Star Trek Voyager #21: Dark Matters #3: Shadow of Heaven [NOOK Book]

Overview

An imbalance of dark matter has placed two realities in jeopardy, causing the separate universes to merge and threatening the stability of both realms. To preserve reality as it is known, the crew of the U.S.S. Voyager ™ must defy a cosmic conspiracy and wrestle with shadows of the darkest degree!
"Rescued" by strangers who may prove to be more dangerous than his original captors, Chakotay struggles to convince his new hosts of the danger posed by the mutated dark matter -- and...
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Star Trek Voyager #21: Dark Matters #3: Shadow of Heaven

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Overview

An imbalance of dark matter has placed two realities in jeopardy, causing the separate universes to merge and threatening the stability of both realms. To preserve reality as it is known, the crew of the U.S.S. Voyager ™ must defy a cosmic conspiracy and wrestle with shadows of the darkest degree!
"Rescued" by strangers who may prove to be more dangerous than his original captors, Chakotay struggles to convince his new hosts of the danger posed by the mutated dark matter -- and the killer, or killers, still hunting the villages where Tom Paris has been left behind. In their own reality, as Harry Kim loses his heart to an enigmatic visitor from the shadow universe, Captain Janeway and the rest of her crew continue their search for the hidden dark matter that could cause the entire cosmos to contract in a fatal convulsion. But whose side are the Romulans really on? And what surprising Þgure from Voyager's past holds the ultimate key to the fate of both universes?
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Editorial Reviews

KLIATT
This 21st volume in the Star Trek: Voyager series is the final volume in the Dark Matters mini-series, following Cloak and Dagger and Ghost Dance. All of the loose ends from the previous installments are wrapped up when Chakotay and Paris return from the Shadow Universe and the Chairman of the Romulan Tal Shiar learns the truth about the dark matter cloaks and wormholes from Captain Janeway. The Romulans are able to stop using the dark matter devices before they bring about the destruction of the Romulan Empire. As a result of all of the heroic efforts of the Voyager crew, the balance of dark matter is preserved in the universe and the universe is saved from imminent destruction. KLIATT Codes: JSA—Recommended for junior and senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2001, Pocket Books, 272p, 18cm, $6.99. Ages 13 to adult. Reviewer: Hugh M. Flick, Jr.; Silliman College, Yale University, New Haven, CT, March 2001 (Vol. 35 No. 2)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743422376
  • Publisher: Pocket Books/Star Trek
  • Publication date: 3/22/2001
  • Series: Star Trek: Voyager Series , #21
  • Sold by: SIMON & SCHUSTER
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 514,074
  • File size: 1,014 KB

Meet the Author

Christie Golden

New York Times bestselling and award-winning author Christie Golden has written over thirty novels and several short stories in the fields of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Golden launched the TSR Ravenloft line in 1991 with her first novel, the highly successful Vampire of the Mists, which introduced elven vampire Jander Sunstar. To the best of her knowledge, she is the creator of the elven vampire archetype in fantasy fiction.

She is the author of several original fantasy novels, including On Fire's Wings, In Stone's Clasp, and Under Sea's Shadow (currently available only as an e-book) the first three in her multi-book fantasy series “The Final Dance” from LUNA Books. In Stone's Clasp won the Colorado Author's League Award for Best Genre Novel of 2005, the second of Golden's novels to win the award.

Among Golden's other projects are over a dozen Star Trek novels and the well-received StarCraft Dark Templar trilogy, Firstborn, Shadow Hunters, and Twilight. An avid player of Blizzard's MMORPG World of Warcraft, Golden has written several novels in that world (Arthas, Lord of the Clans, Rise of the Horde) with more in the works, including The Shattering: Prelude to Cataclysm, due out in August 2010. She has also written two Warcraft manga stories for Tokyopop, “I Got What Yule Need” and “A Warrior Made.”

Golden is currently hard at work on three books in the major nine-book Star Wars series “Fate of the Jedi,” in collaboration with Aaron Allston and Troy Denning. Her first book in the series, Omen, hit shelves in June of 2009, and her second, Allies, is slated for publication in early summer of 2010.

Golden welcomes visitors to her website, www.christiegolden.com.

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Read an Excerpt


Chapter One

I've never considered myself the literary type. Well, I've now learned the hard way that when you're stuck so far from home that you don't even know where home is, in a civilization that's nothing like everything you left behind, you can go nuts without something that connects you to the life you used to know. So I started this.

The Culilann are a little bit nervous about this writing thing I'm doing. It sort of feels like I'm violating the Prime Directive with the ABCs. But the Culilann certainly know about advanced technology, they just choose not to embrace it. The Alilann -- well, suffice to say that if I were with the Alilann right now I'd be writing this on something resembling a padd, not on dried and stretched tree bark. I somehow think the captain would be proud of this.

Ensign Tom Paris paused and stretched his fingers, grimacing as they cracked. He was surprised at how badly his hand was cramping, but he wanted to get all this down. He used his hands all the time on Voyager, but he was learning that operating the responsive controls at his station and grasping a sharpened stick smudged with soot from the fire exercised very different finger muscles.

He continued: My fingers hurt, but here goes, trying to make a long story short. A few --

He paused again. How long had it been? This place, with its slow pace and repetitive days, blurred time for him. And of course, being injured for so long, he'd really been out of it for a while. He thought back to when the strange wormholes had been "following" Voyager, opening and closing like the mouths of some kind of space monsters. No one had suspected that it was the Romulan scientist Telek R'Mor, a man who lived in the Alpha Quadrant dozens of light-years and twenty true years ago, trying to find them at the command of the Romulan Tal Shiar.

What a weird tale Telek had told them, of powerful aliens called Shepherds, and of dark matter being mutated and causing terrible harm. They'd mistakenly beamed Telek aboard against his will, thinking he was in danger. What followed was one of the strangest adventures of Tom's life, and he knew he'd had his share of them. They had known something was dreadfully wrong when Neelix -- quite possibly the nicest person aboard the entire ship -- had tried to murder Telek R'Mor. It was the mutated dark matter, of course, affecting Neelix's mind. As it had affected Tom's own, as well.

He frowned, and scratched down his thoughts. My personal experience with the dark matter was frightening. It made me completely paranoid. I had hallucinations, lost my enthusiasm for things -- it turned me into someone I wasn't. Someone I really didn't like. And it damaged people physically, too.

He thought about the two Romulan scouts who had managed to get aboard the ship, the awful things the dark matter had done to them. He decided he didn't want to write that part down.

It might have been Telek who got us into this mess, but he was also the one to get us out of it. He was able to track down one of the so-called good Shepherds, Tialin. She removed all the dark matter from our bodies and put it into a small, glowing sphere. She told us that she could give us the technology to do this ourselves, and asked Captain Janeway if she would agree to take Voyager and gather up the rest of this dangerous dark matter. The captain consented. I don't think any of us believed she'd refuse.

Again he paused, and shook out his right hand, cursing. It was not cooperating. He would have to wait until later to describe being dragged by Chakotay into this strange place, injured and weak. The aliens here had not greeted them with overwhelming warmth. They had even put him and Chakotay into a pit for a few days. The "Ordeal," they called it, a sort of test to see if he and Chakotay were acceptable to their gods, the Crafters. He didn't remember a lot after that until he got better.

Most troubling was the events of the last few days. Chakotay had mysteriously disappeared and the spiritual leader of the Culilann, a gentle young man named Matroci, had died. The Sumar-ka, the villagers, attributed the death to asphyxiation. But Tom had seen the corpse before it was ritually burned; had seen the unmistakable mark left on Matroci's abdomen by some kind of energy weapon.

Paris knew he was not under direct suspicion of Matroci's death. They didn't even realize their Culil had been murdered. But the tragedy occurring on the same night as Chakotay's unannounced disappearance had made the Sumar-ka uneasy around him. The result was that Paris, who had just started to think maybe he had made friends here, was again feeling isolated and itchy to leave.

But first, he had to find out who had killed Matroci. He had not voiced his suspicions, but he was going to emulate Chief Inspector Tuvok and see if he couldn't do a little detective work on his own. He would start his investigation tomorrow. His first suspect: Trima. She was the one who directly benefited from Matroci's death. She got promoted, from a mere Sa-Culil to the Culil herself. And she was so icy and unapproachable, she had to be up to something. He tried to pretend that he wasn't pleased at the thought of spending more time with her, for cold as she was, she was gorgeous. It wasn't cheating on B'Elanna just to want to look at and talk to someone he found attractive.

Was it?

He leaned over on the pallet stuffed with fragrant ferns and blew out the lamp. He did not look over at the empty bed where Chakotay had slept.

Trima wondered if the Stranger Paris had killed Matroci.

He and the one called Chakotay had come from a strange and far-off place, been accepted by the Sumar-ka, and then the same night as Matroci's death Chakotay had vanished. She had made certain that Paris's alibi had been investigated. He had led them to the tree and shown them deep, fresh gouges in the trunk that could have come only from the claws of an iislak, and a large one at that. Smaller footprints confirmed his story of a mother and cub in the area. Still not completely satisfied, she had shinnied up the tree herself. Sure enough, there were fresh breaks in the trunk, still oozing sap, in places where someone Tom's size could have been supported.

She felt his eyes on her as she climbed and was fairly certain that he was looking at her legs. This Tom was one for the females, it would seem, though he had never behaved improperly. Trima thought she had heard Yurula, who found both Strangers quite handsome, say something about Tom having a partner back in his old life. But Trima knew that ties loosened their hold on one after enough time had passed. One day, Tom would truly realize that he was to spend his life here in Sumar-ka, and set about looking for a mate among the Culilann. She imagined he would have his pick of willing females.

So his story had been verified -- he had indeed been treed by an angry predator until the morning. But what if he had been treed while trying to flee with Chakotay, after they had murdered Matroci? Why was he still here while his friend had gone?

It seemed a sound theory, but for one thing: the reaction Paris had had to the dead body. She had been watching him keenly when he approached the pyre to pay his last respects. She had seen Paris notice the burn mark, seen him express shock and horror, seen those emotions quickly covered as he realized that no one else would recognize the mark for what it was. Would a murderer so give himself away as to react to the sight of his killing, especially if no one else even realized that murder had been committed? It did not make sense. So now she was confused, and not a little frightened.

Because of her position, first as Sa-Culil and now Culil proper, Trima could not express much interest in Tom's origins. One did not question where Strangers had come from. It only mattered that they were here. But Trima needed to know for reasons that no one else in Sumar-ka was aware of.

She went about her duties of morning prayer, placing a few leaves of the Sacred Plant in the small bowl of embers and taking care to fully open the windows. She was not interested in dying the way Matroci had died.

Her thoughts were not on the prayers she had uttered since childhood, but on the fair-haired Stranger.

She went through the day watching him when she could. Most of her time was spent talking to a bereaved people, assuring them that the Crafters had a plan for Matroci and that those left behind did not need to trouble themselves in fear for his fate. She was beginning to hate the lies. She did not even know if there were Crafters, and she certainly did not know of any plan. And yet the words of comfort came to her lips, and her people embraced her, called her Culil, called her good.

For years, she had told herself that her falseness was serving a higher good, but now she was not sure. Now, she might be a target herself, and things were very, very different.

There was a knock on the door and she started. She forced herself to be calm and rose languidly, the robes of a Culil swirling about her gracefully. She opened the door.

"Tom," she said, surprised. "You have never sought solace from the Culil before. Why are you not helping Soliss and the others in repairing Ramma's hut?"

"Too many cooks spoil the broth," he said.

Her delicate blue brows drew together in a frown. "I do not understand your reference."

He grinned. "It means that sometimes you can have too many people doing one task, and you get in the way. They finally told me to leave after I knocked Kevryk off the roof. Accidentally, of course."

Despite herself, Trima smiled. "So that was what the shouting was all about."

"Soliss is busy preparing herbal drinks and Yurula is off gathering berries, I think. So, I thought I'd drop by and see if I could serve some useful purpose here."

"There is nothing I need you to do." She was about to close the door in his face when she realized this was a perfect opportunity to interrogate him. No one would know what they talked about, unless Tom told, and there was no real reason for him to. Everyone was busy, and those who weren't would assume that Paris had come for spiritual guidance.

"Oh," he said. "Well, if there is -- "

"You could stay here and talk to me for a while. While I prepare the altar for the next prayer session." Her voice was still hard, and she could tell the offer sounded far from genuine.

He hesitated. "If I'm not intruding."

"No. Please come in."

f0

He stepped inside, a little gingerly, she thought, and looked around. His eyebrows rose in appreciation. Trima was now living in Matroci's hut. It was the largest building for an individual or family in the village, and was furnished with the finest the Culilann had to offer their spiritual leader. Pillows and rugs covered the hard-packed earth. A small table and chairs sat to the side, exquisitely carved and inlaid with precious stones gathered from the jungle. Trima, feeling unaccountably nervous, walked to the table and poured Tom a drink of water from a delicate earthenware jug.

"Some water," said Trima, handing him the cup. She waved a slender hand, indicating a bowl piled high with colorful fruit. "Please, partake if you are hungry."

"Thank you," said Paris. "This is beautiful. Nice place you got here."

"It is not mine. It belongs to the Culil of Sumar-ka."

He regarded her with steady blue eyes. "But you are the Culil of Sumar-ka. And unless I misunderstood what Soliss told me, you will be Culil for the rest of your life."

"Yes," she said, "but these are for the position of the Culil, not for me personally."

He shrugged broad shoulders. "Same difference."

The contradictory words baffled her. "What? Perhaps I do not understand your language as well as I thought."

He grinned, flashing white teeth. "Earth phrase, forget about it. What I'm getting at is, since you are the Culil, you get to enjoy these nice things, whether or not they're meant for Trima. It's a nice perk."

She nodded, regretting her impulse to ask him to stay. She was learning nothing, and he was making her feel uncomfortable.

"Do you think that is wrong?"

"Not my place to argue against the tradition of the Culilann. If they want to make their Culil comfortable, good for them."

"You are a Culilann now," she reminded him.

"Oh, no," he said. "I'm an honorary member of the village, but I'll have to get back to my ship one of these days, soon as I can figure out how."

Good, he had given her an opening. "Tell me about your ship," said Trima.

The blue eyes narrowed. "Why do you want to know about it? No one has ever expressed any curiosity about it before. Soliss said that it didn't matter where I came from, only that I was here now."

Trima thought fast. "That is true," she said. "But now that Chakotay is gone, I thought you might be feeling a little lonely and pining for your home, since you have no one to talk about it with. And as Culil, it is my duty to offer comfort."

He relaxed. "Well, you're right. I do miss it. I guess I have two homes -- my real home, Earth, where I was born, and Voyager. It's become kind of a home for me as well. And the people there are just like family. Better than family, in some cases."

Trima poured herself some water and indicated that Tom should sit. He sank down among the cushions. She sat across from him, demurely arranging her robes. She listened while he spoke. She had the feeling that he had not come here to do that, but now that he had an audience, he was unable to stop the words from spilling out.

He spoke of a "star ship," a vessel that could cross light-years. Of a home farther away, he said, than she could possibly imagine, though he was wrong about that. Of visiting so many alien races that her head spun. Of instruments that replicated food, others that shot like an arrow from a bow.

"So," she said at one point in a stern voice, "you are like the Alilann. You value only technology."

"That's not quite true," he said, and then proceeded to utterly confuse her by telling her of a friend who loved to make music, of a place called Sandrine's where one danced, of a captain who was a scientist but who loved to paint, of a funny alien named Neelix who reveled in preparing fresh-grown food.

Trima stared, completely taken aback. For her, it was a new sensation. Little startled her, but this --

"How do you do it?" she demanded. "How can you integrate both castes like that?"

"Because we don't have a caste system," he said. "If your planet is a member of the United Federation of Planets, you can partake as little or as much of technology as you like. For example, Chakotay's family was pretty traditional. They grew a lot of their own food and didn't really avail themselves of all the technology they could have. I grew up in a family that was very involved with Starfleet, so my experience was almost the opposite. But even I appreciate a home-cooked meal or skill with the arts."

Trima realized she was gaping at him. She closed her mouth and tried to summon outrage, but for a long few seconds she couldn't do it. To imagine a life where one chose one's destiny. One could embrace either extreme or a middle ground, living in an Alilann-like city with art on the metal walls, eating fresh foods but sleeping protected from the elements -- it was a revelation.

He looked at her curiously, and finally she remembered who she was supposed to be. She frowned terribly and stood up quickly.

"You speak blasphemy, Tom Paris," she cried. She didn't have to feign the trembling that shook her body, but she hoped he attributed it to outrage. "But since you are still very much a Stranger, I will forgive you. Speak no more of this obscene blending of castes among the Sumar-ka." A thought struck her. "Since I am your spiritual advisor, you may speak of it to me. But to no one else, on pain of expulsion!"

He sobered at that. "I get it, Trima. Culil, I should say. Sorry to have offended you."

She turned her back to him, uncertain as to whether her shining eyes would give the lie to her words. "Go, now. We will speak further of this, in private."

She heard him walk to the door, heard it close behind him. Trima didn't move for a moment, then turned around. Yes, he was gone. She let out her breath in a rush and clapped a hand to her mouth. What he had said shook her to her very marrow. Could it really be so? Did his people truly live like this? She needed to hear more about it, and soon.

But in the meantime, she had duties to attend to. Trima went to a carved wooden chest, opened it, and removed the false bottom. There, looking spectacularly out of place, were five items. Two were communications devices they had found on the Strangers, which looked more like jewelry than technology. Two others were weapons, also recovered from Tom and Chakotay. These looked like the weapons they were. The fifth item was a small handheld communication device unlike the ones the two Federation representatives had carried. It sparkled in the shafts of sun that filtered through the shutters, and one corner of it pulsed bright green.

She removed it and checked for a message. There was one, short and to the point. Yet another Culil in another village had died under mysterious circumstances. This made the sixth one in almost as many moon cycles.

And now, she was Culil. She sat the device on her lap, and began to manually enter a message -- quick, efficient, full of detail, and to the point. As all her missives to the Alilann were.

Our Culil was found dead several days ago, a clear mark of a directed energy weapon on his chest. Fortunately, or unfortunately, whoever committed the atrocity was clever enough to cover his tracks. The Culil's domicile was filled with the smoke from the Sacred Plant, which was directly responsible for his death; the energy weapon was obviously set to only stun. No one in the village has noticed, though I think this alien Paris might suspect something.

Either that, or he or his companion Chakotay is the killer. Chakotay disappeared the night of Matroci's murder, which makes me very suspicious. They could be the ones killing the Culils, wandering from village to village, place to place. They had the weapons, though I think it odd that Chakotay and Tom would have been able to find where I had hidden them, used them, and then returned them.

You must let me know if Chakotay was Recovered or if he fled on his own. And if the former, then why did you not take Tom Paris? I am in danger now. Please advise.

Trima paused, then recklessly continued, voicing her emotions. They are only Culilann, but they are not beasts to be slaughtered so. Matroci was a voice of calm reason in this village, and his death is a setback for everything save an increase in hostilities. Was this authorized? I repeat, was this authorized? If not, and if Chakotay was indeed Recovered, then, Implementer, you have a rogue on your hands, and no one is safe.

Trima sighed, then tapped in her signature: "The Silent One."

Copyright © 2000 by Paramount Pictures

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First Chapter

Chapter One

I've never considered myself the literary type. Well, I've now learned the hard way that when you're stuck so far from home that you don't even know where home is, in a civilization that's nothing like everything you left behind, you can go nuts without something that connects you to the life you used to know. So I started this.

The Culilann are a little bit nervous about this writing thing I'm doing. It sort of feels like I'm violating the Prime Directive with the ABCs. But the Culilann certainly know about advanced technology, they just choose not to embrace it. The Alilann — well, suffice to say that if I were with the Alilann right now I'd be writing this on something resembling a padd, not on dried and stretched tree bark. I somehow think the captain would be proud of this.

Ensign Tom Paris paused and stretched his fingers, grimacing as they cracked. He was surprised at how badly his hand was cramping, but he wanted to get all this down. He used his hands all the time on Voyager, but he was learning that operating the responsive controls at his station and grasping a sharpened stick smudged with soot from the fire exercised very different finger muscles.

He continued: My fingers hurt, but here goes, trying to make a long story short. A few —

He paused again. How long had it been? This place, with its slow pace and repetitive days, blurred time for him. And of course, being injured for so long, he'd really been out of it for a while. He thought back to when the strange wormholes had been "following" Voyager, opening and closing like the mouths of some kind of space monsters. No one had suspected that it was the Romulan scientist Telek R'Mor, a man who lived in the Alpha Quadrant dozens of light-years and twenty true years ago, trying to find them at the command of the Romulan Tal Shiar.

What a weird tale Telek had told them, of powerful aliens called Shepherds, and of dark matter being mutated and causing terrible harm. They'd mistakenly beamed Telek aboard against his will, thinking he was in danger. What followed was one of the strangest adventures of Tom's life, and he knew he'd had his share of them. They had known something was dreadfully wrong when Neelix — quite possibly the nicest person aboard the entire ship — had tried to murder Telek R'Mor. It was the mutated dark matter, of course, affecting Neelix's mind. As it had affected Tom's own, as well.

He frowned, and scratched down his thoughts. My personal experience with the dark matter was frightening. It made me completely paranoid. I had hallucinations, lost my enthusiasm for things — it turned me into someone I wasn't. Someone I really didn't like. And it damaged people physically, too.

He thought about the two Romulan scouts who had managed to get aboard the ship, the awful things the dark matter had done to them. He decided he didn't want to write that part down.

It might have been Telek who got us into this mess, but he was also the one to get us out of it. He was able to track down one of the so-called good Shepherds, Tialin. She removed all the dark matter from our bodies and put it into a small, glowing sphere. She told us that she could give us the technology to do this ourselves, and asked Captain Janeway if she would agree to take Voyager and gather up the rest of this dangerous dark matter. The captain consented. I don't think any of us believed she'd refuse.

Again he paused, and shook out his right hand, cursing. It was not cooperating. He would have to wait until later to describe being dragged by Chakotay into this strange place, injured and weak. The aliens here had not greeted them with overwhelming warmth. They had even put him and Chakotay into a pit for a few days. The "Ordeal," they called it, a sort of test to see if he and Chakotay were acceptable to their gods, the Crafters. He didn't remember a lot after that until he got better.

Most troubling was the events of the last few days. Chakotay had mysteriously disappeared and the spiritual leader of the Culilann, a gentle young man named Matroci, had died. The Sumar-ka, the villagers, attributed the death to asphyxiation. But Tom had seen the corpse before it was ritually burned; had seen the unmistakable mark left on Matroci's abdomen by some kind of energy weapon.

Paris knew he was not under direct suspicion of Matroci's death. They didn't even realize their Culil had been murdered. But the tragedy occurring on the same night as Chakotay's unannounced disappearance had made the Sumar-ka uneasy around him. The result was that Paris, who had just started to think maybe he had made friends here, was again feeling isolated and itchy to leave.

But first, he had to find out who had killed Matroci. He had not voiced his suspicions, but he was going to emulate Chief Inspector Tuvok and see if he couldn't do a little detective work on his own. He would start his investigation tomorrow. His first suspect: Trima. She was the one who directly benefited from Matroci's death. She got promoted, from a mere Sa-Culil to the Culil herself. And she was so icy and unapproachable, she had to be up to something. He tried to pretend that he wasn't pleased at the thought of spending more time with her, for cold as she was, she was gorgeous. It wasn't cheating on B'Elanna just to want to look at and talk to someone he found attractive.

Was it?

He leaned over on the pallet stuffed with fragrant ferns and blew out the lamp. He did not look over at the empty bed where Chakotay had slept.

Trima wondered if the Stranger Paris had killed Matroci.

He and the one called Chakotay had come from a strange and far-off place, been accepted by the Sumar-ka, and then the same night as Matroci's death Chakotay had vanished. She had made certain that Paris's alibi had been investigated. He had led them to the tree and shown them deep, fresh gouges in the trunk that could have come only from the claws of an iislak, and a large one at that. Smaller footprints confirmed his story of a mother and cub in the area. Still not completely satisfied, she had shinnied up the tree herself. Sure enough, there were fresh breaks in the trunk, still oozing sap, in places where someone Tom's size could have been supported.

She felt his eyes on her as she climbed and was fairly certain that he was looking at her legs. This Tom was one for the females, it would seem, though he had never behaved improperly. Trima thought she had heard Yurula, who found both Strangers quite handsome, say something about Tom having a partner back in his old life. But Trima knew that ties loosened their hold on one after enough time had passed. One day, Tom would truly realize that he was to spend his life here in Sumar-ka, and set about looking for a mate among the Culilann. She imagined he would have his pick of willing females.

So his story had been verified — he had indeed been treed by an angry predator until the morning. But what if he had been treed while trying to flee with Chakotay, after they had murdered Matroci? Why was he still here while his friend had gone?

It seemed a sound theory, but for one thing: the reaction Paris had had to the dead body. She had been watching him keenly when he approached the pyre to pay his last respects. She had seen Paris notice the burn mark, seen him express shock and horror, seen those emotions quickly covered as he realized that no one else would recognize the mark for what it was. Would a murderer so give himself away as to react to the sight of his killing, especially if no one else even realized that murder had been committed? It did not make sense. So now she was confused, and not a little frightened.

Because of her position, first as Sa-Culil and now Culil proper, Trima could not express much interest in Tom's origins. One did not question where Strangers had come from. It only mattered that they were here. But Trima needed to know for reasons that no one else in Sumar-ka was aware of.

She went about her duties of morning prayer, placing a few leaves of the Sacred Plant in the small bowl of embers and taking care to fully open the windows. She was not interested in dying the way Matroci had died.

Her thoughts were not on the prayers she had uttered since childhood, but on the fair-haired Stranger.

She went through the day watching him when she could. Most of her time was spent talking to a bereaved people, assuring them that the Crafters had a plan for Matroci and that those left behind did not need to trouble themselves in fear for his fate. She was beginning to hate the lies. She did not even know if there were Crafters, and she certainly did not know of any plan. And yet the words of comfort came to her lips, and her people embraced her, called her Culil, called her good.

For years, she had told herself that her falseness was serving a higher good, but now she was not sure. Now, she might be a target herself, and things were very, very different.

There was a knock on the door and she started. She forced herself to be calm and rose languidly, the robes of a Culil swirling about her gracefully. She opened the door.

"Tom," she said, surprised. "You have never sought solace from the Culil before. Why are you not helping Soliss and the others in repairing Ramma's hut?"

"Too many cooks spoil the broth," he said.

Her delicate blue brows drew together in a frown. "I do not understand your reference."

He grinned. "It means that sometimes you can have too many people doing one task, and you get in the way. They finally told me to leave after I knocked Kevryk off the roof. Accidentally, of course."

Despite herself, Trima smiled. "So that was what the shouting was all about."

"Soliss is busy preparing herbal drinks and Yurula is off gathering berries, I think. So, I thought I'd drop by and see if I could serve some useful purpose here."

"There is nothing I need you to do." She was about to close the door in his face when she realized this was a perfect opportunity to interrogate him. No one would know what they talked about, unless Tom told, and there was no real reason for him to. Everyone was busy, and those who weren't would assume that Paris had come for spiritual guidance.

"Oh," he said. "Well, if there is — "

"You could stay here and talk to me for a while. While I prepare the altar for the next prayer session." Her voice was still hard, and she could tell the offer sounded far from genuine.

He hesitated. "If I'm not intruding."

"No. Please come in."

He stepped inside, a little gingerly, she thought, and looked around. His eyebrows rose in appreciation. Trima was now living in Matroci's hut. It was the largest building for an individual or family in the village, and was furnished with the finest the Culilann had to offer their spiritual leader. Pillows and rugs covered the hard-packed earth. A small table and chairs sat to the side, exquisitely carved and inlaid with precious stones gathered from the jungle. Trima, feeling unaccountably nervous, walked to the table and poured Tom a drink of water from a delicate earthenware jug.

"Some water," said Trima, handing him the cup. She waved a slender hand, indicating a bowl piled high with colorful fruit. "Please, partake if you are hungry."

"Thank you," said Paris. "This is beautiful. Nice place you got here."

"It is not mine. It belongs to the Culil of Sumar-ka."

He regarded her with steady blue eyes. "But you are the Culil of Sumar-ka. And unless I misunderstood what Soliss told me, you will be Culil for the rest of your life."

"Yes," she said, "but these are for the position of the Culil, not for me personally."

He shrugged broad shoulders. "Same difference."

The contradictory words baffled her. "What? Perhaps I do not understand your language as well as I thought."

He grinned, flashing white teeth. "Earth phrase, forget about it. What I'm getting at is, since you are the Culil, you get to enjoy these nice things, whether or not they're meant for Trima. It's a nice perk."

She nodded, regretting her impulse to ask him to stay. She was learning nothing, and he was making her feel uncomfortable.

"Do you think that is wrong?"

"Not my place to argue against the tradition of the Culilann. If they want to make their Culil comfortable, good for them."

"You are a Culilann now," she reminded him.

"Oh, no," he said. "I'm an honorary member of the village, but I'll have to get back to my ship one of these days, soon as I can figure out how."

Good, he had given her an opening. "Tell me about your ship," said Trima.

The blue eyes narrowed. "Why do you want to know about it? No one has ever expressed any curiosity about it before. Soliss said that it didn't matter where I came from, only that I was here now."

Trima thought fast. "That is true," she said. "But now that Chakotay is gone, I thought you might be feeling a little lonely and pining for your home, since you have no one to talk about it with. And as Culil, it is my duty to offer comfort."

He relaxed. "Well, you're right. I do miss it. I guess I have two homes — my real home, Earth, where I was born, and Voyager. It's become kind of a home for me as well. And the people there are just like family. Better than family, in some cases."

Trima poured herself some water and indicated that Tom should sit. He sank down among the cushions. She sat across from him, demurely arranging her robes. She listened while he spoke. She had the feeling that he had not come here to do that, but now that he had an audience, he was unable to stop the words from spilling out.

He spoke of a "star ship," a vessel that could cross light-years. Of a home farther away, he said, than she could possibly imagine, though he was wrong about that. Of visiting so many alien races that her head spun. Of instruments that replicated food, others that shot like an arrow from a bow.

"So," she said at one point in a stern voice, "you are like the Alilann. You value only technology."

"That's not quite true," he said, and then proceeded to utterly confuse her by telling her of a friend who loved to make music, of a place called Sandrine's where one danced, of a captain who was a scientist but who loved to paint, of a funny alien named Neelix who reveled in preparing fresh-grown food.

Trima stared, completely taken aback. For her, it was a new sensation. Little startled her, but this —

"How do you do it?" she demanded. "How can you integrate both castes like that?"

"Because we don't have a caste system," he said. "If your planet is a member of the United Federation of Planets, you can partake as little or as much of technology as you like. For example, Chakotay's family was pretty traditional. They grew a lot of their own food and didn't really avail themselves of all the technology they could have. I grew up in a family that was very involved with Starfleet, so my experience was almost the opposite. But even I appreciate a home-cooked meal or skill with the arts."

Trima realized she was gaping at him. She closed her mouth and tried to summon outrage, but for a long few seconds she couldn't do it. To imagine a life where one chose one's destiny. One could embrace either extreme or a middle ground, living in an Alilann-like city with art on the metal walls, eating fresh foods but sleeping protected from the elements — it was a revelation.

He looked at her curiously, and finally she remembered who she was supposed to be. She frowned terribly and stood up quickly.

"You speak blasphemy, Tom Paris," she cried. She didn't have to feign the trembling that shook her body, but she hoped he attributed it to outrage. "But since you are still very much a Stranger, I will forgive you. Speak no more of this obscene blending of castes among the Sumar-ka." A thought struck her. "Since I am your spiritual advisor, you may speak of it to me. But to no one else, on pain of expulsion!"

He sobered at that. "I get it, Trima. Culil, I should say. Sorry to have offended you."

She turned her back to him, uncertain as to whether her shining eyes would give the lie to her words. "Go, now. We will speak further of this, in private."

She heard him walk to the door, heard it close behind him. Trima didn't move for a moment, then turned around. Yes, he was gone. She let out her breath in a rush and clapped a hand to her mouth. What he had said shook her to her very marrow. Could it really be so? Did his people truly live like this? She needed to hear more about it, and soon.

But in the meantime, she had duties to attend to. Trima went to a carved wooden chest, opened it, and removed the false bottom. There, looking spectacularly out of place, were five items. Two were communications devices they had found on the Strangers, which looked more like jewelry than technology. Two others were weapons, also recovered from Tom and Chakotay. These looked like the weapons they were. The fifth item was a small handheld communication device unlike the ones the two Federation representatives had carried. It sparkled in the shafts of sun that filtered through the shutters, and one corner of it pulsed bright green.

She removed it and checked for a message. There was one, short and to the point. Yet another Culil in another village had died under mysterious circumstances. This made the sixth one in almost as many moon cycles.

And now, she was Culil. She sat the device on her lap, and began to manually enter a message — quick, efficient, full of detail, and to the point. As all her missives to the Alilann were.

Our Culil was found dead several days ago, a clear mark of a directed energy weapon on his chest. Fortunately, or unfortunately, whoever committed the atrocity was clever enough to cover his tracks. The Culil's domicile was filled with the smoke from the Sacred Plant, which was directly responsible for his death; the energy weapon was obviously set to only stun. No one in the village has noticed, though I think this alien Paris might suspect something.

Either that, or he or his companion Chakotay is the killer. Chakotay disappeared the night of Matroci's murder, which makes me very suspicious. They could be the ones killing the Culils, wandering from village to village, place to place. They had the weapons, though I think it odd that Chakotay and Tom would have been able to find where I had hidden them, used them, and then returned them.

You must let me know if Chakotay was Recovered or if he fled on his own. And if the former, then why did you not take Tom Paris? I am in danger now. Please advise.

Trima paused, then recklessly continued, voicing her emotions. They are only Culilann, but they are not beasts to be slaughtered so. Matroci was a voice of calm reason in this village, and his death is a setback for everything save an increase in hostilities. Was this authorized? I repeat, was this authorized? If not, and if Chakotay was indeed Recovered, then, Implementer, you have a rogue on your hands, and no one is safe.

Trima sighed, then tapped in her signature: "The Silent One."

Copyright © 2000 by Paramount Pictures

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