Since it's an alien that isn't just a human with a rubber forehead, everyone is gawping at the alien.
Chakotay stared. It was impolite, and his father would have been disappointed in his behavior,
Yeah, it's not like they USUALLY stare at the viewscreen. Because that's what it's for.
But Chakotay, being a Speshul Snowflake of Generic Indianness, is not staring because the viewscreen is full of furry snake-person. No, no. He's staring because of NATIVE AMERICAN STUFF!
He stared at the female alien's white mane of hair... hair that was braided with feathers and beads. Ornamentations that were uncannily familiar to Chakotay.
DID I MENTION HIS ONLY TRAIT IS THAT HE'S AN INDIAN?!?!?!??!?!
And yes, we're meant to immediately assume that that means she's like a Native American as seen by suburban white people, that she's spiritual and in touch with the land and blahblahblah.
Of course, that's a really stupid assumption to make. That's like saying that since the Beothuk tribe of Newfoundland and the ancient Picts of Ireland both colored their skin with ochre, that means that they must have had similar values, customs and beliefs. Except, you know, they DIDN'T. They were totally unrelated cultures. Because a simple cosmetic custom doesn't mean you have anything in common.
For all Chakotay knows, they have avian enemies, and wear feathers in their hair to show how many enemies they've killed, and whittle their hollow bones into beads.
Had it been a human on that video screen, he might have addressed her as Grandmother.
"Tuvok, why did Chakotay just yell 'Granny' and run at the viewscreen?"
"It was most illogical."
Just because she's got the dignity and bearing of Grandmother doesn't mean she's old and wise.
Yep, it turned out that Nata is just a little kid playing with daddy's comm equipment. That was embarrassing.
Don't go attributing human characteristics to aliens, he chided himself. That's led to some of the worst incidents in Federation history. Learn about them and take them on their own terms.
Finally, some sense. I mean, don't they teach about this sort of shit in Starfleet Academy? That just because something looks vaguely familiar doesn't mean that
And you know the funny thing? Apparently Chakotay's reason for joining Starfleet... was that he liked anthropology. You know, the study of other cultures! And yet when he sees a snake person wearing beads and feathers, he AUTOMATICALLY jumps to the conclusion that these must have the same meaning that they do in his culture! Whatever that culture is!
"How may I address you?"
"I am called Nata. I am a Viha, one of the elders of my people."
Not even a token effort to NOT measure up to Chakotay's exact expectations. Well, the last shreds of potential just flew out the window and crapped on your head. These snake people are going to be exactly like what middle-class white people in the 1990s thought all Indians were like.
"We are the Verunans," continued Viha Nata. "This planet is Veruna Four."
... wait, the planet is called Veruna Four, which implies that their sun is called "Veruna." That's like humans referring to ourselves as "Solians of Sol 3."
And there are multiple planets with civilizations in this system, assuming Golden hasn't totally forgotten. Do they ALL call themselves Verunans? That could become confusing.
"Verunans of Veruna Four, this is a transmission from the Verunans of Veruna Five."
"This is a Verunan from Veruna Four. We read you loud ad clear, Verunans of Veruna Five."
I never understood this about science fiction. For some reason all the planets are numbered. The people on those planets are just fine with the numbering system instead of giving their planets unique names. And even when a planet is uninhabited, nobody decides, "I shall name this planet Fifi in honor of my late cherished labradoodle!" No, it's always Reblahblah V or Epsilunk 49.
And who would call their own planet that? Why wouldn't the Verunans have their own names for each planet, like we do? It's like calling Canada "America 1," the US "America 2," Mexico "America 3," and so on.
"Do I have your word, Captain Janeway of the Federation, that you have not come here on behalf of the Akerian Empire to continue their attacks on my people?"
"You do indeed, Viha Nata."
"Do you also vow that you will allow me to clumsily continue infodumping through poor dialogue?
"We are a people of honor despite some of the actions to which our present situation has driven us. We take you at your word and trust that you, too, are a people of honor."
"If by 'honor' you mean letting my crew get brain-raped as long as it's an alien race doing it, then yesirreebob!"
For some reason, this makes Chakotay wriggle around like he has to pee. I think it's meant to be YET ANOTHER "oh they're so totally like Native Americans" moment, but it's kinda stupid because PLENTY of cultures have a sense of honor. For example, did you know that the Vikings - known for wanton pillage - had very progressive laws about raping or harrassing women, and they respected women more than their continental neighbors? I think they would consider THAT to be an issue of honor!
"Your trust means a great deal to us," replied Janeway. "I must emphasize, in the interest of being open with you and your people, that we have not come here to assist you. We've come to explore the spatial concavity in your system. Are you aware of it? Can you tell us more about its nature?"
"Just wanted to letcha know, we're not going to lift a single finger to save anyone on your planet. You're all gonna die, and you gotta just deal because saving millions of innocents would be wrong. But hey, we're looking at this cool anomaly in your system. Can you tell us about it? It's so cool!"
The normal response to this would be "Fuck off and die," followed by turning off the comm. But Viha Nata paints with all the colors of the wind, so she doesn't do that.
"How can we not be aware of the great Sun-Eater? We see it in our sky every day, a brown-purple bruise against our violated stars."
- "It invades our homes and eats all our food, farts on our sofa, and kicks the dog!"
- It's amateur poetry hour on Veruna Four!
- Also, the stars aren't violated. It's only affecting one.
- But hey, it sounds poetic, so fuck logic.
Janeway points out that there are lots of wrecked ships, and says that "From what I am hearing of the nature of the Verunans, you are not the ones responsible for their destruction." Uh, what did you hear of the nature of the Verunans? All you know is that ONE OF THEM said they were a people of honor, but that they did some dishonorable things.
Small tip for Janeway: the LEAST reliable account of what somebody is like... is the account you get from them. Just ask SG-1.
Also, I'd be more likely to think that the Verunans weren't responsible because they're not very advanced compared to those other ships. It would be like a modern-day American taking down a starship with a Mac compu... I'mma shut up now.
And then something totally unexpected happened. The huge eyes of the Viha filled with liquid. Tears Chakotay marveled. They can weep!
OMG, they CRY! Just like every other alien species we see on Star Trek! Clearly this means they are Speshul Snowflakes!
"We did not fire upon the vessels," said Nata. "Yet in a way, we are partially responsible for their destruction. Some merely came to this area, as you did, for reasons that had nothing to do with our conflict.
Others came, thinking to fight the Akerians--most for their own purposes but a few on our behalf.
Their deaths are partially on our heads. We mourn them." She wiped her face with the back of a clawed hand and composed herself. "Every moment you linger here, within the space that the evil Akerians claim as theirs, you risk yourself and your crew."
"We are travelers from a far part of this galaxy," said Janeway.
"We were brought here against our will, and we're trying to find a way home. We have reason to believe that there is a wormhole in the concavity that might allow us to travel back to our home area of space."
Viha Nata's eyes widened. "Wormhole?" she repeated, clearly confused. "Captain, worms cannot live in space."
Chakotay smiled a little at the miscommunication. The universal translator was clearly functioning perfectly--too perfectly, perhaps, translating the literal meaning of the word rather than the technical meaning it held for speakers of English.
"I apologize for our incorrect translation," said Janeway. "We use the term to describe a sort of tunnel in
space, a corridor from one part of the galaxy to the other."
"Ah!" exclaimed Viha Nata, nodding her comprehension. "I understand now. I am familiar with the phenomenon, though I cannot say if there is one within Sun-Eater."
"Please," said Janeway, stepping closer to the screen. "Tell us what your scientists have been able to learn about the con--about Sun-Eater.
Anything would be helpful."
Viha Nata looked slightly uncomfortable. "Captain, I repeat, I do not think you realize the danger you are in every moment you tarry here.
Nor do I think you appreciate the dreadful danger we Verunans are in."
She paused, then continued. "Time is precious here on Veruna. We do not have much of it left. Yet perhaps if I answer your questions and inform you of the situation, you can be convinced to lend your help."
Chakotay glanced at Janeway, who flinched ever so slightly. "I can promise you nothing," said Janeway, "but I will listen.
By now, everyone on the bridge had turned their attention to the Verunan Viha. She and her lyrical words were far more interesting than the computer's graphics and strange, contradictory conclusions.
Everyone, Chakotay mentally amended, except for Tuvok. Yet even the dark-skinned Vulcan could not help glancing up from his station now and then to examine Nata.
And Chakotay knew that Tuvok was hearing and analyzing every word the reptilian mammal--mammalian reptile?--uttered.
"Sun-Eater appeared several millennia ago. Then, it was a harmless aberration, according to the tales. The Akeriansss"--Viha Nata hissed the word with obvious loathing--"came very soon afterward, as the shadow follows the body. They were more advanced than we, then and now, and we were helpless to resist when they came and stole our people right in front of our eyes. They simply... disappeared, fading as we watched!"
"Transporter technology," said Paris. Janeway nodded acknowledgment and agreement but kept her attention upon the alien.
"Why did they steal your people? How many were abducted?" asked the captain, compassion in her voice.
"They took five, six each time they came. As to why, we do not know."
Again tears filled the limpid eyes. Clearly, Verunan emotions were close to the surface. Nata lowered her head, fingered her bulky pendant as if seeking comfort.
"We never saw any of them again. They continue to do this to this very day. When we started to fight
back several turns ago, they began attacking our planet. They are able to inflict damage upon our poor world that resembles earthquakes, which have had some dreadful consequences. A few months ago, an avalanche destroyed one of our hatching pits. Can you imagine an enemy so callous, so cruel, that they would destroy hatching pits?"
Viha Nata shook her head in disbelief and sorrow, then continued.
"Time came and went. We grew used to seeing the Akerian violators in our skies. Our telescopes revealed that there was a harmony between the Akerians and the hole in the heavens. They flew in and out and seemed to make it a sort of home."
Her manner of speaking was rhythmic, almost a chant. Chakotay knew at once that these were people with a strong oral tradition.
Perhaps there were written records, but history was clearly kept alive by verbal communication. He was so lulled by the power of her cadence that he almost missed the most vital statement of Nata's speech: that the Akerians flew in and out of "the hole in the heavens." He turned to Janeway and saw her own face alight with eagerness. But her diplomacy won out, Janeway permitted the alien to continue at her own speed.
"Three hundred turns ago, the hole in the heavens grew cruel and became Sun-Eater. Now, we do not know how much time is left to us. Our days on Veruna have numbers, and we believe that the Akerians have done something to make that so."
"Have you tried negotiating with the Akerians?" the captain asked, putting her hands behind her back and pacing back and forth.
Nata's reply was vicious, blistering, and apparently untranslatable.
"They would not understand the meaning of the word!" she spat. The Viha's visage changed with her quick anger, and she snarled. Chakotay caught a glimpse of powerful yellow-white teeth. "How can one negotiate with a race who hides their faces? Who comes and takes our people and murders our children?
"No, Captain, we came to the reluctant conclusion twenty turns ago that our only chance is to fight back. We had some knowledge and technology, our inheritance from the Ancestors. To that we have knowledge gleaned from Akerian debris. We have learned now how to build vessels that soar in the darkness of space. We have stolen their knowledge as they have stolen our future. Our weapons and ships are no match for theirs, but we will not let them despoil our planet and take our people anymore."
She was standing now, her hands flat on what was clearly a desk Chakotay saw that her body was mostly humanoid. widening at the hips to flare into what he suspected were powerful thighs and legs. He mentally added a long, reptilian tail to his image of the Verunan. He was almost immediately corrected. A full sweep of a tail similar to that of a horse flicked quickly into his vision, then out again. Viha Nata snorted, then forced herself to sit down.
"Forgive my outburst. But you see, I am one of the leaders of this planet, the keeper of the knowledge granted to us by the Ancestors. I am a Viha, a protector of my people. You cannot imagine how it feels to watch the fertile land being scorched by a sun who no longer cares, to see plants and animals dying by the thousands. To know that your people have only a few generations at most before they are... forever gone."
Her words cut Chakotay's heart to the quick. The Verunans, physically so different from him, had a closer grasp of the Indian's relationship to his world than most of his fellow humans. Every fiber of his being cried out to help these people.
They were not only dying, but their whole world was dying. And if, as he suspected, these people believed that everything--earth, sky, star, plant, cloud--had a "spirit," then they were constantly being surrounded by needless, senseless, incomprehensible death.
The thought was nearly intolerable. He turned in his chair to Janeway, the words, Let us help them!
on his lips. But he did not, could not, speak them. The Prime Directive forbade it. And for better or worse, he had agreed to uphold Starfleet regulations. He wished, at this moment, that he had not.
On Janeway's face was empathy and the evidence of her own internal struggle. Chakotay knew her to be a person of great depth and wisdom and passionate caring. But her hands were tied even more so than his.
Nata spoke again, breaking the silence. "Can you not find it in your heart, Captain Janeway of the Starship Voyager, to help us stop these abominations? Your ship could do things that ours could not, could help us fight back with at least a chance of success!"
Janeway's voice when she spoke was heavy with regret. "Your plight does not leave me unmoved, Viha Nata, believe me. But we cannot embroil ourselves in your fight. When we leave our space, we have rules about interference in other cultures. In attempting to help, we might make things unspeakably worse."
Viha Nata looked unconvinced. "Tell me, how can things possibly get any worse for us?" A hint of sarcasm soured her voice.
They can't, thought Chakotay, the knowledge sitting like a lump of lead in the pit of his stomach. But there's not a damn thing we can do about it.
Janeway was spared the painful necessity of a bleak reply when the Operations station began to light up and beep like crazy.
Before Kim or Tuvok could even get words out, Viha Nata sprang up from her chair crying, "They have returned!" pausing only to hit a control.
Her image blipped out. Simultaneously Kim yelped, "Captain, a ship has just emerged from the concavity!" "On screen," snapped Janeway.
The small ship, an unattractive, gawky little vessel that made early Earth attempts at spaceflight look sleek and elegant, exploded out of the concavity. It was a pathetic hodgepodge of styles and materials, and Chakotay realized almost at once that it had been cobbled together by those who didn't have access to materials on their own but had to find them where they could. He was achingly familiar with the scenario. One thing the small craft had in its favor it was fast
Apparently, though, not fast enough. Right on its tail came another vessel, dwarfing the first. It was big, although not as big as the Voyager, and every line of its bulky form spoke menace. It did not move with the quick urgency of the first; it did not need to. It was already gaining.
"That," said Neelix somberly, "is an Akerian ship."
"Shields up, red alert," ordered Janeway. Immediately, the bridge lighting darkened. Red lights began to pulse.
Chakotay stared at the big vessel, taking in its blunt and angled sides, its gleaming gun metal blue hull. Red glimmered from its four cylindrical engines, which seemed to comprise more than half its weight and bulk. The ship moved purposefully, turning to follow its quarry and allowing Chakotay a good look at it straight on. At its front was the ship's most curious feature: six circular units that clustered about the face of the vessel.
They were gleaming black, chitinous in appearance, and reminded Chakotay of nothing so much as shiny black insects. In their center, encased by a semitransparent dome, throbbed four red units of energy.
The first officer couldn't even guess at their purpose.
In front of this threatening apparition, like a rabbit in front of a mining machine, the little scout ship--Chakotay presumed it was Verunan--dipped and dodged frantically. Suddenly, the space in the front of the Akerian ship shivered and twisted ever so slightly. The smaller ship went reeling from an invisible impact.
"What the hell was that?" demanded Janeway. Tuvok, whose eyes had been glued to his console, had an answer ready.
"The Akerian vessel has just generated an intense wave of gravitons, which resulted in a spatial distortion. The distortion emitted a focused gravity wave of considerable force.
The impact on the smaller ship was tremendous. Its shields have been reduced twenty-seven percent by the attack."
Neelix snapped his fingers excitedly. "That's the weapon I was telling you about! All I knew from what I'd heard was that it was a forceful blow of some sort."
"Estimated effect of this weapon on our shields?" asked Janeway.
The Vulcan's dark fingers moved confidently on the pad. He shook his head. "Impossible to compute. It appears that the spatial distortion engendered by the weapon is confusing the sensors."
"Captain." Chakotay's voice caused Janeway to turn around. "We've got more trouble."
A second ship, malevolent sister to the one now firing upon the little vessel, emerged from the concavity. It hastened to catch up with its twin. The two ships moved with grim determination, the second one curving around in a clear attempt to corner the scout between them.
Chakotay now spoke up, directing his query to Kim. "Ensign, how many life-forms aboard the smaller vessel?"
The young man shook his head in frustration. "Hard to tell, sir.
As Tuvok said, all this intense graviton activity is wreaking havoc with our sensors. Attempting to compensate." His golden fingers flew over the controls. "Best estimate is six, sir. But that's just a guess. There could be more."
Chakotay was flooded with empathy. Not so very long ago, he was in that same position--in a vastly inferior ship fleeing from a dreadful enemy that had every possible advantage. And for the smaller vessel, there was no Badlands in which it could hope to seek refuge.
"The engines of the smaller ship are overheating, Captain," reported Kim, anxiety creeping into his voice. "They're not going to last much long--" The second big ship fired. Again the space between the Akerian vessel and the Verunan scout ship shuddered. This time, though, the scout's quickness saved it. It whirled to port, turning wildly but evading the damaging wave.
"It may be primitive," said Paris, admiration creeping into his voice, "but whoever's flying that thing is one hell of a good pilot."
"Captain." Kim's voice was tense. "I'm picking up a message from the smaller ship directed toward the planet."
"Let's hear it," replied Janeway. "On speakers."
A taut, frightened male voice blared through the bridge. "--was successful, Viha. I'm going ahead and transmitting information about the Akerian base to you now. I don't--I don't think we'll be able to deliver it to you personally."
"Base?" said Paris. "They've got a base in that thing?"
"Ensign, are you getting this information?" demanded Janeway, her body stiff and tense.
"Already on it, Captain," Kim answered.
The first Akerian vessel fired again. The little scout managed to dodge a direct shot but clearly took some damage.
"The scout vessel's shields are down thirty-two percent," reported Tuvok.
"This has gone far enough. Ensign," ordered Janeway, "open a hailing frequency to the Akerian ships." She waited for his nod, then proceeded. "Attention, Akerian vessels. We do not wish to interfere in your politics, but we cannot tolerate this sort of violence. Break off your attack. Repeat, break off your attack."
A tense few seconds ticked by. "No response, Captain," said Kim. "Damn it," said Janeway softly.
The first Akerian ship fired again, this time landing a square shot.
"Shields on the Verunan scout vessel down seventy-two percent," intoned Tuvok.
Chakotay couldn't take it any longer. He slapped his comm badge.
"Chakotay to transporter room. Lock onto the life-forms aboard the smaller ship and prepare to--" "Belay that order, transporter room," interrupted Janeway. Her eyes narrowed.
"Captain," exploded Chakotay, "the Akerians clearly don't give a damn about our request, and if we don't do something, those people are going to die! They won't be able to take another hit!" He was aware how angry and tense his voice sounded, but he couldn't help it. He was angry and tense, damn it.
Janeway hesitated, then nodded ever so slightly. "Bridge to transporter room. Beam those people aboard now."
"I'm having problems locking onto them," came the disembodied voice of the transporter operator. "The spatial distortion around the vessel--" The Akerians, ignoring the Voyager completely, had been steadily maneuvering into a perfect position. The scout ship was positioned directly between them. Frantically, it tried to pull up. At that moment, both Akerian ships fired again.
It was a square hit; it could have been nothing less. The Verunans aboard the little scout ship, still speaking frantically to their Viha, didn't even have time to scream. For that one small mercy, the first officer was grateful.
The ship exploded into fragments, no longer truly a ship but merely debris, rushing to join the dozens of other chunks of vessels that fairly littered the orbit of Veruna Four. Chakotay had perhaps felt as helpless at other times in his life but certainly never more than he felt at this moment. Six people were gone, blown to bits.
It now had become chillingly clear why there was so much wreckage about a planet of peaceful inhabitants. The Akerian Empire's arm was long indeed. And as he watched, both ships turned, slowly, languorously, to face the Voyager.