STAR TREK

FEDERATION INVESTIGATIVE SERVICE

T H O U G H T H E

W O R L D

P E R I S H

"Captain Chakotay, the vessel is reaching warp nine. At this rate, it will plunge into Theta Omega in three minutes."

"Thank you, Mr. Kim." Chakotay said to his temporary first officer while looking at the small alien vessel on Voyager's viewscreen. "Helm, maximum speed."

Lieutenant Akolo Tare spoke from the helm console. "Captain, the vessel is not on a course that will take it into the star. It will instead slingshot around the gravity well."

Chakotay looked at Lieutenant Devi Patel at the ops station. "Is the vessel trying to achieve the warp-speed breakaway factor?"

"No, Captain," she responded, "The ship has insufficient mass to initiate time-travel."

"Captain," Tare said, "we have sufficient mass, so we have to let it slingshot. We can intercept it as it comes around instead of trying to catch up to it."

"But that could risk a collision." Harry Kim said from the tactical console. "The impact at such a speed would annihilate both of us."

Chakotay paused, weighing his options, then tapped his commbadge. "Bridge to Engineering."

"Vorik here, Captain."

"How long until you have the warp bubble destablilizer programmed?"

"We're almost ready, Captain, but since our warp bubble has to be the exact opposite of theirs, it will lower our speed."

Simultaneously both Voyager's strength and weakness of having a variable-geometry warp field in this case, Chakotay thought. "Vorik, what's the highest speed that we can use your bubble program at?"

"Warp five point six two three."

"Tare, calculate its slingshot trajectory and plot an intercept point at warp five."

"Aye, Captain." Tare's olive-skinned fingers danced over the helm console, and Voyager broke off its pursuit.

The small alien ship continued to race undaunted toward Theta Omega, and its hull started heating up as it approached the outer surface of the star. Theta Omega's gravity bent the ship's course, and sent it off on a new heading.

Tare put Voyager squarely in its new path. Its warp engines folded down slightly as Vorik's warp bubble program kicked in.

Patel spoke. "Captain! The ship's new heading puts it on a direct collision course with the non-aligned planet Kilef."

"Population?"

Patel accessed the library computer. "It's been some time since the Federation mapped the planet and contacted its leaders, but back then, it was approximately six billion."

"Here it comes, Captain," Tare said.

"Ready tractor beam!" Chakotay tapped his commbadge. "All hands, brace for impact!"

Seconds later, the warp field enveloped the alien ship and both vessels dropped to sublight as the two opposite warp bubbles canceled each other out. Tare executed an evasive maneuver as Harry locked Voyager's tractor beam onto the small craft.

"No attempts to re-initiate warp drive," Tare said.

"Scan the vessel," Chakotay ordered.

Patel looked at her console as the scan progressed. "The crew are dead. No malfunction in the ship's warp core. It looks like somebody killed the crew, set the ship's course and speed, then beamed off."

Chakotay asked, "Tare, where did the ship come from?"

She put up a course projection on the main viewer. "There's an inhabited system along its previous course."

Patel said, "That system belongs to another non-aligned race, the Jefard. Highly warlike and xenocidal. The U.S.S. Stargazer made contact with both the Jefard and the Aric population on planet Kilef nearly thirty years ago. The Jefard were not offered membership in the Federation, and the Aric opted not to join. Since then, Starbase 319 has been keeping an eye on this region."

And we were just there, dropping off my sister Sekaya and the Cardassian war criminal Crell Moset when the alien vessel was spotted on the starbase's long-range sensors, Chakotay thought as he turned to Patel. "Did you say 'xenocidal'?"

"Yes, sir. They've apparently demonstrated a willingness to kill every alien they can find."

This is new, Chakotay thought. "Is there any identification to be made on the alien vessel?"

Patel checked the scans and correlated them with the library computer. "Now that we've identified the local indigenous population, the vessel looks similar to Aric vessels from Stargazer's scans. They must have made a few technological advancements in the last thirty years."

"Bridge to sickbay."

"Sickbay. Kaz here."

"Dr. Kaz, you and Mr. Kim will beam aboard the ship and see what happened to the crew."

"Aye, Captain."

Harry nodded and headed for the turbolift. "Tare, as soon as they're aboard, set course for Kilef, warp five. Hopefully, they'll be happy to see their vessel returned to them."

:—--:

"Federation starship U.S.S. Voyager, heave to and prepare to be boarded!"

So much for a hero's welcome, Chakotay thought as he remembered the ancient maritime phrase. They must have an extensive database of the Federation from their first contact with the Stargazer. He looked at the vista of the planet's magnificent ring system as he opened the intercom to the whole ship. "This is the captain. We are about to be boarded by the Aric. Please do not offer any resistance. They aren't a trusting race, so don't do anything that might provoke a negative response from them."

Harry, who had returned from his and Dr. Kaz's inspection of the alien ship before they arrived at Kilef, looked at his board. "All decks acknowledge, sir," Right after that, Kim's console sounded a warning. "Transport signatures, Captain. All over the ship!"

Several columns of green light appeared on the bridge, and coalesced into humanoid shapes, uniformed in black and heavily armed. They had a V-shaped bone protruding from their foreheads framed with long black hair, tied back. One of them approached the captain. "You are Chakotay, captain of this vessel?"

"Yes, I am."

"I am Colonel Kal'Nak, of the Aric Global Security Contingent. We have taken official custody of your vessel and crew; and our vessel you brought, the scout craft Roknal. Scans confirm that you have boarded her."

"We apologize, Colonel," Chakotay said, "We wanted to see what happened to the crew of your vessel."

"A likely story. At worst, you were there covering up your crime; at best, you were contaminating our crime scene."

"We have committed no crime. We merely stopped your runaway craft from colliding with your planet."

"The accused will be silent!" Kal'Nak shouted. "We were tracking the vessel when you intercepted it." He held up his hand, and another Aric handed him a large padd-like device with a tactical display on it. "This is the projected course of the Roknal before your vessel interfered with it."

The display showed the planet Kilef, then a purple line extended from the Roknal's current position in orbit outward toward Theta Omega. Chakotay's eyes widened as the line went straight past the star and into Federation space.

"You sent the Roknal on its deadly voyage here! For all we know, you are in alliance with the Jefard!"

"Colonel, if I may speak," Chakotay said.

"Silence!"

Chakotay soldiered on. "Why would we stop it if we sent it?"

The subordinate Aric raised a small but heavy-looking metal rod to strike Chakotay, but Kal'Nak blocked it with his hand. "Hold, Major. He makes a good point. We will figure out the truth in time." He turned to Chakotay. "Until that happens, your vessel will remain here."

Suddenly, a shrill whistle emitted from all of the communicators of the Aric personnel at the same time as an alarm sounded on Patel's console. The Aric personnel gathered in the corner by the engineering station as Chakotay walked to ops and said, "Report."

"The Aric vessel's warp core is breaching."

"How much damage will that cause to the planet?"

"The atmosphere will burn, the ocean below will boil, and the people on this side of the planet will die from intense Cochrane radiation."

Chakotay strode back to the command well, issuing orders. "Tractor the ship! Prepare for a short warp jump away from the planet as soon as we've got it!"

Kal'Nak drew a weapon and aimed it at Chakotay's head. The other Aric personnel did the same for the other crew on the bridge. "Cancel those orders, or I'll kill everybody here including yourself."

The crew stopped. Chakotay raised his hands in a placating gesture and said, "We're just trying to help you, Colonel."

"You've done more than enough already. Now stand down."

"You can't just expect us to die."

"We have the matter well in hand. Now what's your decision?"

A tense beat passed. Without taking his eyes off of the colonel, Chakotay said, "Belay my orders."

Kal'Nak was the only one who holstered his weapon. He spoke into his wrist communicator. "This is Kal'Nak. Raise the planetary shield and take the Roknal into Dabin's atmosphere."

"Impulse engines have been sabotaged, like the warp core. Thrusters won't get us to the gas giant in time."

A female voice came over the comlink. "We can't raise the shield in time!"

"Eject the warp core and deploy the tractor drone."

"But Colonel! It's the prototype tractor drone! You know it's the only one we have!"

"I'd rather sacrifice the prototype than the lives of half our planet. Launch it!"

"Warp core ejected. Tractor drone online!"

On the viewscreen, an unmanned pod took the warp core in a green tractor beam and took off. Tare risked tapping buttons on her console and the camera followed the pod behind the gas giant. Fifteen seconds later, a halo of energy surrounded the planet.

Kal'Nak turned to Chakotay. "I will allow you five minutes to contact your superiors."

Chakotay turned to the tactical station. "Mr. Kim, open a channel to Starbase 319. Let's make our one phone call."

:—--:

The door chime sounded at Jess Farland's apartment in the city of Piedmont, across the bay from San Fransisco. Getting up from reading a new novel on his padd, Farland wondered to himself. Who on earth could be coming to see me? He opened the door, and found the last person he was expecting. "Admiral Ross!"

"Please, Mr. Farland. I'm not in Starfleet anymore. Call me Bill."

"Then you can call me Jess." He gestured inside. "Seeing you in civilian clothes is disconcerting, to say the least."

"Not half as much as being in them." Ross entered and looked at the apartment's decoration, or rather, the lack thereof. "Spartan. Just like every other soldier I've encountered." He instantly regretted his words. Turning around, he said, "I'm sorry, Jess. Old habits die hard."

"Then let me remind you once again. I'm not a soldier, and neither is any other Starfleet officer, former or active."

"Yes, I know. You were discharged honorably, but not before you made a big noise that Starfleet's directive is supposed to be exploration."

Farland sat and gestured to a chair across from him. "Until the Dominion came around and changed that, which is not the reason why I had joined Starfleet."

Ross took the seat and spread his hands wide in a gesture of surrender. "We've been over this before, Jess. The war is over. Why don't you re-up now that the exploration directive has been restored?"

"And find myself in battle with some new adversary? No thanks. I come from a long line of pacifists, and I aim to keep it that way."

"Despite the fact that you keep reminding me of that, you were still one of my best science officers onboard the Cerberus, which is why I've come here. You managed to fight off Jem-Hadar both using ship's weapons and in hand-to-hand combat despite being a pacifist."

"That was only in self-defense, and because I couldn't cut it as an engineer, in command, or in medical."

"Yes, I know all that from reading your record. You were also my best investigator, and I'm here as part of Starfleet's civilian oversight committee."

Farland's eyes grew cold. "You had better not be referring to Section 31."

Ross shook his head. "No, I'm more than through with them. I mean the other committee, the non-secret one set up by Admirals Nechayev and Louvois. We want you to head up a special civilian investigations team loosely attached to the Judge Advocate General's office, the Federation Investigative Service."

"What on Earth would the JAG office be needing a civilian unit to investigate with?"

"In cases where investigation by Starfleet officers would be a conflict of interest, such as if they were on an alien world, and became suspects in a crime."

Farland sat up straight. "Let me guess. You have such a case right now?"

"Yes, it involves a starship crew, and they're currently outside the Federation border."

"How would I get there?"

"Starfleet has decommissioned a runabout, the Blue Nile, and is now installing special equipment onboard. The oversight committee has assembled a list of possible members of your crew for you to look over and select from." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a padd.

Farland leaned back in his chair. "That's assuming I take the job."

"And what exactly were you doing with yourself before I got here?" He picked up the padd with the novel on it. "Anslem, by Jake Sisko." Ross laughed. "I knew him back when he was still writing this." He put the instrument down. "You can't just shut yourself in here and read for the rest of your life."

"I have other opportunities," Farland lied.

"Sure you do," Ross said, each word dripping with sarcasm. "What exactly? Cargo running? Living on a newly established terraforming colony?"

"I'm serious."

"Well, I'm sure that whatever it is, it pales in comparison to intergalactic crime scene investigation. That, in my opinion, is your first, best destiny."

Farland got up and walked toward the door. "I'll think about it."

Ross watched him, still seated. "Yes, I'm sure you will."

Farland opened the door and turned around, a slightly agitated look on his face.

"Well, just in case you don't like those 'other opportunities,' as fascinating as they may be, I'll leave this here." He put the padd with the crew list down next to Farland's, then got up and walked to the threshold. "Don't take too long. Voyager needs you."

Farland's eyes widened. "Voyager? They're the ones accused of a crime?"

"Exactly." Ross ambled off.

As the door closed, Farland struggled between thinking about going back to the Sisko novel or helping the heroes of Voyager. He walked to the replicator. "Hot chocolate, with cinnamon."

A steaming mug materialized in the slot.

As he sat down and took a sip, he looked at the two padds. He then looked out of the window at the sunshine reflecting off of Lake Merritt, and saw a man sitting on a bench, feeding the ducks with a big loaf of bread. He reminded himself that he was lying when he told Ross he has other opportunities, and Ross saw through it. He had none whatsoever.

Farland turned back, slammed his palm on the tabletop, and picked up Ross's padd.

:—--:

"You will comply, or you will be found in contempt of our justice system!" Kal'Nak shouted.

Chakotay looked at the fearsome four-legged and multi-fanged beast that had transported to Voyager's bridge with the latest batch of Aric guards. It snarled again.

The colonel spoke again. "You might have technology to jam and confuse our sensor scans, but if you are hiding any evidence that you are in alliance with the Jefard, this rannan will sniff it out. Our guards will escort your crew into a cargo bay while we search. His olfactory senses are so sensitive, he can even smell fear. The faster you comply, the faster we will be finished."

Chakotay tapped his commbadge. "Chakotay to all crew of Voyager. The guards will escort us all to Cargo Bay 3 while the ship is searched."

On the way to the turbolift, the rannan turned to its left, growled, then leapt upon Harry Kim and pinned him to the wall.

One of the Aric guards took out a tricorder-like device and scanned the lieutenant. "You! You have Jefard DNA on you!" The guard called off the rannan and spun Harry around to put black magnetic manacles on his hands.

Kal'Nak turned to face Chakotay. "This man is being arrested for collusion with the Jefard. If we find any others who have Jefard DNA on them, your entire ship will be impounded." He turned to join the rannan handler on the turbolift.

Chakotay realized that the only way Harry could have Jefard DNA on him is because of the fact that he was on the Roknal. And he wasn't alone, either. The rannan was probably going to find Jefard DNA on Dr. Kaz as well. Not sure he would like the response, he informed Kal'Nak.

:—---:

Farland looked out of the windows while he waited in the ready room of the U.S.S. Enterprise with his crew. They had boarded the starship with their runabout S.S. Blue Nile and were now headed toward Starbase 319 at warp 8.

Captain Picard entered the room and walked to the head of the table. He extended his hand to Jess. "Mr. Farland. I'm Jean-Luc Picard."

Farland shook it warmly. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Captain. I've read about your first contact with the Aric."

"Not exactly light reading, that encounter." Picard said as he and Farland sat down. "Please, introduce me to your crew."

Farland, sitting on Picard's left, worked clockwise around the table, starting with himself. "My name is Jess Farland. I left Starfleet on moral grounds after the Dominion War. My last posting was a science specialist onboard the U.S.S. Cerberus."

Picard seemed impressed. "That was Bill Ross's ship. You must have made quite an impression on him if he picked you to spearhead this team."

"Yes, sir."

"Left on moral grounds, hmm?"

"Yes, Captain. I come from a long line of pacifists. I joined Starfleet under the impression it was an organization dedicated to peaceful exploration, not war."

"It was, until the Dominion discovered us. Starfleet's mission of exploration has now been restored."

"Until the next enemy discovers us."

Picard wisely let the matter drop. Farland introduced the rest of his team. "This is Mr. Tyl, our pilot, weapons and security expert."

They nodded to each other, and Picard said, "I've not had much opportunity to meet members of the Adiimi race."

"We have become insular since the Klingon occupation of our world ended a century ago. Also, a Starfleet officer was framed for murder by rogue elements in our culture after another Starship Enterprise made first contact with our race two centuries ago. Since then, the Adiimi have made no overtures to join the galactic community, but a few of us have left our homeworld to slake our curiosity."

"Welcome. I hope you find the rest of Federation space to your liking."

Farland said, "I believe you're familiar with our chief medical officer."

"Kate!" Picard exclaimed, smiling.

"Captain." Dr. Pulaski said. "It's been too long since I worked on your starship, though I see you've gotten a new one since then."

"I heard you were working at the Phlox Institute."

"She comes highly recommended from the Institute," Farland interjected.

"Yes, but I was starting to tire of life dirtside after my retirement, so I thought I would sign on to the FIS."

"Well, though it's hard to see you in civilian clothes, you're an asset to any team."

"Thank you, Captain."

Farland continued. "Next, is a welcome addition to our team, K'Rul, our engineer."

The Klingon woman stood up and shook Picard's hand. Tyl was making an effort to avoid eye contact with her. "It is an honor to meet the first human Arbiter of Succession, though honor is a foreign concept among my house as far as the Empire is concerned."

Picard noted that he'd never seen a Klingon wearing light blue before. He asked, "Why is that?"

"My grandfather poisoned the Chancellor of the High Council some ninety years ago. It was a dishonorable act, and he was disavowed before the Council. This discommendation will continue through our lineage until my grandchildren. We were forced to leave the Empire, so my family defected to the Federation."

"It is a pleasure to meet all of you, and to reconnect with you, Kate."

Pulaski nodded, smiling.

"Captain," Farland said, "We were hoping you could shed some more light on the Jefard and Aric races."

"All of my experiences are in my report."

"Could you please just give your professional opinion of them? That wasn't included in your report."

Picard straightened his uniform tunic and took a deep breath. "The Jefard are intractably evil. To use forensic terminology, they are a race of serial killers, waiting to prey on the universe as soon as their technology is advanced enough.

"The Aric are their nearest race, and they have been victims on several occasions, and since their disastrous first contact was with the Jefard, the Aric have been reluctant to trust outsiders to their world. Negotiating with the Aric when I was in command of the Stargazer was difficult without a basis of trust to build upon.

"I'm sure the Jefard will be as aggressive as the Dominion given a few decades or so. That's why Starfleet has built Starbase 319, to monitor them and help defend the Aric if necessary."

Picard continued. "I hear your runabout has been decommissioned, but it has been updated with something non-standard?"

Farland smiled. "Yes, a small hololab with all forensic laboratory implements both old and new programmed in. It takes up some space, but we can make do with the small berths."

Just then, the comm sounded. "Worf to Picard."

The captain tapped his commbadge. "Picard here."

"We are approaching Starbase 319."

"Understood. We're on our way." He turned to Farland. "You and your team are welcome to join me on the bridge for Admiral Stecker's update."

They filed out of the observation lounge and onto the bridge. Once there, Picard said, "Open a channel."

Worf vacated the command chair. Farland could see that his eyes met with K'Rul and Tyl, then the burly Klingon moved to the first officer's chair. The lieutenant at tactical said, "Channel open. The admiral is responding."

"On screen, Mr. Leybenzon."

An elderly man appeared on the main viewscreen, smiling. "Jean-Luc. Good to see you."

"And you, Admiral."

"I'd invite you and the new team over for dinner, if they weren't so badly needed at Kilef, so I'll make this brief. The Jefard are getting restless. There seems to be a buildup of ships at their homeworld."

Picard's lips thinned. "I understand that the Jefard ships still have no speed capacity beyond warp five?"

"As far as we have determined, yes. But, an Aric scout ship had disappeared in the region a month or so ago, and that ship was the one reported going at warp nine toward Theta Omega when I ordered Voyager to intercept it. It's possible they may have examined the ship before they sent it on its way. We haven't heard from Captain Chakotay since they asked for representatives from the JAG office."

"How many ships do the Jefard have?"

"At last count, fifteen and possibly climbing. The FIS team would need to get there before the Jefard do, and work quickly so Voyager can join the Enterprise in defending the Aric."

"Only Enterprise and Voyager? What happened to the Midgard?"

Stecker's eyebrows knitted. "I know these Defiant-class ships are tough, but they were attacked by the Jefard before bringing the latest intelligence to us. They'll be in for repairs for the next two weeks."

"What weapons were used? Could Captain Frazier's crew tell what they were up against?"

Stecker turned to somebody offscreen and said, "Barb, it's better if you tell him."

A young, dark-haired woman wearing captain's pips entered the picture. "Captain Picard, it was some sort of crude energy dampening system that almost drained our shields, followed by disruptors and photonic missiles."

"Energy dampening seems rather advanced for a race that hasn't penetrated the technology for photon torpedoes."

"Yes, Captain, which is a mystery so far. We theorize that they may be dealing with the Ferengi."

Farland spoke. "Or worse, the Orion Syndicate." He turned to Picard. "You said the Jefard ships' maximum speed was warp five?"

"Yes."

Farland turned to K'Rul, who said, "The Blue Nile's engines are only rated for warp five, but I can coax warp seven out of them." She smiled. "Today is a good day for maximum warp."

Farland turned back to Picard, Stecker and Frazier. "We'd better leave immediately, then."

"In that case, Jean-Luc, come on over and we'll have some gin and sandwiches."

Picard smiled. "Are you going to finish the sandwiches this time, Admiral?"

Stecker and Frazier grinned.

:----:

"Colonel, I must protest yet again. We are innocent in this crime of which you accuse us."

Kal'Nak sat across from Chakotay in Voyager's ready room. I just can't get over the fact that this is no longer Kathryn Janeway's office, the captain thought as he sat behind the desk and regarded Kilef's impressive multilayered ring system orbiting around the planet's equator.

"If you are in any way a civilized people who understand due process of law, you will understand that I must imprison your crewmen for contaminating a crime scene until it is determined they were not involved in the deaths of the crew. Rest assured that they will receive a speedy trial."

"But the fact that you have told me your society believes in the death penalty makes me very concerned for the welfare of Lieutenant Kim and Doctor Kaz."

"Captain Chakotay, I have told you that your crewmen have not committed an offense punishable by death."

"But you have also told me that your society has special circumstances regarding anything connected to attacks from the Jefard. The history of Earth had a similar law regarding treatment of terrorists after a particularly vicious attack four centuries ago. It was not a very well-thought-out piece of legislation, constructed in haste."

"Do not presume to think that an outsider, let alone a prisoner, will be allowed to debate the validity of our laws. There are several members of the Roknal's crew that are unaccounted for. That still has yet to be explained."

"If you would let us investigate, we could have an answer for you."

"You and your subordinates have already done enough with the ship and its crew."

"Colonel, I repeat my protest. We prevented your ship from impacting your planet. A ship traveling at such speed would have caused untold damage to your environment and your people. If we were truly in league with the Jefard, we never would have interfered with its course."

Kal'Nak was about to reply as the intercom sounded. "Captain and Colonel, we're receiving a hail from the S.S. Blue Nile. It's the FIS."

Finally. "We're on our way, Lieutenant."

They stood up and walked through the door to the bridge. Chakotay was about to order the channel opened when Kal'Nak beat him to it, which rankled him every single time.

A face appeared on the screen. "U.S.S. Voyager, this is Jess Farland commanding the S.S. Blue Nile. Do you read?"

"This is Colonel Kal'Nak, Aric warden of the prisoner ship Voyager. Are you the awaited advocates from Starfleet?"

"We're not a Starfleet ship, Colonel. We are a civilian Federation investigative team."

"But you are Federation. How can you profess to be objective in defending Chakotay and his ilk?"

"I promise you, Colonel. My team is completely neutral. I, personally, have my grievances regarding Starfleet procedure."

"What grievances?"

"I quit Starfleet on moral grounds. I feel that they did not exercise enough diplomacy to prevent their recent war with the Dominion. Starfleet is supposed to be an organization of peaceful exploration, not military conflict."

Chakotay spoke. "But Starfleet is dedicated to exploring space in peace. I'm sure that Starfleet did everything it could to prevent war."

"Since Starfleet still went to war, I'm convinced it did not do enough, Captain. Besides, you can hardly defend what they did. You weren't even there."

Kal'Nak turned to Chakotay and asked, "Is this true?"

Chakotay met his gaze. "Yes. This starship and most of its current crew had been displaced over 70,000 light-years from Federation space over eight years ago. We managed to make it back only last year."

"70,000 light-years? That would have taken you much longer than seven years to come back."

"It is a long story, Colonel."

"And from what I have read of your reports, you weren't exactly engaged in peaceful exploration during your long journey back to the Alpha Quadrant."

Chakotay bristled. "We were the only Federation starship in the Delta Quadrant. We were trying to survive."

"The pen is mightier than the sword, Captain."

"I agree, Mr. Farland. But there are some people who only understand the sword."

"Enough." Kal'Nak interrupted. "I am convinced that you can be objective, Mr. Farland. You may take your vessel into orbit of our planet and enter into a joint investigation with the Aric Global Security Contingent. Perhaps your team can answer some of our unsatisfied questions in this investigation."

"We'll do our best, but we were hoping our ship could land in Voyager's shuttlebay."

"I cannot allow that at this time. Any contact with the crew of Voyager will have to be conducted on Kilef under guard.

"I understand. How about access to the Roknal?"

"That will be arranged, under strict guidelines. Welcome to Kilef, Jess Farland."

:—---:

Farland and Pulaski beamed down to the surface of Kilef, forensic kits in hand. Guards met them and took them to the nearby detention facility where Harry Kim and Dr. Jarem Kaz were being held for contaminating the Roknal crime scene.

Harry was brought to the interrogation room first. He was wearing a tan-colored jumpsuit not unlike the department color of his duty uniform. As the guard unshackled him, Pulaski began scanning him as Farland asked him questions.

"How are you being treated, Lieutenant?"

"Better than can be expected, I guess. Three meals a day, but the books and vids are all in Aric and we aren't allowed universal translators for fear we'll use them to escape. At least we're kept from the rest of the prison population."

"Why is that?"

The ends of Harry's lips turned up slightly. "When we first arrived, the other prisoners saw Kaz's spots and thought he had some rare disease, so they gave us a wide berth. Later, they started to complain, so we were moved to solitary confinement, which was fine with us. We entertained ourselves by telling stories. Kaz told me Dominion war stories, and I told him about my experiences in the Delta Quadrant. The only difficulty is raising our voices so we can be heard through the doors of our cells. Sometimes the other inmates yell at us, though we can't understand what they're saying."

Farland looked at Pulaski when her tricorder stopped whirring. She said, "I'm not finding any foreign DNA on him besides Aric."

He turned back to Harry and asked, "What did you do when you boarded the Roknal?"

Harry's brows met over his nose. "It was like a charnel house in there. Bodies and parts of bodies strewn everywhere, blood pooled on the floor and spattered on the walls, the stench of death hanging in the air."

Pulaski looked up from her readings. "You said there was blood pooled on the floor. Did you step in any of it?"

"Hard not to."

She looked at Farland. "Let's check his uniform. He might have stepped in Jefard blood."

Harry's eyes widened. "Yes. There were definite signs of a struggle. Upturned chairs and broken instruments were all over the floor. That's probably how I got Jefard DNA on me."

"We'll check it out," Farland said. "Did you disturb the crime scene? Did you touch anything?"

"No. Not like I wanted to, considering what was caked on the walls and consoles."

"I understand. Sit tight. We'll try to get you out as soon as we can."

Harry nodded.

Farland turned to the guard, who opened the door and escorted Kim out.

As Farland questioned Kaz, Pulaski asked to be taken to the prison storage locker where Kaz and Kim's uniforms were being held until it was determined what to do with the clothing.

The guard brought them out, and Pulaski scanned them in sections to determine exactly where any Jefard DNA was. She found nothing until she got to their boots.

"Eureka," she said with a smile.

:----:

Tyl walked throughout the Roknal looking for evidence of weapons fire as K'Rul sat on the ship's bridge looking for evidence of the Jefard having tampered with its computer. They kept a comlink open between them.

"So. Have you thought of anything yet?

"No. All Klingon phrases seem too bloodthirsty and trite to me. I've been searching the databanks in my spare time, but nothing really pops out at me."

"Who knew it would be so hard to find a motto for the FIS?"

"Exactly. With so many cultures in the Federation, you's think we'd have too many prospects."

"Agreed. Are you finding anything on the computer yet?" Tyl asked as he focused a palmlight on the corridor walls.

"I'm trying to defrag a file that looks important."

"Do you want me to stop talking so you can concentrate?"

"Heavens no! This place was the scene of so much death, the one voice I know is coming from somebody alive will drown out so much of the screams of the dead I keep imagining."

"As you wish." Tyl examined a burn on the wall as he said, "Since when does a Klingon say 'heaven' and not 'Sto-Vo-Kor'?"

"As I keep telling you, Tyl, I'm not your average Klingon. I haven't seen the inside of the Empire since I was three."

"And I keep telling you that the Klingons conquered my world two centuries ago and only recently just left. So hopefully you can understand my bitterness."

"Tyl, the only thing I have my mind on conquering is this fragmented file. You can hardly blame me for what went on when I wasn't even there."

He thumbed off his tricorder, saying, "I am seeing burn marks similar to a 22nd century Starfleet phase pistol in this corridor. The kind of scorching one would make with the weapon switched to the kill setting."

"From what I've read of the Midgard's logs, that sounds in line with the Jefard's current level of technology."

"Yes, but none of this explains why twelve of the Roknal's crew are unaccounted for. The Jefard worship death. I don't think that they would take prisoners."

"I think they do. I think they take prisoners to sharpen their skills in inflicting pain through torture."

Tyl turned around, and saw something catch the edge of the light coming from his palm beacon. He went to look at it as K'Rul continued. "Hmmm... This file. It appears to be some sort of weapon schematic."

He pulled out a tool from his kit. "Would it happen to be for an antique combustion-propelled projectile launcher?"

"No. This looks energy-based. Why would you ask?"

"I just found such a projectile embedded in this console," he said as he pulled a slug out of the computer screen he stood in front of with a pair of pliers. "You might be right about the Jefard enjoying inflicting pain." He held it up to the light. "This compares with an old-Earth .50-caliber bullet. This isn't just killing, it's overkill." He pulled out his tricorder again. "I apologize, K'Rul. I will have to consult with Kate for a moment. Please take an air sample and send it to Jess. Tyl out." He tapped his communicator. "Tyl to Pulaski."

She answered from the Aric morgue on the surface. "This is Pulaski. Find anything, Tyl?"

"Several things, in fact. Do you have a moment?"

"I could use a break right now. I've autoOmegaed ten crewmen from the Roknal so far."

"I wager you've found several holes in the victims going straight through their bodies?"

"I have, in fact. I was about to enter into my log that they might have been run through with long, cylindrical pikes. Did you find any of those?"

"No, I found a projectile similar to that which came from an ancient-Earth Desert Eagle handgun. A very powerful weapon that rips through a body."

"I've seen them. How barbaric."

"I'm sending the diameter to your tricorder."

There was a pause as she compared the measurements. "They match. Just when I thought the Jefard couldn't get any worse."

"If I were you, I would set my expectations as low as I can. Please contact Jess. I told K'Rul to send him an air sample, and if I am right, I imagine he's going to want to talk to you."

"Understood. Pulaski out."

:—--:

Farland sat in the Blue Nile's hololab, bent over the holographic version of a molecular analyzer, examining the results of the air sample K'Rul just beamed over. What he found was surprising.

Gunpowder, but that's the least of my worries. There are DNA samples in the air onboard the Roknal, and not just the gas of decomposition.

His commbadge sounded, and he tapped it. "Farland here."

Pulaski's voice filtered through. "Jess, Tyl told me you might possibly have something for me. I have no idea what he's talking about."

"He's right. He asked K'Rul to beam over an air sample, and it contains traces of Aric DNA. I've run them against the DNA of the crew you're examining now, and there's no match."

"Send me the readout on your tricorder."

"Sorry, Kate. I prefer to think of tricorder analysis as a presumptive test. I'm using an elemental analyzer in the hololab for confirmation."

"I guess I can understand. Send me the results from your analyzer."

Farland tapped a few buttons on the machine.

"Received and analyzing now." There was a pause as Farland walked out of the lab, sat in a chair on the bridge and looked out at the stars. "I'm reading the same strong Aric DNA samples, and you're right. There are a few that don't match the crew I'm working on."

"How many?"

"Twelve."

"That's how many of the crew of the Roknal that are unaccounted for."

"Right. I'm showing a slight phase variance in the structure of the samples. I think I know what it means, but I'll run them past Tyl just to be sure."

"Okay, I'll put him on conference." He tapped his commbadge. "Farland to Tyl, you're on with Kate and I."

"Tyl here. What's this I just got on my tricorder?"

"It's a phase variation on the Aric DNA we found in K'Rul's air sample," Kate replied.

"Oh, my. That confirms my suspicions."

Farland's brows knitted. "Confirms what?"

"That the bodies of the twelve missing Roknal crewpeople are actually still here. They were killed by a phaser set to dematerialize. Kate, I think I know how you feel right now."

"That the barbaric standards of the Jefard just keep getting lower and lower?"

"Precisely."

"Starfleet eliminated the dematerialize setting on its phasers almost 80 years ago, judging it inhumane, not to mention finding the bodies of the people killed on that setting was next to impossible. In fact, if the Roknal were taken to the planet's surface and the airlocks were opened, the DNA samples would have escaped into the atmosphere, never to be found."

The comm sounded. "K'Rul to Farland."

"Farland here. You're on conference with Tyl and Pulaski."

"I've defragged that file. It's the design for an energy-dampening weapon."

"Good work. It seems that the Roknal crew managed to steal the design from the Jefard, but weren't able to return home to report what their enemy was working on. We'll report it to Kal'Nak, and the Aric should hopefully be able to reverse-engineer it and counter its use."

"That's the thing, Jess. It's not Jefard design. It's Aric. The Jefard were the ones who reverse-engineered it."

Farland's eyes widened. "That's why they were able to use the dampener on the Midgard. The Jefard captured the Roknal and drained it of its Aric secrets."

"And I'll wager the Jefard are reverse-engineering everything else the Roknal had-" K'Rul gasped, "including this ship's ability to travel faster than warp nine!"

"Understood. I'm reporting to the Colonel. Farland out."

He worked the bridge's com panel. "Blue Nile to Voyager."

"This is Voyager, please hold for Colonel Kal'Nak."

Don't put me on hold for too long, Farland thought. We're about to be invaded.

:----:

"Let this proceeding come to order. Please rise for the Supreme Arbitrator, Bil'Hik."

Everybody in the courtroom rose as the red-robed arbitrator walked in and sat at the podium. "You may be seated."

Jess looked around as he, Chakotay, Harry Kim, Jarem Kaz and their Aric defense advocate named Rae'Din took their seats. The courtroom was packed, and cameras were positioned at the back of the room to carry the proceedings to the rest of the planet as well as Voyager.

The arbitrator spoke. "I understand that time is of the essence here, if what our Federation colleagues say is true, so I will dispense with our usual formalities except for the selection ritual, which will occur now." He pressed a button on his podium.

A door opposite to the one the arbitrator used opened, and in walked a young woman dressed in what appeared to be ancient religious garb. Her face was painted in white stripes, and large brown feathers that matched her outfit were woven into her hair. She stood solemnly between the desks and spoke. "The advocates will come forth."

The Aric lawyers for the prosecution and defense moved before her and bowed at the waist, then extended their right hands as one over her clenched right hand as she said, "The fates know the truth. Let nothing but the truth be spoken here. Let the fates show us which side needs to be heard first." The advocates withdrew their hands, and she turned around to face the magistrate, holding up her fist, which she then opened. A six-sided die fell to the floor, three sides colored blue, and three colored orange. The die bounced twice, then settled on an orange side. "The fates favor the defense," the woman said, then bowed to the arbitrator and left.

"Opening statements," the arbitrator said.

Rae'Din walked to the die, picked it up and set it reverently on the desk in front of Farland on the same side it landed on. She and Farland exchanged a solemn glance as she turned to address the 25-person jury seated next to the prosecution's table.

"Good morning, citizens of Kilef. A lot of evidence will be heard today. We all know that the truth lies in interpreting the evidence correctly. For that, we have trained professionals. But in this case, the Global Security Contingent has acknowledged its limitations in matters beyond the scope of this planet. For evidence interpretation in greater spheres, we have conceded that we need help from an outside source, and have relied on the professionalism of the politically neutral Federation Investigative Service in the case regarding the murders of our own crew of the Roknal. We all acknowledge the proximate threat of the Jefard and their relation to this case, but I ask you to please set your fear aside for these proceedings, listen to the evidence presented today, and find the members of the crew of the Starship Voyager innocent of all charges. Thank you."

As Rae'Din returned to her seat, a person in the gallery stood up and shouted, "The Federation and Starfleet are one and the same! Don't trust them!"

The arbitrator shouted just as loudly, "Guards! Remove that person from the courtroom!"

The room was deathly quiet after the protestor was manhandled into the foyer outside repeating the same shouted words. The arbitrator looked toward the jury and said, "I instruct to you that any protests made today are not to influence your verdict. Am I clear?"

The jurists nodded acknowledgment, then Bra'Dod, the prosecuting advocate, stood to address them.

"Esteemed members of the jury, let me make one thing clear. The courts are here for a reason. To burn away irrelevancies until one thing is arrived at: the truth. The evidence you hear today will be compelling. So compelling that you can only make one decision. To convict the crew of the Starship Voyager of collusion with the violently xenocidal race of the Jefard in murdering the crew of our scout vessel Roknal, and that both the Jefard and Starfleet are conspiring to enslave us as soon as they are able. The Starfleet members and their advocates here today will attempt to dazzle you with displays of linguistic legerdemain in order to divert you from the truth. Under no circumstances are you to let that happen. Thank you."

The arbitrator said, "The defense now has the floor to present its case."

Rae'Din stood up and said, "Arbitrator, I would like to call my expert witnesses to the dais, the four-member team of the Federation Investigative Service: Jess Farland, Katherine Pulaski, Tyl and K'Rul."

"So noted. The expert witnesses will speak nothing but the truth or suffer the consequences."

Farland got up from beside Chakotay, and the other members walked forward from the gallery. The dais was apparently built for only two people, so K'Rul and Pulaski stood on it while Tyl and Farland stood in front of it.

Rae'Din stood in front of them and said, "Mr. Farland... that is the proper honorific for your species and sex, correct?"

"Yes, I hold no title, so Mister is appropriate."

"You are former Starfleet, are you not?"

"Yes. I left Starfleet on moral grounds. I am a pacifist by nature, but I fulfilled my obligation to Starfleet by fighting The Dominion War against my better wishes. After the conflict ended, I resigned my commission, not wanting to get caught up in another war should one present itself. I am a scientist, not a soldier. I joined Starfleet to explore space, not fight."

"Mr. Farland, you are the leader of this team. Could you please tell us your finding regarding the crew of the Roknal?"

Farland turned and addressed the jury. "They were all murdered."

Gasps were audible from the two tiers of the gallery. Rae'Din continued. "Starting with the captain of the vessel, please tell us how they were murdered."

"My medical examiner, Doctor Katherine Pulaski is the one who examined their bodies. She has the pertinent details."

Dr. Pulaski pulled a padd out of her pocket and read. "The captain of the ship, Sha'Gar, was killed by blunt force trauma to the head. He was beaten to death..."

The doctor continued until the list of names and manners of death were completed, including the crewmembers who had been vaporized. Several people in the gallery could not bear the graphic description, so they had gotten up and left the room.

"Thank you, Doctor. We are not familiar with some methods of death you described. We appreciate your help in making us aware of them, especially what you refer to as a 'gunshot'. Which of you managed to find the DNA sample that was alien to the Roknal?"

"I did, Advocate."

"Your name is K'Rul, am I correct?"

"Yes."

"You apparently are not human."

K'Rul then turned to address the jury. "No. I am descended from the Klingon race. It was that heritage that enabled me to find the blood."

"How were you able to find it?"

"I smelled it."

"So Klingons can smell blood?"

"Yes. Klingons are excellent hunters, and our olfactory prowess is one of the reasons why."

"So the smell of the blood is what led you to the blood pool in the central corridor leading to the engineering section. There were a lot of other blood pools in the ship, especially in the vicinity of the corridor."

"Yes, I smelled Aric blood as well, but this blood pool in the corridor smelled different."

Rae'Din walked to a viewscreen, pushed a button to bring up a picture and said, "Defense exhibit 1, Arbitrator, a pool of blood that was verified by Art'Ros, the coroner assisting Dr. Pulaski as being Jefard in origin. I would like the jury to note the pattern found in this pool."

The picture of a pool of a black substance had the pattern of a bootprint in it.

"Defense exhibit 2. The footwear that was found on the person of one of the defendants, Lieutenant Harry Kim, at time of arrest." She held up a Starfleet-issue boot in a plastic bag with writing on it. "Please note the pattern on the bottom." She gave the boot to the arbitrator, who looked at the bottom and compared the sole to the picture. He then handed it back to Rae'Din, who then passed it to the jury foreman. The jury members took turns comparing. "You will see that the pattern on the footwear and in the picture are an exact mirror image. This is evidence that while searching the ship for survivors, Lieutenant Kim stepped in this pool of Jefard blood. Afterwards, he returned to Voyager, and was still wearing it when the starship was searched by Colonel Kal'Nak's rannans, and was the basis of Kim's arrest." She turned back to the dais. "Could one of you explain how the blood got there?"

"I can."

"Mr. Tyl. You are not human either."

Tyl also directed his answers toward the jury. "No, I am a member of the Adiimi race. My homeworld is on the other side of Federation space from here."

"Please explain about the blood pool."

"You had heard from Doctor Pulaski that some members of the Roknal crew had been stabbed by a long knife with two serrated edges. When one stabs a person, blood gushes out of the stab wound, coating the handle of the knife and the murderer's hand. Then when the murderer stabs again, the handle is so slick with blood, it slips within the stabber's grasp, and the stabber slices his own hand open on the blade, leaving his own blood behind. There was enough blood to form a pool, which means that the stabber had to stand still long enough for it to form one. Why he did that is unknown, but that's how it happened."

"Thank you." Rae'Din said. "K'Rul, you said you found something on the computer onboard the Roknal?"

"Yes, I managed to defragment a file that was accessed and then broken apart and scattered through the various computer systems. It was a schematic for an energy-dampening field."

Rae'Din paced back to the table in thought. "I cannot speak for the military at this time. I don't know if we have the technology for energy dampening at the moment."

"This dampening weapon was accessed by the Jefard and outfitted to their ships. A Starfleet vessel was attacked on a reconnaissance mission to confirm what was detected by nearby Starbase 319's long-range sensors."

Rae'Din raised her head and looked at the jury. "What is the current disposition of this vessel?"

"The dampening was not wholly successful. The crew of the U.S.S. Midgard were able to escape with minimal damage because it appears the weapon was intended for the dampening of Aric technologies only."

"What did the crew of the starbase and the Midgard see?"

"That the Jefard were building up a fleet of over twenty ships that had the capability to reach warp nine."

Rae'Din then turned and looked at K'Rul. "As far as our intelligence on the Jefard goes, the Jefard only have the capacity for warp five."

"I can only conclude that along with the Aric energy-dampening weapon, the Jefard also retro-engineered the Roknal's warp engines. That is why the crew were murdered."

"This is dire news indeed," Rae'Din said. "This could be the prelude to invasion our race has dreaded since the Jefard destroyed our moon over 100 solars ago."

"That's what your planet's ring system is? The remnants of your moon?"

"You are correct, Mr. Farland." Rae'Din bowed her head as a somber mood fell over the court. "We barely had a planetary shield system up and running before the Jefard tried to bring it down by destroying our moon with an atomic weapon. Fortunately, the shield system barely managed to deflect the rocks back into space, but the loss of our moon wreaked havoc with our weather cycles and planetary seasons."

Farland said, "A ship traveling at warp nine would have punctured the shield and still had enough faster-than-light momentum to lay waste to your planet."

Rae'Din turned to the jury. "Then it is fortunate the Starship Voyager intervened when it did."

Bra'Dod stood. "Protest, Arbitrator, that allegation is still in dispute before this court."

"Agreed," Bil'Hik said.

"Thank you for informing us of these matters," Rae'Din said, turning back to the dais, "We appreciate your service to us in this perilous time. No further questions." She turned to Bra'Dod, who stood. "Your witnesses."

"Thank you, Advocate." He stood in front of the dais, regarding all four FIS members in a thoughtful manner before saying, "Do members of Starfleet use knives?"

"Yes, but only for utility purposes," Farland said.

"Which members of Starfleet?"

"Scientists on planetary survey, and security."

Bra'Dod turned to the jury, but still addressed Farland. "Security? Starfleet soldiers are trained to use knives?"

Farland shifted his feet, apparently uncomfortable with the subject. "Members of Starfleet security are more like keepers of the peace than soldiers. They only use lethal force when all other non-lethal methods do not work. Very rarely do they use knives."

"Are their knives double-serrated?"

"No. They're only serrated on one half of one side. The other side isn't even sharpened."

"A likely story."

Farland looked Bra'Dod in the eye and said, "Did you find any such knives in your search of Voyager?"

"No, but they could have disintegrated them, or dumped them into space."

"They did not do that. Starfleet is not an organization of murderers, nor have they allied with the Jefard."

"I have yet to see any proof of that from you. I have no further questions for these testifiers."

Rae'Din stood and said, "Our next testifier is Dr. Jarem Kaz of Starfleet. I defer to Jess Farland at the discretion of the arbitrator for the examination of matters occurring outside our solar system."

"The testifier will speak nothing but the truth or suffer the consequences. Has Mr. Farland been trained in our examination procedures?"

"Yes, Arbitrator," Farland said, "The procedures are not dissimilar from our own."

"Proceed."

Farland and Kaz stood, the latter moving to stand on the dais. Farland asked, "Dr. Kaz, what is your function onboard the Starship Voyager?"

Kaz grasped the railing and directed his answers toward the jury. "I am the chief medical officer. The optimum physical health of the crew is my responsibility, and also that of any alien lifeform who needs our help."

"For the benefit of the court, I must clarify that you are not human, correct?"

"No. I am from a Federation species known as the Trill. The chief difference between the Trill and humanity is that our species has bonded with another race on our planet known simply as the Symbionts."

"And you have bonded with a symbiont?"

"Yes. I implanted Kaz within my abdomen." He rubbed his symbiont pouch with his left hand. "We have bonded both mentally and physically."

"How many previous hosts has the Kaz symbiont enjoyed?"

"Six. I am the seventh."

Farland turned toward the jury and asked Kaz, "Federation doctors are required to take the Hippocratic Oath, am I correct?"

"Yes, the first part of which is 'Do no harm.'"

Farland locked eyes with as many jury members as he could. "Please elaborate on what that means?"

"It means that the doctor who takes the Hippocratic Oath must not inflict harm upon any life-form. The doctor's purpose is to care for life, not take it away, nor to inflict pain."

"You didn't kill or inflict torture any of the crew on board the Roknal, did you?"

"No, I did not. It is against my very nature as a healer."

"No further questions."

After a moment, the arbitrator said, "Does the prosecution have any questions for this testifier?"

"None whatsoever," Bra'Dod said.

"The testifier may take his seat," Bil'Hik said.

Rae'Din stood as Kaz walked back to her table. "My next testifier is Captain Chakotay of the Starship Voyager, and I defer once again to Jess Farland."

"So noted. The testifier will speak nothing but the truth or suffer the consequences."

As Chakotay stood behind the small railing on the dais, Farland said, "Please state your name and title for the record."

"Chakotay, commanding officer of the Starship Voyager. I hold the Starfleet rank of captain." He also directed his answers toward the jury.

"Could you please describe to the jury the purpose of the marking on your left temple?"

Chakotay touched his tattoo with his left hand as he said, "It is to honor the Sky Spirits who had similar markings when they visited my people on my homeworld of Earth, thousands of years ago."

"Protest, Arbitrator," Bra'Dod said, "How is this question relevant to our case?"

Rae'Din said, "We are establishing the captain's good character, Arbitrator."

"Protest reversed," Bil'Hik said.

Farland continued. "Were these Sky Spirits hostile?"

"No, quite the opposite. They came to my world in peace, and my people accepted them as honored guests."

Farland turned back to the jury, determined to make eye contact with more of them, just as he was trained. "Have you personally encountered them?"

Chakotay smiled, evidently fond of these memories. "Yes, but I was not on Earth at the time. I encountered them when the rest of the Voyager crew and I were stranded seventy-thousand light-years from here on the other side of this galaxy eight years ago."

"Had these Sky Spirits changed in the intervening time?"

His smile vanished. "No. They were still peaceful, but had grown distrustful of other life-forms in this galaxy and approached me carefully."

"What was their judgment of you?

"That I and my crew were worthy of their trust."

"You were not in command of Voyager at the time of this meeting, were you?"

"No, the captain was Kathryn Janeway throughout our journey back home."

"Where is she now?"

Chakotay stood a little straighter. "She was promoted to Admiral of Starfleet Operations when we returned from the Delta Quadrant." Chakotay chose not to mention that Janeway's current status was missing and presumed dead after the most recent incident with the Borg.

Farland said, "Did you murder the crew of the Roknal?"

"No, we did not. We saved the ship from crashing into this planet at top warp speed."

"How did you do that?"

"We were leaving the nearby starbase when Admiral Stecker told us that the ship was headed toward a star at maximum warp. Instead, the Roknal slingshotted around the gravity well and we intercepted it before it could hit the planet."

Farland turned to the dais. "Where was the Roknal headed away from before it encountered the star?"

"The Jefard system."

"Your witness, Advocate." Farland said as he walked back to the defense table and sat down.

Bra'Dod stood and addressed Chakotay. "Captain, what organization were you a member of just before you and your ship were pulled into the Delta Quadrant?"

A slight coloration appeared in Chakotay's cheeks as he answered, "The Maquis."

"And could you please tell us the mission statement of this band of yours?"

"To defend the colonies of the Federation Demilitarized Zone against the Cardassians."

"And you and the members of The Maquis, which takes its name from a similar French paramilitary organization on Earth, which, just like it did to their German nation, slaughtered Cardassians by the thousands."

"Protest, Arbitrator," RaeDin said.

Before Bil'Hik could say anything, Chakotay interrupted him. "I would like to answer, Arbitrator."

Disliking being interrupted, the arbitrator said, "Proceed."

Chakotay looked back at Bra'Dod. "'Slaughtered' is too strong a word. We attacked them in self-defense, just like the French Maquis did during the similar German occupation of one of Earth's world wars."

"But it is safe to say that Cardassians died at the hands of The Maquis?"

Chakotay hesitated slightly. "Yes."

Bra'Dod looked at the jury before continuing. "Captain, would you please define for us the alien race that refers to themselves as The Dominion?"

"They are a hostile race that came from the Gamma Quadrant of this galaxy."

"Starfleet was engaged in a war with them for exactly how long?" Bra'Dod emphasized the word while looking at the jury.

"Two years."

"And when did this conflict end?"

"Three years ago."

"And who was victorious?"

"The Federation."

"So it seems to me, Captain Chakotay, that the Federation is a highly warlike organization, dedicated to conquering various races, just like the Jefard is."

Rae'Din stood up. "Protest, Arbitrator. It sounds like the prosecution is the one doing the testifying."

Bil'Hik was about to rule when Chakotay interrupted him. "Arbitrator, I would like to answer the question."

Once again, the arbitrator raised his eyebrows in surprise at being interrupted, then said, "Proceed."

Chakotay turned to his questioner. "You said that The Dominion came from the Gamma Quadrant, which is true. But they fought the Federation in our own space, which makes The Dominion the ones wanting to conquer, not Starfleet, which is an organization dedicated to peaceful exploration, which, again, was acting in self-defense. You met Captain Picard and the crew of the Stargazer. They did not seek to conquer you."

"Attitudes, politicians and times change, Captain," Bra'Dod said sternly. "Nothing further."

"Redirect, Arbitrator?" Rae'Din asked.

"Proceed."

She stood in front of the dais and said, "You were not involved in the Dominion War, were you, Captain?"

"No, I and my crew were still stranded in the Delta Quadrant at the time."

"When was the first time you had heard of the Jefard?"

"Just before stopping the Roknal from crashing into this planet at warp nine. Before then, I'd never heard of the Jefard or the Aric."

"Nothing further."

The arbitrator waited for a request from Bra'Dod to re-cross. When no request came, he said, "If there is nothing further, the testifier may step down."

Chakotay walked back and sat in his chair next to Rae'Din, who stood. "The defense rests, Arbitrator."

"Understood," Bil'Hik said. "The prosecution may now present their case."

Bra'Dod stood. "The prosecution calls Colonel Kal'Nak, warden of the impounded vessel Voyager."

Seconds later, the colonel beamed down from Voyager's bridge into the courtroom. He assumed a confident stance on the dais.

Bra'Dod spoke. "Colonel, in your assessment of the alien vessel, what have you determined of their tactical abilities?"

"It has two main weapons, phasers and quantum torpedoes. Phasers are energy weapons, and the hull is bristling with 13 separate emitters. Quantum torpedoes have the capability to travel faster than warp nine and can carry a payload of antimatter to any target within a light-year. Defensive capabilities consist of energy shielding, with primary and secondary systems."

"Is this a prime example of Starfleet shipbuilding?"

Kal'Nak rested his hand upon the railing. "The Intrepid class is actually one of their smaller ships of the line. Starfleet actually has vessels that are far larger, such as the Sovereign and Prometheus-class vessels, the latter of which has a multi-vector assault mode that enables it to separate into three independent war vessels. The Voyager is almost a third larger than the largest Aric vessel constructed."

"What hand weapons have you encountered onboard?"

"Phaser pistols, compression phaser rifles, photon grenades, and one crewmember boasted of a crewmate that possesses an array of bladed weapons, though we could not find her."

Bra'dod glanced meaningfully at the jury as Chakotay leaned over to Rae'Din and whispered, "He's referring to my chief engineer, B'Elanna Torres, who is on maternal leave with my first officer, Tom Paris."

Rae'Din nodded as Bra'Dod continued. "Could any of these weapons be double-serrated?"

"They could have been, but as I said earlier, they could have been destroyed before we found them."

Bra'Dod looked at the colonel and continued. "What was the course the Roknal was taking after the crew was murdered?"

"From the general vicinity of Heyda, the center star in the arm of the constellation Nep'Pet, 'The Protector'. The Starfleeters refer to it as Theta Omega. The Roknal almost crashed headlong into our planet at speeds approaching warp 9.97. It would have made short work of our planetary shields and devastated all life on our planet. Here, let me show you the course the ship took." He activated a computer screen big enough for everybody to see, and showed a graphic of the course the Roknal took after passing Theta Omega, but the line did not bend around the star, instead extended straight back. "If you'll notice, the course takes it beyond Heyda and straight into Federation space."

Farland, Chakotay and Kaz widened their eyes in surprise at what that meant.

"So, your conclusion is?"

"The Federation killed the Roknal crew and sent the ship hurtling toward our planet."

Murmurs were heard throughout the gallery.

"One last question, Colonel. In the course of your investigation did you ever turn up any information if the Federation and Starfleet were the same organization?

"Starfleet is the exploratory arm of the United Federation of Planets."

The crowd murmured again as Bra'Dod turned to the arbitrator and said, "No further questions."

Rae'Din stood and approached the colonel. "May I just ask you a few simple questions to start with, Colonel?"

"That's what I'm here for. Do your worst. I am prepared."

"Colonel... are you breathing?"

Kal'Nak's arms jerked upward. "What? Of course I am!"

"Then, as a matter of logic, am I to assume that you are, in fact, alive?"

"That is a matter for philosophers, but yes, I am alive, since I am speaking to you."

"Then we are to also assume that you did not perish along with the rest of the planet when the ship pierced our planetary shield at the speed of, as you said, warp 9.97?"

Kal'Nak narrowed his eyes at her. "The ship did not pierce the shield."

"Then you have the crew of Voyager to thank for that. They stopped the Roknal before it reached our planet."

Kal'Nak stared intensely at Rae'Din. "But the ship came from Federation space, where the crew was tortured and murdered."

"But we have not truly established that the Federation murdered the Roknal crew, nor have we established who, in fact, killed them in the first place. We do know, however, that the Jefard are involved. So what makes you so certain that the Voyager crew killed the crew of the Roknal?"

"Their plan could have gone wrong regarding the warp crash, and they intercepted the ship to rectify the problem. Finding that they couldn't, they sabotaged the warp core and the impulse engines and brought the ship here to kill us."

Rae'Din moved closer to the dais. "But there is the fact that Voyager was under your control, and the crew would have perished with us. They did not resist when you ordered them to stand down." Rae'Din changed tracks. "You say that the Roknal came from Federation space, and that the crew of Voyager are responsible for the warp core overload. How can you prove such an accusation?"

Kal'Nak's head dipped slightly. "I... have no hard evidence that the Starfleet crew sabotaged the ship." Then his head raised again, resolutely. "But our sensors confirmed the course the ship was taking."

"What if I were to tell you that our sensors did not track the ship all the way back to the border of Federation space?"

"I'd say you would have to prove it to me."

"Indeed I will." She turned around. "Mr. Farland, if you would, please."

Farland touched his commbadge and spoke into it as Rae'Din turned to Bil'Hik. "Arbitrator, would you please tie in our planetary sensor array to the screen here?"

He tapped a few buttons and the screen showed a sensor overlay of the planet and surrounding space as the defense advocate spoke to the colonel. "Do you detect anything in the general vicinity of the star of Heyda?"

Kal'Nak examined the screen. Please focus the array there, Arbitrator." The screen zoomed in on the area. "No, we do not. What are we looking for?"

"Just give it a moment or two."

Everybody looked at the screen expectantly as a pregnant pause elapsed. Then a blinking red dot appeared between Theta Omega and the planet Kilef, and everybody in the gallery gasped. Just as suddenly, it disappeared.

"How far away from Heyda was that red dot, Colonel?"

"About four-and-a-half million rodons."

"I submit to the court that the distance Colonel Kal'Nak described is our sensor array's extreme range, and that the red sensor image was a probe previously launched by Mr. Farland from the Blue Nile to prove my point."

Bra'Dod shot to his feet. "Protest, Arbitrator. This is impossible. The range of our sensor array is much greater. The Federation is allied with a race called The Klingons. They have the ability to cloak anything and hide it from sensors. One of the defense's expert testifiers is a Klingon."

Rae'Din said, "If you don't believe me, then focus the telescope at the Han'Meg observatory on the area in dispute."

"Protest reversed," Bil'Hik said as he opened a comlink to the observatory on Kilef's night side and ordered the telescope trained on the area. The image from the camera was put side-by-side on the court viewscreen with the sensor readout as the observatory's astronomers moved the telescope into position. The names of the stars were displayed next to them as they entered the field of view and left. Finally, after less than a minute, the yellow giant labeled Heyda entered the picture, and the telescope zoomed in to its right to avoid overloading the camera's image with bright light.

"Thank you, Arbitrator," Rae'Din said as she turned to Farland and nodded.

Farland tapped his commbadge again and spoke. Another pause elapsed as all attention was riveted on the screen.

Suddenly, a small craft appeared on the right side of the camera image, running lights blinking.

Rae'Din turned to the jury. "Please note that this Federation probe is not within our sensor range."

The probe slowly began getting larger in the camera image, indicating that it was getting closer. The red dot reappeared on the sensor readout. Farland whispered some more in his commbadge, and the probe began zigzagging back and forth in the telescope image, with the red dot mirroring its movements.

Rae'Din walked back to the dais and said, "Does this prove to you, Colonel, that our sensor range is not as great as you thought it was?"

Kal'Nak seemed to deflate slightly, as if dreading what he was about to say. "Yes, it does."

"Then it would seem that we did not track the Roknal all the way back to the Federation border, but actually only a few thousand rodons short of Heyda. I have nothing further for this testifier, Arbitrator."

Ra'Din walked back to the defense area as Bra'Dod rose.

Bil'Hik said, "Does the prosecution have any more testifiers, Advocate?"

Bra'Dod said, "I do not, Arbitrator. The prosecution rests."

"I will now hear closing statements. Since the defense presented their witnesses first, the prosecution will now go first in accordance with the shaman's tradition."

Bra'Dod rose and approached the jury box. "Our first contact with alien life was with the Jefard almost 100 solars ago. They talked of friendship at first. Over the years, they have proven to be aggressive adversaries, bent on killing any life they encounter, and in a single stroke destroyed our moon, nearly devastating our planet. If it weren't for our planetary shield and weather control system, we more than likely would have been murdered by the Jefard.

"Then the Federation came around 20 solars ago in the form of Jean-Luc Picard and the starship Stargazer with its talk of friendship. Dare we embrace such talk after the Jefard pledged the same thing? I submit to you that the Federation is not to be trusted, especially after the case presented with the Roknal. They are a warlike alien race, not to be trusted, and the only thing we can do to properly defend ourselves is strike back with the only weapon available. Convict the crew of the starship Voyager, and as they are executed for their crimes, we will send a message back to our adversaries stating in no uncertain terms that we are not to be trifled with!" The advocate pounded his fist on the wooden railing for emphasis, then turned back to his chair.

Rae'Din stood and also approached the jury box. "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I submit that the prosecution, while having made some significant points, have not proven their case against the crew of the starship Voyager beyond a reasonable doubt. He has played up our partially justified paranoia, but we all need to remember that there are trustworthy people. I know that trust is earned, not bestowed, but I must remind you that the technology of the starships Stargazer and Voyager is significantly higher than that of the Jefard. They could have laid waste to our planet, even with our shield. But neither starship has made such threats as the Jefard have.

"Captain Chakotay and his crew have voluntarily submitted to our justice system, and could have resisted when the Roknal's warp core was about to breach. Instead, they were willing to lay down their lives with us if it hadn't been for the timely intervention of our tractor drone.

"We have disproved the prosecution's contention that the crew of the starship Voyager were allied with the Jefard. We have explained how the Jefard blood got onto the person of Lieutenant Harry Kim. Captain Chakotay could have ordered resistance when the members of the Contingent beamed aboard his vessel, but he did not. Frankly, the prosecution no longer has a case. Please find the accused members of the Voyager crew not guilty. We must evolve from our mind-set of mistrust that the Jefard have placed. Thank you."

As Rae'Din sat, the arbitrator said, "We are in recess until the jury deliberates and finds its verdict." He then stood and walked into his chambers behind the dais, then everybody in the gallery slowly filed out of the courtroom.

Farland turned to Rae'Din and said, "How long do you think the deliberations will take?"

"I'm sure it can be predicted on your planet just as accurately as it can on yours," she said.

"Meaning it can't," Kaz said. "It's the same on Trill."

Farland and Chakotay nodded in agreement.

Harry spoke. "Do you think the jury will be on our side?"

"Honestly," the advocate said, "after hearing about the Maquis and the Dominion War, as well as the colonel's revelation of Starfleet and the Federation being one and the same, it could go either way, since we tried to keep both organizations separate in order to maintain the objectivity of Mr. Farland's team."

"Do you regret doing it now?" Chakotay asked.

"I'd do it again, given the option."

Suddenly, a red glow bathed the courtroom. Everybody looked at the courtroom screen, which showed that the probe launched from the Blue Nile had exploded. A second later, red dots began appearing on the planetary sensor readout. After a few seconds, more than twenty had appeared, and were heading toward the planet at high speed.

Farland tapped his commbadge. "Farland to Blue Nile. One to beam up."As the transporter activated, Kal'Nak began speaking into his wrist comm.

Harry said, "Captain, we have to get back to Voyager!"

"Not until the verdict, Harry."

"But Voyager's a sitting duck!"

Chakotay's mouth was a grim line. "I'm sorry, but right now, there's nothing we can do."

:---:

"Lieutenant!" Patel exclaimed as she put the sensor readout on the viewscreen.

Tare looked at the inbound vessels from the captain's chair. The Aric guard in the exec's chair said, "What are they?"

"Twenty vessels approaching at warp nine." She looked at Tare. "All Jefard."

Tare looked at Patel, and a wordless exchange was expressed. Patel tapped a few buttons and said, "Ready."

The command terminal unfolded next to Tare's seat. She pressed a button, and the bosun's whistle sounded. "Tare to all Voyager personnel. Code four. Repeat, code four." Tare then stood up.

The Aric warden deputy stood as well, drew his weapon and said, "Explain 'code four' to me."

"It means four things. First, all communications to and from this vessel are now blocked. Second, ship's shields have been raised, and force fields have been erected around the bridge and engineering, so nobody can get in or out. Third, it means 'repel all boarders'." Tare punched the man in the face, and he went down on the deck. He aimed his weapon and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. Tare continued. "Fourth, all energy weapons are suppressed, so those won't work." Tare got into a defensive crouch as Patel slugged it out with the guard near ops. The other crew at the helm, tactical and engineering consoles also joined in the fight.

:—--:

Farland stepped off the transporter pad on the bridge of the Blue Nile. "Yellow alert. Status, K'Rul?"

The yellow alert lights flashed as K'Rul said, "I've only been able to partially reverse-engineer the Jefard dampening weapon. I can take their energy weapons down, but not their photonic missiles."

"Not their shields?"

"It's a completely different energy system."

"Then let's hope they're in a mood to talk. Ready the dampener on my order. Open a channel, Mr. Tyl."

"Hailing frequencies open, Jess."

The image of a man with intense, burning eyes and multiple, blood red facial tattoos depicting scenes of violence and mutilation appeared. "This is Jizz of the Jefard vessel Bloodlust. Whom am I addressing?"

"This is Jess Farland of the Federation starship Blue Nile. Please state your intentions."

Jizz smiled in a predatory way that sent shivers up and down Farland's spine. "My intentions?" He laughed, and Farland could hear other people laughing from other people on Jizz's end of the transmission. "My intentions, Jess Farland, are to kill every living thing in this star system, ending with you." On that last word, Jizz pointed at Farland.

Pulaski looked at Jizz's fingers and saw scars on them. She whispered into Farland's ear. "The scars on his fingers are consistent with his hand slipping around a double-serrated blade while the knife was slick with blood."

Farland nodded acknowledgment and continued addressing Jizz. "Is there any way to talk you out of doing that?"

Jizz laughed again. "You may try, but that will only delay the inevitable."

"May we agree to the exchange of technologies in the interest of peace?"

"What technologies could you possibly have that will replace our need to kill?"

"We have the ability to create life-like holograms programmable to behave any way you want."

"Programmable? We have tried that, but it just does not give us the same thrill as inflicting pain and killing for real."

"Surely we can come to some accord and spare the lives of everybody in this system."

"The only accord we are interested in is the unconditional surrender of yourselves and the Aric."

"You killed the crew of the Aric ship, didn't you?"

Jizz closed his eyes, apparently reliving the murders. "Yes, and it was marvelous. I must do it again."

"You are not allied with Starfleet, are you?"

"Why would we ally with our prey? Such an act would be counterproductive at best, and contrary to our policy of xenocide at worst."

"Then you are under arrest in the name of the United Federation of Planets and the Aric Global Security Contingent."

Jizz grinned wolfishly. "On what charge?"

"We'll start with murder and attempted vehicular genocide."

Jizz laughed again. "I have changed my mind, Jess Farland. I am now going to kill you first." He turned to somebody offscreen. "Activate the dampener!" The transmission ended.

Farland suddenly remembered Chakotay's words.

There are some people who only understand the sword.

Farland dreaded uttering these next words.

"Red Alert."

:—--:

Vorik nerve-pinched an Aric guard as alarms went off in Engineering. He stumbled over a crewmate grappling with another guard as he ran to a console and looked at it. He tapped his commbadge. "Engineering to bridge. We've lost warp and impulse engines as well as phasers and photon torpedoes. The Jefard are jamming us."

Tare responded breathlessly. "Do we still have shields?"

"Affirmative, but we can't repair anything as long as that dampening field remains operative."

"Then I hope K'Rul's plan works until we're in a position to come up with a solution."

:—--:

Tyl and K'Rul worked at their consoles, readying them for battle. Dr. Pulaski sat in the starboard chair near the medkit.

Suddenly, sparks flew from some of the consoles. "Report!"

"They hit us with their dampening weapon!" K'Rul said, "Phasers, photon torpedoes, plus warp and impulse engines are off-line! I can't get them back until the dampening field is deactivated by the Jefard!"

"Then send our own dampening field."

K'Rul pressed a few buttons. "On-line."

Tyl looked at his readouts. "Their phasers are off-line. They're preparing photonic missiles."

"Evasive maneuvers. I don't want to end up like the captain of the Roknal."

"Right. Blunt-force trauma to the head," Dr. Pulaski said.

Farland braced himself as the Blue Nile swung hard to port, and the planet hove into view. Farland looked at the ring system and said, "Blunt-force trauma... K'Rul, what systems are still on-line?"

"Thrusters only. Shields are still at full."

"What about the tractor beam?"

K'Rul tapped at her buttons. "Still on-line."

"Tyl, set a course for the rings. Lock the tractor beam onto a good-size chunk that the emitters can handle with some tight, extended maneuvering."

"Batter up!" Tyl exclaimed with a smile.

Farland wondered how Tyl could be familiar with an old baseball reference as the runabout tractored a big chunk of Kilef's destroyed moon and headed back into the fray.

Tyl kept his eyes on the tactical readout as he maneuvered the Blue Nile into swatting a Jefard ship with the moon rock, then another.

"They're launching missiles!" K'Rul called out.

Tyl positioned the asteroid between the missiles and the runabout, and the projectiles exploded on the surface. "Hah! This is the most fun I've had in years!" he yelled as he caved in the bridge of another Jefard ship.

:—--:

Tare kicked the guard in the chest, and he stumbled backward into the captain's chair. She reached down, grabbed him by the collar with both hands and lifted him up. "That's not your seat." With that, she gave him a right cross and he sprawled on the deck, unconscious. She glanced around the bridge and saw that the other crew had taken care of their guards as well. "Lower the force field. Get them into the conference room and raise it again. Quickly!"

After they muscled the guards into the observation lounge, Tare looked at the screen and saw the Blue Nile smash a Jefard ship with an asteroid. The ship lost shields, started venting atmosphere, and then got walloped again.

"Devi, is the tractor beam online?"

Patel checked her console. "Affirmative."

Tare leapt into the chair at the helm console. "Setting course for the ring system. Lock onto an asteroid that the emitter can handle."

"Got one. Bearing oh three two, mark eight. Tractor beam enabled and locked."

"Then let's brain some Jefard," Tare said as she sent Voyager into the fight.

:—--:

Tyl noticed that Voyager had batted a Jefard vessel toward them. He said, "Tennis anyone?" and hit it back.

As Voyager struck it again, Tyl said, "I think Tare is enjoying this."

The Blue Nile sent it hurtling back, but as Tare hit it again, Voyager was struck amidships by a pair of photonic missiles, reducing the starship's shields.

"Okay, game's over," Tyl said as he knocked the ship toward the vessel that launched the missiles. The last of the first ship's shields gave out on the way, and as the two vessels collided, the first ship's warp engines caved in, causing them to explode and take out the shields of the second vessel. Voyager smacked it while it was in the process of launching more missiles, and the resulting explosion destroyed the second ship in bright color.

:—--:

"Shields at 47 percent!" Patel said. "Why are we getting hit by photonic missiles and the Blue Nile remains untouched? Is it because it's a smaller ship?"

"Yes, but that's not all," Tare said as she concentrated on hitting another Jefard ship, "She's got an Adiimi at the helm. They have better hand-eye coordination and faster reflexes, but I'm giving Tyl a run for his money."

Voyager swung around and belted another Jefard vessel with its asteroid, sending the craft spinning toward the planet. Once it met the planetary shield, the ship's shields overloaded and burned out. The Jefard then limped back into the fight and launched missiles.

"Missile launch!" Patel said as she tried to keep track of the fight. Tare wasn't quick enough to block or dodge the locked projectiles. Sparks flew over the vacant captain's chair. "Boy! I'm glad you weren't sitting there! Shields are now at 35 percent!" Her console emitted a warning tone. "Tractor emitter integrity at 75 percent!"

Tare tapped buttons at her console and brought Voyager around for another strike. "We can't keep this up much longer!"

:---:

"How much longer can we keep this up?" Tyl asked as he swung the Blue Nile up and over the asteroid's center of gravity, then used the momentum to strike another Jefard vessel. "There's too many of them!"

"Tractor emitter integrity is failing," K'Rul said, "All of the Aric vessels have been affected by the Jefard dampener. They can't assist us." She pressed buttons, trying to boost the integrity of the emitter. A tone issued from her console. "A Jefard vessel has missile lock on us."

"Can you break the lock for just a second?" Tyl said.

"I'll try a thoron burst." She readied the Bussard collectors for the burst as another tone sounded. "Missiles have been launched!"

Tyl steered the Blue Nile toward a Jefard vessel that broke and ran. "Wait for it..." The starships closed distance. "Now!" He swung the runabout out of the way, using the asteroid's center of gravity again.

K'Rul triggered the thoron burst and examined her console. "Lock is broken!" Her readout flashed some data. "Missiles have reacquired!" She then smiled. "They've locked onto the other Jefard vessel!"

The missiles slammed into the other Jefard ship's aft shields. The light from its warp engines stuttered, then blinked out. The ship then began to drift.

An insistent alarm sounded from K'Rul's console. "Warp ingress! Two large vessels on sensors!"

"That better not be more Jefard," Farland said.

K'Rul looked up, a smile on her face. "No, it's not."

The comm crackled to life. "This is Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Federation starship U.S.S. Enterprise. Power down your weapons, Jefard vessels. Your dampener won't work on us."

A warning tone sounded from K'Rul's station. "All of the Jefard vessels are standing down except for one of them. It's powering its warp engines," She tapped buttons. "Oh, no! It's aiming at Voyager!"

Farland heard two Federation sports references come from Tyl in the last ten minutes that seemed to last an eternity. A lot depends on his knowing this one. He sat in the port chair, behind the helm, then leaned forward so he would be heard without question. "Tyl! Discus!"

Tyl's golden face froze for a second, then he smiled. He tapped buttons on his helm console, and the Blue Nile started spinning on its Y axis. The centrifugal force threatened to pin them to the walls, so Farland, Pulaski and K'Rul gripped the armrests of their seats.

Sharp tones came from K'Rul's console. "Emitter integrity at seventy percent! Fifty percent! Fractures forming! Thirty percent! Ten!"

Concentrating on his console, Tyl stabbed one button with his finger, and the tractor beam shut down. The asteroid was released and it hurtled toward the Jefard ship, slamming into its starboard side and continuing through until the Jefard vessel was completely pulverized.

Tyl turned around and looked at Farland. "You're lucky I followed the decathlon at the Federation Olympics last year." He interlaced his hands behind his head and smiled. "That was more like the hammer toss, though."

The communications tones sounded. Farland opened a channel, and the faces of Captain Picard, Geordi La Forge, Akolo Tare and, surprisingly enough, Captain Frazier appeared. "Captains, good to see both of you." Farland said. "I see you managed to get your ship fixed, Barb. I thought it was supposed to be two weeks."

Frazier smiled. "Fortunately, Mr. La Forge has recent experience in starship refits. He also formed a team to improve K'Rul's dampening system."

"Good," K'Rul said, "I was having trouble concentrating, with the trial and all that."

Tare turned her head briefly, listening to Patel, then she spoke. "We have a message incoming. It's from Captain Chakotay." Patel routed the audio channel through the conference call. "It's good to hear your voice, Captain. You're on with the Blue Nile, Midgard and Enterprise."

"Excellent," Chakotay said, "The cavalry came through. My news is that the jury came back with their ruling. It was sixteen to nine in favor of acquitting."

Farland closed his eyes and sighed.

Tare said, "What, we have a hung jury?"

"Do you have to go through a retrying?" La Forge added.

"No, Lieutenant. On Kilef, majority rules in a minimum of a three-fifth vote. It was extremely close, but as you can tell by the fact that they gave the captain his commbadge back, Voyager is free to go."

"If anybody doesn't mind," Picard said, "I think we ought to have one of the admiral's famous celebrations at Starbase 319, and afterwards, I think I'll get reacquainted with the Aric."

"Sounds like a plan," Chakotay said, and Farland could hear the smile in his voice. "The Aric want first crack at prosecution of the Jefard. They want the FIS to act as representatives of the Federation during the trial."

"Maybe after one of Mr. La Forge's quick repairs to the Blue Nile, and the party, of course."

:—--:

Two hours later, as the starships made their way to Starbase 319; Farland, Tyl, K'Rul and Pulaski were sat on the bridge of the Blue Nile going over their notes when the communications tone sounded. Tyl looked at the sender ID and said, "Jess, it's William Ross."

"On-screen."

Ross's face appeared. "Jess, I just got the news. Congratulations on both your legal victory and your innovative solution to the Jefard crisis."

"Nothing to it, Admiral." Farland said as Ross winced. "Sorry, Bill. It's going to take a while to get used to your civilian status."

"It still hasn't quite sunk in for me yet, although it's been over six months." He smiled. "So, have you come up with a suitable motto for the Investigative Service?"

"Yes, we've all agreed on one. It's in Latin, and it comes from Emperor Ferdinand I of the Holy Roman Empire. 'Fiat justitia et pereat mundus.'"

"'Let justice be done, though the world perish.' Excellent." At Farland's surprised look, Ross continued. "Latin may be a dead language, but there are still a few people who speak it.

"I and Admiral Lovuois look forward to your reports, and you have fun at Admiral Stecker's wingding. I've been to a few myself. They're legendary. Good luck on your future endeavors at Kilef. I'm saddened to hear they're still not interested in Federation protectorate status. Too bad. Ross out."

"Well, that mission was interesting," K'Rul said.

"To put it mildly," Pulaski added.

Tyl smiled and leaned back in his chair. "I hope everything else we undertake is just as exciting."

"Of that, I have no doubt," Farland said.

The Blue Nile sailed through the dark night of space between Enterprise and Voyager, with Midgard watching their backs.