Exposure

by Mary S.

Sequel to Haunted and The Reality Of Dreams. This story will make much more sense if you read those two first, in order. They can be found at www.duffydogwrites.com/

Disclaimer: As usual, they belong to Paramount, Viacom or whoever it is that owns them these days.

A huge thank you to Brianna Thomas for a thorough beta when she had all sorts of RL things to do. This is a better story thanks to her efforts.

And thank you also to Quantumsilver and Cheshire for beta'ing the first parts when the plot was still incubating. Their many helpful suggestions proved most useful.

Earth: 2378

Part 1: Waiting

The room was silent, dim, the window coverings shielding the occupant from anyone peering inside. Not that it was likely as these quarters were located on the third floor of Starfleet temporary housing. Nevertheless, a surveillance drone could possibly peek in while on standard patrol. Therefore, since the person presently sitting there did not wish her presence known, it was safer to keep the coverings drawn. It also helped to preserve the illusion that the place was empty, as did the thoron generator resting in her lap along with a palm phaser.

Kathryn Janeway had been waiting for the better part of a day for her former first officer to return from leave.

Although she appeared relaxed, in fact her emotions were all over the map, a veritable maelstrom of feelings in which rage predominated. Betrayal, hurt, fear, all overlaid with a boiling anger that she could have been so deceived, that after all they had been through, all that she thought they had meant to each other, that he could have done this.

And she wasn't even very sure yet exactly what 'this' was. Which was why she was here.

One way or another, she was going to get some answers. Whenever he finally appeared.

Her thoughts ranged back and forth, analyzing events, seeking a rationale where there was none, recalling how it had all started....

*****

It began when Kathryn had, on the spur of the moment, decided to attend one of Chakotay's debriefing sessions. She had been walking down a corridor at Headquarters when she'd realized she was passing the room where his hearing was taking place. On impulse, she had spun around and quietly slipped inside the room. With everyone's attention focused on Chakotay, no one noticed her sit down at the back near the door.

From what she could tell, the session must be almost over - the discussion seemed to be winding down. She'd just decided she would wait for them to finish so she could have a word with Chakotay when she heard an odd comment from one of the admirals on the review board, a reference to 'events in the Delta Quadrant not panning out precisely as Command had hoped'.

Blinking in confusion, she focused on the remark, wondering if she'd misunderstood but no - from the sudden stiffening of Chakotay's shoulders, she knew she had not. Before he could reply, however, another officer smoothly cut in with a question on a different topic and the moment passed. Kathryn frowned, her brows creased as she tried to make sense of the admiral's words. However, for the life of her, she couldn't figure out what events he was referring to.

Suddenly feeling uncomfortable, she silently eased out of her seat and left the room as unobtrusively as she'd arrived. Facing the board seated at the front of the room, Chakotay had no idea she had ever been there.

That evening after dinner, Kathryn settled down with a pot of coffee to go over her own debriefing, but even as she reviewed her notes, the admiral's chance remark came back to haunt her. The words kept echoing through her head until finally she gave up and leaned back in her chair, trying to figure out what he'd meant.

'It almost sounded as if Command meant for us to be stranded out there,' she thought, 'but if that's the case, then how does Chakotay come into it? It was all rather vague yet that admiral spoke as if Chakotay would understand what he meant. It doesn't make any sense.’

Eventually, her brain worn out, she gave up and went to bed, hoping it might be clear once she had a decent night's sleep.

But when morning came, she was still just as puzzled.

*****

Several days passed as Kathryn's debriefing continued.

Although she put it down to the stress of answering endless questions and offering justification for seven years of decisions, she realized she was growing increasingly weary of the entire process. Her insomnia was worse, her mind restless with vague recollections that she couldn't put her finger on. Bits of memories slid in and out of her brain but she was unable to pinpoint what they referred to.

One evening as she sat with a cup of tea, her eyes wandered restlessly around the room, eventually coming to rest on a crate in the corner. With a sigh, she told herself she might as well do something constructive and unpack the last of her possessions. After all, she could well be in these quarters for some time until her fate was decided and she had new orders. Perhaps she would feel more settled if she had everything out and put in place.

Getting up, she pulled over the crate which contained all the miscellaneous items from her quarters - a few books, odd items she'd picked up here and there, and several PADDs that contained personal correspondence or random notes that she'd jotted down from time to time. Included was one labelled enigmatically 'Dreams'.

She knelt on the floor, staring in confusion at the PADD. 'Dreams?' she wondered, 'what dreams? What is this?'

Ordering another cup of tea from the replicator, she sat down in her chair to read. 'Stardate 52104.1....'

The further she got, the more she started to remember from that period of time. By the time she finished, her suspicions were fully roused.

'Something happened,' she thought, 'I remember confronting Chakotay in his quarters... Why, I was even holding a phaser on him!... So what happened? Why can't I remember anything after that?'

*****

The following day after her daily session, she was determined to question Chakotay only to discover that he had gone on leave to visit his cousin in Arizona. As her debriefing hadn't finished, she was unable to follow him and all attempts to contact him ended in failure. To every query, the response of the automatic message service was the same - Chakotay was presently unavailable.

Kathryn's face fell into a frown. 'He's gone on a vision quest,' she thought, 'and who knows when he'll complete it? If I could just go and find him....'

But she couldn't.

Frustrated and angry, both at Chakotay for being so elusive and the review board for taking so damn long, she went to bed, only to lie awake for yet another night.

*****

A day later, during a break, Kathryn found a message from B'Elanna asking her to call. When she did, Torres explained that Starfleet engineers had been going through Voyager's systems very carefully and had come across something odd.

"They've discovered an entry in the engineering logs that had been deleted. They only found it because another entry in the sickbay logs concerning our supplies of various anaesthetics showed a discrepancy between what we're supposed to have and what is actually there."

Kathryn blinked. "That's pretty strange. It's not like the doctor to make an inventory mistake."

"I agree," continued B'Elanna, "but it gets stranger. It took them quite a while and a level of computer skill that is way beyond my capabilities but, to make a long story short, eventually they were able to determine that on stardate 52123.2 there was a ship-wide bio-hazard incident, followed by the release of neurozine gas throughout the ship. However, there is nothing in any of the logs to indicate what the bio-hazard was, where it originated from or why we used neurozine gas to neutralize it. So they're asking questions, and Captain, I had to tell them I have no idea. I couldn't remember that we'd ever experienced a bio-hazard of that magnitude or that we'd released neurozine gas. So I said I would ask you to see if you can explain it."

Frowning in concentration, Kathryn tried to remember. "Let me think. Wait a minute, wasn't that about the same time we encountered the mysterious anomaly that knocked everyone unconscious for several hours?"

Torres stared at her then pulled up the logs. "You know, you're right." She paused, thinking hard. "You don't suppose there's a connection...."

"It's possible. Let me dig into it a bit more, but unless the engineers are in a hurry, it will have to wait until I complete debriefing."

"Sure, Captain. They only gave me permission to contact you because I said I couldn't explain it."

Kathryn's face tightened in commiseration. "It won't be much longer. As soon as I'm done, we'll meet for lunch."

"I'm looking forward to it," responded B'Elanna with a smile. "Torres out."

Returning to her debriefing, Kathryn focused all her attention on the latest questions from the board but once finished for the day, her brain slid back to the puzzle of the engineering logs. Every instinct was telling her all these little mysteries were somehow tied together.

*****

It all came together in the middle of the night.

She woke up suddenly out of a dead sleep, her mind at red alert.

'The dreams! Maybe what I'm remembering has to do with the dreams!'

Scrambling out of bed, she immediately pulled up both her personal logs and the ship's logs but could find no reference to anything out of the ordinary. In fact, she realized as she read through them a second time, all the logs for that period were unusually succinct and terse, almost as if they had been edited.

'Still another mystery,' she thought. 'What the hell is going on?'

Something was very wrong.

Unable to sleep any more, she remained sitting in her chair, deciding exactly what she was going to do. By dawn, she had worked out a plan.

*****

Arriving early at Headquarters, she first requested that her debriefing be postponed for a day then asked for a meeting with Admiral Hayes, the Fleet C-in-C. Hopefully, he would have some answers for her.

Instead, she found her meeting with him extremely frustrating.

Hayes brushed aside her concerns, telling her flatly that she'd been under incredible stress for the last seven years and needed to go on leave.

"I'll arrange for you to get some time off immediately, Kathryn," he told her. "You're almost finished anyway and I'm sure your review board will be glad of a bit of time to go over all the material they already have before they continue." He smiled paternally. "Go home, spend some time with your family and put all thoughts of Starfleet out of your head for a while."

Kathryn stared at him in disbelief. She knew very well that only in the most dire circumstances was a debriefing delayed and her circumstances certainly weren't dire. 'He knows something but until I can get some more information, I'll have to go along with him or he'll get suspicious.'

So she smiled sweetly and agreed that she was tired and perhaps her imagination had gotten away from her.

After further pleasantries, she got up to leave, saying she would be back in a week. "Take your time, Kathryn," Hayes encouraged her, "we'll be here."

With a final nod, she left his office, wondering what her next step should be. 'Chakotay! But I'll have to catch him off-guard and that won't be easy.'

*****

Early the following morning, Kathryn attempted yet again to contact Chakotay only to receive the same automated reply as before.

"Commander Chakotay is absent on leave and not expected back for several days."

'Very well,' she sighed in exasperation. 'I'll simply have to track him down in Arizona.'

Using her level ten clearance code, she was quickly able to access his personnel records and discover his cousin's location on the Navajo reservation.

'Should be easy to find,' she thought, only to suddenly realize an additional notation had popped up. Transporter access to any part of the Navajo and Hopi reservations is restricted to extreme emergency only. All other transporter activity is prohibited.

Damn!

'So where can I transport to?' she wondered, bringing up a map of the area east of the Grand Canyon. 'There must be a way - after all, Chakotay got there.'

In response to a query, the computer informed her she could transport to the tiny community of Cameron, west of the reservation, but any travel eastward onto Navajo land must be by ground vehicle only and accompanied by a resident of the reservation. 'All right, let's start by going to Cameron and see what I can find there.'

Feeling happier now that she was actually embarked on her search, she set off at once for the nearest transporter station.

However, as she walked down the street, she soon realized she was being followed. And although she discreetly tried several tricks to lose her pursuer, in the end she was unsuccessful. Her shadow was glued to her trail.

After debating her options, she slowly made her way back to her temporary quarters. 'I'll just have to wait until he comes back,' she decided, 'and meanwhile, I'll go visit Mom. I think I need another perspective on this whole mess.'

*****

Walking slowly up the lane towards her childhood home, a robin warbling to her from a branch of her 'thinking tree', Kathryn could feel her cares slipping off her shoulders. 'I should have come home sooner,' was her first thought before she remembered that but for the Fleet Admiral's personal intervention, she would still be cooped up at Headquarters.

Although she was quite sure Hayes' motives in giving her leave had not been altruistic, she couldn't deny she was grateful to him for making it happen. 'I didn't realize how much I needed this,' she thought as she wandered up the front steps.

"Mom!" she called out as she opened the front door. "Are you home?"

There was a sudden exclamation from inside and seconds later, a small woman bearing a strong resemblance to Kathryn bustled through a door.

"Katie! What a wonderful surprise! Why, I wasn't expecting you for at least another week."

Gretchen Janeway hugged her daughter tightly. "Darling, it's so good to see you. Tell me, who did you have to bribe to spring you free? And how long can you stay?"

Kathryn laughed at her mother's enthusiasm. "A whole week, to answer your second question. And as for bribing...well, Admiral Hayes himself authorized my leave." She walked forward slowly, sniffing the air. "Is that real honest-to-god Colombian I smell?"

"It is indeed. I've just made a fresh pot so you timed your arrival well. Come into the kitchen and tell me - oh, everything!"

But Kathryn was in no hurry, wandering forward as she looked around at the familiar rooms, everything arranged just as she'd remembered. Eventually, her gaze fell on her mother who had paused at the door to the kitchen. "You have no idea..." she murmured. "So many times, mostly at night when I couldn't sleep, I'd try to remember each room, how the furniture was arranged, the pictures, everything right down to the smallest knickknack. And then I'd imagine you here." She turned to Gretchen. "Oh Mom, it's so good to be finally home, to know it's not a dream anymore but real."

Gretchen's eyes had filled with tears as Kathryn spoke. Hurrying forward, she hugged her daughter tightly. "Katie, you bet it's real. Now come on. We both need a cup of coffee."

Following her mother into the kitchen, Kathryn settled at the table, although her eyes continued to roam across the room. Finally, she smiled at Gretchen and lifted her cup. "Oh, this is good!"

For the next half hour, Kathryn gave her mother a much abridged version of the last seven years as well as bringing her up-to-date on her debriefing. Finally, however, she fell silent, her gaze going to the window.

Watching her, Gretchen knew there was something else, something that was causing her daughter real concern. When Kathryn said nothing more, Gretchen reached across the table to cover her hand.

"There's more, isn't there?"

Turning back to look at her mother, Kathryn nodded. "Something is wrong," she stated flatly, "and try as I might, I can't figure out what it is."

Gretchen's brows drew together in a frown. "Katie, you've been through more than most people, even Starfleet captains, ever have to deal with. Are you sure?"

But Kathryn was nodding. "I know it. Every instinct is telling me something is going on. And believe me, after seven years of flying by the seat of my pants, I've learned to trust my instincts." Cradling her cup, she leaned forward slightly. "Let me tell you the whole story and then you can tell me if I'm being paranoid."

For nearly an hour she talked, relating the entire story, trying to be as objective as possible while at the same time explaining her concerns.

Throughout her narrative, Gretchen sat quietly, her gaze focused on her daughter's face. "Well," asked Kathryn at the end of her story, "what do you think? Am I making a mountain out of a molehill, assuming Starfleet has a hidden agenda, that Chakotay is involved in some nefarious plot?" She shrugged. "Talking about it now, I really don't know what to think."

Gretchen held up her hand. "You do have evidence, Katie, you said yourself you found a PADD on which you had written down very graphic dreams and then there is your engineer's report about a mysterious bio-hazard contamination that no one can recall. I'd say that's evidence, not conclusive but not easily dismissed, either. And then, of course, Hayes reaction to your questions yesterday. That is very odd, I agree."

Kathryn sighed. "You know, maybe I've been on my own too long but I'm finding it increasingly difficult to deal with Headquarters. The review board is nitpicking every decision, every little occurrence over the last seven years. I keep telling them to read the logs but they say they want to hear my version." She threw up her hands in frustration. "I don’t always remember why I did something! Especially if it happened years ago. I'm getting really fed up with the whole business."

Her eyes narrowing in a frown, Gretchen asked, "Are you thinking of resigning your commission?"

"I am," answered Kathryn, "in fact, the more I think about it, the more I believe it's the best thing to do. Starfleet has been my life for so long but I'm becoming increasingly uncomfortable with what's going on, and I suspect I don't know the half of it. I think I'll go and see Admiral Hayes in the morning."

"He'll want a reason, Katie," warned Gretchen.

"I know, and he'll get one, a whole bunch in fact."

Gretchen was uncharacteristically silent, her face scrunched in a frown.

"What?" asked Kathryn. "You don't think I should?"

"No, I think you need to follow your conscience, only - be careful what you say. You could find yourself in a lot more hot water than you expect."

Leaning forward, Kathryn's eyes were intent on her mother's face. "What do you mean?"

"Think about it," answered Gretchen. "They could make your life very unpleasant, Katie."

Kathryn frowned. "How?"

"Well, for example, the review board could decide to hold you for trial and court-martial, and there would be nothing you could do to prevent that, even if you're subsequently exonerated."

Kathryn's face tightened in a scowl but she was forced to admit her mother was right. If pushed to the wall, the brass would play hardball, she knew that. Holding her for court-martial would be a very effective, and completely legal, way of taking her right out of the equation. "I hadn't thought of that but you're quite right. So, what do you think I should do?"

"Keep your options open," responded Gretchen. "Don't be in a hurry to resign. You're on leave, anyway, so no one expects you to show up at Headquarters. If they think you're playing along, they're more likely to leave you alone. I'll help maintain that fiction as much as I can."

"Mom, I can't let you get involved - ” She got no further.

"I'm already involved, Katie, I'm your mother. They threaten you, they will have me to deal with as well. I may look like a little old lady but I can still run rings around them."

Getting up, Kathryn hugged her mother tightly. "Am I ever glad you're on my side," she told her as she resumed her seat.

"Damn straight!" retorted Gretchen, reaching for the coffee pot. "Now, what's the plan?"

*****

In the end, they had decided that until Kathryn could confront Chakotay, she was working on speculation only.

"You have to talk to him," stated Gretchen flatly. "Until you do, you only have bits of the puzzle. And the simplest and most effective way to do that is to catch him off-guard. Do you know when he's coming back?"

Kathryn shrugged. "Not exactly but his review board is scheduled to sit in two days to deliver their report. He has to be present for that."

"Then I would suggest you go to his quarters and wait for him."

Not having any better ideas, she had followed her mother's suggestion and now here she was, waiting, determined to get some answers and yet dreading the inevitable confrontation that she knew was going to occur.

Her fingers tightened reflexively around the phaser in her lap. She wasn't sure why she'd brought it and yet, some instinct of self-preservation had made her stuff it in her pocket. With a sigh, she helped herself to another coffee from the thermos she'd brought with her. As she resumed her seat, she heard footsteps in the hall. Sitting up straight, she hid the phaser under a fold of her dress but kept one hand on it.

Seconds later, the door opened and Chakotay strode in.

Part 2: Confrontation

Caught completely offguard, at first Chakotay could only stare in astonishment at Kathryn. However, he made a quick recovery and started forward, his face creasing in a grin that disappeared when he got no answering smile. "Kathryn?" he exclaimed, halting again in puzzlement, "What are you doing here? What's going on?"

Her gaze remained fixed on him. "I've been worried about you," she began softly, "I tried to contact you but when I got no response, I decided to start searching. You're not an easy person to find, Commander."

"I have my reasons," he replied enigmatically, not elaborating.

"So eventually," she went on, "I decided to come here and wait for you to return."

He continued to stare at her.

Silence reigned for several minutes until abruptly her patience ended. "Oh for gawdsake, Chakotay!" she snapped, "We've known each other too long and too well to start playing games. What is going on?"

With a sigh, he moved to a chair and sat down wearily. "I had to get away," he replied. "After all we've been through, I needed to find a place of solitude where I could clear my head and focus my thoughts, think about where I want to go next. I needed a place with no distractions, no technology, nothing beyond the bare necessities of life."

Nodding, she relaxed. "And have you been successful?"

He shrugged his shoulders resignedly. "I don't know yet, I'm not finished. You of all people can understand how complicated a process it is. We went through so much out there, I haven't sorted through it all yet."

Her voice remained deceptively soft and commiserating. "Yes, I can see where that would take a lot of thinking. So what have you contemplated so far? Voyager's return? The destruction of the Borg hub? Or, let me see, how about the successful conclusion of your mission?"

Chakotay's jaw dropped as he stared at her, stunned into silence. Her warm gaze had suddenly become a hard, cold glare as her eyes bore into his.

"Well, Commander, which is it?"

Pulling himself together, he kept his voice even. "I'm not sure what you mean about 'my mission'."

She rolled her eyes. "Oh come on, Chakotay, I know you had an agenda out there besides the obvious. What I don't know is why, if I am your best friend, you couldn't trust me enough to tell me about it."

Her gaze remained tightly focused on his face like a laser - he found himself unable to look away.

"What was it?" she pushed relentlessly, her voice hard so that he knew she was becoming very angry. "I would assume now we're home, it's no longer a secret."

Again, he tried to stall but she would have none of it.

"Read that," she demanded, handing him the PADD with her dreams recorded on it before sitting back in her chair.

With no choice, he complied, his eyes quickly scanning through the words. Fifteen minutes later, he finished then looked up. "You told me about these years ago and I thought you'd resolved them then. I don't understand why they've suddenly become an issue again." He frowned as she remained silent then asked, "What do you want me to say?"

"The truth for a start," she retorted.

"Kathryn..." he began in a conciliatory tone, but she cut him off.

"Don't try to tell me that there isn't more to those dreams than meets the eye. I have more evidence."

His face closed down and he folded his arms across his chest. "All right, let's hear it."

Straightening in her seat, she began. "On stardate 52123.2 there was a ship-wide bio-hazard incident, and neurozine gas was released throughout the ship. But there is nothing in any of the logs to indicate what the bio-hazard was, where it originated from or why we used neurozine gas to neutralize it. That was at the same time that Voyager encountered a mysterious anomaly which rendered the entire crew unconscious for a period of several hours."

Her eyes were like two points of ice but he appeared unaffected. "Did it ever occur to you that the two events might be related?" He demanded, his tone authoritative, unwilling to concede her hypothesis.

"It did," she answered, "but there is nothing in the logs to indicate what that connection might be. In fact, there is practically nothing at all in the logs, which is in itself very peculiar. One sentence about an unexplained anomaly, Commander, that's all we have to tell us what happened."

He opened his mouth to reply but she kept talking right over him, forcing him into silence.

"And that's another thing. There is no mention at all of any bio-hazard in any of Voyager's logs but, and here's the really strange part, there is an entry about it in the engineering logs, an entry which had been deleted but which was found quite by accident ten days ago by the engineering teams currently going over the ship."

Once more, he shrugged. "What do you want me to say?" he repeated. "You and B’Elanna, Harry, for that matter the entire staff on deck 11, all know more about engineering than me."

Her eyes narrowed. "I wonder," she replied cryptically before continuing, "and then there are my logs. When I read over them several days ago to refresh my memory, what struck me was how unlike me they sounded. They were terse, succinct, almost as if they had been edited."

"Maybe you were in a hurry and didn't have time to say much," he responded, his tone sceptical.

"There's more," she retorted, which elicited a frown from him but he merely nodded for her to continue. At the same time, however, he was frantically reviewing his options which were rapidly shrinking, realizing he might not be able to successfully lull her suspicions this time.

Kathryn continued. "At your review board last week, Admiral Jorgens remarked that events in the Delta Quadrant had not panned out precisely as Command had hoped."

"How do you know what was said at my review board?" he interrupted in an attempt to distract her. "You weren't there."

"Yes, I was."

"When?" he demanded.

"I just told you," she retorted irritably. "Last week."

"No one mentioned anything about you being in the room."

"Well, I wasn't there very long, not once I heard what the admiral said."

He opened his mouth to respond but she cut him off, glaring at him. "And if you will let me finish, I will explain why an off-the-cuff remark led to my being here now."

Chakotay knew his attempted diversion had failed. Once Kathryn got an idea, she would pursue it indefatigably. Sighing heavily, he nodded at her. "Very well. Tell me what this 'remark' has to do with anything."

"At the time," she went on, "I was merely puzzled and inclined to ignore what he'd said but it kept coming back, haunting me. Still, I might have let it go if I hadn't subsequently found that PADD and started to remember bits of things happening that didn't make sense, all from the period around that stardate. However, what really put the crowning touch on the whole matter was when I went to Admiral Hayes....'

Despite himself, Chakotay tensed - 'uh oh'.

Noting his reaction, her mouth tightened. He had just confirmed what had been something of a long shot.

He forced himself to respond casually. "So?"

"To make a long story short, the admiral patted me on the head, told me I had been under terrible stress out there and I should take a leave of absence immediately - despite the fact that I was still in the middle of my own hearing!"

Chakotay grimaced - 'damn!' He knew as well as anyone that debriefings were never interrupted except in drastic circumstances.

"So, Chakotay, I want to know what the hell is going on, what your involvement is, and what you did to my ship and crew. And I want the truth or by god, I will use this thing on you!"

And she pointed the phaser at him.

His eyes opened wide at the sight of the weapon and he was careful to remain motionless in his seat while his mind raced, rapidly running through his options. Very quickly, he came to the conclusion that basically he had only two: either tell Kathryn everything or cite Starfleet Security protocols and refer her back to Hayes.

As he continued to remain silent, Kathryn's mouth twisted in despair. Despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, deep in her heart, she had nursed a faint hope that he had been an innocent bystander, that he hadn't been lying to her for the last seven years. But his silence now was the final confirmation that he had betrayed her, as well as the crew. 'And the Maquis?' she wondered, 'probably them, too.'

Seeing her expression change to one of disappointment and sadness tore at his heart. This was the woman he'd loved for nearly seven years despite all they'd been through.He pondered the time he'd just spent with the Navajo and the advice he had received from his spirit guide in his final vision quest there. 'Why am I doing this?' he suddenly thought, 'why am I protecting them - Starfleet? What's the point when I realize now I don't want to be a part of it anymore?'

Sighing softly, he looked at Kathryn sitting silently across from him, her eyes focused intently on his face. 'I love her, I've loved her for a long time. Why am I looking back when I should be looking forward?'

Suddenly, he knew exactly what he had to do.

"You want the truth?" he spoke abruptly, "Very well, here it is, but let me warn you, you're not going to like it."

Rolling her eyes, she retorted, "I already know that, Chakotay. Let's hear it."

And so he began the tale of what had really happened to Voyager and her crew.

Part 3: Imprisonment

At the conclusion of his story, he paused to get a drink of water.

Kathryn was scowling - he was right, she didn't like it but it certainly explained a lot. So many odd events, strange remarks as well as Hayes' peculiar behaviour now made sense in the context of what he'd told her. One thing she was sure of - in light of Command's duplicity and extreme callousness in abandoning her ship in the Delta Quadrant, whatever loyalty she had to Starfleet was gone. 'They never cared about me or my crew. Obviously, we were expendable. Fine - I owe them nothing.'

Her gaze turned back to him. "What are you going to do, Chakotay? Are you staying on? Because I'm telling you now I'm getting out as soon as I can."

He nodded. "I want out as well, Kathryn. That's one of the things I figured out while I was staying with my cousin. I won't do their dirty work anymore."

"Then we have to start planning what we're going to do because one thing I know for sure - they won't just let you walk away. We have to cover our backs."

He breathed a sigh of relief - she believed him and would support him. That meant everything. "All right," he replied, "tell me what you're thinking."

After several minutes silently pondering their options, Kathryn shifted in her chair, then got up to pace across the room and back.

Watching her, he noticed she was still absentmindedly clutching the phaser in one hand. "Uh, Kathryn, the phaser? You can put it down - I'm not going anywhere." He paused then gave in to curiosity. "Tell me, would you have actually used it?" he asked.

Blinking, she glanced down then smiled a bit ruefully before placing it on a side table. "I didn't know how easily you would be persuaded. This was a last resort."

His mouth widened in a grin. "If you'd stunned me, I wouldn't have been able to tell you anything."

"I didn't really expect I'd have to go that far," she admitted, answering his smile. Another minute passed as she worked at a solution until finally she sat down with an air of resolution.

'Crunch time,' thought Chakotay, knowing she had figured out a plan.

"This is what I'm thinking," she began. "First, you need to record everything you've told me on a data chip which we'll hide somewhere safe."

"Actually," he interrupted, "we should make several copies and put them in different places."

She nodded. "Why don't you get a PADD and start doing that while I try to figure out the next part?"

With a grin, he got up, then disappeared into the bedroom.

A moment later, she heard him start dictating.

Two hours and several cups of coffee later, Kathryn had narrowed down their options to two: either they left immediately and headed for the furthest parts of Federation space as fast as possible, or they would go to Hayes, tell him that Chakotay had made a record of events and demand they both be allowed to retire. In return they would promise to keep silent about Starfleet's role in Voyager's exile. But if Starfleet ever came after them, the chips would act as insurance. It was a riskier plan but Kathryn judged that in the long run, it might be better.

As she explained to Chakotay when he reappeared with the PADD, this way they could live out their lives peacefully. With the other option, they would always be looking over their shoulders, waiting to be caught. "I don't know about you but I can't live that way, not for the long term," she finished.

He handed her the PADD. "Read that over," he said, "while I think about both ideas." Then he meandered back into the bedroom.

Seconds later, the door suddenly burst open and a squad of three armed officers dressed in black barrelled in, their weapons all trained on Kathryn who was too stunned to move or even cry out.

As one seized the PADD from her hand, two others rapidly searched the rooms.

Chakotay was quickly hauled out of the bedroom, an officer gripping each arm.

Kathryn found her voice. "What's going on?" she demanded angrily, her tone authoritative, demanding answers.

But none of the men responded except to curtly order her and Chakotay out the door at phaser point.

All their questions and demands for an explanation were met with silence.

Outside, they were rapidly hustled into a hovercar parked right at the front entrance, the three officers continuing to keep their weapons trained on them. There was no chance of escaping their captors.

The hovercar sped rapidly through the streets before turning into a driveway that led inside a tunnel. Still they raced along until abruptly coming to a halt.

Hauled out of the hovercar, Kathryn was directed to a nearby turbolift, the phaser still pointed at her.

Chakotay moved to follow her, only to have his arms once more firmly grasped. Clearly, this was where they were to be separated.

"Kathryn!" he called almost despairingly, making her glance back as she was hustled into the lift but before she could reply, the doors had slammed shut.

Moments later, Chakotay was pushed into a second lift which eventually opened onto a blank corridor; partway along it, he was shoved into an empty cell and a forcefield activated. With a sigh, he sat down on the small cot, kicking himself for not realizing sooner that his quarters would be monitored. 'I must be slipping,' he thought ruefully. 'Still another reason to get out of all this.' He rubbed his face, wondering what the hell he was going to do now.

Likewise, Kathryn found herself in a similar cell but unlike Chakotay, she continued to pace back and forth across the small area, trying to figure out her next move. A movement outside caught her attention and she turned to face the front. Admiral Hayes, accompanied by an aide, was finally putting in an appearance.

"What the hell is going on here?" she growled as soon as she spotted him.

Hayes stared at her almost compassionately. "Why didn't you listen to me, Katie?" he began only to be interrupted.

"Don't call me that!" she nearly screamed. "You have no right anymore to use that name."

"Very well, then. Captain." Drawing himself up to his full height, he continued, his tone formal. "Captain Janeway, I wish to inform you that you are being detained indefinitely - "

Again, she interrupted, roaring at him. "You have no right to hold me!"

"I have every right!" he snarled back, all pretence of civility gone. "You are deemed to be a threat to the Federation, Captain, and as such, we can hold you for as long as we deem necessary. Your rights are hereby suspended."

Shocked into silence, she could only stare at him, her face white with horror, her mind numb.

Without another word, the admiral turned and left, the aide trailing behind.

A few minutes later, he faced Chakotay. "Well, Commander. Or should I say Captain?"

Chakotay simply stared at him, refusing to be goaded into a reply.

Hayes attempted to lighten his tone. "If you cooperate with us, Chakotay, I can make your life a little more pleasant."

"Where is Captain Janeway?" demanded Chakotay, "Why have you arrested her? She hasn't committed any crime."

Ignoring his question, Hayes began to fire a series of questions but Chakotay refused to reply or to speak at all, instead curling up on the cot with his back to the admiral. Eventually, Hayes gave up but not before delivering a thinly veiled threat. "You may not want to speak to me now, Captain, but eventually you will be begging me to let you talk."

But Chakotay remained silent.

******

Meanwhile, Gretchen, expecting Kathryn home any time, was becoming increasingly worried.

After another day had passed, she decided to contact Owen Paris but he proved to be quite unconcerned.

"Don't worry, Gretchen," he smiled at her in a paternalistic fashion, "Kathryn's fine."

"But where is she, Owen? I've tried and tried to contact her with no success. Something must have happened."

But Admiral Paris remained calm. "I imagine her review board had a few more questions than she expected. Really, Gretchen, she's a grown woman, you know, not twelve years old anymore. She's fine."

Gretchen opened her mouth to retort that Kathryn's review had been suspended but something in his expression made her realize he wasn't going to be persuaded to do anything. 'Something's wrong,' she thought, 'but he isn't going to help me find out what it is.' Remembering her advice to Kathryn, she pasted a smile on her face. "Perhaps you're right. I will admit that I'm inclined to be a little overprotective right now."

"Quite understandable," he chuckled before signing off.

Sitting in front of the monitor, Gretchen put her head in her hands, trying to rein in her anger enough to think of who else she might contact. Damn that Owen Paris anyway! He knew something, she was sure of it. And how dare he pat her on the head like that! Pompous, overbearing idiot! No wonder Tom..... Her rant came to a sudden halt.

Tom.

Tom Paris.

Who had been a member of Voyager's crew, indeed one of her daughter's senior staff. And who, as far as she knew, had no love for his father.

'All right, Owen Paris, we'll just see about you.'

Her fingers raced through the list of Voyager's crew and in no time, she had found the contact information not only for Tom but his wife, B'Elanna Torres. Voyager's chief engineer and another trusted member of Katie's staff, who also, now that she thought about it, had been a member of Chakotay's Maquis crew.

Surely, these two would help her.

Her hopes were not misplaced.

As soon as Tom understood the situation, he promised to try to find both Kathryn and Chakotay immediately.

"I'll start right now and I'll let you know as soon as I can."

Gretchen sat back with a sigh of relief. "Thank you very much, Tom. I appreciate this more than you can know."

His eyes tightened in a slight frown. "You do realize that my dad might be right. The captain and Chakotay, well, they had a...complicated relationship on Voyager. We always thought there was something more but no one knew for sure. It could be that they have, uh, simply decided to, uh, spend some time together."

But Gretchen was shaking her head. "Tom, Katie was here for nearly a week and never in that time did she give any indication that she was getting involved with him. I mean, any more than was obvious. I don't think that's it. Although I would be very glad if it were, you understand."

He grinned at her. "So would we all, ma'am, so would we all." His face sobered. "Well, I'll see what I can do and get back to you. Paris out."

Now all she could do was wait.

******

As soon as he'd closed the connection, Tom went to find B'Elanna who was preparing to bath Miral and tell her of this new development.

Like him, B'Elanna was concerned immediately. "I didn't think Chakotay had returned from Arizona yet. Has anyone contacted his cousin to see if he's still there?"

"No, but that's a good idea. While you're bathing Miral, I'll go do that."

By the time B'Elanna had the baby clean and out of the bath, Tom had returned. "He's not there. I spoke to Lortak directly and he says Chakotay left very early this morning."

B'Elanna's face creased in a frown. "Well then, we should go over to his quarters right away."

"What about Miral?"

"What about her? We'll take her, of course. If he's there, I'm sure he'd like to see her and if something is wrong, she'll make it seem like an innocent visit."

But when they arrived at Chakotay's door, they found it sealed.

"That's odd," remarked Tom, examining the door. "Why would it be sealed like this? We do have the right place, don't we?"

While he rattled on, B'Elanna was glancing up and down the corridor, her eyes casually roaming across the ceiling.

"Obviously, he isn't here," she declared, "so let's go."

As she turned to walk away, Tom reached for her hand to stop her but she simply tugged hard on his fingers. Understanding her unspoken signal, he followed her outside.

"What was that all about?" he asked as they walked slowly along the sidewalk.

"I saw some security sensors in the corners of the ceiling," she explained. "We need to go home."

Not immediately understanding, Tom began to protest once more but B'Elanna simply smiled. A Klingon smile that showed all her teeth.

"Right," responded Tom, "we need to go home."

******

An hour later, without Miral this time, they returned to Chakotay's quarters, B'Elanna armed with certain illegal tools that would allow her to block sensors and break the seal on the door.

Swiftly, they picked the lock then pushed open the door. A quick scan revealed several more sensors which she also blocked. "We haven't got much time," she warned as she stepped into the bedroom while Tom moved around the living area and kitchen, his eyes rapidly examining each surface.

A moment later, he heard her exclaim softly.

When she reappeared, she was holding a data chip in her hand. "Have you found anything?" she asked but he shook his head. "Right, let's go."

Exiting the quarters, she resealed the door, then reactivated the sensors, making it appear as if they had just arrived and were knocking on the door.

After a minute, they both turned away and walked out of the building. "What...?" began Tom but she simply pulled him by the hand, urging him to silence.

Only when they got home did she speak. "We need to be careful," she told Tom. "Something is very wrong. I found this on the floor, under the bed, as if someone had dropped it."

Quickly they loaded the chip into a reader then listened in increasing horror to Chakotay's soft voice documenting the last seven years. By the end, they were so appalled that neither could speak for several minutes. It was Miral's sudden wail that eventually brought them back to reality.

B'Elanna quickly moved to pick her up, then sat down in the big armchair, settling her to nurse.

"You know," said Tom finally, "if I didn't know that was Chakotay speaking, I wouldn't believe it."

She nodded then replied, "But it does explain more than a few things that I could never figure out, things that I simply let go at the time." She sighed. "Gawd, it's unbelievable. How could he? And why? There's so much I don't understand!" she almost wailed. Her eyes were bright with tears. "He was my dearest friend, Tom, the closest thing I had to family. I thought I knew him and yet, all this time, he was leading a double life. How could he have deceived me, all of us, like this?" Her voice fell away to a whisper as she bent over Miral's downy head. "How can I ever trust him again?"

Her obvious sorrow brought Tom to her side and he put his arm around her shoulders, careful not to squash the baby. "Oh, honey, I wish I had some kind of answer. It's so hard to take in. Chakotay, of all people, is the last person I would have suspected of anything like this." He hugged her a little tighter. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I guess," she answered almost in a monotone. "Right now, I'm feeling kind of numb, more than anything else." She glanced up at him. "So - what do we do now?"

Her words brought Tom back to the present, and he got up. "I have to contact Gretchen Janeway but what I'm going to tell her, I don't know."

"Then tell her you don't know," answered B'Elanna firmly.

Tom looked sceptical but nodded. "Yeah, I guess."

However, although he tried to reassure Gretchen as much as he could without actually saying anything, she quickly picked up that there was something more going on. After pondering what he hadn't said, she decided it was time to take action.

******

The following morning, after a lot of intense discussion, Tom and B'Elanna were still no closer to deciding what to do.

Suddenly, their door chimed and when Tom went to answer it, who should he find on his doorstep but Gretchen.

As she bustled in, she apologized for intruding so abruptly but explained it by saying, "Tom Paris, you know more than you're telling me. Let me remind you that this is my daughter we're talking about, the one who's just returned after being lost for seven years in the far reaches of space. So I need to know all of it. Now!"

Her voice and stance were so like Kathryn's that both Parises found themselves automatically responding "yes, ma'am" before they realized it.

Indicating the card reader, Tom suggested that Gretchen sit down and listen. It would explain a lot.

As she listened to it, Gretchen nodded her head occasionally. At the end, she stared silently at the wall for a minute, obviously deep in thought.

When Tom reached across her to remove the chip from the reader, she blinked then focused on him, "Well, that explains some of it," she began, "and confirms Katie's suspicions...."

Tom was the one to blink now. "You knew about this?"

"I knew a bit," she replied before going on to tell them Kathryn's story and her concerns. "The question now is - what do we do about it?"

"First," interjected B'Elanna, "I think we need to find out where they are."

"Oh, I'm pretty sure I know that part," replied Gretchen, her tone quite definite. "Starfleet has them."

B'Elanna stared at her. "How can you be sure?"

But at the same time, Tom was nodding "You're probably right." He turned to B'Elanna. "Think about it, B'Elanna. Who has the most to lose from this?" He waved the chip at her. "Starfleet."

"Specifically, that old woman Hayes," cut in Gretchen, her tone leaving no doubt what she thought of the admiral. "He was in charge of Intelligence for years, probably still is."

"Which leads us back to what we've been trying to decide - what do we do now?" asked Tom.

"Well, first," stated Gretchen flatly, "we make a copy of this, several in fact, and we hide them in different places. Then, we start to make some noise."

"What kind of noise?" inquired B'Elanna.

"I have some ideas," answered Gretchen enigmatically. "You two go and make copies while I start making some calls."

Both Parises grinned at her.

"Gretchen," declared Tom, unconsciously echoing Kathryn from several days before, "am I ever glad you're on our side."

"Damn straight!" retorted Gretchen.

However, then he fell silent, his mouth compressed in a thin line. Watching his face settle into a frown as he worked through her idea, Gretchen paused.

After a minute or two, he looked up at her. "All due respect, ma'am," he began but Gretchen interrupted.

"For lords' sake, Tom Paris, please call me Gretchen. 'Ma'am' makes me feel like one of those pickled admirals sitting in their ivory tower."

Tom and B'Elanna both burst out laughing.

With a grin, he began again. "Very well - Gretchen. My thought is this: making noise might work for a little while but I'm not sure how much it will accomplish in this situation. Eventually John Q. Public is going to grow bored with the story and we'll have lost the only edge we have." He glanced at B'Elanna, then seeing her nod of encouragement, he continued. "I think what we need here is more of a Maquis operation."

Gretchen shrugged. "All right, I'm listening."

But Tom hesitated, still looking at B'Elanna. "Are you comfortable with all this?" He asked her. "Are you willing to risk all that we've gained - getting home, starting to make a life for ourselves here - for two people, one of whom we now know deceived us for years? How do you feel about that?"

B'Elanna shifted uncomfortably, her eyes briefly flitting around the room before she straightened. "As far as the captain is concerned," she declared, "absolutely; she laid herself on the line for us too many times out there. My loyalty to her is unquestioned. And up to yesterday, I would have said the same about Chakotay. Now? I can't say I'm exactly overjoyed about putting everything we have at risk for his benefit. Part of me wants to simply leave him there. But...." She sighed heavily. "We were together a very long time, almost ten years, and he always backed me, even when I was wrong. So maybe his motives weren't as altruistic as we thought but he was always there for me. I can't forget that. And he says he wasn't spying on the Maquis, his orders were to learn as much as he could about the Cardassians. I have to assume he's telling the truth, although who knows? It could be more lies. But on the assumption it's not, I will do whatever I have to, to help him now. Besides, he says himself on that chip that he wants out, and that part I do believe."

Tom nodded, indicating the chip. "Then my next question is - what do you think will be the reaction of the others when they hear this?"

"Some like Dalby and Henley will be furious and wash their hands of him, I'm sure," she replied, "they won't be able to see beyond the fact he was a spy. But some of the others, ones like Ayala, Tabor, Gerron, maybe even Chell, while angry at first, I think will eventually agree to help."

"Then we need to contact them, surreptitiously of course, and start planning in earnest." He glanced at Gretchen, who had remained silent throughout this exchange. "What do you think?"

"I think you know these people, as well as my daughter, very much better than I do. I'm willing to go along with what you believe is best. But," she held up a hand as Tom started to reply, "two things. First, I do want to make copies of this chip, the sooner the better," both Parises nodded, "and, I believe we should get a second opinion. How about I go to Vulcan to pay a little visit to my dear friend T'Pel and her long lost husband?"

Tom was smiling again. "I think that would be an excellent idea. And while you're doing that, I'm going to contact some of the Starfleet Voyagers such as Harry, Susan Nicoletti, Anderson...."

"What about the doctor?" asked B'Elanna.

"If we can reach him, absolutely. And then of course, there's Seven."

Gretchen got to her feet. "You two seem to have this part under control so I'm going home now and then I'll head to Vulcan. I'll contact you when I get back."

Tom and B'Elanna saw her to the door where they both gave her a warm hug. "Be careful," warned Tom, "these are strange times."

Gretchen nodded decisively. "Don't you worry about me. I'm just a harmless little old lady."

She left them both smiling as she headed for the nearest transporter station.

******

Meanwhile, in her cell, Kathryn was becoming increasingly depressed. The only person she saw at all was the guard who brought her a meal three times a day and he was obviously under orders to remain silent around her, despite her barrage of questions. Eventually, she gave up asking him anything but internally, she continued to seethe, her mind a maelstrom of worry about Chakotay, her mother, her crew. Did they even know she was missing?

Unbeknownst to her, Chakotay's experience was very similar. No one came near him except to deliver a tray of food at mealtimes. In an effort to remain calm, he started to mentally recount to himself all of Voyager's adventures, trying to remember every day in the Delta Quadrant. If only he had a PADD, he thought, he could write a book.

But despite his best efforts to remain centred and in control, he couldn't help worrying, wondering if anyone had even missed him. 'Maybe they all think I’m still in Arizona.'

Part 4: Rescue

Plans began to unfold.

Five copies of the chip were made and after considerable thought, secreted in different locations. One was kept aside to be given to Gretchen who had informed them she had a special place for it.

After much heated discussion, half a dozen Maquis agreed to help. The rest, as B'Elanna had foretold, were so angry with Chakotay they refused to have anything to do with his rescue. "As far as I'm concerned," stated more than one, "prison is too good for him. Let him rot there, for all I care!" It was only because of their loyalty to Janeway that they agreed to remain silent and say nothing to the authorities.

Meanwhile, Gretchen's trip to Vulcan had mixed results. Tuvok was still very ill and, beyond wishing them good fortune in their endeavour, was unable to offer much help. "The captain and commander are two of the most resourceful people I have ever known," he reassured her. "If anyone can find a way out of such a predicament, they will." He took the data chip she held out to him. "I regret I cannot offer more assistance but perhaps I can contribute by placing this in a secure location."

"Thank you," she answered. "You have taken a weight off my mind. I know it will be safe with you."

"Live long and prosper, Gretchen Janeway," intoned Tuvok, holding up his hand in the ancient salute.

"And may fortune favour your endeavours," added his wife.

With a grateful nod, Gretchen took her leave. As she walked to the nearest transport station, she reflected that even if Tuvok had been well enough to accompany her, there was no way T'Pel would permit her husband to ever leave Vulcan again for any reason.

Gretchen really couldn't blame her.

*****

Tom's effort to recruit 'fleeters had more success. Some, such as the Delaney twins, were already settled in with their families and Tom couldn't find it in himself to ask them to risk their futures again. But others, such as Nicoletti, Ashmore, and surprisingly Vorik, immediately came onboard. Each one said the same thing - families, if they'd had any, had gone their own way, spouses remarried, children treating them as complete strangers. "My family was on Voyager, that's all I have left now."

He also debated whether or not to sound out his father. They were slowly re-establishing a relationship but, recalling Owen's response to Gretchen's concern when Kathryn first disappeared, he decided not to.

Where he did find an unforeseen ally was in the Admiralty itself.

*****

Two weeks after their initial meeting with Gretchen and following her return from Vulcan, Tom was unexpectedly contacted by an aide of Admiral Nechayev. "The Admiral wishes to see you," he was told, "tomorrow at 0900." Before Tom could even respond, the aide had closed the channel.

"Yes, ma'am!" he muttered, annoyed at the admiral's highhandedness but knowing he would have to go.

The following morning, he presented himself promptly at 0900 and was immediately ushered into her office.

For over a minute, Alynna Nechayev sat silently appraising him, allowing Tom to grow increasingly worried that somehow their plans had leaked and he was in real trouble. With increasing desperation, he tried to keep his demeanour and expression completely calm.

"Have a seat, Lieutenant," she finally spoke and he sat down with a silent sigh of relief - if she were going to reprimand him, she wouldn't ask him to sit.

However, her next words shattered any relief he might be feeling. "I understand you're gathering a group of Voyager's crew together," she remarked almost casually but Tom could hear a note of intensity. "This wouldn't have anything to do with the current incarceration of your former captain and commander, would it?"

His brows came together in a simulated frown while his mind raced - how much did she know?

"My wife and I have been in contact with some of our crewmates, yes, we're planning a bit of a reunion," he responded equally casually, "but as for the captain, I don't know where she and the commander are. I did speak to her mother but she's not in touch with her at present." He paused, then asked, "They're in prison? Why?"

Nechayev continued to stare at him very hard for another minute before abruptly getting up and moving to a small side table on which reposed a tea service and a plate of snacks.

"Tea, Mr. Paris?"

The non sequitur made Tom blink but he recovered quickly. "Uh, sure. Just clear, please."

She smiled, "The way tea should be drunk," and handed him a cup.

Automatically, he thanked her, then decided to go on the offensive. "Admiral, you didn't answer my question. Why are the captain and commander in prison?"

Unhurried, she moved back to her chair and sat down, sipping her tea before setting down the cup.

Recognizing her stalling tactic, Tom sat back and waited.

"They are being held in a special facility at Headquarters on suspicion of treason."

Tom all but leapt out of his chair. "What?? That's crazy!"

She continued in the same calm voice, her tone never varying, "Admiral Hayes ordered their arrest. Under the anti-terrorism laws enacted in the wake of the Dominion War, their civil rights have been suspended."

Tom was gasping, his eyes wide with horror - that he hadn't known. "For how long?" he managed to get out.

"Indefinitely," replied Nechayev implacably.

"But...but...Starfleet can't do that!" he protested.

"They can and they have," she shrugged. "Or to be more precise, Admiral Hayes can and he has."

"Admiral," he began in protest, "that simply doesn't make any sense. The last person in the entire Federation who might entertain treasonous thoughts is Kathryn Janeway."

She leaned back in her chair. "Well, that's the reason Admiral Hayes has given, but I don't know what his real motive is."

Tom sat back, thinking, 'I do' but he wasn't ready to give her any information yet. 'She's fishing', he thinks, 'she wants to know how much I know.'

Nechayev leaned forward, her face suddenly intent. "Mr. Paris, I'm going to lay my cards on the table. The years since the Dominion War ended have not been good ones for the Federation, and I don't mean simply economically. There is an atmosphere of distrust and suspicion permeating various levels of bureaucracy right up to the highest point, including the Federation Council. A number of laws, draconian in my view, have been enacted and so far, the general populace has not protested. This one, regarding the suspension of civil rights on a whim, is one of the worst but it's not the only one. If we are not very careful, I can see the entire Federation becoming a dictatorship."

Throughout her speech, Tom sat immobile, amazed at what he was hearing. He knew Nechayev mostly by reputation which had not always been kind - 'Nasty' Nechayev was one of the gentler epithets used by the lower ranks - but he remembered that while she had on occasion done Starfleet's dirty work for them (the whole episode with Dorvan Five, Chakotay's home world, for instance), she was also on record as having protested the Council's decision to abandon the populace to the mercy of Cardassia when they refused to move. Not sure now how to respond, he opted to remain silent.

She continued, "I have spent my entire career in Starfleet working as hard as possible not only to defend the Federation from its enemies but to uphold the principles of the Charter, principles which I believe are being eroded from within. I have remained silent so far, waiting for a catalyst, something that will outrage the general population sufficiently to mobilize them into action. I believe the arrest of Janeway and Chakotay is that catalyst. "They have been hailed as heroes of the Federation for bringing their ship home against unimaginable odds. People are clamouring to know more about them, to celebrate them and their triumph, one of the very rare 'happy' events in a Federation that has become increasingly miserable since the end of the war." Pausing momentarily, she added, "Public opinion can be a very powerful weapon, Mr. Paris, if wielded properly."

Tom stared right back at her. "Bottom line, Admiral, what are you trying to say?"

"I want to help you free them."

His eyebrows rose. "Who says we're going to do anything?"

She scoffed, "Of course you are. The bonds you forged on that ship over seven years will not permit you to simply let your commanding officers rot in prison. Of course you're going to do something. I want in."

Tom chuckled, "Well, that's certainly plain enough. I guess the next question is, how do I know I can trust you?"

It was her turn to shrug. "You don't, of course, you'll just have to take my words on faith. But I will say this - over the course of my career, I've had to perform some very unpleasant tasks but I have never lied. If you don't believe me, you can ask Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Enterprise and his counsellor, Deanna Troi."

Abruptly, Tom rose to his feet. "Let me think about all this, Admiral."

As she rose as well, her face creased in a slight smile. "See my aide on your way out, he'll give you my private contact information."

Tom gave her a quick nod, "Thank you, Admiral," then turned and walked out, stopping briefly to speak to the aide before heading out the door.

Nechayev watched him until the door slid closed then settled back into her seat, her face falling into a frown. She knew she had just taken a huge risk, but if there was a way to save the Federation and bring it back to the ideals of the Charter, then she was willing to take the chance. Hopefully, she would know soon enough.

After leaving the admiral's office, Tom remembered that Reg Barclay had once served on the Enterprise and immediately contacted him, asking that a message be discreetly passed to Deanna Troi.

Two days later, he received a call from Reg that the Enterprise was in dock for maintenance and if he would like a tour, now was a good time - Reg would be glad to escort him. Once on the ship, he was taken directly to Troi, who, when he explained his errand, took him to meet the captain.

Crossing his fingers that his trust in their discretion wasn't misplaced, he explained in very general terms that Admiral Nechayev had offered to assist him with a problem. However, he didn't know how trustworthy she was.

At that point, Picard's eyebrows went up. "Perhaps, Lieutenant, you better explain exactly what this problem is." His tone left no doubt it was an order, not a request.

Taking a deep breath, Tom decided to go with his gut instinct that he was doing the right thing and explained exactly what had happened.

Both Troi and Picard were horrified. "I don't mind telling you, Mr. Paris," stated Picard, "I have seen for myself the fear and suspicion the admiral speaks of. Quite frankly, nowadays, there is far too strong a tendency to shoot first and ask questions later. We've been out of direct contact for some time on an extended mission to Cardassia and the Badlands, and I hadn't realized how much the general situation has deteriorated. I hope that Admiral Hayes is in a minority but even so, his position allows him considerable latitude; he can do a lot of damage. As for Admiral Nechayev, we have butted heads frequently but she has always been straightforward with me. I think you can trust her. And she would be an extremely useful ally, indeed I would venture to say without her, I doubt very much whether you'll be able to free Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay." Leaning forward, he added, "Of course, we'll help in any way we can. You can count on that."

Breathing a big sigh of relief, Tom smiled gratefully. "Thank you, sir, I appreciate that very much. To know that you are on our side, well, it makes it a little less of an uphill battle."

"I think you'll find that there are a lot of officers on 'your side', as you put it. Starfleet has gotten away from its mission to explore and it needs a strong hand to get it back on track. I can't think of anyone more capable of doing that than Alynna Nechayev."

Rising to his feet, he held out his hand. "Keep in touch, Mr. Paris, let us know what we can do."

Deanna, sitting beside Tom, got up as well. "I'll see you back to the transporter room," she told him.

Tom thanked Picard again, relieved to know he had two more important allies.

******

An hour later, back in his apartment, after talking to B'Elanna and Gretchen, he contacted Admiral Nechayev at her private number and suggested she meet him and the others at Gretchen's that evening.

*******

When Tom and B'Elanna arrived at the Janeway home, they found Ayala, Tabor and Gerron along with Nicoletti and Vorik already there. Harry and Seven appeared shortly after followed by Ashmore and Chell.

After waiting another few minutes, Tom suggested they get started and not wait for the admiral. His words prompted more than a little surprise.

"What admiral?" asked Harry but Tom remained tight-lipped.

"You'll see," he replied with a mysterious smile.

*****

However, at the end of an hour, with still no sign of her, Tom was forced to concede his admiral was a no-show. "I guess the admiral had a change of heart, not unheard of in the Admiralty. So we'll just keep working on our own plans."

Shortly after, there was a sudden pounding on the door. Getting up, Gretchen went to answer it.

A moment later, the others heard her sudden exclamation. "What's going on? Who are you?"

Instantly alerted, they leapt up even as several armed men in black camouflage poured through the door.

"I demand to know the meaning of this intrusion!" roared Gretchen, her eyes blazing. Her stance was so formidable that the leader actually paused but then was pushed forward by the movement of the men behind him.

"Stand aside!" he ordered then pointed his weapon at everyone gathered in the room.

"Move over there!" he shouted at them but these Voyager crew were not easily intimidated - no one moved.

"I said...!" he shouted again but Tom stepped forward, his eyes hard.

"No one is moving anywhere until you tell us who you are and by what right you break into this house."

Infuriated, the man took a swing at him only to be disabled by Vorik with a neck pinch. As he fell, Harry scooped up his weapon and pointed it at the other men.

In all the commotion, Gretchen was able to slip unnoticed into the kitchen where she instantly pressed the alarm system that would alert the local authorities she needed help.

"Stand down," roared Harry when the men hesitated.

Realizing the shoe was now on the other foot, they started to backpedal out the door, trying to escape.

Led by Harry, the others followed but were unable to stop them from running across the yard and disappearing down the road. A few minutes later, they heard the roar of a shuttle taking off from somewhere very close by.

Vorik, meanwhile, had remained in the house, guarding their captive who was starting to regain consciousness.

In another minute, two hovercars filled with local police came tearing up the road and stopped in front of the house. Six officers piled out, weapons at the ready.

"Inside," shouted Tom, directing them into the house but the officers didn't move until Gretchen came out on the porch and called to them, explaining that the people on the lawn were her daughter Kathryn's friends and former crew.

Reassured, the constable in charge lowered his weapon and they all trooped inside. When their prisoner finally regained consciousness, he found himself surrounded by over a dozen individuals.

At first, he tried to bluster his way, stating that Starfleet had been notified that Captain Janeway's mother was under attack and he was leading a rescue mission. But after Gretchen flatly denied any such thing, saying the people gathered at her home were merely some of her daughter's former crew spending a pleasant evening together, he fell silent.

Slapping a pair of restraints onto his arms, the constable led him out the door. "We'll just remove you to the station, mister, and then we'll check out your story."

After thanking him profusely, Gretchen finally closed the door before allowing her face to fall into a frown. "I don't like this at all," she announced, "perhaps those men are why your admiral never showed up, Tom."

"I was thinking the same thing," he agreed. He glanced around the room, then jerked his head toward the door, indicating they should move outside.

Once everyone had walked well away from the house, Tom turned to face them. "This whole situation is becoming a lot more complicated than I expected. I think we're going to have to assume that our homes and our communications are being monitored. And I think it's a fair assumption that the captain and commander are being held by Starfleet and that it has to do with the commander's confession. Which means Starfleet Intelligence is involved. I wouldn't be surprised if that's who broke in tonight."

Turning to Gretchen, he continued, "You're not safe here by yourself anymore. I want you to come with B'Elanna and me; we're going to find you somewhere to stay." He broke into a grin. "In fact, I know just the place - my parents."

"Tom!" protested B'Elanna, "We don't know what your dad's position is...."

But Harry was nodding. "Actually, it makes sense. You'll be safe there, Mrs. Janeway, and at the same time, you can keep your eyes and ears open for any information."

Gretchen smiled as well. "I'm not sure how good a spy I'll make but I'm willing to try."

"Then let's do it," declared Tom before turning to the others. "The rest of you, let's put the first part of our plan - to find out as much as possible without alerting Starfleet - in place. We'll meet again in a week."

"Where?" asked Ayala.

"How about a picnic?" suggested Seven, "It is an outdoor activity and therefore harder to monitor."

"Good idea," replied Tom, "let's do it. Golden Gate Park in a week."

As the others began to leave, Tom contacted his mother, quickly explaining the situation while Gretchen rapidly packed an overnight bag. Admiral Paris didn't sound overjoyed at the thought of a houseguest but was overruled by his wife, who said of course Gretchen couldn't stay by herself when housebreakers were on the loose, and besides, she hadn't seen her old friend in far too long.

Arriving in San Francisco, they went straight to the Parises', dropped off Gretchen, collected Miral from her grandparents and headed home.

Exhausted, all either Tom or B'Elanna could do was collapse into bed but early the next morning, B'Elanna got up and started checking every room in the house. It didn't take her long to find a tiny monitor in the living room and another in the kitchen. She didn't touch them but when Tom woke an hour later, she pulled him into Miral's room and rapidly explained what she'd found.

"There's nothing in here?" he asked.

"Not yet," she answered.

His mouth a grim line, Tom nodded. "I'm going to try reaching Nechayev today through her office since it would seem her private line has been compromised."

However, when he did contact the admiral's aide, he was told Admiral Nechayev had been called away unexpectedly and no one knew when she would be back.

"That means we can't count on her for help," declared Tom, talking it over with B'Elanna in Miral's room where they had retreated.

"I think you should talk to your dad," she replied. "We need to find out just how much he knows and whether he's actively involved in what I can only describe as a conspiracy."

"Yeah, I guess so, but before I tackle him, I want to see if Gretchen has found out anything. Let me call and invite her to go for a drive up the coast."

After a quick conversation with Gretchen, and leaving B'Elanna at home with Miral, Tom drove to his parents' to pick her up, first checking that his hovercar wasn't bugged. To be on the safe side, he turned on the sound system, hoping that the music would drown out their conversation.

Gretchen's face pulled into a grimace at the noise but she nodded in agreement, understanding what he was doing.

He drove at a leisurely pace, for all the world appearing to be simply entertaining an elderly acquaintance with a pleasant drive on the old coast highway. However, he soon noticed a dark hovercar behind them which never came any closer but never disappeared either. With a sigh, he turned to Gretchen. "We're being followed."

"To be honest," she replied almost nonchalantly, "I'd be surprised if we weren't. There was quite a bit of carrying on at the house late last night. I was hustled off to bed pretty quickly and Owen even informed me that he hoped I wouldn't be disturbed by any couriers arriving. He explained that there was a potential situation brewing at HQ but he couldn't say any more."

"Yeah, I'll just bet there was," interjected Tom. "So were you able to find out anything?"

"Quite a bit, actually," she answered. "From what I overheard, I think Owen is involved only peripherally, not as one of the main players. I heard him telling someone that he hoped the person knew what they were doing. That if it ever came out they had secretly arrested Federation heroes, not to mention a Starfleet admiral, on suspicion of treason without going through the proper procedures, they would all lose their careers and possibly be imprisoned. He clearly was not happy, and I got the impression it wasn't something he knew about ahead of time."

"So you're saying you think we might be able to subvert him?"

"Exactly. With a little encouragement, and perhaps listening to the data chip, we might be able to get him on our side. He needs to know that there will be consequences for his actions, or inaction."

Tom nodded again. "All right. Even though he's my father, at this point, you know him better than I do."

"True, but when we confront him, I think you should be there as well. You may not believe this but your word carries more weight with him than you might think." Tom found that hard to believe but was willing to be present. If nothing else, it wasn't fair to ask Gretchen to do the dirty work by herself.

Their plan set, he turned the hovercar around to head back to his parents' house. Once there, they found Owen in his study, staring intently at a monitor. He was so engrossed that it was only the sound of the door closing that alerted him to the fact he wasn't alone.

His head snapped up in surprise which quickly changed to suspicion before he was able to hide all expression. "Tom, Gretchen, what can I do for you?" he asked genially. "Tell me where my daughter is," snapped Gretchen, who'd had quite enough of admiralty subterfuge.

"Gretchen, I've already told you - she's still in debriefing."

"No, Dad, she isn't," cut in Tom, "so we'll ask you again. Where is she and for that matter, where is Commander Chakotay?"

Rising to his full height, Owen tried to look intimidating but Tom stared him down. "And you can get rid of the attitude," he continued, "I think you'll find it doesn't work any more."

Her eyes cold and hard, Gretchen moved right up to him, into his face. "I want the truth, Owen Paris," she spat, "Where. Is. She?"

But Owen refused to answer so Tom took a different tack.

Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a data chip. "Fine, then listen to this. Maybe once you've heard it, you'll be more willing to talk."

"I don't have to do anything you say, young man..." bristled Owen.

Suddenly very angry himself, Tom cut him off. "The hell you don't! Sit down and listen now!"

Surprised and even a little frightened by his irate son, Owen sat back in his chair as the others each took a seat as well.

As Chakotay's soft voice described his part in Voyager's odyssey, Owen's face grew increasingly pale. By the end, his hands were shaking. "I didn't know all this. I had no idea Hayes had sent him....his mission...." He looked up. "You have to believe me, I had no idea."

Tom and Gretchen remained unmoved.

"Then tell us what you do know," demanded Tom.

Gradually, it came out.

The Dominion War had left a terrible legacy of fear and suspicion, particularly in the use of shapeshifters to impersonate Starfleet officers.

"We found them at the very highest levels of Starfleet," explained Owen, "which reverberated all the way through the Federation. Hayes in particular became absolutely paranoid, and even though the war is over, he's convinced that there are still some in hiding here on Earth, masquerading as humans."

Tom shook his head in disbelief. "But what does that have to do with Voyager? We weren't even here!"

"The thing is, you see, by now Hayes has dug himself in so deep that any opposition, any threat to his authority is viewed as rebellion. As Fleet Admiral, he has a lot of power and he uses it to suppress all dissension. Spies are everywhere, communications are constantly monitored."

Gretchen interrupted, "But that's insane! We don't live in a dictatorship!"

Owen looked at her almost sadly. "You don't know the half of it, Gretchen. In fact, for all intents and purposes, we do."

Tom still wasn't satisfied. "But that doesn't explain what happened to Janeway. Maybe Hayes felt he had to arrest Chakotay but why the captain?"

"Guilt by association," replied Owen, "these days, that's all it takes. And with the special powers to counter terrorism given to Starfleet by the Council, Hayes can pretty much do what he wants and is accountable to no one."

Standing up, Tom paced across the room. "When I think of how hard she worked, how much she gave up so we could get home...." He turned to face his father. "It's not fair, Dad, it just isn't. We're going to get them out of prison and you're going to help us."

Owen stared at them both almost helplessly.

Seeing his father look so defeated was a real eye-opener for Tom. Suddenly, he felt as if their roles were reversed. He glanced at Gretchen, whose face was wearing a very familiar-looking frown as she analyzed the situation.

Feeling his stare, she looked up then turned her attention to Owen. "Do you know where Kathryn is?" she asked, her voice gentle in marked contrast to her earlier angry tone.

He started to shake his head then sighed in resignation. "I don't know for sure but I've got a pretty good idea. There is a maximum security facility located near Headquarters, underneath the gardens actually. It was built during the war to hold valuable prisoners such as shapeshifters, the Vorta, and so on. As you can imagine, its systems are state-of-the-art. It's impossible to break into, or out of, for that matter."

Tom scowled, "Well, then, we'll have to use a little subterfuge. Can you get in there?"

"I expect so."

His tone was non-committal but Tom decided to ignore his lack of enthusiasm and continued, "All right, here's what we've figured out so far...."

*******

In the end, over the course of a single evening, the plan they devised was simple. Since Tom, B'Elanna and Gretchen were already under suspicion, Tom and Gretchen would remain in the background, coordinating the mission.

With Owen's assistance, they would forge transfer orders, ostensibly from Admiral Hayes, allowing prisoners Janeway and Chakotay to be removed to another facility. Disguised as security officers, Ayala, Tabor, Vorik and Ashmore, with Harry posing as the officer in charge, were to proceed to the internment facility, produce the orders and walk out with their ‘prisoners'.

After authenticating the forged orders, Owen's role was to search for a small ship which would be suitable for a long voyage. Once found, B'Elanna, Seven and Nicoletti would upgrade its engines, sensors and weapons systems, with Gerron and Chell assisting.

At first, Owen sat in the background, simply providing advice when asked but as the hours passed, he gradually got drawn into the process. By the time Tom and B'Elanna were preparing to leave, he had agreed to help.

"Listening to you," he told them, "has made me realize how far we've slipped from Federation ideals and principles. And it was such a gradual process, I didn't even realize it. Each step, which at the time seemed perfectly reasonable, led us to a situation in which we now live in an aura of suspicion and distrust. I...I'm sorry for the part I've played in this. Maybe helping you will atone for some of the damage I've done."

Reaching out to his father, Tom placed his hands on his shoulders. "You bet it will, Dad."

******

At the picnic a few days later, while everyone pretended to simply be enjoying time with their former crewmates, Tom explained the plan in detail.

At the end, he grinned at them confidently. "It'll be a piece of cake."

But then his face sobered. "There is one more thing you need to decide. I don't imagine it will take Starfleet very long to figure out that their prisoners have actually escaped as well as who carried it out, and their vengeance could be far-reaching." There were nods all round. "So I think it might be a good idea to gather our families and bring them with us."

"I'm thinking of Mom,” he said to Owen, who nodded, "and Phoebe," he glanced over to where Gretchen was sitting. "Harry, what about your folks?"

Harry sighed. "Probably not, although I hate to do this to them but...." He paused for a moment. "Maybe they can join up with us eventually. When the furor dies down."

Several of the others looked at their hands, well aware that once they had fled, there was very little likelihood any of them would ever have contact with Earth again. Harry was giving up a great deal.

"I don't have anyone here anymore," spoke up Nicoletti as Tom continued to question each one. "My folks died while we were gone. You are the only family I have now." The others looked at her sympathetically.

"Ashmore?"

"Nope, mine are so far away, on Minas Nine, that they couldn't get here in time anyway."

"Do they know you're alive?"

"Oh yes, they sent a message saying they were glad to know I'm fine and if I'm ever out that way, to come by but," he smiled ruefully, "we were never very close. I'm good."

The Maquis simply shrugged - their families were long gone.

"Seven? What about your aunt?"

"I don't know. We have only met once. I doubt she would miss me."

"But you're the only family she has now, isn't that right?"

"Yes."

"Then you better ask her. Phrase it in general terms so you don't give away what we're planning."

"Very well."

"Vorik?"

The Vulcan simply shook his head. "My parents have been dead for some time. There is no one else."

"Okay, I guess that's everyone."

"I'll tell my dad we'll need a ship that will hold about....twenty," summarized Tom. "I'll be in touch to keep you in the loop."

"Didn't you say your place is bugged?" inquired Ayala. At Tom's nod, he continued, "We need an information tree. You know, tell one person who passes it on to two more and so forth."

"Do you think that will work?" asked Harry. "You know how information gets distorted when it's passed around."

"We can keep it simple - meeting places, times, that sort of thing," interjected Chell. "I'll be glad to pass messages."

"Okay, set it up," agreed Tom. "B'Elanna and I should leave first so it looks like we're just taking the baby home."

"Which we are," added B'Elanna, hurriedly stuffing Miral's bag as the baby began to wail. Quickly, she scooped up her daughter then nodded goodbye to everyone. "See you soon," she called out as she handed the bag to Tom.

Shortly after, the others drifted off in ones and twos, making it look like the natural end to a pleasant afternoon.

*****

Three days later, Tom was contacted by Picard, asking about Nechayev's whereabouts. "The admiral and I had a meeting scheduled for today but I was informed yesterday that she will not be available for an indefinite period of time, and after asking around discreetly, I find that no one seems to know where she is." He looked at Tom. "Based on our recent conversation, I wondered if you might know anything."

Aware that their conversation was quite possibly being recorded, Tom replied in vague terms. "Uh no, Captain, I haven't talked to her again since last week, was it? No, more than that. Sorry I can't be of more help."

Picard's mouth tightened but he said nothing before moving to sign off.

Tom quickly interrupted. "By the way, I just remembered I have the novel Counselor Troi was asking about. Would you mind passing on a message to her?"

Picard was quick to pick up what Tom wasn't saying. "Certainly, I'll have her contact you shortly." His hand moved to the monitor. "Picard out."

Shortly after, Tom's front door chimed. Opening it, he found Deanna Troi on his doorstep. With a quick glance around, he motioned her outside. "We're trying to put Miral down," he explained for the benefit of the bug, "why don't you come into the garden while I get it?"

Troi nodded, moving to the back of the house where Tom met her, a PADD in his hand. When she saw the title, she started to laugh. "The Battle of Ker'moth?"

Tom shrugged a little sheepishly. "Sorry, it was the first one I could lay my hands on." Then his face sobered, and he murmured very softly in her ear, "We think our house is bugged, which is why we're out here."

"What about the garden?" she asked.

"It's possible." As he spoke, he heard a sudden roar from the house, and in a moment of inspiration, added, "We could take Miral for a walk - kill two birds with one stone. B'Elanna needs a break, anyway. She's finding motherhood quite stressful."

Listening to another howl from inside, Troi could quite empathise.

Tom hurried back into the house, reappearing a few minutes later with the baby carriage. "B'Elanna said to say thanks - she's really tired."

Troi nodded as the two set off down the street, casually strolling along with Tom pushing the carriage.

*****

"So, Tom," began Troi, "what exactly is going on?"

For a moment he hesitated while he ordered his thoughts, then took a deep breath. "First of all, we have a plan in place to get the captain and Chakotay out of the facility underneath the gardens at Headquarters where we believe they're being held."

Troi interrupted. "Do you know for sure that's where they are?"

"No, not absolutely but my dad says it's the most likely place. Since we can't exactly go and ask, we have to assume he's right."

She nodded but didn't comment so Tom continued. "My dad is now part of our plot and is currently looking for a vessel that will allow about twenty of us to escape. The last I heard, he thought he might have found something. When he does, the engineering team will go in and do what modifications are needed, and they have time for. We'll need every little advantage we can get because I know Starfleet will be hot on our trail once we escape."

"Yes, I'm sure they will," she agreed.

"As for Admiral Nechayev," Tom went on, "she was supposed to meet with us over a week ago but she never showed up and no one seems to know where she is. As well, our meeting was raided by armed men who we assume are Starfleet Intelligence, which leads me to think that she didn't come because she couldn't. I thought maybe her office was bugged but if that were the case, they would have overheard our conversation and picked me up, too, and obviously that hasn't happened.

"But your house is bugged, you said," replied Troi.

"Yeah, B'Elanna found two - one in the living room and one in the kitchen. Again, I can only assume they were put in after we met with some of our group so they didn't overhear anything incriminating or else why would we still be free?"

"It is possible that they're leaving you alone in order to learn more about what you're planning."

He shrugged. "Maybe, who knows?"

Both fell silent, contemplating various scenarios as their steps took them back toward the house.

Eventually Troi stopped, turning to face Tom. "I think I should go back to the Enterprise and fill in Captain Picard on what's been happening. I wouldn't be surprised if he pays you a visit but I expect he would like it to be discreet."

Tom paused, then grinned. "Well, my dad is having a barbecue for all of us next Sunday. Why don't you and the captain, and whoever he trusts to bring with him, join us? Then you'll know everything we do."

"I think that's an excellent idea," answered Troi.

"I'll have my dad contact him on some pretext so that he can invite him," promised Tom. He glanced in the carriage where Miral lay sound asleep. "Guess we can go home now."

"She is a lovely baby," Troi smiled. "You're very fortunate."

"That's what you say now," he retorted, "but let me tell you, this lovely baby has Klingon genes and the lungs that go with them."

Troi laughed.

As they walked up the stairs, she tapped her combadge, requesting a beamout to the Enterprise. "See you soon," she told Tom just before she vanished.

*****

Sunday dawned bright and sunny, making Owen's wife, Doris, remark that it was a shame they couldn't simply enjoy the weather and company.

Tom shook his head at her. "Mom, there'll be plenty of time for that once we've achieved the mission. And," he added in a sudden fit of black humour, "if you're really lucky, it might even be here."

His remark caused his mother to frown - clearly she hadn't fully understood all the implications of the plan. "I could stay..." she began hesitantly before her family cut her off.

"No, you could not," retorted her husband firmly. "Doris, you don't seem to realize how ruthless Hayes has become. He'll squeeze you for every bit of information you have and then squash you like a bug. Honey, you have to be on that ship, no question."

She remained unconvinced. "Bill Hayes? But Owen, he's always seemed so nice."

"Not anymore." Glancing up, he fixed her with the admiral's glare. "You're coming. End of discussion."

Tom moved to give her a hug. "He's right, Mom. I don't like to think of what might happen to you if you stayed." He gave her his best smile. "Besides, B'Elanna will most likely be needed in engineering at times and it would be very helpful if you were there to spell her off with the baby."

This appeal worked immediately. "I better go and pack up a few things then," she responded, bustling out the door.

"Don't bring much," called out Owen, well aware of his wife's inability to pack light. Tom chuckled. "I'll get Gretchen to make sure she only has one bag."

"Good luck," grunted his father sarcastically, his eyes shifting to the screen before he looked up, his expression worried. "B'Elanna did scan the house, didn't she?"

Tom nodded. "Yeah, she did, as soon as we got here. The house and gardens are clean. I guess Hayes figures you're not a threat."

The admiral scowled but said nothing, his attention shifting back to the monitor on the desk.

Silence reigned for several minutes before he sat back with a sigh, his face wearing a worried frown.

"What's the problem?" asked Tom, watching him intently.

"I'm concerned about the length of time involved for this rescue." His eyes focused on his son. "I think we need to move up the schedule."

Tom gulped. "Can we do that? I mean, we still need to get the ship, modify it, and then gather everyone who's coming, some of whom are not yet aware of what we're planning. Dad, I don't know if that's possible."

Owen's scowl deepened. "The main resource we have at our command is surprise. But to maintain that element, we have to move fast and I don't think we are. Every day, even every hour, is giving Hayes more time to discover our plan. Tom, I think we have to move within the next 24 hours if we're going to pull this off. Wait any longer and the risk increases exponentially."

"What about a ship?"

"That's what I've been looking at and here's what I'm suggesting we might do...."

*****

Several hours later, the barbecue was in full swing. For anyone watching, it seemed to be simply a casual gathering composed of Starfleet officers enjoying themselves on a day off.

Various groups stood around on the lawn while Tom and Harry tended the barbecue - 'doing it the old-fashioned way' explained Tom, when asked why he was bothering with gas-powered grills. At the same time, however, it gave him an opportunity to talk to Harry, explain the change in schedule and make sure he understood his role in the rescue. "You've got to be the real smartass security goon," explained Tom, "with attitude coming out your ears." He looked over at Harry thoughtfully. "Think you can do that? You're not exactly the type."

"Don't you worry," replied Harry. "I'll have so much 'attitude', they won't know what hit them."

At that moment, Owen called everyone together. "Raise your glasses, folks, in a toast to Voyager's crew and captain."

"Hear, hear," echoed across the lawn as glasses clinked.

"Now, let's eat."

Once everyone had settled at one of several small tables set in a close circle, Owen began to talk.

"Tom and I have been going over the plan and I think we need to make some adjustments. I have a real concern that we're not moving quickly enough, that we're giving Starfleet time to learn what's going on. To that end, and Tom agrees with my assessment, I think we should set everything in motion immediately."

Several started to speak but Owen held up his hand. "Hear me out first then tell me your thoughts." He took a breath. "This is what I suggest. Take an old surplus shuttle from one of the scrap yards and use it as an escape vehicle for Kathryn and Chakotay. Once we have them out of prison, send them on their way. They would be on their own but chances of discovery would be lessened considerably.

"As for us, I'm going to suggest we, uh, liberate a small supply ship. It's big enough to take everyone and its systems are up-to-date, no modifications necessary, and there are lots of them. It could take several days before the yardmaster realizes he has one less ship than he thought. We'll head out of the system at high warp and find somewhere to hide until it's safe to return to Earth." He glanced around the group. "If we're all in agreement, then I would suggest that as soon as you leave here, collect your families and beam them to these coordinates. I'll meet them there with the ship."

For a moment there was silence before voices rose but discussion was short. Everyone present was well aware of the danger they were in and the general consensus was that there was nothing to be gained by delaying and much to lose.

"Let's do it," was heard around the table.

Then Harry spoke up. "Admiral, that takes care of our people but what about Admiral Nechayev? If we can find her."

Paris frowned in thought. "I would expect she is being held in the same facility. We'll need a separate team to go after her. We could use your team, Kim, as a distraction."

At once, Picard interjected, "Take some of my people, Admiral, we'll make sure they're not recognizable and once they have the admiral, we'll beam her to the Enterprise."

"That makes sense," agreed Paris. "From there, she can coordinate Hayes' exposure without undue risk to herself." He looked around. "Is everyone agreed?"

At the smiles and nods from everyone, Tom smiled grimly. "Then as our beloved captain would say... Let's do it."

Part 5: Escape

Following the plan, early the next morning, Harry and his team duly presented themselves at the prison facility under the gardens.

Striding in, he threw the PADD with the forged orders down on the guard's desk. “Orders from Admiral Hayes," he announced in an arrogant tone, “regarding the prisoners Janeway and Chakotay."

The guard looked over the PADD before reaching for his comm. unit. “I need to check -" he began but Harry cut him off, snarling sarcastically. “I'm sure Admiral Hayes will be very understanding about his orders being delayed."

From the guard's grimace, he was obviously well aware of the admiral's volatile temper. Without further question, he headed to the cells.

A few minutes later, he returned with Kathryn and Chakotay in tow, both in restraints.

"Took you long enough," snapped Harry before he waved a hand at the prisoners. "Move it!" he yelled at his team.

Quickly Ayala roughly grabbed Chakotay by one arm while Tabor seized the other. "Come on, traitor!" he snarled, thereby warning Chakotay to say nothing.

Beside them, Vorik and Ashmore pulled Janeway between them, practically lifting her off her feet as they whisked her out the door.

Before either really had time to understand what was happening, Harry had them hustled outside. "Don't say a word," he whispered in their ears as his team roughly pushed them into a large hovercar. Within seconds, they were hurtling through the streets away from Headquarters.

"Okay, stop here," ordered Harry, then tapped his combadge. "Computer, initiate transport."

Immediately, all of them dematerialized and reappeared in a small shuttle. Ayala dived into the pilot's seat as Vorik rapidly entered the sequence to start the engines. The shuttle rose then coasted on thrusters towards the main shuttle port where it could disappear amidst the throng of shuttles heading in every direction.

Silence reigned until they attached themselves to a convoy of six heading towards Mars.

"Anyone tailing us?" asked Tabor but Harry, bent over the sensors, shook his head.

"Not that I can see. I think we're good." Getting to his feet, he moved over to Kathryn and Chakotay, sitting quietly to one side. "Captain, Commander, we seem to have made it. For now, anyway." He reached to unfasten their restraints. "Let me get these things off you."

Rubbing her wrists, Kathryn smiled gratefully. "Thank you, Harry, and our thanks to all of you."

Chakotay slumped as his hands were freed before looking up. "I don't know how you did it but I am very grateful. You have saved our lives, literally."

As they smiled back in relief, Harry knelt down beside the pair. "We don't have much time so here's the plan. Captain, you and the commander need to disappear for a while until we can get a message to you that it's safe to come home. Where you go is up to you; we don't want to know in case we're captured and interrogated. The shuttle is equipped with a long-range receiver programmed to accept only the one specific message, otherwise the receiver can't be used. Are you clear on that?"

Both nodded, so he continued, "I should warn you that we may be talking days or even weeks, I honestly don't know. There are other factors at work and I don't know the outcome yet of certain events occurring simultaneously but you should know you weren't the only ones who had to be rescued today."

Kathryn and Chakotay showed their surprise. "We'll follow your instructions, Harry, don't worry."

Then Kathryn added, "Would you make sure that we receive the message in time to get back?" Her eyes darkened with suppressed anger and her voice dropped to a growl. "I want to be there when Hayes is taken down."

Harry nodded slowly. "Sure, I can do that. Just don't go too far away as I may not be able to give you much warning."

"Fair enough," replied Chakotay, his face creased in a scowl. "We'll make sure we stay within a few light years of this sector."

Ayala appeared from the front of the shuttle. "Time to go, Harry. Captain, Chakotay, we'll see you again, although maybe not for a while."

As they stood up, he stepped forward to hug them both.

Harry hesitated then followed suit. "Take care, both of you," he murmured. "When this is all over, we'll have a proper celebration."

Kathryn hugged him back. "Take care yourself, Harry, and please pass on our thanks to everyone. We'll be looking forward to getting your message." She looked at all of them, her eyes shining. "You have never failed me. I can't ever repay you for what you've done."

It was Vorik who replied with Vulcan dignity. "Captain, your imprisonment and the commander's was wrong. We simply rectified an illogical decision."

A moment later, they were gone, leaving Kathryn and Chakotay alone. Moving forward to the pilot's seat, he glanced back. "Well, Captain, which way?"

She waved her hand vaguely. "Thataway, Commander."

Grinning, he set a course and headed the shuttle out of Sol's system. Kathryn watched the sensors but there was no sign of pursuit.

Part 6: Introspection

Several days passed, then a week as the shuttle rambled through the quadrant on an erratic course, wandering from one planet to another but always careful not to stray too far from sector 001.

Deciding to disguise themselves as itinerant traders, Kathryn and Chakotay were soon relieved to discover that no one gave them a second glance.

"With any luck, we can stay out here for quite a while," she remarked as they rematerialized after a brief expedition to yet another backwater planet for supplies and any news they could find out about events on Earth.

"With any luck," he retorted, "we won't have to."

"True," she sighed, "I wish there was some way for us to get more information, though. This waiting around...." She sighed again and turned to the replicator.

Chakotay smiled. Waiting had never been Kathryn's strong suit.

*****

With lots of time to reflect, Kathryn began to allow her thoughts to drift. Inevitably, they led her towards her association with Chakotay and she began to examine their relationship right from the beginning. Should she have discovered his deception much sooner? What clues had she missed? Had she been too naive? What had led her to trust him so easily?

It was an exercise she had engaged in several times already but this time, with nothing else to do, she tried to dig deeper.

This reflection in turn caused her to start re-evaluating their very complicated relationship. For so long now, she'd thought she held deep feelings for him, feelings which her position had demanded she keep hidden. But now she was wondering. Had those feelings simply become a habit? Did she really love him or had she merely grown accustomed to believing that she did?

So much deception was causing her to question every event, every emotion that they'd shared over the past seven years. She wished she could study her personal logs from the early years on Voyager so she could analyze her feelings of that time but of course, they were inaccessible now.

For hours, she sat silently, her mind focused inward as she searched for answers. Well aware that she was troubled and why, Chakotay chose to keep silent, knowing that these were issues she had to work through on her own. Any assistance he might offer would be rejected out of hand. She would talk when she was ready and not before. Eventually, realizing that at least some of her answers lay with him, she began to question him about the time he'd spent in Intelligence.

"How did you ever get mixed up with Hayes in the first place?" she demanded to know. "I didn't even know he was involved with Intelligence."

"Not many people do," replied Chakotay. "Obviously, it's not a position that's widely advertised. As for me, it wasn't a career choice certainly." He paused to remember. "It was about ten years ago when out of the blue, Hayes called me into his office and asked my opinion of the Cardassians. As well, he wanted to know what the general feeling towards the Federation was on my homeworld and from there, what I thought about this new resistance group called the Maquis. I didn't understand what he was getting at so I gave him honest answers and told him what I thought. I really wondered, though, if my career was about to end on charges of treason, subversion, or something like that."

"So what did you tell him?"

"I said that like many Starfleet officers, I was very concerned about the threat of Cardassia, that I believed, and my belief was shared by many along the border, that sooner or later the colony worlds in the Dorvan system and others nearby would find themselves under attack by the Cardassians. And that as a result, my feelings regarding the Maquis were mixed - I didn't approve of their methods but I could certainly sympathize with their motives.

"He stared at me for a moment or two then asked point blank how I would feel about becoming an undercover operative in the Maquis. I was too shocked to say anything at first so he continued, telling me that Starfleet Intelligence needed someone with my 'unique perspective and talents' to get information that was reliable and up-to-date. He said that he also had a lot of concerns about Cardassia even though the Federation had signed a non-aggression treaty with them. He didn't believe they could be trusted to uphold it."

Kathryn nodded thoughtfully. "That certainly sounds like the Admiral Hayes I knew. He never did have much use for Cardassians, even though he was constrained to keep his thoughts to himself. He was one of those who believed my father's shuttle crash was no accident and that Cardassia was involved. He spent a considerable amount of time and effort trying to prove it too but in the end, he couldn't find much evidence." Her eyes focused on Chakotay. "So you took the job."

"I did. But on the understanding that I would be gathering information on Cardassian activities, not the Maquis. Hayes agreed and within a month, I had resigned my commission and set off for Dorvan."

"And no one ever suspected you were a spy?"

Chakotay shook his head. "No, I was very careful. What reports I sent were routed through several middlemen, making sure that they could not be traced back to me. Initially, only Admiral Hayes and his senior aide were aware of my true standing although apparently later on, others learned about my mission in the Delta Quadrant."

"So what happened?" she asked in sudden frustration. "Why has he turned on you? On us?"

He shook his head. "I honestly don't know. I understand that this last mission did not go as planned but it was a pretty hare-brained scheme to start with so that was no surprise. I can't imagine that would be cause for the paranoia he's exhibiting now."

"It's almost as if he's possessed by a demon," she responded. "I don't recognize him at all now and I've known him since I was a teenager. He served under my father early in his career. That's why he was so anxious to find out why dad's shuttle went down...." Her voice trailed off as she turned to look out the viewport.

Chakotay continued to watch her but when she showed no sign of resuming the conversation, he turned back to the helm.

*****

Another hour passed as she continued to sit, staring blankly outside until suddenly she spun around in her chair to gaze at him, her face resolute.

Chakotay was very familiar with that look - he'd seen it more times than he could count in the last seven years when she'd weighed all the evidence and finally made up her mind what to do.

"Well?" he asked, "what's the verdict?"

His question made her blink. "What? What are you talking about?"

"Come on, Kathryn," he retorted, "I know that expression all too well. You've come to a decision. So, what is it? Are you going to forgive me or am I permanently persona non grata?"

Her face softened. "Oh Chakotay, you've made it hard for me, I can't deny it. Your betrayal, your subterfuge, really sticks in my craw. However, I've also had to consider that for the last seven years, you have steadfastly supported me even when you didn't approve of my decisions. I can't forget that. So...I guess you're forgiven."

"You guess??"

Rising to her feet, she moved to pull him out of his seat, then hugged him tightly. "Fine, you're forgiven. But," she stepped back a pace to stare at him, "don't ever lie to me again. I have to know I can trust you, Chakotay, and if you can't give me your word to be completely honest, I...well, the sooner we part ways, the better."

He smiled warmly. "You know all my secrets now, Kathryn, there's nothing left to hide. So yes, you have my word." For a moment, he paused, obviously thinking of something before adding, "Well, almost all my secrets."

Her expression darkened into a frown. "What do you mean? What else?"

"I don't know how to, uh, say this," he began, his face solemn.

"Chakotay, what secret?"

"Are you sure you want to hear it?" he asked, now looking worried. "You're not going to like it."

Despite the fact she was almost certain he was teasing, her stomach tightened. "Just spit it out, whatever it is."

"Well, you see, Kathryn..." he hesitated, dragging out the suspense. "If you really must know...."

"Chakotay!" she snarled.

"I outrank you."

She stared at him in astonishment. "You what?"

"I hold the rank of captain and my commission predates yours by over a year."

For several seconds, she continued to stare at him, unable to quite process what he was saying.

"You mean," she finally began when she could get her tongue to work again, "all these years, you could have taken command at any time, and I couldn't have done anything about it?!" As she spoke, her tone changed from disbelief to indignation.

"Well, yes," he replied, his voice mild.

"I'd just like to have seen you try!" she growled turning to the replicator. "I need a cup of coffee."

"I only thought about it once or twice," he admitted, "and I decided that for better or worse, you should remain as captain."

"Thank you so much," she responded in a sarcastic tone but he could hear relief underlying it.

Despite their amusement, both were well aware that there had been times, particularly concerning the Equinox, when he would have been quite justified in taking over the centre seat.

Sipping her coffee, she looked up at him. "Any other dark secrets I should be aware of?"

But he shook his head. "No ma'am, that's all of them."

"Thank goodness," she muttered, "a girl can only stand so many shocks in one day." Reaching for her hand, he pulled her to her feet then wrapped his arms around her. "So now you know we're on an equal footing, do you think that there might be a chance for us?"

His question caught her completely off-guard and she stared at him almost blankly. "I...I don't know," she stuttered after a few seconds. But as she saw his face close down, she was moved to add, "But I do know I'd like to try. Would that be okay?"

Slowly he bent to kiss her very gently. "Kathryn, that would be just fine."

Part 7: Confrontation

The call came only a day later.

Suddenly, the long-range receiver sounded a series of beeps and the screen lit up. "It's the message," exclaimed Kathryn as she scrambled into the seat in front of the console. Quickly she depressed the panel and Harry's face appeared.

"We're going in," he explained rapidly, his fingers already hovering over the 'off' switch. "Get here as fast as possible."

"Wait, Harry!" Kathryn nearly shouted before he could cut her off. "Where's here?"

"Home," he replied succinctly as his hand came down on the switch, ending communication.

Turning in her chair, she opened her mouth to give the order then realized that Chakotay had overheard the conversation. He was already at the helm, setting a course for Earth. A second later, he engaged maximum warp.

*****

At the same time that Kathryn and Chakotay had been rescued from imprisonment, a team from the Enterprise had mounted a similar attempt to free Admiral Nechayev. With help from Admiral Paris who was able to determine her location in the same special prison, four security officers and a lieutenant produced a PADD purportedly containing orders from Admiral Hayes to move Nechayev immediately to a different facility. Although the scheme was identical to the one the Voyager team was using, it was hoped that the simultaneous operations would sufficiently confuse the security staff at the prison that the prisoners would all be freed before the deception was discovered. Their plan was equally successful and within half an hour, Nechayev and the team were on the Enterprise where she was quickly brought up to date on recent events.

Wasting no time, she appropriated the Enterprise's briefing room and began to plan how to remove Hayes and his cohorts as quickly as possible. Hopefully, she informed Picard, her eyes glittering, no blood would be shed but she wouldn't back away from a fight if it came to that.

Picard had seen the admiral in a number of different situations and usually, she was a woman who showed little emotion. Her anger now forcefully reminded the captain that she had come by her reputation as 'Nasty' Nechayev quite honestly.

Her wrath, however, did not make her impatient. "Whatever we do," she declared, "has to work the first time because we won't get a second chance. I don't want to give Hayes any opportunity to mount a counter attack. Otherwise, we could be looking at the possibility of a civil war."

It was an assessment which Picard had already considered.

Finally, after analyzing a number of suggestions, they worked out a plan and sent an encoded message outlining their proposal to their ally on Earth, Owen Paris. His approval came back almost immediately in a brief reply. "Do it."

Surreptitiously they began by contacting ships of the line whose officers they believed would be willing to help them.

Nearly two weeks went by but they took their time, anxious that no hint of their plan leak out even to those who were in sympathy.

*****

Meanwhile, Admiral Paris likewise carefully sounded out those officers at HQ he believed would be willing to assist.

Although he had planned originally to go on the escape ship with Tom and the others, he had decided at the last minute that he could accomplish much more by remaining on Earth.

While duly expressing his horror at Tom's defection for the benefit of Hayes and his supporters, he worked diligently to undermine their position. Hayes' increasing arrogance played right into his hands.

After ten days, when he had gained the support of the majority of officers at HQ, either actively collaborating with him or at the very least agreeing not to intervene on Hayes' behalf, he decided the time had come to put their plan into action. Any further delay would compromise the entire scheme.

Sending a prearranged signal to the Enterprise ('Scorpion'), at the same time Paris alerted his supporters to be prepared to seize control of Starfleet Command.

Even as Janeway and Chakotay headed for Earth at maximum speed, the Enterprise also set a course toward the Sol system. With impeccable timing, the shuttle met them on final approach.

Very quickly, Admiral Nechayev transported aboard the shuttle to brief Kathryn and Chakotay.

"We will proceed directly to the main shuttle port," she informed them, "where we can disappear in the stream of shuttles heading in. Once landed, we will transport directly to Admiral Paris' office. He has a squad of security officers assembled there waiting for us."

"Yes, ma'am," responded both captains as they automatically moved to obey the voice of authority.

*****

The plan went off without a hitch.

One more old shuttle drew no attention and Chakotay was able to approach the shuttleport directly behind a small fleet and land it beside several others without causing any comment from the authorities.

As soon as the engines were powered down, Nechayev contacted Paris and a moment later, they rematerialized inside his office where the admiral and security officers were waiting.

"Is the building locked down?" demanded Nechayev.

"It is now," replied Paris, "and force fields are in place."

"Then follow me," ordered Nechayev, not even hesitating as she headed out the door and strode down the hall, arriving at Hayes' office a minute later.

They all burst in, catching Admiral Hayes, who was in the act of giving instructions to his aides, completely off guard.

"What...?" he began to splutter before Nechayev cut him off.

"William Hayes," she snapped, "you are under arrest on suspicion of treason."

"What?!" screamed Hayes, backing away towards his office.

"Stop right there!" roared Paris but Hayes dived into his office before any of the guards could aim a phaser. A second later, they all heard the whine of a transporter.

"Damn!" exclaimed Paris, "he must have an over-ride."

"Find him!" shouted Nechayev, "Security, deactivate forcefield!"

"Transporter room," ordered Paris, "locate coordinates for a recent transport from this room."

The reply came a moment later. Hayes had beamed to a small private hanger on the other side of the Academy grounds.

"Eight to transport to those coordinates," said Paris.

They materialized in the hanger just in time to see Hayes inside a small shuttle which he was obviously powering up.

Grabbing a phaser from the nearest guard, Chakotay took aim and fired directly at the engine. Even as the shuttle began to lift off, he kept on firing until abruptly the engine smoked and sputtered out, allowing the shuttle to thump down onto the floor. With the engine disabled, Janeway and Nechayev sprinted to the hatch which they were able to force open. Both leaped inside to find Hayes with a phaser aimed right at them. Not even pausing for breath and determined he was not going to escape a second time, Kathryn launched herself at Hayes. He tried to shoot her but missed, then dropped the phaser as she landed on him awkwardly, dislocating her shoulder. As he attempted to heave her out of the way, Nechayev snatched up the phaser and pointed it at him.

"Stand down!" she shouted but Hayes wasn't finished.

Throwing Janeway to one side, he managed to extract a second phaser from his boot, which he immediately aimed at her then started to pull the trigger.

However, before he could actually fire, Nechayev shot him.

Once he had keeled over and fallen to the floor, she moved to Kathryn and helped her up.

Together they knelt down beside Hayes.

Nechayev took his wrist to check for a pulse before blinking and laying down his hand.

"He's dead," she said to Kathryn, her tone surprised.

Kathryn could only stare at her as the admiral examined the phaser, discovering it was set to kill. She shook her head, realizing how close both of them had come to death.

At that moment, Chakotay jumped into the shuttle then paused when he saw the two women kneeling next to Hayes, lying on the floor.

"I'll get the guards..."

Kathryn held up a hand to stop him. "Don't bother, he's dead."

Slowly, she and Nechayev got up and walked out, Janeway holding her injured arm tightly to her body.

"How bad?" asked Chakotay, following them.

"It hurts," she answered tersely.

He put an arm around her carefully. "I'll bet it does. Let's get you to Medical."

"When we're done here," she replied, looking at Nechayev who accompanied them across the hanger to the others.

The admiral nodded with a slight smile. "Captain Chakotay, take her to Medical. I'll make sure your EMH is there to treat her."

"Thank you, Admiral," responded Kathryn wearily as they continued outside. Suddenly she was very tired, and inordinately grateful for Chakotay's support.

It was several minutes later before she registered what Nechayev had said but then she looked at Chakotay. "She called you captain."

"Yes, she did," he answered with a grin.

"Well, I'll be damned," she replied softly, "you really do outrank me."

Epilogue:

Several days passed before Picard and Nechayev finally had time to discuss the fallout from Hayes' attempt to seize control of Starfleet and eventually the Federation Council.

Both regretted that he had been killed during the final firefight; now they would probably never know his true motives.

While they were talking, a security officer appeared with a PADD containing Hayes' autopsy report.

Picard glanced at it briefly then, in the act of handing it to Nechayev, froze as his eyes landed on a critical sentence.

Seeing the blood drain from his face, Nechayev pulled the PADD away from him and quickly perused it.

"Infected by neural parasites." She looked at Picard. "Explain."

Picard swallowed then explained succinctly. "In 2364, Command was infiltrated at the highest level by what we eventually discovered were neural parasites intent on taking over Starfleet and hence, the Federation."

"2364," muttered Nechayev, "I remember now. At the time, I was on a long-term diplomatic mission in the Beta Quadrant. I only learned what happened when I returned to Earth and that was not very much. From what you're saying, this," she indicated the PADD, "means they have come back."

Picard nodded, "I'm afraid it does, Admiral. And it also means that very likely our troubles are only beginning...."

*****

from TNG: Conspiracy - 2364, stardate 41780.2
DATA: Captain, I have attempted to trace the message Remmick was sending. I believe it was aimed at an unexplored sector of our galaxy.
LAFORGE: Any idea what the message was, Data?
DATA: I believe it was a beacon.
PICARD: A beacon?
DATA: Yes, sir. A homing beacon, sent from Earth.