by E. L. Zimmerman


In the beginning ...

"We're alone in an uncharted part of the galaxy," Captain Kathryn Janeway said, her head held high, carefully scanning across each and every face of her bridge crew, staring at her, studying her, hoping to find glimpses of the mettle she had hinted at. "We've already made some friends here and some enemies. We have no idea of the dangers we're going to face. But one thing is clear - both crews are going to have to work together if we're to survive. That's why Commander Chakotay and I have agreed that this should be one crew. A Starfleet crew.

"And as the only Starfleet vessel 'assigned' we'll continue to follow our directive to seek out new worlds and explore space."

Janeway continued to speak eloquently about the possibility of circumventing the traditional seventy-five years it would take to reach the Alpha Quadrant, but she also hinted at wormholes, spatial rifts, and new technologies that might be discovered and would also help speed them upon their way.

However, in the end, it all boiled down to one simple statement.

"Mr. Paris, set a course ... for home."

Six months later ...

Already striding in the direction of her humble masterpiece, Ishanti retrieved her palette and brush from her cramped quarter's dining table. Instinctively, her ritual, her own superstition as an emerging artist, she inhaled deeply the mixed, pungent aromas coming from the Voyager-replicated, 'artificial' paints. Disappointed and saddened, she shook her head. On Zell, a homeworld more than 70,000 light years away, paints used by her society's grand masters were distilled from the fragrant juices of the planet's indigenous flora. Nysh ferns. Bo'balla plants. Insy vines. Their scents were considered a significant influence on what made their respective masterpieces into the seminal works of their respective generations. Grimacing, Ishanti hated that these Starfleet synthesized counterparts she had but no other choice to use were, in as polite a word as she could find, a joke.

Again, she heard the painting calling out to her.

'Ishanti come, and bring your brush, Ishanti sing, your talent hushed. Ishanti touch a crimson world Through which your mastery's found, unfurled.'

The landscape, she had created, softly chanted its rhyme over and over and over again, the memorable cadence of a child's nursery rhyme. She closed her eyes, and she listened to it. No longer able to block or to deny its magnetism, she now surrendered freely to it. Clearly, she heard it, welcomed it, and embodied it.

'Ishanti come and bring your brush,' she heard again.

"I'm coming," she replied to no one in particular.

After all, she was alone in her quarters.

"I'm coming now."

Through the gentle lighting, Ishanti strode slowly, almost sexily up to the wall adjacent her quarters' entrance. Where others shipbound would have been happy to either replicate a print outright or to struggle with the artistic process of committing a solitary vision to canvas, she preferred painting directly onto the wall of her room.

Undoubtedly, crewmates would point out that she had committed a violation of Starfleet living protocols as they applied to the 'enlisted.'

Such an ugly word ...



Wall-painting, as it had evolved ancestrally thousands of years ago on Zell, just made more sense ...




"Have to preserve the ship's energy usage," she reminded herself. "Don't use replicator rations carelessly.

'Ishanti come and bring your brush, Ishanti move, your talent hushed. Ishanti touch a crimson world Through which your mastery's found, unfurled.'

In point of fact, Ishanti Arelldo was the only Zell aboard the Voyager, now that her Maquis crewmates had been successfully integrated into the Starfleet crew. 'A single Zell,' were the words Janeway had used at her hearing, in the presence of Ishanti's former commander, Chakotay. 'That might be considered ... unhealthy.'

Such an ugly word.



Suddenly, instinctively, Ishanti Arelldo reached out telepathically for another of her kind, another of her species, as her race characteristically did. All she found was emptiness.

'Starfleet regulations required Zells to enlist in pairs,' Janeway had reminded her at that briefing, and the captain was correct. 'When they haven't ... well ... there has been some ... unpleasantness.'

As the Zellian Regime concurred, individual Zells were discouraged from pursuing acceptance to Starfleet Academy if it meant enduring classes, lectures, and general school life without the presence of one of their own. 'It is simply too taxing of the Zellian mind to function without Unison,' the Regime had decreed.

Unison produced a sense of calm.

Unison produced a sense of continuity.

Unison, some Zellian scholars professed, maintained a Zell's sanity.

In truth, the link was more akin to an aftertaste than it was a psychological or physiologic necessity. Simply put, centuries of research had proven that Zell minds worked best in the presence of other Zell minds. Consequently, the cultural norm in the Alpha Quadrant was for Zells to move about the galaxy in pairs, not necessarily wed, not necessarily accepting of one another. Often times, it achieved Unison ... without love.

Like Betazeds, Deltans, or even the Moreauvians, the Zell preferred being in the presence of another's mind. What made the Zell different from the Betazeds, Deltans, and Moreauvians was one simple distinction: a Zell couldn't read another species' mind or imprint another race's emotions. All the Zell could do was 'sense' one of their own, and that sensation produced overwhelming psychological comfort immeasurable in any written or spoken language.

So ...

The bad boys ... the bigots who had eventually teased her out of the Academy and led her to a life amongst the accepting Maquis ... called it 'telepathic necking,' toying with the oft-misunderstood psychic link of her people. Ishanti held those bigots in contempt not for destroying what she had wanted most her entire life, a Starfleet career. Moreover, she despised them on the behalf of Ullar Scham, her Zellian counterpart who was also forced to resign from Starfleet Academy when she departed.

While attending the Academy, even in Unison with Ullar, Ishanti Arelldo had felt modest peace. But here, in the Delta Quadrant, as distant from another Zell mind as she could possibly imagine, Ishanti had never felt more ...

... alone.

That's why she welcomed the voice of her painting. To harken back to the sentiments expressed during her initial debriefing with Captain Janeway, this welcome voice suppressed 'unpleasantness.'

She studied her painting.

In bold, dramatic strokes, Ishanti had painted a colorfully sunlit Zell hillside, one reminiscent of the gradually sloping pastures near what she remembered of her childhood home. In her artwork, the Zellian star system's massive red sun cast magnificent magenta shadows she had captured with surprising artistic grace, surprising as this was the first painting she had ever done in her life. Across the Mrrpa grass, shadows hung from the Tayananerry trees, Frulepka stones, SimmChim bushes, and infamous Zellian black roses, all of which she remembered in vivid detail from fields that reached toward her homeworld's horizons. Ishanti studied those dark shadows, and her pain, resulting from lacking Unison for so long, momentarily eased.

'Ishanti come and bring your brush, Ishanti move, your talent hushed. Ishanti touch a crimson world Through which your mastery's found, unfurled.'

On the wall beside her masterpiece, she had days ago written the simple principles of a new, personal credo.

Ishanti's headache returned, one she had been experiencing with increasing frequency as of late. She felt the burn at the base of her skull, where her head met her neck. Gripping her palette and brush firmly, she closed her eyes and breathed deeply, using her free hand to slowly massage the aching muscle of her right shoulder. After several minutes, the pain ebbed, and she opened her eyes. Instead of returning to her work on the magnificent, calming, and expansive Zellian countryside, she chose to reread her credo, scrawled in jagged red strokes on the wall.

Discredit command.

Eliminate opposition.

Destroy Voyager.

'Ishanti come and bring your brush, Ishanti move, your talent hushed. Ishanti touch the crimson world Through which the Voyager's being hurled.'

'Now,' she reasoned, her calm steadied, 'time for some painting.'

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