EMPATHOGEN
by E. L. Zimmerman

CHAPTER THREE

"The Rintellan Galactic Foundation," Harry Kim announced from his ops station. Like a faithful companion, Neelix stood at Harry's side. His fingers flying excitedly across his various blinking console interfaces, Harry called up the display commands. "It's coming up on main viewer now, Captain."

Rising from her captain's chair, Kathryn Janeway took a single step closer to the viewscreen. Instantly, the shimmering, aqua-colored world blinked away, and its visage was replaced with the smiling mug of a darkly robed, bearded Rintellan. Squinting at him, she swore that she could make out tiny, bulbous, white nodules interspersed throughout his beard. Janeway didn't know if they were the Rintellan's own tissue or some kind of ornamental decoration, much like a Bajoran's earring. The man's eyes were graced with a single, thick, furry brow ... one that, for reasons unknown, surprisingly conjured up visions of a collie's tail in Janeway's mind. His skin a deep golden hue, he sported a nose that spread the width of his face, literally reaching from ear-to-ear. She couldn't help but notice that his nostrils were ... well ... huge!

Energetically, the man rose from behind a silver, hourglass-shaped desk, flashing a smile of visibly notched teeth. Raising his arms high over his head, he bellowed out at the top of his lungs, "You, Rintella bids fancy!"

Perplexed, Janeway glanced back at Harry Kim.

"Ah," Harry began, keying a few touch sensors on his communications panel, "it would appear that the universal translator is experiencing some difficulty in interpreting Rintellan phraseology."

"Idiomatic expressions, Captain," Neelix interrupted. Subconsciously, he stroked his right sideburn, his expression quizzical. "Cultural colloquialisms. It's fairly common in this region of space. My best guess is that he's just offered you his Foundation's ceremonial greeting."

Satisfied, Janeway returned her attention to the main viewscreen.

"Greetings, planet Rintella," she replied.

Immediately, the Rintellan drooped his head. His eyes slowly narrowed, closed almost to revealing slits, and his single eyebrow gradually arched upward.

'He's just as confused as I am,' she guessed.

"I think he's just as confused as you are, Captain," Neelix offered sincerely.

"Thank you, Mr. Neelix."

"Just playing my part for the crew, Captain."

Sighing heavily, Janeway faced the screen. With concentration, she offered, "My name is Kathryn Janeway."

The Rintellan's expression remained unchanged.

"Of the starship Voyager," she concluded.

Much to her surprise, she watched as the Rintellan's brow arched even higher.

From the helm, Tom Paris whispered in the direction of Commander Chakotay, "How high do you think that eyebrow goes?"

Suddenly, the alien on the viewscreen tried, "Kat -"

"Kathryn," she repeated, pleased that, in appearances only, she had made a connection with the man on the other end of the comm channel.

"Kat -"

"Kath-ryn ... Jane-way," she said, slowly.

"Shaneway?" he asked, his brow settling.

"Janeway."

"Shane -"

"Janeway," she corrected, patiently. "Captain Kathryn Janeway."

Agreeing, nodding, the Rintellan proudly pronounced, "Shaneway!"

"Close enough," she muttered under her breath.

"Cap-tain Shaneway."

"Yes," she agreed. "We're ... uh ... travelers."

"Travelers?" The Rintellan male smiled, nodding even more distinctly than before. "Of space?"

"Yes," she said, smiling, returning his nod. "In our starship. The starship Voyager."

Suddenly, the Rintellan ambassador nodded even more vigorously yet, his entire body bobbing on the viewscreen.

"Travelers of space! You, Rintella bids fancy!"

Ever the diplomat, Janeway suppressed the desire to turn and ask Harry Kim if Rintella was the only habitable planet in the system. Corralling her courtesy and her resolve, she pressed onward. "Yes! We're travelers of space. On our starship. The starship Voyager. You, Voyager bids fancy!"

"Agree we do!" the man guffawed, suddenly sitting down, and then, just as quickly, he stood back up. Nodding, bobbing, he shouted, "Agree we do, Shaneway!"

Behind her, she heard Chakotay cough softly.

She knew he was suppressing a laugh.

"What may I call you?"

Again, the Rintellan's single brow arched.

"Janeway," she tried, journeying closer to the screen. With inspiration, she pointed at herself. "Janeway," she repeated. Next, she swung both hands at the screen, pointing at the Rintellan. "You, Janeway bids fancy."

"Ah!" the robed statesman said, again sitting down excitedly, again standing up with equal enthusiasm. Calming, visibly containing his excitement, he folded his hands tightly across his robes. "Shaneway, Ambassador Brall'tor Faux Mendes bids fancy!"

"Brall'tor?" she asked.

"Brall'tor," he repeated, grinning happily. Nodding again, he exclaimed, "You, Brall'tor bids fancy, Captain Shaneway!"

"You are most kind," she replied, trying desperately to control her growing annoyance. 'How do these First Contact crews do it?' she wondered. She consciously made a mental note, once shore leave was over, to brush up on her interspecies relations skills. "Ambassador Brall'tor, I was hoping that ... uh ... we could impose on your ... hospitality?"

"Hospitality?" Brall'tor repeated with vigor.

'Apparently, I've stumbled on another word he recognizes,' she guessed.

"I believe he's following you, Captain," Neelix announced.

Jerking her head in the direction of ops, Janeway snapped, "Thank you, Mr. Neelix."

"Yes, mam."

"Hospitality, yes!" Brall'tor enthused. "Rintella bids fancy!"

"My ship and crew," she tried, uncertain as to whether or not the language barrier would be broken and maintained so quickly. "We've traveled far. Very far. We are a long way from home."

"Home!"

'Well, I'll be,' she told herself, half-smiling. 'I believe I'm getting the hang of this.'

"Brall'tor, we are tired. Janeway is tired. We were hoping that, perhaps, we could spend a day or two enjoying the beauty that Rintella has to offer."

Laughing, the robed statesman showed his notched teeth into a broad grin. "Shaneway, Rintella bids fancy!"

Curious, Janeway glanced around at her bridge crew.

Everyone -- Chakotay, Paris, Kim, Mendoza, Tuvok, Speers, and Kralach -- was making tremendous effort ...

... to keep from laughing.

Ambassador Neelix stood, nodding proudly in agreement. "That went quite well," he said.

"I'll take that as a 'yes,'" Janeway replied. "Brall'tor, we'll be in orbit within the hour."

"Rintella bids fancy!" he concurred. "Await! Await Shaneway and others, we will!"

"Janeway out," she said.

Harry Kim quickly closed the comm channels, but not before Brall'tor managed to sit down and stand up once more on camera.

Immediately, the bridge crew burst with laughter.

Ignoring their frivolity, Janeway simply turned back to her colleagues. Suddenly, she realized that she had a tear welling up in the corner of her right eye ... the end result of containing her own laughter. But, as captain, she wouldn't indulge herself. She had already decided that it wouldn't be proper. It wouldn't be prudent. Confidently, she strode back to her command chair. Gracefully, she sat down, only willing to surrender an ever-so-slight smile to her faithful troops.

Leaning closer to her, Chakotay joked, "And you thought I could use a vacation?"

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