A Good Pilot is Hard to Find
by Thomasina

Disclaimer-Voyager and all its characters do not belong to me.

Chapter 3

Tom followed the Nuloom away from Voyager. For over hour they had been traveling at warp speed through what seemed to Tom to be perfectly ordinary space.

"I don't know what they were talking about. I see nothing difficult about this flight path."

Harry glanced over at Tom's sullen expression and laughed. "I'm sure they wouldn't have told us the path was dangerous if it was like this the whole way. Any minute now we'll encounter some deadly obstacle."

"I hope so."

Ahead of them the Nuloom dropped out of warp and Tom followed suit.

"Now we finally see what's so difficult," said Tom.

A dense minefield lay before them. The Nuloom slowly entered the field and began weaving its way around the mines.

"Now, this is a challenge."

"See, I told you there had to be something," said Harry sounding less enthusiastic than Tom.

"You're not scared are you, Harry?"

"No, of course not. I know you can get us through this."

"Piece of cake."

Tom followed the Nuloom into the minefield. His fingers fly lightly over the controls and he flew smoothly among the mines. The pilot of the Nuloom did not seem to be doing quite as well. There were several near misses and they had to slow to half impulse. Tom was forced to slow down as well, though Harry could see that it was driving him up the wall to fly so slowly.

"Do they have to go slow?"

"It really is safer, you know. One wrong move in here and you could be blown up."

"I'm well aware of that, but I believe I could fly through here faster without getting us blown up. There's no challenge to it at this speed."

"Well, you have no choice. As you are behind the Nuloom, you have to go the same speed they are."

"I could pass them."

"There's not enough room."

"Not for another ship, but I think there is enough room for a shuttle to pass. It would just be a bit of a squeeze."

"Even if you could we don't know how to get there. We have to let the Nuloom show us the way."

"I think we could figure it out."

"I don't think it's a good idea. We should just keep following the Nuloom."

"You're no fun."

"Well, somebody has to be practical."

"I can do this," said Tom firmly.

Tom started to speed up and looked ahead carefully judging where the most amount of room was to pass.

"Tom, don't do this. Be practical."

"You're the practical one, remember? Besides I'm not really being all that impractical. I can safely fly faster than this and the faster we get to Daka the sooner we can catch up with Voyager."

Seeing an opportunity Tom sped forward and flew below the Nuloom. Harry held his breath. There was barely an inch of space between shuttle and the ship above them and mines below them. Then Tom was through and cruising along at full impulse.

"We're being hailed by the Nuloom," said Harry.

"Open a channel," Tom replied. "I'm sorry if you wished us to stay behind you., but I'm a little anxious to get through this minefield."

Lunai's voice came over the comm line. "I understand, but it is dangerous. You really should stay behind us."

"Don't worry, I can manage."

"With this part, perhaps, but if you look ahead you should see a red mine."

Tom looked across the sea of black mines and saw the mine they were talking about. "Yes, I see it. What about it?"

"That mine marks the second part of the mine field. Past that point you have to be careful about which mines you fly close to as some of them are set to go off if you fly too close. We know where some of those are and thus know a safe path."

"Well, you can just tell us which way to go."

"I suppose we have no choice, as we don't want to risk trying to get ahead of you. We are sending you a map of the minefield with the known sensor mines and a safe path through them marked."

"We're receiving a transmission," said Harry. "It's the map. Boy, we're lucky he stopped us when he did. There is a sensor mine straight ahead. You're going to want to go two mines to the right."

"Do you mind if I ask why there is a minefield blocking the path to your planet?" asked Tom as he followed Harry's instructions.

"We don't like strangers," answered Lunai.

"I thought you liked to help people. Why would you help them if you don't like strangers?"

"Now go straight ahead past three mines then turn left," instructed Harry.

"In the past my people were very anti-social, but now we want to help to make up for our previous animosity."

"Why not take down the minefield then?"

"It has been so long that we don't know how to deactivate them and any plans there might have been on how to do so are lost."

"Why not just destroy them?"

"They are too close to our planet. If we were to destroy the minefield our planet would be destroyed."

"Straight ahead two mines, then to the left five mines," said Harry.

"Why did you put them so close?"

"I admit it was an error in judgment, but we were once quite paranoid about strangers."

Tom closed the channel and brought the shuttle to a stop.

"Let me see that map, Harry."


"I can get through this faster if I can see where the mines are for myself instead of having to take instruction from you."

Harry frowned slightly, "I was trying to give them to you quickly."

"I know. It's not that you're going slowly. I can just get through it quicker this way."

Tom studied the map for a moment then started moving again at full impulse.

"Is something wrong, Tom?"

"I don't trust him. He was obviously lying."

"Why do you think the minefield is really here?"

"I don't know. I just want to get through this minefield, make the trade and get back to Voyager as soon as possible."

Soon they saw a clearing ahead of them.

"Great, we're nearly out of the minefield," said Harry. "We're being hailed by the Nuloom again."

"Ignore it."

"They are continuing to hail us."

They were nearly at the edge of the minefield now.

"Fine, open a channel. Yes, what do you want now?"

"I want you to stop immediately," answered Lunai.

"Why? We're nearly out."

"Stop now. Ask questions later."

Tom could hear panic in Lunai's voice, he sighed heavily, and brought the shuttlecraft to a halt at the edge of the minefield.

"Okay, I've stopped. Now can you tell me why it was so vital that I do so?"

"That is not the edge of the minefield."

"It certainly looks like it."

"It is the start of the last part of the minefield. The mines in this section are cloaked."

"Cloaked mines? Are you serious?"

"Fire a short energy burst and see what happens."

Harry fired a short burst ahead of them. It illuminated a vast minefield.

"That's twice," said Harry.

"Twice what?" asked Tom.

"Twice that we only barely stopped in time. I think this is a little more dangerous than I anticipated."

"We're nearly out now. We may as well go the rest of the way and get what we came for."

"The only way to see the mines is with short energy bursts. Anything more and you risk setting off the mines. However, as you know this only briefly illuminates the path. You will have to move cautiously and remember some are still sensor activated. We have no plans for this area of the minefield, so you will have to determine which are the sensor ones."

"And just how do we do that- fly close and see if they explode?"

"When cloaked they look slightly different from the others. Fire another energy burst and look closely at them."

Harry fired another energy burst and they looked as closely as they could at the mines. Tom instantly saw the difference.

"Some of them are lighter than the others, but which are the sensor ones."

"That is another problem. We don't know."

"So I guess we're back to the fly close and see if they explode solution."

"I don't really think that's such a great solution," said Harry.

"Got a better one?"

"No, but there must be another way."

"How did you make it through?" Tom asked Lunai.

There was silence for a moment before Lunai answered, "We didn't."

"Excuse me? What are you ghosts or something? Did you try to make it through the field and explode?"

"No, we never attempted it."

"So, is there another, easier way to your planet? If so why are we risking our lives going this way?"

"There is no other way. We are not really here. The ship you are seeing is a hologram."

"A hologram?" asked Tom incredulously.

"How can your ship be a hologram? It's too big and you need emitters to project a hologram. There's no place to set up emitters in space," said Harry.

"Surely you have heard of a device called a mobile holographic emitter."

"Yes, our doctor has one."

"We have placed a mobile holographic emitter, along with a transmitter to communicate with you, on a small probe. The probe is small enough that it goes undetected by the sensing mines."

"But back in the first part of the minefield your ship seemed to be having difficulty maneuvering and had to slow down. Why go so slow if you didn't really need to?" asked Tom.

"It was a test."

"A test? Why are you testing me?"

Lunai again seemed to take longer than necessary to answer. "We have never encountered humans before. We were curious to see how patient humans were."

"You shouldn't judge human patience based on Tom's reaction," said Harry laughing a little.

Tom remained serious. He knew that Lunai was lying again. "Fine. There is a darker mine directly ahead of us. I am going to fly close to it and see what happens."

"Tom, no! There has to be another way and we will think of it."

Tom ignored him and flew straight ahead until he was about two inches from where he judged the mine to be. Well, we're still here, so I must have guessed right."

"Can we take this slowly?" begged Harry. "I'm not sure how many more near death experiences I can handle."

"Sure thing, Harry."

"Captain we're being hailed by the Solamphiam."

"Open a channel."

"Captain we detected a shuttle leave some time ago that has not returned."

"Yes, that's right. Two of my crew went on an away mission."

"Where did they go?"

"We met some friends of yours-the Dakians. They offered to trade with us as well."

"They are not friends of ours. I hope you did not send your best pilot."

"As a matter of fact I did. We were informed that the flight path was quite dangerous."

"It is indeed. That is why you should not have sent him. If they manage to make it through the minefield, the Dakians will not let them go. I'm afraid you will not see your pilot again."