A Fire of Devotion Part 2 of 4: Louder Than Bells: Chapter Six

Chapter Six

“Computer, freeze program,” Tom Paris said. The villainous Doctor Chaotica and his minion Lanzak froze in place.

“Oh what the hell, Tom?” Samantha Wildman said, wearing a low cut white dress while being tied to a chair.
“What is the reason for this interruption?” Seven of Nine, wearing the uniform of Captain Proton, Defender of the Earth, said.
“Imagine my shock,” Tom Paris said, “when I come down here hoping to spend a little time in this program, that I created by the way, only to find that it is already running.”
“You know, Tom,” Samantha said, “if you wanted the program to be your use only you could’ve enabled the privacy settings.”
“You have invited me to this program on several occasions,” Seven said, holstering her laser gun. “I was under the impression that I was free to use it.”
“Well, yeah,” Tom said, “but as my trusty sidekick Buster Kincaid, or maybe my secretary Constance Goodheart. Side note, her dress looks good on you Sam, if you don’t mind my saying.”
Samantha rolled her eyes and shifted in the chair.
“Look, I’m not mad,” Tom said, “I just wish you’d asked first is all. Besides, I have to pull a double shift tomorrow to cover for Ensign Brooks for her birthday.”
Seven began untying Samantha.
“We can leave if you’d like,” she said.
Tom sighed. “No, no, that’s fine. Though I do have to ask,” Tom turned his head to look directly at Samantha. “Why the damsel in distress role and not the sidekick?”
“Um, well,” Samantha started to say, looking at Seven of Nine who merely shrugged as if to say ‘You’re on your own for this one.’
“It’s okay, I don’t judge,” Tom said, smirking. “Though I am curious what a Borg safeword would be.”

“That’s not funny, Tom,” Sam said.
“What’s a safeword?” Seven asked.

“Mine’s ‘teacup’,” Tom said.

“I cannot begin to explain just how much I did not need to know that, Mister Paris,” Sam said, groaning.

There was suddenly a shudder.
“I thought the program was frozen,” Sam said.
“It is,” Tom said. “I think that was the ship.”
“Sam, Ensign Paris,” Seven said. Tom saw that she was looking out one of the windows in Chaotica’s Fortress of Doom. “We should contact the bridge immediately.”
“What is it? Sam said, moving up to stand next to Seven. “Oh,” she added.
“There appears to be an anomaly inside the holodeck,” Seven said.
“How do you know it’s not part of the program?” Tom said, moving up to the window to look himself. In the sky, hovering above the black and white landscape, was a purple, swirling circular mass. “Okay, definitely not part of the program.”

“Computer, end program,” Seven of Nine said.
“Unable to comply,” the computer said. “Holodeck controls are off-line.”
“Because of course they are,” Sam said. Seven nodded. Statistically speaking, holodeck accidents were rare, but Voyager did seem to suffer from a disproportionately large number of them. Only the Enterprise-D, as far as her research had shown, had more than Voyager.
“Paris to bridge,” Tom said. The noise that normally accompanied a communications channel opening did not follow, nor did anyone from the bridge respond. “Bridge, respond.”
“We will need to find the manual overrides,” Seven said.
“There’s an access port on the rocket ship,” Tom said.
“How did you get over there?” a voice behind the three of them yelled. They all turned around, and Seven saw that Chaotica was moving again, as were his minions. “How did you get loose? And who are you?” Chaotica was pointing at Tom.
“It would appear the program has unfrozen itself,” Seven said.
“Nah, really?” Tom said.
“Your sarcasm is uncalled for, Mister Paris,” Seven said. She quickly unholstered her laser gun and fired.
“We are leaving,” she said to Chaotica. “It would be unwise to pursue us.”
Chaotica looked around, looked at the chair he’d been looking at when Tom had frozen the program, the one Samantha had been tied to.
“Fine,” he said. “For now. I will learn how you were able to escape my trap without me seeing, and we will meet again Captain Proton. And when we do it’ll be your doom!”
Seven raised an eyebrow.
“Doubtful,” she said. The three Voyager crewmembers left the Fortress of Doom, Seven watching their backs and grabbing a laser off of a fallen minion to hand to Tom Paris.

The holodeck began shuddering again. It took Seven a moment to realize that it was not the holodeck that was shaking, but Voyager itself.
“I believe that Voyager is attempting to move but is unable to do so,” she said.
“Sounds about right,” Tom said. “it could be the program I suppose but it sounds more to me like the impulse engines are being strained. Whoever’s in my chair right now better ease up or the reactors are gonna burn out.”
The shuddering got more violent.
“It would appear your advice has been ignored,” Seven said.
“Once again the Borg gift for stating the obvious-”
“Tom, let’s worry about my girlfriend’s verbal tics later,” Sam said, “and focus on getting out of here.”

Finally, the shaking stopped.
“Did the impulse engines burn out?” Sam asked.
“Nah,” Tom said. “If they had the shaking wouldn’t have just petered out like that.”
“Agreed,” Seven said. “far more likely is the order was given to power down. Whatever happened to the holodeck that makes us unable to turn it off is likely also holding Voyager in place.”
“All the more reason for us to find the door and get the hell out of here,” Tom said.
Finally the three made it to Captain Proton’s rocket ship, both Seven and Paris reaching for the access panel.
“I’ll try to shut down the program,” Tom said. “Get to the periscope and see if Chaotica’s sent his army after us. I don’t know if the safeties are off-line too, but let’s face it they probably are.”
“I’m already on it,” Sam said. “I can’t see the Fortress yet, but another one of those purple distortions just appeared, and both of them are growing.”
“I believe for now we should prioritize exiting the holodeck over deactivating the program,” Seven said. She looked at Tom, who ignored her.
“Mister Paris?” she said, trying to get his attention. Tom sighed.
“Yeah, you’re right,” he said. “It’ll be easier to cut power from the outside anyway.”

Tom continued working on the panel.
“A third one,” Sam said. “That can’t be good.”
“Damn,” Tom said, “I can’t bring up the arch.”
Seven knelt down next to Tom and began pushing buttons on the panel.
“I already tried that,” Tom said.
“I am not attempting to open the door, Mister Paris,” Seven said. “Your initial assessment was correct. I am instead attempting to access transporter control.”
“A site-to-site,” Tom said. “Good thinking.”
Within seconds, Seven was able to access the programs she needed, and seconds after that, she, Sam, and Tom were all in the corridor just outside the holodeck.
“Let’s get to the bridge,” Tom said.
“I’ll join you later,” Sam said. “I need to change first.”

-o-

Captain Janeway filled Tom Paris and Seven of Nine in on the situation when the two got to the bridge, deciding not to comment on the latter’s outfit as she asked them to accompany her to astrometrics.
“A layer of subspace?” Tom said. “That’s why we can’t move and why the holodeck isn’t working?”
“Among other things,” Janeway said. “We nearly burned out the impulse reactors trying to get free of it. The warp drive is a giant paperweight at this point, and we’re experiencing minor power failures all over the ship.”

“Once we get to the lab I should be able to find out more about our predicament,” Seven said. Janeway nodded.
“That’s the plan,” Janeway said. Tom then proceeded to fill her in on what had happened on the holodeck.
“Any idea what the distortions are? she asked.
“No clue,” Tom said.

“I also lack an explanation,” Seven said.
The three quickly arrived at astrometrics, and stepped inside. Seven immediately went to the main console.
“I am running a transpectral analysis,” she said. The large viewscreen began showing results almost immediately, and not for the first time Janeway was glad she let Chakotay and Harry talk her into upgrading this lab.
“It looks like the barrier between normal space and subspace is unstable here,” Janeway said.
“Here, and throughout this entire region,” Seven said. “I believe an appropriate metaphor for the situation would be to compare the subspace layer to a sandbar.”
“Ha, so you were paying attention to all my nautical talk,” Tom said.
“Considering how that mission ended up for you, Ensign,” Seven said “your attitude about it could be considered to be in poor taste.”

“Children, play nice,” Janeway said. “Could we try realigning our warp field? That could help us escape this sandbar.”
“Doubtful,” Seven said, “but not impossible.”
“Any other ideas?” Tom said.
“I must admit, I have none at this time,” Seven said. She began tapping more buttons on her console. “Gravimetric forces are disrupting our controls. As long as we’re trapped here we won’t have access to the computer core, tactical, the holodecks, all but six replicators.”
“Those distortions in the holodeck,” Tom said. “any idea what connection they may have to this?”
“They appear to be random energy fluctuations,” Seven said. “I do not believe they pose a threat, though Sam did say they were growing. We should prepare for the possibility that my initial assessment of the distortions is incorrect.”

Janeway nodded. She thought about it for a moment, then made a call that she hoped would turn out to be overly cautious in hindsight.
“Evacuate that deck, just to be safe,” she said. “And keep an eye on the distortions as well.”
“Understood, Captain,” Seven said.
Janeway looked back at the screen, showing a depiction of Voyager stuck up against the subspace sandbar, and it reminded her of something.
“A few years back,” she said, “when I served on the Al-Batani with Tom’s father, we tried to navigate through a dense proto-nebula that stopped us dead in our tracks. For three days straight we attempted to force our way out. That was until we realized that we were trying too hard.

“Every time we engaged the engines we were increasing the resistance of the nebula’s particle field. We may be facing a similar situation here.”
“That makes sense,” Seven said. “Our own warp field may be increasing the gravimetric forces. If we power down the core and use minimal thrusters we might be able to break free.”
“‘Might’ being the key word,” Tom said. “but I can’t think of a reason why we can’t try.”
“Neither can I,” Janeway said. “Let’s do this. I’ll see you both on the bridge. Seven, go ahead and change into your uniform.”
Seven looked down, seeming to have forgotten that she was still dressed as Captain Proton.
“I will do so immediately,” she said.
Janeway chuckled, and patted Seven on the shoulder as she walked past her.
“For what it’s worth, I think it looks good on you,” she said.

-o-

“Three days of this shit,” Tom said from the navigator’s chair. “and nothing to show for it. We’re just spinning our wheels!”

“Language, Tom,” Captain Janeway said.
“Isn’t that supposed to be Seven’s line?” Harry said.

“If Seven were here,” Samantha said from her station, “she’d smack you for that.” She said without malice though. While the vocabulary of the bridge crew had become less formal over the course of the past three days stuck in the subspace sandbar, it had had the effect of keeping moral from dipping too low. Frustration was growing among the crew, Sam could see that easily enough, but she also knew it could be much worse. If some mild teasing among the senior staff could keep the tension levels low, it was worth it, professionalism be damned.

“Wait, wait,” Tom said, starting to sound excited. “Ha! Finally, we’re moving! Two meters per second but we’re moving.”
Everyone on the bridge except Tuvok let out loud sighs of relief.
“About damn time,” Chakotay said.

“We’re up to three meters,” Tom said.
“Keep it steady Tom,” Janeway said. Sam refused to let herself become optimistic about this and decided to wait until they could go to warp again before allowing any feeling of happiness to overtake her. She couldn’t help but think how brutal the past several months had been, on Voyager in general, but on her and Seven of Nine in particular. Hardly more than a fortnight could go by it seemed without one of them being in grave danger and the other barely holding themselves together emotionally during the process.
“Nine meters,” Tom said. “Ten. We’re getting a little bit of strain, should we hold it there Captain?”

“No. We need to get out of here as soon as possible. More than half of our lavatories went down this morning,” Janeway said.
Eww, Sam thought, worried about the kind of disasters that could lead to.

“Increasing power to thrusters,” Tom said.
“We’re approaching the subspace boundary,” Harry said.
“I’ve got us up to twenty-five meters per second,” Tom said. Despite the strain that Tom had warned about, the ship still seemed to be moving along smoothly, no shuddering or violent shaking.

As soon as Sam thought about that, however, the ship did shake somewhat.
Great, I jinxed us, she thought.
“Wait a minute,” Tom said. “We’re slowing down.”
“What?” Janeway said, sounding as mad as Sam felt.
“Captain, I’m reading power surges,” Harry said.
“Source?” Janeway asked.

“I’m not sure,” Harry said. “but they look like weapons signatures.”
“No other ships are detected in this area,” Tuvok said.

The ship shuddered slightly once more, and Tom began cursing again.
“I take it we’ve stopped,” Chakotay said, his head in his hands.
“Afraid so, sir,” Tom said after his string of profanities subsided.

“I have isolated the location of the weapon’s fire,” Tuvok said. “Deck six, holodeck two.”
Sam looked at Tom.
“Isn’t that the-”
“The one you, Seven and I had to escape from,” Tom said. “We were never able to get the program turned off.”
“I thought we had that deck evacuated because of the distortions. Who’s still down there?” Janeway said.
“No one,” Tuvok said. “I am picking up no lifesigns.”

“Can we shut it down from up here?” Chakotay said.
“Negative,” Harry said. “I’m trying but the control system is still malfunctioning.”

“Tuvok, get down there and find out what’s happening,” Janeway said. “Tom, join him. You’re familiar with the program, you can guide him through it.”
“Yes ma’am,” Tom said.

-o-

Tom and Tuvok made it to the end of the path in the canyon. Tom looked off into the distance, to see smoke coming out of one of what had been one of the many towers of Chaotica’s Fortress of Doom.
This doesn’t bode well, Tom thought. He looked down at the next path, the one to the Fortress itself, and saw it littered with the bodies of Chaotica’s soldiers.
“It would appear a battle took place,” Tuvok said.
“It didn’t look like this when we left,” he said. “Must’ve missed a few chapters.”

“Holodeck programs don’t normally run by themselves,” Tuvok said.
“Has anything about these past few days been normal?” Tom said. Tuvok appeared to be ready to respond when a noise grabbed both of their attention.
“Invaders from the fifth dimension,” the robotic voice said.
“Satan’s Robot,” Tom said. “one of the Doctor Chaotica’s creations.” Tom went over to where the robot he normally fought in this program was lying down, badly damaged and unable to walk upright anymore.

“Queen Arachnia is on her way,” the robot said. “Invaders from the fifth dimension. Queen Arachnia is on her way. Invaders-”
“He’s stuck in a feedback loop,” Tom said. “Give me a hand Tuvok, if we can repair his vocalizer maybe he can tell us what’s been going on.” He opened a panel on the front of the robot. “Looks like he burned out a resistor.”

“I am unfamiliar with that piece of technology,” Tuvok said.
“It’s from a few centuries before duotronic circuitry,” Tom said.
“I see. How do you propose we repair him?”
“First of all,” Tom said, not taking his eyes off his work, “we’ve gotta remove this damaged tube. Let’s see here, just a few crossed wires, and I think maybe we can-”
The robot began moving.
“Your knowledge of this technology is most impressive,” Tuvok said.
“Thanks,” Tom said, smiling. It wasn’t often one got a compliment from the Vulcan, so he wasn’t going to cheapen the moment by responding with sarcasm.
“Intruders,” the robot said, it’s voice still crackling. “Intruders. Intruders.”

Tom slapped the open panel on the robot closed.
“Intruder alert!” the robot said, clearer now.

“Tell us what happened,” Tom commanded.
“Invaders from the fifth dimension!”
“Whoa, calm down,” Tom said as the robot began to spin in place, it’s metallic voice tinged with a hint of panic.

“How did these invaders get here?” Tuvok said.
“Through a portal,” the robot said.

“That’s not right,” Tom said. “There’s not supposed to be an alien invasion in this story. That’s, that’s…” Tom trailed off as a realization hit him.
“Ensign?” Tuvok said.
“The distortions,” Tom said. “Robot? Take us to this portal.”
As soon as the robot began walking in the direction of where it claimed the invaders from the fifth dimension had entered the holodeck program, both Tom and Tuvok took out their tricorders and began scanning.

“There,” the robot said. Tom and Tuvok looked in the direction it pointed, seeing three large distortions hanging in the sky higher up than when Samantha had last seen them before they left the holodeck days before. Bolts the same color as the distortions flew out at high speed, and Tom noticed they were coming right at them just in time to pull Tuvok behind a rock pillar.
The bolts exploded on impact with the rock. Once the smoke from the volley cleared, Tuvok scanned the impact points.
“Photonic charges,” he said. “The same signature as the weapons fire we detected. We must report this to the captain.”
“Wait,” Tom said. “I need to check my rocket ship first.”
“Explain,” Tuvok said.
“It’s got sensors. Sort of. Maybe it can tell us something Voyager’s sensors can’t.”
“I do not see how,” Tuvok said. “but I will go along for the time being.”

-o-

In the astrometrics lab, Seven of Nine was working on establishing a visual link with the holodeck so they could see what was going on on the lab’s screen. Harry Kim stood next to her.
“I think I have it,” Seven said.
“Looks good,” Harry said. “Putting on the screen, and, oh dear.”
The screen showed more of the distortions that she and Samantha had seen on the holodeck, spread all over the area, all of them sending out bursts of energy.

“The attack appears to originating from subspace,” Seven said.
“Can you tell where it’s coming from?” Harry said. “I mean from inside subspace, I-”
“I can tell from context what you meant, Lieutenant,” Seven said. “To answer your question, no I cannot.”
The sound of electricity loudly buzzing grabbed Seven’s attention away from her console. She looked up in time to see what looked like sustained bolts of lightning going into the distortions.

“Chaotica’s death ray,” she said.
“That’s what it looks like,” Harry said. He began pressing buttons on another console. “Let’s see if we can a look inside his fortress, find out what he’s up to.”

The visuals on the screen shifted to the interior of Chaotica’s lab, several minions running about, and period appropriate music playing.
“Full power to the death ray!” Chaotica’s voice yelled out, and the screen shifted to focus on him. Chaotica held a large device in his hand, a microphone Sam had called it when they were doing the Captain Proton adventures together. “Arachnia, Queen of the Spider People, you have not responded to my summons. Why-”
Seven muted the sound.
“I don’t get it,” Harry said. “Chaotica was supposed to be fighting Earth in this chapter.”
“It would appear he has found a new enemy,” Seven said. She sighed and shook her head. “Were I prone to superstition I would believe I was cursed.”
“Why would you say that?”
“Need I remind you, Lieutenant Kim that this simple entertainment program did not become a threat to the ship’s security until after I began participating in it?”
“You can’t blame yourself for this,” Harry said.
“I don’t. I am merely pointing out that if I were to do so, it would not be a wholly baseless assumption. I think Samantha said it best recently. ‘2375 has not been a red letter year,’”
Harry opened his mouth, but then closed it, instead merely shrugging.
“Can’t really argue with that,” he said instead of whatever he’d initially planned on saying.

-o-

“These are your sensor readings?” Tuvok asked, as Tom Paris removed a string of paper from the old fashioned telegram device on his rocket ship.
“It’s a telegram,” Tom said. “It’s a message to Captain Proton from the President of Earth. It says, ‘Intercepted Communications Between Dr. Chaotica and Arachnia. Stop. Chaotica At War With Aliens From Fifth Dimension. Stop. Must Strike Now To Disable Death Ray.”
“Stop,” Tuvok said. Tom looked at him, and at Satan’s Robot, who had followed them all the way to ship and was pathetically trying to shove Tuvok out of the way to look at the telegram machine. “Please, summarize the message.”
“Well, it looks like Chaotica has captured a couple of these Fifth Dimension aliens.”
“An alternate universe,” Tuvok said.
“Makes sense. Well, by our standards anyway. These aliens could’ve wandered onto the holodeck through one of those distortions and mistook this simulation for reality.”
A metallic clang interrupted the conversation.
“Intruder!” the robot yelled
Yeah, no shit Sherlock, Tom thought as both he and Tuvok pulled out their phasers.

“I assume there is no locking mechanism on the hatch,” Tuvok said.

“It was a simpler time,” Tom said, as a human looking man in a suit stepped around the hatch and entered the rocket ship, holding a device that Tom didn’t recognize, but the way the man held it, it was safe to assume it was a weapon.
“Is he a part of the simulation?” Tuvok said.
“Not that I recognize,” Tom said.
“Invaders! In-”
“Quiet,” Tom said, smacking the robot in the face with the handle of his phaser. “Look,” he said to the man in the suit. “There’s been a misunderstanding. I’m Ensign Paris from the starship Voyager.” Tom put his phaser down on a nearby shelf. “This is Lieutenant Commander Tuvok.”

“You have killed fifty-three of my people,” the man said.
“We haven’t killed anyone,” Tom said, keeping his hands up where the intruder could see them.
“Everything you see here,” Tuvok said, stepping forward to stand next to Tom, his own phaser holstered. “is a simulation. None of it’s real.”
“Simulation?” the man said.
“A photonically-based projection,” Tuvok said.
“All life is photonic.”

“We are not,” Tuvok said. “We are bio-chemical lifeforms.”

Why do I have the feeling this is not gonna end well? Tom thought.

“I’m not familiar with bio-chemical,” the photonic alien, as Tom now thought of him, said.
“We are carbon-based,” Tuvok continued, trying to reason with the alien. Tom hoped it would work. “We live aboard a starship. I believe we have become trapped in a region of space that intersects your own.”

“We have detected no starship. Only this planet.” The alien was sounding angry now.
“This planet isn’t real,” Tuvok said, spreading his arms out in a non-threatening gesture, but Tom’s instinct was telling him this wasn’t working. “As I told you, it’s part of a simulation.”
The alien began moving his device up and down. Tom amended his earlier belief that it was a weapon.
He’s scanning us, he thought. Maybe now he’ll see that Tuvok is telling the truth.

“You don’t register as a life-form,” the alien said, now stepping closer. “you are the illusion.”
Oh crap, Tom thought. Suddenly, the robot pushed his way between Tom and Tuvok.
“Citizen of the Fifth Dimension, you will be destroyed,” it said. The photonic alien pointed the device at it, and a burst of energy came out, meaning that it was actually both a weapon and a scanner. It hit the robot in the face, causing it topple backwards, but not before it swung one of its arms, knocking the device out of the alien’s hand. The alien ran towards the hatch exiting the ship.

“I believe it is time for us to report to the captain,” Tuvok said.
“Yeah,” Tom said.
“Damage. Damage. Maintenance required,” the robot said.
“Oh, shut up,” Tom said.

-o-
Seven of Nine had seen enough oddities in her life, both as a drone and as an individual, that Tom Paris and Tuvok’s report of what they discovered on the holodeck didn’t faze her at all. Commander Chakotay seemed to take it in stride as well. The Captain, on the other hand, bore the facial expressions of someone nursing a particularly painful headache.
“Let me get this straight,” Janeway said. “Transdimensional aliens have mistaken your Captain Proton simulation for reality.”
“Yes ma’am,” Tom said.
“And now an armed conflict has broken out between these aliens and Chaotica’s holographic army.”
“Yes ma’am,” Tom said. “His Army of Evil.”
Janeway started wringing her hands.
“Will someone please explain to me why we just haven’t shut down the holodeck?” she said.
“We’ve tried, the controls are still off-line,” Seven said.
“Well, somebody is going to have to get through to these aliens,” Janeway said. “Convince them they’re just fighting shadows. Hopefully before they break my ship.”
“We’ve tried, but they don’t believe us,” Tom said. “They think that we’re not real. They can’t detect Voyager, so every time they scan us we seem as artificial to them as holographic characters do to us.”
“That explains why they haven’t answered our hails,” Chakotay said.
“The Doctor is photonic,” Seven said. “He may be able to persuade them.”
“It’s worth a try,” Janeway said. “Tuvok, brief the Doctor on the situation.”
“In the meantime Captain,” Tom said, “I think we should let the program play out.”
Janeway scoffed at that.
“Are you seriously suggesting we wait until this Chaotica defeats the aliens?”
“No, I’m actually suggesting we help the aliens to defeat Chaotica,” Tom said. “They think he’s leading some kind of hostile invasion force. Once that threat is gone, it’s a good bet they’ll leave and close up their portals.”

“How do you suggest we defeat Chaotica?” Tuvok said.
“Well,” Tom said., “he’s been attacking the aliens with his death ray. In the world of Captain Proton it’s the most powerful weapon there is.”
“It’s lethal to the aliens because it’s photonic,” Chakotay said.
“Exactly,” Tom said. “Now, in Chapter Eighteen, Captain Proton disables the death ray just before Chaotica can use it to destroy Earth.”

Janeway leaned on the briefing room table.
“And you think that Captain Proton, being you, of course, could still do that?” she said, sounding less than convinced.
“Well, we’d have to knock out the lightning shield first,” Tom said.
“Of course,” Janeway said.

“The destructo beam on my rocket ship can disable the death ray but only if someone can get inside the Fortress of Doom and can shut down the lightning shield.”
Janeway blinked twice.
“You do realize how incredibly silly what you just said would sound out of context, right?” she said.

“Who’s supposed to shut down the lightning shield?” Chakotay said before Tom could respond.
“Arachnia, Queen of the Spider People,” Tom said.
“Charming,” Janeway said, openly laughing now.
“Well Chaotica thinks so,” Tom said. “He’s in love with her. He’s been trying to form an alliance since Chapter Three.”
“She is the only one he would trust enough to allow her to get close enough to disable the shield,” Seven said.
“Which means that somebody is going to have to take on her character,” Tom said. “Seven, you up for it?”
“Wait,” Janeway said. “Slight problem with that Tom, did you forget that when this current session of Captain Proton started that you weren’t in the title role?”
“It’s my program Captain,” Tom said.
“That is correct Ensign Paris,” Seven said. “However, as the Captain correctly pointed out, it was not one of your sessions that was running when we hit the subspace sandbar.”
Tom took in a sharp breath. ”Right. You and Sam were running it, and I interrupted you.”
“As such, Chaotica would recognize me as Captain Proton,” Seven said.
“So who’s going to play Arachnia then? Janeway said. After a few seconds of silence, Janeway spoke again. “Why is everyone looking at me like that?”
“It’s the role of a lifetime captain,” Tom said.
“Oh, no, no, no. Hell no,” Janeway said.

-o-

“So all I have to do,” Janeway said Tom as the two walked down the corridor towards holodeck two, “is find the controls of this death ray and deactivate it.”
Tom smiled. He would later admit to himself that perhaps he enjoyed this all a bit too much, but for now, his focus was on helping the captain get into character.
“Well, it’s not as simple as it sounds. Chaotica may be a 1930s villain but he’s very clever. It would help if you knew some of the rules.”
“Shoot,” Janeway said.
“First of all, he’s a megalomaniac, so try appealing to his ego,” Tom said.
“I’ve had to do that before,” Janeway said.
“Use grandiose language. He likes to be called ‘sire,’ and it helps to say things like ‘the clever fiendishness of your evil plan is brilliant.’”
Janeway frowned.
“If my ship wasn’t at stake this is the part where I’d be telling you I’m out,” she said.
“Look at this way Captain,” Tom said, hoping to encourage her. “How many Starfleet captains can say they’ve saved their vessel by acting?”

“I’m pretty sure James T. Kirk did that once,” Janeway said.

“Fair point,” Tom said. “Anyway, try to remember when you’re in there; it’s ray gun, not phaser. Imagizer, not viewscreen. Earthlings, not Terrans-”
“When have I ever referred to our species as Terrans?” Janeway said.

“Right. Anyway, one other thing; these villains always have a trick up their sleeve. Trap doors, secret weapons…”
“We checked, the safeties are on, I can’t be hurt by holographic weapons.”
“That doesn’t mean you can’t be restrained,” Tom said.

Janeway sighed.
“Noted,” she said. Tom was disappointed that she wasn’t as into this as he’d hoped, but he kept going anyway. The mission was still important after all, he couldn’t afford to forget that.
“Now,” he said, “as soon as you get the death ray shut down, call me in my rocket ship and give me the signal to fire.”
“You mean call Seven in your rocket ship,” Janeway said.
“No, I’ll be flying it. Chaotica won’t see me since I won’t have the imagizer up, and I know this program better than she does. I’m pretty sure she and Sam only use it for-”
“I order you to not finish that sentence.”
“Okay, sorry. Anyway,” he handed Janeway his PADD. “here are the specifications for Arachnia’s costume.”
Janeway took the PADD, looked at it and stopped walking.
“Finally,” Tom said, “there are the pheromones you can uncork if you run into any unexpected trouble. It’s from Chapter Sixteen. Chaotica gets a whiff of it, he’ll be under your spell.”
“So, why don’t I just start with the pheromones and save myself a load of trouble?”
“Because you won’t actually have it on you, it’ll be sitting on a small pedestal next to Chaotica’s throne. Try to get your hands on it as soon as possible.”
“Right,” Janeway said. “I suppose I better get fitted for my costume.”
“Excellent. You can do this Captain,” Tom said. As Janeway walked away he grinned and shouted after her, “And remember, you’re the queen!”
“Don’t make me demote you again Tom,” she shouted back.

-o-

Seven of Nine stood behind Commander Chakotay on the bridge as they and everyone else on the bridge including Sam watched the viewscreen, which was showing what was going on on the holodeck.
“I feel like I should’ve made popcorn,” Sam said.
Seven shook her head.
“Best that you didn’t,” she said. “It gets caught in my teeth far too easily for my liking.”
“Nobody else is saying it so I will,” Neelix, who was sitting to Chakotay’s left said, “should we even be watching this at all? Isn’t this like an invasion of privacy?”
“We are monitoring the Captain and Ensign Paris’ progress,” Tuvok said. “This way, we can beam them out should it become necessary. Doctor Chaotica’s weapons cannot harm them due to the safeties working, but the alien’s weapons are under no such restrictions.”
“Fair enough,” Harry said. “Also it’s kind of nice that for once the safeties weren’t the first thing to go off-line, like usually happens when we have holodeck trouble.”
The viewscreen showed the Captain, now in full Queen Arachnia garb, at the drawbridge to the Fortress of Doom.
“Sound,” Chakotay said.
The crew seems to be enjoying this, Seven thought. I suppose the fact that the captain isn’t in any serious danger is part of that, but this does feel uncomfortably voyeuristic.

“I present,” the character of Lonzak said, “her royal highness, Arachnia.”
Janeway stepped into view, her mannerisms and walk exactly as Tom Paris had specified.
“Ahh,” Chaotica said. “At last. At last. My queen.”
Janeway allowed Chaotica to take her hand, who knelt before her and kissed it as the music swelled.
“Can we lose the background music?” Chakotay said.
“It’s part of the program,” Harry said.
“This is an historic occasion,” Chaotica said, still kneeling. “Kindred souls meet a last.”
“It’s an honor to be in your presence, majesty.” Janeway said as Chaotica stood up again. Sam snickered.
“Please don’t laugh Samantha,” Seven said.
“Why not?”
“Because I cannot guarantee that I will not start laughing as well.”

“…always admired your, clever fiendishness,” Janeway said, finishing a sentence that Seven had missed the first part of.

“Ah, your taste is only exceeded by your beauty,” Chaotica said.
As Janeway gracefully moved about Chaotica’s lab, allowing him to regale her with prideful boasts about what each and every single machine could do, the bridge grew increasingly quiet.
“It’s good you have the lightning shield to protect your equipment,” Janeway said.
“Yes,” Chaotica said. “As long as it’s electrified I am invincible! But my greatest achievement is there.” He pointed somewhere off screen.
“What are they looking at?” Harry said.
“Shh!” Samantha admonished him.
“Behold; the death ray,” Chaotica said.
That answers that question, Seven thought.

“Oh,” Janeway said. “it looks like a formidable weapon.” She went up to the device and touched it, the viewscreen shifting, allowing the bridge crew to see it.
“It looks like an oversized marital aid,” B’Elanna said.
“Why’d you have to put that image in my head, Lieutenant?” Chakotay said.
“There is so much more I want to show you,” Chaotica said, offering Janeway his arm. “My throne for example,“ he continued. “The seat of my empire.”
“Ah,” Janeway said, moving towards something. “I see you’ve kept my pheromones. I didn’t realize you were the scent-imental type.”
“Oh, boo!” Sam said.
Up until that moment, for the year and a half she’d been on board, only Sam, Naomi, Captain Janeway, and the Doctor had ever heard Seven of Nine laugh, and in the case of the latter two it wasn’t really her per se but rather one of the personalities brought forth by a Borg vinculum. She tried to cover her mouth, but a loud laugh escaped, and everyone on the bridge except Tuvok was now looking directly at her.
“I’m sorry,” she said through her fingers.
“The Captain has palmed the pheromone bottle,” Tuvok said.
“Good,” Chakotay said. “she’ll probably have to use it.”

Janeway sat in Chaotica’s throne, the look on his face suggesting he was more than pleased to see her there.
“Somehow I feel comfortable here,” she said.
“Is that Arachnia talking or the Captain?” B’Elanna said.
“Join me,” Chaotica said, now kneeling next to his own throne and taking the Captain’s hand once again. “and you will have your own chair. One adorned with the most precious jewels and the finest silk.”
“Your majesty seems overly concerned with romantic matters,” Janeway said. “when there’s a battle to be won.” She stood up with a look of determination on her face. “That is why you asked me here, is it not?”
“Of course my dear,” Chaotica said. “Forgive me. it’s just that, the air itself seems to vibrate in your presence.”
The bridge filled with the sounds of people stifling laughter.

“We can’t be slaves to our passion,” Janeway said, “not when your empire is threatened. I have assembled my fleet of spider ships, but the lightning shield prevents them from approaching your fortress.”
“We’ll send them directly into battle,” Chaotica said. “Alongside my space force.”
“My soldiers wish to pay homage to you,” Janeway said.
“How gratifying,” Chaotica said, smiling. “Of course, if I lower the shield, my fortress would be defenseless. Even an ally might choose such a moment to seize my throne.”
“Uh-oh, he’s on to her,” Neelix said.
“You don’t trust me,” Janeway said, looking and sounding offended.
“There is a way you could convince me of your loyalty,” Chaotica said.
“Let me guess; marriage,” Harry said.
“I will lower my lightning shield, but first, you must become my queen!”
“Called it,” Harry said.

“Gather my courtiers,” Chaotica said before Janeway could give an answer. “Prepare for the ceremony.”
“Is this how people viewed romance in the 1930s?” Sam said.
“He’s the bad guy, Sam, you’re reading too much into this,” Harry said.
“And don’t forget to deactivate the lightning shield,” Janeway said, increasing the melodramatic delivery of her performance, “so that my subjects may witness the blessed event.”
“Nice one,” Seven heard Chakotay mutter under his breath.

“Very well,” Chaotica said. “Do as she says once her guests have arrived.”

“Yes, sire,” Lonzak said, bowing before leaving the throne room.

“And so my dear,” Chaotica said as he took Janeway’s hand, yet again, “the day you have always dreamed of has arrived. The day you become Bride of Chaotica!” Chaotica began laughing maniacally.

“Any idea how the Doctor’s whole ‘President of Earth’ thing is going with the photonic aliens?” Harry asked. Seven had somehow managed to forget about that portion of the mission.
“I’m sure he’s fine,” Chakotay said.
“You’re only saying that because you don’t want to miss any of the Captain’s performance aren’t you? Harry said.
“Yes I am,” Chakotay admitted.

Several minutes passed as Chaotica’s minions prepared his throne room for a wedding ceremony.
“Did your wedding look anything like that, Samantha?” Seven asked, genuinely curious.
“No. Thank goodness,” Sam said.
“I applaud your good taste,” Seven said

“Queen Arachnia,” Lonzak said, presenting Janeway with a pillow. Janeway picked up a gaudy looking ring from the pillow.
“Let me guess, my wedding ring,” she said.
“Doctor Chaotica’s wedding ring,” Lonzak said, sounding bitter about the whole thing, leading Seven to wonder if that was an intentional bit of subtext added to the program by Tom, or if Lonzak simply didn’t trust Arachnia. Either was plausible. “You are to present it to him at the end of the ceremony.”
“Your majesty,” Janeway said as she dropped the ring back on the pillow and walked over to where Chaotica was standing. “we should lower the lightning shield, in anticipation of my guests.”
“What is this preoccupation you have with my shield?” Chaotica said, looking suspicious.
“Oh dear, she pushed it too far,” Neelix said.
“Forgive me,” Janeway said. “It’s just that, as a fellow ruler of the cosmos I often have to do things myself.”
“Ah, because of the incompetence of your inferiors no doubt,” Chaotica said.
“Something like that,” Janeway said.
“I really hope that wasn’t a dig at us,” Neelix said.
“Oh, Arachnia, my love, my life,” Chaotica said, “How well you understand our plight. If it weren’t beneath my dignity, I would weep. How I’ve longed for someone who would understand.”
“We have a saying on Arachnia,” Janeway said, gently touching Chaotica’s face, much to the apparent amusement of everyone on the bridge except for Seven herself and for Tuvok. “‘It’s lonely at the top.’”
“Hmm. No longer my dear,” Chaotica said.
“Majesty!” a minion yelled. “Proton is preparing to attack!”
“What?” Chaotica shouted so loudly that Janeway visibly flinched. Chaotica went over to a device that the Voyager bridge crew could not see from their angle, but gathered was some sort of detection device. “Bah,” Chaotica said. “Target her rocket ship. Shoot her down.”
Janeway glanced over toward the death ray, where another Chaotica minion was operating it. She moved over to him as quickly as her impractical footwear would allow, and struck him the back. The minion fell over instantly even though the Captain did not appear to have hit him that hard. Janeway grabbed his gun, and held it on Chaotica and Lonzak as they turned to look in her direction after hearing the thud of the minion’s collapse.
“You have betrayed me,” Chaotica said. “You are league with Proton. Impetuous harlot!”
“Oh for the love of.. Just shoot him already Captain!” Chakotay yelled at the viewscreen.
“The Captain cannot hear you, Commander,” Tuvok said.
“I know, I know,” Chakotay said.
“Tell me how to deactivate the lightning shield,” Janeway said, “or I’ll show you just how impetuous I can be.”
“What are you waiting for you great lummox?” Chaotica said to Lonzak. “Kill her.”
Lonzak pulled out a laser pistol and fired it at Janeway, where it dissipated with no effect.
“Ha!” she laughed. “You are no match for Arcahnia!”
Harry chuckled. “I think she’s actually starting to enjoy this.”
“Tell me how to shut down the shield,” Janeway said, suddenly shifting from laughing to glowering at Chaotica.

“The confinement rings,” Chaotica said. Lonzak fumbled briefly with his belt before pushing a button on it. Suddenly the captain was encased in a glowing circular force field. Chaotica laughed.
“Oh don’t worry. I wouldn’t kill my bride. Not until after our wedding night.”
“Wow, that got uncomfortable really quick didn’t it?” Sam said.

“Little bit, yeah,” B’Elanna said.

“Reactivate the death ray! Destroy Proton!”

As soon as the death ray on the holodeck began firing, Voyager itself began shaking, much to Seven’s confusion.
“What’s happening?” Chakotay said.
“The alien’s weapon fire is increasing,” B’Elanna said. “It’s causing the distortions to grow larger. We’re being pulled deeper into subspace!”
That is not good, Seven thought.

-o-

“Proton’s ship is damaged, but still airborne,” Lonzak said.
So much for being the most powerful weapon in the universe or whatever it was Tom said, Janeway thought as she tried to get loose from her bonds, her hands were now tied behind her back and to a pillar next to Chaotica’s throne.
“Not for long,” Chaotica said. “Fire at will.”
Janeway felt something shift in the sleeve of her Queen Arachnia dress; the vial of pheromones. She just had to be careful not to drop it. She quickly got the cap off, and almost groaned as the pheromones making their way towards the death ray station left a visible trail. Fortunately, that seemed to be only for her benefit as none of the minions, not even Lonzak who had walked right into the path of them, seemed to see it. Lonzak began sniffing the air, and the stream made its way up into his nose.
Okay, not who I was hoping for, but screw it, I need to get out of this.
“Arachnia?” Lonzak said softly as he walked towards her.
“Lonzak, quit dawdling,” Chaotica said, not taking his attention off the imagizer.
“Your beauty is maddening,” Lonzak said, now standing right next to Janeway, who struggled to keep a straight face and not just roll her eyes at this lumbering henchman. “Entangle me in your web.”
“Let me out of here, and I’ll do all that, and more,” she said quietly, though as oblivious as Chaotica appeared to be she wondered if it was even necessary.
“At once, my queen,” Lonzak said, panting.
I am going to need one really long sonic shower after this is over.
Chaotica finally seemed to noticed that Lonzak was standing by her, but continuing his track record so far of being slow on the uptake, simply tried to admonish Lonzak to return to his station, completely failing to notice that he was freeing Janeway from her bonds.
As soon as she was loose, she kneed Lonzak in the groin and grabbed his ray gun, shooting down two of Chaotica’s guards as they made a move for her.
“Deactivate the shield,” Janeway said, pointing the weapon at Chaotica. “Now.”
“Such passion,” Chaotica said, smiling. “Such strength. Together we could conquer the universe. End this madness and you may yet live to my bride.”
Tom, when this is over we need to have a talk about your choice of arch-nemeses, Janeway thought.

“The shield,” she said. Chaotica, nearly tripping over the machine as he moved backwards the closer Janeway got with her gun, reached over and shut it off.
“I don’t know how to tell you this,” she said, no longer using the Queen Arachnia inflection, and shooting Chaotica in the chest with the ray gun, “but the wedding’s off.”

Chaotica fell over, but unlike his minions who died instantly, Chaotica seemed to be trying to milk his end for every ounce of drama he could get out of it. Janeway would’ve stopped to laugh at him if she didn’t have another task to accomplish.
“Arachnia to Proton,” she said, activating the microphone. “Do you read me?”
“I read you,” Tom said.
“But, but,” Chaotica said, “that’s not Proton’s voice.”
“Not in this version,” Janeway said. “Now just die already, you’re only embarrassing yourself at this point. The lightning shield is down, Proton.”

“Acknowledged,” Tom said. “Doc, target the death ray. Robot, fire the destructo beam on my mark. Ready? Now!”
A loud bang almost made Janeway jump. Chaotica, who had somehow managed to keep himself standing by leaning against the death ray, shook violently but somehow also comically as bolts of electricity arced out from the death ray and into his body. Were he real, Janeway would’ve felt sorry for him.
“Bridge to Janeway,” Chakotay’s voice said over the com a few seconds later.
“Go ahead,” Janeway said.

“The aliens have retreated and closed the distortions. We’re free of the sandbar and are on our way at full impulse.”

“Secure all systems and organize damage repair teams.”
“We’re prepared to shut down the holodeck.”

“Give me a minute,” Janeway said.

“Enjoying the part, Captain?”

Janeway was about to tell Chakotay the truth; that she was simply curious how the program would end naturally. Then a thought occurred to her.
“Commander, have you all been watching this from up on the bridge?”
Silence.
“I thought so,” Janeway said, shaking her head. “Anyone makes any jokes about my performance, they get a reprimand in their personnel file.” The door to the throne room opened, and Tom Paris, the Doctor, still dressed as the President of Earth, and a clunky, awkwardly moving robot entered.
“Well, I was about to say ‘Captain Proton to the rescue’,” Tom said, “but it looks like you’ve got things under control.”
“Arachnia!” Chaotica said, his body jerking to life, though only his neck, head and mouth moved. “Death as you know it has no hold on me. My defeat is but a temporary setback. I shall return to seek my revenge.”
“He doesn’t give up does he?” Janeway said to Tom.
“They never do,” Tom said.

“Our love was not meant to be, my queen,” Chaotica continued. “But be warned. You have not seen the last of…” Chaotica shivered, choking out the final word of his monologue; “Chaotica.”
“The end of a twisted madman,” Tom said.
“The end of me in this stupid outfit,” Janeway said. “These shoes are killing me.”
“I assume that is comedic exaggeration,” the Doctor said.
“Of course,” Janeway said as she removed the shoes. “By the way, how did it go, Mr. President?”
The Doctor smiled. “My performance was unimpeachable.”
Janeway and Tom both groaned loudly.
“Really, Doc?” Tom said, looking like he was in physical pain.
“I’m pretty sure that pun’s a cour- martial offense right there,” Janeway said, throwing one of her shoes at the Doctor.

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