DISCLAIMER: I don't even own this computer! I do not claim to own these characters either. They will be returned unharmed.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: To my beautiful and wonderful girlfriend and partner, Tiff, who not only gave me this original idea but patiently listened to it on the phone and beta-ed it on the fly, laughing in all the right places and generally making it--and my life on a daily basis--much, much better.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Six of One
"What in the--"
B'Elanna Torres, Chief Engineer of the Starship Voyager, blinked dumbly as she entered her departmental domain. One of the PADDs she was carrying slipped from its precarious position and dropped with a thud to the floor, causing Kathryn Janeway, captain of Voyager, to look around, alarmed. The compact redhead took stock of the situation and made a flash decision, marching toward the engineer intending to head her off at the pass.
"WHAT IN THE NAME OF KAHLESS IS GOING ON HERE?" shouted B'Elanna before Kathryn had quite made it to her location. The sound of their chief's discontent sent the few crewmembers in the area scurrying to look busy and--more importantly--uninvolved with whatever it was that had mysteriously appeared next to the warp core.
"B'Elanna--" began the captain, intercepting the half-Klingon and attempting to draw her away from the...anomaly.
"Captain, what is that...that thing and what is it doing in my engine room?!"
Janeway glanced at the two Arbalan scientists and her own Samantha Wildman, who were even now circling the, well, trunk (for lack of a better word), scanning the growth to ascertain how it had gotten there. Another Arbalan, the Station Master of the space station at which Voyager had been docked for the past three days, joined Janeway and answered for her.
"It seems to be a mature Tof-Tof tree," she said, her voice an interesting mixture of pleasure and utter confusion. "See those pods?" she asked, indicating the lurid orange spheres hanging in groups of three. "In a few revolutions--approximately 79 of your hours--they will ripen into a golden fruit called the Tof-Tof. You crack the outer shell and eat the sticky, viscous insides. It can also be spread on other comestibles or dried into a chewy, super-sweet confection popular with the children of Ghiri IV, an agricultural planet in a binary star system some 200 light years away. The question is: how did it get here?"
Before anyone could answer her, an unholy shriek--like the sound of Terran peacock being strangled and then beaten--split the relative silence of the room, causing B'Elanna to drop the rest of the PADDs she was holding.
"KAHLESS' FIVE SMELLY UNCLES!" she swore loudly. "What the Hell was THAT?!"
Unperturbed, the Arbalan Station Master pointed at a spot high in the branches of the Tof-Tof tree to a place occupied by a relatively small multi-limbed primate with silver and lavender fur. Its ash-gray face stared down at the unfamiliar beings still scanning the tree and it gave another heart-stopping shriek.
"It's a teminara," she explained helpfully. "A juvenile specimen. Definitely male; definitely pre-mating rut. He hasn't grown his second tail yet, as you can see."
Janeway pinched the bridge of her nose. "A species also of Ghiri IV, I assume?" she asked tiredly. Would there ever be a day when her little ship could stop off for repairs or a little R&R without the entire Universe turning inside out around her?
Jeetra, the Station Master, shook her head, the movement causing the pale green vines that adorned it to dance a bit. She took a sip from the flask of water fused to her torso. All Arbalans had one; they would die without it. The Arbalans were a form of sentient plant life.
"The teminara, I'm afraid, comes from a completely different system. It's a native species of Liira Prime, the palace planet of the Duonn. Their High Poet and her retainers reside there."
"Of course they do," agreed Janeway, her tone of voice carefully even. She had a feeling that one more earnest remark from the Station Master would have her in hysterics and she wanted to avoid that at all costs. She was saved from such an eventuality by the arrival of the Arbalan scientists and Samantha Wildman. "Report, Ensign," she ordered, grateful for the interruption.
Sam cleared her throat. "Well, it's a Tof-Tof tree, alright. Daav and Piirit have identified it as the same specimen that went missing from the Station's arboretum approximately 12 hours ago. There are no transporter signatures or any evidence that the tree was brought here via technological means. There was a block of time--11 minutes and 37 seconds long--when Engineering was completely unmanned however, considering the size of the tree, I doubt that would have been long enough for someone to move it in here by hand. The teminara is the one that's been reported missing from the menagerie of Sunt Dai Ghert, the Duonn ambassador. He's completely healthy except for being a little hungry. He won't eat the unripened Tof-Tof--they're incompatible with his species--so we should consider returning him to his owner for feeding."
"The sooner, the better," agreed Janeway, nodding. "And return the tree to the arboretum with our apologies, too, Ensign. B'Elanna, I want you to personally question every single member of your crew. If it's a prankster on board, you and I will handle it." She sighed and turned to Jeetra. "Station Master, I apologize for the--well--the theft of your Tof-Tof tree and of the Duonn ambassador's teminara. If there are any damages to pay or restitution to be made, I will see to it--"
"Oh no, Captain!" said Jeetra cheerfully, rustling several of her limbs dismissively. "No harm has been done to the Tof-Tof or to the teminara. I quite imagine the tree enjoyed the change of scenery! And the merchant trader sharing the residential block on Level 3 with Sunt Dai Ghert is probably grateful for the hours of uninterrupted sleep he got. No recompense is necessary."
"You are very generous, Station Master. My people will assist you and your scientists with the transport." Janeway nodded to Samantha who immediately turned on her heel and left with the two Arbalan scientists in tow.
"That would be most welcome, Captain," Jeetra replied, inclining her head. She rippled her foliage in the traditional goodbye of her species and also took her leave.
"Are you thinking what I'm thinking, Lieutenant?" Janeway asked when they were finally alone.
"Q?" replied the half-Klingon hesitantly. Although she was completely at a loss as to why the omnipotent being would suddenly drop by to plant a tree in Engineering. The significance of the fuzzy shrieking primate also escaped her.
Janeway nodded sagely. "Keep your eyes peeled, B'Elanna. If it is Q, I want to know before he gets me thrown off this station. We need this repair and refitting time and I'll be damned if I let his little games ruin that. Understood?"
"Understood, Captain," replied B'Elanna sharply, all but saluting.
"Good. I'll be in my Ready Room if you need me." She stalked off before the engineer could reply.
B'Elanna watched her commanding officer go, then crouched to the floor, retrieving the PADDs she'd dropped before. Of all the rotten ways to start a day, she thought, muttering under her breath about Q and trees and alien monkeys. She barked at a passing crewman, intending to get her department back to work as quickly as possible, and was pleased by the relief the outburst brought. It was going to be a tough day in the Engineering department. For everyone concerned.
The next day, while B'Elanna was in her office interviewing yet another lower decks crewman about the ridiculous Tof-Tof tree and its little friend, she felt what could only be described as a nudge against her ankle under the desk and she yelped in a wholly un-Klingon-like manner. After much drama--such as the sealing off of her office and the summoning, once again, of Parvala Station's Station Master--it was determined that, somehow, someone had managed to bestow a pair of yerkits upon the engineering chief.
"Actually, they are more accurately called 'blue-green yerkits'," corrected Station Master Jeetra, smiling as she gazed through the forcefield that had been hastily erected over B'Elanna's office door. "The blue-green variety is fairly common on the recently colonized planet, BA-213. Red-shelled specimens are extremely rare and, therefore, are protected."
"What exactly is a yerkit, Station Master?" asked Samantha Wildman, present once again for the biological anomaly unfolding in Engineering. She had wanted to get in there to scan them herself but was forbidden to do so by Captain Janeway, who preferred the expert opinion of the Station Master before she would risk any of her crew.
"A reptilian herbivore, Ensign Wildman. Completely harmless--well, to Arbalans, anyway. Their eight stout legs give them stability on the rocky inclines of BA-213 and their shells help disguise them from predators, of which they have many. BA-213 is a harsh environment."
At the words completely harmless, Samantha turned pleading eyes to her captain who nodded. The young xenobiologist quickly disabled the forcefield and entered B'Elanna's office to scan the two yerkits, exclaiming when she made a happy discovery.
"They're a brood pair! Both are carrying fertilized eggs!"
Jeetra nodded, her long vines swaying gently with the movement. "That is consistent with what we know about the pair missing from our--what did you call it, Captain Janeway?"
"Petting zoo," said Janeway morosely. She wondered if anyone would mind if she just banged her head a few times against the nearest wall. Recreationally, of course. Just to clear her head. "Amongst our people, a zoological refuge that allows visitors direct contact with the specimens is called a 'petting zoo'."
"Yes, that was it! Because it is a natural area designed to look like our home world, the enclosure from which the yerkits were taken is simply called 'Home' by my people." The willowy Arbalan took a thoughtful sip from her water flask and added, "These yerkits were part of a group of yerkits confiscated from a colony technician returning from BA-213 who had illegally removed them from the planet, intending to sell them for profit. We added them to the enclosure and they live there quite happily, I believe."
"I hope they continue to live there happily, Station Master, and I will make sure that Ensign Wildman returns them 'Home' immediately. Once again, I must apologize for the theft of--"
Jeetra's foliage rustled lightly in amusement. "Captain Janeway, do not trouble yourself about the yerkits! They are unharmed and perfectly content. Besides, it amuses me that someone on our station--or perhaps on your ship--has taken such an interest in exposing you to new lifeforms. Have you considered that it might be an educational pursuit that has inspired these incidents?"
"I assure you, Station Master, we will consider every possible reason for...these incidents. If you'll excuse me, I have some matters to discuss with my Chief Engineer, who is--er--attending to some matters on the Bridge." Or possibly forcibly redecorating my Ready Room, she thought to herself.
"Absolutely, Captain. I'm sure Ensign Wildman and I will be able to return the yerkits with no problem. Please do not hesitate to call on me again should another similar incident occur."
"Station Master," promised the frowning captain, "you'll be the first to know."
B'Elanna Torres was exhausted. It wasn't enough that she was overseeing the first complete repair & refit Voyager had had since her launch, but now Engineering was apparently becoming some sort of temporary zoo! The yerkits from yesterday had put her completely on edge and, as a result, she had slept poorly. She was looking forward to stripping off her uniform and falling into bed. To Gre'thor with food. She would eat later.
"Lights half," she ordered upon entering her quarters. She pulled her uniform top over her head and headed straight for the ensuite. She carelessly tossed the mustard-colored tunic on her bed as she passed and was almost through the ensuite door when she heard a little trilling coo.
Stopping abruptly, B'Elanna turned toward the bed and her discarded uniform top. It moved slightly and cooed again.
Eyes wide, B'Elanna edged toward the bed carefully, sidling up to her shirt with the utmost care until she grabbed it by one sleeve and jerked it off the bed. Revealed underneath was a threesome of the fattest feathered creatures the half-Klingon had ever seen.
"Hyli norkas," confirmed Jeetra later, standing at the foot of the distraught engineer's bed. "A common source of protein amongst our people." When the usual Federation suspects--Captain Janeway, Lieutenant Torres, and Ensign Wildman--all stared at her blankly, she added sheepishly, "Carnivorism was acquired shortly after my ancestors pulled their roots from the mud and began to walk. It was thought, at the time, that consuming vegetable matter of any kind was a form of cannibalism. We've since evolved and our diets are much more balanced."
"I...see..." said Janeway slowly, though she really didn't. And she didn't want to see. What she did want was the reason for this continued bizarre targeting of her chief engineer. "And is the station missing any of these...hyli norkas?"
One of the fat feathered things cooed as if in response to its name.
"Not that I'm aware of," replied the Arbalan. "However, they are a common commodity aboard Parvala Station. It would not be difficult to simply purchase however many one needed from any grocer or restaurant in residence. In addition to being an excellent source of protein, they are also cheap." She looked at the little clutch on B'Elanna's bedspread. "These would cost about four ormas each."
Everyone present agreed that the cost was negligible.
After a long silence, broken only by the contented trilling of the intruders, Jeetra offered, "I could send over my personal chef to prepare them for you. They are quite popular when braised and served over a nik pod emulsion. Traditionally, they are paired with fried walsa spines."
"No, no," demurred B'Elanna, swallowing heavily. "I can't. Really. I mean, they've been in my bed and all...so I don't think I would feel right...you know...eating them," she finished lamely. The she suddenly brightened as an idea came to her. "Could I present them to you as a gift, Station Master?"
Jeetra's foliage rustled eagerly. "I would be pleased to accept these from you, Lieutenant Torres! Braised hyli norka is one of my favorite dishes!" The gangly Arbalan gathered the rust-colored bird-like creatures into several of her limbs and excused herself happily. Despite their dire fate, they kept right on cooing.
At the abbreviated senior staff conference the next morning, Captain Kathryn Janeway sat at her customary place, sipping from the largest cup of coffee the others in the room had ever seen. An old coffee-to-captain's-distress ratio, devised back in the earliest days of Voyager's time in the Delta quadrant, told them something was up.
"Before we begin with official business," she began, her voice weary, "B'Elanna, do you have anything...unusual...to report today?"
Several heads rose expectantly at the question, curious eyes tracking the engineer's every move now that she'd been singled out.
"Nothing so far, Captain," she replied, a scowl twisting her features. "But it's still early. Give me a couple of hours." The young Klingon was almost as resigned to the probability that something strange would happen to her as the hyli norkas had been to their gastronomical fate.
"Is there a problem, Captain?" asked Chakotay in the bland voice that only served to further the rumors that he was made out of wood.
"It appears a prankster has targeted B'Elanna, arranging some interesting encounters for her with the local flora and fauna, Chakotay. We've had three incidents already."
"I gotta say," grinned Tom Paris, "the tree growing next to the warp core was genius." He laughed and Harry joined him--until they realized that no one else seemed amused in the slightest and the captain was staring at them balefully. "What? Word travels fast on this ship!"
Janeway's eyes narrowed. "If I find out that either of you--"
"Trust me, ma'am," interrupted Harry, "it wasn't us. I mean, we're good but whoever masterminded that is much, much better."
"Hey!" protested Tom.
"Enough!" Janeway took a steadying sip of her coffee. "Blowing off a little steam here and there, I can handle. But our prankster is stealing these items from Parvala Station and its inhabitants and that's something I won't have. We have precious little to offer out here in the Delta Quadrant as it is. I won't have us branded common thieves or worse in the name of fun! Am I understood?"
A mumbled chorus of "Yes, ma'ams" answered her.
"Good," she groused. She simply wasn't in the mood for any more games. Who knew what would be showing up next? Everything so far had been both harmless and unharmed but would that continue? And, more importantly, just how many meetings with Station Master Jeetra could she realistically hope to survive? She guessed the answer was more than she supposed--but not by much.
"Lieutenant Torres, do you require a security escort to accompany you on your duties?" Tuvok's brows seemed even more pointed than usual and Janeway wondered if that was because he was genuinely concerned for B'Elanna's safety or was simply put out because he hadn't been notified of the problem in the first place.
"No!" blurted the engineer. Then, recovering herself, she said more calmly, "No thanks, Tuvok. I really don't need someone tagging along behind me everywhere I go." Embarrassed even by the thought, she looked down at her hands resting on the replicated wood of the conference table and tried not to blush, feeling her failure as a heated tingle in her cheeks. "It's not as if I ever see who's doing it, anyway," she added. "And it's all been harmless so far." She looked up, expecting to see Tuvok's faintly disapproving brown eyes staring back at her. Instead, they seemed to be focused at a point somewhere above her head.
"What?" she asked, frowning. She looked around the conference table and found every pair of eyes trained on the same spot. "What is it?"
The captain held out her hands. "B'Elanna, don't move--" she began but she was too late. The engineer looked up and saw...nothing.
Angry now, B'Elanna turned to the captain. "What is going on?" she asked, growling each word.
"Lieutenant Torres," answered Tuvok, "there are four three-dimensional spheres hovering in an arc approximately 15 centimeters above your head. Two are black and two are ochre, matching your uniform. Each sphere is approximately 5 centimeters in diameter. They appear to be...holographic in nature."
B'Elanna swallowed heavily. "What are they doing?"
Chakotay shook his head. "Nothing." He glanced at them for a second and shrugged. "They're just...hanging there."
"I've seen something like this before," chimed in Tom. "On the station." Harry nodded eagerly beside him.
Janeway felt that revelation did not bode well. "And?" she prompted wearily.
"Well, they seemed to be used mostly by the kids. Especially on the main promenades. They seemed to be a sort of identification marker, so the kids could find each other in the crowds."
"And were they all spherical?" asked Tuvok.
"No," said Harry. "I believe they were customizable by the user. I saw several shapes and colors while Tom and I were out--er--shopping."
B'Elanna snorted. "Read: trolling for women," she muttered and laughed when Harry's ears turned bright pink at the tips.
Ignoring the banter, Janeway focused on the new information. "Customization means there must be some sort of transmitter or something for the user to tap into. Harry, scan B'Elanna. Look for anything that could be considered a transmitter. Don't touch it or disturb it in any way. I want confirmation that these are locators before we do anything drastic." She turned to her first officer. "Chakotay, see if the Station Master is available to talk--but only on screen. I don't think I can take another--er--face-to-face with Jeetra of Parvala Station just now."
As Chakotay moved off to raise the Arbalan leader on the view screen, Harry said, "I've got the transmitter, Captain." B'Elanna was out of her chair, her arms raised to her sides. Harry was behind her with a tricorder and indicated a spot at her collar, just over the nape of her neck. Tuvok examined the spot, as well.
"It appears to be a transparent polymer wafer approximately one centimeter square, affixed to her uniform by unknown means. It is unlikely the lieutenant would have seen it while dressing."
"Assuming it was there when she dressed," countered Janeway, her features grim. "B'Elanna, I'll need a list of everyone you've had contact with so far today--assuming, of course, you replicated this uniform fresh this morning?"
Outraged, B'Elanna spluttered, "Of course I did! What sort of question--"
"Captain," interrupted Chakotay, indicating he had succeeded in raising the Station Master and she was waiting patiently on-screen--all with the raise of an eyebrow. Janeway found herself momentarily wondering how far he could get into Hamlet's famed soliloquy with some well-choreographed twitches.
The Captain turned, an ersatz world-weary smile plastered on her face. "Station Master Jeetra, I find myself in need of your expertise again."
"Another encounter with our local fauna, Captain Janeway?" Her leaves rustled in a ripple of gentle Arbalan laughter but stopped abruptly when she looked past the diminutive Human female to the Chief Engineer beyond. "Oh! Phasing locas! Though I don't think I've ever seen an individual with so many. Do you not find the number excessive, Lieutenant Torres?"
"If I could find them at all, yeah, I probably would think they were excessive," muttered the ill-humored Klingon.
"Pardon me?" Jeetra looked confused. Or as confused as a plant could look.
"What Lieutenant Torres means," explained Janeway patiently, "is that she was not aware that she was wired for these--"
"Phasing locas," supplied Jeetra helpfully.
"--phasing locas and that they simply appeared while we were discussing the incidents of the last few days in our senior staff conference. We do not know who is controlling them, how they are being controlled, or whether or not it is safe simply to remove the transmitter." She took a sip of her cooling coffee. "The one thing we were able to find."
"Oh, you can remove the transmitter at any time, Cap--" began the Station Master, only to watch, amused, as the Klingon hybrid reached behind her head to remove the offending item and placed it on the table in front of her, where she smashed it with a tricorder liberated from her colleague's unsuspecting hands. The four locas disappeared almost instantly. "As for the controller--well, if it isn't Lieutenant Torres, herself--as would usually be the case--it could be almost anybody. The device has a range that encompasses the entirety of Parvala Station and is completely intuitive to use. It was originally designed as a safety item for parents of younger children, so that they could easily track them in crowded locales. Of course, the older youths became enamored of them and claimed them as a sort of status symbol and identity enhancer."
"Is there any way to track the controller device from the transmitter?" asked Janeway.
Jeetra gave the remnants of the smashed transmitter a forlorn look. "Well, not with that one, Captain Janeway," she said sadly.
B'Elanna looked up sheepishly. "Ooops," she said.
The redheaded Federation officer closed her eyes and made a valiant attempt to refrain from snapping and killing everyone in the room. It was a near thing, belied only by the whiteness of her knuckles on the table's edge. "And I'm sure, at any given moment on Parvala Station, there are--"
"Approximately four thousand."
"--quite a few of these phasing locas in use? Excellent."
Noticing her Human compatriot's growing distress, Jeetra kindly said, "I do wish I could be more help to you with your mystery, Captain Janeway. It pains me to see you so sluggish of sap."
Suddenly everyone in the room--except Tuvok, of course--had somewhere else to look, fearing that if he looked at one of his colleagues, he'd burst out laughing. The Vulcan security chief merely raised one eyebrow.
"I appreciate your...concern, Station Master," managed Voyager's commanding officer, her voice curiously strained. "You've been...a great help to us."
"It is entirely my pleasure, Captain Janeway," replied the Arbalan, her leaves briefly shading to an orangish-reddish color, then back again. "If you'll excuse me?"
"Yes, of course. Don't let me detain you from your duties, Station Master." With that dismissal, the view screen winked out and Jeetra was gone. Janeway sighed deeply, sagging against the table.
"Did you see that?" asked Tom, turning to Harry.
"What?" asked the Ops Officer as he inspected the battered tricorder.
"The Station Master's leaves turned--I don't know--reddish there for a second. I wonder what that was all about."
Harry looked pensive for a moment and then shrugged. "Maybe she was blushing," he said.
"Blushing?" asked Tom. "Why would she be blushing? I mean, unless she has...a crush...on...someone..."
Tom Paris' round eyes met Kathryn Janeway's even rounder ones and it was hard to tell who was the more stunned--Tom for saying it or Janeway for hearing it.
"Out! All of you, dismissed!" shouted the beleaguered captain. When they had all scuttled away--or, in Tuvok's case, strode purposefully out--she dropped into one of the conference table chairs and cradled her head in her hands.
"I am not a treehugger!" she cried. But no one was there to hear it.
The next morning, B'Elanna Torres was ready. She stood, hawkish and intent, in front of her replicator, dressed only in her black tank and briefs. With a tricorder in one hand, the other hand on her bare hip, and a frown etched into her dark features, it was clear the engineer meant business.
No more hidden transmitters for me, she growled to herself. Though it hadn't been proven that the transmitter had been added to her uniform replication file, B'Elanna couldn't think of any other way it could have gotten there. The list of people she had seen before the staff conference the day before had been fairly brief and had led nowhere. What she really needed, she thought grimly, was a private detective.
"One standard Engineering uniform, parameters Torres Alpha," she ordered. There was a hum and a brief display of distorted light and B'Elanna found herself staring not at a folded ochre and black uniform but at a small crystal plate containing what appeared to be a number of...old-style traditional Human wedding bands?
"Well," said Janeway a few minutes later as she, Tuvok, B'Elanna, and Samantha Wildman all looked at the plate of rings on the replicator platform. "At least we don't need Station Master Jeetra to help identify these."
"And we have proven that the suspect is a Voyager crewmember," added Tuvok. "No other station resident is likely to have the technological capability nor the access needed for such an advanced modification of this Federation replicator."
It had been Sam who had raised the alarm on this incident. She'd been on her way to check on B'Elanna, having heard in the messhall of the engineer's run-in with the phasing locas, when she'd heard a string of Human and Klingon curses coming from the woman's quarters. Now, Sam leaned forward to look more closely at the golden rings while Tuvok reviewed the replicator's programming logs.
"There's some sort of pattern on these," she announced. She gently took the tricorder from B'Elanna's hand and visually scanned the rings. She then increased the magnification of the image one thousand times. "Stardates," she said, incredulously. "A list of stardates has been etched into the metal. On every ring." She counted the rings. "All five of them." Her brows knit in sudden thought. Five gold rings? Could it be?
"Stardates?" asked B'Elanna. None of this made the slightest bit of sense to her and, honestly, she just wanted her life back. She took the tricorder back from Sam and scanned the rings herself, waiting for the machine to sort the dates. It wasn't hard. There was a definite beginning and ending date and the list between was simply every single day between the two. "The last one is today's stardate," she said. "But it's followed by an ellipsis."
"The ellipsis indicates that the list of dates will continue indefinitely," supplied Tuvok. "Fascinating. If I might direct your attention here, Lieutenant?"
While the lieutenant and commander discussed the discoveries he had made in the programming log, Sam Wildman pulled Janeway some distance away to speak to her more privately.
"Captain, I think I have a theory about our prankster."
"Yes. What do you know about Christmas carols?"
An unbidden smile bloomed in Janeway's features and her storm-grey eyes became bluer, a patch of sky clearing after rain.
"Some of my favorite memories are of my parents, my sister, and I all crowding around my Aunt Gwen as she played Christmas carols on our antique Steinway upright back at the farm in Indiana. We didn't sing well but we sang loudly and enthusiastically and that seemed to make up for it. When she married and moved to Toral III, the Holidays just weren't the same."
Sam grinned. "Well, do you remember one called 'The Twelve Days of Christmas'?"
By the following afternoon--after they'd found the sixth Arbalan vending contraption known as a VED (Vinx Egg Dropper) on Voyager, secreted on Engineering's upper gallery--Janeway was convinced of two things: 1) someone on her ship had too much time on his or her hands and 2) she wasn't paid enough to put up with all of this. The fact that the Federation no longer worked on a monetary reward system and hadn't for hundreds of years did not change her opinion.
As the usual suspects once again stood around the VED, watching as one of the vivid green-and-yellow-striped, lizard-like creatures encased in the round, glass habitat laid another egg, Sam Wildman began to softly hum a tune. As they watched the pink vinx egg roll into the exit chute and begin its slow, spiral journey down the transparent column upon which the habitat sat, Janeway picked up the tune and added lyrics.
"On the sixth day of Christmas," she warbled, her voice lowered sufficiently so that only those on the upper level could hear her,
"My true love gave to me,
Six vinx a-laying,
Five golden rings,
Four phasing locas,
Three hyli norkas,
Two blue-green yerkits,
and a teminara in a Tof-Tof tree..."
When she finished, both of Tuvok's distinctive Vulcan eyebrows had climbed high atop his forehead in an expression that seemed to convey both dubiousness and pain. "Fascinating," he said weakly.
B'Elanna's more visceral countenance of horror was directed at both of the other women as she slowly looked from one to the other, her dark eyes wide. "This is crazy!" she yelped.
"No, B'Elanna, this is Christmas," corrected her captain. Janeway's humor had returned now that she knew the why behind the unusual incidents that had been plaguing her ship. "The stardate that the Tof-Tof tree appeared in Engineering happens to correspond to the ancient Earth calendar day of December 25th. Christmas Day. We've been so busy with the refit and repairs that I completely forgot it was Christmastime!" And truthfully, most of her crew now celebrated Prixin as their big gift-giving and bonding holiday--which was still months away.
"And this song...?" B'Elanna seemed a little green around the ridges.
"It's a traditional carol from early 20th century Earth, though I understand the music and the rhyme were around separately long before they became a single song," explained Sam. "Someone--who did not forget it was Christmas, obviously--is attempting to adapt the traditional list of gifts to what is available on Parvala Station. Who that might be, we still don't know."
The four officers paused as they considered the conundrum.
"It would have to be someone who knew of Christmas and carols in general," began Sam hesitantly. "At least enough to know where to go looking for the information."
"Someone whose duties permit them extended free time and access to the station," posited Janeway.
"Someone with sufficient technological acumen to allow him or her to transport items without leaving evidence in our sensor logs and to reprogram the lieutenant's replicator without her knowledge," deduced Tuvok.
B'Elanna's eyes simply narrowed dangerously.
"I'll kill her!" she shouted and she bolted for the gallery ladder before anyone could stop her.
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