even if we get a signal out, the Voth will be able to track it back to us, assuming they don’t jam it."

"I don’t know yet. Counselor, you and I will scout around through this ship. These people are still mining the planet below. If we can find the area where they process the planetary materials to this ship, we may also find a means by which to make our way down to the planet, or at least send one of our com badges. Then we can get a signal off to Enterprise. Who knows? We might even be able to commandeer a transporter and beam ourselves back to the ship if they’re close enough."

"Scout around?" Bartok replied, horrified by the idea. "Don’t you think we’re a little conspicuous, you and I?"

"On the contrary, Counselor," said Krell. "We’re just a pair of lowly mammals. Remember? Nobody’s taken any notice of us since we got here. As long as we don’t draw too much attention to ourselves, no one will even think to question us."

"And what will be my task? Shall I seek out a weakness in their ship’s weapons systems?" Jor’Marak inquired.

"No," Bartok piped up. "I think you should seek out the Chief Minister’s daughter again. Tell her what you have discovered and ask her to help us."

"Okay, let’s get going," Krell ordered. "Diplomacy is over. This is a tactical mission now." And not a moment to soon, he thought with some satisfaction.

Jor’Marak set out to find Veria again. Hopefully she would not misinterpret his intentions. In the meantime, Krell and Bartok paused before departing to begin scouting around the City-Ship.

"We must be careful not to be discovered," Bartok whispered to Krell with a worried look on his normally jovial face. "How will we avoid the Voth guards? We don’t exactly look like these people, you know. We’ll stand out like a sore thumb."

"We don’t need disguises," Krell insisted. "We’re considered servants to the ‘honored one’. We’re like rodents, no one will pay any attention to us."

"Let’s at least put up the hoods on these clumsy outfits they make us wear," Bartok appealed to Krell. "So we can hide our faces."

"Very well," Cyrus conceded, drawing his hood up around his head.

The two made their way through the labyrinth of high-ceilinged squared-off corridors of the massive star city. The pathways were well-lit, dull metal-structured archways. Whenever they passed any of the Voth, they lowered their heads in a servile manner. No one paid them any mind for more than a quick, indifferent glance.

They quietly poked their heads into various chambers, some with open doorways, others with tall ornamented doors, as they made their way toward the central core of the ship. They glimpsed into meeting halls, lingered about briefly in prayer centers. They surveyed a couple of exercise facilities and various workrooms that could only be described as labor-trades areas. They saw technical machinery laboratories, an enclosed chemical lab, medical facilities, and too many schoolrooms to count, all employing technologies both ancient and ultra-modern.

Then they came across a locked, thick-metal door with a logo posted on it designating it as a restricted area.

"What do you think it is?" Bartok asked the Security Officer, who was examining the lock for a method to release it. "Maybe we should just leave it alone."

"No," Krell insisted. "This is just the kind of place we are looking for. We must find out what’s hidden behind these doors," he whispered, reaching under his robe and pulling out a knife-like instrument from a toolbelt. Looking around to make sure the coast was clear, he inserted the tool into the door lock, jimmied it a couple of times, heard a click, and tugged the door open.

In the vast cavity of the inner chamber, they stepped out onto an upper walkway below a wide pair of enclosed bay doors. They saw beneath them an elongated cylindrical object planted on a metal block base that rested upon a rotating plate. It was clearly a large cannon-like device of some sort. Hearing voices, they crouched down to the floor and made their way toward the clamoring voices. Below them they saw the brash-speaking figure of the Minister of Doctrine, Torko Besak, addressing a gathering of seven other Voth wearing identical purple robes with crimson sashes.

"Let’s wait here and listen in for a while," Krell suggested. "For some reason, this guy has been in our faces ever since we arrived. If he’s got some agenda against Enterprise, then we need to learn more about it."

"These strangers can not be allowed to remain," Besak beseeched his cohorts. "They will be the undoing of our society and must be eliminated. It is up to us, as the guardians of Doctrine of our people, to undertake the protection of the Voth race. These strangers will seek us out wherever we go and endanger our kind."

"But Minister," one of the clerics addressed the forum, "Chief Minister Arsik disagrees with your judgment. What you propose falls under the purview of the Circle of Security. Do we dare challenge the Council in this way by exceeding our authority?"

"The Circle of Doctrine is the heart of Voth culture, Saru Ferlin," Besak challenged. "Our wisdom, our piety, places us above all others," he exaggerated. "Zealotry in the service of one’s people is no vice. If we do not move quickly, we will find ourselves quickly overrun by these … rodents." The others nodded in anxious agreement.

"Then it is agreed," he continued. "We shall get the weapon ready. We will give the Chief Minister one last chance to see the error of his ways. And if he does not, then we will take matters into our own hands, even if it means restraining Arsik," he stared down the little resistance he noted in those around him. "We must do this to save the Great Project. There are other members of the Council who would align with us, and the people will always bow their heads rather than challenge Doctrine. In the end, they will be grateful that we took action this day. I ask again, are we in agreement?"

The gathering of robed zealots nodded their concurrence.

"Very good," he confirmed. "Then we will destroy the Enterprise once it moves past the next orbit around the planet."

Krell tapped on Bartok’s arm signaling him to follow him out of the room and towards a darkened crawlspace. "Our timetable just moved up," he whispered urgently. "Enterprise should be clearing the planet within the next thirty minutes. And these guys aren’t the same pushovers the Kazon and Krowtonans are. That … thing they’re prepping looks a lot like an isokinetic cannon."

"You mean the same weapon that the Ravager had and the Krowtonans were testing against Wayfarer?" said Bartok.

"The very same," Krell affirmed. "Only this one looks a hell of a lot bigger. If these guys can build better weapons than what the Kazon put up against us, then even Enterprise’s shields may not be enough."

"I just don’t understand," Bartok said as he shook his head. "All this fuss over a theory that makes them uncomfortable? That’s no reason for so much hatred."

"Do people even need a reason to hate?" Krell replied. "Sometimes they just do. It’s the way things are."

"I wonder if it’s more than that," Bartok observed. "Perhaps it’s instinctual, a racial memory from their ancient past on Earth."

"What are you talking about, Counselor?"

"Well, consider what things were like when the Voth’s ancestors lived on Earth. Mammals at that time were just tiny little things, vermin that snuck into the nests of dinosaurs to devour their eggs. It could be that they still retain some kind of instinctive distrust of mammals, some kind of evolved impulse that teaches them to recognize us as a threat to their young. A millennia of isolation and reliance on Doctrine would help to reinforce that kind of thinking."

"Seems a bit of a stretch to me, Counselor," Krell replied skeptically as his eyes darted about, trying to find their way around in the dim light of the crawlspace.

"Don’t make light of instinct, Lieutenant," Bartok countered. "Many races live and die by it. The Gorn were a long time in accepting an alliance with the Federation, feeling hostility for us for many years. Isn’t it the same with humans? Don’t we tend to feel some kind of natural revulsion towards reptiles and insects? How many first contacts went wrong because humans let their instincts get the better of their judgment? Maybe the Voth have that kind of innate flaw, too."

After making their way through many more corridors, they finally came upon an area of the ship that was dimmed by dust particles wafting lightly through the airways. Krell maneuvered them stealthily onto a secluded second-level catwalk of the huge factory that extended eight stories high. Conveyor pads employing some variety of antigravity ran in every direction below them like spokes extending from a central hub. Barges were moved into place for the removal of the planetary ground that had been beamed up from the terrain below. The operation was massive and probably functioned around the clock, Krell surmised.

Two dozen Voth workers, heavily gloved and attired in full-length workclothes, siphoned through the material transferred to the conveyor pads, monitored the machinery, and entered readings into their wristpad devices after each of the emptied barges returned their shipments.

"There," said Krell, pointing to the barges moving into a side chamber. "If we can climb into one of those empty containers, perhaps we can attach a com badge that will be transferred outside of the ship. Then we can send a signal to Enterprise. Follow me, quietly."

Jor’Marak softly pressed the entry signal to Veria’s quarters. The doors opened and the Voth female stood before him in nightclothes. She immediately jumped into his arms at the sight of him.

"Jor’Marak, you have come to my room to be with me," she assumed, embracing him in a strong hug before stepping back, sensing his impassive response. "But why have you come? I thought you …" she did not finish her words.

"I have come to seek your assistance. May I enter please? I must speak with you."

"Please come in," she said with resignation, waving her arm to lead the way. The door hissed shut behind them.

Jor’Marak explained what he’d overheard of the elders discussion and the defiant ferocity with which the Minister of Doctrine made his appeal to them to destroy the Enterprise.

"I understand the fears your people have about us," he appealed in a low voice. "I know they fear the Borg. I recognize the point they make about revealing the Great Project to outsiders who may themselves be assimilated by the Borg. That fear is justified.

"But if they try to destroy Enterprise, you must understand, that I will do everything in my power to save my ship, and protect the Captain I serve. I would give my life in his defense."

Veria listened, watching his eyes locked onto hers, wondering just how far this soldier would go in his loyalty to his Captain. She was at once fearful of his forcefulness and power, while equally enthralled by his appeal and dedication.

"It … won’t come to that, Jor’Marak," said Veria. "My father would never allow it. You’re our guest here. He would never authorize a sneak attack on anyone, not even a ship full of mammals. It’s just not our way."

"Minister Besak seems to think differently."

"He doesn’t have the authority to order an attack against anyone," she insisted. "The Circle of Doctrine maintains the purity of our culture. That’s all. Besak wouldn’t dare step outside his boundaries and risk censure from the rest of the Council."

"I cannot take that chance. I will kill them all … if necessary. But I need your help to avoid such an outcome. Will you help me?"

"I believe you, Jor’Marak. I believe your heart is virtuous and that you speak the truth. Let’s go speak to my father," she told him. "Only he can stop this madness."

Krell and Bartok made their way down to the lower floor of the ore-processing facility. Lowering their heads and sneaking behind equipment, they ventured unnoticed into the compartment where the emptied cargo containers were maneuvered. They watched as a Voth worker overseeing an array of mechanical sentries, all standing over one of the barges, while the equipment that reassembled the transported material from the surface condensed the matter into dense blocks. The worker then descended from the container, closed its hatch, and resumed sweeping the remaining material onto a squared-off area outlined with a minuscule cutout in the floor. As the worker stepped back, the hatchway opened underneath and the debris fragments were sucked abruptly below the main floor.

Seeing him depart, the two scurried over toward the empty container. But before they could grab hold of it and lift themselves inside, they suddenly found their bodies suspended in air for a millisecond as another, unnoticed hatchway opened beneath their feet. How could they have missed it?

Down they were sucked, their howling screams smothered in the soot and vacuumed air, until they landed with a thud, Bartok first as his heavier body had more mass, onto a pile of dirt and rocks.

Dust filled their lungs, making them gag and cough.

"Aggh. This is great," moaned Bartok, his rear sunk into a hole in the dirt. "Ouch!" He lifted his butt cheek and reached under him to remove a rock. He threw the rock at the hole’s entry hatch fifteen feet above them.

"Hey, be careful," hollered Krell, ducking as the stone came ricocheting back down at him. "Sir."

"Oh, this is not good, not good at all," bemoaned Bartok while trying in vain to brush off the dirt and dust from his robes.

"We have to find a way out of here. Stand up and see if you can lift me up," he instructed the counselor.

The large-bellied Bartok struggled to lift himself off the ground. "Give me a hand here, if you don’t mind."

Krell tugged the larger fellow’s arm and helped raise him to a standing position. Bartok interlocked the fingers of his hands and held them out for Krell to plant his foot into. "Come on, let’s give it try. Up you go," he huffed, taking Krell’s foot in his hands and boosting him upward as far as he could. Krell extended himself, outstretched to his fullest height.

"It’s no good, Counselor," he sighed. "I’m just half a meter shy. Let me down. We’ll have to think of something else."

"Let’s cut loose these damned hoods," said Bartok. "Maybe we can tie them together and reach the top."

They ripped the hooded backings off their full-length garments and tied them together into a short lariat. Bartok lifted Cyrus again onto the palms of his hands. The Security Officer held onto one end of one of the lasso and tossed the end up to the hatchway several times hoping to snag it onto something protruding from its base. He gave up after several attempts.

"Let me down. There is nothing for me to latch onto. We need an alternate solution."

Just then Krell noticed a door panel on the wall of the enclosure. "Look here. Maybe this will help us," he said prying the door panel open. "It’s some kind of control board. Maybe I can rig it to blow the hatch open."

"Is that wise?" said Bartok. "Their technology is way ahead of ours. We have no idea how it works."

"These people aren’t interested in improving technology for its own sake, Counselor," said Krell. "From what I can see, they stick with whatever works and keep it for a long time." He reached for the toolbelt attached to his side, pulled out an apparatus and began to work on the circuitry in the panel box. "Besides," he said as he worked, "all I have to do is trigger a circuit break. That’s easy enough with any technology." Sparks flew and Krell shook his slightly burnt fingers. He tried again.

"There, something’s happening," he said hopefully. But his hope turned to fear as the walls of the enclosure suddenly began to slide inward.

"Oh great," groaned Finn. "This is just what we need … to be crushed like a pair of tomatoes. I know I need to lose weight, but this is not my idea of a well-adjusted diet program."

"Dig, Counselor. Dig below us. Let’s see if there’s something down here we can use. Maybe there’s a lower hatch we can pry open."

Digging their way down several meters, they became frustrated as the dirt started falling into the hole they were digging, pressed in on them by the sliding walls.

"No way," Bartok cried out. "You better keep working on that panel and see if you can stop the walls. I don’t feel like turning into tomato paste."

Krell set out back to toiling on the inner workings of the panel box. After several minutes of fiddling with it, he seemed to give up. Bartok crawled over the dirt pile squeezing upward and looked at the panel. He pried at its connections, fingered its buttons, to no avail.

"Aggh, blast it …" he mulled over a variety of curse words he would like to employ next. Then he slammed a fist at the console. And the walls stopped moving. "Hey, hey," he roared in satisfaction. "There’s nothing like giving it a good swift kick or punch in the gut, is there?" he gloated. But then realized they were barely better off than before. "But we still can’t reach that opening, can we?"

"Let’s keep digging. I thought I felt a hard surface a little further down," Krell said.

Digging another two feet through the dirt, they came upon it.

"There. Just a little bit more. Okay," he said, raising his leg, "let’s stomp down on … Whoa!" Suddenly the lower hatch gave way and the two found themselves plummeting downward. They landed on another pile of more finely crushed dirt, only this time they were staring up at two armed lizards pointing rifles at their heads.

"Oh well," sighed Bartok. "Out of the frying pan and into the fire. Hello, fellows …"

Krell and Bartok were marched at gunpoint into the elegant chamber where they first found themselves upon their arrival before the Voth leadership. Minister of Doctrine Torko Besak stood before them, hands – or claws – braced against his sides. Several members of the Circle of Doctrine and the Council of Elders were in attendance, glaring at them.

"So, you were spying on us, were you?" he accused, walking slowly in a circle around them. "I shouldn’t be surprised. It’s the way with your kind, isn’t it? Sneaking about and getting underfoot. It’s typical of you mammals. Now you will see the wrath of Voth justice."

"Hold your tongue, Besak," came the hearty voice of Chief Minister Arsik as he entered the room still draped in his night robes, followed by his daughter and the Jem’Hadar warrior. "And just who are you to pronounce sentence on these people, our guests? Since when does the Circle of Doctrine make such blatant declarations?"

"They are not guests, Arsik. They are enemies. They seek to destroy our authority and overthrow our society. And this … this creature you have with you is one of their followers. He is one of their servants and brutal defenders. You see, I know that he’s not what he claims to be."

"What are you talking about?" Arsik demanded.

Besak held up a small chip-like object, proudly displaying it for all to see. "I did not trust this creature the minute he came aboard. He claimed to be a kinsman to our people, but I thought it best to verify what he was. No true being of proud saurian heritage would associate himself with a hive of wretched egg-stealing mammals. I had my people test flakings of skin from his quarters and analyze his genetic makeup." He leaned in closer to the Chief Minister, sneering confidently. "Would you like to know what I found? This abomination has been genetically altered. He possesses dozens of completely synthetic chromosome patterns in his genome, giving him all sorts of unnatural characteristics. He is not Voth! He isn’t even a true reptile! He’s…a fabrication. A thing!"

Arsik heard the gasps and murmurings coming from throughout the council chamber and turned to Jor’Marak in confusion. "Is this true? Are you really…?"

"Yes," said Jor’Marak neutrally. "I am engineered. My kind and I were created to be the perfect soldiers. I do not apologize for that. It is what I am."

"See, he admits it!" Besak exclaimed triumphantly.

"I do," said Jor’Marak, glaring at the Voth minister. "I was created to kill my enemies." And with that, he shrouded himself and disappeared, leading to a greater clamor of alarm in the room. But the confused chattering quickly became a cry of alarm when the Jem’Hadar reappeared, becoming visible within inches of Minister Besak. He glared down at him threateningly, his hands raised as if to strike.

"Jor’Marak, no!" Bartok cried out.

The soldier made no move. He simply stood there menacingly, watching the look of terror on Besak’s face, and feeling a strong degree of satisfaction.

"But I was also created with the freedom to choose," he said finally. "And I choose not to kill you, Minister Besak. It would be … uncivilized."

There was a long silence in the council chamber, the guards of the Circle of Security primed to move, but unsure of how to react. Besak gradually recovered his voice and spoke up. "They …must… not be allowed to escape. They would undermine us all. Filthy mammals!"

"No, Besak!" Veria shouted him down. "It’s you who would undermine the Voth people!"

"She’s right," Krell spoke up. "It is you who are seeking to usurp the authority of your leadership. You and your clerics have secretly built a giant weapon ready to destroy Enterprise. And you are prepared to ‘restrain‘ the Chief Minister in order to do it."

"That is outrageous!" Besak screamed out repulsed. "How dare you spread such lies!"

"It’s true!" Bartok shouted back. "It’s being built on the ore processing deck. We both saw it. If you don’t believe us, go see for yourselves. Something that big is too hard to hide or move quickly."

The gathering, now grown larger with the inclusion of the rest of the Council as well as Security Advisor Garu, and a number of the military youth, was in an uproar. But one of the clerics stood ominously silent in the background. The crowd’s wrath was directed mainly at the humans, but Garu was looking straight at Besak with a fury of his own.

"Is this true?" Garu demanded. "Defense of this City-Ship falls under the Circle of Security! You have no authority in this matter, Besak!"

"They’re talking about one of the isokinetic cannons, aren’t they Besak?" Arsik added. "This council ordered those weapons dismantled for the long journey ahead. What is the Circle of Doctrine doing building such a weapon in secret?"

"Execute the strangers," Besak called out nervously, looking around for support, seeking to stoke the crowd’s anger and deflect Garu’s and Arsik’s accusations.

A retinue of guards nervously approached to retain the Enterprise crewmembers. They surrounded them with weapons drawn, hesitating at handling Jor’Marak, both from fear and admiration.

"Wait," a previously silent voice called out. Saru Ferlin made his way through the pack and stepped forward. "The humans speak the truth," he declared.

The throng drew silent in stunned confusion.

"It is so. Minister Besak is plotting their demise. A weapon has been built and it is waiting for the Enterprise to move within range to blow it out of space. Besak is intent on using the presence of these humans to humiliate the Chief Minister. He has been seeking to undermine his power for some time now. But this, with all due respect to you Minister Besak, for your staunch interpretation of our doctrines, is not the way to do it. I humbly apologize, Chief Minister, for not being forthcoming about this sooner. I was confused as to where to turn. You will find the weapon on deck 18, section 4."

"Lies! All of it! Lies!" Besak ranted. "Saru Ferlin has been corrupted already! He espouses heresy!"

"It’s not a lie," said another voice, Minister Janko Debar of the Circle of Labor, his elderly face looking tired and weary. "The workers of my Circle have reported to me that such a weapon has indeed been built. It was assembled in defiance of this council’s mandate and the long-established separation of powers our culture has always lived by. I am shamed to say that I too, have held my tongue, until now."

"Janko?" Arsik looked at the elder minister in alarm and disappointment. "Why, my old friend? Why did you not come to me to report this?"

"My own people did not inform me of it until a few weeks ago," Debar said regretfully. "They feared the consequences of defying the Circle of Doctrine, and Minister Besak. They were afraid they would be accused of sacrilege and tried for heresy. It has happened on other City-Ships, Arsik. Even Chief Ministers have been stripped of their power after being so accused. In the end, I too was afraid and kept silent."

"I … I don’t understand," said Arsik, shaking his head in disbelief. "We are a civilized people. With an ancient and honored history. How did we become so frightened to speak our minds? When did we become so afraid of our own selves?"

"This has been a long time coming, Father," Veria said, putting her arm around him in comfort. "The Circle of Doctrine has exploited the controversy of the Distant Origin Theory and our dislocation under the Great Project in order to seize more power. Everyone can see it, Father. Even you know it. But no one had the courage to speak out in challenge against it. No one except these visitors to our ship, at least until now."

"Thank you, Veria," her father spoke solemnly. "And thank you, Saru and Debar. Your rectitude has saved us all from making a grave mistake," Arsik said. "And you Besak, have much to answer for," he commanded, pointing his outstretched arm at the cleric. "So, that is why you wanted to marry my daughter?"

"Marry me?" Veria sputtered. "Me marry you!?" she glared at Besak. "Never!"

"Yes, my daughter. To gain the power of the Council? I think not. The days of Voth living in fear are over, at least on this City-Ship. Why, Besak?" Arsik continued. "What made you think you could get away with this?"

"Why?" Besak fumed in defiance. "Because the Voth are nothing without Doctrine! If I overstepped my bounds, it is because it was needed to preserve what we are. Our doctrines teach us that the Voth are the first and most supreme of all intelligent life in the galaxy. We must be constantly vigilant against filthy treacherous egg-eaters who would denigrate our culture and our history. We are at war, Arsik, war against all who would weaken us! Only a strict adherence to Doctrine will see us through the times ahead! You and your allies are not the men to lead us into the new era the Great Project will bring."

"That is where you are wrong, Besak. The Voth culture you so proudly claim to defend is far older than you or I. Our ancestors established guidelines for our people to live by and how to conduct ourselves, with honor, dignity and respect for all. It is a pity that you forgot that no one Circle, nor one man, stands above the law."

"What do you intend to do, Arsik?" he snarled defiantly. "You don’t have the power to divest me of my station! And there are many aboard ship who are loyal to my Circle and adhere to Doctrine as I interpret it!"

"Perhaps I can’t remove you, Besak," the Chief Minister countered. "But I can bring a motion to this council to have you censured for your conduct today. I believe I have enough votes do see that through."

"You wouldn’t dare!" Besak cried out. "I am the Minister for the Circle of Doctrine. I can have you tried for blasphemy for this! Every City Ship among the Voth will denounce you when word of this spreads!"

"You can try, Besak. But you will fail. Your words will carry little weight with a declaration of censure on your record. And perhaps that will send a message to your brethren on the other City Ships who would think to appropriate the proper rule of law."

Arsik then turned to the Enterprise crewmembers. "First Jor’Marak, Mr. Krell and Mr. Bartok, please accept my personal apologies and those of the Voth people. I believe the time has come for all of us to open our hearts and minds to each other. I also believe," he said, swinging about to include the others in his offer of conciliation, "that we are your friends and can share with you the future plans for the Voth civilization. Come …"

The Enterprise visitors and the Council of Elders adjourned to a smaller science room with display screens. After much discussion, the Voth became convinced that their newfound friends would honor their secrecy.

Dr. Menic Polzi, Chief Scientist of the City-Ship, called up a map on a viewscreen.

"This is the area of space where the Borg collective have amassed their forces," he said, pointing to a sector on the far reaches of the Delta Quadrant. "They are consuming any and all resources, including other species. The red-shaded area of the map seemed to envelop more than a quarter of the Delta Quadrant. Many of the areas that Voyager had traveled during the final years of their journey now lay firmly within the realm of the Collective.

"We suspected that their domain was growing," Krell explained. "But we had no idea that they had expanded so far and so quickly."

"Yes, and they have acquired many new technological resources as well," Polzi delineated the Voth’s various points of encounters with the Borg forces. "But we know little of their current capabilities. Their intentions are not fully known, but we can be certain that they mean to assimilate all they encounter in the remaining areas of the quadrant. And undoubtedly, they will not stop there."

"Of that I am certain, Doctor," Bartok nodded soberly. "They will come for the rest of the galaxy sooner or later."

"We hope that you have more success against them than we have had," Arisk spoke up. "We are not warriors; to become so would drastically alter our society and violate our doctrines. As it is, with the outrage conducted by our Minister of Doctrine and the clerics, no doubt we shall see revolutionary changes within our own society. Maybe that will be for the better."

"But where will the Voth go to avoid conquest by the Borg?" Krell asked.

Garu rose and stepped to the viewscreen as Doctor Polzi seated himself. With a wave of a hand, a new sector of space appeared before them. "Behold, gentlemen, the Great Project!"

"Please understand," Arsik added, "we cannot reveal our ultimate destination to you, or anyone else. We must still protect ourselves and guard against your ship’s assimilation by the Borg. They are now much more powerful than you ever knew them to be!" he warned. "We cannot take that chance."

"I understand fully. That is a wise decision," Krell acknowledged.

"We are headed in this direction," said Arsik as an area outside the galaxy zoomed into view, a massive agglomeration of stars and gasses. "A large globular cluster orbiting well outside the plane of this galaxy. Most of our people have already made the crossing and reestablished our civilization. We and the remaining stragglers will be joining them shortly. It will be many centuries, perhaps millennia, before the Borg can reach us there, time enough for us to plan for our defense. We know the area is uninhabited and has abundant resources, so we should be safe, if only for a little while.

"If ever your people should defeat the Borg, you are welcome to come seek us out. Just head for this star and wait," he said as he pointed to a particularly bright spot of light on the map. "We will find you."

When the meeting was concluded, Krell contacted Enterprise and announced their imminent return. The three Enterprise crewmen were escorted to a transporter room to say their final goodbyes to the Voth dignitaries.

Veria entered the transporter room with her arm entwined in Jor’Marak’s. The Jem’Hadar was still unaccustomed and uncomfortable with this ritual, but despite his stiffness, he was grateful for the help that she had given to them and accepted the gesture without protest.

What she did next, however, was unexpected and startling, even to Krell and Bartok who stood by watching the scene.

"Goodbye, First Jor’Marak," she said sadly. "It’s a pity you couldn’t be … more like us. We could have had a wonderful future together."

"I am what I am," he replied stiffly. "I can be nothing else."

She wrapped her arms around his neck, then rapidly flicked her elongated tongue across his cheek. Jor’Marak froze, clueless, and glowered at the chuckling Bartok before he stepped onto the transporter platform to join them. In a flash of soft colorful lights, they disappeared.

Captain’s log, Stardate 78861.2

The mission to establish contact with the Voth and form an alliance with them, while not a complete success, has resulted in great benefits, not the least of which is our learning the current boundaries of the Borg territory. I wish I could say that was entirely welcome news. It appears that, according to the Voth, the Borg expansion is far greater than anything theorized by Starfleet Tactical. I fear this makes the urgency of our mission that much greater.

The Voth are clearly no threat to the peace in the Delta Quadrant, but nor can we rely on their assistance at any future time of need. Although the Voth are evacuating their species from this quadrant of space, a bond of friendship and good feelings has been forged as well as a offer to reestablish contact should the Borg threat ever be eradicated.

On top of that, I have found myself with a new appreciation for the Jem’Hadar forces onboard our ship. Clearly this important mission could not have come to its constructive conclusion without the ingenuity and daring of First Jor’Marak. I am pleased to have him as a member of my crew.

Back on the Enterprise, Harry Kim conducted his debriefing of the away team in the staff room with all his first officers listening in astonishment. This was a report Starfleet Command will be itching to comb over meticulously.

"Gentlemen, I can not tell you how proud I am of your success with this mission, not to mention your exemplary conduct and ingenuity. That goes especially for you, Jor’Marak. Your flexibility and … ah, adaptability in the face of strange customs, and interactions with a clearly emotional being, brings honor to all Jem’Hadar. The Founders will be proud. A commendation would be in order, if you were the type to accept it," he added.

"Thank you, Captain. I exist to serve."

"Commander Bartok, Lieutenant Krell, I am equally proud of your conduct. Well done, all of you. Meeting adjourned."

As the staff exited the room, Harry came over to Jor’Marak. "There’s another matter we have to discuss at some point, Jor’Marak. We have to talk about the behavior of your second, Adan’Alam. But we can save that for a later time."

"Did he not serve with honor?"

"Another time, First. For now, I’d like to talk with Commander Bartok. You are dismissed."

Harry grabbed Bartok by the arm and held him behind. "So Finn, just how did he do it? What did you say to him?"

"Well, Captain, I’m going to claim counselor-patient confidentiality on that one. But I can tell you … she wasn’t bad looking. For a lizard, that is. I’d say our Jem’Hadar deserves a commendation for his self control alone."

"Finn, don’t be silly," Harry chuckled. "He’s a Jem’Hadar. He can’t actually feel emotions, can he?"

"Well, maybe not the kind the fair damsel was hoping for. But I don’t think our friend is as barren of feelings as we’d like to think." Bartok winked at his petrified Captain, then quickly left the room.

An hour later, Jor’Marak marched through the corridors of Enterprise on his way to the Jem’Hadar housing bay. As he turned a corner, he stopped short at the site of Naomi and Sabrina Wildman.

"Good afternoon, Lieutenant Wildman," he said with hesitation, remembering his earlier encounter with the officer. "Good day to you too, Sabrina Wildman."

"Hi, Jor’Marak!" Sabrina exclaimed, happy to see him. She then subdued herself, likewise remembering her mother’s threat. "How are you today?"

"I am fine, thank you," he responded, trying to engage in the politeness he had become used to among the humans.

"Hello First," Naomi returned the greeting cautiously. Then she continued more cordially. "Jor’Marak, I heard all about your away mission. Congratulations. The Captain is very proud of your accomplishments. We are all proud of you."

"Thank you Lieutenant Wildman," he responded, still standing stiffly.

"Ah… Jor’Marak, we’re heading to the mess hall for dinner and a little desert, probably ice cream. … Would you care to join us … please?"

"I do not eat," he said firmly. "But yes, I would be happy to join you."

Sabrina danced wildly up and down. She grabbed the Jem’Hadar by his huge, rough hand and led him away with them.


Category : Delta Fleet


One Response

  1. Administrator says:

    Solid (18 Sep 2003)
    Wow 🙂

    This was one of those “late-night” reads for me, lots of stuff going on at work.. everyone is on vacation lately! When is it my turn ? hehe..

    On to commentary…

    — Excellent Plot.. Forgot about the Voth, but your historical snippits were perfect. Great mix of politics, romance, humor and drama.

    — Loved what you did with Jor’Marak. This gives some personality to his character, and some development as well.. though I completely disagree with his opinion on ice cream 😉

    — For a story with very little action, I thought the pace was great… I kept reading until I was done!

    Well done.

    Khylaren (18 Sep 2003)
    Wonderful episode by Ed! It was great seeing the Voth again, and seeing how they have faired since we last saw them in Voyager. Interesting glimpse into their personal/religious beliefs as well. I am curious to see if they appear again on some later date.

    I loved seeing more of Jor’Marak. As always, his interactions between himself and Sabrina are humorous and touching. I was glad to see Naomi back off in the end and see the First as something more than just a bred killing machine. The scenes between him and Veria were also humorous, and I was reminded of old TOS episodes where the saucy female had an eye for Spock.

    Nice to see a bit of the ‘darker’ side of the Jem’Hadar, that all is not perfectly happy in their world when their leader is absent. Wonder if this is going to crop up again as a problem later?

    Very well written episode, enjoyed reading it very much, and it makes a nice addition to the Delta Fleet family. Good job, Ed. Nicely done!

    FuFuKat (19 Sep 2003)

    This episode. rocked. I was very impressed with the story overall. It flowed very logically and purposefully to its conclusion! A magnificent premiere foray into the world of scifi fanfic!!! I loved the narcaleptic lizard! I nearly choked with laughter when I read that.

    Keep up the good work!!!!


    Jeffrey Harlan (19 Sep 2003)
    I’m glad to see the consistency of quality that we’re getting in Delta Fleet, and this episode certainly lived up to the gold standard. I didn’t get to read it immediately, since we were pretty busy at work this week, but once I did get the chance, I was not disappointed.

    Things are obviously starting to pick up on the overall storyline: we’re hearing more about the Borg, to the point that they’ve basically forced the Voth to abandon the worlds they called home and seem to have taken over a huge chunk of the Delta Quadrant; tensions are building between Jor’Marak and his subordinates… obviously, there’s much more to come.

    But a story arc does not an episode make. That’s where individuals shine, and MarqEDman shone like a star. The plot was sound, the pacing was tight, the characters interesting, the humor funny… I could go on for a while. Suffice it to say, this is d**n good Trek.

    To paraphrase Tom Hanks in Apollo 13, “Better than Ron Moore. Way better than Brannon Braga.”


    MarqEDman (11 Nov 2003)
    Hi everybody. I didn’t get to thank all of you for the fantastic compliments on the story. They were AWESOME and very encouraging.

    The story was a lot of fun to write and Mike was amazing in his help and support on it. We worked together again on the new episode which you will see very soon.

    So SOLID … what’s your favorite ice cream flavor? I love that Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey. Maybe we’ll let Jor try that one. 😛

    By all and THANKS again!

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