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"All hands. Stand down battle stations." Bey's voice said over the main comm.
"It's over. Come with me and I'll get you something to eat." Kel said as he put Angel back into her carrier.
"I'm afraid." the youngest boy whispered, with tears in his eyes.
The boy seemed to be dressed in scraps of cloth that had been pieced together to make something resembling a skirt. He was filthy and had obviously been malnourished and mistreated for a long period of time.
"Come over here with me." Kel said gently as he pulled Angel's carrier onto his back.
The boy quickly moved to Kel's side.
"What's your name?" Kel asked gently.
"H'Ree." The boy responded quietly.
"That's an unusual name." Kel said as he motioned for the group to walk out of the room with him into the hallway.
"It was the name of one of the aliens that the Caretaker sent to us. My mother admired him very much and wanted me to grow up in freedom without the elders teachings, so I could be like him... But shortly after we emerged from the Ocampan caves, the Kazons captured us. They killed her." H'Ree finished quietly.
Kel pulled H'Ree into a casual one armed hug as they walked and said, "Everything is going to be fine. You are free now, just the way your mother wanted you to be. And you have a choice about how you will live from now on."
H'Ree looked up at Kel with wide eyes.
"Feeling better?" Kel asked gently.
H'Ree thought for a moment, then gave a tentative smile as he nodded.
"Good, because we're here. This is the mess hall." Kel finished in a voice directed at the entire group.
* * * * *
"I suppose we'd better check on our guests before we decide what we're going to do next." Janeway said frankly.
"Kel can take care of them for a minute. I'd like to discuss what just happened." Paris said slowly.
"What's that?" Janeway asked curiously.
"You just gave the order to destroy three ships." Paris said as he looked her in the eyes.
"And?" Janeway asked cautiously.
"Captain, I believe Paris is voicing his concern that your Klingon personality traits may have caused you to take more extreme action than was warranted." Kim said logically.
Paris glanced at Kim, then nodded in agreement.
"I see. So you believe that I'm unfit for command?" Janeway asked carefully, not revealing any emotion in the question.
"No. I'm wanting to be sure that we're not going to be moving across the Delta quadrant destroying anyone who crosses our path. I know we're not behaving as a Starfleet crew, but we aren't a band of pirates either." Paris said slowly.
Janeway considered the words for a moment and reflected on what had just happened.
Everyone waited to see what her reaction was going to be.
Finally she seemed to come to a decision and looked around at all the serious faces.
"Thank you for bringing this concern to my attention. I'll try to keep it in mind when we face our next opponent." Janeway said carefully.
"Thank you. That's all I was asking." Paris said with a smile.
Janeway smiled in return and said, "Thank you, all of you. Even though you might have questioned my choices at the time, you followed my orders and brought this to me when the matter was concluded. That shows me that you trust me, and I'm going to work very hard to be worthy of that trust."
"Before you start working on that, I think you have someone in Engineering that you need to talk to. We can handle things here for a while." Paris said with a smirk.
"Agreed. Paris, you have the bridge. I need to have a 'talk' with my fiancée..." Janeway finished with a dark Klingon growl, then left the room.
"I wouldn't want to be Carey right now." Bey said frankly.
Paris nodded his agreement, then said, "Check on Kel and find out if we're going to be going to the Ocampan home world."
Bey nodded and pressed his comm.
* * * * *
Kel led the group into the mess hall and motioned for them to take seats at the tables.
"Stay here and I'll see if anyone is in the kitchen to prepare you food." Kel said quickly.
The group looked at each other as Kel peeked through the door at the far side of the room.
"I'm sure someone will be here in just a minute." Kel said as he returned to the group gathered around two tables.
"Are you forbidden access to the food?" The oldest girl asked suspiciously.
Kel noticed that she was clean and that she was dressed much better than the others and surmised that she was probably the favored slave of one of the ships captains.
"No, I am not forbidden. But it would be impolite of me to go into someone else's work area and take things without permission. Besides, I don't know how to cook very well." Kel finished shyly.
The doors to the mess hall opened and everyone turned to look at the blue skinned boy with a tuft of unruly brown hair.
"Hi Kel. It looks like you have a hungry group here." Chell said cheerfully.
"Yes. Do you have anything for them to eat that won't take too long to fix?" Kel asked hopefully.
"I sure do. I'll have something ready for you in about two minutes." Chell said, then rushed into the kitchen.
Kel smiled, then turned to see everyone looking at him in wonder.
"That was Chell." Kel said timidly, feeling the stares of all the people on him.
"He is blue." H'Ree said cautiously.
Kel smiled and said, "Oh, you noticed that."
"Are all the beings on this ship blue?" The oldest girl asked.
"No. There's just two of them, Chell and Golwat. We have people of many different species on this ship." Kel said gently.
"You spoke his language." H'Ree said cautiously.
"Yes. It was necessary for me to learn their language." Kel said frankly.
"Did you violate the law?" An older boy asked hesitantly.
"Yes I did. But only because it was necessary for my survival." Kel said seriously.
"Kel, please contact the bridge." Bey's voice said over the intercom.
"That call is for me, excuse me." Kel said, then walked to the small comm station by the door.
"Kel to Bey." Kel said, then waited for the computer to route the call.
"How are you doing son?" Bey asked quietly.
"I'm fine. Angel is fine too." Kel said with a gentle smile.
"Good. We're going to need to know what our guests want to do so we can plot a course." Bey said frankly.
"I'll ask them right now and call you back in a minute." Kel said seriously.
"Sounds good. I love you 'old man'." Bey said gently.
"I love you too Dad." Kel said with a chuckle, then turned off the comm.
* * * * *
"I need to know what you want to do. Do you want to return to the Ocampan home world or would you like to continue on our journey with us?" Kel asked as he walked back to the tables.
"Is that what the person on the speaker just asked?" One of the younger girls asked curiously.
"That's right. That was Bey, he is one of my parents. As soon as he knows what you want to do, he'll either turn the ship toward the Ocampan home world or toward the quadrant of space he calls home." Kel said in a slow serious voice.
"Will we be able to get past the Kazons?" One of the older girls asked cautiously.
"I'm sure we will be able to find a way. Don't worry about that, just focus on what is going to make you happy and we'll work to make it happen." Kel said seriously.
The group looked at each other in silence and Kel knew that they were speaking telepathically amongst themselves. He felt a momentary twinge of loneliness at being excluded from their discussion, then movement on his back drew his attention.
Kel took the carrier off his back and placed it on one of the couches at the edge of the room where he could attend to his sister.
Angel looked at him alertly and seemed to be happy to see him.
Kel smiled at his sister then glanced at the group still having their telepathic discussion. He realized that what he had was beyond a telepathic link, he had a full emotional connection with his new family and never needed to feel alone again.
"Would someone help me carry in the food?" Chell asked from the doorway.
"Sure, I'll help you Chell." Kel said with a smile, then checked to see that Angel would be safe in her carrier if left unattended for a moment.
"Thanks Kel. Your friends sure are quiet." Chell said as he looked at the silent group.
Kel nodded with concern, then followed Chell into the kitchen.
* * * * *
"I made big meals since you all look hungry." Chell said cheerfully as he moved to the one of the tables and started to hand out plates.
"They do not speak your language. But I will relay your message." Kel said gently as he carried a tray of filled plates to the other table.
"Oh. I didn't realize." Chell said in surprise.
"Chell provided large portions since you appear to be hungry. He hopes you enjoy your meal." Kel said to the group.
"This is really good. Do your new people eat like this all the time?" H'Ree asked with excitement.
"Yes. They believe that it is important for all members of the crew to have food that is rich in flavor and nutrition. The captain of this ship eats the same kind of food that I do." Kel said seriously.
"Please tell Chell that I like his food a lot and tell him thank you." H'Ree said quickly.
Kel smiled and said, "H'Ree likes your food and thanks you."
Chell smiled happily and said, "Let them know that there is plenty more."
"I will." Kel said gently, then watched as Chell returned to the kitchen.
"If we return to the Ocampan home world and the elders will not allow us to stay, may we return here?" The oldest boy asked in a distant voice of thought.
"Yes. I'll make sure that everyone understands and agrees to that before we leave the ship." Kel said seriously.
"Do you have authority over these people?" The oldest girl asked curiously.
"No. But I worked along side them to build this ship. They look at me as their equal, no better and no worse." Kel said frankly.
The group became silent as they went into another telepathic huddle.
After a long silent minute, H'Ree stood from his place at the table then scooted his plate over two places beside Kel's.
"I want to stay here with you." H'Ree said timidly as he sat down again.
Kel smiled and said, "If that's what you want, we'll work together to make sure it happens."
"H'Ree has chosen to stay here on the ship with you. The rest of us would like to return to the Ocampan home world and ask the elders for permission to stay." The oldest said as she stood.
"Then I will inform the captain and we will be leaving in just a minute." Kel said as he walked to the comm panel.
"You aren't going to try to get them to stay with us?" H'Ree asked from Kel's side.
"No. This is what it means to be free. You are allowed to make choices for yourself." Kel said gently.
H'Ree nodded in thought, then looked back at the group with concern.
* * * * *
"Seven of the eight have chosen to return to the Ocampan home world." Kel said seriously.
"Oh. I'm sorry to hear that Kel. I know you must have wanted them to stay here with you." Bey said quietly.
"All that I wanted for them is to have the freedom to choose. I am here with my family, so I have no regrets." Kel said gently.
"Your father heard you and is plotting the course now. Good work son." Bey said, and Kel could tell from the sound of his voice that he was smiling.
"What did he say?" H'Ree asked from Kel's side.
"He said that he's glad that you're going to be staying with us." Kel said as he put a gentle arm around the younger boy.
* * * * *
"Paris, report." Janeway said as she walked briskly onto the bridge.
"I've put us on course to the Ocampan home world. Estimated time of arrival is twenty-seven minutes." Paris said professionally.
"Kel just called from the mess hall and said that seven of the eight that he rescued have chosen to return to their home world." Bey said quietly.
"Did they say why?" Janeway asked curiously.
"No. Kel told us their decision and I plotted the course." Paris said simply.
"Well, since we have a few minutes, I think I'll go down and introduce myself and extend the invitation again personally." Janeway said as she stood and walked toward the turbo lift again.
"How did things go with Carey?" Paris called out before she could get away.
"He'll recover in time for the wedding." Janeway said with a smirk, then stepped onto the turbo lift.
* * * * *
Janeway walked into the mess hall and walked directly to Kel.
"Would you like to introduce me to your new friends Kel?" Janeway asked gently.
"That might be difficult since they don't speak your language. If you want, I can translate for you. And Dad... I mean Bey, has a translation device that you could use to talk with them directly if you think that would be better." Kel said uncertainly.
Janeway smiled and said, "I think having you translate will be fine. I just wanted to extend a personal invitation to our guests so they will know that they are welcomed by all of us."
Kel smiled at the statement, then said in Ocampan, "This is Janeway, the captain of this vessel. She came down here so she could personally invite you to stay with us. She wants you to know that you really are welcomed here."
The group looked at each other, obviously communicating telepathically, then finally the oldest girl asked, "What will she do if we refuse her invitation?"
Kel understood the emotions associated with her question and quietly responded, "She will abide by your decision. Please allow me a moment to bring her up to date on all that we have discussed."
The oldest girl nodded as she watched Kel's every move.
"Aunt Janeway, I've told them that they are free to choose to stay with us or to go back to the home world. And I also said that if the elders won't allow them to stay there, that they'll be allowed to go with us... I hope that's okay." Kel said hesitantly.
Janeway looked over the group of children and young adults, all dirty and dressed in rags. After a moment to think she said, "We'll be at the Ocampan home world in about fifteen minutes. We'll do it like you've suggested and keep the invitation open until we know that they've been accepted by their people."
"Thank you Aunt Janeway, I'd give you a big hug right now but... they're kinda watching every single thing I do and..." Kel trailed off helplessly.
"I understand." Janeway said with a chuckle.
Kel felt a tug on his sleeve and turned to see H'Ree looking at him with worry.
"Excuse me. I'm sorry to interrupt, but I think your sister is leaking." H'Ree said hesitantly.
Kel quickly walked to the couch and looked over Angel to assess her condition.
"It's just drool. The young of these people are helpless when they're born and take many years to develop." Kel said as he pulled a towel out of the side pouch on the carrier, then gently cleaned her face.
"Kel?" Janeway asked expectantly.
"Oh yes, I'm sorry Aunt Janeway." Kel said quickly, then turned to the group and said in Ocampan, "Janeway has agreed to the arrangement. We will arrive at the home world in a few minutes and if you are not accepted by the elders, you will still be welcomed to join us." Kel said seriously.
The oldest girl stood and said, "Please tell your captain that I am Marrah and that I wish to thank her on behalf of all of us for her kind invitation. All of us have agreed that if the elders do not welcome us, we will not grieve the loss of our people but rather rejoice at the opportunity to live among other of the caretaker's children."
Kel turned toward Janeway and said, "This is Marrah, I guess she's their leader. She wants to thank you for inviting them to stay."
Janeway glanced at Kel and said, "It sounded like there was a lot more to it than that."
"There was a bunch of other stuff, but that was the important part." Kel said frankly.
Janeway chuckled and said, "You're just like your father."
"Thank you." Kel said as he swelled with pride.
"I'll meet you in the transporter room when we arrive." Janeway said warmly.
"Aye Captain." Kel said in his most respectful tone as he watched her leave.
* * * * *
"If you are finished with your meals, I could get you some new clothes before we arrive at the home world." Kel said as he checked to see that Angel was clean and dry.
The group looked at each other for a moment, then Marrah said, "I thank you for your kind offer, but we will present ourselves to the elders as we are."
Kel nodded his acceptance of the decision.
"I want some new clothes." H'Ree said in a small voice.
"Well then, if the rest of you are finished, I could take you to my room and get H'Ree some new clothes before we leave." Kel said as he made sure that Angel was strapped securely into her carrier.
"Yes, we would be interested to see where you live." Marrah said seriously.
Kel pulled Angel onto his back, then said, "Come on, it's right this way."
* * * * *
As the group walked into the quarters that Kel shared with his fathers, everyone looked around in wonder.
"This is quite different from Kazon quarters." Marrah said as she slowly looked over the bright, tastefully decorated room.
"Yes. As I understand it, these quarters are fashioned in accordance with Human customs. The people of other races on this ship constructed their rooms differently. Come on, my room is over here." Kel said as he led the way.
H'Ree ran immediately to Kel's side as the rest of the group followed more slowly.
Kel pressed the entry button by the door, then led the way in.
"The clothes we have in storage are all for adults. Mine will be closer to your size. They might still be big on you, but they shouldn't be too bad." Kel said as he showed H'Ree to the dresser, then to the closet.
"All of these are yours?" H'Ree asked with wonder.
"That's right. My fathers wanted me to have a variety of choices. Pick out what you want to wear so we can go to the transporter room." Kel said, then noticed the rest of the group gathered in the doorway.
"Do I understand correctly? This room is for you alone?" Marrah asked cautiously.
"Yes. And let me show you something else." Kel said with excitement and walked toward the group.
They moved aside to allow Kel access to the panel by the door.
Kel pressed in a sequence on the keypad then watched as the door closed.
"The door is now locked. When I want to be alone, I can close and lock this door and no one will enter without my permission." Kel said with a proud smile.
The group stared at the closed door as they tried to comprehend what Kel was saying.
"Is this okay?" H'Ree asked as he held out a dark yellow shirt and knee length dark gray pants for Kel's inspection.
"I think those will look great on you. We will go into the outer room so you can change in private. Press the green button to open the door when you are done." Kel said as he keyed in the code to unlock the door.
"Thank you." H'Ree whispered in awe.
Kel smiled, then led the group out into the living room.
* * * * *
"How many others live in this place with you?" Marrah asked as she looked at the other doors.
"Just my family. Angel's room is beside mine and my fathers' room is over there." Kel said as he pointed.
"Even the tiny one has it's own room?" Marrah asked with disbelief.
"Yeah. At least she will when she's old enough. Right now she has a small bed in my fathers' room so they can take care of her." Kel said with a smile.
"Would we be allowed to live like this?" The oldest boy asked, then wilted under a disapproving glance from Marrah.
"Yes. If you choose to stay here, you would have your own room and maybe even your own family if you wanted to." Kel said seriously.
"Would I have to... use a forbidden technique if I chose to stay?" The boy asked quietly.
"Dohn! We agreed!" Marrah said firmly.
Dohn shrank back from her harsh tone and Kel noticed.
Before Dohn could change his mind, Kel quickly said, "Marrah, you are all free to decide what will make you happy. If you don't allow Dohn to make that choice, then you are no better than the Kazons who enslaved us."
Marrah looked at Kel with anger for a moment, then turned her gaze away from him.
"And Dohn, you won't have to use a forbidden technique if you don't want to. You will be free to decide things like that for yourself." Kel said seriously.
"Is this okay?" H'Ree asked as he walked out of Kel's room wearing a baggy dark yellow shirt and short gray pants that reached nearly to his ankles.
The clean clothes were a definite contrast to his dirty face and the bruise on his cheek.
Kel looked at H'Ree for a moment, then said, "Yes. I think you look good. Are you all ready to go?"
The group exchanged looks and started moving toward the door when Dohn said, "I would like to have some clothes too, if I may."
"You're bigger than I am, so I'll have to get you some adult clothes... I know... Wait here a second." Kel said in a rush, then hurried to the comm panel on the desk by his fathers' bedroom door.
"Kel to Bey." Kel said quickly.
"What can I do for you son?" Bey asked gently.
"One of the guys needs some clothes and he's about your size, can he wear something of yours?" Kel asked hopefully.
"Are you in the cabin?" Bey asked casually.
"Yeah." Kel said quickly.
"Help yourself to whatever you need. Your father is on his way down to the transporter room so he can take care of Angel while you're on the planet." Bey said gently.
"Thanks Dad. I've got to hurry. I love you." Kel said with a smile.
"I love you too 'old man'." Bey said gently, then signed off the transmission.
"He said yes. Come on." Kel said, then opened the door to his fathers' room.
"My dad's stuff is over here. I think it will fit you pretty good." Kel said and led Dohn to one of two closets.
"Thank you." Dohn said shyly as he looked through the selection.
"That one... I think it will look good on you." Kel said as he pointed to a powder blue shirt.
Dohn took the shirt and looked at it with wonder.
Kel grabbed a pair of pants at random and handed them to Dohn.
"Everyone is probably waiting on us in the transporter room, so let's hurry." Kel said as he ushered the rest of the group out of the room.
Dohn looked at the clothes in his hands with disbelief for a moment, then hurried to change.
* * * * *
Kel turned to look when the door opened, then happily said, "You look great!"
Dohn looked at Kel uncertainly.
"Come on. We need to go." Kel said quickly.
Dohn waited for everyone else to leave before he reluctantly followed.
This was a great chapter. I wonder if Dohn will decide to stay or if he will bow to pressure and go back to the home world.
And What is the forbidden technique?
These and possibly other questions will have to wait at least until the next chapter.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher