Star Trek: Odyssey – The Isle of the Sun Chapter 5

CHAPTER 5

“Here we go again,” said Tom. He was seated on Chakotay’s left, in the pilot seat of the shuttlecraft. Tuvok, Torres, and Kim filled out the rest of the party.

Ahead of the shuttle, the violet eye of the wormhole loomed large. Chakotay found that the experience of having passed through the aperture twice already wasn’t helping his stomach. His guts knew exactly what to expect, and it prepared for the ride by thrashing around inside of him well in advance.

Chakotay cast a quick glance over his shoulder at the other three occupants of the shuttlecraft. Ensign Kim in the back looked about as green as Chakotay felt. Tuvok looked positively bored, as usual for the Vulcan. Torres was eyeing the wormhole with unwary fascination. She was obviously not prepared for the rough road that lay ahead.

Chakotay caught her eye and flashed her an enigmatic smile that she clearly couldn’t interpret, and then they passed into the wormhole.

A slight shimmy rattled through the spaceframe of the shuttlecraft, and then they were out on the other side. That was it. No sudden jolt to the inertial dampeners, and no abrupt torque on the shuttle’s nose cone, either.

“What, that was it?” said Torres. “I was expecting…” She shrugged.

Chakotay gave Lieutenant Paris a questioning look.

“Don’t look at me, sir,” said Tom, “I only wish I could take the credit.”

Ensign Kim consulted his console. “Variances inside of the wormhole were down in the two millicochrane range,” he said. “Telemetry suggests the wormhole spontaneously stabilized in the last seconds before we made the passage.”

“And now, the wormhole is returning to its previous degree of instability,” Tuvok reported, consulting his own console. “It would appear that some external force acted momentarily to ensure our safe passage.”

As Chakotay considered that bit of information, Ensign Kim ran more scans of the space surrounding the abandoned station. Lieutenant Torres tore her attention from the stunning view outside with an effort and turned her attention to her own console.

“The power output of the station is roughly twice what it was the last time we were here, Commander,” said Ensign Kim.

“At least,” Torres added. “And the power seems more stable and distributed around the station than what the telemetry from your last mission recorded.”

“I guess the station’s been doing some straightening up since our last visit,” said Chakotay. He was just considering hailing the station again when his communications board lit up.

A tone sounded from Ensign Kim’s ops console, and he announced, “Commander, we’re being hailed.”

“I see that, Ensign,” said Chakotay, and he opened a channel with the press of a button.

Lieutenant Paris said, “Commander, are you sure that’s such a good idea?” but it was already done.

Chakotay just regarded Tom with a cocked eyebrow and a slight shrug.

“Welcome, returning customers!” The voice of the station resembled the voice from the last visit in inflection and tone only. Where before it had been grating and artificial, it now sounded as clear and natural as organic speech.

It went on, “You’ve reached the Delurididug Deep Space Travel Network and Trade Hub. Due to circumstances beyond our control, the Travel Network is currently unavailable. However, the Trade Hub is open for business! We are currently transmitting your instructions for docking.”

Chakotay’s console received a packet of data from the station, which the computer was able to compile into a simple, graphically represented set of docking instructions. The voice from the station continued talking without pause.

“Please be patient while those ships in queue ahead of yours finish their approaches and departures. Visitors will be cleared to dock in the same order that they arrived through the gateways.”

Chakotay glanced around the empty space around the station and exchanged a look with Lieutenant Paris. Tom shook his head. No one else was out there.

The automated voice went on, “All forms of faster-than-light travel and remote matter transference are prohibited inside of Hub Space. Any unwarranted act of violence or aggression against the Hub, the Network, the proprietors of the Hub, or other visitors to the Hub or Network is also prohibited. All contracts joined in good faith within the confines of Hub Space are binding. The Hub and its licensed proprietors reserve the right to withhold service from any customer for any reason. The Hub and the Network are committed to upholding the laws of the Delurididug Trade Federation, as well as the laws specific to the nationalities of each customer, subject to the limits of Trade Federation Law. The Delurididug Trade Hub is empowered by the Delurididug Trade Federation to enforce all binding contracts within the limits of Trade Federation law. Violations of binding contracts are subject to summary arbitration, and may result in confiscation of trade goods or formally recognized legal tender, expulsion from Hub Space, arrest pending trial in a Trade Federation Tribunal, or any combination of the above, subject to the judgment of the administration of the Trade Hub and within the limits of Trade Federation Law.

“For more on the rules, regulations, and policies governing the Trade Hub Station and its surrounding space, please refer to the terms of service that are being transmitted now.” Chakotay studied his console as the computer received another data packet and compiled it into an encyclopedia-sized volume of alien legalese.

“Tuvok, I’m sending you their rulebook. See if there’s anything in the rules about restricted areas. Maybe we can narrow down the possible locations of the computer core or their power generators, based on where they don’t want us to go. And while you’re at it, see if there’s a procedure in place for filing complaints.”

“Aye, sir,” said Tuvok.

“Respectfully, sir,” said Paris, “Do you really think there’s someone over there that handles complaints?”

Chakotay shrugged. “We still don’t know the capabilities of the station, especially now that it’s regained so much function. But it’s clearly highly automated, and it seems to put a lot of value in laws and contracts. We might be able to use that to learn more about what’s happening to Ensign Kang, and hopefully, how to reverse it.”

“You’re not seriously counting on that station to respect Federation laws, are you?” said Torres. “Our Federation, that is.”

“I’m not counting on anything, Lieutenant,” said Chakotay, “Just exploring all options.”

Harry shook his head, but he didn’t look up from his console.

“Something the matter, Ensign?” said Chakotay.

“No, sir,” said Harry. “Just… I keep thinking about Neelix’s ghost story.”

Chakotay’s reply was interrupted by the voice of the station. “Thank you for your patience. Your vessel has been cleared to dock. We are sending you an updated flight plan to guide you to your berth. Any deviation from the flight plan is grounds to revoke your boarding privileges and move your vessel to the back of the queue. Repeated or flagrant violations may lead to expulsion from Hub Space.

“If you prefer, you may turn over guidance to the Trade Hub guidance system, and we will guide your vessel into its berth.”

“Fat chance,” Tom remarked.

Chakotay’s console received the flight plan, and he sent it over to Tom. “Just stick to the flight plan, Tom. I’d hate to have to wait in that line again,” he deadpanned.

Tom gave Chakotay a quizzical glance, and Chakotay favored him with a slight smile.

With a smirk, Tom turned his attention back to his console and punched a series of instructions into the shuttle’s guidance system. “Aye, sir. Course laid in and plotted.”

“Take us in,” said Chakotay.

 


 

They entered the station through the same port as on their previous visit. Inside the bay, conditions had changed markedly. The atmosphere and gravity were the same, but the illumination had increased significantly, owing to an array of free-floating orbs of yellow-white light that hovered over the shuttle bay like little Suns, giving the space an inviting, almost Earth-like quality.

Tom set the shuttle down exactly where the flight plan indicated and ran quickly through his power-down checklist while the rest of the crew gave their reports on the station. When they were ready, Tuvok opened the shuttle door.

And he froze in the doorway.

His expression betrayed no surprise or confusion, so it took a moment for Chakotay to understand why the security chief had paused in place. Chakotay looked out through the door and found a man standing in the docking bay at the bottom of the shuttle’s shallow ramp, hands spread wide in greeting.

He looked human, with dusky but not dark features, slightly wavy, short, dark brown hair, the barest hint of points to his ears, the slightest upward angle of his eyebrows, and deep wrinkles in the center of his forehead that might have been the beginning of a cranial ridge. He had a wide smile, and his teeth were perfectly even and dazzlingly white. And, he wore a loose-fitting, flowing three-piece outfit woven from dark gray and deep burgundy fabrics, with curious accents of hardened leather on the shoulders and forearms, as if he were trying to split the difference between a traditional Terran suit, a Vulcan dignitary robe, and ceremonial Klingon armor.

Tuvok overcame his momentary surprise and brought his tricorder to bear on the stranger.

“Welcome to the Delurididug Trade Hub,” said the stranger. “I’m your host and point of contact for all of your questions and concerns regarding the station. You can call me Hux.”

“It’s a projection, sir,” said Tuvok.

Hux’s smile grew even wider. “Well spotted, Lieutenant!” he said. “When your party is all prepared, I can lead you to any of the publicly available levels of the station.” Turning to Chakotay, he said, “Tell me, how long can we expect to have the pleasure of your company, Commander…”

“Chakotay,” said Chakotay. He was quietly impressed that the projection was apparently able to read and interpret his provisional rank insignia. Clearly, the station had gathered quite a bit of information on its deep dive through the shuttle’s computer core. He wondered if it didn’t already know each of their names, and was only letting him introduce himself as a matter of politeness.

Remembering the projection had asked him a question, Chakotay added, “I’m not sure. It will depend on… how we might be able to help each other.”

Hux nodded. “I look forward to discussing that with you. For now, let’s adjourn to a reception area, shall we?”

Chakotay glanced back at his away team and verified that they were all ready to proceed.

“Lead the way,” he said.

Hux led the away team towards the doors at the edge of the docking bay. Chakotay was gratified to see that his officers instinctively arrayed themselves in a rough pentagon, tricorders out and scanning their surroundings, phasers holstered but charged. No one needed to be reminded that they were still boarding a dangerous and unpredictable relic of an ancient and powerful civilization, regardless of the warm welcome they’d received thus far.

When they reached the doorway, Hux stopped and addressed the party.

“Now, those of you who have visited the Hub in the past are no doubt familiar with the scanner up ahead. For the rest of you, there’s no cause for alarm. The scanner is completely harmless. It provides the Trade Hub with a set of individualized biometrics in order to tailor our services for each individual. It’s also a security feature. The scanner will catalog your sidearms and any other self-defense implements on your person, as well as any hazardous materials you might be carrying.

“Now, before you start to worry, allow me to reassure you that the Trade Hub does not make a habit of confiscating instruments of self-defense. However, we do employ a wide variety of neutralizing countermeasures in the event of accidental discharges or attempts at violence between guests. Your safety is among our highest priorities. If there are any questions about that, I’d be happy to answer them.”

The others looked to Chakotay, and Hux seemed to follow their lead.

Chakotay supposed it was a safe bet that the station was familiar with their phasers, seeing as it seemed to know everything else about them. He supposed there was no point in playing his cards close to his chest.

“My away team is equipped with phased nadion beam weapons, calibrated to stun an attacker with non-lethal force. The Trade Hub won’t interfere with their functioning?”

“Ah! Phasers are a classic, tried-and-true instrument of choice for a civilized society. And with a stun setting functionality! I applaud you on your choice. Humane, non-lethal weapons are truly a distinction of an advanced culture.

“Of course, the Trade Hub will not interfere with the operation of your weapons. However, if any of them should happen to discharge during your stay in the Trade Hub, our countermeasures will neutralize their effect. The only exception is in the highly unlikely event that a rogue actor somehow manages to circumvent station security and take aggressive actions against members of your party. In such a case, the Trade Hub will not interfere in your legally recognized right to defend yourselves. However, any collateral damage that you might incur in such an event will need to be settled before you depart.”

Chakotay nodded his understanding. “We’re also carrying subspace transceivers and general purpose handheld scanners. These will also be allowed to operate without interference?”

“Of course!” said Hux, “So long as your instruments aren’t used to violate Trade Hub regulations or terms of service, we will not interfere with their operation in any way. Now, are there any more questions?”

Chakotay glanced at the other members of the away team, inviting them to speak up if they could think of anything else to ask.

“No?” said Hux, “Excellent. Let’s proceed.”

The projection passed through the doorway. Chakotay waved Tuvok through, and the familiar light show flashed over him as he passed. Chakotay followed after, and the others followed him through, one at a time.

When they were all through, Hux addressed the away team. “Now then, where would you like to begin? I regret that the inoperable state of the Travel Network has left the Trade Hub with a shortage of licensed vendors, but the Trade Hub still provides innumerable automated services and unique goods of sale that I guarantee, you will not find anywhere else in the galaxy. Based on your consumer history, can I suggest we proceed to the Aug-Tech Parlor, first?”

Chakotay exchanged nonplussed expressions Tom and B’elanna.

“What’s that?” said Chakotay.

“Aug-Tech? Why, it’s our line of trademarked, consumer-grade, biosynthetic augmentation technologies, of course!”

“Is that where we went on our previous visit?” said Chakotay.

“Why, yes. Are you interested in augmenting another member of your party? Or perhaps you’re interested in purchasing one of our Aug-Tech augments for your crew? They’re highly customizable, able to fill a vast array of functions with greater efficiency than you’ve ever dreamed possible. Whether you’re in need of soldiers, technicians, recreational specialists…” He finished with a wink, making it all-too-clear what kind of ‘recreation’ he was referring to.

Chakotay tasted bile. With effort, he restrained his anger.

“Now, hold on!” said Lieutenant Torres. The same outrage that Chakotay felt was clear on the half-Klingon engineer’s face. Chakotay held up his hand to forestall an imminent outburst. Torres met his eyes and nodded her understanding.

“Explain these augments to me, please,” said Chakotay.

“Could you specify?” said Hux, “What exactly would you like me to explain?”

“Are your augments living, sentient beings? Do they have any rights at all, or are they just… slaves?”

Hux seemed confused by the question for just a moment before realization dawned. “Ah. I see your confusion,” said Hux. “It seems such practices are illegal in your civilization.”

Chakotay nodded. “Yes, they certainly are.”

“Hm. Well then, I’m afraid we can’t sell you any augments after all. It is the policy of the Hub never to facilitate activities that are classified as unlawful in the civilizations of our guests, you see. I’m terribly sorry if that poses any inconvenience.”

“What if we wished to secure the freedom of your augments?” said Chakotay.

“I’m afraid that’s a legal impossibility,” said Hux. “Delurididug policy prevents the release of any goods or services without payment, and as we’ve already established, it is illegal in your ‘United Federation of Planets’ to exchange payment for sentient goods.”

Chakotay thought for a moment. “So you’re saying I can’t buy their freedom, because according to your policies, I would first have to buy them?”

“Hm,” said Hux, mulling over that explanation. “Rather, the problem is that in their current form, our augments cannot qualify as ‘free’ individuals, due to the nature of their augmentations.  In order to classify the augments as ‘free,’ they would first require further augmentation, in contradiction of your laws. It’s something of a ‘catch twenty-two,’ if I understand that expression.”

Chakotay nodded to himself. It presented something of a legal quagmire, and it appeared the station computer wasn’t likely to bend on the letter of the law—not Delurididug or Federation. He thought of the pillars of cryogenically preserved organic matter they’d discovered on their previous visit. Whatever unfortunate souls occupied those pillars would likely carry on in that preserved state for untold millennia, until the station succumbed to entropy or some other visitor happened to encounter the wormhole.

He couldn’t stomach the thought of leaving them to their fate. He’d keep working the problem. For now, though, he had higher priorities, and Hux had given him an idea.

“In that case, it seems we have a problem,” said Chakotay.

“Oh dear,” said Hux, suddenly the very picture of concern. “Would you care to elaborate?”

“On our previous visit, your station’s augmentation technology attacked a member of my crew and performed augmentations without her consent,” said Chakotay.

Hux’s brows knitted in concentration. “Let me see…” he said, and he stared into space for a moment. “Hm.”

“If you can provide us with the means, we’d like to reverse the damage that was done to her,” Chakotay pressed.

“There are a number of irregularities in our records for your previous visit,” said Hux. “Unfortunately, it seems your visit occurred while we were performing some minor systems maintenance. As a result, we’ve lost a little bit of data. I’m terribly sorry for the inconvenience.”

“Minor systems maintenance?” Harry echoed in disbelief.

Chakotay threw him a look, and Harry acknowledged with a nod, saying nothing more.

“Do your records show that your… augmentation machine was activated?” said Chakotay.

Hux nodded. “We have a complete record of Ensign Lucille Kang’s Aug-Tech procedure,” he said. “However, we’re missing records on the transaction.”

“There was no transaction,” said Chakotay.

Hux’s eyebrows shot up. “Commander Chakotay, it is illegal under your laws as well as ours to steal intellectual property and services.”

That brought Chakotay up short. He feared he was dangerously close to turning the entire station hostile.

‘Steal?!’” said Tom, “She was attacked!”

“Stand down, Lieutenant!” said Chakotay. Tom looked ready to carry on, but he pinched his lips shut.

“We certainly never intended to break any laws,” said Chakotay. “It seems the process was triggered accidentally. Neither party was at fault.”

A disgusted sound escaped Torres’ lips. Chakotay let it slide.

“Well, regardless, we’ll need to settle your account,” said Hux.

“I’m sorry?” said Chakotay.

“Your Ensign Kang is in possession of unlicensed Delurididug intellectual property,” said Hux.

“We would be very happy to return your property,” said Chakotay, “Provided it can be done without harming the ensign.”

Hux shook his head. “Our IP includes genetic modifications as well as biosynthetic implants. Ensign Kang is a citizen of Earth colony Alpha Centauri and an officer in Starfleet, both of which forbid genetic modifications for non-life threatening conditions. We cannot remove our property without violating the laws of her government.”

Chakotay felt frustration nipping at his heels. He took a calming breath before responding. “You’re misinterpreting our laws.”

Hux shook his head. “I’m sorry, but they’re quite clear.”

“Our courts have always made exceptions for the reversal of alien genetic tampering. There are centuries of precedent!”

Hux scratched his chin thoughtfully for a moment. “Yes, I see. Your legal system allows for the reinterpretation of laws by the judiciary through judgments on specific cases. An interesting system. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find any court documents in your vessel’s database.”

“Well, we don’t travel everywhere with an exhaustive history of legal precedents… We represent hundreds of worlds, some of which have legal systems stretching back millennia.”

Hux shook his head. “No civilization is too great or too small to respect the rule of law.”

Chakotay rolled his eyes. “If I can return here with a relevant selection of legal precedents, will you help us then?”

Hux cocked his head to the side. “I’ll need the complete laws of Alpha Centauri, Earth, Vulcan, and the United Federation of Planets, all Starfleet rules and regulations, the tribal customs of Trebus, and comprehensive legal histories for each.”

“Vulcan?” Chakotay echoed, “Trebus?” He couldn’t help an amused huff at the unexpected reference to his home planet. “What do they have to do with this?”

“Ensign Vorik and yourself are citizens of each, respectively,” said Hux. “As the involved parties, your laws are highly relevant to this case.”

Chakotay shook his head. “My homeworld doesn’t record legal histories. Our customs are kept by our Elders, not stored in a computer, and they don’t apply here.”

Hux shrugged. “As I have no prior information to verify or refute your claim, I’ll have to accept it at face value. I will still need the other items on that list, however.”

“Very well,” said Chakotay. “After I bring all that you’ve asked, what happens?”

“We’ll begin the process of summary arbitration. You will need to decide whether to wait until living arbiters can be summoned through the Travel Network, or agree to abide by my judgment. In either case, we will decide the merits of your case according to all relevant legal systems, with Delurididug laws taking highest precedent.”

“And if you rule in our favor?” said Chakotay.

“There are a number of factors that will need to be judged,” said Hux, “and I am still gathering the facts of the case. However, if all points of contention are judged in your favor, we will reverse the augmentation on your Ensign Kang, if that is your desire.”

“We would prefer you gave us the means to reverse her augmentations ourselves,” said Chakotay.

Hux shook his head. “I’m afraid our Aug-Tech procedures are a closely guarded trade secret. Could you imagine the harm of such a technology in the wrong hands?”

Chakotay thought of Earth’s own fraught history with augments, and he shuttered. The Delurididug augmentation technology bore an uncomfortable resemblance to Earth’s disastrous eugenics experiments and Borg technology, both. “I understand,” he said. “Then we’ll return with all the requested legal materials.”

“Excellent. Oh, but I should inform you that, until such time as all of this unfortunate business is taken care of, your people have been assigned delinquent status in the Trade Hub.”

Chakotay blinked. “What does that mean, exactly?”

Hux chose his words with care. “Well, although I know it’s all most likely been a big misunderstanding, you’re currently still technically suspected of violating Trade Hub terms of service and Delurididug law, as well as of acting in bad faith with the Trade Hub in order to circumvent your own laws.”

“Oh, you have got to be kidding me!” Torres exploded. “I’ve had it up to—”

Without taking his eyes off of the holographic representation, Chakotay threw up a hand, signaling Torres to stand down. Her words died in mid-sentence.

“So what, we won’t be allowed to shop?”

Hux winced, as if his words hurt to say out loud. “I’m afraid I’ll need to detain you, for the time being.”

There was a moment of quiet. From the corner of his eye, Chakotay saw Tuvok’s hand drift down to the grip of his phaser. But if all of Hux’s boasting was to be believed, the phasers would be useless.

“How am I supposed to retrieve the required materials, if I’m to be kept here?” he asked.

“Well, Lieutenants Tuvok and Torres weren’t a party to the incident in question, so far as I can ascertain. There’s no reason that they can’t return to your ship while you stay here.”

“I see,” said Chakotay.

“Commander,” said Torres, “You can’t.”

Chakotay turned to her and saw the concern on her face.

“It would appear we have no choice,” said Tuvok.

“The hell we don’t,” said Torres, and her voice dropped to an urgent whisper. “We can walk out of here right now! Get back to the shuttle and make a beeline for the wormhole.”

Chakotay glanced back at the hologram, standing a few meters away, literally twiddling his thumbs while they conversed quietly amongst themselves. It affected an air of disinterest, but Chakotay didn’t doubt that the station heard every word they were saying.

He turned back to Torres. “Leaving aside the fact that we still have no way of knowing what countermeasures the station might have to stop us,” he said, “What about Ensign Kang?”

“The Doctor will find a cure,” she said, though with slightly less conviction. “We can’t give them hostages, Chakotay!”

“They’ve already got one!” Chakotay caught himself raising his voice and forced himself back to a whisper. “Her body is riddled with their technology! Who knows what they could do to her if we don’t play along?

“And there’s a bigger picture here, too,” he said. “This station has the power to open stable wormholes, Lieutenant! We could get home!”

“He’s already told us a dozen times that the Travel Network is broken! What do you think that means?”

Chakotay offered a half smile. “It means they need help fixing it. We still have cards we can play, Lieutenant. Don’t forget. They need resources. Why do you think the station’s been so friendly with us until now?”

“May I point out,” Tuvok interjected, “There is no ‘they.’ Whatever race constructed this station clearly abandoned it several millennia ago. It is likely their civilization is extinct. The station’s A.I. may not have the capacity to bend its strict code of conduct, no matter what we might offer it.”

Chakotay shrugged. “It was clearly a capitalist society,” he said. “Many criminal infarctions can be settled through the payment of fines.”

Tuvok nodded thoughtfully.

“And besides, we’re innocent, remember?” Chakotay clapped Tuvok and Torres on their shoulders. “Now, get back to the shuttle. That’s an order.”

“Before you go,” said Hux, “I must add that your case cannot proceed until all defendants are accounted for.”

Chakotay turned back to Hux. “You mean Ensign Vorik and Chief Vance?”

“And Ensign Kang, yes,” said Hux.

Chakotay’s face fell. “I’m not bringing her back on this station until we have an agreement.”

“But this is the agreement, Commander,” said Hux. He was smiling brightly. “After all, Ensign Kang is an unimpeachable witness. Her augmentations will make it quite impossible for her to lie to the tribunal.”

Chakotay felt his anger rising. He took a deep breath, but it was no good. “I’m not bringing her back to the place of her assault, only to let her attacker poke around in her head!” he bellowed.

“Commander, please,” said Hux, wearing that shit-eating grin of his. Chakotay came nose-to-nose with the projection, but Hux showed no sign of offense or intimidation. His insubstantial clothing clipped through Chakotay’s uniform where they should have been standing chest-to-chest.

“Find another option,” said Chakotay.

Hux’s smile withered. He shook his head sadly. “You’re refusing to cooperate?” he asked, an edge of sorrow in his voice, as if Chakotay had actually hurt his feelings.

Chakotay stepped back a few centimeters. “I’m asking you for an alternative,” he said.

“The ensign is in possession of unlicensed Delurididug intellectual property,” said Hux. “I need to know it will be returned, even if we rule against you.”

Chakotay turned the problem over in his mind, looking for another angle. “What would it cost us to make this all go away?” asked Chakotay. “What fines would we have to pay? What is it that the Delididug even value?”

“The Delurididug,” Hux enunciated, “value the laws that allow diverse species and civilizations to interact in peace, for mutual benefit. The Delurididug value contracts, property rights, and due process.”

Chakotay let out a heavy sigh. This damned A.I. wasn’t going to budge. “Well, that’s good,” he said. “We have common ground there.”

Chakotay stood up a little straighter. “As the officer in command at the time of the incident, I assume full responsibility.”

“Commander, is that wise?” said Tuvok.

“I am the sole liable party,” Chakotay insisted. “Any actions carried out by my subordinates were done on my orders. I should face the tribunal alone.”

Hux was shaking his head. “Our intellectual property—”

“Will be returned,” said Chakotay, “just as soon as this sordid business is dealt with.”

Hux studied Chakotay’s face for a protracted moment. “Is that your final say on the matter?”

Chakotay nodded.

“Refusal to surrender material evidence will not help your case,” Hux warned.

“That ‘material evidence’ is my officer,” said Chakotay. “Your people may believe in treating sentient beings as commodities, but we don’t.”

Hux nodded. “Well, for what it’s worth, if your motives truly are what you claim them to be, then I admire your conviction.”

There was a sudden flash, and Chakotay found himself trapped in a cone of silver light. It seemed to be some kind of a confinement beam, paralyzing his arms at his sides and rooting his feet to the floor.

Behind him, Chakotay could hear the rest of the away team scrambling into action. The rising whine of a phaser being dialed up to a higher setting presaged the flash of red-orange phaser light that lit up Chakotay’s peripheral vision. It connected with the ceiling where the confinement beam was being emitted, but it didn’t seem to have any effect.

Hux watched the away team’s scramble politely, the hint of a friendly smile still plastered on his face.

Chakotay worked his jaw and found the confinement beam wouldn’t keep him from speaking. “Stand down,” he said.

On his left, he could make out Lieutenant Torres approaching the cone of the confinement beam that shrouded him. She tried to reach through it, only to be forcefully pushed back by the beam. She stumbled and almost fell on her back.

“I said stand down!” Chakotay shouted.

“Commander!” Torres protested. Chakotay tried to shake his head and only managed to twitch it a bit to the side.

When the excitement died down, Hux directed his attention to the person just behind Chakotay on his right. “Lieutenant Tuvok, I’ve detained Commander Chakotay on suspicion of unauthorized access of Trade Hub equipment, theft of material and intellectual property, the use of Trade Hub services to circumvent native legal statutes, and failure to cooperate with Trade Hub authorities. As Commander Chakotay has taken full responsibility for the aforementioned charges, his co-defendants Lieutenant Thomas Paris, Lieutenant Vorik, Ensign Harry Kim, Ensign Lucille Kang, and Chief Petty Officer Owen Vance have been cleared of suspicion. However, none of the listed personnel will be permitted to access the Delurididug Trade Hub or Travel Network until further notice, except for the express purpose of providing testimony for the tribunal or returning Delurididug intellectual and material property.

“Now, if you would please conduct the remaining members of your party back to your vessel and exit Trade Hub Space via the same gateway through which you entered.

“And please, do not return here without the previously agreed upon legal references, as well as any other evidence you believe to be relevant to Commander Chakotay’s case.”

“Commander?” said Tuvok.

Chakotay managed a small up-and-down twitch of his head that would have to serve as a nod. “Do it, Tuvok. Brief the captain on the situation.”

“And please,” added Hux, “Consider returning with Ensign Kang. She’s absolved of any charges. We need her testimony and our intellectual property, and it would greatly help your Commander’s case.”

Chakotay bit back the impulse to argue the point. It would be up to Captain Janeway to make the call, now. He knew she would do the right thing.

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