Disclaimer: Star Trek: Voyager and all characters therein are the property of Americans who are not me. No infringement of copyright is intended.

NB: This story is set approximately around Season 5-7, but not particular spoilers other than this happens after Thirty Days (but after Tom re-makes it to Lieutenant again) and before Drive. Rating T/PG14

OF RYALS & RELATIONSHIPS

Chapter 1 – Buyer Beware

"We will inform our Captain," Seven told the unctuously smiling trader chillingly, before falling into step beside Lt Torres and Ensign Wildman, the three women beginning to make their way through the market towards the spaceport.

"That P'targh!" grumbled B'Elanna. "Five Beryllium Ryals for a pair of power couplings! The Captain will never go for that."

"We may have no alternative, and we should act with speed on any decision to purchase supplies here," Seven replied, "I have ascertained that this is a particularly bad period of the annual cycle to be a buyer; last week that trader was selling power couplings at three and a half Beryllium Ryals per pair. In the next few days, the price may even rise."

"Like the…being said, it's a seller's market," Ensign Samantha Wildman pointed out regretfully. "Whoever set up a trading station on this planet had to have had Ferengi DNA in him somewhere. The dust storms kicked out by that dark nebula can do a lot of damage, and it's only sensible to make repairs as soon as possible, instead of risking it across so many light-years to the next trading station. It's Hobson's Choice."

"There is no crewmember named Hobson," Seven corrected her.

She smiled slightly, "'Hobson's choice' is an old Earth expression, Seven. Basically it refers to being faced with a 'choice' which is no genuine choice at all. If you want to know the exact details, Tom Paris is the 20th Century history buff."

"I will consult him," Seven commented, unaware of the flicker of irritation that had unwittingly crossed B'Elanna's face at the mention of her lover, or of how she had dropped a couple of steps behind and was casting an resentfully wistful eye over the many goods available for purchase, unfortunately all at exorbitant prices.

Ryzak was a small, mostly desert planet on the edge of this system, but as Sam Wildman so accurately pointed out it had a significant edge on other trade and commerce places. A spatial rift on one side forced ships to travel close to a dark nebula on the other side that kicked out tremendous cosmic dust storms. Since anyone with any sense kept their spaceship in tip-top repair, coming out of the narrow stellar 'channel' to find a trading outpost right there was initially a godsend.

The large, sprawling, but extravagantly appointed city surrounding the spaceport showed how good business was. Buildings of costly material ornately carved littered the landscape, luxury goods abounded; recreation facilities were everywhere and even the smallest shop seemed opulently appointed. She noticed a small establishment on the main thoroughfare, not quite as tackily ostentatious as most, with some sort of unusual cylindrical object set prominently on the front counter. Always interested in unfamiliar gadgets, B'Elanna began to try and work out what it was.

"Hey, watch out!"

Seven and Ensign Wildman turned at B'Elanna's cry as she suddenly hurried forward and jabbed at a metal cylinder object on a store's front counter, causing a section to slide out and the cylinder to change hue from a faintly glowing blue to a dull grey. A figure hurried forward from within the shop. About 6'3" tall, he was humanoid with mottled, hairless skin that faintly resembled Neelix's skin patterns, and his eyes were a bright canary yellow around his pupils. He did however have short, spiky jet-black hair on his head that matched the colour of the voluminous, floor-length tunic he was wearing.

"Oh, what is happening?" He looked anxiously from the cylinder to B'Elanna.

"The power regulator relay was failing, it could have blown up your store and half the sidewalk, you need to keep an eye on it," B'Elanna chastised.

His/it's eyes widened. "Oh, by Ghahah! Thank you most assuredly…?"

"B'Elanna Torres, of the Voyager; it was nothing."

"But yes, my foolish mistake could have resulted in damage, even injury had you not come along. Please, allow me to give you some Ryals –"

Embarrassed by the alien's obvious gratitude, B'Elanna made a sharp negating gesture with her hand. "No, really, I was glad to help…"

He made a forward bow, "Then please, accept my sincerest gratitude for –"

"B'Elanna!"

She turned at the call, unaware her irritation at the peremptory tone flared briefly in her eyes. Tom Paris and Harry Kim, along with Ensign Vorik and Lt Susan Nicoletti had arrived about twenty feet away and were comparing notes with Seven and Ensign Wildman.

"Come on, we're heading back to Voyager," Tom urged with clear impatience.

Nodding her head once sharply, B'Elanna gave the alien 'man' a swift, polite smile before going to join her friends, thus not seeing the way his eyes changed from canary yellow to deep mustard, almost green, as if he had just received some information inaudible to anyone else. It watched the 'Voyagers', as the locals called them, walk away in a group towards the space port, an expression of great thoughtfulness on his face.

To be continued…

© 2005, C D Stewart