Part 18

"What the hell are they doing?"

Henley's tense voice cut through the silence. None of the other Maquis were speaking, too entranced by the sight of several Peloran vessels through the view screen.

"Boxing us in." Chakotay heard Dalby say. There was strain in Dalby's voice, too.

"How many are there?" He asked, not really wanting to know the answer.

"Six," Dalby said.

Those weren't impossible odds.

"And I'm reading another fleet of six on their way."

Chakotay heard more than one person exhale a soft expletive.

He felt the eyes of his Maquis on him, but it was Dalby who spoke first.

"Sir," he began questioningly.

"Hail them."

"Which one?"

"Whichever one answers."

They didn't get a response until they were completely surrounded by all twelve ships. By that time, everyone was jittery. Dalby couldn't stop combing his hand through his hair. Henley looked like she wanted to start pacing again.

From another shuttle, Jarvin had already expressed his desire to shoot something.

Chakotay told him-told everyone-very clearly that there would be no shooting.

The Peloran who answered the hail was similar in appearance to the one at the border. It was immediately apparent that this one was significantly less easily persuaded. Probably some kind of military commander, if one was thinking tactically.

He could tell it wouldn't work just by the look in the alien's eyes, but Chakotay tried anyway.

In a smooth, competent tone-the one that was wonderful for explaining to border guards at the Demilitarized Zone that he was certainly not smuggling weapons to anybody and how dare they accuse him of such a thing-he began to speak.

"You have taken unmistakable hostile actions against us. We have been granted safe passage through Peloran space by..."

"Rear quadrant defense minister," Henley quietly supplied.

"By the rear quadrant defense minister," Chakotay repeated after her.

"Permission has been withdrawn," the alien said curtly. "Terrorist groups of any culture are not welcome. Your shuttlecraft will accompany us back to the border or we will disable your engines and tow you back."

"Who," Chakotay countered, "judged us a terrorist group?"

A Maquis in the back could be heard muttering, "Bitch!", but Chakotay ignored him.

"This is not negotiable. Will you return willingly or must we disable your shuttles?"

Pausing, Chakotay let his eyes roam around the shuttlecraft. There was not a single willing face there, nor were there any on the other shuttles, he knew.

But there was also not a single suicidal face among them, either.

"Willingly," he said, letting all pretense drop from his voice. "Although we must protest your involvement in something that does not concern you."

"We became involved once you entered our space. Once you have departed Peloran territory, we will no longer be involved."

The view screen went back to a view of the exterior of one of the vessels.

"We're being held in tractor beam. All of us," Dalby said softly.

"I hope you have a plan," sighed Henley.

She jolted from her seat and started pacing again.

This time, Chakotay didn't stop her.

Part 19 | Index page