Disclaimer: The usual – Paramount’s. The poem, which Chakotay hears near the end of the story and from which the title is taken, was written by Michael Joncas, 1979, based on Psalm 91. It is copied from the Voices United hymnbook, and is used without permission.
Acknowledgments: Once again, a big thank you to Brianna Thomas, who eliminated numerous dashes and came up with several very helpful suggestions.
By Mary S.
Chakotay walked alone down a long, dark tunnel, slowly picking his way through haphazard piles of debris. One hand held a tricorder, while the other was raised to light the way with a wrist beacon. As he scanned the walls, his ears picked up the faint rattle of falling stones and he paused, trying to discern what might have caused the noise.
Suddenly, a massive wall of sound blasted through the passage, as if a starship were streaking by at full impulse. At the same time, the rock beneath his feet shifted violently, tossing him against the wall and sending the tricorder flying out of his hand, before dropping him to the floor, where he landed on his wrist, smashing the beacon. His skull impacted on a sharp stone, momentarily knocking him unconscious.
Dazed and confused, he lay motionless, unable to see his surroundings in the total darkness. Clouds of dust swirled about him, getting in his eyes and making him cough. His lips were dry but he dared not open his mouth to lick them, for fear of breathing in more dust. He inhaled shallowly, trying to filter out the worst of it, but even that simple action was enough to cause further coughing.
Carefully, he attempted to wiggle his hands and feet and was inordinately relieved to feel movement in all his extremities. Heaving up on his hands, he tried to sit, only to discover a weight of some kind pinned across his hips, holding him securely in place. He pushed at it futilely before realizing it was a solid wooden beam, much too heavy for him to move alone.
Flattening himself as much as possible, he tried to slide out from underneath it. When that effort proved equally unsuccessful, he slumped down heavily, his head resting in the dirt. Until help arrived, he wouldn’t be going anywhere. With nothing to do but think, he set his mind to try to figure out what had happened.
He’d been investigating a side passage branching off one of the main tunnels in an ancient underground network, which a Federation archaeological team had discovered on a large, barren planetoid in the Chin’toka system. There were indications that at one time this had been an Iconian outpost. Although the evidence was as yet vague and circumstantial, it had been enough to encourage the Archaeological Division of Starfleet to authorize a dig here, as well as on several other planetary bodies in the system. As a returning hero, Chakotay had been given his choice of assignments and had picked this one.
His mind quickly ran through various possible causes for the tunnel’s collapse. He could rule out a deliberate attack; long range sensors would have warned them in plenty of time of any approaching ships, and only the archaeological team was presently on the surface. It must have been a natural phenomenon of some kind, most likely an earthquake.
The director of the dig, an Andorian named Hul’var, had expressed concern a number of times about possible instability of the planetoid’s core. Indeed, when Chakotay had returned from Earth accompanied by Kathryn Janeway, Hul’var had been delighted to have someone with a scientific background, even if it wasn’t in geology. At once, he’d assigned her to monitor their seismic instruments and analyze the data they recorded. The rest of the team had secretly scoffed at the Andorian’s concern, sure that he was overreacting. It would appear, however, that his fears had been well-founded.
He wondered if the others in the main tunnel had been able to escape. If he called out, would anyone respond?
“Hellooo? Is anybody there? I need help, I’m stuck here.”
His voice broke off in another fit of coughing, and it was several minutes before he could recover enough to listen carefully.
Deciding to wait and let the dust settle a little more, he wriggled his back in an unsuccessful attempt to get more comfortable, then let his mind ramble.
Things had been going so well lately, both professionally and personally. At an archaeological conference on Earth, hosted by Starfleet, he had presented a paper detailing his theories on Iconian technology, specifically the so-called ‘gates’, which had allowed them to move instantly across vast distances in space. Not sure what to expect from the august company present, he’d been pleasantly surprised to receive congratulations from several distinguished scholars on his work.
As well, like the proverbial icing on the cake, he had literally run into Kathryn Janeway right in the main concourse of Headquarters. He hadn’t been sure whether he’d even contact her while on Earth – they hadn’t parted in the best of circumstances the previous year, after all. But she had been delighted to see him and said so, wanting to know what he was doing there. And at a reception that evening, she had further surprised him by unexpectedly appearing on the arm of the chair of the conference, whom she’d promptly deserted as soon as she spotted Chakotay.
After a long, frank talk about where their lives were going and whether they wished to travel the road together, he’d asked if she’d be willing to join him on the dig. Her ready acceptance had caught him by surprise – he hadn’t really expected her to agree.
In the weeks since, they’d begun to work through their issues, slowly easing their way into a solid relationship. Chakotay knew most of the hesitation was on his part; he was wary and apprehensive, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Despite every evidence to the contrary, he still found it difficult to believe that Kathryn wouldn’t pull away from him again, as she’d done so often on Voyager.
Apparently, she understood his feelings, and, beyond gently shoring up his confidence in her, sat back, waiting for him to decide when they would take the next step. She wouldn’t push him, she said; she knew she’d hurt him too many times in the past. Now, she was relinquishing control of their relationship to him and letting him set the pace – not an easy thing for her to do, but necessary if they were to have any hope of a future together. He was very grateful, if more than a little surprised, for her consideration.
Lips curving in a reflective smile, he recalled the previous evening as he’d sat hunched over a PADD, trying to decipher a line of text from an ancient tome. He must have moaned in pain, although at the time he was unaware he’d made a sound. The first he knew was the feel of Kathryn’s strong, slender hands settling on his shoulders, her fingers digging deep into muscles taut with fatigue. He’d groaned in earnest then, eyes closing as he leaned back in his chair. She’d bent over him, murmuring softly as she worked out each knot. “Bring back any memories?”
For a moment, he couldn’t think what she was referring to until an image flashed through his memory – a small shelter on a planet thousands of light years away, and Kathryn, tired and weary, groaning as she sat before a computer.
Smiling slightly, Chakotay nodded. “Yes.”
He heard her chuckle. “I thought it was time to return the favour.”
He’d slid one hand up to cover hers, stilling it, before tipping back his head to peer up into her face. With his other hand, he’d stretched to pull down her head just enough to brush his lips against hers. It was a quick kiss, over almost before it had begun, but it served to let her know that he was agreeing to take their relationship to another, more physical level. Kathryn had remained motionless for a few seconds before leaning over to kiss him firmly, letting her mouth move slowly against his as her hands slid down his chest.
Breaking apart, they’d gazed at each other until Chakotay had risen to stand and face her. His hands had gently caressed her face before he’d kissed her again, a little more passionately. This time, it was Kathryn who pulled back first, eyes wide and tentative, unsure how far he wanted to go.
In truth, he hadn’t been sure himself. His old doubts began to resurface and he backed away slightly, separating them. “Maybe we better call it a night,” he’d suggested hesitantly.
She’d looked a little reluctant but agreed, bidding him goodnight before disappearing outside.
Chakotay had sat in his chair for a long time after she left, staring vacantly at the walls while he debated whether to follow her. He wanted her, certainly, and there was no doubt she wanted him. But it was all happening a little too fast for him, and, as a result, he was feeling rushed and uncomfortable. Eventually, he’d given it up and gone to bed, hoping that the next day, he might find some answers.
‘Well,’ he told himself, ‘it’s the next day, and there isn’t anything else to do right now but think.’ His mind tried to sort through his jumbled feelings. What did he want? He loved Kathryn, he knew, maybe he should start from there. Normally, in a situation like this where he was in love with a person who gave every indication of returning his feelings, there wouldn’t be a problem – they’d move easily into a romantic relationship. However, with Kathryn Janeway, nothing was ever normal.
So many times in the Delta Quadrant, he’d speculated whether she loved him, trying to interpret her every mood and action, but never had she given the slightest hint that she felt more than a careless affection for him. Sometimes, especially in the last couple of years, he’d wondered if she even felt that. And then, at the archaeological conference last month, she’d completely reversed course, letting everyone see that, to her, he was the most important person in the universe.
Chakotay shook his head in wonder; he still had trouble accepting her statement that, in fact, she had fallen in love with him long before, but couldn’t say anything because of their positions on Voyager. And yet, it was so typically Kathryn.
What should he do? She had surprised him again, when she’d told him flatly that their fate was in his hands, that she’d abide by his decision, whether she liked it or not. Kathryn – giving up control. ‘Never thought I’d live to see the day,’ he thought. Of course, that meant now he held responsibility for both their lives, not just his.
He started to chuckle softly, thinking that anyone else wouldn’t hesitate to take what she was offering so freely. ‘I must be an idiot! She’s there! She’s as much as told me she wants me! What else do I need?’ The answer came to him instinctively. ‘Trust. I need to know I can trust her to stay with me.’
The word floated in his mind as he examined it, trying to decide whether he should trust her again. ‘But she’s trusting me,’ came the argument. ‘She’s trusting me to decide the course of both our lives. If she can do that, then I should be able to trust her.’
The realization made his heart leap with joy.
At exactly the same moment the floor of the tunnel trembled and shook, abruptly focusing his attention once more on his predicament.
He could hear rocks falling somewhere nearby, and covered his face, trying to protect his eyes. The dust hung heavy in the air, forcing him to inhale it, coating the inside of his throat. He tried not to cough, but found it impossible to avoid.
Panic began to well up inside, starting to overwhelm him before he forced it down with every ounce of will he possessed. He had to stay calm, had to stay in control, if he was to have any hope at all of getting out of here. Desperately, he tried to recall what to do in a situation like this. If only it weren’t so dark, if he could see just a little bit….
Again, he tried yelling out, but with no more success than earlier. His throat was really dry now; he tried to swallow a bit of saliva to ease the worst of the dust, but it didn’t help much.
Suddenly remembering his canteen, he wondered where it was. Let’s see – he’d laid it down along with his other gear when he’d found this passage branching off from the main one. He’d only planned to go a little way, but the readings had looked so promising, he’d kept moving further and further. How far had he gone? Without the tricorder, he didn’t know.
He shifted a bit, trying to ease the sore muscles in his back. How long had he been here? One hour? Several? There was no way to tell.
Sighing, he tried to relax and let his mind drift, hoping to distract himself from his discomfort.
Kathryn. Voyager. To him, the two were pretty much inseparable. He remembered the first time he’d set foot on her ship, that terrible day when he learned they had all been tossed thousands of light years across the galaxy. She had stood there on her bridge, chin up, eyes glaring at him as she flatly informed him that he would damn well treat her crew with the respect they deserved, thank you very much! If he hadn’t been so angry, he would have burst out laughing.
However, it had been that same stubborn defiance and determination that had gotten them home to Earth, when more than once he’d been prepared to give up and settle down in the Delta Quadrant. They’d had a few arguments on that topic – as well as a number of others – but they’d eventually learned that when they stuck together, they could accomplish miracles. And they had. Memories of the crew, of the ship, of all the beings they’d met, crisscrossed through his brain. Images, disconnected one from another, yet all with the common theme of the Delta Quadrant, floated behind his eyes.
Despite sore bones and muscles, he dozed intermittently – for how long he didn’t know – before jerking awake again, hoping he’d just had a nightmare, only to realize that his predicament was very real.
Although not hungry, he did become increasingly thirsty, to the point where all he could picture were cool drops of water falling towards him. Sometimes, he even thought he felt them, but his throat remained dry and hoarse.
Several times, he tried calling out again, but his efforts proved in vain, and eventually, he gave up, too weary to continue. His brain was beginning to hallucinate, showing him images that he knew couldn’t possibly be true. At one point, he was sure he saw his animal guide, but his tongue was stuck to the roof of his mouth and he couldn’t speak to catch her attention.
Truly frightened now, he began to pray, begging the Creator to help him, to guide the searchers to him. When there was no response, he knew real despair. A few tears rolled slowly down his face at the thought of all he was losing. It wasn’t so much the idea of dying but the realization that just as he stood on the brink of true happiness, it was being snatched away from him.
“Kathryn,” he tried to whisper, although no sound passed his lips.
His mind slid deeper into unknown realms. He wondered what death would be like – would he soar above his body, freed at last from this agony? He remembered Kathryn telling him years before, when she believed she’d died on that nameless moon, how frustrated she’d become, trying – and failing – to interact with the crew.
“I was a ghost wandering the corridors, haunting the mess hall, desperate to get someone’s attention. But no one could hear me. No one knew I was there,” she’d related, adding “that was the worst part, when I knew I truly was alone.”
Would he haunt the dig, trying somehow to communicate with her? Or would he let her go to get on with her life? She would miss him dreadfully, he knew. But hopefully, in time, she would be able to put him behind her. That thought brought more silent tears as he contemplated the pain she would suffer at his loss.
Again, he dozed, or thought he did. By now, he wasn’t sure anymore what was real and what imagined. Maybe he was already dead, although the sharp rock in his back indicated otherwise.
Once more, he prayed. ‘A-koo-chee-moya, help me. My spirit is lost and afraid. I beg you, show me the way out of this darkness. Don’t leave me here alone.’
If possible, the air grew even thicker and blacker. Although Chakotay tried to fight it down, his fear was rapidly increasing, threatening to overwhelm him. Desperately his mind cried out in abject terror, as the wings of death swept over him.
At first, it seemed as if his frantic plea would go unanswered, but even as he started to plummet into the pit of despair and desolation, a light began to grow in the back of his mind. Slowly, ever so slowly, it expanded, illuminating from within, pushing away his terror, until he was surrounded and encompassed by its brilliance. Awestruck, he heard a voice speak gently, making him a promise.
“And I will raise you up on eagle’s wings,
bear you on the breath of dawn,
make you to shine like the sun,
and hold you in the palm of my hand.”
Chakotay lay dumbfounded as peace and serenity flowed through him in steady waves, calming his panic and quieting his fears. He wasn’t alone. Whatever happened, whether he lived or died, he would never be alone again. He closed his eyes contentedly and fell into a deep, restful sleep.
=^= =^= =^= =^= =^= =^=
Not long after, three shadowy figures approached Chakotay’s position, their voices echoing back and forth through the tunnel, mixing with the rattle of debris being tossed aside.
“Over here,” rang out a cry, “I’ve picked up a lifesign!”
Footsteps clattered against the fallen rock, as the beams from wrist beacons crisscrossed over the walls and ceiling of the tunnel in their haste. There was a collective gasp as, simultaneously, they spotted Chakotay.
“Hurry!” shouted Kathryn, falling to her knees beside him and reaching to check his pulse. Breathing a quick sigh of relief, she informed the others. “He’s still alive.”
In no time, they’d eased up the heavy beam; with a desperate heave, she pulled Chakotay free from his prison, waking him in the process. Seconds later, tricorder out, she scanned him carefully before closing it with a snap, smiling down at him. “A few bumps and bruises, and there are some nasty, deep lacerations across your hip and thigh, but you’ll be fine.”
Unfastening the canteen from her belt, she opened it and helped him drink. “Easy now,” she told him, “I know you’re thirsty, but you don’t want to gulp down too much at once.”
Chakotay handed the canteen back reluctantly, then swallowed several times more, trying to wash down the last of the dust. “Thanks,” he croaked.
She gave him a minute, then asked if he could get up. “We should get out of here,” she explained. “I have no idea if there will be more quakes, but I wouldn’t be surprised.”
Nodding, he attempted to climb to his feet. The other two members of the rescue party stepped forward to assist, taking his weight on their shoulders as they slowly began to make their way out of the tunnel.
Nearly half an hour passed before they finally stepped into the open, carrying Chakotay to the largest tent, which served as dining hall, lounge and, right now, makeshift hospital. Carefully they placed him on a cot as the team medic hurried forward. Kathryn followed to settle beside him, wanting to make sure her initial diagnosis had been correct and there weren’t any other injuries. Very soon after, his wounds attended to and his body pumped full of antibiotics and painkillers, Chakotay fell asleep.
=^= =^= =^= =^= =^= =^=
With the tunnels deemed too dangerous for further exploration, the following day saw the camp dismantled as the team prepared to move to another, safer site on the next planetoid. Chakotay lay propped up on his cot, PADDs in hand, as he supervised the packing of equipment. His one attempt to help had been immediately rebuffed – indeed, Kathryn had pointed a phaser at him, ordering him to stay in bed or she’d be forced to shoot him. He wasn’t quite sure if she meant it, but decided not to take the chance.
By sunset, most of the heavy equipment, as well as the large tents and their personal belongings, had been crated, ready to be loaded on the shuttles first thing in the morning. Kathryn had volunteered to pilot one for the day, since Chakotay was not yet fully recovered.
As dusk fell and stars glittered in a black sky, everyone gathered to sit around a campfire and eat a meal of emergency rations. Exhausted by the day’s hard work, as soon as they finished, they all retreated almost immediately to their beds.
Chakotay carefully pulled himself up, leaning on Kathryn until he found his balance. She paced slowly beside him as he hobbled to his tent, following him in.
He settled himself on his sleeping bag, before glancing up as she stood, a little uncertain, just inside the flap.
“Would you like me to stay with you tonight?” she asked abruptly.
He stared at the floor for a moment, then smiled at her and nodded. “Yes, I think I would. There are some things we need to discuss.”
Her eyebrow rose. “What sort of things?”
“Our future, for one. And I’d like to tell you about something I heard while I lay trapped in the tunnel.” His face took on a distant look. “It was a voice, reassuring me that I wasn’t alone….” He held out his hand to her, silently asking her to join him.
She grasped his fingers firmly, before sitting down close to him. “I want to hear all about it…”
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