EMPATHOGEN
by E. L. Zimmerman

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

Lieutenant Tuvok, seated behind the blinking pilot's console in an approaching shuttlecraft, filled Voyager's main viewer. No longer draped in his somber Vulcan meditation robes, Tuvok wore his familiar duty attire for ship's security. "Mr. Paris," the Vulcan stated for the second time this conversation, "I am asking for a logical explanation."

"I've already told you, Tuvok," Tom said, crossing his arms defiantly. "I'm not lowering the shields because, simply, I don't feel like lowering the shields." Self-righteously, Tom turned and grinned at Carey and Gallick. They had joined him at the helm. Together, the three manned Voyager's Bridge.

Tuvok raised an eyebrow. "An explanation more suiting a Starfleet officer would be in order, if you're planning on wearing that uniform indefinitely."

"Well, you're not getting any other explanation," Tom snapped his reply.

"Mr. Paris, I order you at once -"

"Take your shuttlecraft back to the planet." Leaning forward, resting his forearms on the helm console, Tom added smugly, "Consider 'that' an order."

"On whose authority?"

"Mine."

"You must forgive me if I have missed your promotion ceremony while on the Rintellan surface, lieutenant," Tuvok explained, "but, at present, I believe I outrank you. Had a promotion been in order, I believe Captain Janeway would have consulted or, minimally, alerted the other senior members of her command crew. Therefore, I will ask you once more to lower the shields and -"

"Tuvok," Tom began, leaning back and flashing his palms at the main viewer, "it's simple. If I lower the shields, you'll board us. If you board us, there's a chance, limited at best, that you'll retake the ship before colonization."

"Colonization?"

"That's correct," Tom answered. "We're laying down roots ... on Rintella."

"I don't think so."

Tom smiled at his Vulcan shipmate. "Well, I do think so. Having you on board my ship is a risk I can't afford to take right now."

"Your ship?" Tuvok asked.

"Face the facts," Tom arrogantly challenged his shipmate. "Tuvok, we're seventy years from anything we're bound to find remotely familiar! Where's the logic in plowing through the Delta Quadrant when we have a perfectly acceptable home right here before us?"

"The logic would be in following the Captain's orders," the Vulcan replied.

"Tuvok," Tom pressed on with his logic, brushing a misted layer of sweat from above his eyes, "Rintella IS our new home! Defended by its own satellite network. Gracious hosts willing to accept us as their long lost brethren. A tropical paradise! From what I've heard, it even gives Risa a run for the money."

"Granted, it is beautiful," Tuvok agreed, glancing down momentarily at his console, "but Rintella, as any world, is far from perfect."

"It's as close to perfect as we're going to find in this hellhole of the Delta Quadrant," Tom argued. Reaching up, he found beads of sweat on his forehead, and he brushed them away. He made a mental note to adjust the environmental controls when he had the chance.

"Mr. Paris, I believe you have taken not only the leave of your senses," Tuvok declared emphatically, "but I believe you have also fallen ill. You're perspiring. No doubt, you're feverish. Perhaps your present condition is impeding your ability to logically carry out your duties, and you force me to phrase my request in a stronger fashion." The Vulcan paused, again glancing down at his controls, before he added, "If you or your comrades do not drop shields immediately, I will leave me no alternative other than taking Voyager back by force."

'What does he keep looking at?' Tom wondered. Peering down quickly, he scanned the sensors but found nothing unusual.

"One shuttle?" Tom asked incredulously. "Tuvok, I've scanned space! I know that you're alone! You know, better than I, that one shuttle is no match for this ship!"

Tuvok stared at his shipmate. "Tom, I am not an untried shuttle pilot," he reminded. "I serve as Voyager's Tactical Officer and Chief of Security. If there is a single crewmember of the ship's complement who would not only comprehend the limits of Voyager's strengths and weaknesses but also know how to utilize them to the greatest advantage, rest assured that you are speaking to him."

Tom heard Gallick and Carey shuffling behind him.

'What?' Tom thought. 'What is he planning? He's in a single shuttle? What could he know ... that I don't know?'

Quickly, suspiciously, Tom rebuked his shipmate. "You're bluffing!"

"Vulcans never -"

"I know, I know," he interrupted. "Vulcans never bluff! Tuvok, I've heard it all before!"

Again, Tuvok dropped his attention from the viewscreen to his console.

"AND JUST WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU LOOKING AT!?" Tom shouted.

Pausing, not looking up, Tuvok tranquilly explained, "To assist in my endeavor to retake the ship, I have enlisted the support of the Rintellan Space Militia."

Suddenly, Tom heard Gallick and Carey muttering amongst themselves. He silenced them with a single, icy glare.

"The Rintellan Space Militia?" Tom asked, returning his attention to the main viewer. "What are you talking about? The planet's a utopia! They don't have a military!"

"Tom," Tuvok began, also returning his focus to the viewer, "you know as well as I that the two worlds we scanned near Rintella were devastated by war. We assumed that these two societies had wiped one another out. In my conversations with the Rintellans, I have learned otherwise. I have learned that, in fact, the Rintellans possess a far superior military might than we could have possibly imagined. Their military might rivals what we have seen of the Kazon. If it didn't, they logically would have been absorbed by one of the warring factions of the Kazon by now." Tuvok paused, permitting his argument to seep into Tom's consciousness.

"Ambassador Brall'tor has assured me his full cooperation in disabling the ship," Tuvok continued, tapping a few keys on his console. "By my estimates, you have thirty seconds before the planetary defenses open fire."

Startled, Tom glanced around at the others gathered on the bridge with him. "We never detected any planetary defenses," he argued.

"Our scans could not sufficiently penetrate the satellite defense grid," Tuvok explained. "We did not possess the means to determine otherwise."

"You don't think -" Tom started to ask Carey and then stopped.

"What?" Carey finally spoke up. "That Tuvok's telling the truth?" Shrugging nervously, Carey added, "You're in charge here, Tom. Do you think that he's telling the truth?"

"Twenty seconds," Tuvok announced.

Angrily, wiping the dripping sweat from his forehead, Tom whirled on the screen.

"YOU'RE BLUFFING, TUVOK! I KNOW THAT YOU'RE BLUFFING!"

"We've already debated the merits of Vulcan chicanery," the Tactical Officer countered. "It's a hypothesis with no merit."

"I know you, Tuvok," Tom reasoned, restraining his fury, pointing a finger at the screen. "You won't attack Voyager!"

Glancing down at his console, the Vulcan replied, "You have ten seconds to find your assessment flawed."

"STOP IT!"

"Nine seconds."

"I SAID STOP IT, TUVOK!" Tom felt a hand on his shoulder, but he viciously shrugged it off. "I ORDER YOU TO DISENGAGE!"

"Seven seconds ..."

"DISENGAGE, TUVOK!" Tom persisted, slamming his fists onto the helm and rising. "IF YOU COME ANY CLOSER WE'LL OPEN FIRE!"

"It would have prudent for you to have already done so," Tuvok replied. "By the position of your bridge crew, you lack the time required to mount a suitable counterattack." Keying his console, the Vulcan added, "Three seconds."

"Quick!" Tom tried, turning to Carey and Gallick. "Battle stations! Everyone to your posts!"

"Two seconds ..." 2 "Bring phasers online!"

"One."

"I'M TELLING YOU!" Tom screamed, his lungs forcing air, his voice growing hoarse. "GET PHASERS AND TORPEDOES ONLINE! NOW!"

"Ambassador Brall'tor," Tuvok said, succinctly, "open fire."

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