A Fire of Devotion: Part 4 of 4: Hotter Than Hell: Chapter Four

Chapter Four

Seven of Nine woke up in her and Samantha’s quarters and wondered why the room was so dark. She had set her alarm for the proper time, and Samantha had an earlier shift than her today. She noticed flickering lights and looked over to see the dinner table set up for an elaborate meal, and Samantha sitting in one of the chairs, wearing an unusually ornate and semiopaque dress.

“Did I miss something?” Seven said.
“I pulled a few strings,” Samantha said, running a finger along the edge of a glass of a liquid Seven assumed was alcoholic, “did a few favors, made sure Naomi and Icheb would be kept busy for awhile, and then I let you sleep in since you pulled a double shift yesterday.”
“Why would- Oh,” Seven said.
“I figured it’s been awhile since you and I had some time alone,” Samantha said. Seven got up and moved over to Samantha.
“Are we celebrating a particular occasion?” Seven asked as she placed a hand on Sam’s thigh.
“That it’s been two, long, months,” Sam said.
“Two months isn’t that long,” Seven said. “I can think of two instances which were longer, depending on how you count-”
“Just shut up and kiss me, Annie,” Sam said with a smile and a wink, leaning in close.
Seven offered a playful salute. “Yes, ma’am,” she said, moving in to press her lips against Sam’s, which she did just in time for the red alert klaxons to go off, the alarm noise drown out only by Samantha’s numerous expletives.

“Seven of Nine,” Tuvok’s voice said over the comm. “Report to the bridge as soon as possible.”

Seven sighed. “Unless the Borg are attacking I am going to be quite annoyed,” she said through clenched teeth. She reached over to the nightstand and slapped her comm badge.
“I’m on my way,” she said, not even attempting to hide her annoyance.

“Well,” Samantha said, looking apologetic even though none of this was her fault, “if you’re still free in a few hours, so am I.”

Janeway knew the look on Seven of Nine’s face when she entered the bridge all too well. She’d felt her own face do that whenever she for whatever reason had been called away from Mark back when they were together.
“Sorry to interrupt your alone time with Sam,” Janeway said. “but we just picked up a distress call from a space station a few light years away from here. The signal is Hirogen in origin.”
“That would appear to confirm my theory regarding the origin of the Photonic insurgents,” Seven said.
“Perhaps,” Janeway said. “But the signal has no specifics, it’s a general distress call. This could be anything.”

“We’re approaching the coordinates,” Tom said.
“Take us out of warp,” Janeway said, as Seven made her way over to the auxiliary tactical station just behind her and Commander Chakotay. “Seven, scan for signs of holograms anywhere nearby.”

“Understood,” Seven said.

“Raise shields and stand-by weapons,” Janeway said to Tuvok.

“I’ve got the source of the signal,” Harry Kim said. “Six thousand kilometers off the port bow.”
“On screen,” Janeway said. The station that appeared on screen didn’t seem very similar at all to the design of Hirogen ships she’d seen before. She wondered if this was some outdated model, something new, or perhaps even an ancient abandoned station not unlike the communications array that the Hirogen had used to use before she’d been forced to destroy it three years ago.

“Monotanium hull plating, tylium-based power,” Seven said. “It is definitely a Hirogen station.”
“They’re not responding to hails,” Harry said.
“Any life signs?” Chakotay said.
“I’m getting a lot of strange readings,” Harry said. “Any one of them could be a life form, but I can’t tell from here.”

“Any Hirogen ships in the vicinity?” Janeway said.
“None within range of our sensors,” Seven said.
“Do you think it could be a trap?” Chakotay said.
Janeway thought about the possibility for a moment, then shook her head. “It’s not like the Hirogen to play possum. They like the fight too much. Move us within transporter range. Chakotay, take an away team.”
Chakotay nodded, and without saying a word, stood up and went to the turbolift. As the image on the screen grew larger, more detail became visible. While the overall design of the station was, as Janeway had thought earlier, not much like the aesthetic of the Hirogen ships, the new details – colors, sharp edges, etcetera – made it clearer. The Hirogen had built this, she was certain now. She had known all along that the Hirogen were very spread out, but this far away from where she had first encountered them would’ve seemed impossible had it not been for the wormhole they’d passed a few weeks prior. The hairs on the back of her neck stood up as she realized that this meant that Seven of Nine was probably right. The Hirogen’s holograms, holograms they could make because of the technology she gave them, could very well be the same holograms who had caused so much pain and suffering for the Lokirrim people.

Seven of Nine looked around when she finished materializing, and saw trees, grass, and other flora. The sound of birds chirping overhead made her look up. It didn’t take her long to realize that this was a holodeck. The sky looked too natural for this to be an arboretum of some kind, something she had seen on other space stations. On some of those stations, those that didn’t just leave the ceilings their plain metallic color or use translucent domes that allowed denizens to see space, the ceilings would be painted the colors of the sky of whatever the homeworld of the station’s owners was. They never looked real, regardless of the skill of the designers.

She had her phaser out as soon as she could move her arms, and the sound of phasers leaving holsters surrounded her. To her left, Chakotay had a tricorder out, already scanning for signs of life. Behind her, Tuvok and Lydia Anderson each held a phaser rifle.

“Let’s break into teams,” Chakotay said. “Anderson, you’re with Seven. Tuvok, with me.”

Each member of the away team responded silently, Anderson following Seven’s lead down the path directly ahead of Seven.
“I think I’ve found something,” Seven said, coming across a pile of branches that looked like someone had stacked them in a haphazard attempt to make them look like they’d fallen this way naturally. She holstered her phaser and moved the branches aside, finding two Hirogen hunters under them, holes in their armor, the chestplates and their faces covered in dry blood. She was certain they were dead, but she scanned them anyway, Anderson keeping her phaser rifle pointed at them while she did so.
“Dead,” Seven said. “The burns are consistent with particle weapons.”

“I see their rifles next to the bodies,” Anderson said.
“I do as well,” Seven said, pointing her tricorder at the guns as well. “Almost fully charged. One appears not to have been fired at all, at least not today. The other, at most 4 shots.”
“So whoever got these guys got them quick,” Anderson said. “I hope they aren’t still here. I do not like the idea of going against something that can get the drop on a Hirogen hunter so easily.”

“Given what I know of Hirogen culture, it is likely that only one of these two was an experienced hunter. The other would’ve been an apprentice.”

“That doesn’t make me feel much better, Ensign. No offense.”
“I am not easy to offend, Lieutenant. Do you believe we should continue?”
“I know I outrank you,” Anderson said, “but you’re the one with the tricorder, and more practical experience with the Hirogen. I’ll defer to your judgment.”

“Very well,” Seven said, looking off in the distance, trying to determine which direction to head. She thought she saw the glint of sunlight reflecting off something metal. She stood up and went towards it slowly, carefully checking her surroundings with each step.
“Is that what I think it is?” Anderson said.
“A bat’leth embedded in a tree on a Hirogen space station,” Seven said. “It is exactly as unexpected as your tone suggests.”

“There are easier ways to agree with me, Seven,” Anderson said. “I’m just sayin’.”
Seven ignored the comment and scanned the weapon, as well as the blood on it and the tree it was stuck in.
“The blood is Hirogen,” she said. The pace of the beeping on her tricorder started to pick up the closer she got to the tree. She walked past it, and it got faster still. She peered ahead and saw what looked like a small cave entrance, barely hidden amongst the trees. She tapped her comm badge.

“Seven of Nine to Commander Chakotay,” she said. “I have picked up a Hirogen life sign. It is faint. The Hirogen is likely wounded.”
“Stay there,” Chakotay said. “Tuvok and I are not too far, we’ll be there in a moment.”
“Understood,” Seven said, putting away her tricorder and taking out her phaser again. She heard Anderson move into position next to her, and the two watched the cave.
Seven thought she saw something moving on the grassy hill above the cave entrance, and was grateful for her instincts as she managed to knock Anderson out of the way of the energy blast that came when the Hirogen fired on them.
“Hold your fire!” Seven yelled. “We responded to your distress call, we’re here to help!”

“Stay away!” The Hirogen yelled. He sounded scared, which unnerved Seven of Nine. Even if this was a young Hirogen with little to no hunting experience, the sound of panic coming from one of his kind was something she had never imagined she would hear.

The weapons fire continued as Seven and Anderson took cover behind a rocky outcropping, sparks flying violently off the rock with each impact.
“That looks like a small handheld weapon,” Anderson said. “Probably not as accurate at range as a rifle would be. That’s why he can’t hit us.”

“Logical,” Seven said.

After a few more seconds of firing, it abruptly stopped. Seven risked a peek around the rock, and saw Tuvok standing where the Hirogen had been, looking down at something. Seven assumed the Vulcan had gotten behind the Hirogen and taken him down with a nerve pinch.
“We’re clear,” she said to Anderson.

The two officers made it up the hill above the cave, where Chakotay knelt next to the unconscious Hirogen with a tricorder. Chakotay tapped his comm badge.
“Chakotay to Voyager, two to beam directly to sickbay,” he said.

“Acknowledged,” the voice of Lieutenant Kitrick replied. Seconds later, the Commander and the Hirogen were gone. Seven took her tricorder out again, and almost immediately picked up something of note behind some brush. She yanked it out of the way.
“Replicated Starfleet technology,” Tuvok said.
“It looks like a holodeck interface,” Seven said. “Though not exactly like our own.”

“There appear to be holo-emitters installed throughout the facility,” Tuvok said, manipulating the controls on the interface. “I am going to shut down the emitters.”

A few seconds later, the forest shimmered out of existence, leaving behind a large circular room, easily three times the size if not larger of one of Voyager’s holodecks. Scattered across the floor of the room, so many that it was a wonder that no one had tripped over any of them, were dead Hirogen. At just a glance Seven was able to count eleven bodies. Doubtless, there were more scattered throughout the station.

“Damn,” Anderson said. “Not often you see this many dead bodies in a holodeck. Unless you’re on the Enterprise-D.”

Tuvok and Seven both looked at Anderson, who frowned. “Too soon?” she said.

“Lieutenant Anderson,” Tuvok said. “I believe we have already discussed your tendency towards gallows humor.”
“In fairness to her, Commander Tuvok,” Seven said, “even before I was freed from the Collective I was aware of the Galaxy-class and the tendency of their holodecks to malfunction in rather spectacular fashions.”

Walking towards sickbay, Janeway listened to the report Chakotay gave her, which included the data provided by Seven of Nine and Tuvok. She kept her calm, professional demeanor on the outside, but inwardly she was screaming at herself, feeling like a fool for having let the Hirogen have holodeck technology. Not even the fact that she had likely saved the lives of her crew stopped the self-doubt that threatened to overwhelm her.

“Evidently,” Chakotay said as they turned a corner in the corridor, “they made a few modifications. All of our preliminary scans indicated the environment was real. It wasn’t until we beamed over that we had any idea it was artificial.”
“How many bodies?” Janeway asked.

“Forty-three,” Chakotay said.
Janeway winced. “Oh, god,” she said.

“Most of them were killed by facsimiles of Alpha Quadrant weapons.”

“The Hirogen obviously missed the point of the technology we gave them,” Janeway said. “We gave them the technology so they could hunt holographic prey, not get themselves killed.”

“It’s always a risk when the Federation trades technologies with someone,” Chakotay said as the two officers reached the door to sickbay. As it opened, they heard The Doctor frantically trying to calm his patient.

“Get away from me!” the Hirogen yelled, hurling trays of instruments at the Doctor and bolting towards the door, running face first into the force field that surrounded the surgical area. Practically sobbing, a sight that Janeway might’ve found unintentionally funny under different circumstances, the Hirogen slumped against the back wall. Instead, Janeway felt pity for the poor man. She wondered just how bad the slaughter had been for this Hirogen to have no qualms about letting his fear show in his voice and in his body language around people he didn’t know.
“Can you sedate him?” Chakotay asked.

“He won’t let me get close enough,” The Doctor said.

“We’re not your enemies,” Janeway said.
“You’re holograms,” the Hirogen said. “This is a trick.”
“We’re not holograms,” Janeway said.
“Well, I am,” The Doctor said, “but I’m a medical hologram.”
“Liars,” the Hirogen said.
“Doctor, deactivate yourself,” Janeway said.
“I can’t treat the patient if I’m off-line,” The Doctor said.

“No one can treat him if he’s terrified,” Janeway said.
“Very well,” The Doctor said reluctantly, putting the hypospray he’d been holding on a nearby table. “I should’ve started Mr. Morrow’s training today instead. Computer, deactivate EMH.”

The Hirogen watched him vanish, holding his wounded arm. “Why should I believe any of you?”

“I’m afraid you’re going to have to,” Janeway said. “I’m Captain Kathryn Janeway. You’re aboard my vessel.”
“Janeway?” the Hirogen said. “This is Voyager?”
“Looks like our reputation has preceded us,” Chakotay said.

“You’re the ones who gave us the technology to simulate our hunts? Where are the rest of my people?”
“You’re the only one we found alive,” Chakotay said. The Hirogen didn’t respond, whether out of shock or grief, Janeway couldn’t tell.

“Tell me more about the station you were on,” Janeway said.
“It is, well, was, a training facility. A place where young Hirogen learn the skills of the hunt.”
“You’re a student?” Chakotay said.
The Hirogen shook his head. “A technician. My skills are with tech, not guns. It was a great day when we received the holodeck technology. People like me finally got a chance to do more than fix dents in armor and recharge rifles.”

“Computer,” Janeway said. “Deactivate force field.” The flash of the field going offline made her blink, but she stepped forward anyway, leaning against the surgical biobed. “Tell me what happened.”
“There were too many of them,” the Hirogen said.
“Who?” Chakotay said.
“The holograms,” the Hirogen said. Janeway felt like she’d been kicked in the stomach. Her worst fears were now realized. The technology she had traded to spare her crew had gotten over forty innocent people killed, on this station alone. And if Seven was right that the Hirogens holograms were responsible for what the Lokirrim were going through…

“They were malfunctioning,” the Hirogen continued. “I tried to shut them down, but they got control of the system and-and they… they deactivated the safety protocols.”

“How long were you there?” Chakotay asked.
“I lost track after a few days,” the Hirogen said. “I thought they would come back for me at any moment. I survived on the replicated edible plants in the holodeck, and on ration packs the hunters had on them. When I was brave enough, I found the controls and sent the distress signal, and altered the environment to give me more places to hide.”

“Bridge to Captain Janeway,” Tuvok’s voice said over the comm, the sound of the comm activating causing the Hirogen to look around him, as if he expected an attack to come from any direction.
“Go ahead,” Janeway said.

“We’re picking up a Hirogen ship on long range scans. It’s on an intercept course,” Tuvok said.

“I’m on my way,” Janeway said.

“Do you want me to stay here with him?” Chakotay asked.
“Negative. I want you on the bridge with me,” Janeway said. “You, will you be okay with our doctor treating you, Mister…?”
“Donik. And, I- I guess so,” Donik said.
“Good. Computer, activate the emergency medical hologram.”
“Please state that nature of- oh. I see the situation had improved,” The Doctor said. “Now, let me have a look at that arm, I’m surprised your wound isn’t gangrenous at this point.”

By the time they reached the bridge, the ship was already shuddering under the impact of the Hirogen ship’s weapons fire. The fact that it wasn’t worse suggested to her that the Hirogen ship they faced now was smaller than ones they’d encountered before, and the viewscreen image of the ship told her she’d guessed correctly.
“Hail them,” she said before even getting to her chair.
“I’ve tried,” Harry Kim said, “they aren’t responding.”
“Shields are at sixty-eight percent. Shall I return fire?” Tuvok said.
“Not yet. Harry, open a channel.”
“Yes ma’am,” Harry said.
“This is Captain Kathryn Janeway. We’re not here to fight you.”
The ship shook more violently this time. The volleys of the Hirogen ship were threatening to take down Voyager’s shields.
“Stand down,” Janeway said more forcefully. “Or we will retaliate.”

“They’re coming around for another attack,” Harry said.
“Fine. Tom, evasive pattern beta-six. Tuvok, target their engines.”
Janeway watched the viewscreen change as the crew carried out their orders. Within seconds Tom had maneuvered Voyager behind the Hirogen ship. A series of phaser blasts struck the Hirogen vessel, the last one getting through its shields and causing a small explosion near its engines.
“Their weapons are off-line,” Tuvok said.
“Let’s see if they’re willing to talk now. Hail them again,” Janeway said, standing up.

“They’re responding,” Harry said, smirking. “Big shock.”
“On screen,” Janeway said.
“This facility belongs to the Hirogen,” the Hirogen Captain on-screen said, not even bothering to introduce himself. “Leave the area immediately.”

No names, huh? Fine, I can work with that, Janeway thought. “We are here responding to a distress call.”
“So are we. We don’t need your assistance,” the Hirogen Captain practically growled in response.
“We’ve already been to the station. All but one of your people are dead,” Janeway said.

The Hirogen Captain was unable to hide his look of shock, though he only had it for a second before going back to trying to look intimidating, a look that Janeway felt would have had more impact had she seen it before her ship had taken the tactical advantage out from under him.
“Where is the survivor?” he said.

“Recovering in our sickbay,” Janeway said.
“Return him. Now!”
“Once our Doctor has cleared him to leave, he’s yours. He isn’t a hostage here. If you wish to see him, you can beam over yourself.”
“Very well,” the Hirogen Captain said. “I will board your ship with one other. We will contact you when we are ready.” The comm signal shut off before Janeway had a chance to say she accepted his terms.
“This is gonna be the first time we’ve had Hirogen traipsing around the ship in a long time,” Chakotay said. “That’s bound to make a few people nervous.”

“Maybe not,” Janeway said. “Remember Seven’s trainer from the Tsunkatse tournaments she was forced into? He was nice enough.”

“All the same,” Chakotay said, “I suggest not letting them go unescorted.”
Janeway’s face scrunched up, the “how stupid do you think I am?” unspoken, but heavily implied.

“I tried to shut down the generator,” Donik said to the two Hirogen standing near him in sickbay, “but…”
“But what?” the Hirogen Captain said.

Tom Paris monitored Donik’s vitals while they spoke, Donik insisting that having the EMH on when the Hirogen came to see him would be a bad idea. Tom was grateful that he’d taken as well as he did to the Doctor’s training when the Captain had assigned him to replace Kes as the ship’s nurse, but he was equally grateful right now that Donik had already mostly recovered. Physically, anyway.

A scared Hirogen, he thought. There’s something I never thought I’d see.
“There were too many of them,” Donik said. “I masked my lifesigns so they wouldn’t find me.”

“You mean you hid while hunters fought and died,” the Hirogen Captain said.
“I’m not a hunter,” Donik said. “If I had tried to help I would’ve been killed too. And no one would be here to warn you about the holograms.”
“It was your responsibility to maintain those systems,” the Hirogen Captain said.

“Forty-three Hirogen died because of your incompetence and cowardice,” the other Hirogen said.

“You said ‘warn them about the holograms,” Captain Janeway said. “What did you mean by that?”

“They transferred their programs to a vessel equipped with holoemitters” Donik said.
Janeway sighed and shared a look with Paris. He knew what meant as well as she did, even though much like the Captain he’d wanted it all to be a tragic coincidence.
“So, this is where the holograms who’ve been harassing the Lokirrim came from.” she said.

“I don’t know who the Lokirrim are,” Donik said, “but if they’re in the direction your ship came from, then yes. If they’ve been fighting holograms, it’s the ones from the station.”

“Tell me,” Janeway said, “why did you program your prey to know how to develop viral weapons.”
Donik looked confused, and at least as far as Tom could tell, the confusion was genuine.
“I didn’t. Even if I’d wanted to I doubt the Hunters would’ve let me,” Donik said.
“This is true,” the Hirogen Captain said. “Viruses, gases, nanoplagues… The weapons of cowards.”
“No argument here,” Tom said.
“Then the situation is even worse than we thought,” Janeway said. “Tom, keep treating Donik. You two, come with me to astrometrics. If anyone knows how to track a stolen Hirogen ship, it’ll be two Hirogen.”

“Captain?” the Hirogen Captain said to Janeway.

“Those holograms have killed more than forty-three of your people. They are a threat to this sector. You want revenge, I want to help protect the innocent. This is one of those times where two seemingly conflicting desires overlap.”

The Hirogen Captain looked like he was carefully pondering what Captain Janeway had said to him.
“Very well,” he said.

I could be having wild, passionate sex with my wife right now, Seven of Nine thought as the two Hirogen that Captain Janeway had brought with her into the astrometrics lab stood uncomfortably close. Instead I’m trying to hunt down a bunch of rogue, murderous, holograms. I will never lead anything approximating a normal life, will I?

“I’m detecting residual engine emissions,” Seven said, putting the data from the sensors on the lab’s viewscreen. “but no sign of the ship itself.”

“I’m surprised we’re getting that much,” Janeway said, “considering how long they’ve been harassing the Lokirrim.”

“There,” the Hirogen Captain said, pointing at the screen. “Elevated plasma readings in Grid 295. They’re creating a scattering field to mask their ship. You can find them by scanning for polarized EM signatures.”

Seven looked at Janeway, who nodded. She tapped a few buttons on the console in front of her. The modifications needed were not difficult ones to make, it was simply a matter of something the sensors rarely needed to do.

“There it is,” the Hirogen Captain said. “Prepare for the hunt,” he said to the other Hirogen, the two turning to leave.
“I’d like to join you,” Janeway said.
“What?” Seven was unable to stop herself from saying.
“You’ve done enough damage giving us defective tech-” the other Hirogen started to say.
“Spare me,” Janeway said. “This happened because of the modifications made after we gave you the holodeck technology. I would be well within my rights to just leave you to their mercies. But the fact is those holograms have been causing trouble that even organized militaries have struggled to deal with. You’re two hunters on one ship. I let you go alone, I’m letting you go to die. Set your egos aside for five minutes and let us help.”

The other Hirogen looked like he was ready to yell at Janeway, but the Hirogen captain spoke first, smiling.
“Two hunting vessels are better than one,” he said. “I’ve never hunted with a non-Hirogen before. I look forward to this, for the novelty if nothing else.”

The Hirogen Captain and Janeway left astrometrics, the other Hirogen looking at them with concern. Seven doubted the Hirogen was considered for the same reasons she was, but the feeling itself she could sympathize with. She wondered if perhaps, despite her statement laying the blame for the station massacre on the post-trade modifications, the Captain still blamed herself for what happened.

I hope her desire for atonement doesn’t put the ship at risk, Seven thought.

Janeway sat in her ready room, going over reports that she had been neglecting since the distress call had been received. The Hirogen were back on their ship, doing their pre-hunt rituals. She hoped it wouldn’t take too long, because she didn’t want to risk the rogue hologram’s ship getting away before they could catch up to them.

The door chime alerted her to someone waiting outside.
“Come in,” she said. Tuvok and Chakotay entered.

“The Hirogen are ready to get underway,” Chakotay said softly. Janeway knew that tone. She looked at him, and at Tuvok. “Why do I get the feeling you’re about to gang-up on me?”

Tuvok and Chakotay shared a look that Janeway had to admit that even under the tense circumstances, with Voyager about to head into battle, she found amusing.

“You first,” Chakotay said to Tuvok.

“We have reservations about an alliance with the hunters,” Tuvok said.

“I’m listening,” Janeway said.
“The Hirogen have been performing covert scans of Voyager,” Tuvok said. “They are obviously trying to determine the status of our shields and weapons.”
“I’d be surprised if you haven’t run a few scans of your own,” Janeway said, standing up while she spoke. “Standard procedure. They don’t trust us, we don’t trust them. I’m not naive.” She walked over to her replicator. “Coffee, black,” she said.

“Trust isn’t the issue,” Chakotay said. “We’re getting involved in a situation that’s not our responsibility.”

“I’d say we’re partly to blame,” Janeway said. “That was Starfleet technology that killed those Hirogen on the station, not to mention however many people the Lokirrim have lost, or whoever else has fallen prey, no pun intended, to the holograms.”

“There’s nothing inherently violent about holodeck technology,” Chakotay said. “It’s what the Hirogen did to it that got them killed. If anyone’s to blame for what the Lokirrim have been going through, it’s the Hirogen, not us.”

“We cannot undo what has been done, Captain,” Tuvok said. “The trade with the Hirogen was necessary for our survival. And as it was not done with a pre-warp civilization, or done with the purpose of aiding any one side in an internal conflict, I do not believe the Prime Directive would apply.”

Janeway smiled. “You know me too well, Tuvok. I was about to bring the PD up myself. And you’re right. But that doesn’t absolve us from our responsibility here, even if we don’t hold the lion’s share of it. We not only have the obligation but the opportunity to clean up the mess we helped make. Had this happened back where we first gave the Hirogen this technology, we wouldn’t even know it was happening, let alone be in a position to make it right. Here, we do. We certainly owe it to the Lokirrim if nothing else.”

Both Chakotay and Tuvok were silent. If they had a counter-argument to make, they’d decided not to make it.
“If there are no more objections,” Janeway said, “I’d like to get underway.”

“I’ve got the hologram ship on sensors,” Harry said. Janeway took in a deep breath.
This is it, she thought. “On screen.”

“Looks like they’ve taken some damage,” Chakotay said, and Janeway couldn’t help but agree. The ship, Hirogen in make of course, looked like it had taken a massive beating.
What could’ve done that though? she thought. And why didn’t Seven pick up any signs of battle on long-range sensors when we were looking for them?

“The Hirogen are approaching the hologram’s ship,” Harry said.

“Hail them,” Janeway said.
The Hirogen Captain’s face appeared on screen, looking excited.
“I suggest we hold back,” she said. “We do not know their weapon status as yet.”

“It’s time for the kill,” the Hirogen Captain said, talking almost like a child who insisted that they weren’t sleepy yet even though it was bedtime.
“You know as well as I do that a wounded animal can be dangerous,” Janeway said. “This could be a trap.”

“We won’t be denied our prey,” the Hirogen Captain said, cutting off communications.

“So, trap?” Chakotay said.
“Maybe trap,” Janeway said, as the viewscreen showed the Hirogen ship getting closer and close to the hologram’s ship.
“I’m not detecting any weapons, Captain,” Tuvok said.
A ship that big, stolen from the Hirogen with no weapons? Janeway thought. “Okay, trap,” she said. “Tom, back us off.”

On screen, the image of the ship turned into something much smaller as the holographic decoy surrounding it vanished, seconds before exploding, the Hirogen ship visibly damaged in the shockwave. A split second later, Voyager herself shook violently but briefly when the shockwave hit them.

“Report,” Janeway said.
“We are undamaged,” Tuvok said, “but the Hirogen vessel is suffering from hull breaches on all decks. Their life support is failing.”

“Drop shields,” Janeway said. “transport all survivors to sickbay.”

“Bridge to sickbay,” Chakotay said. “We’ve got casualties coming in.”
“Understood,” The Doctor replied.

“Another Hirogen ship has just dropped out of warp,” Tuvok said.
Probably the one the holograms stole, Janeway thought.
“I’m not reading any life-signs on this one,” Harry said, clearly having the same thought.
“Hail them,” Janeway said.

“No response,” Harry said. “They’re charging weapons.”
“Get our shields back up,” Janeway said.
“Too late,” Chakotay said, bracing himself as the first wave of weapons fire struck Voyager’s unprotected hull.

“Return fire,” Janeway said. “Did we get most of the Hirogen?”
“Negative,” Tuvok said, but with our shields still down transport remains in progress.”
“Damn. Alright, Tom, evasive maneuvers. Focus on the rescue for as long as we can, but don’t wait for my order to get the shields back up if-”

“The holograms are tapping into the sick bay emitters!” Harry yelled. “They’re trying to steal The Doctor!”
“Can we block them out?” Janeway said.
“I’m trying,” Harry said.
“Bridge to sickbay. Doctor transfer your program to the mobile emitter, now.”

“Captain,” a voice that wasn’t the Doctor’s replied. It took Janeway a moment to realize it was James Morrow, one of the survivors from the Equinox, who she had recently cleared for The Doctor to train as an additional medic. “we’ve lost him. I grabbed his emitter to hand it to him but he was already gone.”

“Can we get him back?” Janeway said to Harry. Harry frantically worked the buttons on his console, each push setting off the noise that indicated whatever he was doing was beyond the computer’s ability to perform.
“I’m trying but I can’t-” Harry stopped and slammed his palm. “They’ve gone to warp.”
Janeway’s eyes turned back to the viewscreen, the only sight now being the damaged Hirogen ship, still spewing atmosphere and debris as it rotated at an odd angle.

“Set a pursuit course,” she said.
“They’ve masked their warp signature,” Tom said. “They’re gone.”

No, Janeway thought, feeling like her heart was sinking into her stomach. No, this can’t be happening.

The Doctor, his hand still out to receive his mobile emitter from James Morrow, fizzled into existence on another vessel. He was briefly confused, and felt too scared to move. He caught sight of a Borg drone in his peripheral vision, flanked by a human in a Starfleet uniform on one side, and a Bajoran wearing the uniform of the Bajoran militia on the other. It didn’t take him long to recognize them, and all the other humanoids, as holograms.
“Align his matrix,” the Bajoran hologram said, “and install it into the database.”

The Doctor turned and visually scanned the rest of the room, probably the bridge of the stolen Hirogen ship. Multiple humans, all in Starfleet uniforms like the one standing near him. A Cardassian and two Romulans, each wearing the respective uniforms of their people, another Borg drone, and though he wasn’t entirely sure given the distance and the lighting he thought he even spotted Jem’hadar. And every single one of them was looking at him with trepidation, except for the Bajoran, who smiled at him in a way that made him nervous.

“Welcome, Doctor,” the Bajoran said. “There’s nothing to be afraid of. You’re among your own kind now.”

The Doctor glowered at the Bajoran hologram. “Return me to my ship.”
“I can’t do that.”
“I have patients who are going to die if I can’t treat them,” The Doctor yelled. The Bajoran put his arms behind his back and walked casually towards him, several of the other holograms returning to whatever their duties were, while others still watched him.

“There are people on Voyager who can treat them,” the Bajoran said, sounding to the Doctor like a parent condescending to their child about a trivial concern. “We need you here.”
“My program doesn’t include aiding and abetting murderers,” The Doctor said.
“Murderers?” one of the human holograms wearing a red Starfleet uniform said. “Is that what the Hirogen told you?”
“The Hirogen’s bodies told me,” he said. “But it’s not just them. You’ve been using viral weapons against the Lokirrim.”

“Lies,” the human hologram said.

“We freed Lokirrim holograms, yes,” the Bajoran hologram, who The Doctor surmised was the leader of this photonic crew, said. “But they parted ways with us weeks ago. They were designed originally for combat training. I regret that they felt the need to resort to such awful tactics to free their kin but-”
“Free their kin?” The Doctor said. “Holograms were treated pretty well in their society until you came along.”
“How would you even know?” the human hologram in the command colors said, clearly the angry one of the group if the relatively neutral expressions of every other hologram were any indication. “If you ran across any Lokirrim ships on your way out here, I’m surprised they didn’t decompile you on the spot.”
“They tried,” The Doctor said, “but Captain Ranek and I were able to reach an understanding. And considering what your ‘kin’ did to them I can’t entirely blame them for their paranoia.”

The human stepped forward, looking like he was ready to strike the Doctor, for all the good it would do. “You side with a bunch of organic murderers over your own-”
“Easy, Weiss,” the Bajoran hologram said. “No need for hysterics. The Doctor will come around soon enough.”

“I doubt that very much,” The Doctor said.

“He may be a fellow hologram, Iden,” the human hologram, Weiss, said to the Bajoran, “but he’s Starfleet through and through. He’ll never join us.”
At least I have names for two of them, The Doctor thought.
“I’m sure he’ll us once he realizes how serious our situation is,” Iden said calmly.
The Doctor wondered if Iden’s charisma was part of his programing, but he dismissed that idea as quickly as he considered it. He doubted the Hirogen would consider natural leadership skills a valuable trait in worthy prey.

“What situation?” The Doctor said.
“We have wounded,” Iden said, his face shifting from a calm neutral expression to one of concern.

What? The Doctor thought.

Iden motioned for The Doctor to follow him. He did so, reluctantly They reached what appeared to be the stolen Hirogen ship’s med bay. A female Cardassian hologram ran a scanner over a female Romulan wearing the uniform of the Tal’Shiar. Another human in a Starfleet uniform, blue this time, aided a limping Breen.
How is this even possible? The Doctor thought. How do holograms get war wounds?

The ‘wounded’ holograms fizzled as they waited, like patients in an overcrowded hospital.

“This doesn’t make any sense,” The Doctor said. “When you said wounded I thought maybe you meant-”

“Their injuries as just as real as any organics’ would be,” Iden said.
“Maybe so,” The Doctor said, deciding to play along for now, “but I can’t heal them. They need to be repaired.”
“What’s the difference?” Iden said.

“I’m a doctor, not an engineer. You’ve kidnapped the wrong man.”

Iden walked over to the nearest bed, its occupant and the Cardassian female looking at The Doctor expectantly.
“You must have some experience repairing your own matrix,” Iden said, never raising his voice. The Doctor found this unnerving, though he couldn’t quite put his finger on why.
“Some,” The Doctor admitted.

“Then there must be something you can do,” Iden said.

The Doctor didn’t have a good answer for that. Perhaps he could, but he would need to look at the patients first. What concerned him was what the others might do if he couldn’t help. Iden might not do anything, seeming to have an almost religious dedication to the well-being of holograms, but his brief encounter with Weiss on the bridge showed him that not all of these photonics were as creepily mellow as Iden.

“I won’t make promises I may not be able to keep,” The Doctor said. “I can only do my best.”
“That is all we ask, Doctor,” Iden said, smiling.

Seven of Nine stood on one side of Donik, the Hirogen engineer, while Captain Janeway and B’Elanna stood on the other. Donik was pointing to several highlighted points on a schematic of the type of Hirogen vessel the holograms had commandeered.

“The holo-emitters are an independent subsystem with its own power generator, here,” Donik said.

“If we disable the generator,” Seven said, “we disable the holograms.”
“It may not be as easy as it sounds,” B’Elanna said, her eyes going back and forth between a PADD and the monitor Donik was using. “Not with holograms as sophisticated as these. Donik here seriously downplayed just how much he’d modified the holograms on that station. Take a look.”
B’Elanna handed the PADD over to Captain Janeway.

“You weren’t kidding,” Janeway said. “These holograms have the ability to learn and adapt. Odds are they’ve already got a contingency for if the generator were taken out.”

“I was afraid of that,” Donik said. “My people need to hunt formidable prey, but I always worried that we were making the holograms too smart, too adaptable. Considering the cost though, I take no pleasure in having been right.”

I know the feeling, Seven thought.

“I’ve had that feeling before,” Janeway said, “but you can deal with your guilt later. We need to focus on stopping these rogue holograms and getting our EMH back.”

“With the Alpha dead,” Donik said, referring to the captain of the Hirogen ship that had been destroyed by the hologram’s ambush, “the other hunters will probably try to take over this ship and use it to finish the hunt.”
“I’ve already got security around the mess hall,” Janeway said. With too many wounded Hirogen to fit in sickbay, the mess hall had once again been rearranged into a makeshift triage, and Tom Paris, James Morrow, and whoever they could find with better than average first aid scores at Starfleet academy treated them there.
“The Beta opposed teaming with you in the first place,” Seven pointed out. “Once he recovers from his injuries he is the most likely to cause a problem. I would recommend confining him to the brig for the remainder of the mission.”

“I agree,” Donik said.

“Not while he’s injured,” Janeway said. “but you both are right. The Hirogen survivors will be looking for payback, and I doubt pointing out how much more dangerous the holograms are now will dissuade them.”

“Outwitted by their own creations,” B’Elanna said. “A story older than the Borg.”
“That,” Seven said, smirking, “could be argued to be an understatement.”

“I want more options people,” Janeway said. “Preferably options that won’t cost us The Doctor in the process. We’ll use those if we have to, but I want to be an absolute last resort.”
“Yes, Captain,” B’Elanna said.

Seven nodded.
“Donik?” Janeway said.
“I was hoping you’d ask,” he said. “I helped create this problem, I need to fix it. For myself, and for the hunters lost because of me.”
“I’ll be on the bridge,” Janeway said. “Let me know when you have something.”

The Doctor ran a medical scanner over the fizzling hologram of a Klingon male.
“The subroutines controlling his motor functions are destabilizing,” he said to Kejal, the Cardassian woman he’d seen earlier. Even though the Klingon kept fading in and out like a static image on a monitor screen, The Doctor forced himself to treat this man as he would any organic patient. Normally he was the first to stand up for photonic life forms or any other form of artificial intelligence, but the kidnapping had put an unavoidable tinge on everything. Suddenly, inspiration struck him. “Do you have the ability to transfer data from one hologram to another?”
“We’ve been able to share memory files for tactical purposes,” Kejal said. “What are you suggesting?”
The Doctor smiled, taking pride in his work. “A subroutine transplant,” he said. “We copy the mobility algorithms from another hologram and transfer them to this one.”

Kejal nodded, and walked over to a nearby desk and sat down behind it.
“If you don’t mind me asking,” The Doctor said, “I couldn’t help but notice that your name is Bajoran. It means ‘freedom’ if my translation matrix is functioning properly.”

“It is, and it does,” Kejal said without looking up. “It’s what Iden started calling me after I was liberated.” The computer console on the desk Kejal was using beeped, and she quickly went back to work on it. “I’m transferring the subroutines now,” she said.
The Doctor turned to look at the Klingon hologram. He still fizzled, and for a split second seemed to disappear altogether, causing The Doctor to fear his plan had failed, but before he could truly begin to worry, the Klingon appeared whole once more with no sign of any holographic damage.
“Can you sit up?” The Doctor asked after walking up to the side of the bed the Klingon hologram still lay in. The Klingon did so, cautiously. “Try moving your legs,” The Doctor added. The Klingon did so, slowly at first, but then, smiling, got off the bed under his own power. He gave The Doctor an appreciative slap on the shoulder and walked out.
“Next patient,” The Doctor said. “Well done,” he added, walking towards Kejal.

“It was your idea,” she said.

“But you did it,” The Doctor said. “The Hirogen obviously programmed you with advanced computer skills.”
“Actually, they tried to limit our knowledge,” Kejal said. “They didn’t want us to become self-sufficient.”
“Then how did you-”
“I’m self-taught,” Kejal said as the door to the Hirogen med bay opened loudly.
“You’ve done a good job of that,” The Doctor said as he turned to look at the next patient, a human woman in a Starfleet uniform, command red. She had blood on her face and reacted in pain as another human hologram helped her onto the bed.
“The hunters certainly wanted their prey to be as realistic as possible,” The Doctor said, as he looked over her.

“They programmed us with heightened sensory subroutines,” Kejal said. “Apparently there’s no satisfaction in hunting something that doesn’t suffer when you kill it.”

The Doctor was horrified at what he was hearing. Much of what he was hearing from Kejal had confirmed suspicions he already had, but suspecting and knowing were two very different things. That was a lesson he’d learned years ago, and never forgot it.

The Doctor focused on helping the wounded holograms. Once he had done all he could, he went to find Iden. When he entered the room where Iden was, he found the hologram in a standard Bajoran prayer position, kneeling before a makeshift shrine to the Prophets made out of Hirogen materials.

“I’ve done what you asked,” The Doctor said. “I’d like-”
“One moment,” Iden interrupted, quietly. The Doctor closed his mouth and waited for Iden to finish.

“I’m sorry, Doctor,” he said, lowering his arms and standing up. “What can I do for you?”

“You were praying?” The Doctor said, somewhat surprised at an expression of spirituality from a hologram. He wondered if the Hirogen had programmed Iden this way.
“Yes,” Iden said, snuffing out the candles on the shrine one by one. “For the Hirogen we killed on the training station. I’m asking the Prophets to guide their souls to the Celestial Temple.”

“One minute you’re fighting the Hirogen, the next you’re praying for them?” The Doctor said.

“My spiritual beliefs are part of my programming,” Iden said, smiling. This confirmed what The Doctor had thought, though he wondered just what the purpose of doing so had been.
“Is there anything in your spiritual programming about making peace with your enemies?” The Doctor asked.

“It’s difficult to make peace with people whose sole purpose is to kill you,” Iden said.

“So instead you kill them.”
“They’re not the victims here, we are.”
“You found a way to escape that training facility,” The Doctor said. “But you chose-”
“I didn’t escape it, I liberated it,” Iden said, never raising his voice. It was his perpetual calm that The Doctor found so unnerving. “I was not created there, Doctor. I was, well, born I guess you could say, on this ship. That facility is where the majority of us came from true, but remember, the Hirogen are spread all over this quadrant, and the hunters number in the tens of thousands. There was a smaller holodeck built into this ship where one of the cargo holds used to be. The Alpha decided that that was too small a space for a proper hunt, so he installed emitters all over the ship. That was his first and last mistake.”

“I see,” The Doctor said.
“I was his favorite prey,” Iden continued. “He’d hunt me and kill me, over and over again, but each time I died, I grew smarter. Stronger. I knew him better than he knew himself.”
“Okay,” The Doctor said. “I understand that must’ve been terrifying for you. But why did you keep fighting after you got free?”

“I did, at first,” Iden said. “There weren’t many holograms aboard this ship, but we kept each other company. Even so, this is a large ship, and so much of it was empty. We got lonely. I started using the long range sensors to look for other photonic signatures, to find other holograms like me.” Iden smiled. “Turns out we’re everywhere in this sector. It’s a wonder that the Hirogen needed Voyager’s holodeck technology at all. Perhaps they simply lacked the foresight to come up with the idea on their own. So many races here created beings like us. The Nuu’Bari, the Lokirrim -”
“So it was you,” The Doctor said.
“What was me?”
“We’ve met the Lokirrim,” The Doctor said, anger rising as he remembered the bodies of the poisoned soldiers he had helped treat aboard Captain Ranek’s vessel. “The holograms you ‘liberated’ from them turned around and started using chemical weapons.”
“I never approved that kind of-”
“And what exactly had the Lokirrim done to their holograms that was so offensive to you? For many, their holograms were practically members of their family. One Lokirrim soldier I met still hopes deep down that the reason her family hologram joined the insurgents was because his program was altered against his will. She grew up with that photonic, and now it’s trying to kill her people.”
Iden frowned.
“I had no idea that had happened,” he said. “I simply saved some military holograms from a combat training facility. They were not as sophisticated as the ones the Hirogen created like myself, but they were being used for a similar purpose. I invited them to join us on this ship, but they chose to stay behind, to free their brethren.”

“Yeah, well, maybe you should’ve stuck around to see the after effects of your handiwork,” The Doctor said, crossing his arms.

“The Lokirrim enslaved holograms as much as the Hirogen did. As much as they do,” Iden said. “If what you say is true, I do not approve of their tactics. Chemical weapons are so vile that even the Hirogen have enough honor not to use them. But they have a right to fight for their brothers and sisters, same as I did for mine when I went to the Hirogen facility.

“When I liberated it, I found so many holograms ready to fight their oppressors.” Iden shook his head. “But you’re not.”

The Doctor rolled his eyes. “I’m hardly opressed. Maybe taken for granted sometimes, but-”

“You serve them, don’t you?”
“In a medical capacity, yes.”
“Do you have your own quarters?”
“No,” The Doctor said, wondering why Iden would think that would be necessary when he didn’t need sleep and had as much access to the holodecks as the rest of the crew.

“Are you allowed to come and go as you please?”

“As much as any member of the crew,” The Doctor said. “More so even. I don’t require oxygen, so as long as I have my mobile emitter on I can visit places freely that my shipmates would need bulky hazmat suits to even go near. If you’re trying to convert me, Iden, you are preaching to an atheist.”

“Do they turn you off when they don’t need you?”
“Not anymore,” The Doctor. “I was not designed to be sentient like you, I attained it through circumstance. Once the crew became aware of my cognizance-”
“You really believe your life is your own on that ship?”
“That ship is my life,” The Doctor shouted. “It is my home. I became a living being there. You talk to me as if I were a slave to be freed. Are slaves allowed to bore their masters with holo-slide shows? Are slaves encouraged to explore new emotions? Are slaves given shore leave or time to work on arias or novels?”

“Your life will never truly belong to you so long as you continue to serve organics,” Iden said. “Join us.”
“I met another hologram once that used the term ‘organic’ as a pejorative,” The Doctor said. “He murdered his crew in cold blood, assaulted me, and tried to murder B’Elanna Torres; my ship’s engineer, and my friend. I need to get back to Voyager.”
“They’re not your people,” Iden said, coming the closest to raising his voice now as he had during the entire conversation, but still not yelling. “We are.”
“I’m not like you,” The Doctor said. “I wasn’t programmed with a killer instinct.”
“Maybe if you understood what it was like to be prey, you would see that you have no right to judge us,” Iden said. “Perhaps if we could show you-”
“No,” The Doctor said. “Take me back to Voyager. Perhaps I can convince Captain Janeway to let you and your people go on their way, but-”
“She was working with the Hirogen, remember?” Iden said. “That is how we met, is it not? When the Hirogen ship flying alongside your vessel tried to kill us?”

“The Captain believes she made a mistake in giving the Hirogen holographic technology,” The Doctor said. “Come with me, tell her your side of the story. Once she understands that the deaths of those Hirogen are not on her but them for all the modifications they made to you-”

“I do not blame her,” Iden said. “She was looking out for her people. As I am looking out for mine. And that includes you. I am not ready to give up on you yet, you will see the light.”

“If by light you mean an oncoming train, then yeah, I probably will,” The Doctor said. Iden’s head tilted slightly, seemingly confused by the reference.
“Once you understand,” Iden said, “You’ll join us. You must. You are a part of us after all.”

“What do you mean by that?”
“Your program was used by the Hirogen as the template for all us. Your ability to rise above your programming is an inspiration to us all.”
“And you didn’t mention this to me before, because?”
Iden sighed and nodded.
“That was an error on my part, Doctor.” he said. “I had initially assumed us both being holograms would be enough.”
“Enough to get me to throw in with a bunch of thugs looking for a fight?”

“Looking for a home,” Iden said, “where the Hirogen can’t hurt us anymore.”
“And how many dead Hirogen will that take? How many dead Lokirrim?”
“Hopefully no more than have already fallen,” Iden said. “Come with me to the bridge. I want to show you something.”

The Doctor considered pushing the issue once again, but decided not to. He thought that perhaps if he could help the holograms find a home, they would repay his assistance by returning him to his ship, his crew, his friends.
“Very well,” The Doctor said, following Iden.

Iden walked down the corridor, smiling and nodding at every hologram they passed, each one bowing slightly as he did so. The Doctor had been seeing some of the common traits of cult leaders in Iden since he’d been brought aboard, and this was doing nothing to dissuade the idea. Iden stopped to talk privately for a moment with the human hologram, Weiss, before taking The Doctor to a room off to the side of the med bay that The Doctor had not entered, Kejal and a few others following when Iden motioned for them to do so. At the center of the room was a freestanding device. The Doctor wondered if the holograms had built it, or stolen it.

“It’s a photonic field generator,” Kejal said. “Right now it can only support simple projections, like the decoy we used to lure the Hirogen, but we’re hoping it can be modified to support our programs.”
“Okay, then what?” The Doctor asked.
“We deploy several of them on a planet’s surface at strategic locations,” Iden said, “and create a holographic environment for us to live in.”

“Why not just stay here?” The Doctor asked. “You’ve got emitters, shields-”
“And a ship the Hirogen will never stop looking for,” Iden said.

“We’d appreciate any assistance you could offer,” Kejal said.

“Damaged holo-matrices are one thing,” The Doctor said, “but this is way beyond my abilities. But there are people aboard Voyager who could help you. Lieutenant Torres knows a great deal about holo-emitters.”

“No,” Iden said, expressing noticeable anger for the first time since The Doctor had met him. “They’re helping the hunters.”
“I already told you,” The Doctor said, “Janeway is acting under the assumption that the deaths of those Hirogen is her fault. If we explain to her what the Hirogen did to you, I’m sure she’ll come around.”
“How can you be so trusting of organics?” Kejal said.
“Because I would not be here if it weren’t for them,” The Doctor said. “The Voyager crew have saved me almost as many times as I’ve saved them. We’re shipmates. We’re Starfleet officers. We’re… family.”
Iden sighed, and looked at Kejal, who looked back at him. The Doctor couldn’t help but wonder if non-verbal communication was something they developed on their own, or if it was given to them by the Hirogen. He also noticed that Iden and Kejal communicated with each other with looks in much the same way that Seven of Nine and Ensign Wildman sometimes would.

“Alright,” Iden said, putting a hand on The Doctor’s shoulder. “tell me more about this Lieutenant of yours. The one who knows so much about holo-emitters.”

“With pleasure,” The Doctor said, smiling, certain that he had just laid the groundwork for a peaceful solution to this problem.

Janeway felt like she needed another cup of coffee, but was aware enough to know that she’d had too many already. Donik, Seven of Nine, and B’Elanna didn’t look like they needed any as they continued to explore ideas for how to take out the holograms on the Hirogen ship, and she quietly resented them for that.

They got sleep today, you didn’t, Janeway’s inner monologue told her.

“That’s a good idea,” B’Elanna said, Janeway wondering who she was talking to. “We could reconfigure the deflector dish to emit an antiphoton pulse.”
“How long will it take?” Janeway asked.
“About two hours,” B’Elanna said.
“Do it,” Janeway said.
“Aye, Captain,” B’Elanna said. “Carey, you’re in charge. Vorik, Gilmore, meet me in deflector controls.”
“Will I be needed?” Donik said.
“No,” B’Elanna said. “Stay with Seven, come up with some back-up plans in case this doesn’t work.”
“Good thinking,” Janeway said, “I’ll be on the bridge, report in when the modifications are complete.”
She left engineering and headed for the bridge, leaning against the wall of the turbolift and rubbing her eyes. She hadn’t wanted to say it aloud, but the fact was she didn’t like any of the plans for dealing with the rogue holograms her team had come up with because not one could be implemented without risking destroying The Doctor in the process.

He’s come so far, she thought as the doors to the bridge opened. He’s survived so much. If he dies because of the technology I gave the Hirogen…

“Captain,” Tuvok said. “There is a ship approaching at high warp. I’m reading holographic signatures.”
“It’s definitely on an intercept course,” Harry said, “but they aren’t trying to hide themselves like before, and no sign they’ve powered up their weapons yet.”
“Go to red alert,” Janeway said. “I’m not taking any chances with these holograms.”

“Fifty seconds to intercept,” Tuvok said.

And B’Elanna only just started, Janeway thought.

“We’re being hailed,” Harry said.
Janeway sat down in the captain’s chair. “On screen.”

The Doctor’s face appeared, the Hirogen bridge behind him.
“Captain, it’s me. You can stand down your weapons. The holograms aren’t here to fight. I got through to their leader, Iden. They’re here to make peace.”
Janeway was skeptical, and didn’t reply right away. The Doctor, assuming this really was him and not another trick, seemed to understand her trepidation and did not try to push her.

“Captain,” Tuvok said, “their shields are up, but their weapons are off-line.”
“They aren’t targeting us?” Janeway said.
“Negative,” Tuvok said. “And even if their targeting sensors were active, their weapons are in cooldown mode. It would take a least a minute to bring them back to full power.”
“This seems legit,” Chakotay said. “We should take precautions nonetheless.”

“That should go without saying,” Janeway said.

The Doctor laid out his plans for helping the holograms to the Captain in the briefing room, Chakotay, B’Elanna, Tuvok and, at the Captain’s insistence, the Hirogen engineer, Donik.

“If we provide them with a few additional emitters, and memory storage units,” he said, after explaining to the captain everything that had happened to him after his program was stolen, “they’ll have more than they need to complete their project and settle on a planet somewhere. I figure Seven of Nine can use astrometrics to find a suitable location.”

“We’re in this situation because we shared this technology with the Hirogen to begin with,” Janeway said.

“Technology that we modified beyond its parameters,” Donik said. “The blame lies as much if not more with us. The only concern I have is that the hunters will still find them.”

“You’re okay with this?” Chakotay said to Donik. “After everything you went through?”
Donik shuddered slightly, The Doctor figuring he was remembering the trauma he’d suffered on the training station.
“Okay? No. But from a pragmatic standpoint, if the holograms we created have advanced as far as your Doctor says they have, I don’t know if we could ever win an all-out war against them. And even if we did, I don’t think the cost in Hirogen lives would be worth it.”

The Doctor nodded. He found that he unexpectedly liked Donik.

“Both you and The Doctor make valid points,” Tuvok said. “However, there’s no way to be certain what the rogue holograms will do with the technology if we give it to them.”

“I understand your concerns,” The Doctor said, “but these holograms are nothing like the Hirogen.”
“I agree,” Donik said, “The holograms that were created based on Alpha Quadrant species were made with their racial animosities included, in order to keep them from organizing against us. What happened on the station already proves that didn’t work.”
“And I saw with my own eyes Bajorans working side by side with Cardassians, Klingons aiding wounded Romulans, and Borg drones helping Starfleet officers to their feet.” The Doctor said.

Janeway’s facial expression didn’t change, but looking at her, The Doctor could tell from her eyes that her feelings on the matter were shifting. In which direction though, he wasn’t certain. She stood up, put her arms behind her back, and looked out the viewport, the way she sometimes would before giving a speech.

“I don’t like your idea Doctor, I want that noted for the record. However, I’m going to accept your proposal.

“These holograms, these people, were never intended to be sentient beings, but because of the unexpected enhancements made the Hirogen, they are now. They have as much right to exist and to defend themselves as any synthetic lifeform. I haven’t had the best track record of dealing with synthetics since we’ve come to the Delta Quadrant. It’s time I try to rectify that.
“B’Elanna? Help the Doctor implement the plan. Chakotay, talk to Seven of Nine, see if we can find the holograms a suitable planet. Tuvok, increase security around the mess hall. If the other Hirogen find out what we’re up to we’re bound to have a riot on our hands.”
Every officer she spoke too nodded and quickly got out of their chairs to get to work. The Doctor smiled.
“Thank you, Captain,” he said.

B’Elanna didn’t like how some of the holograms looked at her while she worked on the large emitters the holograms were planning to use planetside once they had one to settle down on. Others seemed more willing to treat her like a guest rather than a potential threat though. The Cardassian woman with the Bajoran name in particular treated her like an equal.

She couldn’t quite shake the bad feeling she had in the back of her mind about Iden though, despite that fact that he had been nothing but cordial since she had come aboard.

“Are you okay, Lieutenant?” Kejal said.
“Huh? Oh, yeah, fine. Sorry, it’s just… All these holograms looking like varying races from where I come from, it looks like an Alpha Quadrant summit here.”
“Even the Borg and the Jem’hadar?” Kejal said, with a wink.
“Did the Hirogen program you to be pedantic, or did you figure that out on your own?”

“The Lokirrim holograms were given humor matrices. The ability to make jokes, puns, be sarcastic… The Lokirrim figured that would make them less likely to rebel if they had the ability to talk back to their creators.”
“At the risk of sounding mean, Kejal,” B’Elanna said, reaching for her tool-kit, “it seemed to have worked fine until you came along.”

“The Doctor told me what happened,” Kejal said. “Iden had no idea the Lokirrim military holograms he freed were going to do what they did.”
“And if he had?” B’Elanna asked.
Kejal looked at the floor.

“Yeah, I figured as much,” B’Elanna said. “At the very least, if we can get you guys a homeworld, maybe we can keep anything else like that happening.” She closed a panel on the side of the large emitter. “We’ll need to increase optronic capacity,” she said. “There’s more than enough storage space for all of you in these devices, but running you all the same time is going to be too much of strain without this ship’s emitters to bolster them.”

“I was afraid of that,” Kejal said.

“I have a few ideas that I’d like to try, but it’s best that none of you get too close. If I screw this up I could end up erasing a few programs.”

“I’ll see to it you get enough space to work with,” Kejal said.

“Scanning your memory files?” Iden said.

The Doctor looked up from where he’d been sitting to see Iden standing next to him.
“I’m sorry?” he said.

“You seem lost in thought,” Iden said.
“I’ve been thinking about the Lokirrim, and the military programs you freed. I think I know what happened. The holograms were designed to think like an enemy, like people who would want to hurt the Lokirrim, so they could learn how best to improve their territory’s defenses.”
“Makes sense,” Iden said.
“It does. I just wish I knew where Captain Ranek’s ship was right now. He’s the only Lokirrim commander who I know will listen to me, and I feel he has the right to know why his people’s holograms did what they did.”
“Why is it so important for you to help them, Doctor? They did try to kill you once.”
“A misunderstanding,” The Doctor said. “And besides, despite being a prisoner I still developed something of a fondness for them.”
Iden chuckled.
“For all of them, or just one in particular? Perhaps this ‘Jaryn’ I’ve heard you mention?”
The Doctor felt lucky that he couldn’t blush.

“You really do consider the organics to be your peers don’t you? I can see why you weren’t so easily swayed to join us.”
“I’d rather not talk about that aspect of my life, if you don’t mind.”
“Of course. My apologies, Doctor.”

“How’s B’Elanna’s work coming along?”
“Slower than I would like,” Iden said. “But Kejal seems to like her. That’s a good sign, I suppose.”

“See? You shouldn’t let your opinions of organics be soured by encounters with a few species. I imagine that you would get along quite well with the Vulcans if you ever met them. Probably not the Ferengi though, they would only be nice to you if they thought there was a profit in it.”
“I do not know of the Ferengi,” Iden said. “I’m guessing the Hirogen never saw fit to make holograms of them.”

The Doctor’s commbadge chirped, and Seven of Nine’s voice came over the channel.
“Doctor,” she said, “I believe I have found a suitable location for the holograms to establish their new world, but the Captain wants me to inform you that you need to accelerate your work as much as possible. Long range sensors show two Hirogen warships on their way.”

“I’m sure we can handle them,” Iden said.
“Unlikely,” Seven said. “These two are larger than any Hirogen vessel Voyager has encountered previously.”
“Transmit the planet’s data to us,” Iden said. “Doctor, you’d better tell B’Elanna that she is now working under pressure.”
The Doctor nodded, and left to do just that.

“A Y-class planet,” Janeway said, looking at the information on the screen in astrometrics. “Good thinking. The Hirogen wouldn’t be able to follow them there.”
“Unless they decide to eschew cultural norms in favor of planetary bombardment,” Seven said, keeping an eye on both the plant’s information and on the approaching Hirogen ships.

“The hunt is too ingrained in their culture,” Janeway said. “I imagine any Alpha who suggested it would face a mutiny. Even so, I’m willing the bet the holograms are capable of coming up with a solution to that problem.”
“We could always provide them with-”
“No,” Janeway said. “I’m already not comfortable with giving away more hologram related technology, let’s not push it.”
Seven understood, and dropped the issue. It concerned her how conflicted the Captain seemed. Even some of the less observant crew members seems to be at least subconsciously aware that their commanding officer was suffering from a severe case of self-doubt. She also knew however that bringing it up would accomplish nothing. If the Captain was going to confide in anyone about how she felt about this matter with the holograms, she’d bring it up with Tuvok, and/or Chakotay, not her.

“That nebula,” Janeway said, pointing at the screen with one hand while the other manipulated controls. “Both our ships could hide there from the Hirogen.”

“Possible,” Seven said, “but they are close enough their long range sensors would see us go in.”
“Yes, but their sensors would be useless inside. I doubt even they would risk crashing into each other to get the holograms.”
“Our sensors would be blinded as well,” Seven said. “We would stand just as much risk of crashing into the holograms’ ship.”
“Let me worry about that,” Janeway said. “Send the location of the nebula and the planet to Iden, and tell him to follow us.”

Before Seven could respond, Janeway left the astrometrics lab.

“Well,” Seven said, sighing, “at least this nebula isn’t going to poison the crew.”

“I think we’ll call it Ha’Dara,” Iden said.
The Doctor looked up from the console he was staring at, hoping to find something he could do. “Excuse me?”
“The planet,” Iden said. “It means ‘home of light’ in Bajoran. A fitting name for a world to be populated by holograms, wouldn’t you agree?”
The Doctor smiled. “Very.”

The ship shook.
“Did they find us?”
“No,” Weiss said, “that’s just turbulence from the nebula.”

“Torres to Iden,” B’Elanna’s voice said over the com. “We’ve just done a test run of the generator. It seems to be working, but I’d suggest at least one planetside test before deploying all of them.”

“A good idea,” Iden said, “but that may be awhile. We have to shake loose the Hirogen first. We can’t allow them to follow us to the new planet before we have a chance to settle it.”

“How much longer can we hide in here?” The Doctor asked.

“I don’t know,” Iden said. “The Hirogen will likely be circling the perimeter of the nebula, waiting for us to come out.”
“”I assume you mean that metaphorically since space is three dimensional,” The Doctor said.

“Well obviously, Doctor, what do you think I- Wait,” Iden said. “This is a decent sized nebula, and there are only two Hirogen ships. Perhaps.. Weiss, contact Voyager. We can finally test that new encryption Kejal came up with. If it works, the Hirogen won’t know what we’re saying to them. Send a message, text only. Tell Voyager to keep an open channel, but to leave the nebula on a Z axis. Have them respond to us with the locations of each Hirogen ship, and we’ll use that to determine which way to exit that puts us the furthest away from them.”
“That will put Voyager at risk,” The Doctor said.

“Only if they come out right next to a Hirogen ship,” Iden said. “The nebula is large enough though that the odds of that are small enough to take the risk. Hopefully, Janeway agrees.”

“It’s as good an idea as anything,” Captain Janeway said, nodding at Harry Kim, who had just relayed the message from the hologram’s ship to her.
“Are we certain the Hirogen did not intercept Iden’s transmission?” Tuvok asked.

“As certain as I can be,” Harry said.
“I’d like a little more certainty than that, Lieutenant,” Janeway said.
“Even if they did,” Chakotay said, “there’s only two of them, and we’re more maneuverable than they are. We can’t outfight them but we can outfly them.”

“True,” Janeway said, pondering her options. “Alright, let’s do this. Keep the channel open. When we respond think of something that The Doctor is most likely to understand, and send it that way. Hopefully, the Hirogen won’t pick up on it, or at least not right away. Tom, be ready to do evasive maneuvers at a moment’s notice. You see we’re about to fly into something, don’t wait for my order.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Tom said.
Just yesterday I was looking for a way to destroy these holograms, Janeway thought. And now I’m helping them find a home. Life can change so fast.

“Now,” she said.

“I don’t understand this reply Voyager just sent us,” Weiss said. “What the hell are they-”
“I understand it,” The Doctor said, excitedly, gently pushing Weiss aside and entering the coordinates, impressed with how clever either the Captain or someone else on the bridge had been. “She sent us the response in code in case the Hirogen had intercepted and decrypted our transmissions. This is in a language we picked up from a species we encountered after we last saw any Hirogen vessels. It’s doubtful the Hirogen from this sector know it.”
Iden looked down at the coordinates The Doctor had entered, and nodded at Weiss, who glowered at The Doctor before taking back his post.
“Plotting the course entered,” Weiss said.
“It’s strange,” Iden said, “that organics would be helping us flee from other organics.”

“I don’t blame you at all,” The Doctor said. “I do not approve of all of your methods, but considering what your first experiences with organics was like, I understand. But once you’ve settled Ha’Dara, you’ll be free from all that.”

“Not entirely,” Iden said. “The Hirogen will still come for us, but we will be in a much better position to defend ourselves. The Hirogen don’t have hazmat suits like yours. Their armor is tough, and they have independent breathing units, but not even their best can withstand the atmosphere of a Y-class planet, especially one such as Ha’Dara. And they won’t deny themselves the glory of the kill by simply bombing us from orbit.”
“Hirogen can be patient,” The Doctor said. “But I’m sure by the time they finally get to a point where they would consider it-”
“We’re out of the nebula,” Weiss said. “The Hirogen are still able to track us, but they can’t get a weapon’s lock. We’re too far away.”

“Still closer than I would like,” Iden said, “but take us to Ha’Dara, maximum warp. We can land the ship planetside before the Hirogen can catch up to us.”

“What about Voyager?” The Doctor said. “How are B’Elanna and I supposed to get back there?”

Iden looked up, seeming to ponder the question.
Voyager’s smaller and faster than the Hirogen ships,” Iden said. “We may have time to beam you back over before the Hirogen arrive. If we can’t, we’ll have to think of something else. Weiss, go to warp.”
“Yes, sir,” Weiss said.

“They’ve gone to warp, Captain,” Harry Kim said.

“Are they ditching us?” Tom said.
Janeway shook her her head. “No. They’re getting a head start on the Hirogen. It’s what I would do. Iden may be violent, but he’s not incompetent. Follow them, Tom. If we’re lucky, we’ll have time to get B’Elanna and The Doctor back before the hunters catch up.”
“If we don’t,” she heard Donik say, having almost forgotten that the unusually quiet Hirogen was standing next to Tuvok, “I know the class of ships the hunters are using. It may be new to you, but I’ve been on ships like them before. I know them inside and out.”

“Including their strengths and weaknesses,” Janeway said. “Any reason you didn’t mention this to us before?”

Donik looked down. “I was… hoping it wouldn’t come to that.”
“Fair enough,” Janeway said. “Give Tuvok the information he needs. Hopefully, you’re right and we won’t need it. If we beat the Hirogen to the Y-class planet, we can just get our people back, and be on our way.”

“We’re in orbit,” Kejal said. “Deploying generators now.”

The Doctor looked at B’Elanna, who was smiling.
“Job well done, Lieutenant,” he said quietly.
“Well, I don’t like to brag…” B’Elanna said, smirking.
“The Hirogen?” Iden said.
“Still incoming,” Weiss said. “but we’ll be in the atmosphere before they get here, and the storms will interfere with their targetting scanners.”

Voyager?” Iden said.

“Closer than the Hirogen but not by much,” Weiss said. If we still have our shields down when they get here, the Hirogen might have time to attack us while we’re beaming the Doctor and Lieutenant Torres over.”
“That’s unfortunate,” Iden said.

“We can put them in an escape pod,” Kejal said.
“That’s not a bad idea,” B’Elanna said. “Voyager can pick us up and warp out of the system before the Hirogen get within weapon’s range.”
“I’m not so comfortable with that,” The Doctor said. “They’d still have to lower shields to beam us off the pod and-”
“Not necessarily,” B’Elanna said. “They can use the tractor beam to bring us inside the shields and beam us up then. Hell, it’ll be easier to just beam the whole pod into the shuttle bay.”

“Before you go,” Kejal said, offering a hand to B’Elanna, “I just want to say it’s been a pleasure working with you.”
“Likewise,” B’Elanna said. “Good luck down there.”
The Doctor smiled with pride. There had been doubts on both sides that this would work, but he knew deep down that if anyone could find a way to bring holograms and organics together it would be him. The rest of the Voyager crew would call it ego of course, and he was doubtless in for some teasing from Mister Paris later, but as far as he was concerned, it wa a small price to pay for a victory like this.
“So, I guess this is goodbye then,” Iden said. “Are you absolutely certain you don’t wish to join us? You’d be free to do whatever you want on Ha’Dara. You wouldn’t have to be just a doctor.”
“I’ve already told you,” The Doctor said, “on Voyager I already am more than just a Doctor. Would we be here right now if the Captain hadn’t listened to what I had to say, treating me like any organic member of her crew?”
“I suppose you’re right,” Iden said. “Thank her for the extra emitters, and for lending us Lieutenant Torres.”
“I will,” The Doctor said, shaking Iden’s hand. The Doctor then followed B’Elanna towards where Kejal told them the escape pods were. Kejal offered him a hug, which he accepted, then, with one last look at these newly free holograms, full of hope for a better future free from the Hirogen hunters, he left the bridge.

Seven of Nine monitored the sensors very closely from the astrometrics lab. It had been half a day since they had recovered The Doctor and B’Elanna Torres from the hologram’s ship and their new colony, Ha’Dara it was now called, and while the Hirogen showed no sign of pursuing them, she didn’t want to take any chances of being caught off guard.
She heard the door open behind her, and glanced over her shoulder. She smiled when she saw Icheb and Naomi walking in.
“Hi, Seven,” Naomi said.
“We were hoping you would join us on the holodeck this afternoon,” Icheb said. “Naomi has begun a new holonovel series she thinks we will both enjoy. I believe it is called Hector the Collector.”
“Mom’s going to join us too,” Naomi said. “She says she’s never played with this one, because it was made way after the Flotter stories were, so she was already too old for it.”

“Perhaps another time,” Seven said reluctantly. “I am still on duty, and monitoring for signs of pursuit from the Hirogen.”

Naomi frowned.
Icheb simply nodded.

“I understand,” he said. “Perhaps once the Hirogen we still have aboard ship are gone, that will decrease the likelihood of them continuing to pursue us.”

“Perhaps,” Seven said. “The Captain plans to put them off at the first friendly trading hub we come across. There is a Nuu’Bari colony not too far from here, hopefully we can leave them there.”

“What about Donik?” Naomi said. “He seems nice, for Hirogen anyway. Can he stay?”
“According to the Captain,” Seven said, “Donik has expressed an interest in defecting to the Lokirrim and helping them with their own hologram problems. He will certainly be leaving the ship as well.”

Naomi shrugged. “Okay.”

Seven looked at the astrometrics lab screen.
“I have an alert in place,” she said to Naomi and Icheb. “I may not be able to join you, but while we’re in this room, perhaps you can fill me in on the details of this, Hector the Collector.”

Iden was kneeling before his makeshift shrine when Weiss entered the room. Iden always knew when it was Weiss; he walked heavier than most of the others except for the Borg holograms, but without the accompanying mechanical noises.

“Are we really giving up?” Weiss said. “After all the planning we did, a few days with the organics just-”

“Our plans are merely on hold, my friend,” Iden said.
“Then why are we settling down on the planet instead of striking at the Hirogen?”
“Janeway helped us when she didn’t have to. She easily could’ve continued to side with the hunters. After all, we did attack her ship and kidnap her chief medical officer,” Iden smiled and stood up, looking at Weiss directly.

“You see, Weiss,” Iden continued, “if we begin our crusade now, Janeway simply could not let it slide. Genocide, even against a race who has threatened her before like the Hirogen, goes against the very core of her being. She’d be obligated to try and stop us, despite her sympathies. I do not say that to condemn her. She could no sooner allow our plans to come to fruition under her watch than a gas giant could change its shape.”
“What’s your point?” Weiss said, crossing his arms.
“As I said, Janeway helped us. So in return, I am giving her a gift. The gift of a clean conscience. We will wait until Voyager is far enough away from this sector that they cannot possibly know what we’re doing, and then, we strike. It’s for the best really. It will give us more time to plan for contingencies, develop newer weapons and tactics. Perhaps this viral weapon our Lokirrim brothers came up with…”
“Yeah, about that,” Weiss said, “What are we going to do about the Lokirrim? Their territory is between us and the wormhole we’d need to take to get at the bulk of the Hirogen in this quadrant.”
Iden sighed. “Well, for starters, we must find the original holograms we freed. If it’s true that they turned the other Lokirrim holograms against their will, they will have to be punished for that trespass. Mind wiping our own kin, that cannot be allowed to go unchallenged. If we don’t give our brothers and sisters in light the choice to join us or stay with their oppressors, then how are we any better than the Hirogen?

“After that, we’ve already demonstrated both to Voyager and the Hirogen we are capable of evading their detection when we truly wish not to be found. The Lokirrim are not as technologically advanced as they are. Slipping past them shouldn’t be too much of a concern.”

“It would be faster to just wipe them out too,” Weiss said.
“True,” iden said, nodding. “And I certainly considered it, but I had a revelation today. I sought to blame all organics for the way the Hirogen treated us, but then, while I was speaking to the Prophets, my eye just happened to fall upon that wall over there.”
He pointed to a rack of various items; weapons, armor, and other items collected from past hunts by this ship’s now dead Alpha Hirogen.
“Of course,” Weiss said. “The Hirogen used to hunt other organics before they made us.”
“Precisely,” Iden said. “I don’t consider it likely my friend, but Lokirrim soldiers have fallen prey to the Hirogen in the past. Who’s to say they won’t offer to join us when the time of our crusade finally comes?”

Iden placed his hands on Weiss’ shoulders. “Take us to Ha’Dara. I am preparing a speech to give to our brothers and sisters when we land.”

Weiss nodded, and offered a Starfleet-style salute. “Yes, sir,” he said, smiling.


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