Read Violations Online

Authors: Susan Wright

Tags: #Science Fiction, #Fiction, #General


BOOK: Violations
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“I think we’re big enough to handle the Cartel,” Captain Janeway told Commander Chakotay.

From his post at Ops, Harry Kim could see her smile, and he was beginning to recognize that expression on her face. She wants to march us in there, bold as brass. Kim had to admire her audacity, even as she confronted the doubts of her first officer.

Everyone on the bridge was watching, except for Paris, who was sitting at the conn, acting as if he didn’t notice them arguing right behind his shoulder.

“May I respectfully remind the captain,” Chakotay continued, his voice taking on a warning edge that carried through the hush.

“You’re used to evaluating situations as a Starfleet officer, whereas in this case, guerrilla tactics would be more to our advantage.”

“Are you forgetting that we are Starfleet officers?” Janeway asked.

“Not at all. However, I am basing this suggestion on my experience with the Maquis.” Chakotay leaned closer, adding something that was too low for Kim to hear. Bursting with curiosity, he reminded himself to ask Paris later if he’d been able to overhear what the commander had said.

“Come to my ready room,” Janeway ordered. “Tuvok, you have the bridge.”

As the door slid shut behind them, Kim slowly let out his breath.

He hated it when the captain and Chakotay disagreed; he trusted them both implicitly, yet in this case, one of them had to be wrong.

The rest of the bridge crew seemed uneasy, as well, just as they had been ever since Voyager was drawn off course by a plasma storm that stretched across several sectors. It had taken weeks to get around it, bringing them within range of the Tutopa binary system—home of the legendary Hub. The Hub was on every star map and cartography survey they’d encountered on this side of the galaxy, and according to Neelix, it was “the information center” of the Delta Quadrant.

“Sensors indicate another vessel proceeding along this vector,” Kim announced, noting the trajectory of the ship.

Tuvok confirmed the reading, as Paris grinned back at Kim.

“That’s the fourth ship to pass by since we’ve been here,” Paris said.

“This Hub must be some hopping place.”

“Seems to be,” Kim agreed, cautiously checking Tuvok’s reaction.

He was usually fairly strict about maintaining bridge protocol.

Since this was Kim’s first mission, he wasn’t sure if all security chiefs were the same way or if it was because Tuvok was a Vulcan.

“Well, the Hub sounds like an ideal spot for some R and R,” Paris added. “If we were in Federation space, I’d be due for shore leave right about now—” “Lieutenant,” Tuvok interrupted. “You are employing faulty logic. If we were in Federation space, you would not be assigned to this vessel. You would currently be serving your sentence in the New Zealand penal settlement.”

An odd expression passed over Paris’s face, reminding Kim of the first time Paris had breezily admitted lying about his pilot error that killed three fellow officers. When Paris had added that a fit of hallucinatory remorse had prompted him to confess, getting him cashiered out of Starfleet, Kim had nearly gotten up and left him sitting there alone. He was almost more outraged by the pilot’s devil-may-care attitude than the deed itself, but he had stayed because of that strange smile. Staring into his soup, Paris had reminded him of Reggy, a guy he’d known in school who was always causing some kind of trouble. But once, when Reggy had made one of the younger girls cry by soaking her jumper with a stasis bubble full of water, he had looked exactly the same way as Paris did now—trying to smile because he couldn’t back down now in front of everyone, while his eyes turned hollow as the little girl gazed up at him, her hands spread wide, innocent and hurting, wondering why anyone would do this to her….

“For shame, Tuvok,” Paris drawled over his shoulder at the security chief. “Eavesdropping on our conversation. Is that the sort of behavior you consider logical?”

Tuvok’s hands didn’t stop moving over the Tactical control panel, preparing the ship’s defensive systems in case they entered the Tutopa system. “I cannot help hearing you, Lieutenant Paris, when you chose to broadcast your opinion to the entire bridge. I would suggest you refrain from doing so in the future.”

There was a moment’s silence as the rest of the crew pretended to be busy with their work. But their words hung in the air, making Kim feel even worse. He hated it when anyone argued, especially when they were hanging on the edge of a system that was reportedly one of the most powerful in the quadrant. Paris never seemed to know when to give up.

He grumbled something inaudible about, “Seeing nothing but the inside of this ship—” The door to the ready room opened, cutting him off, as Captain Janeway and Chakotay emerged. Janeway nodded to Tuvok, officially taking command of the bridge.

“We’re going to be discreet,” the captain announced with a wry glance at Chakotay, acknowledging that she’d been convinced by his advice.

“Plot a course for the secondary system of Tutopa.”

Paris sighed, but he didn’t hesitate to comply. “Course laid in.”

Janeway noticed his reaction, just as she seemed to notice everything that happened. “Mr. Paris, we are attempting to acquire information about wormholes—we are not venturing into Cartel space so you can dive into the local gin joint.” She glanced at Chakotay. “Where is Neelix, by the way?”

Chakotay was perfectly calm, despite the tension. “Apparently, he’s been having trouble with one of his boilers. He should be here shortly.”

“Tutopa secondary system within sensor range,” Kim said, concentrating on his readings. “No class-M planets, but I’m reading at least forty ships and stationary platforms in the area.”

“We need Neelix,” Janeway commented.

Chakotay tapped his communicator. “Bridge to Neelix. Report at once—” The turbolift opened before Chakotay could finish, and Neelix bustled in. His wispy hair was flying and his arms were waving, seeming to fill up more space than his compact body warranted.

“Sorry I’m late, folks! Kes needed me.”

“Glad you could join us.”

His toady little face hardly flinched at her dry remark. He smacked his hands together, rubbing them briskly. “So what’s on the menu today?”

The captain was obviously in no mood for jokes. “We’re entering the secondary system of Tutopa.”

That got his attention. “Are you sure you want to do this? I’ve never even been to Tutopa, in spite of the opportunities there.”

“Why not?”

Neelix companionably hooked an arm over the back of the captain’s chair, leaning in much closer to Janeway than Kim would have ever dared. “Let’s just say that Tutopans tend to acquire vessels.

Not that they’re aggressive, mind you, but people usually leave only after they’re working for one of the Houses or the Cartel, the conglomerate that runs the Hub and serves as the joint security force for the Houses.”

“That is why we’re avoiding the Hub.” Janeway shifted away slightly.

“Is there anyone we can negotiate with in the secondary system?”

Neelix’s eyes lit up. “You know, you could probably get anything you wanted in exchange for that `beaming’ trick of yours.”

“We cannot trade technology,” Janeway told him. “That would break the Prime Directive.”

“Ah, yes, that prime-thingy again.” Neelix gave her a serious look.

“It would be much easier, you know, if you could see yourself around that rule every once in a while. It certainly seems to get in the way.”

Janeway made a sharp gesture with her hand. “I’ve tried to explain this to you before, Neelix. We simply can’t hand over advanced technology that could cause a shift in the natural development of a culture. I’m sure there must be other ways.”

“Oh, there’s always other ways,” Neelix quickly agreed. “It all depends on what you want to pay.”

Chakotay considered the screen where the binary stars of Tutopa were growing larger as they approached. “What is the Tutopan form of payment?”

“That’s the odd thing,” Neelix told them, leaning forward again.

“It’s one reason why I never much bothered with the place. The Houses mostly deal in information—blueprints, technology, formulas, things like that. They play with stakes much higher than my reach, let me tell you.”

“We don’t intend to deal with the Houses or the Cartel,” Janeway repeated patiently. “We’re trying to keep a low profile.”

“You don’t have to go to the Hub, the Houses have adjuncts in the secondary system—” Neelix broke off at her expression, holding his hands up. “But you’re right, Captain. There are other ways that won’t attract as much attention… such as certain fringe elements who, shall we say, deal on the dark side of the moons.”

“The dark side?” Janeway repeated dubiously.

Paris tossed over his shoulder, “Sounds like he’s talking about the black market.”

“Are these fringe elements engaging in illegal activities?”

Janeway asked Neelix.

“The only law in Tutopa is the Cartel.” Neelix shrugged as if that said everything. “Darksiders are fair game for the Enforcer patrols, but I doubt they’ll bother with us. Their ships are maybe a quarter the size of yours.” Neelix quickly corrected himself: “Ours.”

“Where do we find these `darksiders’?” Chakotay asked.

Neelix opened his eyes wide. “I told you, I’ve never been in this system before.”

At the front console, Paris let out a snort. “Some native guide you are….”

Tuvok’s brows drew together, the only sign of displeasure he usually allowed himself. Kim figured he was itching to reprimand Paris.

“Do you have something to say, Lieutenant?” Janeway demanded, much more sharply than Kim had expected.

Paris checked his navigation display, as if his mind was occupied by more important matters. “If you ask me,” he said. “This place looks like the Sassaniwan Cross—that binary system between Ferengi and Cordovian space. It’s a hot trading spot, and they’ve got a healthy black market going in the secondary system, mainly in the asteroid belts.”

“Don’t tell me you’ve had experience with the Sassaniwan black market?”

Janeway asked Paris.

“Enough to know what I’m talking about.”

Janeway looked from Chakotay to Tuvok. “What do you think?”

“I am reading an asteroid belt in the secondary system,” the Vulcan informed her. “However, this is not the Sassaniwan Cross,” Paris groaned, dropping all pretense of disinterest. “We wouldn’t need to worry about finding wormholes if this was the Sassaniwan Cross—right, Tuvok? We’d already be in the Alpha Quadrant, safe and sound.”

“I am simply reminding the captain of the unknowns,” Tuvok replied.

“However, in theory, it has been established that individuals who are desperate enough to endure conditions commonly found among asteroid belts are indeed more likely to operate outside the normal channels of society.”

Paris didn’t seem sure how to react to that. “It sounds like you’re agreeing with me.”

“He is,” Kim murmured, too low for anyone to hear.

“He is,” Janeway told Paris. “Lieutenant, set a course for the asteroid belt. Let’s see if we can find a way home.”

Chapter 1

Janeway tilted back in her chair, gazing at the ceiling of her ready room.

Chakotay was right.

What a way to begin the morning, but for the past few days that thought had kept returning and intruding on her work—Vovager didn’t have Starfleet to back them up anymore. Intellectually, she was very aware of the fact that they were a negligible force here in the Delta Quadrant, yet for some reason, a feeling of vulnerability had hit hard with Chakotay’s quiet reminder on the bridge.

The lights flashed as Chakotay’s voice came over the channel.

“Yellow alert. Captain to the bridge.”

“On my way,” she acknowledged, hoping it wouldn’t be another false alarm. Despite of the days of fruitless negotiations, she was determined to see this through—if there were any wormholes within a thousand light-years, the Tutopans would know about it.

On the viewscreen, a bulbous freighter was slowly coming into sensor range. On the other side, the curve of the asteroid belt was spangled by millions of tiny flashes as dust and rocks turned and shifted, reflecting the light of the suns. Janeway had always thought asteroid belts were pretty, but that was until she was forced to sit next to one for four solid days with hardly a break in the monotony. But Chakotay was right….

“Maintain course and speed,” she ordered. “Let’s see if they’re serious about talking to us.”

Janeway settled back in her seat, studying the screen. The rounded dorsal and front hydrogen scoop were similar in design to the other dozen or so ships they’d encountered in the secondary system, but this vessel looked particularly battered. Her eyes narrowed at the distorted bulkheads in the starboard hull, as she recognized the signs of a partial vacuum decompression.

Paris was shaking his head. “You couldn’t pay me to fly that thing.”

Janeway found many things to appreciate in her pilot’s unique point of view, so she usually chose to ignore the fact that most of his comments were unsolicited. “Is she coming this way?”

“Their tractory would appear to bring them along-side,” Tuvok replied.

BOOK: Violations
12.63Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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