Ladies, gentlemen, and gender-indeterminate persons, welcome back to The Mysterious Case of Neelix's Lungs! Season Two starts… NOW!

The Mysterious Case of Neelix's Lungs

Episode 2x1: "Fire of the Mind" by starswordc and worffan101

Rewrite of "Elogium" (VOY 2x04) and "Cold Fire" (VOY 2x10)

Main and recurring cast:

Gul Aman Evek, CO, CDS Vetar: Richard Poe
Acting Dalin Hogue Marritza, tactical officer, CDS Vetar: Eric Etebari
Gil Tekeny Kalar, operations officer, CDS Vetar: Sean Maher
Glinn Nirymer, CMO and chief therapist, CDS Vetar: Murphy Guyer
Gil Daran Taril, helmsman, CDS Vetar: Alan Tudyk
Glinn Alina i'Kevratas t'Aimne, sensor officer, CDS Vetar: Morena Baccarin
Glinn Emil Tarak, security chief, CDS Vetar: Nathan Fillion
Gil Kerani Ocett, CDS Vetar security: Gina Torres

Captain Veronica Stadi, CO, USS Voyager: Alicia Coppola
Commander Tuvok, XO, USS Voyager: Tim Russ
Lieutenant Harry Kim, operations officer, USS Voyager: Garrett Wang
Lieutenant Commander T'Pai, CMO, USS Voyager: Aly Michalka
Lieutenant Lindsay Ballard, ChENG, USS Voyager: Kim Rhodes
Lieutenant Kepa Ayala, security chief, USS Voyager: Tarik Ergin
Lieutenant Emergency Medical Hologram, deputy CMO, USS Voyager: Robert Picardo
Lieutenant JG B'Elanna Torres, deputy ChENG USS Voyager: Roxanne Dawson
Chief Warp Core Engineer Jiana Seska, reactor chief, USS Voyager: Martha Hackett
Ensign Tom Paris, helmsman/tactical officer, USS Voyager: Robert Duncan McNeill
Crewman Apprentice Celes Tal, sensor chief, USS Voyager: Zoe McLellan
Ensign Ahni Jetal, transporter officer USS Voyager: Nancy Bell
Security Officer, Second Class Ivrahanla "Hanla" sh'Phohlhi, noncom, USS Voyager: Vanessa Angel
Matter/Antimatter Specialist, Third Class Andre Hogan, USS Voyager engineering: Simon Billig
Crewman Tahel Mizrahi, USS Voyager security: Sarai Givaty
Neelix, executive chef: Ethan Phillips
Kes, USS Voyager operations and provisions: Jennifer Lien

Voice of Suspiria: Majel Barrett
Tanis, Ocampa leader: Gary Graham

Elim Garak, former Cardassian oppressor: Andrew Robinson
Constable Odo, chief of security, Deep Space 9: Rene Auberjunois
Lieutenant JG Dr. Julian Bashir, CMO, Deep Space 9: Alexander Siddig
Quark, bartender and legitimate businessman: Armin Shimmerman
Fleet Admiral Alynna Nechayev, Commander-in-Chief of the Federation Starfleet: Natalia Nogulich
Hassan al-Saud, FNN News lead anchor: Raza Jaffrey
Kurma-Tash, FNN Cardassian Union specialist: Jimmy Smits

Deep Space, Delta Quadrant
Federation Stardate 48921.3 (14 October 2371 Earth Standard)
Cardassian Unified Date 4702.1.12/5

"Cardassia, that was fun," laughed Gil Ocett as she pulled off her helmet. "That man with the sword was tough!"

"That was the Operative," said Ayala with a smile, taking off his padding and tucking it into a duffel bag. "He's the… final boss, if you will. If you watch the original 2-D movie, he's nightmarishly powerful."

"I about had a heart attack on the spot when he shrugged off the big guy's gun like it was nothing," chuckled the Cardassian. "You good to go?"

"Yeah," Ayala replied, zipping up his bag. "You like these games?"

"Yeah. You Humans certainly have a way with war. I'm telling you, though, that you're gonna like Vetar's Courage when we play it."

"When we play it? When we play Mass Effect, you mean!"

"The sad thing is that you think you have a chance," chortled Ocett as Human and Cardassian walked for the turbolift. "Morning, Mizrahi."

"Ocett, Lieutenant."

"Hey, Tahel, hold on a sec," said Ayala. "You healing up all right?"

"Little residual pain, nothing serious, sir. Doc says I can go back to full duty tomorrow."

"Good. Carry on."

Ayala and Ocett reached the turbolift doors, and Ayala keyed the pad.

"I'm telling you, there's no way Celes likes Marritza."

"You'll see," smirked Ocett. "How long did we bet?"

"A year, I think." Ayala replied, still skeptical. "Deck Four."

"You guys patched up after that Kazon-Mostral attack last week?" asked the Cardassian. Ayala was still a little unnerved by how easily he got along with Ocett, but even that he was getting used to.

"Yeah. Not like it was a tough fight, only a carrier and a couple dozen raiders. Our shuttles can take those things out."

"The Gul thinks it was a scouting party that got a little overconfident. He's certain that those Trabe the Kazon prisoner talked about control all the Kazon sects, not just the Nistrim."

"Certainly plausible," nodded Ayala as the turbolift's doors opened. "Given the Kazon."

Ocett snickered again. Kazon intelligence, or lack thereof, had quickly become a source of high comedy on both Voyager and Vetar. Comedy was in relatively short supply seventy-plus-thousand light years from home, after all, and laughter was a good way of avoiding cabin fever.

They entered the transporter room, Ayala nodding to Jetal at her station.

"Morning, Jetal. Ocett, same time next week?"

"Sure. We've got to try that Halo thing next, though—Tarak says that he loves it."

"Yeah, the new edition really is a step up from the previous one. I mean, six more weapons options? And eight new paint jobs? You can be exactly the Master Chief you want to be. But remind me when we do the third game, you HAVE to play the Arbiter. Arby has the BEST moments in 3."

"We're on, then," smiled the Cardassian. "Should be a good workout."

Jetal pressed the button and Ocett faded out.

Gul Aman Evek took his seat for the morning shift, slurping down some Terran-style noodles that Neelix had made. Something called pad thai, with crunchy vegetables and a mysterious meat substitute called tofu.

"Good food this morning, sir?" asked Marritza from his chair, running a diagnostic on the disruptor arrays.

"Quite good, yes. These vegetables, whatever they are, taste like a plant native to Algira that I had once. Delicious. Status on weapons?"

"Ballard says that she's confident that the tetryon array that we added will work properly; just running a diagnostic now to make sure that the EPS grid doesn't have any short circuits in it. Looks good, though. We'll give the next Kazon to try their luck with us a nasty surprise."

"Excellent. I will have to mention that to Stadi later if Ballard has not already. Sensors?"

T'Aimne took a look at her station in between bites of her own bowl of pad thai, scrolling down with a flick of her slender fingers against the touchscreen. "Picked up a Haakonian news feed earlier, rekkhai. Massive protests on eight planets and the Premier resigned. Protesters claimed that he besmirched the legacy of their national hero, Ma'Bor Jetrel. The new Premier promised military and education reforms. Sikarian news nets are calling it a 'victory for justice and democracy', unquote."

"Interesting. I suppose that the incident with Doctor Jetrel would have significant consequences."

"Ie, rekkhai. Also the Sikarian Fourth Fleet engaged and destroyed a Kazon-Pommar raiding party that was harrying colonies in a system near Vidiian space—looks like they're getting more proactive. As for our own course, sir, there's nothing for light-years in any direction."

"Voyager might have more, though—their sensors are better." The Romulan grunted, too proud to admit the Federation's superiority in her department.

Evek smiled to himself. Some things never change.


"Warp core's going strong, sir," reported the young Cardassian, "but we're going to need to pick up some more fuel for the Caretaker power cores, and soon—they're finally starting to run low."

"Understood. I want updates twice daily."

"Yes, my Gul."

"Taril, our heading?"

"No deviations from course, sir. Local subspace fields are nice and quiet, smooth sailing for at least a few light-years."

"Excellent. Carry on, Gil."

Evek settled back into his seat and munched on another bite of noodles. Those bean-pod things really were quite good.

Neelix stopped by the Voyager's hydroponics bay on his way to Basic Fitness and Combat training (or, as the crew liked to call it, "Punch Time Lite"). Kes was there, checking some bean-analogues that they'd picked up from Sikaris for possible mold.

"Thank you so much for the snap beans for the noodles, Kes," said Neelix, giving the Ocampa a quick hug and a kiss. Kes smiled distractedly in response.

"Is something the matter?"

"Just… I think I like it here, more than being on your ship, just the two of us," said Kes quietly. "I know it's been dangerous, and we've been attacked a lot by the Kazon,'s a good life, and there are people here who love us and care for us, and it feels like home, already."

"I understand," Neelix replied, setting down his bag. He could be late today, he'd stayed late a lot for "extra credit", and Ayala would cut him some slack. Besides, Kes needed the company. "If one of us falls here, it's not just the other catching our backs. It's a hundred-odd people, all knowing us and chatting with us and smiling on a daily basis. It's a good thing, Kes, something that I think we both needed. Nothing to be ashamed of at all. Besides, although I'm always here for you, I'll be the first man to admit that I know nothing about how to handle what you went through on Ocampa Prime. Here, there's a professional therapist to help you recover. No, Kes, there's no reason to be upset or ashamed about loving this ship. I really think that we could set up a life here, if you like?"

"That'd be nice," Kes answered with a brighter smile. She wrapped her arms around Neelix, who returned the hug cheerfully. "This could be the best thing ever to happen to us, bizarre alien luck or not."

"Certainly better than salvage and smuggling," the Talaxian agreed.

Stadi was clutching the bridge of her nose, eyes closed, when T'Pai entered her private quarters in response to a quick "Enter".

"Captain. You needed me?"

"Got a migraine again. Sleep schedule's still wonky after those last two skirmishes. Got anything for the pain?"

T'Pai had come prepared. "This should ease the pain for approximately six standard hours. We will need to reset your sleep cycle at some point. I recommend telepathic assistance. Glinn Nirymer should be able to assist you when he comes on duty."

"What about you? I know that he covered it just two weeks ago…"


T'Pai froze. Her face was still carefully controlled, her expression unreadable, but knowing the Vulcan as she did Stadi caught the flinch anyway. "What's the matter?"

"It… it is nothing, Captain."

"Look, T'Pai, I'm asking you as a friend. I haven't been able to sleep in almost twenty-one hours and I don't want to wait for Nirymer to come on-duty, so it's either you help me somehow, or I set my service weapon to level four and knock myself out."

"Veronica, I could give you a sedative, but your replicator is not authorized to dispense pharmaceuticals. I would have to go to sickbay and return."

Stadi's hand dropped to her lap and she looked questioningly at T'Pai. The Vulcan stood there silently, waiting. "A sleeping pill would just put the problem off for a while, T'Pai. Is there something going on here that I don't know about?"

"No, sir."

"Then do I have to order you to help me?" She shook her head and immediately regretted it—just made the nausea worse.

After a moment's consideration, T'Pai finally straightened, approached, and placed her PADD on Stadi's end table. "If you do not wish me to view anything—"

"I know, build a wall around it. I didn't spend sixteen years in telepath school for nothing."

"Lie back, please." The Vulcan knelt beside the bed, then reached out and touched the Betazoid's face, her hand spreading into a pose Stadi had only seen in vids. Thumb, beneath her chin, her index finger beside Stadi's nose, then the middle finger beside her eye socket. "My mind to your mind. My thoughts to your thoughts…"

And their thoughts met.

Stadi felt calm and cool as T'Pai's iron emotional control washed over her, soothing as the gentle wind-blown waves on the shore of Lake Cataria where she grew up. T'Pai's touch was feather-light, quiet and relaxing, like an expert massage.

That mental image, of T'Pai rubbing a somnolent Stadi's back under a tree by the shore of a glittering blue lake, brought a ripple of what could only be described as shock down the line from T'Pai. Startled, Stadi instinctively looked, and for just an instant she saw—

Then they were back on Voyager. Her head clear, Stadi pushed up off the bed with her hands as T'Pai rapidly backed away. "Doctor?"

"I should go."

"T'Pai, wait—"

"I have other duties to attend to." The Vulcan strode purposefully out the door.

"Wait! T'Pai, wait!" The door slid shut and Stadi sighed. "You forgot your PADD."

Tarak and Kim were having a good off-shift.

"More piña coladas, Ensign?"

"I'm good," Harry replied. "Got to set a good example, you know?" Tarak grunted in reluctant agreement.

The Hawaiian beach program had taken Paris a week and a half of spare time to program, and it had taken Harry two days to retrofit the holodeck with a replicator, but it was very much worth it. "Best way to relax after combat training that I've ever experienced," Tarak had declared the first time they'd kicked back and relaxed on the beach chairs. Harry wasn't particularly attracted to the older man, but did enjoy his company platonically. He never would've expected to become something like friends with a widowed Cardassian officer a dozen years his senior, but the Caretaker had thrown plans out the window.

Tarak had taken Harry under his wing over the past few months, helping Harry train in three separate martial arts until even the notoriously hard-to-impress Ayala passed the Ensign in Advanced Hand-to-Hand. It helped that Harry had practiced the techniques in his off-hours, and both Tarak and Ayala had noticed his dedication.

Ayala said that in a couple of years, Harry could start taking shifts leading the combat classes, which was good because they needed teachers for when this inevitably became a generational ship. There were fifty years at a bare minimum until they got back to Federation space, and Wildman was already going to have a baby any day.

"Any luck with your pilot?"

"Nah. He's not interested. Too busy worshipping the ground Torres walks on."

Tarak barked with laughter. "Typical hotshot pilot, sees an attractive woman and loses control of himself completely. What kind of holo-birds are those, anyway?"

The birds indicated were a small flock of large, flightless goose-like birds about the size of a chunky swan, foraging up among the scraggly brush by the holo-lava fields. Harry squinted in the sunset light.

"Moa-nalos. Extinct, but they're working on a cloning program. There's a whole planet terraformed for extinct life forms from seventeen systems, recreate the primal environments and stuff. Big project the Federation Council's been funding, it's the baby of the chairman of the Environment committee."

"Wow. That's… remarkably stereotypically Federation."

Harry shrugged. "We play into the stereotype a lot, what can I say?"

Tarak chuckled. "So do we Cardassians, I suppose."

"Morning, spy."

"Morning, ridgeface."

Torres and Seska exchanged their mostly venom-free morning insults as Ballard walked in with the "coffee". Carey and Hogan had already clocked out, by the looks of things.

"Morning, crew. How's my warp core?"

"Oh, we have coffee now? And she's fine," yawned Seska. "Going to need a new drive crystal in a few days, but nothing serious."

"Not really coffee, it's a substitute Neelix came up with. He says it's a work in progress, so don't expect it to be very good."

"Don't care, need caffeine," grumbled Seska, pouring herself a cup of semi-liquid compound and quickly gulping it down. Ballard and Torres waited with bated breath.

Seska blinked. She swayed momentarily, blinked again, and licked her lips.

"That was… Well, it was vole crap. But there's caffeine in there. I can live with this."

Ballard and Torres exhaled with relief.

"He's still working on it, though, right?"

"Yeah, Neelix said he should have a substitute 'worth drinking intentionally' within a week."

"Good. Because frankly, that was a pretty shitty excuse for coffee."

Ballard and Torres both cracked up.

"Also, I had a question," Seska said while programming the replicator to dispense roughly a metric ton of sugar. "Do either of you know how hard it would be for me to get my original face back?"

"Yeah, you're asking the wrong person, Chief," Ballard answered. "That'd be something for the EMH and T'Pai."

"Sorry I'm late, Lieutenant," said Neelix as he hurried into Basic Fitness and Combat twenty minutes late. "I dropped by Hydroponics and—"

"No problem," Ayala replied. "Just do a quick warm-up and then hit the weights; today's upper-body day, no combat training."

"Yes, sir; will I need to stay late?"

Ayala shook his head with a laugh. "Nah. You do a lot of overtime, Kes needed you, I understand. Just make sure you're stretched well, don't want you pulling anything."

The security chief's attention was distracted by a crewman on one of the benches holding a barbell the wrong way. "Delaney! Hands just a bit more than shoulder width apart! You're too narrow there!"

"Morning, Neelix," grunted Hogan from Engineering as the Talaxian set down his bag at the next bench. "Kes having a tough day?"

"Not particularly, she just needed a little support."

Hogan grunted with effort as he pressed his barbell up again. "That's good. How're the plants looking?"

"Well, the 'not-radishes' are growing well, we should be able to harvest them again tomorrow. And there's a sort of nutty-tasting tuber that we picked up from Sikaris that Kes has high hopes for."

"Great." Hogan set the barbell back on the rack. "Hey, you making that salad with the not-radishes again? Because that stuff was good."

"Yes, that's one of my favorite recipes. Simple but reliable. Count on it for lunch and dinner tomorrow."

"Great, thanks. Need a spotter?"

"In a minute," Neelix said, stretching his arms across his chest. "Hey, I hit the scales yesterday, and I've lost ten pounds since starting class. Gained some muscle, too, or it would've been more."

"Not bad," nodded Hogan. "Your new lungs working well?"

"If I didn't know better I'd say they were factory."

"That's good. Yeah, everybody's been getting into better shape; say what you will about Ayala, he knows how to get us Starfleet types to a Maquis fitness standard. Delaney—Jenny, I mean, who's in Maintenance—was pissed, you hear about that?"

"No, what happened?"

"She and her sister had a big argument about whether it was necessary. Worst part is, Megan was Maquis, so she's technically a convict, and Jenny brought that up."

"Oh, dear," winced Neelix. "That couldn't have ended well."

"Ayala, Rollins, and ch'Tholas—two of my old buddies from the Academy, they're in Security—broke it up. Nobody got hurt, but it was really loud, right by my quarters when I was trying to sleep."

Neelix winced again. "Ouch. I'm sorry to hear that." He lay back under the barbell. "Spot me?"

"Sure. You staying late for Bonus Punch Time?"

"Of course," grunted the Talaxian as he pushed the barbell up.

"Good. We're going to be getting some basic combat drills in, Ayala said. Should be fun."

"Vetar, this is Celes on Voyager," said Crewman Celes from her station at Sensors, "T'Aimne, can you just double-check your sensors? I've got an anomalous contact on long-range sensors. It's big."

"We've got it, just at the edge," replied the Romulan. "Cross-referencing it through our database. Looks almost like a space station…"

"Like the Caretaker's station," realized Celes. "Commander Tuvok—"

Tuvok tapped his intercom key. "Red alert! All hands to battle stations. Captain Stadi and Lieutenant Kim to the bridge."

The Captain's ready room doors swished open as the intercom sounded the red alert tone, and the petite Betazoid came out clutching her head.

"What in the name of the Second Deity are we dealing with now? If it's another damn Kazon attack, I swear I'm going to…"

"We have what appears to be a space station on long-range sensors. It appears to be similar to the Caretaker's array."

"Make sure Ayala knows. Evek, should we approach?"

"I think that it would be worthwhile," said the Cardassian. "I am sounding battle stations as a precaution, though."

"Ditto. I think you should hang back a little, we'll try to initiate a dialogue?"

"Agreed. If we can get more fuel for the Caretaker cores, Engineering tells me that we can shave up to five years off of our journey."

"On my list for the negotiations. If we can get that far. Paris, bring us out of warp nice and sharply, make lots of noise, within sensor and coms range but outside of weapons range."

"Aye, Captain. Shields up, main guns charged."

Stadi pinched the bridge of her nose. Deities, her head hurt…

"Dropping out of warp now, sir," announced Paris.

Stadi felt bile climb up her throat as light bent and redshifted and an object came into view. It was an array, a space station of the same alien make as the Caretaker Nacene's. Flashes of pain and screams floated before the Betazoid's eyes for a moment—some of them hers, most not.

"Hail them."

The man who answered was brown-haired, tall, with the curled ears of an Ocampa.

"Greetings, strangers. I am Tanis, of the Ocampa. What brings you to this region of space?"

"Get Kes and Neelix up here, now," hissed Stadi to Tuvok. "Hello, Tanis. I am Captain Veronica Stadi of the Federation Starship Voyager. The Cardassian starship Vetar is about a minute behind us; we're looking to dock and trade for some supplies and information."

"I will need to consult with my superior," the Ocampa replied, "but I believe that a deal can be reached. I will return your hail in five minutes, is that acceptable?"

"Yes," said Stadi with a nod as Harry Kim trotted in and took his console. "Mr. Paris, hold position outside extreme firing range and prepare an escape course."

"Conn, aye."

The crew waited in tense silence, the turbolifts gradually disgorging the off-watch bridge crew. Presently, Harry Kim's console chirped. "Getting a hail from the station.."

Kes gulped; Stadi nodded encouragingly. "Go on. You've got this. Onscreen, Mr. Kim."

Kes nodded, reassuring herself. A picture of the brown-haired Ocampa, Tanis, appeared on the viewscreen.

"Greetings, Tanis," said Kes, keeping her voice steady. "I am Kes; Captain Stadi felt that you might prefer negotiating with one of your own species."

"An Ocampa!" Tanis's voice vacillated between surprise, happiness, and distrust. "What are you doing on this 'Federation' ship?"

"Captain Stadi rescued me from a Kazon slave hut on Ocampa Prime," answered Kes. "She's been wonderful, the whole crew has, they let me grow vegetables and they have a man called a therapist to make the… the memories, of the K-Kazon, to make them go away…" She started shaking, breathing faster.

"Easy, Kes, no need to think of those bastards," said Stadi, trying to keep the instinctive growl at the thought of the Kazon out of her voice. She gently nudged Kes' mind, just a light touch to remind the Ocampa woman she wasn't alone.

"Are you alright?" asked Tanis. "Captain, perhaps you should bring Kes over to the station with you; Caretaker Suspiria will want me to look over her."


The blonde Ocampa gulped and nodded.

"She's alright with that. We'll beam over in a minute. Do you mind if I bring an escort? Two guards, no more."

"Not at all. Sending coordinates now."

"Thank you." Stadi nodded to Harry, who closed the channel. "Mr. Paris, close to transporter range. Stand down from red alert but keep your eyes peeled. Evek, did you get that?"

"I did. I will beam to Voyager with Gil Ocett before we beam down?"

"Sure. Stadi to Rollins."

"Rollins here, Captain."

"I need an escort and Ayala's teaching Fitness. Get to the transporter room in two minutes."

"Yessir, on my way."

Tuvok followed Stadi, announcing, "Mr. Kim, you have the bridge. I was off-duty but I will be in my quarters if needed."

"I have the bridge," he confirmed.

"Deck 4," Stadi requested, and the doors slid closed.

Kes shivered a little as the turbolift descended. "Captain?"

"Yes?" the shorter woman replied.

"Can we bring Neelix too, please?"

"Of course. Stadi to Crewman Neelix."

"Neelix here, Captain. Just getting into uniform, on my way to the transporter room."

"Good. Kes and I will meet you there. Stadi out." The Betazoid keyed her combadge to shut it off. "I took the liberty of calling him out of Fitness. Figured you might need moral support."

"T-thank you, Captain."

"No problem. And if at any point you feel uncomfortable we'll bring you back to the ship and I'll finish the negotiations with Evek."

"Thank you, Captain, but you don't need to do that…"

Stadi shook her head. "No, I do. Partly it's because bringing you with us is technically against regs and I'm only doing it because you're our best shot at getting a good deal out of these Ocampa, but partly it's because I'm not going to be responsible for one of my crew having an emotional breakdown. I'm the captain, I have a responsibility to my crew—and that includes you."

The turbolift chimed, and the doors opened. "C'mon. Neelix and Rollins are probably already there."

The Ocampa station reminded Aman Evek uncomfortably of the Caretaker's array—unsurprising, given that the stations were made by the same species from likely very similar blueprints.

"Captain Stadi," said Evek with a polite nod as the Betazoid shimmered into view. "Ah, Kes, I've been meaning to speak with you—those root vegetables, the purple ones, were quite delicious."

"Oh, the Sikarian tubers? Yes, they take about three months to grow, I've been working on a nutrient drip system with hormone supplements to produce more with fewer resources."

"Excellent," replied the Cardassian. "Neelix, my entire bridge crew is addicted to the pad thai."

"Sorry, sir," said the Talaxian with a smile. "I didn't have the lemongrass, but the recipe should taste alright without it."

"It does, most delicious. Are we ready to negotiate for some more fuel?"

"Always," said Stadi, tugging at her jacket. "Damn it, need to get this crease dealt with…"

The room that Evek and the Federation personnel had beamed into was a smallish antechamber by a larger conference room. The Ocampa representatives, two men and a woman, were already seated.

"Greetings," announced Evek politely as he and the away team took their seats, the Federation security man standing guard with his phaser politely holstered. "I am Gul Aman Evek of the Cardassian Fourth Order. You have already met Captain Veronica Stadi, of the United Federation of Planets, and Kes, a crewman on her starship."

"This is Crewman Neelix, Kes's… friend, and Crewman Rollins, Starfleet Security," added Stadi. "Kes is willing to be telepathically examined, but I will warn you here and now that I will not tolerate any harm that comes to her. I'm a telepath myself—I'll know," she added, repeating the message as a mental broadcast to the Ocampa. "Do you understand?"

"Of course, Captain, I understand your concern," responded the brown-haired male Ocampa graciously. That must be the Tanis that Stadi had mentioned. "Indeed, we're grateful to hear that you care for our sister's health and safety so. Rest assured that she will come to no harm—she has had telepathic contact before, yes, with those outside of her immediate family?"

"Yes, regular therapy sessions for the past few months, plus occasional informal contact to try to reacclimatize her to casual interaction."

"Excellent. Kes, may I touch your mind?"

Kes nodded. Tanis closed his eyes—moments later, so did Kes.

Neelix squirmed in his seat a little as the mental contact went on past fifteen seconds, and Stadi's jaw began to clench as Kes trembled slightly, but then Tanis and Kes opened their eyes, the man leaning back in his chair, blood draining from his face.

"Tanis?" asked the other male Ocampa. "What happened? Is she…"

"It's… she's… she's been through a lot," managed Tanis after a moment. "Horrible things. Not from Stadi or her people, they've been nothing but good, they've helped her out a lot. Made her part of their crew, helped her out with the… bad memories. It was the others, the Kazon, those were…" He shuddered. "What they said is true. I will speak with Suspiria."

"Who's that?"

"The superior I spoke of earlier. Our leader and protector."

"Can we meet her?"

"She said she didn't want to introduce herself to you yet." He rose, a touch unsteadily, Evek noticed. "Please bring us a list of the supplies that you require; we will notify you when Suspiria is available to speak with you."

Tanis motioned to his fellow Ocampa, who rose, bowed politely to Evek and Stadi's people as they themselves rose, and left through a door on the far wall.

"Not bad at all," said Evek with a satisfied smile.

"Yeah, that went surprisingly well," replied Stadi. "Kes, are you alright?"

"Yes… I feel a little… light-headed, that's all."

Stadi flashed a quick look at Neelix, who nodded almost imperceptibly. "Right, we'll have the doctors look you over but otherwise I want you to get some rest, OK?"

Tuvok's door chimed.


Doctor T'Pai entered, her body language betraying intense worry to Tuvok's experienced eyes. "Commander. Are you able to advise me in a delicate matter?"

"Yes, Doctor. What advice do you require?"

T'Pai's hands twitched slightly, almost imperceptibly. "I… I am afraid that I may be emotionally compromised, sir."

Tuvok raised one eyebrow a few millimeters. "Under the circumstances, Doctor, we are all emotionally compromised."

T'Pai's mouth twitched slightly. "Indeed. However, this matter does affect shipboard operations to some degree."

"In what way?"

"I… I believe I harbor a romantic attraction towards a fellow officer. We have a functional working relationship and a longstanding friendship, neither of which I wish to jeopardize. I am uncertain whether S—the officer in question returns my feelings. What course of action should I pursue?"

Tuvok steepled his fingers. "I will not ask whom the other party is"—T'Pai inclined her head appreciatively—"but have you discussed this with them?"

"No, sir."

Tuvok sat still for a few moments, pondering. "Under normal circumstances there are several options I could recommend, up to and including a transfer to another post. However, our current situation precludes most of these. I believe you have two options, Lieutenant. Either broach the subject with the other party, or meditate and attempt to purge yourself of these emotions. I have several holoprograms of Vulcan; some of the beginning rituals of the path of kolinahr may be of use to you."

"Do you use them yourself, sir? To help with your family?"


"Do they work?"

"They help."

T'Pai's combadge abruptly went off. "Sir, this is the Emergency Medical Hologram."

"Please state the nature of the medical emergency."

The EMH was silent for a moment. "Um, sir, we have a rather sticky problem down in sickbay. Kes appears to be going into some form of estrus."

"I beg your pardon?"

"I didn't stutter, sir. I need you down here."

"Very well."

About five minutes earlier…

"Um, Kes," said Neelix, stopping in the doorway to Kes's bedroom with a water bottle and a hypospray in his hands, "is that dirt that you're eating?"

"Can't stop," gasped Kes, and Neelix noticed that she was sweating, her eyes dilated and skin flushed. "Gotta eat. So hungry… burning inside…"

Neelix wasn't a doctor, but he knew enough medicine to know that Kes wasn't healthy. "Medical emergency, deck 3 forward. I need a doctor to Kes's room now!"

Before anyone could reply, Kes leaped off of the bed and pinned herself to Neelix in a way that made the Talaxian extremely uncomfortable. The look in the woman's eyes was hungry

Oh, damnation. Neelix had dealt with Reshari smugglers once; their males went into a hormone-crazed heat every three years. The look in Kes's eyes was the same one that the Reshari boss's pet male had had.

"And Doctor, if you could bring a sedative that would be great."

Kes was restrained on the biobed now, but still gasped and thrashed. The EMH spared a processing cycle for Neelix—the Talaxian was white-knuckled with worry but otherwise seemed alright. Stadi was grinding her teeth with worry and bubbling rage at whoever's fault it was that Kes was in this condition.

"Subject is leaking an unidentified yellow plasmic discharge from the hands and forearms," noted Evek's Lethean doctor as the EMH brought up a tissue-scanning algorithm. "Skin is flushed, respiration unusually deep and rapid. Subject appears to show signs of sexual arousal, but our knowledge of Ocampa biology is incomplete. Trigger for physiological changes is unknown."

"I am detecting a growth forming on her back," said Lieutenant EMH. "A pocket in the tissue, similar to a marsupium. Opening is to the posterior, anterior section contains epithelium and heavy blood vessel presence. Possible reproductive organs nearby, appear to be growing in size."

The doors hissed open, and Lieutenant Commander T'Pai entered. "Talk to me."

"Her hormone levels are off the charts," the hologram reported. "The pouch on the back is developing a non-squamous epithelium and a rudimentary muscular lining."

Stadi stared at the EMH. "Okay, I need that in Captain Dummy-talk, Doctor."

"She's in heat," Nirymer explained in an incredulous tone. "She's growing a womb on her back. And incredibly fast, too."

"That is highly illogical," T'Pai said, running a tricorder over the whimpering Ocampa. "Why would she grow a uterus now when she has had breasts presumably since puberty, or the Ocampa equivalent?"

"Don't know. Neelix, if you want to hold her hand that's fine, we're not performing surgery."

"El… El…" Kes suddenly tried to say.

"I can sedate her again—" the EMH started.

"No," Nirymer disagreed. "T'Pai, I want to give her a small dose of the hormone antagonist for the sedative, just reduce her blood estradiol levels enough to where it'll keep her calm but conscious. She might know something we don't."

Stadi started for the door. "I'll head to the bridge, see if Tanis knows anything."

"I want a full work-up," Nirymer ordered the other medical staff. "I want blood work, I want a neural scan, I want to know what she had for breakfast this morning."

"Fried Sikarian tubers, tomatoes, and some kind of grain we got from that planet where we ran into the Kazon-Nistrim," Neelix promptly supplied. Everyone looked at him. "I make the menus. What?"

"We cannot rule anything out at this time. Have one of your staff bring samples over for chemical analysis," T'Pai said.

Stadi started to explain, "She's producing some kind of yellow goo from her hands and—"

"She's what?" Tanis' image gaped at Stadi. "She can't be—She should've already—"

"Should've already what? What in the Seventh Deity's name is going on?"

"We call it the Elogium, Captain Stadi. Her body's preparing itself to conceive a child. And—I think she thinks, or her body thinks anyway—well, I'm supposed to be the father!" he stammered.

Stadi was dumbstruck.

"Run that by me again?" asked Paris incredulously from the conn station.

"This makes no fucking sense!" snarled the Lethean. "I've done telepathic therapy on Kes dozens of times, I've had you and the Captain ride along to train—this should have happened already, why did it happen now?"

"Perhaps only contact with an Ocampa is enough to trigger the Elogium?" offered T'Pai.

"Maybe… Kes, have you ever had telepathic contact with another Ocampa?"

"My family, for communication," gasped Kes. "But you only mind-speak to your family normally. My parents always said don't mind-speak outside of the family, only adults can do that."

"That actually makes sense, sir," the EMH commented to T'Pai. "Tanis is unrelated to Kes, and of about the same age—I would say roughly nineteen by most humanoids' standards." T'Pai nodded agreement.

"So then what the fuck was that fucking moron Tanis thinking?" spat Nirymer. "Goddess, did he really… oh, Stadi's going to just love this…"

"If by 'love' you mean 'screaming angry mother-sehlat rampage', then yes, that is an appropriate description of her likely reaction," deadpanned T'Pai.

"Yeah, we can't have that, we need that idiot alive so we can—"

The door hissed open, and a brown-haired male Ocampa rushed in, his face sheet-white.

"...speak of the Nightstalker. We were about to come hunting for you, boy." The toothy-faced man's voice was about as friendly as a barbed-wire fence. Neelix made to stand up, the look in his eyes not so much angry as burning with homicidal wrath and malice aforethought.

"Yes, I'm sorry, you have every right to be angry," panted Tanis. "I came as soon as I heard, I'm so terribly sorry, I genuinely did not mean—I thought she was past Elogium, to be having regular telepathic contact, I thought that it would be safe, I am so, so terribly sorry, if there's any way I can help—"

"Slow down before you choke on your own tongue," interrupted the Lethean. "How do we revert this, preferably keeping Kes alive and without extra body parts?"

"Caretaker Suspiria may be able to help—I had her notified before I came here. We might have caught it in time, and if she wants to have children at some point it can be triggered artificially, it's hormonally based even if the normal trigger is telepathic contact, but there's a chance that she'll be sterile…"

"I can live with that," whimpered Kes from where she sweated and twitched on the bed. Neelix squeezed her hand, a gesture of support.

Then Neelix frowned. "Wait. Caretaker Suspiria? You mean one of those space amoebas is here?"

Tanis gave him a sour look. "'Space ameobas'? You watch your language!"

"That no-good sister-fucking evil little space slime mold!" swore Captain Stadi after T'Pai finished her report. Ensign Paris winced. Lieutenant Kim tried to look somewhere else. "Ayala, I got a job for your Hazard Team! Stadi to Evek!"

"Evek here."

Stadi's rage was positively volcanic, righteous indignation pouring from her mouth like lava as she spoke. "I just got word from my medical staff. Turns out that Kes went into the Elogium because that Ocampa touched her mind. Some sciency reason that she didn't go into after doing telepathy with other people. Apparently Ocampa can only breed once in their lives and when they do the females go into heat from touching a male's mind. I'm going over to have a little talk with that Nacene."

"I will meet you there. Evek out." The Gul's voice was warmer than liquid nitrogen. Barely.

"Worthless fucking space sludge scumbag—Ensign Kim, you have the Bridge. No-good filthy— Deck 4—rotten stin…"

The closing turbolift doors cut off Stadi's rant.

"So…" asked Paris slowly. "Odds there's a space station still there in ten minutes?"

"Five to one against," said Harry. "Maybe four if we're lucky."

Paris nodded. "Yeah, that sounds about right. Captain's about to go nuclear."

"You know," Gul Evek said conversationally to the glowing bluish blob to which Tanis had led the heavily armed group of Starfleet and Cardassians, "My ship has been recently upgraded with some rather powerful new weapons. Weapons which I have been looking for an opportunity to test, but that, alas, I have not been able to fully test yet. What a shame it would be, if, say, these untested, brand-new, powerful weapons were to, say, be fired—purely by accident, of course!—at this space station, if, say, Captain Stadi's rather reasonable requests would be ignored. I would, of course, be deeply shocked and angered by the gross violation of hospitality, however accidental—shocked, I tell you!—but I would, regrettably, have no recourse but to shelve the inevitable shipboard investigation—only after the most rigorous investigation, of course, but such an investigation…" and here Evek shook his head with a sigh and began to pace, clasping his hands behind his back, "such an investigation would, of course, only turn up the obvious and very unfortunate conclusion that a tetryon array had fired accidentally, and not that, say, I had ordered Dalin Marritza to destroy this space station for your refusal to admit to the crimes committed against the Ocampa species."

The Ocampa opened their mouths to speak, but Suspiria shushed them with a thrum. She almost seemed to be amused.

"What a shame," continued Gul Evek with a sigh, his face the very picture of sorrow and guilt. "I would, of course, demand the most rigorous safety testing to ensure that such a tragic accident never happened again! But, unfortunately," and here his face morphed into a smile only slightly warmer than absolute zero, "you would not be alive to see said tests. How… deeply unfortunate."

The Ocampa were sheet-white and quivering. Suspiria was making an unusual humming noise.

I like you. You know how and when to make a threat. I do not believe that you will—I mean, that such a tragic accident will need to happen. May I please speak to the small one alone?

Stadi pulled out her phaser. "Evek. Please leave. I will handle this." The Cardassian inclined his head and moved towards the door.

"You can't—" began one of the Ocampa, but Suspiria hummed and bubbled.

Leave. I will speak with this one alone. I owe her an explanation.

The two Ocampa and the Cardassian left the room, Evek closing the door securely behind him.

Stadi kept the gun pointed at the Nacene. "I know everything," the Betazoid growled. "I've had my suspicions for a few months now, but what happened with Tanis just confirmed them."

The Ocampa were not born naturally, agreed the Nacene. They were made.

"Did you do this?" spat Stadi. "Did you make the Ocampa this way? Did you create the Elogium?"

What do you mean? thrummed Suspiria. My mate and I found the Ocampa as they are, dying out in the ruins of those who came before.

"So you didn't cause this? You didn't make them… as… as…"

Slaves to the procreative urges of others? No. We would have no reason—we Nacene reproduce in an entirely different manner than creatures of your body-plan. Those who came before, who vanished before we arrived, did that. It is a cruel fate for any people, and one that I have been trying to rectify. My mate and I… we separated. We had… differences. He thought that preserving them in the state we found them was the proper way to atone for our sin. I felt that we should help them in any way possible.

The Nacene churned, her colors shifting slightly.

Of all the things I have done in my life, leaving my mate was both the thing which hurt me the most and the thing which I am most certain was right.

Stadi lowered the phaser. "You're trying to fix them?"

I have been altering the genetic codes of these Ocampa for a hundred of your years. Already they live for more than a decade longer, and I am beginning to see multiple children per female. Still, I have lost so many… their population drops by two-thirds with each generation, and it is all that I can do to support them, with vat-bred child after vat-bred child. It is wearying, Captain Stadi, but it is a good form of weary. For I know that what I am doing is right, and that when I succeed, the Ocampa will for the first time be a truly free people.

Stadi sat down against the wall, nodding tiredly in understanding. "Can you… can you do anything for Kes? Please? She's… she doesn't deserve this. Just… don't tell her, please. Don't tell her what she was made to be."

I am not cruel, Captain. I have been cold in my time, but never without need. She will only learn of what she was made to be from others, never me or my Ocampa. That, I promise you. As for the rest… I can help her extend her life, and I can show your people the way. She will never live as long as your kind, Stadi, but she will live for a decade or more than she would have. Ample time for this stellar confederation of yours to find her a more lasting cure for the curse of the Ocampa's makers.

Stadi nodded. That made sense.

"Thank you," the Betazoid said after a minute. "Thank you for trying. It's… it's a good thing, even if you fail."

Suspiria hummed. Yes. I suppose that you are correct.

They sat in silence for another few minutes, the Nacene bubbling occasionally. Stadi broke the silence. "Do you know who did this to them?"

The creature flashed an angry red and its voice thundered in Stadi's mind. I do not know their names, nor if they still walk this plane. If I did, there would be no stone in this galaxy under which they could hide. The Nacene have burned planets from the heavens, torn stars asunder, for far less.


In our home galaxy we are the peacekeepers of a mighty civilization, a league of peoples not unlike your Federation. But even so, some problems remain beyond us. By now the Nacene's color had faded back to blue, and its mental voice had taken on an almost motherly tone. If your course holds, Betazoid, perhaps one day you will approach us as equals, possibly even surpass us. You have a long road to travel, but I will welcome that day when it comes.

Stadi absorbed the unexpected compliment. "I'd, uh, I'd better get going. Ship to fly, crew to take home."

Of course. I will have my Ocampa assist you. I will have your ships restocked as much as possible, and my engineers will help upgrade the power cores that you salvaged from my mate's array. Promise me, though, that when you return to your people—

"We'll come back," Stadi promised. "The Federation always does. At our core, we're explorers. And besides. It's just the right thing to do."

"Well?" asked Gul Evek.

"Negotiations done," said Stadi wearily. "No gunfire necessary. She explained everything. She's trying to fix the Ocampa, make them… not what they were made to be. We can restock and she'll even help us upgrade the Caretaker cores."

"Excellent," smiled the Cardassian. "I will order my crew to prepare to take on supplies. I suggest that you get some rest. Your Lieutenant Kim and I will deal with the situation from here."

"Thanks," Stadi replied. "It's been a long day."

Veronica Stadi had one last stop to make before her long-overdue rest.

She straightened her uniform and took a deep breath. This was going to be… interesting.

She pressed the buzzer outside T'Pai's room. No response.

Damn it.

Stadi pressed the button again, twice. Still no response. She knocked. "T'Pai? Are you awake? I need to speak with you, about earlier…"

"There is nothing to speak of, Captain," T'Pai said, coming around the corner from the turbolift.

"Sorry, I thought you were in your room. You were supposed to be off-duty. You, uh, left your PADD in my quarters earlier."

T'Pai accepted the device. "I was delayed. Thank you for returning this."

"How's Kes?"

"Recovering. The Caretaker has treated her and provided me with a medicine regimen and a special diet. Also, Chief Seska has approached me regarding surgery to restore her Cardassian facial features."

"I guess that's a good thing. Um, I'm just curious about what happened… earlier."

"Nothing happened."

The Vulcan palmed the door panel to open it and tried to push past Stadi, but the Betazoid stepped into the doorway. "T'Pai, how long have we known each other?"

"Commander ch'Thirial's Chemistry 111 class, second year," T'Pai promptly answered.

"Right, so eight years at this point. And in all that time, I don't think you've ever tried to brush me off like this. I didn't see much during the mind-meld but I saw something."

T'Pai shoved past her. "I do not wish to have this conversation, nor do I wish to alter our relationship, Captain. Good night."

"'Captain'? What happened to 'Veronica'? I'm still me, even if I'm in the big chair." But instead of an answer, the door hissed closed.

Stadi stood there, mouth open silently, for a full ten seconds before she shook her head and kicked the wall opposite T'Pai's door.

"Well, that clarified absolutely nothing. Our relationship? What about our relationship?"

Federation Starbase Deep Space 9, Bajoran System
Bajoran Date: 23 Kallin, Seventh Era 917, Year of Entombed Blades

The ruins of Elim Garak's tailor shop on the Promenade no longer smoldered—the station's fire suppression systems had long since seen to that—but the Cardassian exile couldn't help feeling a twinge of sorrow as he sorted through the rubble for anything salvageable.

Sorrow, and an incipient migraine at the likely price tag of replacing his stock. Almost everything had burned. The Romulan tivish in particular was incredibly expensive, being as it had to be smuggled across the Neutral Zone and half the Federation while dodging the Romulans, Starfleet, and the Andorian Imperial Guard which still independently patrolled the border region. Not to mention, it reeked horribly when burned and the smell was starting to give him a headache.

As he began to clean ash off one of his remaining mirrors Garak heard a soft footfall on the threshold and glanced up. It was his fellow exile, the changeling. "I just read the report that you wrote and I wanted to thank you."

"Me? For what?"

"For not mentioning my desire to return to my people."

Garak evinced little emotion. He was good at that. "I consider the entire conversation as something best forgotten."

"As do I." Odo stepped inside and looked around. "Quark has expressed an interest in renting this space if you're not going to be using it."


"He mentioned something about an Argelian massage facility."

Garak smiled in spite of himself. "Unfortunately I don't think Commander Sisko will approve of such an interesting facility on the Promenade."

"I tend to agree. But do I think he would approve of a tailor's shop."

Garak scraped up a scrap of a woman's blouse that had taken him five hours to handcraft from a linen analogue imported from Ab-Tzenketh. He gazed at it silently for a moment. "Do you know what the sad part is, Odo?" he said presently. "I'm a very good tailor."

Odo stood there impassive. "Garak, I was thinking that you and I should have breakfast together sometime."

Garak glanced at him. "Why, Constable, I thought you didn't eat."

"I don't." The changeling turned and strode off towards the security office. Garak gazed after him for a moment, then returned to his work.

About two hours later Garak had gathered enough scraps of unburned fabric to make a decent patchwork quilt, something to hang from the wall as a reminder, and a couple of technicians from the Bajoran Militia garrison had come by and gotten the lights working. A favor for Chief O'Brien, apparently. Garak dug a mostly intact sewing machine out of a pile of debris and was busy righting it when he heard running feet out on the Promenade. Many running feet, he saw as he looked out the door: practically the whole station was stampeding towards any wall screen they could find.

Garak spotted Julian Bashir in the crowd. "Doctor! What's all the commotion?"

The doctor grabbed Garak by the sleeve and dragged him along. "The Omarion Nebula just hit the net! Come on!"

Quark's wasn't far, across the Promenade and three doors down, and he had the biggest screens on the station. The place was busier than Garak had ever seen it, and on a station that saw as much shipping traffic as Terok Nor, that was saying something. The Ferengi himself was doing a brisk business as a concession stand for the spectators, who were watching an FNN feed of the USS Defiant's gun cameras.

"... Obsidian Order and Romulan Tal'Shiar fleets were obliterated in a surprise attack by Dominion warships," news anchor Hassan al-Saud narrated as the Starfleet prototype blew a pair of oncoming Jem'Hadar attack ships to oblivion while D'deridex- and Keldon-class battleships burned in the background. "The pre-emptive strike was harshly criticized as overconfident and antagonistic by several Federation councillors, but Fleet Admiral Alynna Nechayev was more ambivalent."

The image changed Admiral Nechayev standing behind a podium in a Starfleet Headquarters press room, and her voice filtered through the speakers, calm and clear. "This attack was definitely more risky than anything that I would have authorized, but the fact remains that the Dominion has acted aggressively and killed Federation and allied personnel and civilians in the Gamma Quadrant. Fundamentally, however, this attack underscores the hazards of underestimating the Dominion. According to our information, the Tal'Shiar, the Romulan Imperial Secret Service, was infiltrated by Founder spies who planned this attack from the start. I can assure the people of the Federation that Starfleet is always vigilant for such threats, and that we have initiated a new set of mandatory screenings for all personnel with any form of clearance in Starfleet or aboard Starfleet vessels, effective immediately. I personally guarantee that the Dominion will never be able to pull off an operation of this magnitude in Federation space."

"That seems a tall order," noted Garak. Bashir squeezed his hand.

"Sources in the Cardassian Union indicate a near-complete loss of control by the Central Command," continued the reporter. "We have reliable reports of fleet and troop mobilizations across Cardassian space; eight Orders have been recalled to Cardassia Prime in their entirety, and eighteen top legates have been sighted entering secure meeting rooms at Central Command headquarters. Unrest has broken out on several worlds, and elements of the Fourth, Eighth, and Thirteenth Orders have been detained after being accused of not being fast enough to report to the capital. With more on the developing political situation, here's foreign affairs correspondent and Cardassian specialist Kurma-Tash."

"Thanks, Hassan," said a white-haired Grazerite man in a crisp suit, appearing in a split-screen. "What we're seeing here is a witch-hunt, plain and simple. The Obsidian Order was all but destroyed in that attack, and more importantly its command structure was completely eliminated. Without this security apparatus ensuring the loyalty of the troops, the Cardassian leadership is in full panic mode, trying desperately to re-secure control over the military, and through them over the population."

"He's not wrong," mused Garak. Quark was now selling bags of popcorn and bottles of strong liquor. Constable Odo was very carefully looking the other way with that extremely dissatisfied expression that he always wore when Captain Sisko had ordered him to ignore the Ferengi's quasi-legal business.

Somebody rushed onto the set and handed a PADD to al-Saud. "Sorry, Tash, I'm going to have to interrupt you. We just got a report of some sort of explosion on Devniad, a Boslic colony the Cardassians annexed in 2343 and, uh—all right, three different claims of responsibility just went up on the extranet. The Maquis, the Kohn-Ma, and somebody else called the Independence Force—Tash?"

"Well, for those of you who don't know, the Maquis are former Federation colonists who ended up on the wrong side of the border after the treaty was signed, and the Kohn-Ma are Bajoran ultra-nationalists—Deep Space 9 had trouble with them not long after the Starfleet takeover."

"And the Independence Force?"

"Sounds like a local group to me, Hassan. I've never heard of them before so I'd assume they're new. There's a chance they were all in on it together, though I find it a little hard to believe the Kohn-Ma would work with anyone else. Odds are at least two of them are trying to piggyback."

"I see. And now there's been a bombing on Dorvan V—the Cardassian Fourth Order battalion deployed there pulled out just two hours ago. Local police have the area on lockdown—Tash?"

"Dorvan V's a contentious place, Hassan—ceded to the Union after the last war, but the Human colonists refused to leave, which caused a minor diplomatic incident a couple of years ago. They're technically Cardassian citizens, but it's an integrated world now, at least in theory."

"In theory?"

"As far as I know there's been little or no Maquis activity in that system, but the Cardassian Union won't allow observers, which is technically their right in this case. What got hit?"

"Looks like a local police station was hit by a car bomb, thirteen dead and a couple dozen injured."

"That sounds like a lone-wolf attack to me, Hassan—but if lone-wolf attacks are happening in the Union, that's another sign that CentCom's hold is weakening."

"No," said Garak sharply. "It's a sign that the Fourth Order hadn't been able to fully train and staff a police force yet and a Federation patriot with little sense tried his luck. Those fool legates pulled the Fourth back too soon and the local police paid the price."

Al-Saud was starting to look rather shell-shocked as he glanced to his PADD again. "Okay, this just in, General Martok of the Imperial Klingon Defense Forces has announced the Klingon Empire is going to its highest peacetime alert level in case of Dominion reprisals, and I have two more reports now of failed bombing attempts on Cardassian military bases near Bajoran space—and now a report of an anti-government demonstration in a city on Kora II?"

"Kora II's a Cardassian planet, and effectively a core world at that." Tash looked genuinely surprised. "This is… for a popular demonstration on Kora II to be taking place, that's a real sign that CentCom's in trouble, and that the Obsidian Order was hit even worse than we thought. Things are moving awfully fast…"

"Do you think that Cardassia is ripe for regime change, then?" asked al-Saud curiously.

"I…" Tash paused, uncertain.

"Yes, yes, they are," hissed Garak. "After a failure of this level? Half of the military will revolt if nothing else."

"I wouldn't go that far just yet," said the Grazerite on the holoscreen carefully. "But things do seem to be moving surprisingly quickly…"

Quark licked his lips. "Ahhh, I can feel a wind blowing…" He smiled, teeth glinting. "And there's profit in the wind! Rom! ROM! I think a brand-new market's about to open!"

Garak shook his head as the Ferengi left the bar to his Dabo girls and hurried off to find his brother. "Come, Doctor. We can follow the news just as well from your quarters."

"Is it true?" asked Bashir, squeezing Garak's hand as they left the scrum around the bar. "About Central Command?"

"Yes," said Garak shortly. "The Cardassian Union does have a civilian legislature but for all intents and purposes it's a military dictatorship, Julian, and military dictatorships are based on the perceived strength of the regime. After this, the Central Command looks weak. If popular demonstrations are starting this quickly, Supreme Legate Keve's regime is doomed."

"What comes after that?"

Garak shrugged. "Any number of things. Civil war, revolution, democratic reforms perhaps. It's very hard to predict what would happen, and many potential outcomes are… unpleasant. Hopefully, though, this will be resolved peacefully; I don't care to think about what would happen if the Dominion hit a divided Cardassia."

Author's Notes:

Worffan says: "Elogium" presents a problem. It's a fundamental piece of Ocampa worldbuilding… that makes no biological sense whatsoever. Also… it's a Neelix episode. Worse, an episode about Neelix… having sex.

On top of the eye-searing and mind-burning idea of Der Scheißkopf having sex, there's the utterly implausible A-plot about the ship being caught in a mass of horny space whales. I refused to have anything to do with that plot.

So StarSword, who wanted to do "Cold Fire" anyway, floated the idea of merging the two. I said sure, we just need a way to bring up the Elogium without making it seem like cheap drama because cheap drama without point or consequences offends me as a writer. I do like—well, not like, per se, but appreciate as a writer, the potential of the ridiculously screwed-up Ocampa biology, as much as the sheer implausibility of it rankles my biology-major brain. It raises some extremely scary implications—this is, after all, a species with little genetic variation, a method of reproduction that seems designed to pander to a very specific, ah, niche and means that at best the population is halved every generation—my first thought was "bioengineered sex slaves", followed by a hefty dose of bile.

From a character standpoint, I found the "superpowered evil side of Kes" from the original "Cold Fire" to not be in keeping with the version that we're writing, and Suspiria's motivations for attacking Voyager were rather flimsy. From the original "Elogium", we're cutting Neelix's jealousy of Kes, because this version of the guy is a genuinely kind and decent sentient being rather than an arrogant imbecile with delusions of grandeur. Instead, he's a kind, supportive, and generally decent partner.

Our homefront arc continues, as the aftermath of "The Die is Cast" hits home in the Federation, and Deep Space 9 prepares for war.

To forestall questions, no plans (yet) to ship Ocett and Ayala as anything other than platonic friends.

StarSword says: The idea of telepathic contact tripping Kes' mating urge was my idea, inspired by the Deltans. According to the Star Trek: The Motion Picture novelization, the reason the Deltans take those oaths of celibacy is because Deltan sex involves a merger of minds as well as bodies, which can potentially kill a non-Deltan. Similar principle here, except the reason for the mental contact is different.

Review responses:

Worffan: To The Cheshire Cheese: First off, thank you for mentioning us in your author's note! Very kind of you. :) I didn't think that Chakotay could be made into an interesting character, but "Sleepwalking" proved me wrong.

StarSword has only watched the first season of VOY all the way through (though he's read summaries and/or watched reviews of many of the other episodes, and caught certain episodes in reruns), but I've seen the first through sixth in their entirety and about half of the seventh, including "Endgame" (I refused to watch season 7 in my first attempt to watch the whole show on the grounds that Kenneth Biller was in charge of it and he can't write, but I've made another attempt given that we're basically redoing the entire show. Call it pre-emptive research). I do recognize that Chakotay at least partially put down the peace pipe after about mid season 3, but he DID still pull stunts like giving an adult woman who he was ostensibly romantically interested in a dream catcher from a culture literally thousands of miles from his own in season 7. Plus, he was IMO a very flat character, never showing the signs of the extensive black-ops training or skill as a guerilla leader that he was supposed to have. To his credit, he did call Janeway out on her hypocrisy in "Equinox", and he behaved in exactly the right fashion when Neelix got himself captured by the primitive natives in "Basics", but still… there just isn't much that we could do with the character.

Besides, part of my plan for this was that nobody over the rank of Lieutenant survived on Voyager—those people with rank above that are Stadi, who got the big seat because she was ranking officer after the Caretaker debacle, Tuvok, who has the rank of Commander by virtue of being a badass, and T'Pai, who's a lieutenant commander because she was promoted after the former CMO's untimely demise.

StarSword adds: I should also point out that the reason given earlier for killing Chakotay is mostly Worfie talking. I personally just don't think he's a very good XO. A major part of the XO's job is to act as a sounding board for the CO, which includes supporting the interests of the crew and doing your damnedest to keep the captain from doing stupid things. Quite frankly, Chakotay let Janeway run roughshod over him too often for my liking.

Worffan: Yeah, he got a little better about that once Jeri Taylor left the show and her Perfect Janeway stories ("Coda", "Persistence of Vision", "Resolutions", "The 37s", et al) stopped shafting Chakotay into the role of "Hot sidekick who makes Janeway look good", but it's notable that his biggest moments of standing up to Janeway came in "Equinox"—which was done by a DS9 writer. Credit where it's due, he was a competent XO with an obsessive, borderline-unstable Captain in that two-parter, but it's two episodes in seven seasons.

Interestingly, it's usually Tuvok who calls Janeway out on blatantly insane actions. He can be a bit of a Straw Vulcan at times on the show (freaking "Innocence", I hate that one SO much), but overall he's the one acting as the foil and sounding board for Janeway, as much as Janeway has one on Voyager. Which is a big part of why we made him XO.

Essentially, neither of us were fond enough of Chakotay or thought that he had enough potential to work with him.

On T'Pai: Hilariously enough, that's a complete coincidence. Long Story (™). It involved a math joke and my science-fiction club.

As for politics and psychology—well, Ocett's in for a big shock later on, and Evek's going to have to measure his duty to the Cardassian state with his loyalty to Cardassia and his care for his soldiers. The Dominion War's reach is very, very long.

Thank you very much for reviewing, and I hope that you enjoy season 2 of "The Mysterious Case of Neelix's Lungs".

To Redemption's Avenger: Yyeah, chapter 9 was intentionally nonsensical. It had a little calling out Voyager for dumb stuff, like Janeway flying to pick up Paris instead of having him brought to her, but it was mostly me taking out my resentment from having to re-watch the worst episodes of the first two seasons for the sake of this story. Trust me, if that had been a parody of ENT, the only Star Trek show that I outright loathe? Yeah, you wouldn't have been able to process that you couldn't follow it because all of the characters would be dying horribly in literally every sentence as I took out my rage at "A Night In Sickbay" and "Dear Doctor". :D

I plan to write another story in the "ChuckTrek" verse at the end of this season—a ruthless parody of "Threshold". So far it involves Q and Brannon Braga getting a live ferret in his pants, though everything's still technically up in the air.

For those who are excited for the Borg and the Kobali: Yes, the Borg and the Kobali will both be a thing. Neither StarSword nor I likes the Kobali—their behavior towards their "children" is nothing short of abusive, for one, and we've both previously written Star Trek Online fics where this was pointed out—and as for the Borg… you can't NOT do the Borg with a long-running VOY fic. They will happen, sooner or later. However, our intent is to not play the Borg and 8472 arcs with the same level of writer fiat and outright stupidity on the parts of both the Borg and 8472 in the canon show (seriously, "In the Flesh", these guys can't read maps? Seriously, "Unimatrix Zero", how stupid is that Borg queen to just blow up her own ships rather than sending her billions of drones to reassimilate the disconnected ones, and what the hell with that entire episode?). Things are going to go seriously off the rails.

As for Seven of Nine… wait and see. We have the second season plotted and a loose set of outlines for 3 through 6, so… I'm not going to confirm or deny Seven, but I will say that I loathe her catsuits with an undying passion, although the character herself is very well-acted and better-written than most of the cast.