Star Trek: Odyssey – The Isle of the Sun, Chapter 3

CHAPTER 3

“She’s stable,” said the Doctor. “That’s the good news.”

“All right,” said Chakotay, “What’s the bad?”

They stood in the Doctor’s office in sickbay, looking out the window at Ensign Kang where she lay on a sickbay bed, still unconscious. Kes was sitting at her bedside watching the biomonitor.

“It appears the ensign has undergone some rather extensive modifications,” said the Doctor. “In fact, it seems the modification process is ongoing. I have no way to stop it without doing potentially fatal harm to the patient.”

“What kind of modifications? To what end?” said Chakotay.

The Doctor shook his head. “To what end, I can’t say. It seems a number of biosynthetic implants have been embedded deep in her tissues.” He turned to his desktop console and called up the results of his medical scans, superimposing the readings over a simple outline diagram of a human body. Lit up at multiple points on the diagram were silhouettes of slender little squid-like creatures, or machines… It was hard to classify the biosynthetic constructs one way or the other. They had heads like worms and many, many tendrils like threads that fanned out through her body.

“They seem to be hardwired into her nervous system,” the Doctor went on, “sending and receiving signals from her central nervous system. They’re supplementing natural organ functions and regulating hormone levels, stimulating the growth of some cells and inhibiting others. They also seem to be modifying her DNA.”

Chakotay studied the diagram and the accompanying readings, a sense of disgust and trepidation rising up in him. “This resembles Borg technology. Is there any evidence of nanoprobes at work here?” The desiccated corpse of a Borg drone he’d stumbled upon on an away mission last week was still fresh in his mind. The specter of Borg cubes lurking just outside of sensor range in the murky depths of the Nekrid Expanse had haunted him ever since.

“Certainly not any of Borg design,” said the Doctor, alleviating his fears but not quashing them completely. “My tests are ongoing, though.”

Chakotay studied the diagram closer. “What do you make of this one?” he said, pointing at the alien construct occupying the diagram’s skull.

That implant is the one that worries me the most,” said the Doctor. “Its processes are threaded throughout her brain. It might influence her cognition and her perceptions, bias her behavior… it could conceivably even be controlling her body. I’ll monitor her engrams for any irregularities when she wakes.”

Chakotay was quiet for a moment, regarding his unconscious officer. He’d let her down, back on that space station. He hadn’t acted fast enough when that pod had opened. He should have destroyed the thing the moment it made a sound. He should have acted faster when the cables ensnared Ensign Kang. If only he’d been faster, sharper, quicker on his feet…

He wouldn’t let her down now. The alien space station still had her, even if she was out of the pod. He had to find a way to stop its progress before it finished turning her into… whatever it was turning her into.

But, he couldn’t let himself forget, he also had a duty to protect the rest of the crew. He tapped his combadge. “Chakotay to Tuvok,” he said.

“Tuvok here, sir.”

“Assign two security personnel to sickbay. The Doctor will brief them when they arrive.”

“Acknowledged,” said Tuvok.

Chakotay met the Doctor’s gaze, and the Doctor nodded his understanding.

“Under alien control or not, our crewmember is still in there, Doctor,” said Chakotay. “I know you’ll do everything in your power to help her.”

“Of course, sir,” said the Doctor.

Chakotay walked out of the Doctor’s office and crossed sickbay. The doors to the corridor opened as he approached, and standing outside was Chief Vance, looking very dour. That was fast, thought Chakotay. But then he noticed that the security officer wasn’t approaching the door, but apparently dithering in the corridor. “Is there something I can help you with, Chief?” said Chakotay.

Vance jumped to attention at the sight of his senior officer. “No, sir. I just wanted to know if I could visit the patient.”

Chakotay felt his eyebrow rising and quickly schooled his facial expression. “You’ll have to ask the Doctor,” he said, and then he passed out into the corridor.

 

“…told her how you felt, before?” It was a gentle, feminine voice. Lucy was sure she recognized it.

“Yes… well… I mean, I think she has the general idea,” said someone else. It was a man’s voice, low and brash, and the connotations of his tenor stirred a sense of attraction, balanced on a knife’s edge with a sense of discomfort.

Owen, that was the second one. And the first one was Kes, Lucy remembered now.

Off to Lucy’s right, something started beeping. It sounded like a sickbay biomonitor.

“Doctor!” Kes called, and then she leaned in close to Lucy. “Ensign, are you awake?”

Lucy opened her eyes and took in the faces around her. Owen stood on her left, looking distinctly uncomfortable. Kes sat on her right, holding Lucy’s hand. A couple other security officers stood guard by the sickbay doors. The Doctor was approaching from his office, his face a mask of concern.

“Ensign?” said the Doctor, “How are you feeling?”

Lucy took stock of herself for a moment. The sickbay bed she was lying on was comfortable. The sickbay blanket felt nice on her skin. “I feel alright,” she said. She propped herself up on her elbows, and as her weight shifted, she noticed something about her body was… off. She couldn’t immediately pin down what it was, though.

The Doctor took a medical tricorder off a nearby shelf and began scanning her. Without lifting his eyes from the device, he tapped his badge and said, “Doctor to the Bridge.”

“Janeway here, Doctor,” came the captain’s voice. “What’s your status?”

“Ensign Kang is awake, sir.”

“Acknowledged, Doctor. Thank you.”

The Doctor stopped scanning and looked back at his patient.

“Are you in any pain?” he said.

Lucy shook her head. “No, I’m good.”

The Doctor’s concerned expression didn’t waver. “Do you know where you are right now, Ensign?”

Lucy chuckled a little at the question. “Sickbay. Voyager. The Delta Quadrant.”

The Doctor bit his lip for a moment and said, “Do you know why you’re in sickbay, Ensign Kang?”

“Well…” said Lucy, and she glanced around at the others gathered around her bed. The intensity with which the Doctor, Kes and Owen were all looking at her was starting to make her a little bit uncomfortable. The security officers at the door to sickbay were troubling, as well.

She returned her attention to the Doctor. “I mean after what happened on the space station…” she cast a meaningful glance at Owen. It had been an intense ordeal, and Owen, at least, would know a bit about what she’d been through. “It’s hardly a surprise.”

The Doctor nodded. He still looked worried. Lucy wondered why. She was fine, now. She felt fine. Did he know something she didn’t?

The Doctor turned to Owen. “Mr. Vance, I’m sorry, but could you excuse us, please?”

Owen nodded. “Of course, Doctor,” he said. “I’m glad you’re alright,” he told Lucy.

She saw the sincerity in his eyes, and it surprised her. She wondered if she hadn’t been too hard on him before. It was obvious she was attracted to the security officer, so why did she have to make things complicated?

Owen turned and headed towards the doors. Lucy called, “Hey Owen.” He paused and looked back at her. Lucy smiled warmly at him. “Thanks for visiting me,” she said.

Owen’s eyes grew a little wider. He flashed an uncertain smile and nodded, then left the sickbay.

Lucy returned her attention to the Doctor, who was studying her face like a bug under a magnifying glass.

“Ensign, are you aware that your skin pigmentation is changing?” he said.

“Huh?” said Lucy. Her hand rose to her cheek. “You mean I’m blushing?”

The Doctor shook his head. “No, that’s not what I mean.”

Lucy looked from the Doctor to Kes, who was squinting at Lucy’s face now, too. “Your lips are reddening,” she said.

“Really?” said Lucy. Her fingers moved to her lips. “That’s weird…”

Kes stood and crossed the sickbay, apparently looking for something. The Doctor sat down on the stool she’d vacated.

“Ensign Kang, are you aware of any… out of the ordinary sensations? Any pain or discomfort, anywhere in your body?”

Lucy shifted her hips and rolled her shoulders, gauging her senses. “No, Doctor. I told you, I’m fine.”

“You’re not experiencing any nausea? No trembling? No sense of weakness? No fear or anxiety?”

Lucy shook her head. “Not really…”

The Doctor sighed. “Don’t you think that’s odd, considering what you’ve just been through?”

Lucy shrugged. “I mean… I’m alive. That’s what matters, right?”

The Doctor just shook his head. “Do you have any sense of what was done to you on that station?”

Lucy considered. It was certainly not something pleasant to contemplate, but for the Doctor’s sake, she tried.

“Well, at first, I was in a lot of pain, and I was terrified. I thought I was going to die, and what a horrible way it would have been to go.”

Lucy felt an involuntary shudder, but it seemed out of place to her. The recollection didn’t actually bother her all that much.

“Then… all of a sudden, the pain stopped. I was literally being stabbed all over my body and twisted around by all these strong cords, and yet, somehow, it didn’t hurt anymore. Maybe the pod used a numbing agent? And then, suddenly, I wasn’t afraid anymore. I still thought I was dying. I guess maybe I was in shock? Or I’d just accepted it as inevitable? But I wasn’t scared at all, just… inexpressibly sad. I thought I’d never get home again.”

It was hard to convey the experience to the Doctor. It was hard to even remember what it had felt like, to be that sad. She couldn’t really find the feeling inside her anymore.

“Then, the sadness was gone too. That was the weirdest part. Like, I felt all these slimy tubes sticking into my body, and I could feel it under my skin. I could even feel it in my head. Like something out the worst, most disgusting, horrific nightmare. And all I could gin up in reaction was this big sense of, ‘Wow, this should really be bothering me a lot more than it is.’ But I guess I was just exhausted by that point. By the time the pod let me go, I was beyond ready to just pass out.”

Lucy’s attention returned to her current surroundings. The Doctor looked at her with compassionate eyes. Kes stood in front of her bed, clutching a hand mirror against her chest. Her face was ashen, and tears were welling up in her wide eyes. She blinked several times to clear her eyes, and then she stepped forward and handed Lucy the mirror. “Here,” she said. “I thought you’d want to see what we were talking about.” The young Ocampan hardly got the words out before she turned away. She wiped her eyes with her hands as she walked quickly to the Doctor’s office, letting the doors close behind her.

Lucy didn’t know what to make of that reaction. She supposed the story must have been pretty upsetting to hear.

“Are you upset, that that happened to you?” said the Doctor.

She shook her head. “It’s over, now.”

“Are you worried about what the lasting effects might be?”

Lucy shrugged. “A little, maybe.”

“And you aren’t in any pain.”

“I told you, no. Why do you keep asking that?”

The Doctor took a deep breath. “Ensign Kang… Lucy… currently, inside of your body, there are fifteen biosynthetic constructs of alien design, with countless threads branching out through all of your major organs. They’re already fully integrated with your biology. I can’t remove them. And they’re… changing you.”

“Wow, that’s… fascinating!” said Lucy. “Are they primarily organic, or do they incorporate organic tissues in an inorganic framework?”

The Doctor’s eyebrows shot up. “I just told you your body was full of alien implants, Ensign. That isn’t the sort of reaction I was expecting.”

Lucy reflected for a moment. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. You said they’re in every organ… that must include my brain. Do you suppose they’re changing my behavior, too?”

The Doctor nodded. “I think that’s a safe deduction, yes,” he said.

“Then, you must be worried that I could pose a threat to the ship,” she said. She glanced at the security officers by the doors, Crewman Jeffery Thorold and Crewman Megan Steiner. Jeffery was watching her out of the corner of his eye. When he saw her looking at him, his attention returned directly ahead.

“Keep up the good work, Jeff, Megan,” said Lucy. “Sorry I’ve got you stuck on guard duty. I know it can be pretty dull.”

“Ensign, would you please focus?” said the Doctor.

Lucy was surprised at his irritation, though she supposed she shouldn’t have been. She understood the gravity of the situation, even if she was having some trouble feeling it.

“Sorry, Doctor.”

The sickbay doors whisked open, and Captain Janeway strode in. Lucy pushed herself more upright out of a reflexive need to be at attention, and her blanket slipped down to her waist. “Captain!” said Lucy.

Captain Janeway took in her condition with a quick glance, and after a moment’s hesitation, she said, “At ease, Ensign. Glad to see you’re awake.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Lucy.

“Doctor, could I speak to you in your office for a moment?” said Janeway.

“Of course, Captain,” said the Doctor.

Janeway and the Doctor proceeded into his office, and as they were entering, Kes slipped out. She looked at Lucy with sorrowful eyes and quickly looked away. She stood in the middle of sickbay for a moment, apparently unsure what to do with herself.

“It’s ok, Kes,” said Lucy. “I’m fine now.”

“I know, I’m sorry,” she said, and she forced herself to meet Lucy’s eyes. “I’m glad you’re ok.”

Lucy smiled. “Me, too. C’mere.” She held out an arm, and after just a split second of hesitation, Kes approached and let Lucy give her a light hug.

“Thank you for looking out for me,” said Lucy.

“Of course, Lucy.”

Kes stepped back again, looking moderately less miserable. “Is there anything I can get you?” she said.

Lucy thought for a moment and said, “Come to think of it, I’m famished.”

“Oh, of course!” said Kes, and instead of heading towards the sickbay replicator, she headed towards the door. “Neelix has been making a pot of chicken noodle soup for you,” she explained over her shoulder. “I’ll go and tell him you’re up.”

Lucy smiled. Last she’d heard, Kes and Neelix hadn’t even been talking to each other. “Neelix? Are you and he…”

Kes winced and shook her head. “We’re… friends.”

That was a bit of a bummer, but probably for the best. Something about their relationship had always struck Lucy as sort of unhealthy, but they’d loved each other so much. “Well…” she said, but she didn’t know what to say about that, so she just said, “Just remind him to go easy on the Anthraxic citrus peel, ok?”

Kes laughed softly. “I will, don’t worry,” she said, and she passed through the doors.

Crewman Thorold was staring at her from the corner of his eye again. Lucy looked down at herself, and immediately registered something strange. Her blanket had slipped down to her waist when she sat up. She was wearing a simple, sickbay-standard gray tank top, and she was filling out the shirt surprisingly well. Lucy had never been particularly well-endowed.

Well, hello! She thought. How the hell did that happen? She bounced herself up and down a little on her bed, and took stock of the way her body moved differently after this change in her dimensions.

It wasn’t anything too dramatic, but it was definitely enough to catch the eye. She glanced back at Crewman Thorold and saw he was still watching her intently. She raised a knowing eyebrow and smiled in amusement. Jeff went beet-red and tore his gaze away.

The door to the Doctor’s office opened again, and the Doctor and the captain strode back out.

“Doctor, my breasts have gotten bigger,” said Lucy. Only once the words had come out of her mouth did it occur to her how inappropriate they might come across. But that was rather silly, wasn’t it? This was a legitimate medical concern she was voicing.

Her words brought them up short, nonetheless. Captain Janeway got over her brief surprise and looked her over with a neutral expression, then turned to regard the Doctor.

For his part, the Doctor picked up his medical tricorder again and took a fresh scan. “Her condition is progressing,” said the Doctor. “This is one result. Her skin is producing exotic proteins, including a polychromatic blend of pigments, as well as an abnormal degree of collagen. It seems her body mass is being redistributed, as well.

“What do you think the purpose of it is?” said Captain Janeway.

Lucy wondered what they were seeing when they looked at her, and then she remembered the mirror Kes had given her earlier. It was still resting in her lap. She picked it up and looked at her reflection, and for the first time since she’d woken up, she felt genuine shock.

She was beautiful. Her lips were fuller and pinker. Her eyelashes were thicker and longer. Her skin had an even glow, and her complexion was flawless. She could hardly even spot her own pores. Even her hair seemed to have new luster. She hadn’t exactly been taking care of it, the last twenty-four hours. She hadn’t even bothered taking down her ponytail in the sonic shower before the away mission, but now it flowed in silky strands down to her shoulders.

“Maybe it was meant to be an improvement?” said Lucy.

“But at what cost, Ensign?” said Janeway, and her voice had so much gravity that it actually succeeded at bringing Lucy back down to Earth.

She looked at the captain with wide eyes, at a loss. It finally occurred to Lucy that, whatever was happening to her, her life might never be the same again. She felt a swell of uncertainty.

“I don’t know, sir,” she said. “Do you think it’ll be ok for me to go back on duty soon?” She hoped they wouldn’t keep her cooped up in sickbay all day long.

Janeway exchanged troubled looks with the Doctor.

“Not just yet,” said Janeway, “At least, not until we have a handle on these… changes.”

Lucy nodded once. “Of course, sir. I understand.”

The sickbay doors opened again, and Kes walked in with a tray loaded with a steaming bowl of soup, a roll of Neelix’s homemade Cylla-bean bread, and a bowl of sliced Li’inoan peaches. She faltered for a moment when her eyes fell on Lucy. Evidently, her appearance had changed in just the few minutes that Kes had been out of sickbay.

Kes recovered quickly, though. “Doctor, is it ok if Lucy has something to eat?”

The Doctor nodded, and Kes put the tray on a tray table and brought it over to Lucy’s bed.

Lucy smiled at the sight of the food. Her stomach was grumbling angrily. “Thank you, Kes. Tell Neelix I appreciate it.”

Lucy swung her lissom legs off the side of the bed and sat looking down at the meal before her. Then, she picked up her spoon and dug in.

“Be careful, it’s—” Kes said as Lucy brought a spoonful of the steaming soup directly to her lips. “Hot.”

It was very hot. Lucy felt the heat all the way down her throat to her stomach, but it didn’t quite burn, and she wasn’t afraid to take another bite straight away, and another after that.

The Doctor watched Lucy devouring the scalding soup for a moment, then marched up and stuck a holographic finger in her bowl.

“Hey!” Lucy protested.

The Doctor withdrew his finger and said, “This soup is sixty-seven degrees centigrade, Ensign. Doesn’t it burn your mouth?”

Lucy looked up at him innocently and shook her head. He let out a huff of air through his nose and scanned her yet again with his tricorder.

“No inflammation… no tissue damage,” he muttered. “I guess your epithelial cells are getting more resilient, too.”

That reminded Lucy of some other recent tissue damage, and her hand went to the back of her neck, where she remembered one of the tentacles puncturing her skin. The area was perfectly smooth.

Lucy lifted up her shirt and studied her stomach, where she could still clearly remember two other tentacles had stabbed her.

There was no trace of the injury. Just smooth, toned flesh that, yesterday, she would have envied.

“Nice work, Doctor!” said Lucy. She looked up at the Doctor and saw his befuddled reaction. She realized she had just come within a few centimeters of unintentionally flashing the sickbay and lowered her shirt over her stomach again. “Or did the alien implants heal those puncture wounds themselves?”

The Doctor cleared his throat and said, “The wounds were already almost completely healed by the time you returned to the ship.”’

Lucy nodded. “Well, I guess that figures,” she said, and she turned back to her soup.

It was really quite good, Lucy reflected as she scooped another molten spoonful into her mouth.

“Doctor, send me regular updates on Ensign Kang’s condition,” said Captain Janeway as she headed towards the door.

“Understood, sir,” said the Doctor.

“Thorold, Steiner…” the captain addressed the security officers, then she cast a glance at Lucy, still shoveling mouthfuls of scalding-hot soup, and considered. She returned her attention to the security officers. “Keep up the good work,” she said.

“Aye, sir,” they said, and Janeway walked between them, through the doorway into the corridor.

 

“Let’s start with what we know,” said Captain Janeway. She stood at the head of the conference table, the expansive windows behind her providing a dramatic view of space on the starboard side of the ship. A smattering of distant red giants lit up a light-years-wide canyon between the nebular cloud layers of the Nekrid Expanse, making the violet clouds above and below glow a deep fuschia with refracted light.

Janeway rested her weight on her palms, hands pressed flat against the table and spread wide in front of her. Gathered around the table were her senior officers and advisors. Chakotay, Tuvok, B’elanna Torres, Tom Paris, Harry Kim, and Neelix looked up at her with sober expressions that mirrored her own. Looking out on the room from a wall monitor was the Doctor, confined, as ever, to the holo-emitters of sickbay.

They were quiet for a moment, then Chakotay started. “The station hailed us when we first arrived. It didn’t sound hostile, but its comms failed before it could finish one sentence.”

“That was right after it tried to break into our computer, as I recall,” said Tom. “That felt a bit hostile.”

Harry shook his head. “The station was totally alien. For all we know, it was just trying to access our language database.”

“Maybe,” said Tom, “But the boobytrap it sprung on Kang makes me a little less inclined to give it the benefit of the doubt.”

Harry shrugged at this.

“The alien pod’s actions may not have been intentionally hostile, either,” said Tuvok.

Tom’s voice lost all levity when he replied to Tuvok. “You didn’t see it in action,” he said. “The thing’s tentacles came out of nowhere, and it went straight for Kang before anyone could react. Then it just swallowed her, and nothing would make it cough her up again, even as she screamed in terror and agony. Believe me, it was hostile.”

“It did, ultimately, release her,” said Tuvok, indifferent to Tom’s emotional outburst. “It could have easily killed her if its intent were hostile.”

Tom’s jaw worked from side to side as he held Tuvok’s gaze with intense eyes for a long moment. Then, slowly, he nodded in agreement. “It could have, but it didn’t. And that’s what worries me more than anything.”

Tuvok acknowledged his point with a slight nod. “We cannot ignore the potential threat posed by Ensign Kang’s alien implants.”

“Doctor, what’s the latest word on your patient?” said Captain Janeway.

“Would you like the good news or the bad news first, Captain?” said the Doctor from the wall-mounted screen.

“Give me all of the news, Doctor,” said Janeway, “And try to be concise.”

The Doctor rolled his eyes. “Very well,” he said, and then he squared his shoulders and launched into his report. “The changes are still ongoing, but they appear to be decelerating. It’s impossible to determine the full extent of the alterations. However, many of them are cosmetic in nature. The alterations to her skin pigmentation and complexion, together with the redistribution of her body mass, suggest the intent to increase her… appeal.”

The Doctor’s drop in tone at this last pronouncement conveyed his disapproval. “Internally, the alien devices appear to have integrated themselves into all of her bodily functions and completely overhauled her autonomic nervous system. Her endocrine, cardiovascular, and immune systems are operating together with machine-like precision. Her blood pressure is ninety-nine over sixty-nine, her pulse is forty-eight beats a minute, her body temp—”

“We don’t need the specifics, Doctor,” Janeway interrupted, “Just a general overview should suffice.”

The Doctor sighed and resumed, “Suffice it to say, her body is literally in super-human good health. Psychologically… the picture is more complicated.”

Saying this, the Doctor glanced over his shoulder, through his office window, presumably towards Ensign Kang, although she wasn’t visible on the monitor. “The ensign has been a stellar patient. She’s been well-mannered, obedient, and polite, which is more than I can say for most members of the crew.

“She is anxious to receive a clean bill of health and return to duty. I don’t think she grasps the full significance of her situation. I’m not certain she’s psychologically capable of grasping it in her current state. The alien implants appear to have heavily blunted her capacity for fear or sorrow, as well as her sense of pain. I suspect these alterations may have been intended to shield her from the traumatic nature of her transformation, but they have had the result of skewing her ability to predict negative consequences.”

Chakotay’s brow furrowed in thought for a moment before he spoke up. “At first blush, it might seem like a gift, to be free of fear and sadness,” he said. “But those feelings are closely tied to guilt and remorse.”

“So she might be a psychopath, now?” said Harry.

“Ensign, would you kindly leave the task of diagnosing the patient to her doctor?” said the Doctor. “I haven’t seen any sign of antisocial behavior from Ensign Kang. On the contrary, she has displayed a sense of empathy and concern for others that stands in stark contrast to her obliviousness towards her own condition. Frankly, I would need to observe her in a more natural environment to understand her mental condition.”

“Is there anything else in her behavior that gives you cause for concern, Doctor?” said Janeway. “Anything that hints at the possibility that she might present a danger to this ship?”

The Doctor cast his eyes up thoughtfully for a moment and shook his head. “No,” he said. “Other than her emotional impairment and her lack of pain, she has said and done nothing that would give me cause for concern. However, although my database holds the collected works of the Federation’s best and brightest psychiatrists, I was not programmed to act as an Emergency Counseling Hologram. I won’t be able to form any kind of comprehensive diagnosis without observing her behavior outside of sickbay.”

“You can’t seriously be suggesting we let her roam the ship,” said Tom.

“Of course not,” said the Doctor. “The Holodeck would be more than sufficient for my purposes.”

Janeway considered the proposal for a moment, then nodded. “You have my leave to use Holodeck Two however you see fit, Doctor,” she said, “However, she should have two security personnel accompanying her at all times.” She cast a glance at Tuvok, who nodded acknowledgment.

“Thank you, sir,” said the Doctor.

“Now then,” said Janeway, turning back to the rest of her senior staff, “Concerning the space station.”

“Captain, we should return to the station as soon as possible,” said Chakotay.

Captain Janeway’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “Why the rush?”

“You heard the Doctor,” said Chakotay, “Ensign Kang’s condition is still progressing. We don’t have the technology to reverse it, but that station might.”

Janeway glanced at her other officers and saw that most of them shared Chakotay’s concern. For that matter, so did she. However, none of them conveyed the same sense of urgency that Chakotay did. Janeway wondered if he might be taking Ensign Kang’s condition a bit too personally.

“And how would you suggest we proceed, when we return to the station?” said Janeway.

“We have to gain access to the station’s computers,” said Chakotay. “We established contact once, however briefly. I have to believe there’s a way to make contact again.”

“And if we can’t?” said Janeway.

“Then we explore every inch of that space station until we find its main computer or a working access terminal. The last time we were there, most of the doors wouldn’t open for us, and the turbolift would only take us to one destination. This time, we’ll find a way. Even if it takes site-to-site transporters, ropes, and a phaser drill.”

Lieutenant Torres nodded in agreement. “I wouldn’t mind taking a crack at that station myself, sir,” she said.

Janeway glanced at the others at the table and said, “Can anyone think of a reason not to go back?”

At this, Neelix spoke up. “I’m sorry, Captain, but something about this whole situation just doesn’t feel right.”

Captain Janeway turned her attention to the Talaxian, who, until this moment, had seemed content to listen in on the briefing without comment. “In what way, Mr. Neelix?”

Neelix frowned and shook his head. “This space station,” he said, “It bears an uncomfortable resemblance to the Phantom Market.”

The others were quiet for a beat.

“The what?” said Tom.

Neelix seemed genuinely surprised that they weren’t familiar with the concept. “The Bizarre Bazaar?” said Neelix, “The Spectral Arcade?”

The others shook their heads.

“The Phantom Market is a legend throughout the galaxy, like the Great Bird, or the Preservers. I know you have those legends. Surely you must have some version of the Phantom Market?”

Another beat of silence passed as the others exchanged blank expressions.

“Please, enlighten us,” said Chakotay.

Neelix sighed and squared his shoulders. “The Phantom Market is said to appear to travelers who wander the most remote reaches of deep space. It’s supposed to be a great, big ship, or a space station, like this one. It welcomes weary travelers on board to shop its strange and fantastic wares. The shopkeepers are all ghosts and automatons. Their goods and services are all utterly unique in the galaxy, and their value is beyond measure. But the prices are similarly steep. They aren’t happy with gold or jewels, dilithium or latinum.

“Every story about the Phantom Market different. According to one story, the Market only accepts payment in the form of memories. By another accounting, the Market demands blood sacrifices. But what they all have in common is that, in the end, the Phantom Market vanishes without a trace, and the people who encounter it seldom come away better off for the deals that they have made… if they come away at all.”

Janeway nodded thoughtfully. She didn’t put much stock in ghost stories, but it was possible that local legends about a mysterious station in deep space may have had some basis in reality. She tried not to dismiss Neelix’s misgivings out of hand.

“We’ll be careful of any deals we’re offered while we’re over there,” said Captain Janeway.

Chakotay raised a knowing eyebrow. “‘We,’ Captain?”

Janeway smirked in response. “I can’t let you have all the fun, Commander. I’ll be leading the away mission. B’elanna, Tuvok, Tom, and Harry will accompany. You’ll have the bridge, Commander. Doctor, keep me informed on your progress with Ensign Kang. We’ll convene in the main shuttle bay at oh eight hundred. Dismissed.”

The others rose from their seats and began filing out of the briefing room. The Doctor turned off his screen. Only Chakotay remained seated at the conference table.

Janeway waited as the others filed out of the room, then took a seat opposite her first officer.

“What is it, Chakotay?” she asked, knowing by the look on his face that something was bothering him.

“Captain, you shouldn’t be leading this away mission.”

“I understand your concern, Commander, but I know what I’m doing,” said Janeway.

“All respect, sir, but none of us truly know what we’re doing when it comes to that station. We still don’t have any real clue what its purpose is, or what it’s capable of. We may have only scratched the surface of the dangers in that station. It’s too great a risk.”

Kathryn gave Chakotay a searching look, and she thought she spotted an undercurrent in his concerned manner. “This isn’t just about my safety, is it, Chakotay?”

Chakotay looked confused. “I’m sorry?”

“You and I both understand the level of risks involved in this mission. If your only concern was my safety, you would have made it known to me, but then you would have accepted my judgment. No, this is something personal to you, Chakotay.”

Chakotay’s eyes widened at the accusation, but then he looked away, perhaps realizing that she was right. “What happened to Ensign Kang was my fault,” he said.

“No, it wasn’t, Commander. She was a—is a Starfleet officer. She knew the risks when she signed up. And I’ve read the reports of everyone on that away team. There was no way to predict what would happen, and there was no way you could have reacted in time. Don’t fall into that trap, Chakotay. You know better.”

Chakotay was shaking his head. “You weren’t there, Kathryn. I should have been keeping an eye—”

Janeway scoffed. “She’s a trained officer, Chakotay, not a child!”

Chakotay sucked air in through his nose and switched his argument. “It was fast, but there was a moment when I could have….”

Janeway was shaking her head sadly. “It may seem like it now, but you and I both know better than that. If there had been time to react, you would have.”

Chakotay sighed and turned his gaze to the window, out to the stars. “Whether or not I could have prevented it, I’m still responsible, captain. I need to make it right.”

Kathryn crossed her arms over her chest and considered her first officer for a moment, and then she nodded. “Alright, Commander. I trust you well enough to know you won’t let your personal feelings interfere with your judgment.”

Chakotay nodded. “Understood, sir. And, thank you, Kathryn.”

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