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He was as unrecognizable as Dhad himself was. Both now resembled the members of the Shamari merchant class they pretended to be. There was no hint of the normal good looks of the pirate leader about that homely face now. He slipped a comradely arm about Dhad and the latter breathed a slight sigh of relief that he had remained silent. Had he confessed to the "Shamari law enforcer," his commander would have slain him on the spot, no matter what treasure he carried. There was no room for a traitor among the Ja'in. Dhad followed as his leader guided him down the winding streets, at last into a rundown stone building that appeared from the outside to be nothing more than a humble Shamari's home. The commander nodded to what seemed to be a pair of beggars, dropping shu-stones into their hands and waving aside their effusive thanks. Dhad didn't recognize them, but he would have bet a year's haul of goods that they were guards, and he would not have lost. Inside, in the cool darkness, was a jumbled collection of machines and gadgets that would have stunned the low-tech Shamaris. Lights blinked on and off; soft, whirring sounds hummed through the room. The commander pulled off his cloak and straightened to his full height of just over two meters. He lounged in a chair and reached for one of the orange, spiky fruits on the table. Biting into it, he wiped at the juice that flowed down his chin and ordered, "Show me what you have for me, Dhad." The courier hastened to obey, dropping a tiny square piece of metal into a hologram unit and activating it quickly. Then he stepped back, hardly breathing, with a desperate hope that his master would be pleased. On the table before the commander appeared the image of a ship. Its lines were smooth and sleek, the metal of its hull softly illuminated by tiny pricks of variously colored lights from within. The Ja'in leader frowned. "I've seen this vessel," he rumbled. "Several months ago, in fact. Your gossip is hardly timely, Dhad, if this is all you have for me." Dhad began to feel nervous. "But--it is headed toward this sector, Great One, and our spies report that it has heard nothing of the Ja'in." The commander laughed. "What use is that to me?" "With a ship like Voyager, Great One, you could conquer the whole quadrant!" "And how, pray, would I be able to conquer Voyager?" the pirate shot back. "No ship I have could best it, and I will not jeopardize the base for it. If I have learned one thing in my four millennia, it is caution. No, Dhad, have you nothing better to show me?" Dhad swallowed hard and resisted the temptation to brush at the sweat that started to dapple his gray green brow. "Perhaps my master has not seen the curiosities that are aboard Voyager," he said, with a ghastly attempt at nonchalance. He fiddled with the machine and images appeared. The commander leaned forward, his slitted eyes narrowing, the orange fruit forgotten. Hope flickered inside Dhad. "This hologram was made secretly, when members of the crew of Voyager took shore leave on Tajos Prime several weeks ago." Emboldened by the commander's interested reaction, he added, falsely, "Three lives were lost in getting this to you." The commander shot Dhad a look that instantly deflated him. "That, I doubt, Dhad. Who and what am I seeing?" "This female," and Dhad pointed at the Rhulanoid woman whose thick hair was pulled back and clasped at the back of her neck, "is the captain of the vessel. She is from a species known as human. Most of her crew are humans. This is her security officer. Members of his race are called Vulcans." "Vulcans," repeated the commander, and smiled. "A pleasing name on the tongue. Oh--and this one. What is it?'? Dhad could taste the promotion. "That is a half-human, half-Klingon woman. She is the chief engineer. That funny green-blue one is a Bolian. And this, Great One," and Dhad touched a button that changed the scene, "is a being called an Ocampa." A ten-centimeter-high vision of feminine grace stood on the tabletop.Her hair was long and yellow, the golden ringlets coyly hiding ears that appeared to curl in on themselves to form a point. Slim was her body, and wise were her eyes. She moved with a deep grace that touched even Dhad. The pirate leader stared, as if transfixed. "By the Makers," he breathed, "she's--" "Beautiful?" prompted Dhad eagerly. The commander shook his head, never taking his eyes from the girl. "No. More than that. Perfect. What is her name?" "She is called Kes. And," Dhad puffed himself up, about to utter the words that would clinch his promotion, "her race lives only nine years!" "What?" gasped the commander, dragging his eyes away from the hologram. "If you are lying to me--" "No, Great One, I swear! I heard her talking. Only nine years." The commander fell silent, watching the miniature woman, his eyes roving over her face, her figure. "You say Voyager is approaching this sector?" Dhad nodded. "Then we must welcome them properly. You did right to show this to me. I think you deserve a reward, Dhad. I think I shall enlist your aid in my quest." "Then, you will try to take Voyager?" The commander shook his head, his gaze drawn inexorably to the tiny, delicate girl-woman on the table. "No. I will take Kes."
Copyright © 1997 by Paramount Pictures