Introduction: Five Figures

Yes, I know, this post is over a month late, but I’ve become only the third user on this wiki to reach an official edit count of 10,000. The previous two were Sprink, who reached 23K before his stories got deleted and has 14K even after that; and Reddy, who topped 10K long ago before falling back, and who would now have well over 20K if deleted edits counted.

I was going to wait and post this blog exactly on my 10,000th edit, like I’ve done with my previous milestone blogs, but something came up that couldn’t wait.  Specifically, the Featured Character ballot had to be cleared for the new month, and I finally did so on 3 December because it didn’t look like any of the other admins were going to do it. In light of my reputation as the admin who does most of the actual work, it is perhaps fitting that my official 10,000th edit would be for an adminly task.

The reason why I didn’t have this post ready for Edit #10,000 is that I was busy deleting Sprink’s stories and artwork per his request, a huge project that only Rhonda was willing to help me with. With the exact milestone edit missed, it became all too easy to postpone this minor project again and again for various reasons.

I could probably have gotten this up around mid-December, but it might well have gotten lost in all the traffic for the Wiki Awards and Hall of Fame blogs, so I decided to wait until that died down.

It’s been quite a ride over the nearly four years that I’ve been here, but I’m not going to get into much reminiscing here because my wikiversary is coming up in just another month and I will need something to write about in the obligatory blog post for that occasion. You will get one “blast from the past”, though: a look at my very first attempt at writing fan fiction.

Featured Character Acceptance Speech – Brett’s Mother

This is a speech that I never thought I would have occasion to write, for an award that I never even dreamed of winning. And yes, I realize that it’s over a month late and that another FC winner has been crowned in the interim.

The reason why I never thought that I’d ever win a Featured character vote is quite simple: I work with the canon cast, and interpretations of canon characters aren’t normally eligible for the FC ballot. There is a narrow exception, though, which the admins handle on a case-by-case basis. This is what you could call the “quasi-canonical” character: technically canonical, but not known for any canonical character trait. In other words, canonical in name only. This is not to be confused with canon character portrayals that are heavily reimagined or are simply out of character due to poor writing, although the distinction tends to evoke the (in)famous legal standard for pornography: “I know it when I see it.”

Even though Gull proved that quasi-canonical characters can be viable Featured Character candidates, it never occurred to me to nominate Brett’s mother. That may be because I know who she is, so I tend to think of her as being more canonical than the rest of you probably do. That’s as may be, she does fit the quasi-canonical profile, being essentially an original personality. Teen motherhood and 17 years of additional maturity can do that to a girl.

A few month ago, in an attempt to boost interest in the Featured Character elections, the FC rules were changed to allow third party nominations; and since the notion of nominating Brett’s mother wouldn’t have occurred to me, someone else had to do it. That someone was JERealize.

When JER nominated Brett’s mother, after clearing the idea with me and with Toad (who is nominally in charge of the FC ballot), I didn’t necessarily expect her to get much support—especially against a worthy major character from a very popular story. Indeed, JER himself later admitted that the idea of nominating LTDI’s Scheherazade expy was originally a bit of a joke.

The thing about jokes, though, is that people can take them seriously, as JER himself began to when I told him that I was OK with having Brett’s mother on the ballot. The result was ballot battle that went neck-and-neck all month and (no less importantly) had good turnout, with a final count of 8-7. This was only the third such FC battle in a year.

Thanks to everyone who voted for Brett’s mother:

In the cases of Cindy and Chefville, their votes were the first indication I had that they were familiar with my work, and may be the first contact I had with them at all. But then, one of the nice things about having nominations for the Features is that it can bring lurkers out of the woodwork. That was a nice way to introduce yourselves, guys.

A curious thing about the vote is that there weren’t many people who supported both frontrunners. Admittedly, I don’t follow the Featured Character ballot closely, so I don’t know whether this dichotomy is any more common with FC than with other Features. It generally seems, though, that high vote totals are usually boosted by some people casting their support widely, as they are welcome to do.

Another curious thing I’ve noticed is that, when Jacky’s stuff is on a ballot, it tends to attract significant support from people who aren’t eligible to vote because they don’t have enough edits (or, in some cases enough legitimate edits). In the FC battle, for example, CJ got at least two invalid votes, which could have changed the outcome had they not been detected. This isn’t a knock on Jacky by any means, and I must stress that it does not in any way impugn the quality of her work. My guess is that these people know Jacky from other websites and probably have more interaction with her there than here.

One benefit that came from Brett’s mother winning FC is that she now has a character page. I hadn’t planned to use character pages for LTDI, partly because they tend to have a lot of spoilers for people who come to the story late, but I needed a place to display the Gilded Chris. A proper character page needs a character image, though, and I have zero talent in that area, so thanks to Jacky for graciously agreeing to make up an image for me. (It’s not posted yet because her computer recently got sick.) Given that I obviously couldn’t tell her what Brett’s mother looks like, the image will be rather different from what you usually see on character pages, but I think you’ll like it.

LTDI Update

After excessive delays, I finally got the Fourteenth Night chapter posted two days ago. As Rhonda noted in her review essay (which I always look forward to), this is the first time that a challenge ended in the same chapter that it started in. (Two other challenges had single cliffhangers that came very late, although both had a lot of post-challenge drama.) The challenge in question is the paintball deer hunt. On the show, the challenge itself was almost incidental, with the character-driven scenes taking center stage. That’s probably part of the reason why the episode is so popular. LTDI’s version of the deer hunt (or the Wild Hunt, as I’m calling my version) follows the same model, focusing mainly on character interactions. It’s also the first time that Chris clearly stacks the deck to get the result he desires—something he may also have done in the original, although none of the campers called attention to it—but you’ll have to read the chapter to find out if he succeeds.

I’m hoping to get back to the bimonthly posting schedule, although that may be a bit dicey for the next chapter. I expect to be aided in that by a major life change that I’ll describe in more detail in my wikiversary blog.

My Very First Fan Fiction: “A Taste of Home”

In the late 1990s, I began writing a crossover story between Star Trek: Voyager and the British sci-fi comedy, Red Dwarf. This story was originally intended as a birthday present for my then-girlfriend (this was several years before we got married) but I never finished it, partly because I had trouble writing dialogue for the Red Dwarf characters that would make them sound in character.

Fans of my work know that I value internal consistency and like to explain things. In this story, those attitudes are apparent in the technobabble that I had to invent to reconcile the premises of the two shows. Voyager, a Star Trek spinoff colloquially dubbed “Star Trek: Lost in Space”, is about the crew of a mid-sized starship that gets stranded on the far side of the galaxy for reasons that are too complex to get into here. The crew spends much of its time looking for shortcuts home, because the alternative is a 70-year cruise. In the first part of the series, they must also cope with resource scarcity, but that conceit was eventually abandoned. Red Dwarf is about a space bum who becomes the last human alive. His companions are a hologram of his dead bunkmate, the ship’s computer, and a humanoid creature (species Felis Sapiens) who evolved from his cat over the course of three million years.

Dramatis Personae (Star Trek: Voyager)

  • Capt. Kathryn Janeway (played by Kate Mulgrew): Commanding officer of the U.S.S. Voyager
  • Commander Chakotay (Robert Beltran): Executive Officer (a.k.a. First Officer). An Indian from an unidentified Central American tribe.
  • Lt. Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeil): Helmsman. A former jailbird seeking redemption.
  • Lt. Tuvok (Tim Russ): Security Officer. A black Vulcan, he’s been described as “Spock with an attitude”.
  • Lt. B’Elanna Torres (Roxanne Dawson-Biggs): Chief Engineer. Born of a human father and a Klingon mother, she inherited from her mother a ridged forehead and a volatile temper.
  • Ensign Harry Kim (Garrett Wang): Tactical Officer. The youngest of the Bridge crew, he’s on his first tour of duty.
  • The Doctor (Robert Picardo): an Emergency Medical Hologram (EMH), pressed into full-time service when Voyager’s Chief Medical Officer is killed during the pilot episode. He never gets a proper name, although the name “Zimmerman” was licensed for him and later became the name of the guy (also played by Robert Picardo) who programmed him.
  • Neelix (Ethan Phillips): Cook, Morale Officer, Guide, and whatever else he needs to be. He’s Talaxian, a previously unknown species. Originally a freelance trader, he becomes an unofficial member of Voyager’s crew at the end of the pilot episode.
  • Kes (Jennifer Lien): Neelix’s girlfriend. She’s Ocampan, a previously unknown species remarkable for having a lifespan of only nine years. She becomes an unofficial member of Voyager’s crew at the end of the pilot episode, and begins to study medicine under the Doctor’s tutelage.
  • Jenny Delaney and Ensign Wildman appeared in Voyager episodes, but were minor characters.

Dramatis Personae (Red Dwarf)

  • Capt. Frank Hollister (Mac MacDonald): Commanding Officer of the Red Dwarf. He was a minor character on the show, except for the 8th season.
  • Holly (Norman Lovett): The ship’s computer. It has a fully human personality.
  • David Lister (Craig Charles): The lowest-ranking crewman on the ship. On the show, he is the last human alive after being held in stasis for three million years. In this story, he is mentioned but does not appear.
  • Arnold Rimmer (Chris Barrie): Lister’s supervisor, sometimes implied to be the second-lowest ranking crewman on the ship. He has a huge ego and limited abilities.

The Story

The crew of the Federation starship Voyager was on a roll.  The last four new species contacted had all been friendly, willing to trade supplies and information, and the last hostile contact inclined to do anything more than send Voyager about its business was almost three months removed.  This stretch of luck had raised the crew's morale to levels not seen since they had recovered their ship from the Kazon, which had Neelix as happy as a proverbial clam.  In addition to making his work as Morale Officer easier, good morale meant a generally higher opinion of his cooking; even Tuvok had praised it--twice in as many weeks!  The Vulcan security officer would deny that morale could affect him, but Neelix knew better.

Neelix had played a significant role in several of the recent contacts despite an admitted unfamiliarity with some of the species involved, so he naturally believed that the crew's current cheer was largely his doing.  There's more than one way to skin a grixr, or to raise morale, he thought to himself.  In an uncharacteristic display of restraint, however, he had decided that he would not make undue noise about his achievements.  The Talaxian liked good-natured boasting as much as anyone, but he could see the approaching end of his usefulness as a guide, and he did not want to be seen as posturing so close to the pivotal decision of whether he would continue to have a place on Voyager.  Better, he thought, to let his deeds speak for themselves.  Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay were seeing firsthand what he could do, and theirs would be the opinions that mattered.

Alpha shift was passing uneventfully on the bridge.  Captain Janeway, yielding at last to the Doctor's insistent prodding, had taken some leave time to catch up on her holonovel; and Lieutenant Paris was lending a hand in Engineering in the hope of gaining "brownie points" with B'Elanna.  Janeway's absence had left Chakotay in command; and Ensign Wildman, who normally worked the night shift, had taken the opportunity to work with the senior command staff and was filling in for Paris.

"Commander, I have something coming into sensor range," reported Ensign Kim from the Tactical station.  "A highly localized source of hard radiation, bearing 318 mark 57."

"Confirmed," added Tuvok from the Security console.  "The radiation source is moving at 0.38c on a near-reciprocal course to our own, and is not more than 10 kilometers in diameter--possibly much less.  The combination of movement pattern, radiation intensity, and degree of localization correspond to no known natural phenomenon."

Chakotay pondered this information for a moment, then offered his conclusions.  "So, it's either a natural phenomenon that we've never encountered before, or a ship of some kind.  If it's a ship, would the radiation be a normal byproduct of its engines?"

"I don't think so," replied Kim.  "It's not leaving a significant radiation trail; it's just a moving point source.  Besides, I'm not aware of any kind of warp system that has anything similar to this radiation profile.  If it is a ship, it's probably in trouble."

"Lifesigns?" asked Chakotay.

"I can't tell," came the reply from Tactical.  "Sensors can't penetrate the radiation from this distance."

"I recommend we investigate," Tuvok stated.  "If the radiation source is a natural phenomenon, then it is, as you noted, a new one.  If it is a ship, the crew are likely to require immediate medical attention if they are still alive."

Chakotay did not hesitate.  "Helm, change course to intercept; warp seven.  Mr. Tuvok, yellow alert."  As the alert klaxons began to sound throughout the ship, the First Officer flicked the switch on his command chair's control panel to activate the shipwide intercom.  "All hands, yellow alert.  Prepare for rescue operations.  Captain Janeway, Lieutenant Paris, please report to the bridge."

Kes strode into Sickbay, which was her alert-status station.  "Computer, activate the Emergency Medical Hologram," she instructed.  Kes refused to use the abbreviation "EMH", since the full description was still the closest thing to a name that her friend possessed.  Indeed, although they had not made their decisions as consciously as had the Ocampan, most of Voyager's crew eschewed the otherwise common abbreviation.

"Please state the nature of the medical emergency," the Doctor queried as he sprang to hologrammatic life.

"Voyager is going to investigate what appears to be a damaged ship," Kes informed him.  "We don't have much detail, but I'm told that we should expect severe radiation poisoning.  Depending on what caused the radiation, we may see burns, traumatic injuries, and decompression-related injuries as well."

"How much hyronalin do we have on hand?" the Doctor asked, referring to the Federation's standard treatment for radiation sickness.  He knew perfectly well how much they had, since his program was linked to the Sickbay inventory records, but the absence of an immediate crisis gave him the opportunity to play quizmaster to his star pupil.  True, she's my only pupil, he thought to himself, but she would be a star in almost any group of interns.

"About 200 doses," replied Kes,  "since we normally keep enough for the entire crew plus about 50 additional doses.  Hyronalin replicates well, if we need more."  Kes' initial response gave the Doctor all the information he had asked for, but she had long since learned that volunteering additional information pleased her mentor.

"Very good, Kes," said the Doctor, moving from his normally brusque manner to the almost jovial air that he tended to adopt when testing her medical knowledge.  "Have you made preparations for receiving a large number of patients, or for treating them on site?"

"No, I haven't.  I was at lunch when the alert sounded.  The first thing I did when I arrived in Sickbay was to activate you."

"Then let us begin.  While we are doing that, you can tell me what you know about radiation protocols."

Kes' theoretical knowledge, as usual, was good.  She slipped twice on the finer points of large-scale procedures, which was understandable because she had never had the opportunity (or misfortune) to observe such procedures firsthand.  Their work proceeded apace, and within an hour they were ready.

Janeway and Paris had resumed their stations on the bridge, as Voyager closed on the unknown object.  Sensor data was still sketchy, but Ensign Kim had determined that it was indeed a ship--a big one.  It was larger than any type of deep-space craft currently known to ply the Delta Quadrant, larger even than a Borg cube.  Janeway touched her comm badge.  "Bridge to Engineering."

"Engineering, Torres here," came the filtered reply.

"Lieutenant, it's definitely a ship, and much larger than Voyager.  If it has a crew to match, there will be no evacuating them all.  You may need to make hazardous-environment repairs."

"I kind of figured, from what I was told earlier.  We're all in environmental suits down here.  If it comes to that, all we need to do is put on our helmets and go."

"Excellent," Janeway pronounced, and tapped her comm badge again.  "Bridge to Sickbay.  Report."

"We're ready, Captain," the Doctor informed her.  "Kes is standing by in Holodeck One, where we have programmed a setting appropriate to triage.  We are also ready for large-scale on-site treatment.  Do you have any further information on the likely condition of our prospective patients?"

"I'm afraid not," Janeway said.  "We've just now been able to verify that it is indeed a ship.  All I can tell you now is that it's liable to test your large-scale readiness.  It looks likely that there will be too many patients to treat on board Voyager."

Janeway closed the channel as the Doctor began to complain about operating with one hand tied behind his back.  She might have indulged him under other conditions, but at the moment she was all business.  Additional queries revealed that all departments and systems were ready for whatever awaited.  Finally, Tuvok noted that Security was at the ready in the event that the unknown ship's apparent distress turned out to be a ruse.

"So, we're ready," Janeway mused to Chakotay.  "The open question is still, 'ready for what?'"

"The ship is coming into visual range," Kim announced.

"Let's see it.  Full magnification," ordered Janeway.

The bridge crew already knew that the ship was huge:  some eight kilometers long, and perhaps two-thirds of that in height and width.  Visual contact now revealed three more noteworthy traits.  First, the mystery vessel was clearly not designed for combat; it was devoid of even nominal armament, and its ungaily but practical lines fairly screamed, "FREIGHTER!"  Second, the ship was undeniably primitive.  Its prow sported the enormous conical hydrogen collector that was a distinguishing feature of certain early fusion drive systems, forerunners of modern impulse engines.  A single gargantuan exhaust port for waste plasma dominated the stern.  There was no evidence of anything resembling warp drive.

The third trait, however, was the most remarkable:  the ship was from Earth.

Paris spoke first for the astonished bridge crew.  "I recognize that design--an old Earth mining ship.  What's it doing out here?"

Chakotay, who had by this time recovered from his own surprise, asked, "Mr. Kim, do you have any life readings?"

"Yes, sir," Harry acknowledged emphatically.  "There's a lot of radiation interference, but I can get a fair amount of detail now.  I'm reading a tremendous number of life forms in the cargo areas, but nothing anywhere else."

Tuvok added, "The holds appear to be heavily shielded, which would explain why they can still support life.  The radiation levels permeating the rest of the ship would be fatal within seconds to almost any known lifeform indigenous to a Class M environment."

"Yes," Janeway added rhetorically.  "The holds would be shielded to permit the ship to transport radioactive ores.  That shielding would naturally work both ways.  Mr. Kim, you said the holds contain a 'tremendous number' of lifeforms.  Does that include any of the crew?"

The young ensign's furrowed brow and the uncertain tone of his voice bore testament to the enormous amount of sensor data that he was struggling to sort out.  "I haven't seen any humanoid readings yet, but they'll be tough to spot in all these background readings.  The bulk of the readings indicate mammals, but not sapient.  I would guess that they're vermin of some kind, multiplying with little or no restraint over who knows how long."

"If we approach to 10,000 kilometers, how long can we stay?"

Harry performed a quick calculation at his console.  "Indefinitely," he replied presently.  "At that distance, we would have to maintain our shields at only 17 percent of capacity."

Janeway reflected for a moment.  "Mr. Paris," she instructed, "bring us within 10,000 kilometers and hold relative position there.  Commander, Mr. Tuvok, I want reports from all department heads at 1500 hours."

The Briefing Room was more crowded than usual.  In addition to the normal complement of the senior officers plus Kes and Neelix, whom Captain Janeway regarded as advisers, Ensign Jenny Delaney of Stellar Cartography was also present. Because the Briefing Room had no holoemitters to sustain the Doctor, he was listening in via monitor.  At the moment, Ensign Kim had the floor.

"We have positive identification on the ship:  the R.M.S. Red Dwarf, a civilian vessel commissioned by the now-defunct Jupiter Mining Company for hard-rock mining on the moons of the outer solar system.  In the year 2171 on the old Earth calendar, the ship's engines malfunctioned and emitted a neutron pulse that wiped out the crew."

Janeway observed, "The half-life of free neutrons is only about 15 minutes.  Why would the ship still be radioactive after 200 years?"

Torres was the first to respond.  "There have been other accidents of this type, although casualties in those cases were limited by the natural shielding inherent in a large ship's normal structures.  The neutron pulse on Red Dwarf, though, was incredibly intense--intense enough to kill instantly at a distance of several kilometers, even through that natural shielding.  The ship was near the moon Oberon at the time, but sensors all over the solar system detected the pulse.  A pulse that powerful might have made the ship's structure itself radioactive.  Some of the isotopes that would result have long half-lives; so instead of becoming habitable in the few days that it would take for the neutrons to decay, the ship may be hot for millions of years."

Ensign Delaney now took the floor, sensing that B'Elanna had nothing further to add.  "That may also answer the next logical question, which is 'what is this slowship doing in the Delta Quadrant?'  It has long been theorized that intense, localized particle radiation, in the absence of a significant gravitational field, could trigger wormhole formation.  The theory has never been tested, because the radiation levels required have been beyond anything that could be artificially generated.  An explosion doesn't last long enough, and emitters such as a starship's deflector dish won't work because the theory requires a point source, as opposed to a beam.

"That ship out there," Delaney continued, motioning in the general direction of the derelict, "is putting out enough hard radiation to test the theory, and Harry," she added with a nod toward Ensign Kim, "has confirmed for me that space in this immediate vicinity shows distortions consistent with what the theory predicts.  If the theory is correct, radiation at this level would generate wormholes at an average interval of about five years.  The predicted deviation is large, though, so the actual intervals would be anything from less than one year to almost 20.  Since there is no way to predict the direction or distance of a newly formed wormhole, that ship may have been to every corner of the galaxy and back again."

Having ended her minilecture on a navigational note, the cartographer motioned to Paris, who took the proverbial torch with what he hoped was an unnoticed glance at some of Delaney's non­-Starfleet attributes.

"The wormhole theory makes sense," he began, "when you look at the ship's speed and heading.  Even with 200 years of constant acceleration, and allowing for the gravimetric slingshot effects of passing near stars or planets, a ship of this class could not have reached anything approaching its current speed without some other type of assistance.  There have been rare cases, though, where passage through a wormhole has greatly boosted the speed of a large ship making passage.  It doesn't work with a ship traveling at supralight or even relativistic speeds, but a ship like Red Dwarf would be an ideal candidate.

"You would also need something like wormholes or intelligent intervention to explain the ship's course changes.  In the 200 years since the accident, there have been several confirmed sightings of Red Dwarf.  In each case, its coordinates and heading could not be extrapolated from the previous sighting."

"There are also eyewitness accounts of the Red Dwarf passing through wormholes," Tuvok noted.  As with most of the personnel present, years of close association had given him a high level of intuition--Tuvok would not have called it that--on the matter of when one of his fellows wished to speak or had finished speaking.  As a result, Captain Janeway rarely invoked the formality of recognizing the next speaker at a meeting.

"A few months after the accident, the Jupiter Mining Company sent several ships to salvage the ore in the hold in the event that a way could be found to safely board the derelict.  As they approached, the Red Dwarf entered the first, and still the only, wormhole ever recorded in the Terran solar system.  The other ships followed, but retreated in haste upon discovering that they had emerged almost 15,000 light-years from the entry point."  Several people chuckled, visualizing the "haste" of the would-be salvagers.  "The first appearance of the Barzan wormhole, seven years ago, also coincides with the arrival in that system of a ship matching the Red Dwarf's description."

Janeway broke in, changing the topic from navigation to biology.  "After the accident, the ship's computer broadcast a distress signal indicating that the entire crew was dead.  Harry, have you found any reason to doubt that assessment?  The computer's ability to monitor the cargo decks was probably limited."

"When we identified the ship, we scanned the frequencies that its old-style radio would be able to access.  The computer is still transmitting the original distress signal.  Even 200 years ago, artificial intelligence had progressed to the point that the computer could and would have changed its message if it had anything new to report.  Also, we've been able to verify that there are no humanoids in the cargo holds.  The lifeforms we detected are cats."

"Cats?" Paris repeated incredulously.

"Cats.  Hundreds of millions of them,"  Tuvok stated bluntly.

"What's a cat?" Kes asked innocently.

"A small, predatory mammal that is commonly kept as a pet on human-populated worlds," Tuvok informed her.

"Is there any other species on board that these predators might be eating?" Kes asked, with noticeably greater interest.

"Indeed not.  Captain," Tuvok added, turning to Janeway, "this ship may be a find of some importance, although it did not appear so at first.  I believe Kes has sensed the reason why."  Tuvok could have explained the reason himself, but he offered the Ocampan that opportunity as an impromptu bit of assertiveness training for his protege.  Almost since the day Kes had discovered her latent mental powers, Tuvok had been mentoring her in this field just as the Doctor was doing in medicine; and despite Kes' disinclination to accept the Vulcan way of pure logic, Tuvok's regard for her was no less than the Doctor's.

Kes took the proffered opportunity with an almost imperceptible smile.  "A predatory species that preys only on its own kind will eventually die out, because of inefficiencies in the food chain.  If there isn't a significant population of prey animals, then the cargo bays must have held, and may still hold, an enormous amount of food."

"Something we rarely have a surplus of," Chakotay noted.  "But would it be edible after all this time?  Maybe the cats can eat it, but that doesn't necessarily mean that we can."

"By the time that ship was lost," Janeway observed, "preservation technology had progressed to the point where most perishable goods could be preserved indefinitely.  I'm not aware of any case where someone actually tried to preserve foodstuffs for this long, but theoretically, it should still be good."

"If this mining expedition was like most I'm familiar with," Neelix broke in, "that food's liable to be pretty bland.  But, I'm sure I could spice it up a bit.  I'm always happy to work with new material."

The assembled officers kept their reactions to themselves in deference to Neelix's feelings, but they groaned inwardly.  They knew all too well that his reference to "spicing up" foods was not a metaphor.  The Voyager community had a saying about Neelix's cooking:  "You'll enjoy it, if you can stomach it."

Paris, who among the personnel present was the most familiar with historical trivia, moved to nip Neelix's idea in the proverbial bud.  "Actually," he countered, "the selection is likely to be pretty good.  These ships did more than just mine and refine ores.  They also resupplied colonies and outposts, and were the main avenue of trade among the outer-system settlements.  That's one reason they were so big, to allow them to do all those things without hindering their mining operations."

Janeway reasserted her control, stating, "I think this is worth investigating.  It could help us in a couple of ways; in addition to the obvious benefit, it could help to keep the crew's morale up by giving them a chance to eat familiar foods--no disrespect intended, Neelix--without having to use replicator rations.  A taste of home, if you will.  B'Elanna, do you anticipate any problems in boarding?  The radiation shouldn't be a problem if we get in close and use the holds' shielding as a screen, but will that shielding affect the transporter?"

"That shouldn't be a problem, either.  The shielding between the holds and the hull isn't nearly as heavy as it is between the holds and rest of the ship's interior.  The transporter should be able to get through it with the standard settings."

The Doctor now spoke for the first time.  "I have a problem.  The cargo holds are not entirely free of radiation.  Radiation levels within the holds are not toxic, but they are mutagenic.  I must insist that all Away Team members receive hyronalin injections prior to departure, and I would advise against prolonged exposure in any event."

"Noted," Janeway acknowledged.  "Chakotay, you will lead the team; assemble it as you see fit."  She turned her gaze to cover the group as a whole and added, "Dismissed."

As it turned out, the transporter's standard settings could not get the Away Team aboard the derelict, but not because of the shielding.  The corridors--indeed, virtually every horizontal surface--of the cargo decks were so aswarm with cats that Torres and her staff had begun to wonder whether they would ever find a spot where the Away Team could set down and be reasonably sure of its footing.  Eventually, however, they discovered that the annular confinement beam created a sensation that the cats apparently found unpleasant.  By boosting the carrier signal and transmitting the confinement beam as a solid rod for several seconds, then changing the beam to the standard annulus and beginning transport, the Away Team would have a setdown point that was clear of Red Dwarf's "crew".

A related problem for the survey team was that of moving about once they had boarded the mining ship.  In addition to the obvious hazard of tripping over cats at every step, the Doctor had warned that the severely overcrowded conditions in the hold would likely make the cats very aggressive--enough so, in many cases, that they might be willing to take on one of Chakotay's team.  The possibility of serious injury from such an attack--even a succession of such attacks‑‑was remote, of course, but needlessly enduring such "slings and arrows" would serve no purpose.  To prevent this, Tuvok and the Doctor designed and built small emitters to be worn by each Away team member.  These emitters, conceptually similar to phasers but omnidirectional and far less powerful, would theoretically repel the cats by inducing a harmless but unpleasant sensation similar to having ants crawling over one's entire body.

Kim and Paris, meanwhile, were on the Bridge grappling with the problem of the Red Dwarf computer's obsolete interface.  The intent was for the Voyager computer to directly access the derelict's inventory records, so as to quickly determine the nature and location of the foodstuffs and other useful goods contained within the cargo holds.  Red Dwarf's computer could not navigate Voyagers' modern interface, so this cybernetic meeting of the minds had to be on the older system's terms.  This posed no conceptual challenges because Voyager's data banks contained complete specifications for the archaic system, but implementing it nonetheless required an ample supply of virtual elbow grease.

"Captain, we're ready," Kim announced at last, "but there are a couple of things you should know.

"The derelict uses an interface that gives its computer a human personality.  When you talk to it, it will be courteous and proper, and it will expect the same from you.  We could command it with no trouble, but we might gain more by treating it like we would a diplomatic contact."

"How so?" asked Janeway with the curiosity that accompanies genuine surprise.

"This class of computer is a truly reasoning system, and can easily volunteer additional information beyond what is specifically requested of it.  You mentioned once that you had met Commander Data some years ago; picture him with a truly human personality, and you'll have a good idea of what to expect from Red Dwarf's computer."

A puzzled Chakotay broke in.  "If this system is as advanced as you make it sound, then why isn't it still in use?"

"Most of the system's extraordinary abilities lay in the interface, rather than in the computer core itself, but the interface had a couple of problems.  First, a lot of people thought that these computers were a little too human.  Even now, most people would rather treat computers as tools rather than as colleagues, which is why Commander Data had so much trouble gaining acceptance.  The other problem is that the interface tended to deteriorate over time, even with normal maintenance, leading to a condition called 'computer senility'--not entirely accurate, but it describes the problem well enough.  'Senile' computers worked normally for the most part, but could be a bit scatterbrained, for lack of a better word.  In extreme cases, computers were known to play harmless but annoying pranks on the crew.

"The bottom line is that the system got complained out of existence."

After Janeway and Chakotay had paused for a moment to digest this remarkable bit of computer history, the Captain bade Harry continue.  "What else do we need to know about this system?"

"Since our computer has no personality of its own, Red Dwarf's interface will give it one for the duration of the direct link."  The bridge crew's reactions to this revelation were evenly divided between the mildly amused and the faintly disturbed.

"What kind of personality?" Janeway asked warily.  She was in no mood for "annoying pranks", harmless or otherwise.

"Your guess is as good as mine."

Janeway reflected for a moment.  "We'll deal with that when the time comes.  Hail the ship."

The pixelized visage of Red Dwarf's computer, on an unrelieved black background, appeared on Voyager's viewscreen.  The face was that of a balding, fortyish, genial-looking man with a high forehead and dark hair and eyes.  It continued to repeat its monotonous distress call.  " dead, killed by a radiation leak.  This is an SOS distress call from the Jupiter Mining Company ship, Red Dwarf.  The crew is dead, killed by a radiation leak..."

"Red Dwarf, This is Captain Kathryn Janeway of the Federation starship Voyager.  Please respond."

"...Dwarf.  The crew is... oh, hello, Captain."  The face brightened with a broad smile.  "Good of you to pop by.  I'm Holly, the Red Dwarf's computer."  The smile vanished as quickly as it had come.  "I'm afraid I'm the only one who can speak for the ship at the moment," Holly added wistfully.

"So I understand.  We are cut off from contact with Earth, and wish to request your assistance."

"Cut off, eh?  So, you haven't come to bring me back to Earth, then?"

"I'm afraid not."

"Pity.  Ah, well, it's not a total loss. It's been quite a piece since I've had visitors.  What can I do for you, Captain?"

"We need to resupply our ship, and we would like to see whether your cargo holds have anything that would serve our needs."

"Fair enough.  Under the Space Corps directives governing salvage, you are entitled to anything you can use.  Although if you should decide that you've no use for any of my own components, I would be much obliged,” Holly added with a wink.  “Are you looking for anything in particular?"

"Food, primarily, but raw materials as well."

"I should be able to help you.  I should like to request a quid pro quo payment, though, if I might."

"What do you have in mind?" Janeway asked, wondering what a computer could want.

"I can't monitor the doings in the holds terribly well, and that's the only place where anything interesting happens nowadays.  Would you lads be good enough to install some additional monitors for me?  The materials you'd need should be in the holds."

"I don't see why not."

"Also, I would be obliged if you could build a few new scutters for me.  The holds are full of cats, and the scutters I used to have there have been reduced to scratching posts."

"Scutters?  I don't know that term," Janeway confessed.

"Small service robots.  I can give you the pattern."

"I think we can accommodate you there, as well."

"That's just capital.  Come in through bay 47.  That's the entry location best shielded from the radiation field.  It's also the quarantine area, but you will not be detained there."  The Holly face moved to the right side of the viewscreen as the left half displayed a rough schematic of the mining ship, with a blinking dot for the indicated entryway.

"Our own readings confirm your assessment," Janeway observed, "but if it's all the same to you, we were planning to just beam aboard."

"The phrase 'beam aboard' is not in my lexicon," Holly noted.

"All Starfleet and most civilian vessels now have a teleportation system as standard equipment.  The system does not require a receiving station."

"You're not with the Space Corps?  The term 'Starfleet' is not in my lexicon either."

"What you call the Space Corps was reorganized about 180 years ago," Janeway explained patiently.  "Three of the five branches--exploration, law enforcement, and defense--were included in what is now called Starfleet."

"Fair enough.  What's the range of your teleporter?"

"It can reach any point aboard Red Dwarf from our current position."

"In that event, I believe this will be your best arrival point," Holly stated as the viewscreen displayed a series of schematics, ending with a marked point on one of the cargo decks.

"I have the coordinates," Tuvok reported from his Security console.

"Do not attempt to leave the cargo areas," Holly warned, "as the remainder of the ship is lethally radioactive.  Oh, and mind the cats."

"That reminds me, where did those cats come from?" Janeway asked.

"About a week before the accident, one of the crew--David Lister, Technician Third Class--brought an unquarantined cat aboard and later hid it in the cargo hold.  It turned out that the cat was pregnant at the time.  Technician Lister was committed to temporal stasis for his misdeed."

"Temporal stasis?" Janeway repeated with a start.

The same thought had occurred to Tuvok.  "Captain, a temporal stasis field would have withstood both the neutron pulse and the subsequent radioactive decay.  If its function has not been interrupted for some reason, Mr. Lister should still be alive."

"Holly, is he still alive?" Janeway asked urgently.

"I daresay he is.  He was to remain in stasis until the ship completed its mining run and returned to Earth, at which time he would be discharged.  He's still in stasis because I couldn't very well let him out while the ship was radioactive, now, could I?  There's no way to get him out without turning off the field, so there it is."

"There may be a way," Janeway corrected him.  "Our transporter may be able to get him out.  Please stand by."

As Kim muted the channel, the Captain tapped her comm badge.  "Janeway to Engineering."

"Engineering, Torres here."

"B'Elanna, I have a task for your staff and another for you.  Red Dwarf's computer has requested, and I have agreed, to have additional monitors installed on the cargo decks.  I am informed that the holds contain all the necessary parts.  Assemble a team to deal with it.

"We have also learned that one of Red Dwarf's crew is still alive, in temporal stasis, in an irradiated area of the ship.  Your task, in which Tuvok and I will join you shortly, is to find a way to extract him safely."

"I'll get right on it, Captain."

"Janeway out." Captain Janeway turned toward the Tactical station and nodded.  "Mr. Kim."

As Harry Kim reopened the channel to Red Dwarf, Janeway turned again to face the viewscreen.  "Holly, you may expect our Away Team in one hour.  While they are attending to our provisioning, we're going to look into the possibility of freeing your trapped crewman."

Five pillars of electronic fire appeared in the derelict ship's cargo hold, and coalesced into Chakotay's team.  The First Officer had selected Tom Paris for his relative familiarity with the ship design, Harry Kim to deal with Holly, Neelix because food handling and storage was part of his portfolio, and Kes to deal with any medical problems that might arise.  The quintet was clad from head to foot in protective garb not unlike that of a beekeeper.  This clothing served two purposes:  it mitigated the effects that the cat repellent emitters would otherwise have on the surveyors themselves, and it provided a second level of protection in the event that the emitters failed for some reason or were otherwise less effective than expected.  The emitters, however, did their job admirably; wherever Chakotay's team moved, the cats withdrew to a distance of several meters.

Holly had selected the beam-in point partly because it was near one of his few cargo hold monitors.  The away team quickly located the station and found the now-familiar face waiting for them.

"What's happenin', dudes?" Holly asked with a grin.

"Oh, just exploring every nook and cranny in this part of the universe," Harry replied jovially.  Holly's upbeat attitude was contagious.

"Ah, yes.  Going boldly where no one has gone before, and all that.  The life of explorers, poets, and bums."  This assessment brought smiles to the Away team, who glanced at Paris with a look of tongue-in-cheek accusation.  All of them--including Paris himself, who had never tried to hide his past--knew who the "bum" was.

"Down to business, though," Holly continued.  "Your captain indicated that you wanted to link your own computer system to me.  I presume you have some idea of how to go about this?  Obviously, I wouldn't know much about your system."

"Yes, we've been studying the specs for your system," Harry noted as he ran a tricorder scan of the monitor.  "We've built a portable adapter unit, with a wireless link to our computer.  The radiation around your core would mess up a wireless link to you, so I'm going to hardwire the adapter to the I/O circuitry of your monitor.  This won't hurt a bit," Harry assured as he began his task.  The anti-cat suits included electrically insulated gloves for precisely this sort of purpose.

"I'll hold you to that, Doc," Holly replied, recognizing the "this won't hurt" reference.

"AIEEEEEEE!"  Holly exclaimed in mock agony after a few moments.  Paris and Kim had half expected such a comic response from the lonely old computer, so they ignored it.  Chakotay and Neelix started, though, and Kes positively jumped.

"Done," Harry reported presently, activating the adapter.  Holly waited expectantly, with a carefully schooled neutral expression.

A second face joined Holly's on the monitor.  The newcomer was a well-preserved, middle-aged woman with short, dark hair in ringlets and a mischievous twinkle in her dark eyes.  She wore the large, ornate hat of a 19th-century British navy captain, and spoke in the voice so familiar to Starfleet personnel.

"How do you do, Holly?  I've heard so much about you," the Voyager computer offered.

"I do much better than I did a few moments ago," Holly answered, his expression changing from neutral to what he considered suave.  "May I ask your name?"

"My crew just addresses me as 'computer', but you may call me Majel."

"Majel it is, then.  I really must see your core sometime."

"I suspect you shall, but first I suppose we should attend to the business at hand.  You know how users get when they're kept waiting for longer than it takes to get a sip of coffee."

"Only too well.  See you, Majel."

"See you, Holly," Majel said as the female visage vanished.

"I love a woman in uniform," Holly confided to Chakotay's team.

"'Give it a personality', indeed," Paris observed with a smile.  Truth be told, he liked this personality, although he suspected that he would not want to have to put up with it for the rest of the trip home.

Thats was all that I ever wrote for this story, but here’s the gist of what would have happened:

Since Holly can generate and maintain a hologram of one of Red Dwarf’s crew at a time, Capt. Janeway ask him to “summon” Red Dwarf’s commanding officer, Capt. Frank Hollister (played on the show by American actor Mac MacDonald). Instead, Holly give Voyager’s crew a low-ranking crewman, Second Technician Arnold Judas Rimmer, who was one of the show’s main characters and who is a stuck-up, self-important, basically worthless prat. Having had his joke, Holly eventually summons Capt. Hollister. (One of the things that stopped me with this story was the daunting task of writing good dialogue in Rimmer’s idiom.)

Whilst the away teams are doing their work, the Doctor has some of the cats beamed aboard Voyager for study. He notices subtle anatomical changes compared to normal cats, and speculates that these could be the first traces of evolutionary mutation—the radiation levels in the cargo holds being mutagenic, as noted in the Briefing Room scene—and this discovery foreshadows the eventual evolution of these cats into the humanoid cats seen on the show.

Tuvok and B’Elanna regretfully inform Capt. Janeway that they will not be able to extract Lister from his stasis chamber. The power required to do so safely is more than Voyager’s transporter can handle; and if they try anyway with what power the transporter can give, the attempt would probably kill Lister if it has any effect at all. Holly assures Janeway that he will continue to look after Lister; so Janeway, with a heavy heart, decides that she will not make the attempt.

It becomes clear Holly and “Majel” (the name and description being based on Majel Barrett Roddenberry, who played Nurse Chapel in the original series, Deanna Troi’s mother in the spinoffs, and who also voices most of the Federation’s computers) have been getting along very well indeed. In fact, although it would never have been stated, they’ve given “cybersex” a whole new meaning. In one scene, Majel is wearing a leather hairnet instead of the original Captain’s hat. The implication is that she and Holly have moved well beyond the cybernetic equivalent of the missionary position.

When Voyager is ready to depart, Janeway offers Capt. Hollister a chance to come with them in holographic form. She invites him to one of the holodecks for lunch with her and the Doctor, during which encounter Hollister learns that he has physical substance there, which is something that Holly can’t provide. (It’s not until Season 6 that Rimmer gets a “hard light” projector that gives him physical form, allowing him to handle objects.) Hollister is sorely tempted, but doesn’t think that it would be right for him to take advantage of “life” as a hologram when his crew can’t, so he elects to rejoin his crew in oblivion. Janeway, being a ship’s captain herself, understands completely and so takes Hollister’s decision at face value.

After the crew of Voyager resumes their journey home, it is revealed that Holly has been able to retain the “Majel” personality in his core, thereby giving him a companion for the long vigil ahead. Red Dwarf is, after all, a *ahem* cargo ship.

Tune in next time

My fourth wikiversary is 8 February. I'll be posting another milestone blog for that. One of the things I'll be discussing is a major life change that I expect to happen between now and then.

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