Meat or Poison?

Summary: Janeway tells in her own words what really happened on the
planet Dwanong.

Meat or Poison? by Walt Chmara

Someone once said, “It is no lie to keep the truth to one’s self.” I
don’t remember who it was, and right now, *who* isn’t important.
Over seventy-five years away from our homes in the Alpha Quadrant of the
Milky Way Galaxy, we, the crew of the starship *Voyager*, are more
interested in maintaining some semblance of Starfleet order. Most of us,
anyway.
I say most because a sizable portion of my crew still consider themselves
members of the Maquis, just waiting for this ship to make its triumphant
return to Federation space so as to resume their old ways of fighting
both Starfleet and Cardassia, in defiance of a treaty set up in order to
prevent a full-fledged war from erupting.
Even though that conflict is incredibly distant from us, you would be
surprised how often it is responsible for tensions on this ship.
By the way, I’m her captain, Kathryn Janeway. I write this, in spite of
keeping official logs in the computer, because right now it suits me to
keep certain truths out of the official records. You’ll see why,
momentarily. And, who knows? In case we never make it home, there is a
slight chance this may survive even if our official logs do not — it
would not be the first such instance in the history of space travel!
If so, tough luck, whoever finds this. It will prove woefully incomplete
concerning the races we have encountered, and the adventures we have had
since we first inadvertently departed the Badlands. However, as a
supplement to the official logs, it, hopefully, will shed light on *why*
certain events happened the way they did. For me, this is just a journal
of what may sometimes be some very un-captainlike ruminations, between me
and my PADD, intended for no one else’s eyes or ears. At the very least,
it will be a scratchpad for organizing my thoughts before I actually log
them, and save wear and tear on the poor computer’s delete function. If
it was sentient, I’m sure it would have lost its patience with me long
ago.
*Voyager* is a lost ship. Missing, presumed destroyed, no doubt like the
Hera and the T’Psak, to mention just two which have vanished as we have
— mysteriously. I suppose we should be grateful we didn’t end up in
Andromeda or some place further still. Though we are a lifetime away from
our loved ones, we have much for which to be thankful. Our casualties
have been light. Our dwindling supplies of everything have always managed
to be replenished. So far.
On the other hand, we have much to fear, as well. This vessel wasn’t
designed for such an extended voyage. It’s like a shakedown cruise with
no end in sight, as Tom Paris once put it, which will tax her well beyond
her limits. Also, it was not designed with an eye toward carrying
families, as the huge Galaxy-class ships are, yet we have one pregnancy
on board. This, in particular, is something Starfleet never prepared me
for. I mean, as shipwide policy, of course. Back home, obviously, the
officer in question could be granted maternal leave. Out here, that is
simply not an option.
Some have suggested that the attempt to return home is a foolhardy
expedition, and that I should permit those who wish to settle on any
given M-class planet we pass the leave to do so. I’ve decided it is not
my place to decide for an entire crew what is right or wrong, and so far,
no one has chosen to abandon the ship. The journey is still young, and
opinions do have a way of changing.
Case in point, two weeks ago. We approached a world of peaceful creatures
calling themselves the Dwanong. Adult members of this race are the size
of Starfleet runabouts, and the babies we saw were the size of Earth
hippopotami! Tuvok made an extensive study of them, discovering they were
no strangers to the notion of visitors from space. In fact, the Dwanong
regularly traded with at least fifteen other races, most of whom we,
ourselves, have not encountered yet. Some of those races had
representatives we could plainly see mingling with the Dwanong in such a
trusting way, the scene reminded me of how remora mingle with sharks. We
were in need of planet leave, and it appeared to us that the Dwanong had
much to offer outworlders. We were confident we could find something to
trade for their goods, something which they had never seen before.
Chakotay led the contact team, which consisted of Tuvok, Kim, Gormley,
and Kresnanski. The first thing they discovered was that the Universal
Translator had a severe problem with the Dwanongian language. Apparently
their vocabulary is quite small compared to ours, but the *grammar*
turned out to be terribly complex. Tuvok came to the conclusion that each
Dwanongian word could have many vast unrelated meanings, depending on how
that one word was pronounced and/or used in context. We simply could not
properly communicate with them.
That was when a humanoid calling himself a Braxolese offered his services
as interpreter. The translator had no problem with his native tongue, and
he explained to Chakotay that he had been trading with the Dwanong for
decades, mastering enough of their language to get business accomplished.
The Braxolese drove a hard bargain with Chakotay, but in exchange for the
formula for making plastic, we received our interpreter. Negotiations
with the Dwanong began.
One of the most sought-after commodities in this part of the galaxy
turned out to be a Dwanongian syrup called “fleek,” which proved to be as
versatile as its name. Frozen fleek can make a tasty dessert, while fleek
that is boiled down into a solid takes on many of the characteristics of
a slice of beef. Baked, it becomes something akin to bread. Fried,
something else entirely.
Neelix’s eyes nearly popped out when he saw the free sample the Dwanong
donated to whet our interest.
“Fleek!” he cried. “Do you know how difficult it is to get this stuff?
You can make fLeek out of it, or flEek, or fleEk, or fleeK, or FL-”
Well, I *had* to interrupt him. Even thought I could actually almost see,
in print, how each of his various pronunciations might be spelled, I had
no idea what each variation meant. Neelix explained that the chemical
composition of the stuff was the absolute height of nature’s cleverness.
Just one molecule of fleek contained a balance of atomic elements that
could easily be shaped and molded by cooking technique alone. A chef’s
career could be made by finding a new way to fix it.
“It can also be quite deadly if improperly prepared for a given
individual. I believe I came across a saying your people have that fits
fleek very well. ‘One man’s meat is another man’s poison.’ Only in the
hands of an artist, this poison can be made so tasty and nutritious that
tears of pleasure will be rolling down your cheeks.”
“Are you one of those artists, Neelix?” I asked him.
“No, Captain. Unfortunately, my experience with *cooking* fleek is
minimal, sad to say. Mostly, I’ve only tasted variations of it prepared
by highly skilled professionals. I wouldn’t want the crew to try any of
my fleek creations unless the doctor scanned it first and proclaimed it
fit to try. But the chance to experiment with it…well…personally, I
would never pass it up.”

Right then and there, I was tempted to beam the sample back down and tell
Chakotay to barter for something else. But then I remembered the sushi
analogy. A type of raw fish that could also kill if not properly
prepared. If nobody ever took a chance on it, nobody would have ever
known what it tasted like. Surely Neelix and the doctor working together
could ensure a feast safe enough to eat, yet exotic enough to make the
journey seem almost worthwhile. In spite of myself, I was practically
drooling at the prospect.
I told Chakotay to negotiate for two hundred liters of the stuff. In case
it didn’t lend itself to replication — and it didn’t, as we found out
later — at least we’d have enough for Neelix to play around with for a
little while.
It was at this point that the tragedy happened, which had almost nothing
to do with the fleek. Chakotay made a frantic call from the planet to
tell me that one of the Dwanong had just eaten Kresnanski.
“According to our interpreter, the Dwanong misunderstood what we were
offering in trade for the fleek,” Chakotay reported to me, when what was
left of his team had returned to the ship. “Personally, I think that our
interpreter isn’t so fluent in their tongue as he led us to believe. Or
maybe he just has a sick sense of humor. In any event, Kresnanski is
dead. We should hold that Braxolese responsible.”
“What do you propose we do?” I asked.
“Beam him up here and let me interrogate him. If worse comes to worst,
Tuvok can nail him or clear him with a mind meld.”
“Chakotay, you know as well as I do, Tuvok would never force a meld on an
unwilling subject.”
The only reason he might be unwilling to submit is if I’m right and that
means he’s guilty. If he submits and Tuvok finds no guilt, then we’ll let
him go and mourn Kresnanski’s loss as an unforeseeable accident.”
My first officer was asking me to abduct a foreign businessman on
suspicion of malicious translation. Sure, I could easily do it. All the
more reason to not be too hasty.
“Suppose he is guilty, either intentionally or from a slip of the tongue.
>From what I understand, that could easily happen when attempting to speak
the Dwanong language. What do you propose we do to the Braxolese?”
Chakotay’s eye contact broke with me. His gaze went down to the desk.
“I’d have an overwhelming urge to offer *him* to the Dwanong as food.”
I sighed. “Do you really think I could sanction that?”
He gave in. “No, of course not. But I would at least like for him to meet
Kresnanski’s closest friends. I want him to know what misery he caused.
I want to see some evidence that he is going to carry pain with him for a
long time because of what he did.”
“Say he’s incapable of that. Maybe Braxolese aren’t hampered by as human
a thing as a conscience,” I postulated. “How would you get any
satisfaction then?”
“With all due respect, Captain,” put in Kim, “we don’t know any such
thing about the Braxolese. I saw what happened, too, and I agree with
Chakotay. It looked very much like the Braxolese pulled a fast one, then
blamed it on the Dwanong, who obviously didn’t understand what was
wrong,”
I could see I was going to need to speak with this Braxolese, personally,
but not up here on the ship. I made up my mind to meet with him on the
planet.

“I’ve never seen your people before, Captain,” the Braxolese told me. “I
would have thought a well-travelled race such as yours would know better
than to take things for granted when dealing with, what is to you, a new
species.”
“Please specify,” I requested.
“Well, I didn’t think I’d have to tell your people to sit still and be
quiet while I did all the talking. As I explained to your officer with
the markings on his head, the Dwanongian language is such that it lends
itself easily to slips of the ear, as well as of the tongue. When I told
Brola that your people wanted to trade with them for a sizable amount of
fleek, Brola thought I said, ‘You may eat this person in return.’ A
natural mistake, but even then, Brola would never have proceeded without
being certain.
“Your unfortunate crewman unwittingly made a gesture of confirmation.
While Brola was looking him over uncertainly, your crewman rose to his
feet and put his hands on his hips. I taught the Dwanong long ago that
this is the Braxolese way of sealing a deal. So, Brola ate him, even
though it seemed strange to offer one of your own party as food. The
Dwanong have dealt with many races with odd ways in the past, and they
strive never to offend visitors. Believe me, Brola is just sick about it,
which means your people are in deep trouble.”
“Why?”
“I just told you! Brola is sick! It seems the flesh of your kind is
poisonous to their kind. From their point of view, Brola trusted you, and
now may die because of that trust. The carelessness of your people may
cause the Dwanong to become isolationists again. The last time fleek
exports stopped, two civilizations went to war over each other’s
stockpiles. That will likely happen again, if the Dwanong decide that
trading with other races has become too dangerous.”
What a mess! When I returned to the ship, I went through the records of
previous Prime Directive flub-ups to see if any other crew in history
ever poisoned a member of another race by allowing one’s self to be
eaten, and if so, what they’d done about it. I didn’t wish to go against
any established precedent. As luck would have it, it seemed we were the
first.
Chakotay and Kim were still of the opinion that the Braxolese was still
hiding the truth. I spoke at Kresnanski’s funeral in the chapel the next
day. I tried to offer comfort to those who knew him best. I kept it to
myself that he had been accused of poisoning a Dwanong and may be
indirectly responsible for turning this part of the galaxy upside down. I
was too late to prevent the bad “Polish food” jokes which had begun to
circulate, but at least I could order a stop to it, and did.
I’ve always hated situations where I was forced to violate the Prime
Directive in order to uphold it, and this was one of them. The Braxolese
was righteously indignant to the implication that he wasn’t telling the
whole truth and even less inclined to submit to interrogation, much less
a mind meld. He was showing every indication of disappearing forever into
the woodwork, and because of the high stakes involved, I couldn’t permit
him to do that.
So I abducted him by transporter.
He was suitably agitated, of course, as Chakotay and Tuvok escorted him
to the brig, screaming about what hypocrites we were the whole way. I
couldn’t blame him.
Questioning him under truth-verifier scan didn’t yield much. If he was
keeping the truth to himself, it could not be detected as a lie. And
Tuvok did balk at forcing a mind meld on him.
We received a communication from another Braxolese who wanted to know if
we had anything to do with the disappearance of her colleague. I told her
we had him in custody until such time as we were satisfied that he was
guilt-free from the recent tragic events.
“I see,” said her image on the main viewscreen on the bridge. “If it will
help, I can personally vouch for his character. I have always known
Jodlurf to be truthful in all dealings.”
“We appreciate that,” I told her. “But as he is being uncooperative with
us, it is making the investigation proceed rather slowly.”
“Yes, he does have a stubborn streak. …I have been speaking with the
family of Brola, the Dwanong you poisoned. They say their physicians can
do nothing. Death is imminent. The family has begun legal proceedings
against you and they have chosen me as their representative…”
Oh, this was getting better and better.

I needed input. I called the senior staff together for a meeting to
discuss the matter.
“…so now, Jodlurf’s friend will be acting as attorney not only for him,
but for the poisoned Dwanong, too,” I concluded.
B’Elanna Torres is not one to hide how she feels on any subject and this
time was no different. “I think it stinks! She and her friend think we
are stupid enough to believe that they are the injured party here!
Kresnanski didn’t ask to be eaten. These Braxolese presume to lecture us
on how to approach an alien species? I refuse to believe that the Dwanong
as a people are dumb enough to gulp down a member of a species they’ve
never seen before, just because some Braxolese bozo seems to tell them
to!”
“But isn’t that just what happened?” asked Kes.
“According to Jodlurf,” answered Chakotay. “And I say he’s lying to cover
his own butt. Now this friend of his comes along who probably wants
nothing more than to help him out of the situation he’s put himself in.”
“If I might make a suggestion,” Tuvok put in. “I propose visiting the
dying Dwanongian and attempting a mind meld with it. Not only may I
discover the truth, but I also may convince it to let our doctor try to
help it.
“Now I’ve heard everything,” quipped B’Elanna. “You actually want to risk
being the second course in order to try and help Kresnanski’s murderer? I
heard you don’t even want to meld with the prisoner we have!”
“Jodlurf will not submit to a meld. Besides the ethical barrier, there is
also his mental configuration to contend with, however, Brola might be
more willing, considering their own physicians have done all they can,
therefore, a better chance of success.”
“Your idea has merit, Tuvok,” I said. “But the doctor can’t leave
sickbay, and Brola is much to big to be beamed there. Add to that the
fact that the doctor has never even seen a Dwanongian prior to today…”
“The doctor could operate using a telepresence probe, which will actually
make the ‘house call.’ I must point out that the doctor did save Mr.
Neelix’s life, while having no previous knowledge of Talaxians,” was his
reply.
(That’s why it’s so handy to have a Vulcan among your crew.)
We kept a transporter lock on Tuvok the whole time he was down there, in
case we needed to beam him out quickly. His plan turned out to be a
success. From Brola’s mind, he learned that what Jodlurf had actually
said during the deadly bargaining was: “These beings will consider it a
terrible insult if you do not ingest the sacrifice they offer you. He was
bred as food and is perfectly safe to eat. Brola, they see your
hesitation. Quickly now, snap him up, or they will draw their weapons!”
While still in the meld, Tuvok explained to Brola that that was entirely
Jodlurf’s fabrication. He then asked why Jodlurf would want to create
such a catastrophe. The answer became plain. If the Dwanong retreated
back into isolationism, that would bring about another fleek war near
Braxolese space. To the Braxolese, fleek is pure poison in any form, but
they’ve been hoarding incredible amounts of it, thinking they could
resell it at a profit, except they couldn’t compete with the cheaper,
fresher product directly from Dwanong. Apparently, Jodlurf must have seen
our communication problem with the Dwanong as a golden opportunity for
Braxol to start cashing in on its long term investment.
Brola told the rest of the family who were truly the guilty party of this
mess. (Not such a bad sort, after all — for a man-eater.) It was truly
sad that our doctor’s attempts with the telepresence probe did not
succeed. It wasn’t from want of skill or persistence. Brola was just too
far gone.
Tuvok returned to the ship with twice as much fleek than we had
originally bargained for. The Dwanong said we deserved it for the
services we had performed, as well as settlement for Kresnanski’s death.
Jodlurf’s friend was clearly unaware of everything which had transpired
with Tuvok below. I was just about to try my first bite of fleek “steak
and potatoes” a la Neelix, when she contacted me in my quarters.
With an absolutely straight face, she told me that Brola had succumbed to
our poison, but the family was willing to drop all charges if we released
Jodlurf into her custody, then leave the sector and never return. With a
equally straight face, I told her we would do just that. She could
rendezvous with him at Brola’s home.
As Jodlurf was being escorted to the transporter, he sneered at all of
us, no doubt convinced of the gullibility of we human idiots. Before he
was beamed down, I personally told him that he could find his friend at
Brola’s home. He thanked me, and I gave the order to energize.
What I didn’t tell either of the Braxolese was something Tuvok mentioned
to me when he returned to the ship. Tuvok saw in Brola’s mind that long
ago the Braxolese were considered a delicacy by the Dwanong, but not raw.
As he was leaving, it was apparent to him that Brola’s family was firing
up an old roasting oven which hadn’t been used in a long time.

We are continuing our journey home as I write this. I am enjoying my
fleek dinner (Neelix was right — this stuff is deliciously different. I
can’t wait to try the “ice cream.”), and I think to myself, absolutely,
it is no lie to keep the truth to one’s self.
Which is also why I’ll never tell my crew how, according to Tuvok, the
Dwanong *make* fleek. That would only ruin their good appetites, I think.

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