Chapter 1: Impasse
After weeks of working in Engineering, I've learnt to read Torres' moods. There is the contended engineer after she's managed to tear apart a damaged piece of Voyager and make it work. The surly Torres emerges as if it was a personal affront to her skills if the equipment has broken down again. That phase usually does not last long before it morphs into the Klingon equivalent of a tornado, wiping all that stand in her path, people or bulkheads.
Recognising the impending signs of bad weather, I duck. At the same time, I keep an eye on who else might want to join the fray despite the Captain's orders. I hear a small crunch, followed by a strangled grunt behind me.
"Bloody hell," Seska says, amused, "that's the second time you've broken his nose. You'll be on half-rations for a week if the captain hears of it.”
Torres' glare is fixed on me. "It's not him I wanted to hit.”
The Starfleet crewmen are facing us, eyes hard, fists tightly clenched at their sides "There's another solution," I hurry to say in a conciliatory tone, deliberately avoiding looking at the unfortunate man slurring a few invectives. "What about shutting down the environmental controls to the lower decks? We'll then have enough power to re-rout to essential areas while the repairs are done.”
Despite her temper, Torres is a brilliant engineer, but there's only so much she can do, given most of her crew are unfamiliar with the ship's integrated technologies. While my input is hardly tolerated at the best of times, I am not going to wait for another system to fail before speaking up. The orders from the bridge are making less and less sense and with half a dozen staff on the Kazon ship, Torres is short of manpower as well as good advice. Voyager is a wounded ship, her strength sapped by anger and revenge. That I am unable to lessen her decline eats at me every waking hour.
Waiting for Torres' decision, I speak to Ashmore in quiet tones. In turn, he talks to Chell and they soon leave for sickbay with Carey, now thankfully silent, between them. A fragile but precious germ of friendship has started to grow between some Starfleet and Maquis, but I fear it is still too easily buffeted by doubts and uncertainty.
I give a warning look to the few remaining Starfleet watching, and they go back to their tasks. The palpable outrage which flared up only a few minutes ago starts to diffuse. Another day in the upside down world that is the Delta Quadrant.
When I return to my workstation, Torres' frown is firmly in place. "Show me how it could work.”
Bringing up the power schematics of the lower four decks, I explain the relay bypass in terse engineering lingo. Now it's my turn to feel anger. I should know better than to expect an apology from a Maquis, but it riles me that Starfleet crew members are still considered as less than human. The Captain has got a lot to answer for that sad state of affair. God knows I have made my concerns and fears known. All I got in return are double shifts under a feral half-Klingon.
"Look, I'm sorry about what happened," Torres says, bracing her arms against the console. Before I can make sense of what exactly she is apologising for, the captain's voice can be heard from the open corridor door, an irritated tone accentuating each word.
"Torres, what part of 'nobody is to hurt a 'fleet' didn't you get? I just saw Carey in the turbolift. He told me he got a broken nose from bumping into a Jefferies access door. Somehow, I don't believe him.”
Everyone gets very busy at their stations, leaving Torres and me to face the inevitable dressing down.
"Starfleet here," Torres says, pointing at me, "wants us to drop all upgrades to the warp engines and repair the shields instead. We argued. Carey got caught in the middle.”
"What's the problem with the shields?" comes the sharp retort.
"They're fluctuating. Nothing major but repairing them will take at least ten hours. They can wait.” Torres' hands are now kneading the side of the console. She is spent, tired beyond her usual ire, a state not too rare nowadays.
The captain glances at me. "And you think she's wrong?"
Great. Another remark like that and Torres will phaser me next time I open my mouth. We both know my fight is not with the Chief Engineer. "I asked myself how long your allies will wait to take what they really want, once they realise the shields are failing.”
Chakotay turns around, already on his way out of Engineering. "Torres, start on the repairs. Janeway, in my quarters once they're done.”
I keep my back to the wall until the end of the shift.
Chapter 2: Standing Still
Janeway stands at attention while I read from the mountain of PADDs teetering on the desk. I make her wait. Her straight back, tight bun and uniform, even if streaked with dirt and plasma gel, scream at me that she still sees me as a pretender to a position I haven't earned in her eyes, and I'm sick of it. I'm Maquis, a renegade to Federation principles not worth the PADDs they are written on. She's Starfleet, sent to hound us, an Admiral's daughter who has not lost everything like we have.
Except she has, now. She's lost her precious ship and her crew answers to me. I've taken her pips and thrown them in the recycler, I sit in her command seat on the bridge while she toils in the decks below, and I live in her quarters as befits the victor.
Spirits! I sound like the Prince from the book I've found in her bedroom.
She sways a little. Despite all the hands I've now got at my disposal, the shifts are getting longer, the work harder. Everybody is worn out. Her already petite frame looks frailer than I remember when I last saw her weeks ago, and she's got deep shadows under the eyes.
Good. I give her another month before she comes to accept her situation.
She's not looked at me once since she came in. Make that two months.
A pity she does not bend to reality. Or to my authority for that matter.
In the early days, I admit I took pleasure in making her stand on the bridge for whole shifts, listening to my orders and unable to undo them. That first morning after I ousted her, she dared tell me how Voyager needed to be handled, as if the ship was living and breathing thanks to its fancy bioneural networks and state of the art warp engines.
I made a deal with her. She would remain silent and the rest of her crew would leave the cargo bays we had confined them in.
Strange how silence can be as accusatory as a full on court martial. How a sigh or a short intake of breath can be as eloquent as a speech. I could feel her seething all that time on the bridge until, three weeks into our takeover, things came to a head.
Tuvok was found in Cargo Bay 2 with a fractured skull, and young Kim arrived late the morning after, sporting a black eye and an untreated broken arm. Janeway stood in front of me, hands on her hips and demanded I put a stop to what 'my' people was doing to 'her' crew, telling me in no uncertain terms I better start behaving like a true captain if I wanted to get Voyager home in one piece. I only had one hundred and forty-four crew members to worry about, and there she was, belittling me in front of my men, denying my right to run this ship and crew as I saw fit. She was flushed with Starfleet righteousness and completely oblivious to what I could do to her.
Once again, I feel the wave of anger that swamped me at the time, listening to her accusations. I rose from my command seat, ready to smite her once and for all. Instead of backing down, she came up close to me and put her hand out, almost touching my chest. Hardly a threatening gesture. In my previous few encounters with Starfleet captains, I had mostly been staring down at their weapons and she had none I could see.
Lifting her head, she did the unexpected. She simply smiled, and I, the master Maquis tactician and scourge of the Alpha Quadrant according to Federation propaganda, just stood there, looking into her eyes.
What I saw was regret for what could have been, sadness at what had to come, pain at who we had become, our sudden physical closeness belaying the ever-widening divide between us, stuck on either side of a conflict which had started in another quadrant and which had forgotten us already. Once again, I heard her plea to join forces, unspoken this time.
When she stopped me from killing that traitor of Paris the first time I came on Voyager's bridge, there she was, carrying herself as if being thrown 75,000 light years from the Alpha Quadrant was just another away mission. Over the next few days, she thanked me for what I had done. She said she knew I would not have deserted the Ocampa and let the Kazon erase them from their world. She offered to blend our people, to make the long journey together as one crew, a Starfleet crew. Her intentions might have been sincere, but the Maquis weren't ready to forget and forgive that easily. She was the Starfleet captain who came after us and she was made to pay the price.
We took her ship.
And in that later moment on the bridge, when she confronted me to defend Tuvok and Kim, I still could not yield. I told Jonas to take her to Engineering, out of my sight, and washed my hands of her.
Weeks after the fact, she stands as defiant and as unwilling to accept my authority. Deep down, I know that's why I humiliated her on the bridge and I'm not proud of myself. She remains a thorn in my side, but the Delta Quadrant is a harsh master, and I don't have time for Starfleet principles.
I read the same report twice, feigning interest in food requisitions and storage requirements. When I lift my eyes from Neelix' ramblings to look at her, my father's voice springs unbidden in my mind, a lesson in my people's lore from another time.
Listen, young man. Instead of dreaming of stars, focus on today's teachings. I must have been twelve, maybe thirteen when Kolopak begun to instruct me into the world of totems.
A totem is not an invisible protector as too many young ones think. It is a reflection of how a person's soul speaks to you. He is sitting cross-legged in the dirt, holding a couple of sticks in his hand. He places them on the ground, parallel to each other. Only those whom you feel strongly about will reveal their totems to you, which often remain unbeknownst to them. My father pushes the two sticks together. Now intertwined, it is impossible to distinguish one from the other. Remember my son, a totem is a powerful force and you ignore its meaning at your peril.
I've seen glimpses of Janeway's totem, hints which I've pushed aside because of what she represents - an organisation which turned into an enemy and whose values I no longer share. But now, in the quietness of the room I stole from her, an image is slowly emerging from the haze.
Totems can be many things, a place, an object, a living being. Hers is definitely alive, an animal from the old planet. I watch her, letting its shape form in my mind.
A tiger? Too big and showy.
A desert lynx perhaps. Agile, poised.
No, not as aloof.
A wolf. Sure of its chosen path. Enduring. Protective. Alone, but whether by choice or fate, I cannot say.
She is looking at me with a curious, almost concerned frown on her face. Do wolves have blue eyes?
The image shatters, its reality elusive once more. I let the shadows of a simpler time dissipate. Not all my father's teachings have relevance in my world.
I ask a few questions about the repairs. Her answers reveal an understanding of the ship systems that goes well beyond my ken and that few captains bother to master. Torres is right, that woman knows her stuff. "I am assigning you to Jonas' away team, tomorrow. You'll be working with Seska on integrating the replicator power supply with that of the Kazon ship. Seems they lost a couple of men in their eagerness to make it work.”
A slight change in the angle of her body reveals what she thinks of my latest tactics. She can't accept my decision to ally ourselves with the Kazon-Nistrim and give them our technology. It's against everything she believes in, every Starfleet protocol she's sworn to uphold. It's also another battle she can't possibly win.
I see no other solution than to persevere with the coalition I have forged with the Nistrim. Not losing people is more important than prime directives and maintaining power status quo, even if it is at the cost of discussing terms with bullies and thugs. A lone ship can't possibly survive out here.
Her gaze is back on the wall behind me. If I was to stand up, she would just stare through my chest. There's a reason she's the last one of her crew to be called Starfleet. She wears the name like a badge of honour.
She is so...infuriating.
Maybe, if we had met in different circumstances, we could have ...
Don't go there, Chakotay. You're the captain.
Chapter 3: Getting nowhere
I force myself to go to the mess hall. Neelix' food tastes as bad as it looks, but with the two shifts I'm on, I don't even get one meal a day sometimes. I want to survive. I need to eat. This late at night, the large room is empty. I take out the dish Neelix has kept in cold storage for me and sit down near a star-streaked window. I'm still debating what I saw for a fleeting second on the Nistrim vessel before a Kazon slapped me hard and confiscated my tricorder, none too happy to find me near their weapon hold.
I have no reason to think Chakotay himself is not behind this new monstrosity. It has a certain inevitability. After all, he is the one who made a deal with Culluh. He is the one who agreed to give him our technology. The one who is getting his own crew to help install it, bit by bit, on their ship. If that's the case, he is a bigger fool than I thought and it worries me that I may have completely misread him. I believed all he wanted was to protect his own people, the way he had done against great odds for many years. I can understand his motives even if his methods have been appalling.
But this? In any other circumstances, it would be called treason, a betrayal of what Starfleet is about altogether. Maybe it is the real reason behind what has been happening, as boorish as it feels - a way to say 'up yours' to all Starfleet stands for.
I push the inedible food around the plate, struggling to understand the man. If it is his doing, then why the secrecy? Torres is not involved, I am sure of that. I work under her for long enough hours to know her priorities. I haven't heard anything new on the ship scuttlebutt. Harry has not passed me any messages lately about what's happening on the bridge. I am blind and deaf, powerless on my own ship.
Shaking my funk away, I put the plate and its contents through the recycler and leave, on my way down the bowels of the ship. There are still strategies open to me, I tell myself. I can investigate those who go on the Kazon ship on a regular basis, try and access Voyager's communications with the Nistrim, look for anything missing from the ship's holds. That alone could take me days, but I can see no other way to be sure what I glimpsed is real.
Or I could forget about proof and take a page off the Maquis book. Do a little sabotage instead, potentially risking the lives of those on board in the process. With Tuvok still in the brig and the proximity alarm all Starfleet have to wear, an uprising against the Maquis is virtually impossible.
The next step, to destroy Voyager before the whole Kazon territory destabilises faster than a collapsing warp core, is a quandary worth the Kobayashi Maru exercise. Chakotay does not know I still have access to the self-destruct command codes, though I am not ready to take that path of last resort as yet.
Mainly because I can't imagine Chakotay would approve of the madness that I believe lurks on the Nistrim ship. Not the man I believe he is. Notwithstanding his personal battle with Starfleet, he has only traded Voyager's technology to halt hostilities from the Kazon. To save lives. Placed in the same circumstances, I would never have considered an alliance on such terms. But maybe the ship would be missing more crew members by now. Principles do come at a high cost, personal and otherwise.
But if he does not know, if what I think I saw has nothing to do with him, then he has to be told. By a 'fleeter he clearly despises because, in his eyes, I represent all that is wrong with the Federation.
My feet have taken me to my quarters, an oasis of privacy I discovered a few days after Jonas escorted me off Deck 3, a phaser at my head. The space is the size of a broom closet, tucked between the plasma relay room and the recycler plant. It's noisy, cold and I can feel every vibration of the impulse engines when I try to catch a few hours of sleep. The only redeeming feature is the safety shower down the corridor, away from prying eyes.
I undress quickly in the frigid air and fold my stained uniform on the bench, with my only clean towel on the top. The shampoo bottle is nearly empty. With no replicator access, I've got nothing left to barter for small luxuries. Tomorrow, I'll cut my hair short. Another surrender to the present, to circumstances I have no control over.
The shower spatters then starts with a high pitched whine that drowns all sounds and thoughts. The water is tepid at best but a relief after more than sixteen hours straight on the Kazon ship. Keeping my deep forebodings at bay for a little while longer, I let the harsh jet cascade over my head, washing away the grime and smells. The bruise on my cheek stings.
"Starfleet. You look like a drowned rat.”
I turn around, angry at having let my guard down. "What do you want, Seska?"
She takes my comm badge from the bundle of clothes and crushes it under her boot. Next she leans across me and shuts the shower off. It continues dripping but I don't make a move to get out. The two men behind her are eyeing me from head to toe, checking out the bits in between. I ignore them. Seska is the one I keep in my sight. She is trouble, the way she urges Maquis against Starfleet.
"Chakotay sent me. After two months on a Maquis ship you should know better than answer back to him in front of his crew and make Torres look like a fool. He said you needed to be taught a lesson," she says, twirling my panties on her finger.
"Is that so?" I show my disbelief with a smile. "I was unaware your job description included doing his dirty work for him.”
Her coming here has got nothing to do with Chakotay. He might hate me, but he does not hire henchmen to discipline his troops.
She gives me a dark look, well aware I am not intimidated by her threats even as I stand there, naked and dripping wet. "I told you she needs to learn her place," she says for the benefit of the stooges behind her.
"Chakotay will be touched to have a friend who jumps so quickly to his defence.” I've little doubt as to what's coming to me but can't help goading her. She feels wrong, out of place even among the Maquis. Most are good people, even as they mistrust Starfleet. Her? I just can't stand her whole being, and the feeling is mutual.
"What's wrong?" I ask. "Afraid of what a Starfleet can find out? I mean, the Captain approves whatever you are doing on Culluh's ship, doesn't he?"
A stab in the dark. I've just realised, somewhat belatedly, that she spends a lot of time on the Kazon ship, as part of the Engineering team assisting the Nistrim with upgrading their engines. She disappeared for hours while I was there, with no explanation as to what she was doing.
Just a small flinch on her Bajoran frown and I know.
She comes close to my face and whisper. "I'm warning you, Janeway. Keep your nose out of my business and you might live to see another week.”
It's silly, but I feel unsuitably glad at what my gut instinct has been telling me all along - that Chakotay is not involved in what I saw on the Kazon ship.
"If you have an unfortunate accident, who's going to look after your precious crew?" she adds.
Chakotay won't let them down. He's proven that already when he put Jonas in the brig for two days for assaulting Harry. Since then all deliberate attacks on 'fleeters have ceased. A fact I feel grateful for, even if they should never have happened in the first place.
Seska must have seen my total lack of concern at her words. She glares then steps back. "Roughen her up. Below the neck only.”
A Janeway does not go down without a fight and I have no compunction in hitting them anywhere I can. I land a few satisfying blows at first but it's a losing battle in the confined space. Their fists fall on me like rain and all too soon I'm a bloodied mess on the wet floor, at the mercy of hard boots against soft flesh.
They grunt and strike and kick before Seska calls them off. Somehow, I sit up, my buttocks blocking the shower drain. I take shallow breaths, the pain in the chest becoming more bearable now that I'm not lying down. My arms feel like I've been stabbed and a pool of blood is slowly growing under my legs.
Seska bends over and lifts my chin, gently brushing away a stray wet hair. "You're a pretty thing, Janeway. You speak to anyone, and next time, I'll bring some of my friends to share my pleasure at breaking you.”
Her leering smile and lingering fingers tracing the line of my lips bring goose bumps to my skin. She laughs before throwing the towel in the puddle of pink water I am sitting in. "Cover yourself, Starfleet," she says on her way out.
In a parting gift, the man now boasting a bleeding nose stomps on my foot, grinding the bones with a vicious twisting move. I scream as the pain shatters my rage, the only emotion that has held me up through the whole beating.
Once they're gone, I haul myself upright. My first step out of the cubicle sees me falling over so I crawl instead, slowly because my chest hurts like hell again.
I'm not moving fast enough to trigger full illumination in the dark corridor but I only need to reach the recycler plant intercom and get Chakotay. He's the only one who can stop Seska. Tricorder readings don't lie. I am now sure that what I glimpsed while checking the Kazon power relays was real: the energy signature of Starfleet-issued photon torpedoes.
I drag myself along the hard floor, using the base of the wall for support. My mangled foot is shooting up warning messages like a shuttle about to implode.
A few more metres of the same and my brain finally catches up. I'm a fool. By now, the weapons have probably vanished behind a dampening field. It will be a Starfleet against the word of one of Chakotay's own and from what I've gathered in Engineering, he and Seska have got a history together. He won't believe me.
My fault for not trying harder to gain his trust. I could only see the long trip in front of us when I proposed to merge the two crews and make him my first officer. In my hubris, I ignored the character of the man I was sent to capture, his strong belief in a just cause, his sense of responsibility for his people and the pride he holds for what they have achieved.
From where he stood, all I was offering was to parade him in a Starfleet straight jacket for the next seventy-five years, like a bear at the end of a chain. Hardly better than prison.
I dry heave and the pain radiates outwards, swamping my last defences.
It's too late. I failed Chakotay and both our crews, once more. First I strand them all here, and now I can't even alert him to what's coming.
We could have achieved so much together. Side by side.
I'm sorry, Chakotay. I don't think I'll make it.
Take care of Voyager.
Chapter 4: There and back again
"The replicator is working perfectly, Captain. I trust that the star charts we've provided in return are satisfying.”
Neelix has conceded the maps were showing details of the Kazon worlds he didn't know about. Remains to be seen if they are as up to date as Culluh makes them out to be.
"Thank you, Maje. We will certainly make good use of them.”
Culluh's smile widens but his eyes do not. "So far, we've been exchanging trinkets, really. Food for water and engine upgrades, star charts for one replicator.” He leans forward and his elaborate hairdo threatens to spill out of the sides of the screen. "Now that we have established what I believe is a trusting relationship, I was hoping we could discuss exchanges of a more substantial nature.”
Could see that one coming from a few light years away. "What is more important is the mutual protection we offer to each other against the other Kazon clans roaming this sector," I counter.
"Yes, of course," Culluh says, his smile hardening. "But that protection would be more effective if we were on a more equal footing. You have true wonders in this ship of yours compared to us. Powerful shields, a tractor beam which can trap small ships, sensors that spot the enemy at a much longer range, a transporter. I could go on.”
Only a few weeks in our alliance and Culluh's tone is becoming more insistent every time we meet. "And what do you have in mind in exchange?"
"Dilithium. I understand that Voyager is solely dependent on that mineral as an energy source. I know of good mining prospects close by, in a territory held by friends of the Nistrim.”
"I see. I'll need to discuss our energy requirements with my staff first.”
"Of course, Captain. I'll leave you to it. A pleasure to do business with you, as usual. Nistrim ship out.”
I would dearly love to put my hands around Culluh's neck, but we do need dilithium. Not urgently, not right now, but soon.
"Captain, I need to see you about that security inspection we discussed. I am on Deck 15.”
There is no scheduled security inspection that I must attend. Ayala knows that. Instead, he is asking me to get down there fast, using a code call we've developed over our years together and reserved for my ears only.
"Jonas, you have the bridge.”
"No sweat, Chakotay.”
I cringe at his casualness. If it had not been for Seska's recommendations, he would still be working in Engineering. He has done a good job, dealing with most of B'Elanna's problems before they land on my lap, but what I really need is a first officer, and Jonas is not up to the task.
On leaving the turbolift, Paris passes me in a hurry, a medic bag in his hand.
Not another fight. I thought we had turned a corner after I personally threw my own men in the brig following a batch of stupid brawls. I can't spend the rest of my life laying down the law to every testosterone-fuelled Maquis.
There is a trail of blood on the floor. An idiot must have got himself badly hurt this time. When I catch up with whoever did that, he'll understand the true meaning of discipline.
Passing the recycler plant, I feel uneasy. It's a strange place to pick a fight. There's no reason for anybody to come here.
I find myself staring at a bloody handprint on the lower wall, the fingers and the palm delicately outlined like a cave painting. A hand much smaller than mine. Ayala and Paris are hunched over at the far end of the corridor. I run towards them.
"EMH, your report.”
The EMH is giving a good imitation of looking outraged. I would have preferred a flesh and bone doctor, but this hologram is definitely an improvement on what we had on the Val Jean.
"My patient has suffered four broken ribs, broken metatarsals, hairline fractures of the left clavicle and both radius, dislocated fingers, lacerated spleen, and internal bleeding. It's difficult to imagine what more senseless damage her attackers could have inflicted without killing her.”
Paris appears on the ready room screen, beside the EMH. "This was not a spur-of-the-moment fight between disgruntled crew members like we've had in the past. Since being locked up in sickbay, I've helped to treat enough of them to know the difference.”
Trust Paris to make his plight sounds like the greatest injustice under the sun, even as I have saved his skin by putting him there.
"Don't need to be a trainee medic to see that," I retort.
I can't forget the dark bruises covering most of her body, the long bleeding gash on the thigh, and worse of all, the marks of hard heels on her chest and back, from boots which have most probably ended in a recycler unit by now.
I've never been able to stomach seeing women used as punching bags, but somehow, the attack on Janeway seems more odious because it was perpetrated on my ship, on my watch, and most probably by one of my own. I thought we had left this kind of violence in the Alpha Quadrant, with the Cardassians.
We have dragged a lot of baggage with us, it seems.
"Starfleet has been more trouble than she's worth. Why the bother?" Jonas says.
I slam the ready room table. "Because Janeway is a member of my crew, and from now on, you and everybody on this ship will refer to her by her name. Is that clear?"
The EMH continues, unperturbed. "Based on the angle of the blows, there must have been two assailants. I've recovered DNA from under the victim's fingernails and we should have a match as soon as I get a sample from everyone on board.”
I want to tell them all that Janeway is not a victim, that she must have fought back because we found blood spots, further down the corridor. The trail disappeared after a few metres, leaving us with no clue as to who assaulted her.
But they would not understand, so I simply ask the EMH to call me when Janeway is awake, and I cut off the communication.
Ayala shuffles on his seat. "Paris is right. This attack ... Whatever took place on the bridge, before ... she did not deserve this.”
"What have you done about Janeway's security?" I ask wearily.
"I've placed two people on a 24-hour guard outside of sickbay. Handpicked them myself. They'll keep watch for any suspicious Maquis wanting to go there without good reasons. But I can't guarantee her safety once she leaves," Ayala adds. "We don't have the man power to patrol Deck 15 just for her.”
"No way Janeway is going back down there," I say, with more vigour than I want to show.
I've seen the hell hole she's been sleeping in. Bare of any possessions except for a dog-eared volume of poems she has managed to keep, spirits know how, a couple of tank tops neatly folded, and a small pile of emergency blankets serving as mattress. I've touched the walls dripping with moisture, felt the cold and vibrations seeping through my boots. The dim light can hardly keep away the soul crushing surroundings. Throwing her in the brig would have been more merciful.
"Get Tuvok and assign him one of your men to help investigate the attack. He is former Security and we need his expertise.”
Ayala looks relieved. He is a man of action, the phaser-in-hand type of man. Brawls and dangerous missions in enemy territory, he can handle, but this attack is different. It has left a bad taste in my mouth. Something is quite wrong here, something which erupts in violence, then disappears, like the attack on Tuvok. Covert, underhand. We still have not found who assaulted him and I wonder if we’ll find Janeway’s attackers before too long. I can’t put all the ‘fleeters in the brig for their own protection.
I need to divert the issue away from Janeway. There's no point making her a bigger target for Maquis resentment, or whatever the reason she was attacked is.
"Jonas, I want you to review the crew's accommodation. I will not tolerate people living like animals any longer. All quarters are to be billeted equally between Starfleet and Maquis. If you have to kick some of the Maquis out of their nice cosy quarters to make it stick, do it. Private spaces will be allocated on a case by case basis. I want a list of those on my desk by 15:00 today.”
“People are not going to like that, I can tell you. Besides, that's easy for you to say, Chakotay," Jonas says, with a smirk on his face. "You've got the largest quarters on the ship. Who are you going to share them with?"
"Janeway will return to her former quarters. It's the most secure place she can be. I'll move next door, in the First Officer's place. See to it all the stuff we've stored in there from the Val Jean goes into one of the cargo bays.”
Jonas is scowling. There has to be one who does not accept much needed changes. A pity it has to be my third in command.
"B'Elanna, what the status in Engineering?"
"I thought I could cope, putting our people in charge. Worked for a while, but when Janeway came along, I realised I'd only been tinkering at the edges. There's much more to this ship than we can handle. We are behind in routine maintenance, repairs, scheduled overhauls. We're just managing to get a start on the urgent stuff, then another system clamours for our attention.”
Don't I know.
"Does not help that the engine modifications we installed on the Nistrim ship are playing up again. Seems the Kazon treat their ship like they treat women. They think that hitting them will make them do whatever they want. How Seska stands these guys is beyond me. Anyway, she told me she wants to go back there, but I've told her the Kazon can wait. Can't spare her now Janeway is injured.”
"Nobody is to go on the Kazon ship until I say so," I say. "Culluh knows too much of our capabilities and weaknesses. He is becoming too cocky with his demands and I am not ready to give him more of our technology. It will not do to have one of our crew on his ship when he wakes up to the fact.”
B'Elanna nods. "Good. I've never been comfortable trading with them. I understand we had little choice if we wanted to cross the Kazon territory without a fight, but they are just a bunch of xenophobic bullies.”
A pained frown is showing on her brow. "What happened to Janeway, I mean, do you really think a Maquis could have ...?"
"I can't believe you all feel so sorry for her. She was undermining you and Chakotay all the time, in front of everybody.”
Jonas again. I need to watch him closely.
"If it was not for her, the environmental controls would still be on the blink in half of the ship. Remember that when you get into your nice warm bed tonight," B'Elanna growls.
I stand up, putting my hands flat on the table.
"That's enough. It's time we all start behaving like we've got a ship to run for the next seventy-five years, and we can't run it with a divided crew. Ayala, I want as many Starfleet as possible back at their stations with full clearance. Ensure security is not compromised but I want it done and dusted by 08:00, the day after tomorrow. Get Kim to help you.”
I've got their attention now. Jonas is apoplectic but stays silent. B'Elanna looks at me like I've lost my mind. "What next?” she asked. “The Maquis wearing Starfleet uniforms?"
"You've got a problem with my orders, Torres?" I stare her down. "You've said it yourself. This ship is too big, too complex. It's a different beast from the Val Jean.”
I throw her a peace offering before she explodes. "List all the Starfleet people you need in Engineering and give them the access they require, effective immediately.”
"Just try not to hit them," Ayala quips. She gives him a dark look, but she's got a smile on her lips.
The EMH's voice rings out. "Captain, my patient is regaining consciousness.”
"I'll be right there. Chakotay out.'
"You all know what you've had to do," I say to my small team. "Ayala, you are with me. B'Elanna, Jonas, dismissed.”
While walking to sickbay, the kernel of an idea is forming in my mind. About a ship, a crew, and the need for a first officer.
Chapter 5: Intersection
Voices, unravelling like ribbons. One shouts my name. I try to catch it, to bring it closer so I can warn him about what will become of Voyager.
Can't reach him. He won't know of betrayal and missing torpedoes. The bridge explodes. Culluh is laughing on the screen.
The pain goes away. There is another voice, prodding and impatient. I can't wake up. The hull has breached. Bodies drift pass, tongues protruding from vacant skulls.
Need to go to him. My feet touch the floor but I find myself crashing on all fours. Again. They carry me and restrain me. Not strong enough to fight.
Voyager's gone. There is only empty, dark space and silence. How could I have let this happen?
"I want those bastards caught and quartered, Ayala. Go and get Tuvok.”
He's back. I don't take my sight off him, afraid he will disappear in thin air.
"Can I talk to you alone, Captain?" First time I've acknowledged his self-assigned rank. I want to believe I am bowing to expediency.
The EMH huffs and puffs. "Ten minutes, Captain. My patient needs to rest.”
Chakotay's look of disbelief when I describe what I saw on the Kazon ship turns into a deep angry frown as I skim over how I got injured. He moves his hand as if to put it on mine, then let it drop at his side.
"Based on your description, your attackers were O'Donnell and Wonica. Not the brightest of Maquis recruits. Anybody who could shoot at Cardassians without worrying too much about the consequences was welcome in our ranks. A miracle we survived for so long," he says, pacing the length of the bed.
"What they did was a pretence to hide what's going on aboard the Kazon ship. They were under Seska's orders.”
He whirls around. "A pretence? You almost got killed!"
I don't understand why he is so fired up. Tuvok almost died a few weeks back, and Chakotay did not care much at the time. I reclined against the bed, feeling nauseous. "That's not what's important. You don't believe me. You don't believe what I saw.”
"Seska hates Starfleet officers and principles with a vengeance. Hardly makes the attack on you less wrong but she would not endanger her friends by giving away weapon technology. I know her. She is a Maquis," he pleads.
"I know you hate me too and that you think you can't trust me.”
As if to confirm my words, his anger is back, rendering his eyes black as he looks at me. There is nothing I can do but continue to try and persuade him, somehow, that Voyager is in grave danger.
"I understand, Chakotay, but I beg you, ask Torres to check the torpedo store. The Kazon don't have the know-how to build that kind of weapons themselves, not when they can't even get a replicator ...”
Belatedly, I realise that B'Elanna won't find any missing torpedoes. Even Seska would not have been able to steal the ten-metre long weapons. The Kazon must have built them from scratch thanks to her and who knows who else. Culluh deliberately sacrificed a couple of his men to lull us into thinking they could not handle our technology.
But Seska couldn't have worked alone. Whoever is her accomplice, they've had the time over the past few weeks to secrete away plans and maybe even replicate parts, while installing innocuous equipment as part of Chakotay's trade deals. I throw my legs over the side of the biobed. "I need to go to Engineering. The Kazon will be attacking as soon as Seska gets a whiff you know about the torpedoes. God knows what else she might have given them.”
Chakotay tries to push me back, telling me he'll do a sensor sweep of the Kazon ship. As if it's going to help. It will only alert them to what we are looking for.
He's blind, intent on safeguarding his alliance with the Nistrim. He has spent so much time with Culluh, deciding what piece of Voyager to trade for a pittance and the loss of principles I seem to be the only one still hanging to. He's got too much at stake to trust me.
I stare at him, my mind reeling. It's only now that the true extent of the danger that is engulfing Voyager hits me.
How could I have been so stupid?
"Kathryn? What ... ?"
"You, bastard!" I scream. "Seska would never have managed all this without somebody helping her, somebody on the bridge. All those orders coming to Engineering that did not make any sense, the repairs never finished before we were sent onto another job. Sending team after team on the Nistrim ship. You orchestrated the whole deal, behind everybody's back.”
I hit him with all I've got, which isn't much given I'm so weak and pathetic.
He gets hold of my wrists, pinning me down. "Stop, Kathryn, stop. I've got nothing to do with any of this.”
I manage to slide off the biobed but my right foot collapses and the hard floor rushes up to meet the rest of me.
The hiss of a hypospray on my neck, and then nothing matters anymore.
"Captain, the Nistrim ship has just raised shields.” Kim's voice sounds strained over my comm badge.
I give Kathryn's unconscious body a last glance. The Kazon are reacting as she predicted. What if she is right about everything else?
"Red alert. I'm on my way. " I tap my comm badge again. "Jonas, meet me on the bridge.” Getting no answer, I switch channels. "Ayala, where are you?"
"On my way to sickbay with Tuvok. What's with the red alert?"
"No time to explain. Tell Tuvok to get to the bridge and take the tactical console. Then get a security team and arrest Seska, Wonica and O'Donnell.”
"Seska! What for?"
"Just do it, Ayala.”
Paris is standing in my way.
"Chakotay, if the Kazon are attacking, Voyager needs its best pilot. I am your best pilot. Allow me to take the helm. Not for me," he says, nodding at the bed behind me, "for the Cap... I mean, for Janeway.”
His voice is hard, with none of his usual taunts.
"Don't think for a minute this is a one-way ticket out of sickbay," I say to him, as we hurry towards the turbolift.
"Wouldn't dream of it. I am having way too much fun playing nurse to a cantankerous hologram.”
I can't help but roll my eyes.
We reach the bridge just as the Nistrim ship attacks. It’s focusing its fire power on the lower decks, but the Kazon don't fire the torpedoes I am now sure they've got. Maybe they are not yet integrated with the weapon system as yet, or they want to use them on bigger fish.
We keep the Kazon at bay in no great part because the shields hold and Kim is able to counteract some nasty programming coming from within Voyager, aimed at disabling our defences.
Kim is no longer the rookie Ensign who looked all forlorn on the bridge after I ousted his former captain. I am glad B'Elanna convinced me to keep him at his station. Not that I don't think for a minute that he was not passing on information to Janeway. I would have done the same in his place.
"A shuttle is leaving Cargo bay 2 without authorisation, Captain. Two life signs on board.”
Seska is making her move. I'll be surprised if she hasn't planned her escape but I've got to try and stop her.
"Open a channel, Tuvok. I want to talk to them.”
"The shuttle comms have been disabled. They won't receive us.”
No need to call for the transporter. Seska is counting on us not to lower our shields just to get her back.
"Kim, what's the shuttle heading?"
"Going straight for the Nistrim ship, Captain.”
"Can you disable it?"
"Its computer does not respond and the ventral weapon array is offline.”
It's gloves off, then.
"Paris, fly Voyager so we can use our forward torpedoes on that damn shuttle. We can't afford the Nistrim to get hold of it.”
"The enemy ship has moved between us and the shuttle. They are retreating.”
Of course, they are. They've picked up Seska and her accomplice. Culluh has got what he wants, and I've been played like the fool I am.
I give the order to pursue, but more Kazon ships are coming up on long range sensors. We cut our losses and run.
"Ayala here. Found Wonica and his pal, but there is no trace of Seska.”
"I know.” I've got the feeling my third in command is no longer on Voyager either. "Turn their quarters inside out, including Jonas'. Chakotay out.”
"Tuvok, go and assist Ayala. I'll be in Engineering, accessing Seska's console and her communications. I want to know what she's done. Kim, you've got the bridge.”
I'm beginning to hate those two syllables.
Chapter 6: Line of sight
"The EMH has analysed the DNA Tuvok recovered from Seska's quarters. She is a Cardassian, most probably planted on the Val Jean to keep track of our movements.”
I can't say I'm surprised at learning of Seska's true background. Less than Chakotay, manifestly. He is pacing the room, the act of moving barely helping him control his anger.
"We hacked into Jonas' private log. He is the one who attacked Tuvok in the cargo bay. Seems Seska was storing some equipment bound for the Nistrim ship there, and Tuvok came in at the wrong time," he spits out. "We could find nothing on Seska's computer. She covered her tracks too well. Worthy of a Cardassian spy.”
"You feel betrayed," I say. "Somebody you put a lot of trust in turned against all you stand for. It's not easy to forget.”
I throw him a quick glance, realising I could as well be talking about what he did to me. "I'm sorry for what I said to you, back in sickbay. I had no proof whatsoever and I jumped to conclusions.”
He stops in his tracks, a strange look on his face. "When I saw you on Deck 15, –"
"You were there?"
"Ayala suspected something was very wrong when he found you. He did not want to alert half of the ship, so he asked me to come down. Discreetly. Nobody else was there. Well, Paris of course, but –.”
"I could hear your voice. But later on, I thought I had imagined it. An excuse for not being able to let you know. If I had told you then what I had seen, you might have been able to stop Seska," I whisper.
I can almost touch the deep shadows that surrounded me that night, but there is nothing to gain by going back there, and I force myself to come back to the present.
We are in my former quarters, bare of Chakotay's stuff. I only spent a few weeks here, between starting as Voyager's naïve captain and being forced out by the same man I was sent to capture. Such a long time ago.
From what Ayala told me when I left sickbay, I was only given these quarters to ensure my safety. A bit too little too late, but who was to know? With Seska gone and her two stooges in the brig, I assume Chakotay won't let me stay here much longer.
This time around, I'll take my books with me but leave the Machiavelli behind. Chakotay needs it more than I do. I can hopefully forget about returning to my broom closet, and with a cup of coffee in my hands, I can survive almost anything, I tell myself.
Silence creeps in. There should be more pressing matters on his mind than letting me know where I'll bunk for the night. He sits down, at the other end of the couch.
"What about the Kazon?" I ask. Thanks to the EMH, I was unconscious during the short battle, but, according to Kim, Voyager has suffered no more than a few glancing blows.
"Neelix has contacted a few of his less than salubrious friends. Culluh has been bragging about becoming a great leader of his people for some time. The larger tribes were not impressed but couldn't do anything while we were his allies. Now it's open season to cut him down," Chakotay says. "It means nobody will be bothering with us, at least for a while. Too busy playing their little internecine wars to bother with one small ship with no territory to claim.”
"It's good to know," I say, non-committal.
I find myself torn between telling Chakotay that Seska would probably have done as much damage if I had been in charge, and urging him to prepare the ship because she'll be back, Culluh in tow, and the rest of the Kazon not far behind. Before I can phrase my thoughts diplomatically, he takes the conversation in an unexpected direction.
"While Voyager is safe, I would like to explore your early proposal to blend the two crews," he says.
"You've done that already and it's working. I can feel the difference in the crew's attitude.” The mess hall was full of people talking and laughing when I went there for a late snack. Even Torres seemed much more happy, telling me all about the new repair schedule, after awkwardly saying sorry for what had happened to me.
"You are right, but we need to push it further. I think the ranks of all former Starfleet crew members should be reinstated, with equivalent positions for the Maquis where they have comparable experience.”
Coming from one who loathes anything to do with Starfleet, his statement is startling. "One ship, one crew?" I say, trying to keep my sarcasm down. How nice of him to finally realise this is the only way forward.
"Exactly," he answers. "And while we are at it, Starfleet and Maquis alike should wear Starfleet uniforms from now on. We can't afford to look divided when we meet new people and explore new worlds. The Maquis fashion clashes with pips and ranks, don't you think?"
He tugs at his ear, a silly grin on his face.
I must look like an idiot with my mouth open. He chuckles and I can feel myself smile in return. I haven't felt that relaxed since ..., well, not for a long time anyway.
His smile deepens, almost tender now. It's like a whole side of him has opened up, one I've never had the chance to see before. In other circumstances ...
"I just don't see you in a uniform, or Torres for that matter," I say, my eyes fixed on his damn dimples. I bring the coffee cup to my lips to avoid embarrassing myself any further.
"B'Elanna will get used to it. And I look very handsome in a Starfleet outfit, if you want to know," he adds.
This time, I choke on the hot liquid and have to put the cup down in a hurry.
Eyes still amused, Chakotay continues. "Tuvok and Paris have earned their place on the bridge but there is still the small matter of your position. It's in limbo at present.”
"I understand, Captain.” I stand at attention, managing to keep some weight off my bothersome foot.
His smile disappears. It's like a switch has been thrown off.
"Torres speaks highly of your engineering skills and she's asked me to consider placing you directly under her. However, Voyager also lacks a Science Officer. I believe Science was your first career?"
"Yes, sir. I would be happy to serve in either position.”
With the Kazon showing their true colours again, I'll help wherever I can. Too much at stake to be choosy.
Chakotay shakes his head, as if I've failed a crucial test. "For spirits' sake, sit down.”
I comply, leaving as much space as possible between us. His mood has changed, and I tense up, preparing myself for whatever is coming.
"Your talents and experience would be wasted in those roles. Voyager needs two people in command. I've learnt that the hard way," he says, his face hard. "A command team, the crew can have full confidence will get them home, and who can keep this ship whole through the long journey ahead.”
"You want me as your First Officer?" I blurt out. This is the evening for surprises.
He closes his eyes for a second, then stands up, his shoulders stiff. His frustration is clear to see but, for once, it does not seem to be directed at me. This man is indecipherable at times.
"Part of a First Officer's role is to act as a buffer between the captain and the crew. Isn't that why you asked me to become your second in command, soon after I arrived on Voyager?"
"When I put my proposal to you, I hadn't taken half of the crew prisoner," I say defiantly.
If he thinks I am just going to roll over and accept the job with a string of conditions about my former crew, he does not know me.
"The threat was still there, in the background. Behave like nice little Starfleet clones or else. You wanted the Maquis under control. Would you have given them any responsibilities, invited them to take their place as Senior Officers, or was I to be the only Maquis on show?"
The latter has never been my intention, yet I cringe because I remember thinking he might have seen my proposal as nothing more than that. "The point is moot, now. But yes, if they had proven themselves, I would have considered them to become part of the senior team. Of course.”
"What about Torres? Is she good enough for you? You know she's the best engineer we have on board. Would you have made her your Chief Engineer over Carey?"
Torres is a sore point. She is brilliant, and yet...
"Yes. Probably. Maybe. If she had been able to keep that attitude of hers under control. I won't have tolerated anybody punching their staff and landing them in sickbay, like she did to Carey.”
"Which is why I came in, under your plan. To keep the Maquis in line.”
"No. Well, at first, perhaps. But so much more than that. To integrate two crews into one, guided by Starfleet protocols because they are the only thing that stand between us and chaos," I say with as much conviction as I can convey. "You were a Starfleet officer yourself. You should understand the need for protocols and rules.”
Then I remember whom I am speaking to. "Anyway, it's the captain's prerogative to choose their officers," I add with a sigh. I am getting tired of this game of verbal ping-pong. The events of the past few days are catching up with me and I feel my temper fraying.
I just hope he follows on his earlier intentions to continue merging the two crews, because I've blown it. I could have done so much more for Voyager as his First Officer, but no, trust me to shove the world-according-to-Janeway down his throat, one more time.
"Indeed," is all he says.
Great. What's that supposed to mean? He is so ... infuriating.
Keeping myself from doing something I might regret, I walk up to the recycler. "Coffee, black.”
He waits for me to return, and then delivers his bombshell.
Chapter 7: Reversal
"Hear me. I am not the right person. Two months of more than questionable decisions are proof enough.”
"So what? What do you expect, Chakotay? A little dance, a thank you card? You trample everything I have ever stood for, you change the balance of power of this entire region of space by giving away our technology, and you think everything can go back to what it was before, like that?"
She snaps her fingers under my nose, before turning away in disgust, hands on hips. I hadn't really considered how she would react. I had expected derision, the might of Starfleet coming down at me, sprinkled with a good dose of 'I told you so', but, yes, truth be told, I thought she would have jumped at the chance of being captain once again.
Instead, we've been at it for an hour now and she still refuses to listen. She was ready to become my first officer when she thought that was what all I was offering, and now, I need to beg?
The night threatens to drag on, and if I drink another cup of coffee I'm going to be sick. "Computer, black tea, mint and lemon grass, hot.” I sit back down, cradling the cup in my hands. The temperature is mild compared to the simmering volcano facing the window.
I reiterate what I've told her several times already. I don't really know what else to say, but one thing is certain, I am not backing down from my only intelligent decision in weeks.
"Since I took the captaincy from you, I have been running Voyager as if it were a Maquis ship, crewed by Maquis, fighting like Maquis. It was a mistake. My mistake. I thought you were the enemy, and I was ready to ally myself to anybody. Anybody else, that is, than Starfleet.”
And I made Janeway pay for embodying Starfleet. The humiliation and isolation. The demotion to something less than a first-year cadet. Her so-called quarters on Deck 15. The double shifts for weeks on end, curtesy of Jonas. Never crossed my mind to check on her until she almost died. I did not want to know. And through her, I let down half of the ship.
"My actions were based on nothing more than revenge and pride. Not a great combination to build up a crew, quite apart from being a betrayal of why I took up the cause of the Maquis in the first place. I am to blame for Voyager's current ills.”
"Find somebody else," she says, looking at the night outside.
"Who? Tuvok? Three captains in less than three months? There is nobody else, and you know that. You are the rightful captain of this ship and crew.”
Maybe I've misread her character. Maybe she's just happy to be second in command, to serve under another.
"The crew," she snorts. "They deserve better than me.”
"What are you talking about?"
"You didn't strand them 75,000 light years from home, all by yourself," she shouts, finally turning around to face me.
Spirits, she’s thin. That's all I can think of. Selfishly focusing on what matters to me right now, I have not realised how unwell she looks. The ceiling light of her quarters accentuate the shadows under her eyes, and she shivers every so often despite the over-sized jumper she is wearing. One of mine that I must have forgotten at the bottom of a drawer when I left for next door. It's the first time I've ever seen her out of uniform, and she looks out of place somehow.
I have been blubbering my latest plan to an exhausted woman I have hunted down for weeks without respite. Well done, Chakotay, really well done.
Regardless, I must push on.
"Your decision to help the Ocampa was the only one you could take," I retort, wondering where her revelation is leading.
She is walking up and down the grey carpet, her slight limp making me wince.
"And see where it’s landed the ship. It will take us two generations to get back to the Alpha Quadrant, Chakotay. I have failed the entire crew. At least, you wanted to protect your own people when you took over the ship, while I decided the crew did not matter.”
Spirits, sometimes I wonder about the number of brain cells my thick skull can hold.
"A captain, Starfleet or not, is responsible for her crew, but not at any costs, not at the cost of the lives of an entire people, not if it meant letting a massacre unfold while we flew happily back home. Imagine the reception that would have awaited us in the Alpha Quadrant once the truth was out.”
"I …," She stops pacing, suddenly looking defeated, as if she's been fighting with herself for all that time. "I know that, I've told myself that, but all I see is the array exploding, and it's my fault if we are stuck on the wrong side of the galaxy.”
I want to shake her, to scream that if she thinks she made the wrong decision by helping the Ocampa, then she is not much better than me, worse even. And I can't believe that.
"It's highly unlikely the Caretaker would have been able to help us, anyway. Don't you realise? You did not just save the Ocampa, you saved us.”
She lifts an eyebrow in a fair imitation of Tuvok, but says nothing.
"If you had left the Ocampa to their fate, we would have been able to justify just about any brutality in our quest to get home. With so much blood already on our hands, nothing would have stopped us from getting what we needed, when we wanted it. Imagine the path of destruction the ship would have ploughed through this quadrant. Think about how the crew would have reacted.”
We would have become a rogue ship, hardened by the common memory of an atrocity perpetrated in the name of survival, and obliterating whatever stood in our way.
"It would have ripped us apart," she whispers.
I smile ruefully. Thanks to me, she's seen what could happen to a crew divided and at each other's throat. "Can't you see the ship would suffer a similar fate if I stay as captain, with half the crew thinking is their given right to rebel when things get a bit too hard, and the other half forever resentful?"
"But that's not what you've been doing. You are making it easier for them to work and live together. You are bringing this crew together already. What else needs to be done?" she asks.
"A crew needs to know what its leader stands for. Sure, I can lead them. But what I once fought for does not apply here anymore. The Maquis cause could as well belong to another universe for all it's useful here.”
"You are selling yourself short, Chakotay. You sacrificed your ship to help the Ocampa, despite knowing I was there to capture you. That is the mark of a good leader.”
"Trust a Maquis to like a good fight. But this is the Maquis problem, isn't it? The hardest part is not the fight, it is what to do afterwards. How to keep a crew together for the journey ahead. That's why your place is on Voyager's bridge, in the command chair. Not because Starfleet gave you a ship and four pips, not even because I made a mess of it. Because of that one decision the Ocampa and the crew needed you to take. You will keep us to who we are.”
"And now, I need to handle the consequences of my decision," she says with a small smile. "You are right, I cannot do anything less, can I.”
This is not why I need her back in the captain’s chair, but I’ll work on that guilt of hers later. For the moment, I hold my breath, until I see an imperceptible nod, her back already straightening up. But I don't want to let her think I've condemned her to bear the price alone. "You've got a good crew under you, Maquis and Starfleet alike. They will support you.”
She throws her arms up in the air, pacing the room once more. "It is not that simple, Chakotay. Starfleet protocols are clear. A court martial is the only way open to a captain to deal with a mutiny. And then what? The crew will be divided once again just when they are starting to work together, and what am I supposed to do with all the Maquis? Throw them in the brig? You've put me and this ship in an impossible situation.”
"There is a way out of your dilemma. Pardon my fellow Maquis for deeds which are solely mine. I was their captain and the one responsible for leading them. Charge me, and only me. Starfleet justice will be satisfied and you'll have the crew you need for the journey ahead.”
I am not worried about my fate. Prison in the Alpha Quadrant, the brig here, exile - I am spoiled for choices. "That's what I did to you. I threw the Maquis at you like baying dogs - Jonas, Seska, Wonica, O'Donnell. You would be well within your right to do the same to me in return.”
She faces me with an incredulous look in her eyes. "This is not a tit for tat competition as to who gets hurt the most, Chakotay, and I certainly can't and won't make this a personal vendetta. It would be wrong. Wrong, divisive and futile.”
I seek to interrupt her, but she beats me to it.
"No, I won't put the crew through another trauma. There will be no court martial for any of the Maquis. Not here, not now. Your actions will be noted in the ship log, but judgement will have to wait until we are in Federation space," she says, shaking her head.
"Next question is, what am I going to do with you?" I hear her say, as she turns away.
"You can't keep me in the brig for the next 75 years. Some of the Maquis are bound to try and get me out, or at the very least make life very difficult for you with me still around. Let me off the ship at the nearest inhabited planet instead. They'll forget about me soon enough.”
"Request denied. As you said earlier, you made a mess, you'll help clean it up.”
"Then, tell me what you want from me. Toil in the lower decks, out of sight for the next decades? I'll do it.”
"Don't tempt me, Chakotay. The wastewater pump in the recycling plant is struggling. Used to wake me up every night. I am sure B'Elanna has got a few other jobs like that on her maintenance list. But I won't give you or your supporters the satisfaction of thinking you are the victim of heavy-handed Starfleet payback.”
She smiles. It is not a friendly smile and I gird myself for what she's got in mind for me.
"We are still in Kazon territory and Seska is out there, helping them. I need your experience in dealing with those threats. Can I count on you to be completely open with me and to use whatever you know, however you know it, to find a way to defeat them?"
I stand at attention. "Yes, Captain.”
An advisor, like Paris was. Not a bad idea. I would have no authority and she can easily restrict my access to Voyager's command codes and sensitive areas.
"Good. Something else though, before you think that you are getting off lightly. I cannot condone violence and physical harassment against members of this crew. I trust my First Officer will find a punishment commensurate to what was done to them. Something useful, preferably.” She stares at me.
My mind goes blank, then ratchets up so slowly, it's embarrassing. I watch her to make sure I understand her perfectly. "I've heard the recycling plant could do with an overhaul.”
She waits, giving nothing away.
"I will schedule rosters after normal shifts, and oversee the job myself. It is only fair that I lead by example," I finish, almost tripping over myself.
"I expect nothing less," she says, with an encouraging nod.
"Everything back to what it was before, like that?" I press on, marvelling at how the whole situation has unfolded.
She turns aside, her voice softer. "No, one more thing. We've both experienced how the belief one is right can lead to devastating results. I ask of you to ensure that if I get carried away one day, if I endanger this crew needlessly in the pursuit of what I feel is right, you will remind me of what can happen. I might fight you, I might throw you in the brig you've just avoided today, but be assured that there is no more important duty of a First Officer than to tell his captain she is going too far. Will you do that, for me?"
"Yes, Captain. If that time comes,” I say softly.
"Then, I expect to see you in uniform and on the bridge for the start of the Alpha shift, Commander, when I will announce our change of command to the crew. Don't forget your pips. Dismissed.”
Her voice fills the bridge, the tone full of hope.
"Somewhere along this journey, we'll find a way back. Mister Paris, set a course for home.”
She smiles at me, and then sits in the command seat to my right. She's back where she belongs.
The Maquis experiment, as Kathryn now calls my mutiny, is well and truly over. Somehow, somewhen, I reached the point where I could see a clear path, free of doubts and regrets. It is a narrow track and far from being straight, especially here, in the Delta Quadrant. But I have a good guide, sure footed. It's just a matter of keeping up with her and staying on that path.
A darker thought encroaches. Seska. I'm sure we'll hear from her again, very soon.