Disclaimer: Don’t own ‘em, but if I did …. 

Notes: This is my first effort at fan fiction and is dedicated to KJ (read her stuff – it’s good) who declared firmly “if you can write it in your head, you can put it on paper”;  also to all fan fiction writers everywhere who have kept the idea of J/C alive for so long.  Who needs TPTB?  We don’t.  This is by way of thanks for all the pleasure you have given me with your stories.  Enjoy. 

Rating:  Mostly PG-13;   R for the epilogue


By Mary S. 

Chapter 1:  Chakotay leaves 

          “Damn it Kathryn!”  Chakotay shouted in a complete fury.  “Why won’t you listen?!  Why do you insist on putting yourself in danger like that!  Do you ever stop to think about the rest of us?  About how we would feel if you didn’t make it back from one of these damfool missions?!  Or do you just not care!  The invincible Kathryn Janeway!  Well, I’ve got news for you.  One day, you won’t make it back!  You won’t succeed!  You won’t beat the odds!”  His voice dropped as the anger abated and despair took its place.  “Why do I even bother trying – you don’t listen to me.  You don’t care about what I go through…” 

          Kathryn Janeway sat in her chair at her desk, saying nothing.  She did not want to upset Chakotay any more; maybe silence from her would make him run out of steam sooner.  It seemed to be working.  She was not an unfeeling woman, but she had heard this particular rant far too often, and no longer paid very much attention.  She was the captain – she would not ask anything of her crew that she refused to do herself.  Therefore, she took the most dangerous away missions.  That way, if something happened, it happened to her and she would not be burdened with still more guilt because she had sent yet another crewmember into an impossible situation. 

          In his more rational moments, Chakotay understood this, but he was far too protective of her; whenever her safety was threatened, reason went out the airlock. 

          He had finished apparently.  Good – now maybe she could get some work done and slip down to sickbay when he wasn’t looking.  Some of her bruises were quite painful and she was starting to wonder if she had cracked at least two ribs.  Fortunately, no injuries were visible.  If Chakotay had any idea of how much she had been hurt, he would literally tie her to her chair to keep her from leaving the ship. 

          The Commander realized, yet again, that his words were not having much effect.  He turned on his heel and walked out, wondering if she had even noticed that he’d gone.  The misery left a hard knot in his chest, one he knew from experience would stay with him for some time.  He was so tired of this, so tired generally, and depressed.  He couldn’t find a way to get through to Kathryn, to make her understand even a little bit how torn up he was every time she led a mission like that.  He had tried not to care, had tried to maintain a professional demeanor.   But it was looking somewhat ragged these days and, he was sure, not very professional.  Certainly not by Starfleet standards. 

          As he sat on the bridge trying to regain his calm, he longed yet again for peace and order.  He didn’t know how much more turmoil he could take.  Certainly he would be as bored as anyone else with a dull, monotonous existence, but life on Voyager was at either one extreme or the other.  There seemed to be no middle ground.   And much as he loved the crew, the ship and its captain, he was beginning to think seriously about leaving.  Permanently. 

          An hour later, Janeway decided that she could wait no longer and left her ready room to go to sickbay.  As she mounted the steps to the turbolift, she stumbled and tripped.  She couldn’t stop a moan of pain – which Chakotay heard as he moved to help her up. 

          “Captain, what’s wrong?  Are you hurt?” 

          “Oh, it’s nothing, Commander.  I’m fine,” she replied as she tried to regain her footing.  Even as she spoke, the damaged rib shifted, causing her to moan again and indicate very clearly that she was not all right. 

          “Captain, you’re white as a sheet!  Tuvok!  Take the bridge while I get the captain to sickbay.” 

           Janeway was really feeling rather faint so she permitted the commander the liberty of half-carrying her onto the turbolift, and subsequently into sickbay.  The EMH was already activated, thanks to Tuvok, and he immediately scanned the captain.  His mouth thinned in to a severe line of disapproval as he checked his tricorder. 

          “Captain!  Why did you not come here sooner!  You have no business being on your feet or even sitting up in this condition!” 

          “And just what condition is that?” inquired Chakotay in a deceptively soft voice. 

          “You can see right here, Commander.  A bruised liver, and let’s hope it’s only bruised and not torn, several cracked ribs, this one is actually broken, plus a lot – an awful lot – of bruises and contusions all over her body.” 

          Janeway had had enough. 

          “Doctor!  You will report my condition to me, not the commander!” 

          “Yes, Captain, but…” 

          “Doctor, stop right there!  Commander, thank you for your assistance; please return immediately to the bridge.” 

          Chakotay had no choice but to obey, and they both knew it, but she could see the disapproval in his stiff back as he exited sickbay.  Well, she would coax him around later when she was feeling better. 

          “Now, doctor.  Please repair all that you can.  And yes, I know what you’re going to say so I’ll save you the trouble.  I will go to my quarters now for a few hours.  But I need to be on my feet and ready to go by 0700 tomorrow.  Understood?  Do whatever you have to, to ensure that.” 

          “Captain, you are not a machine!  You can’t just order your body to be completely healed by a certain time!” 

          “Doctor!  Do it!”  And the glare was on him in full force. 

          “Yes, Captain,” in a resigned tone.  And he turned away to prepare a series of hyposprays, all the while muttering to himself in an aggrieved fashion.  Janeway tuned him out. 

          Chakotay finished his shift on the bridge and retreated immediately to his quarters.  He wasn’t hungry, and certainly couldn’t face Neelix’s latest in his present mood.  As he sat brooding, the idea of leaving came back, stronger than ever.  Finally, more out of curiosity than anything else, he logged into astrometrics latest reports to see what lay ahead.  At first glance, there didn’t seem to be anything suitable but then, in a cluster of half a dozen solar systems, he saw one with several M-class planets.  As he focused on them, one in particular caught his eye.  It looked like New Earth.  He searched for more information about it, but could find none.  So he went to the Astrometrics lab where he found Seven setting up a series of scans of an L-class nebula located in the opposite direction. 

          “Commander, I was about to call you.  I am nearly ready to begin scans of the nebula three light years away – there.” 

          “Seven,  instead of the nebula, could you send a probe the other way towards that cluster of solar systems – yes,  those ones.” 

          “If you wish, Commander.  But I thought you would want…” 

          “Thanks, Seven, but we’ve scanned lots of nebulas.  Let’s see what’s over here.  There might be some useful minerals or ores.” 

           “There are not.  I have already done a geological scan of that area – what ores there are we already have in abundance.” 

           “Seven, please!  Indulge me.” 

           “Very well, Commander.  Will a class four probe suffice?” 

           “Yes, Seven, that should be fine.  Please let me know when it starts to transmit data.”  And he left her looking rather puzzled. 

           An hour later, Seven paged Chakotay. 

           “Commander, the probe has begun transmitting.   Would you like me to route the data to your quarters?” 

           “Yes, thank you, Seven.  And program it to self-destruct when its orbit starts to decay.” 

           “Yes Commander.” 

           Chakotay brought up the data, ordered a cup of tea from the replicator and made himself comfortable.  As the information came through, he found that the planet was inhabited with a thriving agricultural-based society, no satellites in orbit and very little pollution.  The latter indicated either a pre-industrial society or one so advanced that all pollutants had either been removed or placed underground.  There were two fairly small arctic zones, one at each pole, and a desert area on one of three continents.  There were several mountain ranges of varying heights on all the continents, but for the most part, the land seemed to be either forests or plains.  Approximately one quarter to one third of the surface was ocean.  There were several communities of several hundred thousand people each, and many smaller ones, but no metropolises.  It looked perfect. 

           For the first time in several days, Chakotay felt his despair lifting. He found himself anticipating and hoping that there, in that place, he would be able to live in peace.  Finally, he had something to look forward to. 

           Late the next day, the commander requested an interview with his captain.  She steeled herself as he followed her into her ready room; she fully expected to receive a severe lecture bordering on a tongue-lashing from her first officer and, truth be told, had been waiting for it all day.  Therefore, his words caught her completely by surprise. 

           “Captain, I am requesting permission to leave the ship.” 

           “Chakotay?!  Leave the ship where?  You mean you want to go on an away mission?” 

           “No, Captain.  I wish to leave the ship permanently.  There is an M-class planet in one of the solar systems immediately ahead.  I have studied it and believe I could settle there.” 

           Janeway sat in her chair, her mouth agape, utterly at a loss for words.  Leave?!  He couldn’t leave!  She needed him – they all needed him!  How could he leave! 

           Chakotay watched her face and when she finally remembered to close her mouth, he judged her ready to listen to him. 

           “I know you have questions and comments, Captain, but I would like you to hear me out first.  To begin:  I am tired, bone-tired, so tired that I have trouble at times remembering what I should be doing.  For nearly seven years, we have jumped from one crisis to the next, mostly with hardly a break in between.  I know you thrive on that but I don’t.  Oh, I liked it well enough when I was younger, but not now.  Not for seven years, almost non-stop.  I don’t really think my absence will make much difference to the crew; I know they’ll miss me at first, well I hope they will, but we’ve all been together so long, everyone knows their roles very well now.  I have not felt truly needed for a long time – the crew will be fine without me.  I want some peace and order in my life.  I want more control, to know what will happen each day; and – I want to stay in one place.  I’ve had enough, Captain.  I want off.” 

           Kathryn Janeway was rarely at a loss for words, but she had no clue what to say to him now.  He had obviously been considering this for some time.  Why hadn’t he said something about being so tired – but she knew why.  He had been trying not to add to her burdens.  It hadn’t occurred to her until now how much she must have added to his. 

           “Chakotay, I don’t know what to say, except that I don’t want you to go.  I need you, we all do, and while I realize it may not always seem that way…” 

           “Captain – Kathryn, don’t.  You’ve made it very clear, especially recently, that you don’t need me.  The fact that you do the opposite of every suggestion I make indicates that I am of no use to you.” 

           “Chakotay, that’s not true!” 

           “Yes, Kathryn, it is.” 

           She hung her head a bit because deep down, she knew he was right.  Lately, she had been feeling particularly perverse and had almost gone out of her way to be as difficult as possible.  The most recent away mission was a case in point.  What could she do or say to make him stay.  And the answer was – nothing.  She couldn’t go beyond command protocol and wouldn’t anyway at this point.  That would be really low.   She decided to stall for time. 

           “Chakotay, I would like to give this some thought, work out the ramifications…”  My God!  Was she even considering this!  He couldn’t leave her! 

           Chakotay handed her a padd.  “I’ve already done that – I think I’ve covered all eventualities.”  Numbly she took it and nodded her head in dismissal. 

           “We reach the planet tomorrow morning, Captain.  I need your answer by then.”  And he left. 

           As evening wore on into night, the captain progressed through incredulity to anger to partial acceptance.  By early morning, she had a blinding headache and was totally exhausted.  But she had come to the realization that if he really wanted to leave, she couldn’t stop him.  And so she set out for his quarters to tell him. 

           Voyager entered orbit around the planet some two hours later.  Local authorities were contacted, the situation explained and permission granted on certain conditions.  Chakotay was required to promise to live as their  people did, to abide by their laws, to bring no strange technology or weapons and to have no contact with any off-worlders other than Voyager’s crew.  In return, he would be accepted into whichever community he chose to join, and given assistance as needed.  Close scans had already established that this civilization was advanced, but the people had chosen to live an agrarian lifestyle in harmony with the land.  Chakotay knew he could not have found a better home. 

           The captain made a shipwide announcement – the crew were given half a day to say goodbye.  B’Elanna broke down in tears although she would swear later it hadn’t happened.  Chakotay was practically in tears himself – he hadn’t thought it would be so hard but he knew he was doing the right thing. 

           Kathryn stayed away, giving the crew as much time as she could.  Finally, in the transporter room, she came to say goodbye.   She dismissed all other crew and manipulated the controls herself.  No one ever knew exactly what was said between captain and commander, and when the captain exited a few minutes later with somewhat red eyes, no one made any comment.  She retreated to her ready room with orders not to be disturbed.  Chakotay was gone. 

Chapter 2:  Voyager Continues 

           On a day two months after leaving Chakotay’s planet, as the crew had named it, Kathryn Janeway sat in her ready room and wondered, for the umpteenth time, what had possessed her to let him go.  She was not happy. She pretended for the sake of the crew, she tried to be bright and cheerful in a captainly sort of way, but truth be told, she had not been happy for a long time.  If she couldn’t admit it to anyone else, at least, she thought, she had better be honest enough to admit it to herself.  She missed him!  Oh lord – how she missed him!  So many times she looked around for the twinkle in his eye, the slight smile, only to be brought up short by the empty chair to her left.  She had appointed Tuvok as first officer, but his skills at tactical were required often enough that it was easier for him, and everyone else, to stay there.  So Chakotay’s chair remained empty – and that made it even harder.  She had never felt so alone, ever. 

           The call came out of the blue.  “Captain to the bridge!”  She hurried out of her ready room, mentally preparing herself for the latest Delta Quadrant bully, only to stop and stare in amazement at the viewscreen.  There, big as life, was a wormhole!  A great big swirling gorgeous wormhole!  A too-good-to-be-true wormhole! 

           “Launch a probe, Harry.  Let’s see where it goes.”  She tried very hard not to get her hopes up.  So many things had gone wrong – well, one big thing, but that had led to a lot of other things; it was time, more than time, for something to go right. 

           “Captain, receiving telemetry from the probe.” 

          “Put it on screen, Harry.” 

           They all watched, holding their breaths, as the colours swirled faster  and faster until – POP!   The probe came out the other end. 

           “Where is it, Harry?” 

           A long pause.  “Captain!  It’s  the Alpha Quadrant!” 

           “Are you sure?  You must be sure!” 

           “I’m sure, Captain!  It is!  It’s the Alpha Quadrant – I think somewhere near the Neutral Zone.  It should be about two weeks from Earth at warp six – approximately.” 

           “Oh mother!” yelled Tom Paris.  “We’re coming home!” 

           “Harry!” yelled Janeway above the sudden uproar.  “Shipwide speakers.    All hands, the probe is in the Alpha Quadrant!  I repeat, the wormhole leads to the Alpha Quadrant!  Batten down the hatches and hang on!  We're going home!” 

           And with a flash, Voyager dove into the wormhole and left the Delta Quadrant behind. 

Chapter 3: Home 

           “Starfleet Command!  This is Captain Kathryn Janeway of USS Voyager.  We are in the Alpha Quadrant.  Please respond.  Starfleet Command!…”   The hail played repeatedly for what seemed like an interminable length of time until Harry Kim spoke. 

           “Captain, our hail is being answered.” 

           “On shipwide speakers, Ensign.  I want the whole crew to hear this.” 

           “USS Voyager, this is Starfleet Command.  Come in please, Voyager.” 

           “Starfleet, this is Voyager.” 

           “Voyager, where are you?  State your position.” 

           “We are in the Alpha Quadrant, near the Neutral Zone, or what used to be the Neutral Zone.  Please advise if any Federation ships are in the area.” 

           “Voyager, stand by. 


           “Voyager, be advised that the Enterprise under Captain Picard is the nearest ship.  They are being notified now to proceed posthaste to your position.  Also, be advised to watch for Romulan ships; they may or may not be hostile.  Starfleet out.” 

           “Welcome home to the Alpha Quadrant,” sighed Paris.  “And be prepared to defend ourselves.  Nice to know some things haven’t changed.” 

           “All hands, you heard Starfleet.  We will wait for the Enterprise and hope no Romulan ships are in the area.  Go to yellow alert.” 

           For ten hours Voyager sat in open space waiting for its escort.  The atmosphere was a strange mixture of hope, apprehension, expectation and a real fear that they could still be destroyed by an old enemy.  It seemed almost cruel to think that they had come so far, and survived so much, but might still fall short this close to home.  Most spoke in lowered voices and almost tiptoed around the ship, as if by keeping as quiet as possible, they might better escape detection. 

           Finally, after what seemed like forever, the Enterprise appeared, screaming in at full warp. 

           “Voyager, this is Captain Jean-Luc Picard.   Be prepared to go to maximum warp; Romulan warbirds have been detected on an intercept heading.  Oh – and by the way – welcome home.” 

           “Enterprise, standing by.  And thank you .  It’s good to be home – I think!” 

           “Bridge to Engineering.  B’Elanna, I’m going to need maximum warp very quickly.  We have been detected by the Romulans and are going to make a run for it.” 

           “Aye Captain.  Warp engines standing by.  Ready at your command.” 

           “Voyager, this is the Enterprise.  Maximum warp – now!” 

           As the Enterprise swept around  Voyager in a tight turn, the smaller ship jumped to warp 9 and shot off in its wake. 

            Several hours later, the Enterprise slowed its furious pace and hailed its companion. 

          “Voyager, this is the Enterprise.  I think we can slow down a bit and catch our breath.  And give you a proper welcome.”  And various coloured spotlights danced over the sleek hull in random patterns. 

           “Enterprise, thank you.  Please give us our orders and an ETA for Earth.  We have a lot of people who have waited a long time for this.” 

           “Voyager, we will proceed directly to Earth.  Those are the only orders I have at present.  You caught Command quite by surprise and I don’t think they have formulated any action yet.  Meanwhile, I have a crewman here who has more than a passing interest in your ship.  He would like very much to visit if that’s possible. I believe you spoke with him briefly two years ago..” 

           “Lt. Barclay!  Yes, by all means send him over.  We are all quite anxious to meet him.” 

           Over the nearly two weeks it took to reach Earth, there was much visiting back and forth between the two ships.  Mr. Barclay actually spent most of his time on Voyager and was made an honourary member of the crew.  Messages were sent and received, recent history, particularly the war with the Dominion, explained and analyzed, and anticipation built as they drew nearer to Earth.  The one question which remained unanswered was the fate of the former Maquis.  Try as she might, Janeway could not get anything but evasive responses from headquarters.  In the end, Picard advised her to back off as her persistence might harden positions more than necessary.  There was still a lot of unresolved feelings about the Maquis.  While the general public mostly sympathized with them (which wasn’t hard as the remaining few were all imprisoned), Starfleeters were often resentful, particularly of those Maquis who had once served in the ‘fleet.  Janeway did her best to reassure her crew but the uncertainty was like a dark cloud. 

           As they approached Earth, more and more ships appeared to join them until they reached a point one day out - and there they stopped.  Before them the fleet was drawn up in welcome.  Lights played across hulls big and little as the Enterprise led Voyager through the great armada which then formed up behind and on either side as they began the very last day of their long, long journey. 

           Tears of joy and pride ran down the face of every crewmember.  They had done it!  They had come 70,000 light years!  They had made it home!  All over the Federation, beings stopped to watch and marvel that one ship could have survived so much.  In honour of such a special occasion, Voyager was permitted to land as close to Starfleet Headquarters as was feasible.  And so for the last time, Captain Janeway called out her orders. 

           “Mr. Paris.  Code Blue.  Prepare to land.  Engines off line.  Thrusters only.  Landing struts – engage.  Inertial dampeners at maximum.  Take us down, Tom.” 

           “Aye Captain.  Landing struts engaged.  Engines off line.  Inertial dampeners at maximum.  Here we go.” 

           As the ship sank down, wave after wave of sound rose up to meet it from the thousands gathered to watch.  They touched down.  The hatch opened to a roar so loud that all were deafened.   Kathryn Janeway led her crew down the ramp to Earth – and believed, finally, that they were really home. 

Chapter 4:   Review 

           “Captain Janeway.  You are hereby ordered to appear before a Board of Inquiry to explain your actions in the Delta Quadrant.  Present yourself at Starfleet Headquarters at 0900 tomorrow morning.  Starfleet out.” 

           Well, she had known all along that eventually she would have to justify her decisions – she just hadn’t expected to be called before a board quite so soon.  So much for the welcome home, she thought.  Not even one day to celebrate before getting down to business.  She had not even had time to inquire about her family or look for personal messages.   Well, she could do that anyway.   Now that was odd…no messages!   Not one!  That doesn’t seem right. 

           She paged several of the senior staff only to discover they had all run up against a blank wall.  Apparently, Starfleet intended to debrief the entire crew first before permitting them to be “distracted” by friends and families.  Janeway found their attitude to be more than a little dictatorial, but she was in no position to argue.  She knew she would find it difficult at first to accept others’ authority, so she tried to put a good face on it and save her battles for more important things – such as the fate of her Maquis crewmembers.  There was still no word and she was getting very worried.  Perhaps tomorrow would bring more positive news.  With a heart much heavier than she would have believed possible on this day of all days, she went to bed. 

           At 0900 hours sharp, Kathryn Janeway walked into the briefing room at headquarters where the inquiry was to be held.  On the opposite side of a large table were five admirals complete with aides, perhaps a dozen officers altogether, and on her side, there was – her.  At such a blatant attempt to intimidate her, her chin came up and her eyes snapped.  She recognized three admirals – Nechayev, Hayes and Paris, but not the other two.  Only Owen Paris could be considered a friend and advocate.   Hayes was a fussy, by-the-book man who had not served in the field in nearly forty years.  And Nechayev!    Oh lord!  She and Janeway had  had a number of run-ins over the years.  And Janeway remembered that Chakotay had hated her – why, she had never learned but there definitely was a history there.  For years, there had been rumours about Alynna Nechayev’s constantly rotating staff:  always male, always goodlooking, always young.  The more unkind had called them her “boy toys” although not to her face.  Nechayev had a well-deserved reputation for never forgetting a slight and for always getting revenge.  Janeway would have to watch her step very carefully. 

           They began, first one then another; questions coming from all sides and with no regard for chronology. 

           “Captain, could you explain…”, “Captain, on stardate xxx, you met the race known as….”, “Captain, what happened on stardate xxx that made you take the following actions…”  On and on it went.  Often, they did not even wait for a full answer before going on to the next question.  Obviously, a whole team of analysts had poured over the ship’s logs which she had transmitted in the last two years.  She began to get confused, to muddle events, to forget details.  So much had happened – and it was hard to remember sometimes just why she had done what she had five or six years before. 

           After four hours, there was a half hour break for a meal, then it began again.  At 1800 hours, with Janeway visibly sagging in her chair, the board called a halt.  “We will reconvene tomorrow at 0900.  Captain, you are to remain at HQ tonight.  A room has been prepared and personal necessities brought from the ship.  You will have no contact with anyone until this inquiry is completed.   Understood?”   “Yes, Admiral” 

           A young lieutenant led her to her room and locked her in for the night.  She was appalled – what was the matter with these people?  Did they think she was going to run away?  She tried to become angry but found she was simply too exhausted to care.  Climbing into bed, she gazed out the window towards where she thought the Delta Quadrant was, and tried to imagine what Chakotay would be doing.  She missed him more than ever, but was very glad he wasn’t here now.  She didn’t like to think where he would have spent the night – most likely in a prison cell if the attitudes she had seen today were any indication.  So far, his name had only come up in passing but she knew that eventually she would have to justify why she had let him leave. 

           Day two passed much as day one; by the end of the fourth day, Janeway was completely numb.  Her speech had become slurred, her memory was playing tricks, and her eyes were glazed over.  At first, the silence didn’t register, then she realized no one had asked a question.  Well, she didn’t think so.  Had anyone?  They were all looking at each other and consulting their padds. 

           “Captain Janeway” said Admiral Hayes.  “We are going to stop early today so that we may review your testimony.  Tomorrow will be the last day. 

           Janeway staggered to her feet and attempted to straighten to attention, although if the look on Nechayev’s face was any indication, she wasn’t very successful.  At least the end was in sight. At this point, she was grateful for any small mercy. 

           0900 hours.  The last day.  The Board composed itself, the Captain sat up as straight as she could in anticipation of a quick departure.  Her hopes were dashed. 

           “Captain Janeway, upon review, the Board finds that there are three particular questions for which further explanation is required.  The first concerns the destruction of the Caretaker’s array seven years ago.  Please elaborate, in as much detail as possible,  exactly why you took such action, thereby breaking the Prime Directive.”  And so it began again.  At least the questions were all focused on the one event which made her answers somewhat more coherent. 

           “Captain Janeway.  In the sixth year of your journey, you encountered another Starfleet vessel, the Equinox.  Apparently, this vessel was destroyed by you.  Please explain such an extraordinary event – in full detail.”  This time, she had more trouble justifying her actions, particularly in light of Chakotay’s and Tuvok’s logs.  She knew she had gone too far, but had hoped to gloss over the fact that she had relieved her second-in-command and threatened to relieve her third.  Both officers’ logs stated the case very precisely along with their opinions that the captain had been overstressed and not thinking clearly.  Damning evidence, she knew, particularly when one corroborated the other.  But, finally, questions on this topic ended as well. 

           “Captain, two months before you found the wormhole which led to the Alpha Quadrant, you permitted your first officer and the rebel whom you were originally ordered to capture, to leave the ship.  Explain.”  Janeway opened her mouth and found she had no words.  How could she explain their relationship when she had never quite understood it herself.  So far, she had avoided any questions about the personal aspects of her friendship with Chakotay; she had managed to make it seem like a good working command relationship only – and she really did not want to open up that particular can of worms. 

           Nechayev had an odd gleam in her eye which Janeway didn’t like at all.  If she weren’t careful, the whole thing was going to come out and look far worse that it had actually been.  So many different interpretations could be put on their behaviour toward each other.  In the end, she replied only that the commander had wished to leave, and in light of his exemplary service to the ship, she had let him.  They danced around, trying to get her to trip herself up, but Janeway had had enough, and simply refused to say anything different.  Eventually, the Board gave up and dismissed her for two hours while they decided her fate. 

           “Captain Kathryn Janeway.  This Board of Inquiry, which has been investigating your actions in the Delta Quadrant,  is making the following recommendations to Starfleet Command.  One, you are to be relieved of command immediately and permanently.  Two, you are to undergo a full and complete evaluation by a team of Starfleet psychiatrists who will then report to Command on your mental state.  Three, as an alternative, you may take early retirement immediately with the proviso that you are not at any time, now or ever, to captain a ship, no matter what size, anywhere.  If you disregard this proviso, you will be permanently confined to a facility for the mentally disabled.  If you wish to appeal these recommendations, you may do so.  But be aware that such an action will most likely result in a full court martial with all the attendant publicity.  You are dismissed.” 

           Kathryn Janeway sat in total disbelief.  She could not comprehend what she had just heard.  Take away her command?!  Take away Voyager?!  Take away her life?!!  Why were they doing this?  She hadn’t done anything so dreadful – well, the Equinox incident was a mess, but did that justify taking away everything that meant anything to her?  As she continued to sit, her jaw hanging open, Owen Paris came up to her, pulled her to her feet and led her out of the room.  They ended up in his office where she finally found her voice. 

           “Owen, why?!!  I don’t understand – why am I being punished?  Why all this talk of psychiatrists and mental facilities?  I’m fine!  There’s nothing wrong with me that a bit of leave won’t cure!  There’s nothing wrong with me!!” 

           Paris listened to her and remembered the eager young cadet of so long ago.   Whether she liked it or not, this woman bore no resemblance at all to that cadet. 

           “Kathryn, I want you to listen to me.  And no interrupting until I’m finished.  Agreed?”  At her nod, he began. 

           “Kathryn, you have accomplished a feat that no other captain ever has.  For seven years, you have been Starfleet.  You’ve had no days off, no rest, no leave, no downtime to be anything other than the captain.  Yes, I remember about New Earth, but that was so long ago and for such a short period, it really doesn’t count.  You have been “on duty” for seven years.  And whether you believe it or not, no human being can withstand that kind of constant stress without her judgment being affected.  Add to that the constant turmoil which you have undergone.  The Kazon, Vidiians, Borg, species 8472, the Hirogen, Borg again, on and on, always someone ready to cut your throats and seize your ship.  No backup, no one to turn to for help – only you.  Your crew certainly has behaved in a manner far beyond anyone’s expectations.  They will all, and I mean all, receive commendations.  Those who were Maquis will also receive full pardons in light of their service to Starfleet.”  Kathryn breathed a big sigh of relief at that.  Something had gone right in all this horror. 

           “But Kathryn, I should tell you that if Chakotay had returned with you, he would not have been pardoned.  His service to Voyager would have been taken into account, but he would have stood trial for treason.  And if he ever does come back, that will still happen.  The books on him remain open.” 

           “Owen, I’m sorry to stop you and I know I promised not to, but could you tell me why all the others were allowed to go free and not him.” 

           “He was their leader – it’s that simple.  And as their leader, their captain, his is the final responsibility.  I shouldn’t have to tell you that, Kathryn.” 

           “No of course not.  I see that now.  Please continue.” 

           “Starfleet believes, Kathryn, that your judgment and therefore your whole decision-making process have been seriously impaired by the years spent in the Delta Quadrant.  They are worried enough that they will not permit you to command again, ever.  They have grave concerns about your risk-taking, about your willingness to compromise the crew’s safety for some very questionable reasons, and, most damning of all,” and here he took a deep breath, “the survivors of the Equinox have filed a formal grievance regarding your treatment of them both during and after the encounter with their ship, in particular your treatment of Crewman Lessing.” 

           Kathryn couldn’t believe it!  These people had broken the Prime Directive in the most brutal manner possible!  How could they have the gall to complain about her behaviour!  As she started to tell Owen this, he stopped her with one sentence.  “They were acting under orders, just as your crew was.  Starfleet does not expect them to take responsibility for the actions of Ransom and Burke.” 

           “But Owen!  For heaven’s sake!  They could have refused…” 

           “Could they, Kathryn?  What if it had been members of your crew?  You better than anyone know what it was like out there, and I understand their situation was much more dire than yours, right from the start.  Starfleet is allowing their grievance.” 

           She covered her face, rubbed her eyes, and for the thousandth time, damned the Equinox.  Owen Paris debated stopping but thought she might as well hear the rest of it. 

           “There’s more, Kathryn.  The Board, particularly Nechayev, is very unhappy with your decision to let Chakotay leave.  You must admit that your explanation was pretty sparse – and the fact that you refused to elaborate on your reasons doesn’t look good.  After all, you were sent to apprehend the man, and yet you let him go – two months before you get home.” 

           “Well, good lord Owen!  I didn’t know we were going to get home two months later!  That was completely unexpected.” 

           “Nevertheless, the Board feels that you have not provided sufficient justification for your decision and they are calling you on it.  Unless you would care to add to your explanation…?” 

            “I would not.” 

           “Very well.  Then you will have to accept the Board’s findings>” 

           “Owen, they said I could appeal…” 

           “Kathryn, I would really advise against that.  Just think for a minute.  An appeal will undoubtedly lead to a court martial which will be held in the full glare of publicity; you be hounded by the press constantly.  And you will end up forced to answer questions that you obviously don’t want to.  For your own sake, as much as anyone else’s, I would strongly recommend you take early retirement.  You will receive all the honours due you plus a very nice settlement which will allow you to live comfortably for the rest of your days.  The only proviso besides the one already named is that you don’t discuss this deal.  And that’s fair, Kathryn.  Starfleet could throw the book at you; in fact, Nechayev wanted to but everyone else talked her down.  You do have an enemy there, which is another reason to leave.” 

           “Owen, can I stay here for a while and think about all this?” 

           “Yes, of course.  Stay as long as you want.”  And he went out the door leaving her to contemplate a future very different from any she had imagined.