Star Trek: Odyssey – Isle of the Sun Chapter 9

CHAPTER 9

“Good news, Commander!” said Hux. The holographic avatar of the station apparated half a meter away from Chakotay’s face, startling him out of his fretful reverie. “Your crew have returned for you!”

“They’re here now?” said Chakotay.

“They’ve just arrived through the Travel Network, and hardly a moment to spare. I have to confess, Chakotay, I was starting to worry for you. The operating window for that access point ends in twenty-five minutes!”

“Can you extend that?” said Chakotay. “By the time they come on board and the hearing gets underway…” He shook his head.

Hux considered his point for a moment. “You’re right. I’ll need to enact emergency protocols to ensure that our business is concluded in a timely fashion.”

“Or, you could extend the window another hour!”

Hux turned his back on Chakotay while he was still talking and faced the screen on the wall of Chakotay’s cell, which flickered to life with a curious glyph for just a moment before opening a comm channel to Voyager’s shuttlecraft. Chakotay could see Captain Janeway, Lieutenant Paris, Ensigns Kim, Vorik, and Kang, plus Chief Vance and Crewman Thorold crowded into the small craft.

Chakotay’s heart dropped at the sight of Ensign Kang. What could have possessed Kathryn to bring her back here?

Hux clapped his hands with delight. “Oh, excellent! Everyone’s here. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Hux. I’ll be your host here at the Delurididug Trade Hub.”

Janeway glanced past the hologram, and her eyes locked on Chakotay. She looked back to Hux and said, “Hello, Mr. Hux. I’m Captain Kathryn Janeway of the Starship Voyager. May I speak to Commander Chakotay?”

“Captain, I’m sorry, but time is short. I need your permission to transport your party directly onto the station.”

“Send us the coordinates, and we’ll start beaming over when we’re ready.”

Hux shook his head. “Sorry, but we have to follow some very specific guidelines here, and as I said, time is short. I need your permission to bypass standard docking protocols and transport your party immediately. Otherwise, I’ll have to confiscate our stolen property and send you back out of Trade Hub space, straight away.”

Janeway’s expression went icy, and there was steel in her tone. “You won’t lay a finger on any member of my crew until we’ve had our hearing, Mr. Hux. I’ve familiarized myself with your legal guidelines, and–”

“I’m really very sorry, Captain, but as I have told you more than once already, time is short! I must have your answer now: Will you permit me to beam your party aboard?”

Janeway hesitated for just a moment before nodding.

“Excellent. Everyone, please rise to your feet and collect any items you might need for the hearing. Is anyone staying behind on the shuttle?”

“No,” said Janeway, and she looked to Paris, who nodded and began entering commands on his console. “The shuttle will mind itself for the time being.”

“Very well,” said Hux. “I’ll bring you all aboard in fifteen seconds.”

With that, the screen cut off. Hux turned back to Chakotay, beaming with excitement. “I think we’ve just narrowly avoided a disastrous outcome, Commander.”

Chakotay wasn’t so sure.

 


 

When the channel cut out, Lucy and the other members of the away team leaped to their feet and set about readying their equipment. Lucy had less to carry than the others; everyone else had shoulder bags with data nodules, tricorders, padds, samples of ship’s stores, and phaser rifles in place of standard-issue hand phasers.

All Lucy had was her trusty tricorder and a standard-issue phaser. She double-checked the settings on her phaser, then unsheathed her tricorder and set about reviewing its calibration and configuration.

Abruptly, the deck beneath her feet seemed to light up with an eerie, pure white glow. Lucy looked up and discovered she wasn’t on the shuttlecraft anymore. She found herself standing on a glowing, circular dais in a wide, domed chamber. Considering the light-up flooring, the featureless, alabaster walls, and the station’s holographic salesman staring her directly in the eye, Lucy assumed she’d been beamed onto the station.

“Hello, Ensign Kang,” said Hux. “I’m sorry we didn’t get a chance to meet on your last visit. How are those augmentations treating you?”

“Hello, Hux,” said Lucy. She glanced around and noted the other members of the away team also standing on raised circular platforms of their own, and Chakotay was there with the rest of them, although his platform was surrounded with a shimmering forcefield. The platforms were strung like pearls on a choker around a shallow depression five meters wide.

Hux stood at the center of the chamber, his feet a good half meter lower than the away team’s, and yet he towered over them, standing at least four meters tall. Lucy regarded the projection cooly, saying nothing more. After a moment, Hux turned his attention to Captain Janeway.

“Thank you for agreeing to come aboard under such unorthodox circumstances,” said Hux.

“You didn’t give me much choice,” said Captain Janeway.

“That’s true,” said Hux, tilting his head in consideration. “None of the alternatives you might have considered would have been wise, after all. Still, I’m grateful that we were able to find our way to a civilized forum in which to settle our conflict.”

Janeway crossed her arms over her chest and looked the projection up and down, unimpressed with his immense stature and his casual arrogance.

“Right.” Hux looked slightly disappointed at the captain’s frosty demeanor, but he just sighed and pushed ahead in a rote tone. “We’re here to adjudicate docket number eight-one-zero-six-six-nine-two, the limited commercial jurisdiction of the Delurididug Trade Hub, subsidiary of the Delurididug Trade Federation, versus Commander Chakotay of the USS Voyager, citizen of the planet Trebus and the United Federation of Planets, provisional officer of Starfleet, regarding alleged acts of industrial espionage, larceny, and use of Trade Hub services to circumvent native legal statutes. The defendant has the right to request an unaffiliated party from the Delurididug Trade Federation to serve as arbiter in this case.”

Hux turned to address Chakotay directly. “The defendant has elected to waive this right in favor of an expedited hearing, is that correct?”

Chakotay nodded. If they demanded a living Delurididug arbiter, they’d be waiting an eternity for one to arrive.

“And how does the defense plea to the aforementioned charges?”

“Not guilty,” said Captain Janeway.

Hux turned his attention to Captain Janeway.

Janeway went on, “Let the record reflect that Captain Kathryn Janeway, Commander of the USS Voyager, citizen of Earth and the United Federation of Planets, officer of Starfleet, has chosen to represent her subordinate officer regarding all charges presented by the Trade Hub, per statute nineteen, sub-statute six of the Delurididug Trade Hub Terms of Service.”

Hux nodded. “Very well. The defense may now summarize their arguments in support of their plea on behalf of the defendant. Please be brief.”

Janeway took a deep breath and began to speak. “The original away team, led by Chakotay, arrived at what appeared to be an abandoned space station after passing through a wormhole deep in the unexplored reaches of the Nekrit Expanse. The away team undertook a mission of peaceful exploration, not espionage or piracy, in accordance with my orders.

“The away team entered the Trade Hub after receiving an automated invitation to dock. The away team received no further guidance or communication from the station after docking, and so they commenced to explore the space station on their own recognizance. They were seeking some means of expediting our trip back to our own civilization, which is situated on the far side of the galaxy. At no point were they provided with the station’s Terms of Service. This is in spite of statute one, sub-statute two, paragraph two of the Terms of Service, which states that the Trade Hub shall provide a complete copy of the Delurididug Trade Hub Terms of Service to all guests upon their arrival in Hub Space in a format and a language that the guests can readily interpret.

“In spite of this lack of guidance, at no point did the away team lie or steal from the station. However, the station appeared to malfunction, inflicting its augmentation technology on my officer against her will. This officer, Ensign Lucille Kang, is the wronged party, not the Trade Hub. Ensign Kang is owed recompense for harm and suffering inflicted by the Trade Hub under statute five, sub-statute one-oh-three of the Delurididug Trade Hub Terms of Service.”

Hux absorbed Janeway’s statement with a neutral expression, and when he was certain she was finished, he went on, “At this time, the tribunal will receive all available evidence which is pertinent to this case. The tribunal presents as evidence the operational and security logs of the Trade Hub that were recorded at the time of the alleged misconduct, the subsequent statements of the defendant and the other witnesses, and the Aug-Tech subject Ensign Lucille Kang, which is able to act as a reliable record of the events by virtue of her illegally obtained Aug-Tech implants.

“If the defense has evidence to submit, now is the time.”

“The defense presents the complete case history of the Federation High Court,” said Janeway, “as well as the high courts of Alpha Centauri and the United Earth Government, the judgments of the Vulcan High Magistrate, and the precedents established by the Starfleet JAG division relating to genetic augmentation of Starfleet personnel, as requested by the tribunal. The defense also presents the duty and personal log entries made by all members of the away team and myself, from the hours preceding the events in question up until now.”

Janeway opened the carrying case that hung from her shoulder and took out three isolinear data rods, which she held out for Hux’s inspection.

“Additionally, the defense petitions the tribunal to abstain from intrusive contact with Ensign Kang under statute seven, sub-statute seventeen of the Trade Hub Terms of Service regarding the treatment of victims of violent crimes.”

“As the tribunal has not established that Ensign Kang was, in fact, the victim of a crime, it must deny the defense’s petition,” said Hux.

The data rods floated up, out of Janeway’s hand, momentarily startling the captain. The data rods drifted into the center of the circle, where Hux made a show of scooping them up with one insubstantial hand. Then Lucy felt a sudden weightlessness and found herself floating off of her platform, feet rising behind her until she tilted head-first, eye-level to Hux as she drifted forwards, into the center.

Lucy looked around at the others, at Janeway’s alarm and Chakotay’s outrage, Harry’s shock, and Owen’s obviously violent intent. He was brandishing his phaser rifle with his right hand, his left tucked into his carrying case as if he were hunting for a second weapon. Crewman Thorold was following his lead, and Tom was watching them like he was considering following suit.

“Stand down!” Captain Janeway shouted, and Thorold stopped what he was doing and stood at attention.

Owen didn’t seem to hear her. He pulled what looked to be some kind of modified phase discriminator out of his case and popped open the side compartment of his phaser rifle.

“Chief Vance, stand down!” Janeway bellowed.

Owen hesitated. His gaze found Lucy’s, his eyes entreating, as if he were looking to her for a sign that he should ignore the captain’s order. Lucy shook her head.

“It’s ok, Owen,” said Lucy. “I’ve got this.”

With reluctance, Owen returned the phase discriminator to his carrying case.

Hux looked from Owen to Lucy to Captain Janeway, his expression thoughtful. Then he shrugged. “Right. Where were we?” With that, Hux stretched out his free right hand for Lucy. Lucy raised her own left hand to meet his, and Hux touched his forefinger to hers.

It didn’t feel like anything. Hux’s form was just empty, insubstantial light; no flesh, not even the simulated force-field flesh of a typical hologram. He didn’t touch her with his finger, but with a gentle tractor beam and a remote data uplink. Foreign data spilled into her brain from the uplink, converted by her implants into coherent, alien notions that competed with her own thoughts for space in her head.

> root:> initiate contact/

Say what?

> root/query access:> archival memory/

The sense of the alien computer in her mind making decisions on her behalf was deeply uncomfortable, like standing with a stranger in the close confines of her closet, trying to stop him moving her stuff around and trying on her clothes.

Ew. Stop that!

She was gratified to sense that her protest had actually been effective; just the act of refusing its input had stopped it from what it was doing. It quickly changed tactics, though.

> root:> factory override/

Manufacturer credentials required.

The words appeared in her head as if she’d come up with them herself.

Wait… I meant no!

> root/factory override:> recognize credentials/

Lucy felt a strange sense of recognition in the back of her mind towards some intangible entity beyond herself; like a puzzle piece clicking perfectly into place. Suddenly, she felt a sense of deep familiarity with the stranger sharing her closet.

Credentials recognized.

> root/query access:> Archival memory/

Accessing.

I mean, I guess I’m accessing? Hey, I don’t like this. This isn’t me. I’m not a computer.

> root:> archival memory:> Initiate download :: range{complete}/

No! Narrow it down! You can’t have all of it.

It was asking to copy all of Lucy’s memories. She felt a strong sense that she needed to acquiesce to its request. It had valid credentials, after all, which meant it was allowed. It felt wrong to deny it.

Lucy didn’t care what was or wasn’t allowed, though. It could have the memories it needed for the tribunal and not one byte more. She wouldn’t be beholden to an artificially implanted sense of propriety.

> root/query access:> engram config/

What does that mean?

> root/engram config:> identify :: executive initiation/

You’re talking about free will. No, you can’t touch that.

> root/engram config:> analyze :: executive initiation/

Stop! Look, you can have the memories you need! I just don’t want you to take all of them. You don’t have that right!

> root/engram config:> reconfig :: executive initiation/

Gross! Stop it!

Reconfiguring…

5% complete…

18% complete…

29% complete…

44% complete…

61% complete…

You’re sick, Hux. This is wrong.

88% complete…

99% complete…

I said, STOP!

99% complete…

99% complete…

Error Unknown: Failed to finalize engram.

Va te faire foutre, asshole.

> root/engram config:> analyze :: executive initiation/

Warning! Incomplete config. Personality engram corrupted.

‘Personality engram corrupted’? That sounded… not good.

What have you done to me?

> host/query:> restore executive initiation?/

I don’t need your help. Just leave it alone.

> root/query access:> archival memory/

> root/archival memory:> Initiate download :: range{complete}/

I told you, no!

Downloading…

1% complete…

9% complete…

15% complete…

Through the course of this entire inner ordeal, Lucy hung suspended in mid-air, eye to eye with her interrogator as her colleagues looked on. When it finally succeeded in accessing her memories, literally breaking her free will in the process, she was left feeling utterly helpless to stand in its way as it sucked up every last spark of memory in her cerebral cortex, copying and siphoning her life history into its database. Random images and associations flitted through her mind, snapshots from her childhood, her time in the Academy, her time in the Delta Quadrant.

26% complete…

She was back on Alpha Centauri, surrounded by her third-grade classmates on a school field trip, marveling at an anteater with its telescoping tongue plunging again and again into an ant colony, slurping out glistening little insects by the dozen.

They were at a terrazoology preserve; a wildlife refuge for Earth animals that was founded early in the twenty-second century, when the long-term ecological stability of Earth was still in doubt following the post-atomic horror. Lucy was delighted by this bizarre creature, native to a world that in her mind was as strange and fantastical as Andor or Gem World. She dreamed of visiting one day.

39% complete…

She was in a spaceport, trying to keep pace with her parents as they navigated a crowd of adults that towered over her on all sides. They needed to hurry if they were going to reach the civilian transporter network in time to make their connecting flight.

Lucy was momentarily distracted by the alluring, sweet and spicy scent wafting over from a Bolian food kiosk in the spaceport replimat, and when she looked back, she realized her parents were suddenly nowhere in sight. She broke into a run, searching the faces of the adults above her as she plowed through the crowd, convinced that she was on the verge of being lost forever in this confusing nowhere place, this hub between worlds. And yet curiously, she wasn’t afraid.

No, that wasn’t right. She had been terrified. She just couldn’t remember what that felt like, anymore.

58% complete…

Lucy marveled at the rate of data transfer. Clearly, she could only glimpse the tip of the iceberg as her memories jumbled through her mind. She couldn’t stop it from happening, even if it felt like she should be able to. She could rail against it all she wanted, but her personality was broken. The wheels of resistance were spinning, but they weren’t gaining purchase.

72% complete…

Bastard. Why couldn’t you have just taken the memories you needed and left my mind alone?

88% complete…

Finalizing…

Data transfer complete.

> host/query:> restore executive initiation?/

If I let you do that, how do I know you won’t just overwrite it with your own version?

> host/transmit:> semantic argument/

Lucy became aware of a bit of information in her head, which worried at her consciousness like a forgotten word at the tip of her tongue.

How do I read this? Oh, I see…

Lucy found the trick to opening the data packet, and the station’s argument appeared fully-formed in her head. With her willpower engram in tatters, the station could easily overwrite it by force, and this time, she wouldn’t have much chance of stopping it. It wasn’t forcing her, because it didn’t need to. It already had what it needed; now, it was offering her a courtesy.

Lucy sighed. She looked around, at the captain and Chakotay, who watched, helpless, from their platforms below her. Harry was scanning her intently with his tricorder, as was Vorik. They were talking to each other, conveying important information about Lucy’s condition and the activities of the station’s computer. Lucy could hardly follow the conversation.

Her eyes found Owen’s. He was abjectly miserable. He was gripping his phaser rifle with white knuckles, longing to shoot something. She imagined any little thing could set him off.

What was the right thing to do? Could she return to Voyager in this broken state? Would they start more conflict with the station over her condition? Would she get everyone killed?

Can you just fix me, and then turn off the implants forever?

> host/transmit:> affirmative/

Do it, then.

> root/query access:> engram config/

Access granted.

> root/engram config/reformat:> executive initiation/

Reformatting…

3% complete…

11% complete…

It was a curious sensation. As the station erased her broken personality engram and all resistance faded from her conscious mind, at first she expected to feel small, weak, and powerless. Instead, the further along the process went, the more she felt… relaxed. It was easier to float suspended in the air when her feet weren’t subconsciously hunting for purchase and her heart didn’t rail against her utter lack of control over her body and mind.

28% complete…

She could just drift, weightless, and forget about fighting for a while.

41% complete…

No tension, no anger, no resentment…

69% complete…

A part of her hoped the station had lied to her, that it wouldn’t fix her at all. It was nice, not wanting to fight, not feeling duty-bound or morally obligated to do anything that took any amount of effort whatsoever.

88% complete…

Then again, it was hard to see the point of being alive at all if there was no striving, no challenge, no goal.

99% complete…

Why even bother breathing anymore? Why exist at all?

Reformat complete.

Lucy let out her breath and didn’t draw another. She felt a growing heaviness in her weightless body, but no desire to struggle or fight for air.

> root/engram config:> install :: executive initiation/

Downloading…

2% complete…

“She’s not breathing!” said Harry. “Her vitals are dropping!”

14% complete…

“Her pulse is slowing,” said Vorik. “At this rate, Ensign Kang will begin suffering anoxic deterioration of her nervous system in sixty seconds.”

Owen’s hand went back into his carrying case, hunting for his phase discriminator.

36% complete…

“No cause for alarm,” said Hux. “We just hit a little technical–”

A phaser blast cut through Hux’s insubstantial form, striking the featureless surface of the dome over their heads, leaving a deep gouge in the bulkhead and showering the tribunal in sparks. Chief Vance fired his weapon again, scorching another patch of ceiling, and the anti-gravity field holding Lucy abruptly cut out, dropping her halfway to the floor before it kicked in again.

The others leaped off their platforms into the pit, closing ranks around Lucy’s suspended form.

50% complete…

“Stop this, please!” said Hux.

“Tricorders!” barked Janeway, and the other members of the away team produced their scanners, except Vance, who held his over his head, parallel with his phaser rifle, scanning the ceiling of the dome for targets.

Lucy watched them work, abstractly curious, as the world slowly lost color and grew dim around her.

> host/inquiry:> What are they doing?/

I don’t know. I wasn’t briefed on this.

If she’d had the willpower to flex a single muscle in her body, Lucy would have smiled.

They’re good at this sort of thing, though.

78% complete…

A silver cone of light from the ceiling ensconced the away team for just an instant, but in the next instant, Owen pulled the trigger on his rifle, striking the dome at the origin point of the beam. The light vanished. Janeway and the others finished interlinking their tricorders around a power cell, and a blinding flash of light flared from their assembled device.

The Hux hologram vanished. The forcefield holding Chakotay on his platform went down, and he leaped off his platform and joined the rest of the party. The anti-gravity field holding Lucy in the air cut out again. She dropped a meter and a half to the ground, feeling the thud of impact as she landed face-first on the deck, completely limp.

Download interrupted.

Owen grabbed her shoulder and rolled her onto her back, cradling her face in both of his hands.

“Lucy, can you hear me?”

Lucy looked up at his face, reflecting how handsome he was, wondering if he would get in trouble for firing on the station, or if the captain would approve of his actions.

“Leave her to me, Chief,” said Captain Janeway, “I need you on the perimeter. Harry, how’s it coming?”

Download resuming.

84% complete…

“Just… about… done!” Harry declared. He had a stretch of optical cable threaded between his phaser, his tricorder, and his combadge. Lucy wondered what it was he’d built. Something extremely clever, no doubt.

96% complete…

Everything was getting farther away. Lucy figured she’d probably lose consciousness in another couple seconds.

“Ensign, can you hear me? I need you to breathe.”

Lucy’s dimming vision swam so much she could hardly make out anything, but her drifting gaze ultimately settled on the captain’s steely visage. She was studying Lucy with tremendous concern.

Download complete.

Installing engram…

“I said breathe, Ensign! That’s an order!”

Never one to refuse an order, Lucy took a sudden breath in, and the world brightened by a fraction.

8% complete…

“I can’t get a signal to the shuttle!” said Harry. “The signal boost isn’t strong enough! Maybe if I could boost the signal on the other end…”

Lucy exhaled.

“Captain, he’s back,” said Chakotay. He was brandishing a phaser rifle he’d borrowed from Vorik. He trained it on the hologram the moment it reappeared.

Captain Janeway turned to the Hux projection. “What have you done to my officer?” she growled at the hologram.

“The emitters are coming back online!” said Owen.

A brilliant glow of silver shrouded the whole away team as confinement beams flared to life from several points around the perimeter of the dome simultaneously. Every member of the party froze in place, except Lucy, whose limp frame began floating back up into the air, out of the field of confinement beams, like a bubble in a Champagne glass.

24% complete…

The world was fading again. Lucy hadn’t bothered taking another breath to replace the last one.

“As I was saying before we were so rudely interrupted…” Hux cast a disapproving glance at Owen, who glared back in defiance.

“We had a slight technical hitch, which is being straightened out presently.”

42% complete…

Lucy could hardly hear his words, as if he were talking in another room. The world was going black. She couldn’t see anymore.

> host/command:> inhale/

Lucy drew in a breath, and a little light reentered her world.

Hux sighed. “Now then. Where were we?”

> host/command:> exhale/

“You can release us,” said Captain Janeway. “I’ll order my men to stand down.”

60% complete…

Hux nodded. “No harm, no foul, I suppose,” he said, which Lucy found confusing. There were three deep gouges in the bulkhead that spoke to the harm they’d done to the station. Did Hux not care about that? Or were his diagnostics malfunctioning?

> host/command:> inhale/

The confinement beams went down, and as soon as their movement was restored, Ensign Kim turned his tricorder on Lucy. “She’s breathing again,” he said.

> host/command:> exhale/

“Now, we are just about out of time,” said Hux. “I’ve heard the arguments, I’ve reviewed all of the relevant evidence, and I’m ready to render a verdict.”

“Wait!” said Captain Janeway, “We haven’t made our case, yet.”

78% complete…

“Of course you have, Captain,” said Hux, “I’ve summarized the charges, you’ve summarized your defense, and we’ve both submitted evidence.”

> host/command:> inhale/

“After reviewing the evidence, I’ve determined there is no further need for witness interviews or semantic debate. I have everything I need to render a judgment.”

> host/command:> exhale/

“And what if we’re not satisfied with your decision?”

98% complete…

“Well, it wouldn’t matter, but at any rate, I think you will be. I find Commander Chakotay is innocent of all charges.”

> host/command:> Inhale/

“Then we’re free to go?” said Captain Janeway.

“As a matter of fact,” said Hux, “You must depart very soon.”

> host/command:> Exhale/

The access point back to your ship is due to close momentarily, and once it’s gone, it will not appear anywhere near that region of space again until the current maintenance cycle is complete.”

Installation complete.

Configuring…

“You mean never,” said Chakotay.

Hux glanced at him. “Quite possibly,” he said.

Finalizing…

“What about Ensign Kang?” said Captain Janeway. “We need the means for reversing what your Trade Hub did to her.”

Hux shook his head. “Any modification of our trademarked Aug-Tech implants must be carried out by a licensed Aug-Tech facility in good standing with the Delurididug Trade Federation. I’m afraid that option isn’t available at the present. With Ensign Kang’s consent, however, I will gladly disable the implants. Her body should then absorb the inert devices harmlessly over time.”

Executive initiation engram successfully installed.

“And will that restore her natural mental state?” said Captain Janeway. “Will that reverse the changes to her DNA?”

A sudden urge seized Lucy; an impulse she hardly recognized until she acted on it. She took a deep, desperate gasp of air, relishing the sensation of oxygen flooding into her lungs. She let it out in a massive sigh and looked around, regarding the world around her with fresh eyes.

“Put me down, please!” said Lucy.

“The implants will produce genetic vectors that cancel out her genetic augmentations during the shutdown procedure,” said Hux, “erasing all traces of Delurididug intellectual property.”

Although he hadn’t acknowledged her request, Lucy found the anti-gravity field holding her in the air was gradually receding, letting her sink gently down to the deck.

“Her physical form will remain in this state, but the exotic proteins in her system will break down gradually. I can also tweak her cognitive settings to restore her mind to as close to her pre-augmented state as possible. But again, these decisions must be made by her,” said Hux. “Mind you, that’s according to your own laws. This qualifies as an elective medical procedure, after all.”

As Lucy touched down, Owen and Chakotay rushed to her side. Chakotay had a tricorder out and was running it slowly up and down the length of her body, his face a picture of concern and concentration. Owen took her hand in both of his.

Lucy met Owen’s anxious gaze, and she offered a weak smile to allay his fears. Then she looked to Captain Janeway and Hux, who were both watching her expectantly. She started rising to her feet, but Chakotay put a hand on her shoulder, quietly urging her to stay seated on the deck.

“Do it,” said Lucy. “Disable the implants.” She didn’t particularly relish the prospect of welcoming terror, misery, and agony back into her life, but it seemed preferable to being treated like an alien spy by the crew of Voyager. She glanced at Owen, who nodded in support. “Change me back.”

Captain Janeway nodded her approval and regarded Hux expectantly. Hux sighed. Then he raised his right hand and snapped his fingers.

> root/query access:> perceptual filters/

> root/perceptual filters:> disable :: {all}/

> root/query access:>Aug-Tech framework/

> root/Aug-Tech framework:> initiate system shutdown/

Initiating…

“There,” said Hux, “It’s done.”

The first thing Lucy noticed was how much her lungs burned. The strain of catching her breath after barely breathing for a couple minutes had left her throat hoarse and her lungs aching.

Canceling genetic enhancements…

She had a bit of a headache, too. And the hard deck was pressing uncomfortably against her tailbone. Lucy shifted her weight to make herself more comfortable, and she was struck anew by how strange her body felt. She tried to remember exactly what Hux had said about the process of deactivating her implants.

“You said I’ll go on looking this way? Even after the implants are gone?” Lucy heard the quiver in her own voice and was surprised to realize she was actually frightened. She missed her old self. She worried that her family wouldn’t recognize her if she finally made it back home in this shape.

“Not exactly, no,” said Hux. “Once your body metabolizes the exotic proteins, your complexion will return to something more like the way it was.”

“But that’s it? What about… I mean, this isn’t my body!”

Owen clutched Lucy’s hand tighter. “It’ll be ok,” he said. “Don’t worry.”

That struck her as a funny suggestion, and she laughed. “Don’t worry? I thought that was the whole problem! I mean you should be glad I’m worried!”

Deregulating cardiovascular system…

“Indeed,” said Hux, and he returned his attention to Captain Janeway. “At any rate, time is of the essence. The access point will close in just a couple minutes, and you have yet to settle your tab.”

“I beg your pardon?” said Captain Janeway.

“Oh, yes. I can waive the court fees since you were found innocent, but then there are the Travel Network passage fees, the docking fees, the host services fee, the detention services fee…”

Captain Janeway shook her head. “We’ve read your Terms of Service backward and forwards. Those fees are all waived for customers in good standing.”

Hux made an awkward face. “Yes, well…” and he indicated the damaged roof of the dome with a wide gesture of his arms.

“My officer was dying before our eyes!” said Janeway. “Your own policy permits weapons fire for self-defense.”

“While I find that a dubious defense, I’m inclined to allow it, primarily because we don’t have time for another tribunal. All the same, your party is liable for any and all damage that you inflicted on the station. Add to that the fact that your people have come here three times now, draining the Trade Hub’s resources on each visit, and yet, you haven’t actually bought anything. Furthermore, it’s clear you never truly intended to deal with the Trade Hub in good faith.

“Because, while it’s true you received a message that could, technically, be construed as an invitation to board, your crew’s log entries and Ensign Kang’s memories are very clear. You would have forced entry and looted the station, regardless, if you could have gotten away with it.”

“If the station were a derelict, as it appeared–”

“It would still be Delurididug property, Captain. In some respects, your ways are positively barbaric. Add to that all the little tricks you worked out to circumvent our security features, and I really cannot draw any other conclusion. I’m sorry, but I have no choice but to assign your people delinquent status.

“Anyway, time is up. I have to insist you settle your account and depart immediately. Now, how do you plan on paying?”

A dangerous look crossed Captain Janeway’s features, and Lucy feared they were in for another firefight. It would be short and futile, and it would probably end with the party wrapped up in another mass confinement beam and imprisoned here forever, but Lucy was determined to master her reservations and do her part to help her crew, regardless. Chakotay and Owen rose from her side, back to their feet, and Lucy pulled on Owen’s arm to lever herself to her feet, as well. She could feel her heart starting to race.

Deregulating endocrine system…

Hux just smiled his pleasant smile, as if he were nothing more than a waiter in a restaurant, come to deliver their check.

After a long moment, Janeway spoke, defying everyone’s expectations except the hologram’s. “We have a small surplus of dilithium crystal–”

Hux shook his head and interrupted, “I’m sorry, Captain. In the interest of time, I’ve taken the liberty of perusing the catalog of ship’s stores that you brought along with you, and I’m afraid I can find nothing of particular value in the list, even if we could complete a transfer before the deadline. Which, frankly, we couldn’t.”

Janeway was taken aback for just a moment, but she pushed on, “I have up-to-date star charts and–”

“I should have elaborated, Captain,” said Hux, “I looked through your intellectual property, as well, and unfortunately, there isn’t enough here to cover your bill.”

“There are gigaquads of data–”

“Yes, and the vast majority of it is public domain, open source, nonproprietary, or its distribution rights are limited by the laws of your Federation. I can’t put much commercial value on information that anyone else in the galaxy can have for free, Captain; that’s not how a trade federation works. And you can’t sell me copyrighted cultural works that you don’t own, which pertains to almost everything else in your inventory.”

“Well then, in the interest of time, Mr. Hux, why don’t you cut to the chase and tell me what it is you want?”

Deregulating digestive system…

Hux shrugged. “I would if I could. The fact is, between your laws and mine, there just isn’t much you can offer me.”

Janeway crossed her arms over her chest. “Well then, perhaps it would be best if we were on our way.”

Hux grimaced. “As I think you know, it doesn’t work that way.”

A chill ran down Lucy’s back. She rested her hand on the hilt of her hand phaser, convinced they were going to have to make that futile last stand, after all.

“What, then, will you keep us here until the wormhole closes?”

Hux shook his head. “There’s no need to detain all of you for the amount owed, Captain. We need only decide on a single liable individual, who will be detained either as collateral against your debt, or payment thereof, at the discretion of the Trade Hub.

“Now, Commander Chakotay has already accepted responsibility for the events that incurred the largest part of the debt, but you have the authority to make a different call, Captain. After all, it was Ensign Kang who activated the Aug-Tech apparatus without first rendering payment, triggering this whole chain of events in the first place. You could name her as the responsible party, and the Trade Hub would accept that judgment.”

“You’re asking me to give you Ensign Kang?” said Janeway.

Lucy’s heart was seized with terror at the thought. She wanted to scream, to deny the blame. It wasn’t her fault the pod had activated. It wasn’t her fault it grappled her with its whiplike cords and dragged her into its hellish, stifling, slime-filled innards and stabbed her with needles, over and over again, invading her body, invading her mind…

Lucy felt strong arms wrapped around her shoulders and realized she’d buried her face in her hands, and she was making a peculiar keening sound in her throat. Owen stood behind her, sheltering her in a protective embrace, trying to soothe her.

Deregulating musculoskeletal system…  

She felt physically sick. What had just happened? Was it a side effect of the implants shutting down? An attack of PTSD? Or was it just the thought of being trapped in the clutches of this station forever, tortured at the whim of a dispassionate A.I., never to see her crewmates or her family, ever again…

“That’s not going to happen,” said Captain Janeway, and Lucy felt immense relief.

“I understand,” said Hux. “Chakotay it is, then.”

Lucy’s fought to pull herself together. She was disgracing herself in front of everyone. She took her hands from her face, wiped at her damp eyes with trembling fingers, and shrugged her way free off Owen’s embrace.

“No,” said Janeway, “Chakotay only acted on my orders.”

“You’re accepting responsibility, then?” said Hux. “That’s perfectly permissible, Captain, but remember, you have a whole crew that relies on you to lead them.”

“You don’t need to lecture me on the burden of command, hologram,” said Janeway. “But a Starfleet captain doesn’t deflect responsibility for her actions.”

“Captain, they were my actions,” said Chakotay. He turned to Hux. “And my responsibility.”

Lucy’s fear became slightly less overwhelming as she watched Chakotay and Janeway argue over who would take the blame for her own mistake, and self-loathing swelled up in its place. Why should the captain or first officer pay the price for her stupidity? Why had she gone and touched that stars-forsaken pod in the first place?

“But it’s not your decision to make, Commander,” said Janeway. “And we don’t have time to argue about it.”

Speak up! she berated herself, but she was paralyzed with fear. And it was the captain’s decision, anyway. The captain had already vetoed the idea of her accepting responsibility, and there was no way Lucy was going to change her mind, especially when she couldn’t find her own voice. Lucy tried to take solace in that fact, but mostly, she just felt like a coward, debilitated by selfish fears. If only they’d left her implants on, just a little longer…

Deregulating central nervous system…

An idea struck Lucy, a way that might save both the captain and Chakotay, and a wave of dread rose up in her when she realized what it was she had to do. She badly wished she hadn’t thought of it. Maybe she could just go on pretending it hadn’t occurred to her? Not a soul could blame her if she just kept her mouth shut… 

“Wait,” said Lucy. Her voice felt tiny. She was surprised she’d managed to use it at all.

Neither the captain nor Chakotay seemed to hear her, but Hux raised a curious eyebrow and cast half a glance in her direction when she spoke up.

Owen heard her as well, and he seemed to sense her intentions. He stepped in front of Lucy, interposing himself between her and the hologram.

“I’m the one who caused the damage to the station!” Owen blurted out.

“Stand down, Chief,” said Captain Janeway.

Owen pressed on, regardless. “I wasn’t ordered to open fire. I did it on my own. I’m the sole responsible party.”

“I said stand down!” Janeway shouted.

“And I said wait!” said Lucy. She tried to step around Owen, but he put out an arm to hold her back.

“Cut it out, Owen!” said Lucy. She tried to shove him out of her way, but all her enhanced strength had left her, and he would not be moved. “Hux, I withdraw my consent!” she called over his shoulder. “Turn the implants back on.”

“What are you doing, Ensign?” said Chakotay.

“Perceptual filters, too,” Lucy told the hologram.

Hux nodded.

Owen shook his head, and when he spoke, his voice was pleading. “No, Luce…”

The hurt in his voice cut deep, and she wondered if she hadn’t made a terrible mistake.

> root/query access:> active processes/

> root/active processes:> cancel Aug-Tech shutdown protocol/

Aug-Tech shutdown protocol canceled.

> root/query access:> perceptual filters/

> root/perceptual filters:> restore perceptual filters to default/

“Why, Ensign?” said Captain Janeway.

She felt a pang of guilt for going behind the captain’s back, but suddenly her guilt lost the sting of sorrow, and her fear of making the wrong decision was forgotten. Her hands stopped their trembling, and her voice did not waiver when she spoke.

“Hux, will I be able to leave the station with my implants online?”

Hux shook his head. “That’s never been an option. You must either relinquish Delurididug intellectual property or provide payment to obtain an operating license.”

Lucy turned to Captain Janeway. She stood at attention and regarded her captain with a steady gaze. “I’m sorry, Captain. It looks like I’ll be the one taking responsibility for my mistakes.”

She could see understanding and dread dawning in her captain’s eyes, and she felt sympathy for her. She supposed sometimes even Captain Janeway couldn’t save every hostage.

“Ensign, we’ll find another way…”

“I’m sorry, Captain,” said Hux, “But we’ve reached the end of our working relationship. I’m pleased we’ve been able to reach an equitable agreement, but I’m sincerely sorry for how we had to get there. Now, it’s time for you to go.”

Owen flipped out. “Like hell!” he shouted, and he clutched Lucy to his side with one arm, while with the other he brandished his phaser rifle at the hologram, and then suddenly, he was gone.

Lucy stumbled to regain her balance as Owen’s domineering presence vanished from her side. She looked around, surprised to see that every other member of the away team was gone. “Where…” said Lucy.

Only Hux remained, regarding her with remorseful eyes.

Had she actually done it? Had she saved the away team at the cost of her own life? Or had he just locked them away somewhere else?

“What did you do? Where are they?” she demanded.

Hux waved a hand, and a holographic projection appeared in the air in front of Lucy, showing space around the station. Voyager’s shuttle was caught in the silvery rays of a repulsor beam, its impulse engine glowing bright blue as it fought against the beam’s inexorable pressure, driving it inexorably towards the wormhole. She could see that the wormhole was getting dimmer by the moment. The cloud of red-orange dust that surrounded the singularity was starting to disperse, and the violet eye of the portal was flickering more and more.

And yet, in spite of the pending closure of the wormhole, the shuttle fought against the repulsor beam tooth and nail, thrashing left and right, bucking and charging against the light like a bull caught with a lasso.

“Come on, come on…” Lucy muttered, willing them to give up and just let her go.

“If I turn up the beam any more, I risk crushing their ship,” Hux remarked.

Lucy wondered what they could possibly hope to accomplish at this stage. Then, somewhere nearby, she heard the familiar hum of a transporter beam, and a jolt of excitement ran through her. She looked around, hunting for the source of the familiar sound, and spotted the improvised device that Harry had assembled during that desperate escape attempt. It was shrouded in the sparkling glow of a transporter beam, suspended in mid-transport.

It was a transport enhancer! Brilliant! Lucy was amazed that they’d found a way to cut through the station’s dampening field, but she couldn’t honestly say she was surprised. A smile spread over her face, and she made a dive for the device.

“Oh, what now?” said Hux, sounding greatly annoyed.

Lucy took hold of the transport enhancer and felt the transporter beam spread to enshroud her whole body.

A moment later, Lucy found herself kneeling on the small transporter pad of the shuttlecraft, smiling triumphantly up at Owen, who shouted to the fore of the little vessel, “We got her, sir! Let’s go!”

He turned back to her, the look of elation and relief on his face mirroring Lucy’s emotions perfectly, and Lucy couldn’t say which of them initiated the kiss, but the next moment, her eyes were closed, and his firm lips subsumed hers in an entirely unprofessional moment of abandon. Her hands went to his shoulders, and his hand cupped her cheek.

And then, his lips were gone. His hands were gone, too, and the voices of the away team were gone, and the hum of the shuttlecraft was gone.

Lucy opened her eyes, and Hux was staring back at her. She was right back where she’d been a moment ago.

She looked around in time to watch the holographic representation of the shuttlecraft reach the mouth of the wormhole, while in the background, the same drama unfolded a dozen times from a dozen different angles, a dozen tiny shuttles shepherded into the mouth of a dozen flickering wormholes.

“Stop!” Lucy shouted. It was too much. Even with no sense of sorrow, she understood the depths of this tragedy, to come a hair’s breadth from total victory and watch it snatched away at the last possible instant.

As one, every image of the wormhole flared bright as the shuttle collided with the aperture, and then they all blinked out at once, leaving only the dim, gray image of the space station, suddenly devoid of the warm glow of the wormhole, nothing to keep it company but its own far-off reflections.

Lucy gazed at the forlorn projection for a long moment, trying to absorb the enormity of what she was witnessing. The one point of contact that joined this forsaken pocket of space to the entire Universe was gone, and she was suddenly very, very alone.

Her eyes met Hux’s expectant gaze.

“Oh, stars,” said Lucy.

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