So they do what everybody on Voyager does when something bad is a-comin': go to the conference room to talk about it. Dunno why they don't just hang on the bridge, which is populated entirely by main characters, but whatever. Chakotay has been traveling with these people for many months and knows each of them... so of course, he sits there and watches each person individually.
Both he and Janeway were well-respected leaders of a largely contented crew.
Except for the traitors, the occasional mutiny offer, the people rightfully pissed off that they're stranded in ButtEndOfNowhereville instead of at home... and that's not even bringing up when Janeway does FUCKING INSANE things like trying to make alliances with implacable cyborg hordes.
For some reason, a threat of total annihilation makes Chakotay wonder if this is what his animal guide was talking about.
The door hissed open one final time and B'Elanna Torres entered.
Who is B'Elanna Torres? She's the chief engineer, whose character trait is that she's half Klingon. This gives her a rotten temper, which in real life constitutes a slightly-worse-than-normal temper.
Graceful and slim despite the physical power granted by her Klingon mother's blood,
I think ballerinas might be offended.
Janeway then infodumps the stuff they learned just last chapter, apparently for people with brain damage who can't remember that far back. Then she demands that Neelix continue telling her about the Akerians.... after apparently interrupting him so they could all be sitting down when he told them.
The self-appointed "morale officer," the Talaxian liked nothing better than to cheer people up.
He hadn't figured out that the best way was to vanish.
"They have formed the Akerian Empire, which consists of various planets they've conquered and, well, shall we say... plundered, I suppose, is the term."
... yeah, that's sort of what you'd expect a stellar empire to be. And I hope we're not going to be bludgeoned by moral outrage, because the Federation has made treaties with empires that were a LOT worse. Ever heard of the Cardassians? They are basically space Nazis... and the Federation made a treaty with them.
Neelix also explains that they're kinda private, since nobody knows where their home planet is, and nobody knows what the hell they look like because they always wear masks. All people know is that they're tall, dark and strong... sorry, just tall, strong and bipedal.
"They always wear masks--don't want their faces to be seen, apparently."
"Either that, or they're just really ugly."
"Level of technological development?" put in Torres.
Chakotay felt a brief twinge of sympathy at Neelix's obvious discomfort. He'd been on the receiving end of Torres's grilling style himself.
... what grilling style?! All she did was ask a perfectly reasonable question. There's nothing to imply that she's being harsh with Neelix - it's not like she's beating Neelix with a bat while talking to him.
So Neelix apparently knows that they have standard Star Trek tech, aka warp and shields, but they also have a Speshul Secret Weapon that beats the crap out of planets and unshielded ships. If there ARE unshielded ships. Remember, this is Star Trek. Shields are so common that even the SPACE STATIONS have shields!
"How do we dock ships when the shields are up?" "By you shut up."
Neelix really, really wants them to just leave the Akerians alone, but nobody seems to agree with him. They can't get the wormhole information without getting into Akerian space, and Tuvok doesn't seem too worried because all the destroyed ships were weaksauce compared to Voyager.
"Impossible," said the ensign. "We'll need to be much closer in order to get any readings that would be worthwhile--even to determine if the wormhole is inside the black hole or not."
"Also, if we wuss out and don't go any closer, we won't have a story."
"STOP GOING ALL META!"
Speaking of wussing out, Janeway apparently doesn't feel like captaining today, so she leaves the decision-making up to Chakotay. His whole contribution is: "Let's sneak in, but let's be friendly about it."
Now Neelix exploded with, "It doesn't matter to the empire if you're a Bekovian toth-eater with six-centimeter fangs or a little bug on their nose, they're going to perceive you as a threat and deal with you accordingly!"
THE PROSE BURNS!
And I'm not entirely sure why he's so scared of them. He's never met them, and we don't really get any specifics about HOW he knows how badass they are. Of course, it doesn't seem to matter much because the crew shows the same amount of concern over him freaking out as they do over what to have for lunch.
Janeway, Tuvok and Kim all repeat everything we already know. I guess it's a sum-up for the really dim readers... but if they're really dim, WHY ARE THEY READING SCIENCE FICTION? Shouldn't they be off watching reality TV reruns or something?
Chakotay smothered a smile. He had learned to respect Tuvok when the Vulcan had worked undercover on Chakotay's Maquis vessel.
And then Tuvok turned out to be a double agent who had been working to put Chakotay and his entire crew in prison. Respect, man!
You see what I mean about all that beautiful tension WASTED?
So Janeway decides that they're gonna cautiously go ahead... which is what they were doing pre-conference. I am not feeling the suspense.
"Then let's do it." Janeway's cool expression melted into a warm smile that lit up her features.
Um... is that something to really smile about? Hostile killer aliens, an anomaly that is probably a black hole... I'd keep my enthusiasm in check for awhile.
It was always easy to sound brave, Janeway had found. Almost always easy to appear brave. Snap out the words, hold your head just so, force your body language into communicating what you wanted your crew to "hear." But making yourself feel brave?
sniffle "Some days, I'm crippled by my fear that they won't put enough cream in my coffee. OH, THE HORROR!"
She'd been doing that a lot since this mission began. And thus far, she'd made the right choices more often than not.
I'll leave that interpretation up to you. See reviews by SF Debris for more details.
But consider this: not only did she strand her crew in the Delta Quadrant to save a race who was an evolutionary dead end and would probably end up enslaved and/or dead in a few years anyway, even though a well-placed bomb could have allowed them to go home AND save the dead ends... she did a bunch of other stuff, including:
- allowing various alien races to lobotomize or brain damage her crew
- making an alliance with the all-devouring cyborgs who were obviously going to betray them
- keeps turning down/avoiding offers from near-omnipotent creatures to get home
- locking herself in her room for months because she was sad
- ignores unrest in her blended crew because she just hopes it will go away
... and those are only the BIG problems. I haven't even touched on the serial-killer stuff! There was an actual serial killer on board who murdered someone for looking at him funny, and she sentences him to "stay in your room and think about what you've done!"
So Janeway sends out a message to the Akerians... which seems like a bad idea, getting their attention and stuff.
"We come in peace"--for all mankind she thought, feeling a surge of pride at the remembrance of those powerful words that, even today, still graced the surface of Earth's moon--
I'm sure Tuvok, Neelix, Kes and all other nonhuman people on the ship would totally agree.
"and have no conflict with anyone in this sector. Please respond. Let us open a dialogue."
I don't know about you, but the words "Let us open a dialogue" would make just about anyone flee in terror. It's like a diplomatic version of Dilbert's boss.
So she commands Harry Kim to stop sobbing under his desk and broadcast the message every two minutes. Then she hops into her ready room. Wow, Golden is REALLY bad at writing time passing - I think the last two chapters have happened in maybe ten minutes.
She wanted a Danish, too, very badly, but contented herself with a strong cup of hot black java.
... so why doesn't she have a Danish?
Oh, and for non-Voyager-watchers, Janeway's obsession with coffee is a running gag in the series.
Then Tuvok comes in and announces, "We have reached the vicinity of the... concavity, Captain." ALREADY? REALLY? All she did was drink a cup of coffee and make a super-brief log! Unless she drinks that coffee one drop at a time, they got from "get some tiny sensor readings" to "we're right next to it" in about five minutes!
Janeway immediately figures out that something weird is up. For the non-Trek-savvy, Vulcans are supposed to be super-precise and logical, so when he calls it a "concavity," Tuvok means, "We're in the area of the mysterious hole, but I don't know what the fuck it is." That's also what he said on his honeymoon (hey-o!).
So Janeway and Tuvok head out to the bridge and gawp in amazement at the concavity. What is it? Uhhhh.... it's sort of like a black hole, except it's way too big and it's also sucking energy from the nearby sun.
The sun itself appeared to be in the later stages of its starry life. It was enormous, swollen, emanating an angry, orange-red hue--almost at the stage known as a red giant.
It was shaking its cane at the younger stars and shouting about kids these days and how things were different in its days, it walked uphill both ways to school in the snow, wearing shoes it made itself...
"We are presently 0.8 light-years away from the concavity," replied Tuvok, his head bent over his console.
Holy fuck, they got to less than a light year from THE EDGE OF AKERIAN SPACE in about ten minutes, MAX. I don't think Golden realizes that SPACE IS BIG, VERY VERY BIG.
"Ensign Kim, keep monitoring the gravitational pull. I don't want to get mired in this thing."
"But captain, we haven't had a crisis from a spatial anomaly in a whole week! We're totally due!"
"Shut up and do what I say."
Neelix comes in and contributes nothing. He could have been edited out of this scene, and nobody would have noticed.
"Scan the planets. Could one of them possibly be the Akerian home world?"
Well, if so, they have a shitty defense system, since there is a mysterious ship less than a light-year from their planet and NOBODY is shooting at them.
But no, there are "advanced societies" but nobody advanced enough to have warships. Please recall the word "societies," because we will see ONE alien society. ONE. No indication of any others. Maybe they're all just really forgettable.
Compassion washed over Janeway. "Damn."
... I don't think "compassion" is the right word. That's more of a general, ongoing trait than an emotion. Try "dismay."
She hated scenarios like this one. Even with their technologies and knowledge of the vagaries of the universe, Voyager and every other ship that trolled the stars was completely at the mercy of natural catastrophes on this scale. She grieved for the innocent people whose sun was dying.
"I'm grieving so much that I'm going to sit here and do nothing!"
Oh, the non-Trekkers are wondering WHY, if she's so distraught, she is going to sit there and do nothing? Well, Gene Roddenberry in his questionable wisdom decided that the Star Trek series would have the Prime Directive, which is basically "don't meddle with civilizations that aren't advanced enough for warp drive."
Of course, it's kind of an incredibly flexible concept because it could range from "don't sell your cool tech to warp-capable people who haven't developed it yet" to "let an entire planet die because fixing their problem and allowing them to live would be interfering. They're destined to die! It's the way things are! Unless our android makes friends with a little girl, then we HAVE to help."
And frankly it seems more like a suggestion than a rule. I mean, captains violated it ALL THE TIME and nobody really took them to task for it unless they immediately produced a planet of Nazis. Nobody got court-martialed, nobody got reprimanded - and this stuff all goes on record, so if it was a big deal you would think SOMEBODY would care. Kirk in particular didn't seem to view it as a rule so much as an ideal scenario.
How did Janeway handle it? Well, she sat on the fence - she violated it to save the most pitiful aliens in the universe, which stranded her crew in the Delta Quadrant, and promptly went all self-righteous about never ever violating it ever... except when she did, for reasons. In fact, she'd make a bug-eyed horrified face if anyone even suggested, "Hey, if we sell these space pirates some replicator parts, they might leave us alone. Or kill themselves by accident."
Why do I say "questionable wisdom"? Because the various series treat the Prime Directive like the Golden Rule.
Reality is not so tidy. Yeah, it would mess up primitive aliens to discover that alien life exists if they weren't aware of it in some capacity. But really, is it worse to have your civilization not be "pure" and unsullied by the knowledge of alien life... or be fucking DEAD? Because according to some Starfleet captains, better dead than helped by illegal means! ONLY bad things can come from helping people!
See, this is why I prefer Stargate SG-1's way of doing things. There was the awareness there that yes, visiting and trading with less advanced races could be potentially harmful, but it was beneficial more often than not, as long as it was done with wisdom, based on individual cases.
Harry Kim then confirms that the planets are gonna die out in about a century or so. Oddly, nobody on the bridge except Janeway seems very upset by this.
"Their technology is somewhat beyond what Earth's was at the end of the twentieth century."
... because that's the cheapest and easiest technological level to write aliens at.
"On their own... I'm sorry, Captain, I don't think they'll make it. They've only got about a century or so left."
Oh, come on. According to Star Trek canon, humans achieved warp drive and made contact with aliens in 2063. That's WAY less than a century after the 20th-century.
Tuvok then decides that he hasn't gotten to pontificate like Spock since EVER, so we're in for a page of windbaggery.
"I believe there is enough evidence here for me to state that this star is not what it appears to be."
"I believe it is actually a giant spider that feeds on fear. Oh wait, that's Tim Curry."
"The star appears to be a red giant. In fact, by almost all accounts, it is a red giant. The size is correct, it is clearly beginning to burn the helium at its core. Nearly all the criteria that we would use to judge it a red giant are evident."
... did I mention that Janeway used to be a science officer? And probably knowing the basics of star formation are required at Starfleet Academy? And that Tuvok likes windbagging?
Chakotay is having an angst-gasm right now because he had a deep respect for life--all life--that approached reverence. Except Cardassians. He doesn't care much what happens to them. He's pretty okay with them dying, actually.
The deaths of four planets, teeming with living beings, must hurt him terribly for him to have snapped at Tuvok that way.
... or he's just really, really bored by Tuvok droning on.
TL;DR, the star is younger than Earth's sun, and the concavity is artificially aging the star, which means that the planets will be DOA in about 25 years. He communicates this by telling everyone the bleedin' obvious, and getting testy if anyone tells him to PLEASE JUST GET ON WITH IT.
"Therefore, there is an external force at work aging the star and causing it to age prematurely."
Thank God we have you to tell us this stuff, Commander Obvious.
"It would be comparable to our own youthful Mr. Kim dying of old age."
"... which is pretty much the only thing that hasn't happened to him yet. But I'm sure it will happen eventually."
Suddenly, the thought of the concavity as an evil monster didn't seem quite as ludicrous as it had just a few moments earlier.
... yes, yes it does. Just because it does harm doesn't mean it's evil or a monster.
And he was right. The flood of hydrogen into the maw of the concavity was fully as wide as the sun itself.
Holy fuck, does Christie Golden realize how FRIGGIN HUGE stars are?!
Janeway closed her eyes briefly. Tuvok had, to all intents and purposes, just pronounced an irrevocable death sentence
... not really. Pronouncing a death sentence means that you're SENTENCING the person to death, like a judge would do. Tuvok is just reporting what he's seeing. It's like saying that a reporter "pronounces an irrevocable death sentence" when he writes an article on someone being sentenced to death.
Janeway immediately poohpoohs the idea of saving two billion people from the concavity.
This system was naturally destroying itself.
... and why do they think that? Admittedly, it could theoretically happen, but in hostile space with a freakish anomaly that is quickly established as being IMPOSSIBLE to have happened naturally... not likely.
To intervene in a prewarp society's natural development so drastically would be not only violating the Prime Directive, but positively thumbing her nose at the Federation's highest ideal.
See what I mean? Why is it their "highest ideal"? Why is it an ideal at all? What about it makes it something so worthy of veneration? Why is it supposed to be upheld so rigidly, yet with so little definition?
It feels like the Prime Directive is upheld because... it's the rule, not because it actually is any good or does anything worthwhile.
Hold on, I need a cute animal moment.
Anyway, they are still checking out the concavity. Apparently there might be a wormhole inside, but they can't get to it because the gravity is too strong... but it's also weirdly LOW. Don't worry, the confusion will get even worse.
"Since that is an accurate way of estimating the amount of gravitational force within the concavity, I would say that, theoretically, our shields would hold if we decide to venture into it."
... so they can't go into the concavity because the gravity is too strong.... but it's also so weak that they CAN go inside. Either Harry just screwed up, or Tuvok is trying to commit suicide again.
"It's one-seventh what it ought to be," she repeated, "far less than is necessary for its size. Just like this sun is far older than it ought to be. I wonder if there's any kind of connection?"
- YOU THINK?
- Janeway was a scientist once. Just sayin'.
- And maybe, just maybe, the vast river of hydrogen being sucked from the sun into the concavity is part of that magic connection too!
- It's like saying, "Hey, maybe carrying the One Ring and being chased by Nazgul MIGHT be connected!"
"Curiouser and curiouser," said Paris, "as Alice said when she fell down the rabbit hole."
Paris's quip had an unforseen effect on his captain. Janeway felt her body tense. "Something is very wrong here, isn't it, Mr. Tuvok?"
- ... I rarely see a book that snarks itself for me.
- I mean, that's so random that the book even notes it. It's like that one comment was inserted to somehow make sense of Janeway's illogical reaction.
- And again... YA THINK?
- It only NOW occurs to her that there's something wacky and weird goin' down in this place?
- I think Janeway does need that Danish. Her blood sugar has clearly crashed.
Tuvok confirms the frigging obvious, and states that the concavity doesn't have enough gravity to pull off ANY hydrogen, let alone the ridiculous amounts it IS pulling in. But hey, Janeway said it was "naturally destroying itself," and who am I to argue with an ex-science officer?
"Let me get this straight," said Janeway. She was starting to become a bit frustrated herself. "We've got a red giant that's too young to be a red giant. We've got a concavity whose gravitational power is too weak for it to be the size that it is. And we've got hydrogen being pulled across an impossible distance at an impossible rate. Have I got all this right, Tuvok?"
... this entire chapter is just people putting on their Idiot Hats and repeating stuff that everybody already knows.
You know, I can understand spelling out technobabble or actual scientific phenomena that most people aren't familiar with. But when you put all the information out in a row, you have to assume that your readers can put the pieces together. When you say "the letters are O, U and T," you do not have to TELL your readers what that spells unless they're three years old. Which the readers of this book presumably aren't, since this was supposed to be a book for grown-ups.
In conclusion: STOP REPEATING EVERYTHING. It doesn't make things clearer! It just makes it seem like Janeway has brain damage!
They're then hailed by one of the planets... and no, awareness of warp-capable people doesn't mean that Janeway can or will help them. Basically Starfleet will only help you if you have the capability to help yourself. They're like people who will only pull over and help you jump-start your car if your car is already running.
The figure that appeared on the screen was one of the most fascinating combinations of creatures Janeway had ever seen, and she'd met over a hundred different races in her time in Starfleet.
It had the head of a vizcacha, the tail of a rat, the body of a komodo dragon, the hands of a cactus, the feet of a goat and the nipples of a gorilla.
Nope, it's only slightly more silly in appearance.
At first glance, the creature resembled nothing so much as a dragon out of old Earth legends.
It then incinerated the viewscreen with its fiery breath.
it was seated in a chair that seemed fashioned of equal parts stone and plastic.
... that... is... stupid. It would be REALLY hard to fashion a chair like that, and it probably wouldn't work very well compared to... oh, I dunno... WOOD.
But what arms,
So muscular and manly!
And what does this draconic race look like?
It was snakelike in form, a shapely diamond. Incongruously large, gentle eyes filled with concern graced a head that narrowed into a pointed muzzle. There were no teeth visible at the moment. The back of the head tapered into a long, sinuous neck that broadened at the base to very human-appearing shoulders.
A white mane of hair decorated the head and continued down the length of the neck.
Soft, mottled, pale fur covered all, though the creature wore comfortable drapelike garments that modestly covered its body.
Maybe I haven't seen the right artwork of dragons, but WHAT about that description says "dragon"? I could understand saying "dragonlike" because of the reptilian body structure, but... come on. It has
- A humanoid body, which dragons pretty much never do (unless they are in magical human disguise... yes, there are books where that is a thing).
- Fur... again, something not commonly seen on dragon art. They tend to stick to the reptilian aspect and give them scales and/or (occasionally) feathers.
- Giant eyes. Not something dragons are known for, even in anime.
- A snakelike head. Most dragons are not depicted as having serpentine heads, but more lizardlike ones.
- Chapter 3 also reveals that they have HORSE TAILS.
So yeah, I would not look at an alien that looked like that and immediately think, "That resembles a dragon."
A heavy, multifaceted pendant, winking silvery in the light, hung about that throat.
She got it at Jared's!
So the alien, unsurprisingly for a member of a doomed species who just noticed an advanced spaceship approaching, wants to know if they're there to help.
"Dare we hope that you have come to help us?"
Well, you can hope. It won't do shit, but you can hope.