EMPATHOGEN
by E. L. Zimmerman

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

Fast growing impatient, Neelix stated, "No, no, no."

Forcing a polite smile, the Tallaxian sighed. With precise movements, he lifted his hands before him, stopped at waist-level. Slowly, he flattened his palms, and then, gradually, he pulled his hands toward his chest, slapping his thin biceps once, firmly, twice for emphasis.

"Nee-lix," he explained. "My name ... is Nee-lix."

Nodding with calculated effort, Brall'tor raised his single eyebrow.

"Nulux," the ambassador said.

Waggling a finger at him, the Tallaxian replied, "No, no. Nee-lix."

Immediately, with a smile, the Rintellan aped the finger waggling gesture back at the Tallaxian.

Grimacing, Neelix reached up and forced the ambassador's hand down.

"Noolux," the Rintellan ambassador announced, proudly.

"Uh-huh," Neelix said, bringing a single finger to his lips and tapping nervously. "No, no, no. Not Nulux. Not Noolux. Neelix. Nee-lix. Neelix."

"Neelix!" Kes interrupted.

"In a moment, sweetness."

"Is this important right now?" she pleaded.

Shrugging, her mate replied, "Kes, I'm trying for a communications breakthrough here."

"Perhaps I can be of some assistance," Neelix heard from behind him. Recognizing the voice, the morale officer turned around and grinned from Tallaxian ear to ear.

"Mr. Vulcan!" he exclaimed, delighted to see Voyager's chief of security.

"Brall'tor, Tuvok bids fancy," the Vulcan said calmly, ignoring his Tallaxian shipmate and attending to the Rintellan host. Reverently, the Vulcan dropped his head as a cursory greeting.

"Tuvok!" Brall'tor cried. Warmly, he reached out and grasped the Vulcan by the shoulder.

"Wait a minute," Neelix interrupted. "He can say 'Tuvok' but not 'Neelix?'"

"Nallux," the ambassador tried again.

"Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay have disappeared, Tuvok," Kes announced, elbowing past her mate. She wore a look of concern on her face. "We've been able to establish that a single shuttlecraft, the Maddox, is no longer on the planet. We're thinking they returned to Voyager, but apparently communications is out."

Curious, Tuvok raised an eyebrow.

Mimicking the Vulcan, Brall'tor followed suit ... with his single brow. 2 Immediately, the Vulcan touched his comm badge. "Tuvok to Captain Janeway," he said.

"Shaneway," Brall'tor said.

"Close enough," Neelix retorted.

Concerned by the stillness of the comm system, Tuvok tapped his badge again. "Tuvok to Commander Chakotay."

Suddenly, the communicator blared to life, crackling waves of static that interfered with a voice trying to pierce the cacophony.

"Tuvok ... is ... you?"

Tilting his head slightly, Tuvok stated plainly, "Please repeat your last message."

"... -vok, is that you?"

The Vulcan thought he recognized the voice barely breaking through the electronic interference. "Ensign Kim?"

"Yes! Tuvok, you have to -"

Again, the communicator crackled and hissed with shattering static. Even the Vulcan grimaced, trying to discern what Harry Kim was trying unsuccessfully to communicate.

"Mr. Kim," Tuvok began, speaking very slowly, "it would appear that Voyager's primary communication interlinks are malfunctioning. Perhaps the comm systems are overloaded. You'll have to complete a diagnostic -"

"... can't access bridge ... system is down ... sabotage ..."

Realization sparkled in Tuvok's eyes. Again, raising an eyebrow, Tuvok asked, "Mr. Kim, are you broadcasting via Earth standard radio?"

Through the hiss, the group barely discerned Harry's affirmative reply.

Without delay, the Vulcan faced Brall'tor. "Ambassador, Rintella satellite linkage. Desired network access, Voyager. Desired interface, Voyager. Desired Rintella interpreter disengaged. Frequency, modulating megahertz."

Stunned, Kes and Neelix glared in wonder at their Vulcan shipmate.

"I have been conversing with several of the locals, during my bouts of meditation," he confessed. "Needless to say, I have learned a thing or two."

Reacting, the Rintellan ambassador reached down and pulled back his primary robe, displaying a standard utility sash. A planetary comm unit dangled there. He plucked it off its contact shackle. Studying the controls closely and, after making several adjustments to several gauges, Brall'tor handed the prism-shaped silver unit to the Vulcan. Tuvok accepted the communicator and spoke into it.

"Mr. Kim, please respond."

Immediately, Brall'tor smiled sheepishly, reaching out and turning the device over.

"Needless to say," Neelix chided the security chief, with words and an elbow, "you only learned a thing or two."

Ignoring the Tallaxian, Tuvok repeated, "Mr. Kim, please respond."

"Tuvok?" Harry asked. "Are you receiving me?"

"Affirmative, ensign," Tuvok answered. "With the aid of the Rintellan ambassador, I am speaking to you via an uplink in the planet's satellite network in lieu of my comm badge. Might I assume that, as you're communicating via Earth radio that something has happened on Voyager?"

Even Harry's heavy sigh came through the audio link. "Tuvok, the only word for it is mutiny."

"Please explain."

"I wish I could," Harry tried, "but I don't know how long I'll have this frequency before I'm discovered."

"Understood," Tuvok answered succinctly. "How may we assist you in your efforts?"

"Uh ... well ... I need to regain control of the bridge. I guess ... I guess I need a distraction."

"A distraction?" the Vulcan asked. "Such as?"

"I don't know, Tuvok," Harry answered tiredly. "If ... if you can somehow draw the attention of bridge crew long enough, I might be able to reach Ops. From there ... I could possibly re-establish ship-to-shore communications. With communications back, I could cancel shore leave and recall the crew."

With unanticipated enthusiasm, Neelix announced, "The StarStorm!"

Trying to assist, Kes approached the Rintellan ambassador. "Brall'tor, Kes bids fancy." She bowed curtly and, then, realized that she was perplexed with where to go. "Umm ... Tuvok?"

Smiling, Brall'tor nodded at the gathered Voyager shipmates.

Lowering the radio, Tuvok explained, "Brall'tor, Tuvok bids fancy. Rintella, StarStorm away. Rintella, orbital display."

Surprised, the ambassador nodded enthusiastically, and he rushed toward a nearby building and disappeared.

Mystified, Neelix queried, "Uh ... Mr. Vulcan ... just what did you ask Brall'tor to do?"

"Precisely what Kes was attempting," Tuvok replied. "Every evening, the Rintellans enjoy an atmospheric plasma storm induced by the planet's satellite defense grid. Instead of launching the plasma waves into the sky over the city, I've asked the ambassador to have the StarStorm ignited in the atmosphere above the planet. The resulting fire will appear on the Voyager bridge with greater intensity than a solar flare. That should sufficiently divert the attention of whoever is manning Voyager's helm."

"Tuvok," Harry suddenly said, "someone's coming. I'm about to lose this connection."

"Mr. Kim, when would you like the disturbance to occur?"

"Give me at least fifteen minutes to get into position," he replied intently. "Then, I'll -"

Suddenly, a piercing crackle of static overwhelmed his voice.

The frequency died.

Tuvok lowered the Rintellan communicator. He glanced toward the horizon, where the Rintellan sun was beginning to set. Crowds were gathering along the edge of the pavilion in anticipation of their evening light show.

"Well," Neelix tried, stepping up to the Vulcan's side. "You're the senior officer here, Mr. Tuvok. What do suggest we do?"

"For now," Tuvok said, squinting at the sun dropping toward an endless series of russet mountains stretching along the peaceful Rintellan skyline, "we wait."

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