by E. L. Zimmerman
Scooping up another spoonful of the green paste filling his wooden bowl, Tuvok shoveled the substance carefully into his mouth. Chewing softly, he admired, "Most curious." He rolled the sauce around on his tongue, pressing it into his cheeks, before swallowing. Raising an eyebrow, he asked, "The Besarian Foundation has defined this as … food?"
Stifling a laugh, nearly spitting out a mouthful of his lunch, Chakotay coughed, forcing his food up and back down his throat.
"Tuvok," he began, sputtering lightly, "did I hear you right?" Quickly, he picked up what served as a napkin and wiped his mouth.
"Did you just experience an emotional reaction ... to your lunch?" Chakotay asked.
Frowning, flaring his nostrils, the Vulcan replied, "Hardly, commander."
Pointing, the commander exclaimed, "There! You did it again!"
"What did I do?"
"You frowned!" Chakotay explained.
"That’s two reactions … in one meal!" He laughed openly, savoring the moment. "I think the back-breaking labor is bringing out the emotions in you!"
Examining it, Tuvok held up his bowl, tilting the receptacle slightly downward, careful not to spill any of the green mush. With his other hand, he pointed to the contents.
"This ... this green putty, for lack of an accurate term," he began. "I was merely commenting on my analysis of its nutritional value. As you are no doubt aware, commander, Vulcans have a unique palate. With the proper guidance, we can dissect a piece of food into its individual components simply through utilizing our sense of taste. As we have been dining, perhaps a word inadequate to describe such a limited partaking of Besarian cuisine, I have been mentally cataloguing a limited reference of this planet's available food supply … or, in the very least, what they serve members of the Lemm Society. Consequently, I have a minimal understanding of that which our captors choose to offer us. This paste, albeit thick and juicy, has little if any nutritional value."
He set his bowl on the table. "If our captors desire for us to continue to work diligently for hours upon end … without the advent of rest or a suitable change of routine … it would be far more logical for the Borg to provide us with sustenance of a moderate to high nutritional value. The proper diet would grant our bodies the necessary vitamins and minerals to maintain optimal health in the face of such rigorous physical exertion."
Stirring up his own bowl of paste, the commander reminded his crewmate, "Yes, but you’re avoiding the subject. You still frowned, and I saw it."
"I did not."
"You did." He sighed, smiling at the Vulcan. "Just wait until the captain hears about this." Satisfied that he had won the debate, he took another spoonful of the mush and swallowed.
"I fail to see that a frown proves anything, commander," Tuvok replied, taking another mouthful himself. "You would be wise to seek out more gratifying pursuits."
"You never were a good lunch date."
"I beg your pardon?"
"See," Chakotay said, pointing, grinning, chewing. "That reply was nearly another sign of emotion. All of this work, rain, and mush … it’s bringing out your human side."
Flatly, the Vulcan remarked, "Commander, I have no human side."
Together, they sat side by side, along with dozens of other workers, on a thickly wooded bench that must’ve stretched fifty meters. The cafeteria was huge, sporting a cathedral-style ceiling, and the facility accommodated what Chakotay guessed to have been over two thousand Lemm at any shift break. The tables were – what was the word his father had taught him – picnic? He guessed that was it, and, huddled around all of them, the various beings hungrily ate from their bowls, drank from cups filled with rainwater, and chattered noisily amongst themselves about the day’s work. Illumination came from some overhead lamps as well as one wall lined entirely with transparent panes; the dim light of the scant Besarian cityscape provided ambiance but little more.
Turning on his bench toward the group of Gallenians sitting nearby, Tuvok cried out, "Mr. Balt'marr?"
One of the Lemm, his face haggard and unshaven, glanced up from his spot at the table. "Yes, Mr. Tuvok?"
"Mr. Balt'marr, I was curious as to who provides our food."
Collectively, the Gallenians laughed, their chests heaving sharply as they released their guffaws.
'Alien physiology always fascinates me,' Chakotay thought, watching the Gallenians as they lurched. 'Laughter … no matter the species … must be the one true universal language.'
Balt'marr rose. Chortling back at his mates, he rounded the edge of their table, approaching and sitting down on the bench beside the Vulcan.
"Today's entrée is compliments of the His Highness, the One," the Lemm stated, his laughter dying. "As was yesterday’s. As will be tomorrow’s. Never forget, Tuvok, that, so long as we play our game in this precious Foundation that the One will see that the simpletons such as you and I are sufficiently cared for. Always remember: the all serve the One."
Tuvok raised an eyebrow. "This paste -"
"Gallushite," Balt'marr explained, pointing at the Vulcan’s bowl. "The planet has a prominent indigenous fruit called Gallush … and, let me tell you, if you can get your hands on a full, ripe one to enjoy all to yourself that it is well worth the thrashing you’ll endure at the hands of the Borg Army. Gallush are absolutely wonderful! No doubt your ambassador has sampled a basket of whole Gallush in Talesee Palace."
Continuing, Balt’marr nudged Tuvok's bowl. "This gruel is Gallushite, nothing more than a crude mush ground from the seedlings at the Gallush's core. Although I’ve never served kitchen detail, I do believe that the cook mixes in some shaving of the fruit’s skin to give the paste some consistency and a hint of flavor." He leaned close. "However, I've no doubt that, if there were any nutritional elements in the resulting mush, the One himself would order them to be carefully and mercilessly extracted."
"Balt’marr, it's good to see that you've kept your sense of humor," Chakotay admired. "Why, Tuvok himself was just showing emotion. It’s good for the spirit!"
The Lemm smiled, shoveling in another mouthful of green paste. "Tuvok? Your friend appears rather stoic, Chakotay. Not much of a talker. Not much of a smiler, either. However, he has the strongest back on your crew. So, in honor of his service, I'll be glad to lodge his complaint about the blandness of the Gallushite with our Borg overlords."
Sliding his bowl away, Chakotay interjected, "Balt'marr, how long have the Gallenians been here … under care of the One?"
"The care? I would hardly call it ‘care,’ Lemm."
"The rule, then."
Wincing, he shrugged, another gesture Chakotay was finding to be more and more universal. "Like so many of the species trapped here, Chakotay, we have simply lost track of time. Certainly, it’s been several dozen jlarra. Many, many dozens." Grimacing, he cocked his head for a moment. "Come to think of it, I do recall my father telling me that ours was one of the earliest species drawn here by the One … not that that helps answer your question at all."
Sadly, Chakotay nodded. As the events of the past few days had unfolded, he realized, more and more, how much he felt for these oppressed beings. Granted, the commander and his crew had been broken up, assigned new work details throughout Besaria City, but Chakotay felt very fortunate to have been delegated to a workstation alongside his shipmate, Tuvok. It certainly made passing the time much easier.
'What must it be like to serve a lifetime in this prison?' he wondered.
"The Gallenians are a strong people," he complimented Balt’marr. "Frankly, I don't know how you’ve managed working this detail for as long as you have. And as for my Vulcan friend here? His looks are deceiving. Sure, he could probably outlast a drone in cleaning and calibrating this Pulse Cannon. But me? I'm exhausted already."
"Commander," Tuvok counseled, "you dishonor yourself. I've observed that your work is nearly as exemplary as is mine."
Again, Chakotay smiled. "Nearly?"
Tuvok shrugged. "I intend no insult."
"Of course not. An insult could be interpreted as another emotional response."
"As I said," the lieutenant pressed, "I intended no disrespect. I am, after all, Vulcan."
Chakotay couldn’t help but laugh, and Balt’marr and the other Gallenians joined him.
"How about the two of you?" the Lemm beside Tuvok asked, taking in another gulp of Gallushite. "You two appear to be old friends. How long have the two of you served together?"
"Since arriving in the Delta Quadrant," the commander explained. "Almost six years. Before that, we had a ... we had what you might call a unique relationship. Tuvok was a secret agent, spying on me and the activities of my sect of the Maquis … but I wouldn’t bore you with the politics of the Alpha Quadrant."
Balt'marr nodded enthusiastically, mashing around another dollop of green paste in his mouth. "You, as well, are a proud people," he offered, swallowing his food. "You’re very capable. You’re very industrious. You’re very knowledgeable. As I understand, several of your crew was assigned to the Besarian Sciences Complex. That, my friend, is no easy detail." He held out his hands. "Strong minds and strong backs!" He dropped his arms to the table. "We, Gallenians? I’ll tell you that we weren't meant for this sort of work. We are explorers, by nature. We were meant to travel space and explore the stars. This labor has worn my people down. Most of us who have survived this hardship are now weak. Indeed, hope is the stuff of dreams." He shook his head. "No, I suspect that we won't survive here much longer."
Trying to build Gallenian morale, Chakotay argued, "That’s nonsense, Balt’marr, and you know it! Your people will survive. We, too, are explorers … not by nature … but by choice." He leaned forward, glancing past his shipmate into the weary eyes of the Gallenian-Lemm. "Like yours, my people have always sought out new races and new cultures." Chancing to waggle a finger at his newfound friend, the commander chanced, "Don't kid yourself. Exploring space requires a tremendous amount of back-breaking labor as well, and your people are up to the task."
Nodding and eating, Balt’marr agreed. Curtly, the Gallenian-Lemm turned and met Chakotay's dark eyes.
"I understand ... that your ship is quite powerful," the Lemm whispered.
Chakotay shrugged. "It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to discuss Voyager’s defensive capabilities, but she’s a good little ship, if that's what you mean."
"I’ll have you know that your ship has made Mandakorr a quick legend among my people," he professed.
"He is the Gallenian-Lemm who piloted your ship here, once you were captured." Glancing around, insuring their privacy, he added, "And, I understand he is piloting it today on a strategic mission for His Highness."
Nodding, the first officer conceded, "I was on the bridge when the Voyager was taken. Mandakorr was assigned to the helm. He's a good pilot. Extremely capable."
Leaning closer, Balt'marr whispered, "Mandakorr has made it known through ... shall we say ... informal communication channels here on Besaria ... he has said that your ship could survive ChannelSpace."
The Vulcan stopped eating momentarily.
"What is ChannelSpace?"
Again, Balt'marr glanced around the cafeteria. Knowing full well that they would all be summoned back to work shortly, he didn't want to risk being overheard by any of the wandering Borg sentries.
"His Highness? The One?" he began, once certain that their table was not under observation. "He commands an elite force of Gallenian pilots trained to monitor ChannelSpace regularly. These pilots are rarely seen in the city. When in transit, I understand that they are required to maintain constant communications contact with the One."
Wrinkling his forehead, searching his own memory of the word, Chakotay replied, "We've never heard of ChannelSpace."
"Don’t be surprised," Balt'marr cautioned. "My ancestors traveled hundreds of thousands of lights years, and they hadn't passed knowledge of it down through our family stories. A pilot I’ve met, Dorrell, told me about it. He’s part of the One’s special team." Once more, the Gallenian peered around before continuing. "To put it bluntly, ChannelSpace is nothing more than a hyperspace teleportation tunnels. Its destinations are plotted between corresponding traffic conductors. From what little I have learned, I understand that these conductors function much like your ship’s transporter technology.
"For example," he elucidated, "let’s say that you want to go from Point A to Point B, but these destinations are separated by twenty thousand light years. Under normal transit conditions, this would take a ship around twenty years. However, a pilot who knows the ChannelSpace corridors could accomplish such a feet almost instantly."
Tuvok raised an eyebrow. "Mr. Balt’marr, what you are suggesting is highly unlikely."
Ignoring the comment, the Lemm continued. "The pilot would have to know two things. First, he’d have to know the coordinates of the traffic conductors located nearest to Point A and to Point B. Second, he’d have to know the universal linguacode that allows a craft’s shield emitters to generate a reflective signature that only traffic conductors recognize. So, your pilot, at Point A, sends out a signal to the nearest conductor, and ChannelSpace takes over from there. Once identification is established, the ship can literally be beamed to Point B or to any other conductor by means of exclusive teleportation conduits in space."
He shrugged, stirring his Gallushite with his spoon. "I've been told by some pilots that, not only can you travel many light years in a matter of seconds, but also the channels stretch in thousands of directions and distances. As a matter of fact, Dorrell tells me that they've yet to reach the end of any particular channel where another transport option wasn't available."
"That is highly improbable," Tuvok denied. "The power to create such a transporter or teleportation effect, with the capability of maintaining and projecting a single ship from point to point within space, would be extremely difficult to generate."
"Nonsense," Balt'marr replied. Whispering, he added, "It's Twelfth Power Energy. The same energy behind the planetary shield. The same energy used by the Pulse Cannon. It powers the Generatrix! And, I’m told that the conductors are planet-sized, actually hidden within the decoy planet’s core. They’re real enough," he insisted. "I saw one once, when I was briefly assigned to an off-planet maintenance crew. I know for a fact that there is a conductor located near Besaria, but I couldn't tell you the coordinates. After all, I’m not a pilot."
He glanced around, checking once more for Borg. "Mandakorr has said that your ship has the capability of altering its shield frequency."
Chakotay nodded, uncertain as to how much he should believe and how much information he should share. Finally, he consented, "It can be done easily enough."
Still speaking softly, Balt’marr added, "Mandakorr has also said that your shield frequency generators would fall well within the range necessary to access ChannelSpace conductors ... with the proper instruction, of course."
For a moment, the three remained completely silent.
"Did the One build ChannelSpace?" Tuvok eventually asked.
"No," Balt'marr answered. "He simply discovered it, not long after assimilating the Borg. For whatever reason, he monitors it, and I do mean closely. Some of the others think that he’s afraid of whomever may’ve built it discovering that he’s accessed it, but I haven’t made up my mind on that point. As far as I know, the One never leaves the planet."
"If he didn’t build it," Chakotay pried, "then where did they come from?"
Nodding slowly, the Lemm disclosed, "I have heard rumors, from some of the other species here, that an ancient civilization constructed the traffic conductors to allow for their own interstellar exploration, hopping from one region of space to the next within seconds. But, as I said, I know those only to be rumors."
"We have a saying in the Alpha Quadrant," Chakotay offered with a smile. "There’s always a bit of truth in rumors." He pointed at Balt'marr. "Assuming that we could escape this planet, would you be willing to show us the technology?"
A klaxon sounded, signaling the end of the meal period. The cafeteria quickly began emptying of its patrons.
"I couldn't help you, but Mandakorr is an expert," the Lemm explained. "I'm certain that he’d be interested ... provided that you offer the Gallenians transport to our homeworld."
Chakotay flashed Tuvok a quick glance before asking, "How far is that?"
"Well, as I said, we were one of the first species assimilated here," he said. "Although I don’t have any star charts, I understand that our planet, Gallen, is only a few light years away."
Tuvok returned his commander’s surreptitious glance. The prospects of an alliance would increase their chances at escape. If ChannelSpace were a viable option, then it warranted further consideration on their part.
"I can't speak for my captain," the first officer finally said. "Voyager isn't a large ship. There may be some space considerations we would need to work out. But I'd be surprised to learn if she wouldn't at least hear your proposal."
Sighting a drone nearing their table, Tuvok advised, "Commander, we had best disperse at once."
Quickly, the three of them rose in unison, walking toward the repository to relinquish their bowls and spoons. Chakotay caught up with the Lemm and maintained pace with him.
"Balt'marr, you wouldn't happen to have any personal opinion as to how far ChannelSpace goes, would you?"
They reached the repository. Dropping their utensils into the cleaning bay, they watched as the objects were whisked away on a current of air down a smooth trench, disappearing through a hole in the wall.
"Mandakorr believes," he confessed, "that ChannelSpace has no end."