A Good Pilot is Hard to Find
"Captain, we are being approached by an alien vessel," announced Harry Kim.
"Can you tell what their intentions are?" inquired Captain Janeway.
"Not as yet."
"Mr. Paris, reduce speed. Mr. Kim once they are within communications range, hail them."
"Aye, captain," they acknowledged.
"We're being hailed," announced Harry.
"Full Stop. On screen."
The screen changed from that of the birdlike ship comparable in size to Voyager to that of the alien captain. The alien would almost have looked human were it not for his green, scaled skin, and his small dark eyes. He wore a nice-looking light green uniform.
"I am Guntak, captain of the Solamphiam. You are about to enter Lodaik space. Please state your intentions."
"I am Captain Kathryn Janeway of the Starship Voyager. We merely wish to pass through your space on our way home."
"Are there any talented pilots among your crew?"
"What does that have to do with anything?"
"We may allow you passage through our space if you just answer these few questions for us. Have you among your crew any good pilots?"
"Yes, as a matter of fact our chief helmsman is a very talented pilot."
"And you value him as a part of your crew?"
"You would not hand him over to another ship in need of a good pilot?"
"No, of course not. Would you mind telling me where this conversation is leading?"
"It is of no consequence. We grant you permission to pass through our space and would be delighted if you would accept our invitation to visit our home world, Lodikia. Perhaps we may have supplies you need that we can arrange to trade for."
"It wouldn't be pilots that you want to trade would it?"
"Oh no. We require no more pilots than we already have. Our academy prides itself on graduating top-notch pilots. The Great Race is coming up. It is the final test for our pilots. Only the top five in the race will graduate. Perhaps your pilot would care to join in an see how he measures up to Lodaikian pilots."
"Oh, I think I could measure up," piped up Tom.
"Mr. Paris," Janeway glared at him reprovingly for interrupting. She turned her attention back to the viewscreen. "We would be delighted to visit your planet."
"Excellent. If you will follow us we will lead you to our planet. We are at the edge now and our home is nearer the center. It should take approximately a week to reach it."
"That will be fine. Thank you for your hospitality."
"We are happy to have you. You will of course allow your pilot to join the race?"
Janeway didn't like the way he assumed she would allow it and his seeming obsession with her pilot, but she knew Tom would want to participate. "I suppose so."
"Excellent. I look forward to it."
The viewscreen once more displayed the alien ship as it turned around.
"Tom, lay in a course to follow the Lodaikian ship.
"Commander, would you join me in my ready room?"
Janeway headed for the ready room and Chakotay followed.
"What do you make of our new 'friend'?"
"I found him to be rather strange, but he seemed friendly enough."
"I thought his obsession with pilots was a little unsettling."
"It was somewhat odd, but it could be that he is worried for our safety. Perhaps this space is dangerous to fly through without the aide of a good pilot."
"That seems plausible enough," Janeway agreed. "Still it might be wise to proceed with caution."
Tom was humming as he sat down to eat with B'Elanna and Harry in the mess hall.
"You're in a good mood today," commented B'Elanna.
"Of course I am. I have a race to look forward to."
"And your good mood has nothing to do with the Captain's praise of your piloting skills or with the fact that it would seem that pilots seem to be pretty important here?" asked Harry.
"No, I know that I'm a 'very talented pilot' and it is only natural that piloting skills should be treasured."
"I hope those Lodaikian pilots trounce you and put you in your proper place," growled B'Elanna.
"You don't really mean that do you?"
"Of course I do, but I guess it probably won't happen. Don't let this affect your already over-inflated ego, but you are a good pilot."
"Thanks for the overwhelming vote of confidence."
"Do you think that the Lodaikian captain seemed a bit odd?" asked Harry.
"Not really," answered Tom.
"Of course you wouldn't," said B'Elanna. "I agree with you Harry. I get the feeling that he is hiding something."
"So do I, but what?"
"You two are being too paranoid," said Tom as he took a large bite of his food.
B'Elanna and Harry looked at Tom's plate and noticed that he had nearly finished all the food on his plate.
"Tom, why are you eating so fast?" asked B'Elanna.
"I gotta run. I don't have much time to practice before my next shift in sickbay."
"Flying, of course."
"You mean you admit you're not perfect?"
"What you mean you think I'm flawed?"
B'Elanna opened her mouth to answer.
"No, don't answer that. There's always room for improvement. I just want to ensure that I am at the top of my game for the race."
"Top of your game?" questioned B'Elanna.
"I want to make sure that I am flying my best."
Tom dispensed with his tray and left
"Mr. Kim we are being hailed by an approaching vessel," said the ensign at communications.
Harry sat in the captain's chair pulling nightshift command duty.
"Is it the Lodaikians?"
"Negative, sir, however the signature is very similar."
The viewscreen now displayed an alien very similar to the Lodaikain captain, except his skin was a darker shade of green and he was smaller. His uniform was also darker and not as nice looking.
" I am Lunai, captain of the Nuloom. I have come with a proposition for you."
"I am Ensign Harry Kim, acting commander of the starship Voyager. What kind of proposition?"
"I think we have some items that might be of use to you."
"We were just on our way to trade with the Lodaikains."
"They might have a few things to offer you, but what we have will be of more use to you."
"How do you know what will be of more use to us?"
"We have scanned your ship and we have a mineral on our planet that is very similar to what powers your ship. The Lodaikains have no such substance."
"Nonetheless, we have already made arrangements with the Lodaikains."
"Our planet is on the way. You could take a shuttle and meet your ship at Lodikia in time for the festivities."
"I'll take it up with my captain."
"We'll be standing by awaiting your response. Oh, and there is one thing I must warn you of."
"The path to our planet is a bit treacherous. It takes a fairly skilled pilot to maneuver through it."
"Thanks for the warning," Kim turned to the ensign at communications. "End transmission."
Now Harry was at a bit of a loss. Should he contact the captain now or wait till morning? Looking at the chronometer he saw that it was not that long till she would wake up anyway so he decided to wait. It was very hard to keep still for the rest of his shift. He was anxious to bring Lunai's proposition to the captain. Finally his shift ended and the replacement shift arrived. Harry approached Janeway as she entered the bridge.
"Captain, may I speak with you?"
"Yes, Harry, what is it?"
Harry proceeded to tell her about his conversation with Lunai.
"Well, it would be very useful if they did indeed have a substance similar to dilithium. It concerns me though, that the flight path would be dangerous."
"Tom could pilot the shuttle. I'm sure he could handle it."
"Most likely, but I don't know if that's such a good idea."
"Tom isn't really needed very much here right now, and we would be back in time for the race. Plus it would give him a chance to practice his flying."
Janeway smiled bemusedly, "There doesn't seem to be any doubt in your mind."
Harry opened his mouth to answer but Janeway continued, "Perhaps you're right. I'm sure Tom would jump at the chance to get some flying practice in. Go and inform him that the two of you will be leaving in an hour. I'll let our newest friend know our decision. It will give me a chance to meet him."
Harry grinned, "Thanks, captain."
Harry turned and headed to the turbolift. Janeway turned to the ensign at communications.
"Ensign, hail the Nuloom."