Disclaimer:    Paramount’s – ‘nuff said

Rating:  PG

Notes:   Many thanks to Shayenne for sorting out various discrepancies, even if I didn’t always follow her suggestions.
 
 

BASIC TRUTHS

By Mary S.
 
 

           The night before the first anniversary of Voyager’s return to the Alpha Quadrant, Tom and B’Elanna Paris, accompanied by Harry Kim, met Chakotay for a quiet, informal dinner.

           As they exchanged hugs and greetings, Tom glanced around, obviously looking for the captain.   Chakotay explained that, unfortunately, she’d been detained for several hours at Headquarters but was hoping to join them later.

           Shaking off their momentary disappointment, the four quickly settled into their meal.

           For nearly three hours, almost without pause, one topic of conversation flowed effortlessly into the next.   They laughed, chortled and sighed, reminiscing, discussing and analyzing events from their days in the Delta Quadrant.    Back and forth they went, voices sometimes layering over each other in their eagerness to relate some pungent observation, or the latest tidbit of news about one of their crewmates.

           By the time they were ready to leave, Tom was complaining they’d been talking for hours and he still hadn’t heard about half the crew.

           At once, Chakotay suggested that, since they were all staying in the same hotel anyway, they adjourn to his room.   Besides, Kathryn would return eventually, and he knew she was most anxious to see them and have a chance to talk informally, before all the festivities the next day.    Without further ado, they collected their coats and headed out the door.

           As they walked, B’Elanna took Chakotay’s arm, telling him he hadn’t yet said anything about himself.

           “How is life on Dorvan?” she began, before launching a veritable barrage of questions.   “Have you started terraforming yet?  Is it working?  What are you doing there, anyway?   And how are you and Kathryn managing without all of us to support you and keep you in line?”

           Walking behind, Tom overheard her questions and leaned forward to say he particularly wanted to hear how well Kathryn, the self-described child of the 24th century, was managing in an environment that was primitive, to say the least.

           Chakotay chuckled, answering that they should know by now that if there was one thing that could galvanize their captain more than anything else, it was a challenge.

           “She’s having a great time,” he added, “although quite frankly, the place was in a terrible state when we got there.    The Cardassians tried very hard to leave Dorvan a desert, and I’d have to say, for the most part, they succeeded.   However, we are making progress, thanks in no small part to Kathryn.    Within a month of our arrival, she’d pulled everyone together into a viable team.    It’s a pretty disparate group of people there, you know – miscreants, loafers, petty criminals, mixed in with a few of the colony’s survivors, who’d begun to trickle back.    But, she’s got them all organized now and working hard.    At the rate we’re going, I would think, in another year, we’ll be able to plant the first crops.”

           “Chakotay!” exclaimed B’Elanna.   “That’s wonderful!  I had no idea you’d progressed so far!”

           He laughed, as they walked into the hotel and entered the lift.   “You know Kathryn Janeway.    If sheer willpower can move mountains, she’ll do it.”

           Reaching the door of his and Kathryn’s suite, Chakotay opened it to lead the way through the small entrance hall into the main sitting area.

           Glancing around, Tom exclaimed.   “Hey!  Pretty nice – I guess being an admiral helps, huh?”

           As she followed them into the spacious room, B’Elanna retorted.  “Well, after all, she’s not just any admiral!”
 

           Chakotay smiled.  “Make yourselves at home while I check for messages.”   A moment later, he was back.   “Kathryn says she should be here in another hour, hopefully sooner.”

           They settled into chairs as Harry picked up the conversation.    “You know, I think that’s what I admire most about our captain – her incredible determination.   And her utter fearlessness.   Drove me crazy sometimes, I’ll admit….”

           “No kidding!” interrupted Tom.   “There were so many times I was convinced she was nuts, trying to pull off some hare-brained scheme she’d cooked up, but she did it every time!   Made my hair fall out, though, I can tell you!”

           His companions burst into roars of laughter.

           “Is that the latest excuse?!” Harry snorted.   “I thought it was your wife!”

           B’Elanna tried to glare at him, but couldn’t hide her smile. “Mind your manners, Starfleet!” she reprimanded him, punching his arm to emphasize her words.

           Harry had the grace to look a little abashed, which made her lean over to give him a quick hug.
 
           Relaxing in his chair, Chaktoay smiled as he listened to the quick banter.    Tom’s words, though, brought to mind the many occasions he too had been convinced they were all doomed for destruction.

           “She’s certainly a strong-willed woman,” he remarked, “as a lot of hostile aliens found out.”

           Tom chuckled.   “You know, the funny thing is, physically she’s such a small person.   I remember once, after we’d been stranded out there a while, seeing her unconscious on a biobed after some away mission that had gone awry, and being surprised at how petite she really is, since she always comes across as so much bigger.   And that voice of hers,” he added.   “God, her voice held me together more times…!”

           “I know what you mean,” replied Harry, nodding.   “Especially in the early years, when I wasn’t feeling very confident, the sound of her voice always made me believe we’d survive whatever crisis we were in.”

           Chakotay smiled softly.   “Funny, for me it was the sight of her standing on the bridge – feet apart and chin up, hands on her hips, glaring defiantly at the latest bully.    She always reminded me of a bull terrier – stubborn and indomitable, absolutely refusing to surrender.”

           “That’s our captain,” added Tom, “determined to a fault.   She didn’t often lose, either.”

           Chakotay stretched slightly before replying.   “True.  And yet, it was an occasion when she did lose that finally brought us together personally.”

           Sensing a story, they remained silent, waiting for him to continue.   However, he said nothing more until B’Elanna growled at him to stop tantalizing them and tell them what happened.

           “Very well,” Chakotay grinned at her, adding, “anything to save me from your wrath.”    He glanced around, then settled deeper into his chair, steepling his fingers as he contemplated where to begin.

           “There are certain basic truths about Kathryn Janeway.   Some you’ve mentioned already – her stubbornness, her formidable will and determination, her amazing ability to find a way out of a hopeless situation.    There are also her wisdom and compassion, as well as a strong sense of responsibility, which all too often translates into guilt.”

           “Guilt?!” exclaimed Tom, as Harry and B’Elanna echoed his words.   “Why?!  What does she have to feel guilty about?”

           “Stranding us in the Delta Quadrant in the first place, in the process tearing the crew away from their homes and families.  Losing people, especially Carey – his death hit her very hard – as well as causing everyone here to believe we were dead,” replied Chakotay somberly.

           “But none of that was her fault!” retorted Harry.   “She had to protect the Ocampa – we all understood that.”

           “I know that, Harry, and so do you, but she believes she was to blame.”  He hesitated, as if debating whether to elaborate, then continued.  “Do you remember when we were in ‘the void’?”

           “You mean where we first met the Malon?” interjected Tom.  “My god, yes!   By the end of those two months, I was ready to commit murder!”

           B’Elanna growled under her breath, causing Harry to sit up.  “Really?” he asked, his tone bordering on sarcasm.  “Can I take a guess who?”

           Shrugging shamefacedly, Tom glanced at his wife before looking down at his hands.   “Uh, never mind.   It doesn’t matter now.”

           Seeing B’Elanna’s scowl darken, Chakotay quickly directed the conversation back to the original topic.   “You recall how the captain never left her quarters, and no one could understand why.   Neither did I at first, until the day she told me that destroying the array had been a mistake and, given a second chance, she wouldn’t do it again.   With nothing to distract her, she had time to brood on her actions, to the point where she felt so guilty she couldn’t bear to face the crew.   That’s why she stayed hidden all that time. ”

           Pausing, he collected his thoughts before adding, “Funnily enough, the incident I’m about to tell you made me realize a few basic truths about myself, too, truths which I’d begun to let go of.

           “I’d started to lose my faith in Kathryn – not as my captain,” he was quick to add, “but as my soulmate.    For so long, we’d been hovering on the edge of a personal relationship, that after nearly seven years, I was ready to give up.   The episode on Quarra was the final straw, as far as I was concerned.    I came to believe she didn’t love me, and probably never had, and that I was a fool to keep waiting for her while my life slid past me.   It was only after the incident on Banital that I realized I was mistaken, that I’d made certain assumptions that simply weren’t true.

           “When we talked about it later, Kathryn told me that, for her as well, it was the turning point, the moment when she made up her mind to make a commitment to me because what we had was too precious to be allowed to slip away.

           “It’s odd how a situation you think is quite hopeless can actually turn out to be the catalyst leading to something good, something which maybe you had begun to believe was a dream that would never come true.   The mission to Banital was a perfect example….”
 

                             ******************************

 
           It began when Voyager picked up a faint distress signal.    After searching for several hours, sensors finally detected a small vessel about the size of a shuttle, badly damaged, its hull scorched by weapons fire.

           “Hail them!” ordered the captain.

           Obediently, Harry Kim initiated contact, but after nearly a minute, and several repeated hails, he had to report there was no response.

           Janeway paced slowly across the bridge.  “What can you tell me, Harry?” she demanded after a moment’s thought.  “Any life signs?”

           The ensign remained silent for a few seconds, his gaze concentrated on the ops board, before raising his head to respond.    “There are three faint life signs, Captain.   The ship has suffered severe damage; most systems including propulsion are offline, although obviously communications is still functioning.    Life support is failing as is environmental.”   He paused briefly, then added.   “Whoever they are won’t survive much longer if we don’t get them out quickly.”

           Janeway nodded.   “Can you beam the survivors to sickbay?”

           “Yes, Captain.”

           “Do it.”  She turned to Chakotay.   “Commander, take an away team over there, see what you can find out.”

           Chakotay was on his feet immediately, nodding to Tuvok and Wildman.   “You’re with me,” he told them, as he headed for the turbolift.    They followed at once, joining him just as the lift door began to close.

           Janeway turned back to the viewscreen.   “Tom, move us in closer, I want to get a better look at the hull.   Maybe we can figure out who attacked them.…”

           Paris obediently edged the ship nearer to the little vessel hanging at an angle.

           A moment later, the doctor paged the bridge.

           “Sickbay to Janeway.”

           “Yes, Doctor?” she replied at once.   “What can you tell me?”

           “I’ve just received three patients, all female, and all unconscious.   Two are dying – there is nothing I can do for them.   The third is in critical condition, but better than the others.   They are all of the same species, which is one I don’t recognize, although there are certain similarities to the Devore.”

           The captain’s head snapped up at that.   “Very good, Doctor.    I’ll be down in a few minutes.  Janeway out.”

           Even as she finished speaking, Chakotay hailed the ship.   “Chakotay to Voyager.”

           “Yes, Commander?” Janeway replied.

           “Captain, there are three dead aliens, all of them female, from an unknown species.    The ship has taken heavy damage – as Harry told you, nearly all systems are down.    Life support is about to fail, environmental is already gone.    Tuvok is downloading the logs now.   I don’t think there’s anything else we can do here.”

           “Very well, Commander.   Beam back as soon as you’re finished.”

           “Aye, Captain.  Chakotay out.”

           Staring vacantly at the little ship, Janeway mulled over her options, then gave command of the bridge to Paris, announcing she would be in sickbay.   As she moved to the turbolift, she ordered Kim to tell the away team to join her there as soon as they returned.

           “Yes, ma’am,” he replied smartly as the doors to the lift closed.

           The captain strode briskly down the corridor on deck five, her mind working hard at solving this latest puzzle.   She motored into sickbay, not slowing until she reached the nearest biobed where the doctor stood, tricorder in hand, wearing an expression of concern.

           “Doctor?” she spoke, as she reached his side.

           “It’s not good, Captain,” he replied.   “As I told you, two of the patients, this one and the one over there,” he indicated the biobed nearest the wall, “won’t survive much longer.”   Even as he spoke, Janeway could see the alien’s chest shudder slightly, then stop its arrhythmic beat.

           Quickly, the doctor scanned her, then shook his head.   “She’s gone,” he reported sadly.

           As they moved to the second alien, the diagnostic panel above her bed flat lined.    The EMH slumped slightly, his body language one of despair.   “I’m sorry,” he murmured.

           Janeway reached out to pat his shoulder.   “Don’t blame yourself, Doctor.    By the time we could get them to you, it was much too late.   At least, they didn’t die alone.”    She turned to look at the sole survivor.   “What about this one?”

           He brightened slightly, moving more quickly towards the third biobed.   “This one suffered lesser injuries than the other two.    While her condition is grave, there is a slight chance she could recover.  I’ll know more when I’ve had time to study her physiology.”

           Janeway gazed down at the unconscious woman, easily able to see the resemblance to the Devore.  The facial structure was very similar – could there be a colony somewhere nearby?   Her mental alarm bells went off at the thought, giving her voice an edge as she spoke again.   “Is it safe to rouse her?  I’d like to find out who she is as well as why her ship was attacked.”

           The EMH scowled.  “Without knowing any more about her species, I’d prefer to let her wake up naturally.  Her survival could well depend on it.   I’ll be sure and let you know as soon as she begins to come round.”

           “Very well, Doctor.   I’ll be on the bridge.”

           The captain swept out of sickbay as precipitately as she’d entered.
 

                                         =^= =^= =^= =^= =^= =^=
 

           Beta shift had begun before the doctor paged the captain, buried in reports in her ready room, alerting her that his patient was regaining consciousness.    At once, she trotted onto the bridge, contacting Chakotay, who was in the midst of analyzing the alien vessel’s logs, asking him to join her in sickbay.

           As she stepped out of the turbolift on deck five, he appeared around the corner.    She wasted no time on preliminaries.

           “What have you found?”

           Matching his stride to hers, he held out a PADD.   “Not a lot so far.   Unfortunately, the database suffered considerable damage along with everything else.   There are fragments, but at the moment, it’s still like trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle with most of the pieces missing.”

           Janeway grasped the PADD, glancing over it quickly as she replied.  “Any chance of recovering some of those missing pieces?”

           Chakotay shrugged.   “Harry and Seven are working on it, but as yet, haven’t had much success.    A lot of what they’ve found seems to be encoded, which certainly doesn’t help the process.”

           “Hmm.   Tell them to keep at it.   Meanwhile, let’s see what our guest can tell us.”

           Entering sickbay together as she spoke, they aimed for the doctor, who was standing beside the farthest biobed.

           He glanced up at the sound of the door, his face somber.   “Captain, Commander,” he greeted them softly, moving towards his office.   “Please step into my office.”

           “How is she, Doctor?” demanded Janeway, as soon as they’d followed him inside.   “Is she awake yet?”

           “She is, Captain,” replied the EMH, “but I’m afraid her condition is not good.    I’ve discovered that, in the attack on her ship, she suffered severe internal injuries, which, left untreated for as long as they were, have led to irreversible damage to several vital organs.   I’ve been able to stabilize her for the moment, but it’s only a matter of time before they fail.”

           Janeway’s eyes narrowed.   “You can’t devise a treatment of some kind?”

           “I could if I’d been able to treat her as soon as they occurred, but now….”   He waved his hands helplessly.   “It’s much too late, Captain.   There’s nothing I can do beyond trying to make her a little more comfortable.”  He sighed heavily, then added, “She’s conscious if you wish to speak to her.”

           Nodding, the captain walked slowly to the biobed, gazing down at the woman lying there.    Trying to smile, she reached out a hand to brush her face gently.   “I’m Kathryn Janeway, captain of the starship Voyager.   We picked up your distress signal and found your ship.    Can you tell me your name and where you’re from?”

           The woman peered up at her, blinking as if unable to see very clearly.   Her voice was gravelly when she spoke.   “My name is Kessida.   I come from Banital.    Please…,” she paused, coughing slightly.   “Can you tell me what happened to the others in the shuttle?”

           Janeway tensed, but held her gaze.   “I’m sorry, none of them survived.”

           Kessida closed her eyes, as a small sound of grief escaped her.    “I guess they succeeded after all.”   She fell silent again, wracked by another fit of coughing.

           The doctor hurried to the biobed, tricorder already scanning as he pushed past the captain.

           Stepping back, she moved to stand beside Chakotay, who had remained silently in the background.    She nodded toward Kessida.   “Banital.  It’s a start, I guess.”

           He nodded in agreement.   “I’ll pass it on to Harry and Seven.   Maybe it’ll help.”

           “Something else we’ve noticed,” she added.   “She bears a certain resemblance to the Devore, don’t you think?”

           Chakotay peered at the still figure in front of them.   “Could be, although we’re a long way from the Imperium.   But I’ll warn them to watch for any possible indications of Devore ships.”   He turned to the door.   “Are you coming?”

           Janeway nodded absently.   “I’ll be along shortly, Chakotay.   I want to see if she can tell us anymore.”

           “Very well,” he replied, before disappearing out the door.

           She turned back to the biobed, moving to stand beside the doctor.    Kessida’s eyes remained closed although the captain suspected she was still conscious.    Glancing at the doctor, she leaned forward to speak, her voice intense.

           “Kessida, I need to know whatever you can tell me about who attacked you.     Do you know who they were?”

           Very slowly, the woman’s eyes opened as she breathed deeply.   “Yes.    We’re fugitives, Captain, wanted by my government for treason.     A few of us escaped but they sent a warship after us.    We were unarmed – we didn’t stand a chance against their weapons.   All I had time to do was send out a call for help.”

           Janeway nodded.    “Can you elaborate on why you’re considered a traitor?”

           Kessida grimaced.   “I’m female.   In the eyes of the law, that’s reason enough.”   She paused, gathering her thoughts together.   “Tell me, you’re a woman.   How is it you are in command?   Do the men of your world actually permit such liberties?”

           “Yes, of course,” replied the captain, not sure what Kessida was getting at.   “On my world, on all the worlds belonging to the Federation, women and men are equal.   Why do you ask?”

           “You are most fortunate.   On Banital, females are considered to be not much better than animals.   We’re treated as breeding stock, good for little more than producing children.   We have no rights, no protection beyond whatever the men in our families accord us.   If a man so much as glances at a woman in public, she may be stoned to death.   Never mind that she’s done nothing to attract his attention, it’s assumed to be her fault.

           “In the last few years, several very courageous women have spearheaded a movement opposing such treatment, hoping to gain at least a little respect, perhaps be allowed to organize basic education for girls, as well as help some of the most abused souls, those who have lost their protectors.”  Her voice dropped, laced with bitterness.   “However, even that was perceived to be a threat to national security.   Our headquarters was attacked and everyone there ruthlessly slaughtered, even though we were all unarmed.    Six of us managed to flee on a small shuttle, which one of our number knew how to operate.   However, the authorities were determined to let no one get away.”   Her breath caught in a sob.   “Now, I am the only one left.”

           As Janeway stared at the woman, a terrible suspicion began to creep through her mind.   “Are you telling me that your own government attacked you merely because you’re female?!  But that’s absolutely barbaric!”

           Kessida nodded.   “Yes.”   Her eyes slid closed again as she slumped, exhausted from the effort of speaking.

           The doctor, who had been hovering nearby, moved forward at once.   “My patient needs to rest now, Captain.   Please come back later.”

           Too shocked to argue, the captain remained quite still for several seconds, before spinning on her heel and striding out the door, fury radiating from head to toe.

           Sighing, the doctor watched her go before returning his attention to the biobed.
 

                                         =^= =^= =^= =^= =^= =^=
 

           Early the following morning, the doctor hailed the captain urgently, requesting her immediate presence in sickbay.    Kessida was dying.

           Janeway didn’t even stop to dress; instead, still in her nightclothes, she dashed down the corridor to the turbolift, her robe floating behind her.   Flying through the door, she headed straight for the biobed where Kessida lay.   The woman’s breaths were raspy, and her skin was waxen.   However, her eyes were open and she even tried to smile when she saw the captain.

           Reaching out a hand in Janeway’s direction, she clutched her sleeve with sudden strength.   “Captain,” she croaked, “I know I don’t have long to live.   I’m asking you to go to Banital and rescue anyone else from the movement who might have survived.”
 
           The captain’s mouth tightened in frustration.   “Kessida,” she began carefully, “the Federation’s most important law forbids us to interfere in the internal affairs of any alien planet.    It’s called the Prime Directive.   I want to help, but….”

           The woman’s face creased in desperation.   “Please, Captain!   I beg you, as one woman to another, you are our only hope!   They’ll die if you don’t help them and our dream will die with them.   All the risks we’ve taken, everything we’ve worked for, will have been for nothing!   Please!!!”

           She broke off in a fit of coughing, although her grasp didn’t loosen.

           Janeway gazed down at the hand gripping her arm, torn between what she knew was right and Starfleet regulations.    She had a sudden flashback to Professor Hellemond and her advanced ethics class at command school, nearly fifteen years before.

           ‘Tell me, Ensign,’ his voice rang through her brain, ‘what you would do in the following scenario...?’    A scenario very like the situation she found herself in right now.    She remembered her answer, so engrained in her psyche she could spit it out almost by rote.  ‘Without exception, every Starfleet officer must abide by the Prime Directive.   Without exception.’    Easy to say when sitting in a secure classroom at the Academy, not so easy when she was faced with the frantic survivor of a cruel government which terrorized its citizens for no reason other than their gender.

           Kessida’s eyes were fixed on her face.

           Sighing, the captain carefully unwrapped the tense fingers from her arm.   “I can’t make any promises, but when we locate it, we will go to Banital and assess the situation.   If we can find a way to help without breaking our laws, we will do so.”

           The woman’s face relaxed in relief.   “Thank you, Captain.   You will need our special encoded frequency in order to contact our people.”     Glancing at the EMH, she pulled Janeway closer, and whispered in her ear, before collapsing back onto the biobed.    Her eyes closed and her hand fell away, finally releasing the captain, who turned to the doctor.

           Tricorder activated, he was already scanning even before he reached Kessida’s side.   His eyes were resigned as he closed the tricorder and turned to Janeway.    “She’s lapsed into a coma.   It won’t be long now.”

           “Keep me posted, Doctor,” she replied softly.   “I’ll be in my quarters getting ready for duty.”

           “Aye, Captain.”

           Nearly an hour later, as her shift commenced, she received his hail informing her that Kessida had died.    Sitting in her command chair, staring vacantly at the viewscreen, she analyzed the problem from every angle, before abruptly getting to her feet.   Handing the bridge over to Tuvok, she requested that Chakotay join her in the ready room.

           Even before the door had closed behind him, she had started to pace back and forth, explaining the situation as she moved.

           Chakotay watched her for a minute, then moved to settle himself comfortably on the couch, waiting for her to work off some of her nervous energy.

           Eventually, she joined him, perching on the edge of the seat as she continued to gnaw at her dilemma.

           He waited patiently until she’d run out of breath before interjecting a comment.   “Kathryn, has it occurred to you that, approached in the right way, the government on Banital might be quite glad to get rid of their so-called traitors?”

           She stared at him in disbelief.   “Do you really think it could be that easy?”

           “It might be.   It wouldn’t hurt to ask, would it?  If they say no, then at least we’ve tried, but they might agree.”

           In silence, she mulled over his suggestion.   “I don’t know if they’re warp-capable.   According to the strictest interpretation of the Prime Directive, we shouldn’t make contact….”

           Chakotay interrupted.   “Kathryn, we haven’t ever adhered that rigidly to the Prime Directive!    If we had, you never would have destroyed the Caretaker’s Array in the first place!   Would you?”

           “No, you’re right,” she was forced to admit, getting to her feet again.   “The thing is, Chakotay, I’m trying to be as objective and unemotional as possible here, and not let anger overrule my judgment.   Because I am angry, damned angry!   For a government to so abuse its own people merely because they were born female is absolutely outrageous!   It makes my blood boil!    However, I have to push all that aside in order to make as rational a decision as I can.”

           “I don’t see how approaching the planet can be a breach of Starfleet regulations,” he argued.   “It’ll be a first-contact situation, Kathryn, just like every other.  The only difference will be that we’ll already have some idea of what their society is like.   In which case,” he added, “we might increase our chances of success if I initiate the contact rather than you.”

           With his captain already angry about the treatment of females on the planet, Chakotay knew he was treading on thin ice; however, he believed he was right and was prepared to make a convincing argument if he had to.   He watched her carefully as she stared out the viewport, her mind obviously whirling.

           Pursing her lips, she stood motionless for a moment longer before turning to face him, her face breaking into a smile.   “I believe you’re quite right, Commander.   Let’s get to it.”

           He rose to head for the door.    “Yes, ma’am.”
 

                                         =^= =^= =^= =^= =^= =^=
 

           Six hours later, Seven of Nine was able to report that she had finally been able to piece together enough information to discover Banital’s location, some five light years away in a densely-packed star system.

           “There are a large number of planets in the sector, Captain,” Seven explained, “which is why we’ve had so much difficulty finding it.”

           “But it is Banital?”  The captain wanted to be sure.

           “Yes, the navigational log from Kessida’s shuttle is quite clear, now that I’ve broken the encryption.”

           “Good work, Seven.”   Janeway’s face broke into a satisfied smile, as she tapped her combadge.   “Janeway to bridge.   Tom, Seven has the coordinates for Banital.  Lay in a course and go to warp six as soon as you have them.”

           “Yes, ma’am.”

 
                                        =^= =^= =^= =^= =^= =^=
 
 

           A day later, after navigating carefully through a myriad collection of stars and planets, Voyager approached Banital.    The captain stepped forward on the command deck, her face tense, as Chakotay moved to her side.     This contact could well prove more difficult than most.

           “Hail them, Mr. Kim,” she ordered when they were within transmitting range.

           A minute later, Harry reported that the planet was responding.

           “On screen.”

           There appeared a dark-complexioned man with an arrogant cast to his face, bearing a strong resemblance to the Devore.   Janeway’s mouth tightened – it would seem their suspicions had been correct.

           The man glanced at her, mouth tightening in disapproval before settling his gaze on Chakotay.   “I am Koldar, first marshal of Banital.   Who are you?”

           The commander’s voice rang out firmly.   “Commander Chakotay of the Federation starship Voyager.    We – ”

           The marshal interrupted, snarling, “We do not negotiate with species who allow females to appear uncovered before strangers!  Leave our space at once!”  He glared angrily for several seconds before terminating the transmission.

           The captain sighed heavily, then turned to Kim.   “Ensign, hail them again.”

           There was a pause before Harry announced the planet wasn’t responding.

           She rubbed her hand wearily across the back of her neck, then glanced at Chakotay, shrugging her shoulders.   “Well, so much for official channels.   I guess we go to plan B.”

           He stared at her hard.   “Then you’ve decided to rescue them?”

           Her mouth tightened.   “Yes.”   Indicating the viewscreen, she continued with barely-controlled rage.   “Prime Directive or not, Chakotay, I won’t abandon them to such as that!”

           Nodding, he returned to his chair as Janeway moved to ops, explaining that she thought she better send out this hail herself.

           A moment later, a low-pitched voice replied.   “I am Karpala.   Who are you?”

           “My name is Kathryn Janeway of the starship Voyager.  I am a friend of Kessida.   My crew and I found her shuttle and rescued her.   She asked that we come to Banital to locate any survivors of the movement and offer them sanctuary.”

           Her announcement was received with a gasp of joy and excitement.   “This is wonderful!   We had given up all hope!    What about the others?   Are they all right?”

           Pursing her lips, Janeway braced herself.   “I’m sorry to tell you that, despite our doctor’s efforts, they are all dead.    They were attacked by one of your government’s warships and their shuttle severely damaged.    Kessida barely had time to send out a distress call before the communications system went down.    We picked up her signal and found them several hours later.   By then, three were already dead, and two more died very shortly after being transferred to our sickbay.   Kessida survived for another day before succumbing to her injuries.    However, with her dying breath, she gave me this frequency and begged me to come here to rescue you.”

           There had been a tiny sob at Janeway’s announcement of the deaths of everyone aboard the shuttle, then silence until after she’d finished speaking.

           “I cannot thank you enough for your kindness.”   The voice held an odd tone of relief mixed with sorrow.    “I shall start at once to assemble everyone who still lives.   There aren’t many, perhaps a dozen at most.   But it will take time and I cannot risk contacting you again.   Spies are everywhere.   Meet us in two days at the coordinates I’m sending you, in the hour after midnight.”

           “Agreed.   I’ll have an away team waiting for you.”

           “No!” protested the voice.   “Come yourself, so we know it isn’t a trap!”

           Shrugging her shoulders, the captain agreed.  “Very well.   Janeway out.”
 
           Silence reigned on the bridge for over a minute before Harry spoke up hesitantly.   “Captain?   I’ve got the coordinates, but sensors have picked up an unusual signal as well.   I can’t be sure, but it’s possible that some of the transmission was monitored.”

           At once, Tuvok spoke up.   “Captain, I wish to speak to you privately.”

           Janeway rolled her eyes, already knowing what he was going to say.  She’d hoped to avoid this particular argument.   Sighing, she nodded.   “In my ready room.   You want to come along, too, Chakotay?”  At his nod, she handed the bridge to Tom and waved her hands.   “Very well.”

           The door had barely closed before Tuvok began.   “Captain, I must object to your presence on the away team.   It is reasonable to assume that, if caught, the authorities will show you no mercy.”

           “But that applies to everyone on the mission, Tuvok, not just me,” she retorted.   “Besides, I promised I would be there.”

           Chakotay spoke up.   “Captain, I understand your position, but Tuvok’s right.    Let me go with you.”

           Vulcan eyes tightened fractionally.   “That is not the best solution, Commander.   In the captain’s absence, you should be here, and I should go with her.”

           Janeway stared at them both, standing shoulder to shoulder in front of her.   Two pairs of intense brown eyes stared back, neither willing to concede to the other.    She would have to decide.

           Moving to the replicator for the inevitable cup of coffee, she quickly sorted through possibilities.   Both were equally well able to protect her and themselves, but Chakotay had a more finely honed instinct for survival, an instinct that just might make the difference between success and failure.   Picking up her coffee, she turned to face them.

           “Tuvok, you will take command of the ship while Chakotay and I go to the surface.    In order to minimize the risk, there will be just the two of us.    We will maintain open communications and you will keep a transporter lock on us at all times.    With any luck, we’ll be in and out with our fugitives before anyone there realizes what’s happened.”

           “Yes, Captain,” came from both commanders.

           “Meanwhile, I don’t think we should hang around here in orbit.    Find a convenient moon or asteroid, somewhere we can hide that isn’t too far away.    Also, tell B’Elanna to reconfigure the transporter beam for long-distance transport so the ship can stay further away.   I’ll inform the doctor that he will need to create some kind of disguise for us, so we can blend into the local population if need be.   Anything else?  No?   Dismissed.”

           “Aye, Captain” came again as both men moved to the door.

           Janeway sat down at her desk and picked up a PADD.   Whatever else happened, paperwork was a given.
 

                                       =^= =^= =^= =^= =^= =^=
 

           For two days, with the ship tucked safely in the next solar system, the crew discreetly analyzed planetary defenses, in particular a shield grid, which, after analysis, Seven determined would render their transporters useless.  Working around the clock, the crew repeatedly tried to devise a method of counteracting it, but up to the moment of beam-down, hadn’t had any success.     Once the shield was activated, the away team would be on its own.

           The rain was pouring down in torrents when they beamed down under the cover of darkness.   A strong wind gusted intermittently between low buildings along a quiet street, where, at long intervals, streetlamps pierced the gloom, creating little pools of light at their feet, which reflected off the wet pavement.    Kathryn and Chakotay moved quickly into a darkened, recessed doorway, huddling close together for protection and warmth.    Both were dressed in large, dark waterproof capes, which completely encompassed them to their knees, making them almost invisible to any casual passerby.

           Tension, as well as the cold wind blowing raindrops onto her legs, caused Kathryn to shiver slightly.    Beside her, Chakotay gripped her hand in wordless reassurance.

           Suddenly, a sound reached their ears over the patter of rain.   Light footsteps were coming toward them, walking quickly.

           With any luck, this should be their contact.

           Trying vainly to peer through the rain, they began to step out into the road, hesitating as a loud shout echoed from further up the street.    The footsteps broke into a run before fading away, to be followed seconds later by an ear-piercing scream.    Immediately after, they could hear weapons fire, followed by the sound of a multitude of heavy boots thumping in the distance.   Quickly, they moved back into their hiding place.

           At the same instant, Kathryn’s combadge chirped.

           “Janeway here,” she murmured sotto voce.

           “Captain,” came Tuvok’s even tones, “the planetary shield grid has just been activated.   We cannot use the transporters.”

           Cursing silently, she debated what to do.   “Understood.   We’ll remain where we are unless the situation changes.  Janeway out.”
 
           She glanced up at Chakotay to see his nod of agreement, then instinctively moved closer to him as the wind increased.   Damn, it was getting cold!

           Hearing Kathryn’s teeth chatter softly, he unfastened his cape and pulled her into his embrace, rubbing her back vigorously to warm her.     Her arms slid around his waist in reflex as she nestled close, needing the warmth and comfort of his body, even as she tried to ignore her physical reaction to him.    Angrily, she told herself to concentrate on their situation and forget the effect his proximity was having on her.

           Abruptly, shouts and cries of alarm resonated along the empty street.   Straining to listen through a sudden gust of wind, they realized the sounds were coming closer.     Kathryn felt Chakotay’s grasp strengthen – he’d obviously reached the same conclusion – before his breath fluttered next to her ear.   Very softly, he whispered that she must keep completely still and not make any noise at all; this time, he would watch for their contact.    Tightening her arms in acknowledgement, she burrowed into his chest, shivering slightly with apprehension as someone neared their hiding place.

           Running footsteps approached; Chakotay shifted, preparing to move them forward into the street.   However, before they could actually step out from the doorway, the footsteps had passed, slowing only briefly before picking up speed and disappearing into the distance.   Another high-pitched shriek suddenly split the air nearby, followed by the heavy thud of many feet thundering past their hiding place, the sound reverberating from the pavement.     Further away, a third scream echoed off the darkened buildings before gradually fading along with the wind.

           Except for the steady patter of raindrops, silence reigned once more.

           In his arms, Chakotay could feel Janeway absolutely rigid with tension, her fingers digging painfully into his back.   After several minutes passed with no further signs of anyone nearby, he eased his head down enough to murmur very softly in her ear, asking what they should do now.

           In reply, she raised a hand to tap his combadge.   “Janeway to Tuvok,” she muttered, barely audible.  “Keep your voice as low as possible, Commander, we’re in great danger here.    Are the transporters on line yet?”

           “Negative, Captain,” came the soft reply, “the grid is still in place.   However, after further analysis, Mr. Kim has discovered a weak spot at the join between two sections and is presently working on a way to slide a transporter beam through it.”

           “Very well.   Contact me when he’s succeeded.   But mute the hail when you do.”

           She knew Tuvok could adjust the frequency to cause her combadge to vibrate rather than carry sound.

           “Acknowledged,” he responded, “Tuvok out.”

           Sighing unhappily, she leaned her head against Chakotay’s chest, muttering that nothing on this mission was going according to plan.

           Resting his face in her hair, he could only agree.

           They stayed still for several minutes until both were sure they had remained undetected.

           “Do you think it’s safe to move?” Janeway eventually whispered.

           He shrugged before answering.   “Maybe we should stay where we are, on the chance that our contact might still show up.”

           “Agreed.”   Kathryn let herself relax against him, very grateful that he was here with her.   There was no one else on her crew with whom could she have stood in such an intimate position for so long – the barriers of command were simply too high.   But Chakotay was her best friend, whom she trusted implicitly and with whom she could relax now and then, letting herself be just Kathryn.    She sighed again, as her thoughts returned to their situation.   Somehow, she had to find a way to rescue these people.
 

                                         =^= =^= =^= =^= =^= =^=
 

           For nearly an hour, Janeway and Chakotay remained motionless and silent in the doorway, hoping for a miracle.  But as time passed, and no one approached them, it became increasingly obvious that their mission had failed.   Their heads hung low, resting against each other’s shoulders, as they waited for Tuvok’s signal.   Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Janeway’s combadge vibrated.

           “Janeway here,” she whispered softly.

           “The transporter is operational, Captain,” came Tuvok’s level tones.

           She responded immediately.  “Energize.”

           Seconds later, the doorway was empty.

           As soon as they rematerialized in the transporter room, the captain moved to the nearest comm panel, entering the coded frequency she’d been given.   But the only response was dead air.   Again and again, she repeated the signal, with no success.

           Nearby, Chakotay waited patiently, although he was sure the situation was hopeless.   They had tried their best but it hadn’t been enough.  Eventually, he stepped forward to lay a hand on his captain’s shoulder.   “Kathryn, they’re gone, and we have no way of finding them.”

           She spun around angrily, ready to argue until she looked into his tired eyes.  “I – we can’t abandon them, Chakotay!”

           He shook his head wearily.   “We’ve tried every option and it’s no use.   Sometimes – we can’t win.”

           Slowly, her rage seeped away as she acknowledged the truth of his words.   Shoulders slumping, she tapped her combadge.   “Janeway to bridge.”

           “Tuvok here.”

           “Break orbit and resume a course for the Alpha Quadrant, Commander.”  Her voice quivered with sudden exhaustion.   “I’m going off-duty.”

           “Aye, Captain.”

           As she plodded through the door, Chakotay at her side, the bitter taste of defeat filled her mouth, seeping down her throat.   It would be a long time before she forgot this night.

           Beside her, Chakotay paced slowly, remaining silent although his eyes were focused on his captain.    She would need time to herself for a while, he knew; best to leave her alone tonight, despite the fact that he wanted nothing more than to wrap his arms tightly around her.   However, her needs had to come first.   Therefore, when they reached her quarters, he forced himself only to say goodnight and that he’d have his report to her in the morning, before proceeding on to his cabin.   Nodding an acknowledgement, she activated her door.

           Once inside, Kathryn pulled off her wet clothing, and wrapped herself in a thick, heavy robe.   Curling up on her couch with a steaming cup of coffee, she gazed pensively out the viewport at the stars streaking by at warp speed.

           Although her body was still, her mind was busy examining the whole sequence of events from the time Voyager had picked up the shuttle’s distress call, convinced she must have overlooked some crucial detail.    Chakotay had said that sometimes they couldn’t win, but Kathryn Janeway didn’t believe in the no-win scenario, any more than James Kirk had.   As she followed that train of thought, trying to put herself in Kirk’s head to figure out what he might have done, a little voice whispered that Kirk had eventually run head-on into a very similar situation.   And within a day, he’d lost his son and his best friend.

           ‘Sometimes, we can’t win.’

           Her head fell onto the back of the couch as hot tears trailed slowly down her cheeks.    Guilt swept through her in waves – she’d let them down, all those poor souls on that planet; she’d told them she’d help, raising their hopes, and then had failed them.   There must have been something she could have done, some other way to reach them, to save at least one.   Around and around went her thoughts, spinning through her head, but try as she might, she couldn’t think of anything else.   They’d tried – and they’d lost.

           Sighing, she wiped her eyes.   ‘It happens,’ she told herself, ‘get over it.’   But she couldn’t.   Not yet.   Not when her heart was aching with remorse and regret.

           Next door, Chakotay was also sitting on his couch, an empty PADD on the table in front of him.   Several times, he tried to begin his report on the night’s events, but found he couldn’t organize his thoughts coherently.   Eventually, he gave up, recognizing he was too tired to think properly.

           His eyes drifted closed as he let his mind examine his jumbled feelings – discouragement that they’d failed so completely, mixed with an odd sort of contentment, which he knew came from his lengthy physical proximity to Kathryn.   Snorting ruefully, he acknowledged that, like it or not, he was still helplessly in love with her and, apparently, always would be.    Any chance of moving on, perhaps starting a closer relationship with Seven – a possibility he’d been considering lately – was doomed from the start.

           “Kathryn, Kathryn,” he muttered to himself.   “What should I do?   Bite the bullet and just plain tell you how I feel, or go on as we have been?   Although I’m not sure I can anymore.    Spirits, I’m so fed up with this whole damned mess!”   He shook his head hard, then abruptly sat up.   She wouldn’t be sleeping, he knew, more likely staring out her viewport trying to decide where she’d gone wrong.

           On impulse, he tapped his combadge.   “Chakotay to Janeway.”

           Her instant response confirmed his supposition.  “Janeway here.”

           “I can’t sleep, Kathryn.  Feel like joining me for a cup of tea?”

           There was a brief pause before she sighed heavily.  “Sure, Chakotay.  Only…I’m not very presentable right now; why don’t you come over here?”

           “Be there in a minute.  Chakotay out.”

           Very soon after, Kathryn’s door chimed, opening on her command to reveal Chakotay, his hair tousled where he’d run his fingers through it in frustration.   Rising to face him, she could see that his face was lined with weariness, matching hers, no doubt.  She rubbed suddenly at her eyes, trying to hide the signs of her recent tears, but as he came to stand in front of her, he saw them anyway.

           Gently, his thumb stroked across her cheeks as she gazed up at him, before his arms slid around her and he pulled her tight against him.

           Automatically, she began to stiffen before suddenly relaxing in his grasp, her hands sliding around his back as she laid her head on his chest.   Protocol be damned!   Right now she needed solace, she needed to be held.
 
           For several minutes, they stood motionless, not speaking, but nevertheless giving and receiving comfort.   Chakotay’s chin rested on her head as his hands stroked soothingly over her rigid spine.

           Face pressed into his chest, inhaling his scent, Kathryn felt her body relax as a sense of tranquility seeped into her.    She needed him so much, she knew.   Without his constant support and encouragement, their journey would have ended long ago.

           Sighing, she allowed herself another minute in his arms before pulling away to head for the replicator.

           “Tea?” she asked, placing the order for two cups when he nodded.

           After handing one to Chakotay, she curled up beside him on the couch, sipping from her cup before speaking.

           “Before you called, I was sitting here staring at the stars, trying to reconcile my feelings of disappointment and regret at our failure.”   She sighed, “I wasn’t having much success.”

           He smiled faintly.   “I can certainly understand.   I wasn’t doing very well, either.”

           “I feel so guilty,” she continued.  “Surely there must have been something we could have done, some option we didn’t explore?    Where did we go wrong, Chakotay?   What did we miss?”

           Taking her cup and placing it on the table beside his, Chakotay reached for her hands, grasping them firmly.   “Kathryn, listen to me.  We did everything we could, there was nothing else!   You know we can’t always succeed.   All we can do is our best and sometimes…it’s not enough.  Tonight was one of those times.”

           Kathryn stared at him wistfully before nodding her head.   “I know.  It’s just that I find defeat very hard to accept, especially in a situation like this.”

           Her eyes were so sad that Chakotay found himself moving closer to her, sliding an arm around her shoulders.   Encouraged when she turned her face into his neck, he lifted her onto his lap, cradling her head against his shoulder.

           Nestling into him, again she allowed her heart to overrule her conscience screaming about command protocols.    Not tonight, she decided.   Now, more than anything else, she simply needed physical contact, to feel Chakotay’s arms around her.

           Silently, they sat wrapped together, giving and receiving comfort as they stared out the viewport at the endless night.
 

                             ******************************
 

           Chakotay’s voice trailed off as he paused in his narration, his thoughts obviously elsewhere.   After a few seconds, he shook his head,  then grinned a little sheepishly at his audience.   “Sorry,” he apologized.  “Forgot where I was for a moment.”

           As he glanced around, his gaze fell on Kathryn leaning against the doorway, smiling down at him.

           “Hello,” he smiled at her.  “Been there long?”

           She nodded, as the others turned in delighted surprise to greet her.  Moving to sit on the floor next to Chakotay’s chair, she smiled and laughed in return, happy to be with her dearest friends once more.

           Sliding down to settle beside her, his arm automatically came around her shoulders, pulling her close to him.

           “Don’t let me stop you,” she told him.

           “Hmm,” he teased.  “Do you want to tell the rest?”

           “You’re the storyteller.   Besides, there isn’t much more, is there?”

           He leaned over to nuzzle her face.   “Not that I’m willing to share, anyway.”

           “Enough already!” growled B’Elanna.   “Finish the damn story!”

           They all burst out laughing as Chakotay shrugged.   “Yes, ma’am!”  He shifted slightly while collecting his thoughts.

           “There really isn’t much more.   That night marked something of a watershed in our relationship.  We both realized that there were certain inescapable truths that we had to acknowledge, and one of them was that as long as we were together, we stood a much better chance of succeeding in our goal.  I don’t mean just professionally, but personally as well.

           “By committing to each other, even though protocol would not allow us anything more, we were able to achieve a sense of peace and trust that let us concentrate on getting the crew home.   We had always worked well together, but now, there was a sense of shared strength and unity.

           “Many times on our journey, I had told Kathryn that she wasn’t alone, that I was there with her, but now she gave that back to me, so I knew I wasn’t alone, either.     I remember feeling such relief at that realization, such joy in knowing that whatever happened, both on the journey and after we got home, we would be together.”

           Kathryn hugged him fiercely.   “We’re in it for the long haul, love,” she promised.

           Chakotay gently pressed his lips to her forehead in response, before lifting his eyes to gaze fondly on their friends.   “So there you have it.   Out of tragedy came joy, something that might not have happened if the inhabitants of Banital had not unwittingly provided a catalyst.”

           They smiled their agreement, although Tom, ever curious, had a question, which he directed to Kathryn with a cheeky grin.   “So, Kathryn, when did you actually tell Chakotay you were in love with him?   Was it that night or at some point later on?”

           There were chuckles all round as she retorted.  “There are some things a captain can keep to herself, Mr. Paris!”

           Climbing to her feet, she stretched out a hand to help Chakotay up.   “Well, people, it’s late and we have a long day ahead of us tomorrow.   Time to say goodnight.”

           Seizing her errant husband’s arm, B’Elanna pulled him toward the door.   “Goodnight, Kathryn, see you tomorrow.  Come on, flyboy, before your nosiness lands you in real trouble.”

           Tom paused long enough to lean down and give Kathryn a quick kiss on the cheek, whispering an apology in her ear.

           She grinned back to reassure him.

           Harry followed them out, patting Chakotay on the shoulder as he passed.   “ ’Night, Chakotay, Kathryn.”   He hurried to catch up to the pair ahead of him, remarking as he came even with them.    “It’s funny, you know, I can’t even remember Banital, never mind what happened there.”

           Tom chuckled, as they ambled down the corridor.  “I know what you mean.  B’Elanna and I were just saying the same thing.    So many planets, so many species, after a while, they kind of run together….”

The End
 

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