Disclaimer: Still Paramount’s (or whoever owns it now), more’s the pity

Rating: PG

Notes: First, a huge thank you to Quantumsilver for joining me in writing this sequel. Your enthusiasm and ideas were critical to getting it done, especially when you rescued me by rewriting the entire outline for the story after I’d written myself into a corner. For that alone, I will be eternally grateful.
Second, another big thank you to dago who started the whole process when she asked if someone could finish off Renegade’s unfinished story ‘Disclosure’. She also contributed some before leaving on a mission in South Sudan.
Finally, as always, many thanks to Shayenne for beta’ing.
This story is a sequel to ‘Haunted’ and will make much more sense if you read that one first.

The Reality Of Dreams

by Mary S. and Quantumsilver

From ‘Haunted’:

As they sat in comfortable silence, he reflected that it was a very good thing he’d had the foresight, shortly after arriving on Voyager, to carefully expunge certain files from the computer database. Kathryn would never know. Indeed, no one must ever know….

Several days passed after Kathryn’s narrative of her dream.

Although Chakotay tried to put her revelations out of his head, they continued to haunt him, disturbing him more and more. He would find his thoughts drifting at odd moments, examining every bit of what she’d told him.

Twice on the bridge, he found himself on the receiving end of a frowning look from her and realized he’d allowed his mind to wander. The second time, after noticing his blank gaze, she leaned over and murmured, “Daydreaming, Commander?”

Caught unawares, he mumbled some sort of reply, he didn’t even remember what, although apparently it was enough to allay her suspicions. Well, he hoped it was. He was finding it more and more difficult to read her body language. He, who’d never had any difficulty knowing exactly what was going through her head, now had no hint, no clue about what she was thinking.

Round and round went his brain, like a dog chasing its own tail. ‘What does she really know? Anything? Nothing? But if nothing, then why were her dreams so specific? Does she actually remember and she’s simply hiding it? Is she waiting for me to slip up so she can call me on it? What does she know?’

Then he would chastise himself, remembering that parts of her story did not match reality at all. Tuvok was a case in point.

In Kathryn’s dream, the Vulcan had been aware of Chakotay’s mission, which certainly hadn’t matched actual facts. Although he had reluctantly agreed to Tuvok’s role as a spy aboard his ship, he had been adamant that the Vulcan not be told that his Maquis captain was also a Federation agent. The fewer people aware of his true identity, the safer he was.

The other obvious disparity, he reminded himself, was his rank. In her dream, he had been an admiral in black ops. In fact, he was a captain seconded to Starfleet Intelligence, although his commission did predate hers by some months.

‘Let it go,’ he told himself, ‘you’re worrying at this like a dog with a bone.’ But then another bit of her story would pop into his head and rattle around in his brain and the vicious circle would start all over again.

‘What does she know?’

He couldn’t exactly ask her, or even fish for the slightest hint.

Nights were the worst. As his dilemma worsened, Chakotay found it increasingly difficult to sleep. Night after night, he would lie in his bed staring at the ceiling, his mind refusing to shut down.

Desperate to get his weary brain to focus on something else, he took to haunting Sandrine’s every evening, hoping to find sufficient distraction there that the never-ending questions would fade away.

The fourth night saw him sitting at the bar, a glass of Scotch in his hand as he idly watched Harry take on the holographic pool shark once more. Dumb kid! Didn’t he realize it was a set-up? He’d never win; Tom had made good and sure of that when he’d originally programmed the bar.

Focused on the scene before him, he never realized Kathryn had come in until her husky voice cut through his concentration.

“Is that synthehol or the real stuff, Commander?”

Startled, for a few seconds he could only blink in surprise before he took a deep breath and turned to face her. “The real stuff, Captain. Why? Would you like a glass?”

Smiling, she shook her head. “No, thank you, I have an early shift tomorrow.” She paused to peer at him, her face falling into a frown. “You don’t look so good, Chakotay. Are you feeling okay? Is something bothering you?”

Oh spirits, what a loaded question! ‘Yes,’ he felt like snapping, ‘everything!’ But of course, he had to plaster a smile across his face. “Just a little tired, Captain, nothing to worry about.”

For another minute, she continued to gaze at him fixedly and he could almost feel her eyes attempting to penetrate his soul and learn the truth. His facial muscles felt frozen as he desperately hung onto his smile. Much to his relief, she finally turned away, her eyes sweeping across the room before she glanced back at him.

“Well, I’m going to call it a night,” she told him. “Perhaps you should, too. Get a good night’s sleep and you’ll feel much better in the morning.”

“I’ll be leaving soon,” he replied vaguely, hoping like hell she wouldn’t decide she should see him to his door.

For once, his luck was in. “Then I’ll say good night,” she told him as she turned to walk across the room to the door.

“Good night, Captain,” he replied, settling back on his stool with a sigh of relief.

But much later after returning to his quarters, as he prepared for yet another sleepless night, his relief at her apparent lack of suspicion turned to resentment. It was so easy for her.

As near as he could tell, now that she’d talked it out, she’d put it all behind her and moved on. Which was very typical of the way Kathryn did things.

So why couldn’t he do the same? Why did fragments of her story keep drifting through his brain? And why did he continue to feel a sense of impending dread, yet not be able to put his finger on any cause?

Deciding he had to work on a more positive outlook, he spent the next couple of days forcing himself to be as upbeat as possible. ‘If she knew anything, she would have said something by now,’ he kept telling himself. ‘Therefore, she doesn’t know anything. I mean, look at her! She’s going on just like always, as though nothing’s different. So, maybe it isn’t. Maybe you’re worrying needlessly. Let it go!’

He had actually begun to make himself believe it until three days later in the mess hall when he overheard an odd conversation between Tom and Harry.

“I tell you, Tom, it was the weirdest thing.” Harry’s voice drifted across the small line waiting for breakfast. “Much more vivid than dreams usually are. You know how you start to forget them as soon as you wake up? Well, not this one. It’s all still as clear as can be.” He fell silent, clearly pondering what he’d experienced.

“So? What was it about?” Tom prodded when Harry appeared disinclined to continue.

Hesitating for a moment, Harry glanced around, then lowered his voice. Chakotay had to strain to hear his next words.

“I was going through the personnel files as the captain ordered–“ “Why would she order you to go through personnel files? Isn’t that Chakotay’s job?”

On the other side of the partition separating the galley from the general mess, Chakotay’s spine went rigid as reinforced tritanium.

“I don’t know. Like I said, Tom, it was a dream.”

“But you said it seemed real.”

“She had a reason. I don’t remember what it was. Something about...look, do you want to hear this or not?” Harry finally ended in frustration.

“Sorry.” Tom’s chuckle radiated low around the chattering, unconcerned chain of crewmen ahead of them in line. “You were going through the files...”

“So I was going through them when I noticed an encrypted file buried deep in one of the Maquis files. I got curious so I decided to see what was in it.”

“And?”

“Well…” again he paused, then shifted a few paces closer to the partition to put some distance between themselves and the other crewmen, “this goes no further, okay?”

Tom stared at him. “I thought this was a dream. What are you worried about?”

“But it was so real!”

Real, indeed. By now, Chakotay had heard enough. His face carefully blank, he could almost hear his heart racing inside his chest as, from around the side of the partition, he watched the two take seats at their usual table.

Harry’s voice had lowered and Chakotay could barely make out the words but he heard enough to know that Harry’s dream was an uncannily accurate depiction of events he shouldn’t be able to recall. As with Kathryn’s, some of the details were wrong but some of it was simply too dead-on to ignore. Coming so soon after Kathryn’s inexplicable dreams, it seemed too much of a coincidence to dismiss. He didn’t trust coincidence.

Ever.

All his training was telling him he was in trouble.

Damn it, he thought he’d settled this days ago. He’d started to believe Kathryn’s vivid dreams were some sort of epic fluke, and as she had settled slowly back into their normal routine and that damnable suspicion had faded from her intense gaze, he’d begun to relax again. But now, it would appear Janeway wasn’t the only one starting to recall certain events in the form of dreams.

As he sat eating his breakfast, the picture of calm, he was trying to figure out how much Harry knew and what he was going to do about it.

*****

The final straw came the following day.

As Chakotay left the bridge at shift change, B’Elanna abruptly stopped him.

“Hi,” she greeted him, her face creased by a worried frown. “Can I talk to you?”

Blinking, he could only nod and wave his hand towards the turbolift.

“Thanks.”

He shook his head in some exasperation. “Whatever it is, just spit it out, B’Elanna.”

“Well, it’s sort of silly and I’m not sure where to start.” She paused again.

“At the beginning usually works for me,” he replied, as he turned to face her. “Where are you going?”

She blinked then realized what he was asking. “Oh, uh, deck eleven.”

The lift hummed into motion.

“You see,” she began anew, “I had this dream last night. And it was so real. But at the same time, weird. Yet I can’t get it out of my head.”

Although his expression remained benign, Chakotay’s heart sank. “Go on.”

“I was glancing through various operating files, trying to figure out how things work, and I came across this one that was encrypted. So I hacked into it. And what should I find but a whole set of orders from Starfleet Command, unopened, which basically order the captain to cooperate with their secret operative who’s a member of the Maquis. And I’m thinking – what? Who are they talking about? And then, when I get a little further into it, I realize they’re talking about you.” She stared at him. “Now, doesn’t that seem ... As the doors slid shut, she leaned forward, opened her mouth, then closed it "pretty silly?”

He relaxed against the wall. “It does indeed.”

“That’s what I thought,” she went on, eager to spell out her concern. “So why can’t I get it out of my head?”

“Dreams are funny that way,” he shrugged. “Who knows why something will stick in our heads for hours or days at a time?” He chuckled. “I can assure you this one has no basis in fact.”

“Well, of course not!” she scoffed. “I know that, Chakotay. It was just that it’s been bugging me, you know?” The lift came to a halt and the doors opened. “I better run. We’ve got a level two diagnostic scheduled in ten minutes.”

He nodded, then ordered the lift to deck three, where his quarters were located. Fortunately, his bridge shift didn’t start for another half hour and he had some hard thinking to do.

As he sat in his quarters, chin in hand, he remembered how, two years before, B’Elanna had accidentally retrieved files that Tuvok thought had been expunged. Was it possible that his own files, the ones he’d been so careful to erase, had also reappeared? He hesitated to delve into the database to check, concerned that he might actually be causing himself more problems if anyone noticed what he was doing. It was safer to leave well enough alone, but the idea that those files might not be as erased as he’d thought eventually became too much to ignore. He had to do something, to make sure his cover wasn’t compromised.

Slowly, methodically, he began his search, while taking extreme care to leave no trace of what he was doing. The last thing he needed was for someone such as B’Elanna to discover what he was up to.

*****

Over the course of several nights after his shifts, he prowled through the database but despite meticulous examination of each potential seedling file, he could find no trace of anything untoward. All appeared exactly as it should.

Relieved that his fears had proved groundless, Chakotay tried to put aside his concerns. However, his mind continued to gnaw at the problem of the dreams; he couldn’t understand how they could have been so specific, or how those three people in particular had each had such vivid dreams. Those three – there was a connection there, of course, he was well aware of that. But why now? So long after the event, what was the trigger that made each of the three have such dreams so close together, within a few weeks of each other?

All his fears came to the fore once more and his mind began to worry again at the problem, even though logic told him there was nothing to be concerned about. And yet, every instinct was shrieking that something was wrong, and that he was in imminent danger of being exposed.

Deciding to try a different approach, in an effort to justify his concerns, he spent a long evening working through the course of events from his days as a Maquis captain to the present. As he remembered those last days in the Alpha Quadrant, his mind jumped to Seska, and he wondered for the hundredth time how he could have so misjudged her.

A Cardassian. Worse, an agent of the Obsidian Order. If they hadn’t all ended up in the Delta Quadrant, he and his entire Maquis crew would now be languishing in a Cardassian prison. That is, he told himself sardonically, if he were even still alive. Knowing what he did about their prisons, that was a pretty remote possibility. A much more likely scenario was that he would have died years ago in one of their torture chambers. The Caretaker had undoubtedly saved his life, many of their lives, when he swept them all into the Delta Quadrant.

He could remember the moment when Seska had begun to suspect that the Federation intelligence agent she was hunting was Chakotay himself, and it had almost been the end of everything before it had even started.

In that first hellish week, he’d had no time to call his own. Each day, he had spent countless hours trying to placate his Maquis crew and convince them that joining forces with their enemy was a pragmatic solution; simultaneously, he’d struggled to keep up with Janeway’s numerous orders and work to build her trust in him. At the same time, in the back of his mind was the sure knowledge there was something he had to do as swiftly as he could, or watch everything he was building come unravelled around him.

Quickly, Chakotay slips down the corridors of deck five, ducking into doorways or briefly, a Jefferies tube when he hears voices approaching.

He’s only had time for a quick glance at the ship’s schematics and is not exactly sure which of the science labs he needs to find.

Fortunately, he was able to make his escape right after the last meeting in the briefing room before the captain could request his help – again! – to sort through the various crew positions. Tuvok, thank the spirits, caught her attention as she began to speak. He probably wanted to warn her about how much responsibility she was already entrusting to Voyager’s new, untested first officer. He knows the Vulcan doesn’t trust him yet, and the hell of it is that he’s right not to. He shouldn’t. Hopefully, he is still distracting her and Chakotay can make sure Tuvok never knows why he isn’t to be trusted. .

That realization focuses his mind once more on his predicament. One way or another, he has to get to these files.

Just as a curse in his native language forms under his breath and he decides he’ll have to turn back and try again later, computer lab 2 looms before him: the one in which the auxiliary database is located. Glancing up and down the corridor, he confirms that he’s alone and slides silently through the door. Now, with just a bit of luck, he can be in and out of here before anyone else is aware of where he is.

Sliding into a chair in front of the console, he rapidly inputs a series of commands.

Nothing.

Frowning, he tries again, taking a bit more time to ensure he’s issued his instructions in the correct order this time.

Still nothing.

Frustrated, the heel of his hand thumps against the console. He’d hoped to be able to access this database without a command code but apparently Tuvok’s already secured it. He will have to try hacking into it instead, and that’s traceable, if not done precisely the right way.

Well aware he’s running out of time, he focuses on the screen. Time for a few tricks no one ever taught at the Academy.

For agonizing seconds, the computer resists his efforts. It’s looking grim until suddenly, as if conceding defeat, the screen lights up with the main index. Breaking into a triumphant grin, Chakotay starts to scroll through as quickly as he can.

“Chakotay?! What are you doing here?!”

If he tenses up, he gives it all away and yet the voice suddenly echoing through the lab from directly behind him sends chills up and down his spine. Seska. Damn. Think!

Without taking his eyes from the screen, he replies in a bored tone, “Checking crew rosters.” Hopefully, that will be enough to make her leave. He focuses his attention on the console but at the same time, manages to keep one eye on Seska as she approaches. Why is she here? Her appearance right at this moment is odd, even suspicious.

However, Seska is nothing if not persistent.

For a minute or two, she watches him from the sidelines then moves closer. “Do you want some help?” she asks – too casually for his liking.

His fingers continue to fly over the console. “No.

She moves closer yet until she’s standing directly beside him.

At that, he glances up at her, his fingers flattening ostentatiously and blocking the screen from her prying eyes. “Go back to engineering. I’m sure B’Elanna could use you.”

But by now, her quick brain has registered what he’s doing. “You’re deleting files!” she exclaims.

“Get out!” he yells at her, then takes a deep breath, trying to sound calm. “Seska, you don’t need to know what I’m doing and for your own safety, it’s best if you leave. Now.”

Her eyes bore into him but she doesn’t move. “Chakotay,” she purrs, her tone contrasting her grim expression, “whatever you’re doing, I’m sure it will benefit the Maquis. So let me help.” She leans over the console, her eyes darting rapidly through the file names. Her finger jabs at the screen. “What is this? ‘Orders from Starfleet Command?’ This doesn’t look like personnel files.”

As she speaks, she steps back, her hand moving to her belt to grab a hidden phaser and the game is up.

But, Chakotay, anticipating her reaction, is faster.

Before she can level it at him, he has her arm pinned against the console, bearing down on it with all his strength and forcing her to drop the weapon. It clatters noisily against the grating of the deck, sounding his imminent victory. Leaning his full weight on her, he gazes at her almost thoughtfully. If he had more time, he’d play the hurt card, but the fact is that Seska has only ever responded to one language, and it’s never been more evident than now, when her discarded weapon lies on the deck at his feet. “I don’t think so, Seska,” he growls. “Now do what I told you. Go back to engineering and help B’Elanna. If you keep your mouth shut, we’ll forget you were ever here. If you don’t, then I can guarantee you will not survive another day on this ship.”

Backed into a corner, Seska does what she does best. Her hazel eyes widen innocently. “You’re threatening me, Chakotay? After all we’ve been through?”

Her coy wiles are so expected that he almost smiles. Almost. He doesn’t loosen his grip. “Don’t,” he cautions stonily. “I’m not the one who just pulled a weapon, remember?”

“You...surprised me,” she tries, subtly wiggling to find the leverage he’s not giving her.

“I meant what I said, Seska. Forget it, or you’ll wish you had.” At her snarl of anger, he continues, “We may be on a Starfleet vessel, but as far as the rest of the Maquis are concerned, I’m still their captain. And they don’t like you very much.”

Recognizing the implied threat, and his seriousness, she finally relaxes, reluctantly nodding her head.

Chakotay maintains his hold on her for another moment. “Remember what I’ve said. One word from me and you’re dead. Understood?”

“Yes,” she snaps, now trying and failing to jerk her arm out of his grasp. “I heard you the first time.”

“Good,” he replies, releasing her. “Now go.”

Spinning on her heel, she strides out of the lab.

He sits down at the console once more, but then hesitates.

“Computer, locate Ensign Seska.”

“Ensign Seska is in the corridor near main engineering.”

Satisfied that she has taken him seriously, he makes two more inquiries. Fortunately, extremely fortunately, neither Janeway nor Tuvok has moved from their last positions. Good. Relieved, he returns to his task. At the same time, however, he reminds himself to keep a careful eye on Seska. He doesn’t really know how much she’s figured out but she is nothing if not devious. What she’ll do with that knowledge, he dares not even speculate….

*****

He shuddered at his absolute stupidity. Back then, he’d thought of Seska as a hot- headed Bajoran, and he’d fully expected her to come directly to him, most likely without stopping for breath. He had been prepared for her to rage at him for his betrayal of their cell, not to mention her personal affections. Three months into their journey, when she still hadn’t shown up screaming in his doorway, he’d relaxed into that safe, complacent zone he’d been living in so comfortably lately – quite mistakenly, as he’d come to realize.

Eventually, Seska must have figured it out, if not completely then certainly most of it. So why hadn’t she gone straight to the captain with her evidence? The Federation treaty with Cardassia would have ensured Janeway’s cooperation once she was made aware of Seska’s true identity.

For that matter, why hadn’t she exposed herself as a Cardassian the moment they’d joined Voyager? Surely, she could have, and indeed should have, foreseen the possibility that at some point, someone would take a sample of her blood and realize she wasn’t what she claimed to be. Waiting for that moment was stupid. Whatever else they were, agents of the Obsidian Order were very highly trained, intelligent creatures – how could she have made such an elemental mistake?

Better check. Seska can be ...

She should have revealed herself to Janeway immediately. To ensure her safety, Janeway would have been forced to conceal her true identity from the rest of the crew, including him, and knowing Kathryn, Chakotay was certain she would have done exactly that, regardless of her personal opinion of the Obsidian Order.

But once Seska’s true colours – or in her case, facial ridges – came to light, she lost any chance for covert survival she might have had. Above all else, the Maquis hated Cardassians, and most of all, they hated the Obsidian Order. Her days would probably have been numbered; even under Janeway’s ostensible protection, he didn’t imagine she would have survived very long. Perhaps that was why she’d decided to take her chances with Cullah once she was found out.

But she did have her knowledge of his true identity to use. Revealing that at a critical moment would have thrown considerable heat off her tail once the focus swung back to him and his role in the cell. She could have survived simply by using her knowledge of his classified mission. In fact, he was preparing for her to use that knowledge in sickbay, when she made her final push for him to believe in her one last time. She never did.

The only other reason he could think of for her silence was that her natural distrust of anything Starfleet had made her shy away from seeking the captain’s help, eventually leading her to seek refuge with the Kazon instead – although how she thought they would be able to help her get information back to the Alpha Quadrant, he had no idea. In the end, for whatever reason, Seska had decided to maintain her silence and her cover.

Her later antics, of course, had caused him difficulty, and certainly some sleepless nights, but they had also cemented his position with Janeway as the too trusting but well- meaning officer. Of course it had also caused Kathryn to come after him before he got the chance to take care of Seska once and for all, something he hadn’t banked on at the time. It had led him to wonder if Seska’s knowledge of his true identity had been what had caused her to try and make him the father of her child. Had her plans been to use the child first against him, then ultimately Starfleet? He’d wondered that for days while they’d been stranded on Hanon IV, and his desire to see her gone from the universe had increased tenfold by the time Tom had managed to retake Voyager and come back for them. After all she’d put him through, seeing her lying on that biobed had been strange. Her accidental death had caused him no grief at all, although for appearances’ sake, he’d had to look suitably saddened.

Seska – one problem that had eventually solved itself, thank the spirits.

Or had it?

The entire sordid affair with her reprogramming of Tuvok’s holodeck training program, which had almost killed him, suddenly came to mind, and Chakotay’s spine stiffened painfully. Unlike those who had remained on Voyager, Seska was one person he’d never been able to understand properly. What she’d done with her knowledge of his identity was anyone’s guess, but knowing her, it had been criminally foolish of him to assume death would have stopped her from releasing the information.

Was she behind this? Was it possible she’d left behind some crumb of data for some of his crewmates to find?

Sitting back in his chair in his quarters, he steepled his fingers as he reviewed the entire situation, forcing himself to be as objective as possible.

Once more, his mind slipped back to the very beginning of their journey and he wondered anew what would happen if Janeway ever found out that it was no accident that Voyager had ended up in the Delta Quadrant.

*****

His orders had been quite specific: go to a particular spot in the Badlands where a coherent tetryon beam had occasionally been detected on long range sensors. If his ship was seized and relocated to the coordinates of a strange array, make certain it remained there until Voyager followed. Ensure every detail of the array was mapped and contact with the entity was made. Ascertain its intentions, try to form an alliance, and determine the likelihood that its technology could fall into the wrong hands. If necessary, and only if absolutely necessary, destroy it.

In hindsight, he realized there must have been other Starfleet ships that had been seized by the Caretaker. Unlike Voyager, however, they had made it back home.

Again, he cast his mind back to his final briefing by Admiral Hayes himself. nothing was written down – his orders were in verbal form only.

“Time is of the essence.

Starfleet is anxious to learn as much as possible about the Caretaker’s Array, a mysterious apparatus with unimaginable power. Our greatest fear is that another Alpha Quadrant species, such as the Cardassians or the Romulans, will also be swept into the Delta Quadrant where they will figure out how to manipulate it. Such technology in the hands of the enemy is an appalling prospect – it could mean the end of the Federation.” This much, he had agreed with. Both these races, and plenty of others, would jump at the opportunity to come into possession of such a device, and the consequences to the Federation, the entire quadrant, would be dire. He’d listened carefully, and when Hayes was finished, he’d asked the obvious question.

“Why not just send Voyager directly, and issue these orders to her captain? Why the ruse to lure her there?”

“The situation is extremely precarious. What we know of the entity suggests it’s not entirely benign.”

“Not...?”

As always,

“I won’t lie to you, Captain. There have been reports of medical probing. Some of it unpleasant.”

Chakotay swallows. “I see.” What else can he say?

Hayes continues as though he hadn’t been interrupted. “As you’ve probably gathered, this entity’s intentions must be ascertained. Therefore, Starfleet has made the drastic decision to send a brand-new, state-of-the-art ship to deliberately strand itself in the Delta Quadrant. Voyager is the obvious choice, but Kathryn Janeway’s psych profile indicates that she is very protective of those serving under her.”

“Protecting your crew is a necessary attribute for a captain. It doesn’t mean she’d refuse orders to go there.”

“Probably not. I’ve said as much myself. But the driving forces behind this mission aren’t convinced she’d have the necessary attitude if she were briefed about the true nature of the mission beforehand.”

“’Attitude’?” He surveys Hayes’ face, and the truth lights up the old man’s eyes for an instant.

“Time and again, she has proved she will compromise her own safety before jeopardizing any of her crew. Some believe it is highly unlikely she will agree to follow orders which will definitely place the welfare of her ship and crew in such danger. They think she’s more likely to compromise the mission by trying to devise a way to undertake the entire mission herself rather than willingly lead her crew into a potentially dangerous situation.”

Chakotay stated the obvious. “Then give command of Voyager to someone else.”

“She has already been named, publicly, as Voyager’s captain, and it is imperative that suspicion be kept to an absolute minimum. Suddenly changing her assignment, without cause, would draw considerable attention to this mission. The powers that be are unwilling to do that. However, they’re confident that once she finds herself there, she’ll naturally do what is necessary.”

“You mean map the area, study the array, and try to find a way to open talks with the entity.”

“Precisely.”

“And if she doesn’t...?”

“That’s where you step in. And Captain? Under no circumstances are you to reveal Starfleet’s prior knowledge of this entity. This conversation never happened. Is that understood?”

“Perfectly. Sir.”

It had all made sense in a backwards sort of way but still, Chakotay had been appalled at what he was getting into.

As far as he was concerned, the entire mission had all the makings of a disaster. Command feared Janeway would refuse to go, but was too afraid to call attention to the ship’s mission by replacing her. So instead, they decided to send him as bait to lure her there.

It didn’t sit particularly well with him, but his superiors knew that, once in the Delta Quadrant, he would find a way to get the job done if for some reason Janeway didn’t toe the Starfleet line and manage to ally this entity with Starfleet’s interests.

Except he hadn’t, of course.

With no time to do more than acknowledge the orders, he’d reluctantly commanded his little ship to attack the first Cardassian warship he could find, then fled into the Badlands to the coordinates he’d been given.

Unlike so many of Starfleet’s reckless ideas, this one actually worked – to a point. All had gone according to plan and within a week, both ships hovered over the Array, seventy thousand light years from Earth.

However, once there, everything began to go wrong. Missing crewmembers, aggressive and hostile aliens, the fact that the entity Starfleet was so desperate to ally with was dying, and finally, Janeway’s unbelievable decision to follow the Caretaker’s dying wish and destroy the Array rather than let it fall into the hands of the Kazon.

Even now, he still winced thinking of it, as he had so many times in the weeks and months following that pivotal moment.

When Torres challenges Janeway on her own bridge, demanding to know who gave her the right to play god, Chakotay’s first reaction is to leap to her side, and protect the integrity of his mission.

But he doesn’t.

Despite their brief acquaintance, he’s already well aware that this is one determined captain who won’t back down without a fight. And he and Torres are heavily outnumbered by a Starfleet crew trained to follow orders.

He could reveal himself now as the senior officer aboard. He could challenge her authority and take command. He could inform her of Starfleet’s treachery, of their ultimate orders, and yet...some part of him believes she’s right. Ultimately, Starfleet can handle the Kazon if they choose to use the array to infiltrate the Alpha Quadrant. But if the Kazon ally with the Cardassians instead? With the Romulans or the Orion? What then? And what happens to the Ocampa in the meantime?

Instead, he makes a split-second decision to throw his support behind Janeway in the hope that such an action might pay crucial dividends down the road.

As B’Elanna begins to chase Janeway across the bridge, Chakotay stretches up an arm to stop her.

“Who is she to be making these decisions for all of us?!” rages Torres.

In a soft voice, he replies, “She’s the captain.” And that one statement determines the course of their lives from this point on.

His acquiescence to Janeway’s rank stuns B’Elanna into immobility. gathers herself once more, it’s too late.

“Fire!” orders Janeway, and the Array disintegrates in a massive explosion.

And once done, Chakotay had had no idea how to tell her the decision that weighed so heavily on her had been just as much his fault as hers.

Sitting at one side of the bridge, Chakotay can’t help reflecting on the exquisite irony of their situation. How the hell is he going to fulfil his mission now?

*****

After a night spent evaluating the situation, Chakotay has come to the conclusion that he will simply have to improvise as best he can. After all, although the Array and its technology may have been lost, there are other possibilities. This is an unknown part of the galaxy, giving him an unprecedented opportunity to learn about all kinds of new technologies. Janeway’s precipitate actions may actually be a blessing in disguise. Who knows what he may find?

Feeling better about their altered circumstances, he sets off for the bridge. His positive outlook lasts exactly five minutes.

“Commander,” barks the captain as soon as Chakotay steps onto the bridge. “My ready room, please.”

Aware every eye is on him, Chakotay doesn’t hesitate. Pivoting slightly, he follows Janeway down the step past Tuvok and into her sanctuary. To his surprise, Ensign Kim slips in behind him, sliding through the door just before it closes.

Chakotay assumes parade rest. “Yes, Captain?”

Standing behind her desk, Janeway glances at Kim before focusing her gaze on Chakotay. “Mister Kim here made a rather interesting discovery yesterday, Commander. In the course of checking Voyager’s systems for damage, he found that someone had hacked into the personnel files as well as various classified records only two hours earlier – after our arrival in the Delta Quadrant.”

She waits, a classic technique meant to allow his reaction to give him away and one he admits to himself that she’s quite good at. He waits too, the same benign expression on his face that’s been plastered there since he entered. When she realizes he’s not going to give her anything, she continues.

“Further examination has shown that the perpetrator also deleted a number of entries.” Again, she pauses briefly, then straightens, her eyes hard. “After some detective work, we have been able to trace this ‘tampering’ back to you. So, Mister Chakotay, can you give me one damn good reason why I shouldn’t throw you in the brig right this minute?”

While his expression remains carefully neutral, Chakotay’s brain is flying at warp speed. Brazening it out seems to be his best option. Seska’s intervention the day before has actually proved to be a blessing in disguise, as he’s now had time to formulate a logical excuse.

“I can give you several, Captain,” he replies confidently. “Yes, in the few moments of spare time I had, I did look through a number of files yesterday. Frankly, it’s been a while since I’ve handled Starfleet systems. I was trying to get a handle on how Voyager’s updated systems work and at the same time, familiarize myself with how to enter new crewmembers into the database. Voyager has several that still needed to be added in.” This time, it’s he who falls silent, pinning her with a direct stare. She shifts slightly, and he continues. “If I accidentally deleted any files in the process, I can assure you it was in error. In fact, I’d say this validates my fears about being able to work with Voyager’s newer systems, and I apologize for any problems my actions may have caused.”

Janeway glances at Kim, who looks a bit shaken by Chakotay’s tone. “Well, Mister Kim?” she asks. “Is it possible that the deletions were accidental?”

Taking a deep breath, Chakotay waits, his expression never changing. Has Kim noticed that some of the deletions were to classified files, ones that he should not have been able to access? If he has, and mentions it, Chakotay is up a creek without a paddle.

But Harry is nodding slowly. “It is possible, Captain. I can’t say for certain that they were deliberately deleted. B’Elanna Torres was actually the one who first noticed and brought it to my attention. And she was also the one who roused my suspicions when she suggested that files don’t simply delete themselves. But,” he shrugs, “to be honest, I…don’t know.”

Silently, Chakotay lets out his breath, his shoulders relaxing. So far, so good. Although he does wonder what B’Elanna was doing prowling through Voyager’s computer. Merely trying to learn about ship’s systems or did she have a more nefarious purpose? He’ll need to speak to her later – if he doesn’t end up in the brig first.

With a heavy sigh, Janeway abruptly sits down. “Very well. Dismissed.”

As Harry turns to the door, she adds, “And you are to say nothing about this to anyone, including Ms. Torres. I’ll speak to her myself.”

“Yes, Captain.”

Once he’s gone, Janeway turns to Chakotay, then gestures to the chair. “Have a seat, Commander.” She rubs her face wearily. “Well, it appears you’re off the hook, for which I’m quite relieved. I didn’t really want to throw you in the brig.”

He looks suitably apologetic. “Again, I’m sorry to have caused any trouble, Captain. That was certainly not my intention.”

“I’ll have someone work with you and get you up to speed on ship’s systems. It won’t do for the first officer to go around deleting files every time he wants to access the crew roster.”

He gives an ingenuous grimace. “I’d say not.” He pauses, then asks, “May I inquire how many of the crew are aware of your...concern?”

“Only Mister Kim and myself,” she replies. “Oh, and I suppose Miss Torres. I wanted to speak to you before I went any further with it. Why?”

With a shrug and a slight wave of his hand, he answers, “I just wondered.”

“Very well, let’s leave it at that.” She picks up a PADD. “Now, here is the current personnel situation. Have a look at it and see where some of the Maquis might fit in….”

Though Kathryn had no way of knowing it, that single incident had been a turning point, one from which he has never been able to go back.

Chakotay remembered the agonizing internal debate that had churned within him for some time after that little meeting. Had he truly assuaged her suspicions, or was she merely playing along until she could delve further into the situation? Was he being paranoid? Should he simply let the situation ride? Could he risk it?

In the end, he concludes that, even though he’s managed to allay Janeway’s fears for the time being, there is nothing to say her suspicions won’t be raised again. And if there is one thing that he’s learned about her by now, it’s just how badly she’ll react to finding out that this entire situation has been one grand setup by her superiors, one which he himself has been involved in from the beginning. She will never trust him again, and she cannot work with an XO she can’t trust. Whether or not she realizes it, and he thinks she does, he is the kingpin holding the Maquis together, the one who keeps them loyal under Janeway’s command. Without him in the first officer position, the Maquis will mutiny; they’re still smarting over her decision to strand them all out here in the first place. If that happens, they’re all doomed.

No. Best to deal with it once and for all. In a way, it’s for her own good – all of their own good.

Or so he’d told himself at the time. Perhaps there had been another way, one he’d overlooked. All his training, his instincts, never mind his orders, told him he must keep the truth a secret and yet…. Maybe Kathryn wouldn’t have reacted quite so rashly to the knowledge of his true identity and mission as he’d imagined. Maybe...

It’s a moot point now.

He concocts a plan that he admits to himself is as crazy as anything Starfleet Intelligence might come up with. Probably, he’s been working for them too long. But given his limited resources, and the fact he has to act quickly, it’s the best he can do. Fortunately, he has the necessary materials at his disposal. It’s going to be painful, not to mention morally reprehensible, but he has no choice.

“Needs must”, as his old instructor used to say.

He heads for a deserted corridor nearest the still-malfunctioning turbolift shaft on deck eleven.

*****

“Torres to transporter room one! Emergency medical beam-out! Beam Commander Chakotay directly to sickbay!”

“Acknowledged. Transporting now.”

A second later, Chakotay’s unconscious form disappears, leaving B’Elanna kneeling on the floor, her mind awhirl in a frenzy of shock and suspicion.

*****

From the peculiar odor found in every sickbay across the galaxy, Chakotay knows that his plan has worked the instant he regains consciousness. He listens carefully but can detect no sound so, very slowly, he opens his eyes.

A quick glance around shows him the doctor working at his desk but no one else present.

Next, he wiggles his arms and legs – good, they’re all intact.

At the moment he allowed himself to fall off the top rung of the ladder in the Jefferies tube, his greatest concern was that he would injure himself internally. Broken bones can be dealt with easily but foreign objects lodged in a crucial organ or a severe concussion are much more hazardous. But for once, it would seem the fates have been on his side – his mind is clear and what aches remain are minor and easily ignored.

Taking care to make no noise, he eases himself off the biobed before moving to the bank of consoles in the wall on the opposite side of the room.

The EMH is focused so intently on his monitor that he never even notices his patient’s movements. His mistake.

Rapidly, Chakotay’s fingers fly across the panel.

A second later, the EMH freezes, his face blanking even as his hand moves to tap an emergency instruction on the keyboard in front of him.

For a moment, Chakotay pauses, then moves to a nearby console where he taps in a series of commands, then waits for acknowledgment. Once he’s sure the computer has carried out his orders, he continues the sequence.

His task complete, he returns to the biobed where he settles himself once more. “Computer, activate EMH.”

In the office, the doctor blinks then rises to his feet before approaching Chakotay. “Commander, I see you’re awake. You’ve had a nasty fall down a long turbolift shaft.” He waves a tricorder about then nods. “You’ve recovered sufficiently to return to your quarters. However, you should remain off-duty for a minimum of twenty-four hours. Please return here tomorrow for a follow-up before resuming bridge duty.”

“Thank you, Doctor,” replies Chakotay, sitting up then sliding off the biobed. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Very good.” If the doctor’s easy dismissal of his considerable injuries strikes the EMH himself as strange, he gives no indication; he turns away, unconcernedly tapping his commbadge. “Sickbay to Captain Janeway.”

“Janeway here.”

“Captain, I need to see you in sickbay on a matter of some urgency. Please bring Ensign Kim and Lieutenant Torres as well.”

“What? Why?!” responds Janeway, sounding harassed..

“Reasons of privacy preclude me from discussing the matter at greater length over the comm. system. But I must see all three of you as soon as possible.”

A heavy sigh echoes through the link. “Very well, Doctor. We’ll be there shortly. And by the way, how is the commander?”

“He has recovered sufficiently to be released to his quarters to recuperate.”

“Are you certain? I thought his injuries were serious enough to keep him there for at least another few days.”

“They would have been, under a lesser doctor’s care. I’m releasing him to quarters now. However, he is still off-duty.”

“Understood. And good work, Doctor. Janeway out.”

Although Chakotay shows no apparent interest in this conversation, inwardly he is relieved. The first part of his plan has been successful. Now it’s on to part two.

Quickly, he hurries out of sickbay, jogging down to the back entrance of the medical lab. A moment later, he is hidden near the doctor’s office, out of sight but within hearing range, and not a moment too soon. Even as he presses himself against the wall, he hears the doors to sickbay open.

“Captain!” exclaims the EMH in a slightly surprised voice. “Thank you for coming so quickly.”

“You did say it was urgent, Doctor. Now what is all this about? I have very little time, you know….” Her voice trails off and then Chakotay hears a soft thud. Risking a glance around the corner, he sees the doctor pick up her unconscious body and lay her gently on a biobed.

The door opens again, causing Chakotay to jerk back against the wall. He hears two voices exclaim.

“Doctor!”

Good – Torres and Kim have arrived right on schedule.

“Lieutenant, Ensign, I’m glad you’re here,” responds the doctor, turning to face them. “I have discovered a serious problem which, as you can see, has already affected the captain. I must ask you to each lie down on a biobed so I can conduct a detailed examination.”

While Harry obediently climbs on to the bed next to the captain, B’Elanna balks.

“Why? What’s the matter with us? And what happened to the captain?” Her voice is filled with suspicion. “For that matter, where is Chakotay?”

“Please, Lieutenant, there is no time to explain. You and Mr. Kim, as well as the captain, have been exposed to a potentially lethal virus. I must deal with it at once or the outcome could be fatal.” His body hiding his actions from Kim, the doctor whips out a hypospray and before Torres can object further, applies it to her neck.

B’Elanna lifts her hands to ward him off but a second later, collapses unconscious.

Before he can move, the doctor also injects Kim, who likewise lapses into unconsciousness.

Rapidly, the doctor attaches cortical monitors to all three patients then adjusts the settings before moving to stand in front of the diagnostic console nearby. His eyes remain glued to the screen as he waits.

Several minutes later, he moves forward again, removes the monitors, then returns to his office where he sits down once more.

In the lab, Chakotay waits patiently until suddenly the doctor’s head falls back against the headrest.

Excellent – the entire plan has worked flawlessly, just as he’d hoped.

Once more, he moves to the bank of consoles on the far wall, taps in a further series of commands, then leaves sickbay. Moments later, he enters his quarters and settles down with a cup of tea to wait.

It shouldn’t take long.

*****

And that should have taken care of any possible discovery of his actions, thought Chakotay, as he pondered events from four years before. With the reprogramming of the doctor and the subsequent memory wipes of the three individuals most likely to ferret out the truth, he was home free. Or so he’d thought. Now, however, he was beginning to wonder. Even though all evidence indicated no one had found anything to incriminate him, that nagging voice was still there.

The dreams were a wake-up call, he decided. Over the years, he had become complacent – a potentially fatal mistake for any operative. He had also, he acknowledged ruefully, developed far too much affection for his captain. Indeed, he had to admit, he had fallen in love with her. An even more fatal mistake.

Certainly, at first he’d been so concentrated on covering his tracks that he’d never even realized when his initial respect for her had evolved into something more. And even then, he had refused to admit it.

‘Snap out of it,’ he’d ordered himself when it first dawned on him that what he was feeling for his captain went way beyond professional admiration and loyalty. ‘This isn’t some cheap holo-simulation. Falling in love with your captain! Don’t be ridiculous!’

But try as he might, he could find no rational argument that would change the facts. Despite every effort, he couldn’t stop his heart from pounding a bit more whenever he was near her. Nor could he entirely prevent himself from doing little extra things for her simply to see her smile. It was stupid, it was potentially dangerous and it was certainly a conflict of interest. His head could argue until the universe imploded but his heart didn’t care. No matter what he did, eventually he had to concede defeat. Against every particle of common sense, he was in love with Kathryn Janeway.

‘All right,’ he finally acknowledged to himself, ‘you love her. But remember this: loving her is one thing; doing something about it is quite another. That is a line you simply cannot cross. If you do, inevitably, you’ll end up telling her everything and you can’t do that. If you do, then you will have irreparably compromised your mission.’

And that was where the matter still stood.

Despite their circumstances, he had to stay focused on his mission and making sure that his true identity remained undiscovered. That quandary had, on several occasions, led to some difficulties and at times, considerable anguish but like Janeway, Chakotay was a dedicated Starfleet officer – duty came first before any personal considerations.

With a heavy sigh, and giving himself a mental shake, he brought his attention back to the problem at hand, beginning once more to carefully examine the list of possibilities.

What if – ? No, that couldn’t be it.

Or…if B’Elanna had – Not that either, it wasn’t possible.

Maybe Harry had accidentally found – But he hadn’t. Harry was too guileless to be able to hide that kind of knowledge from him.

There had to be something else, something he was missing. If only he could figure out what it was….

*****

The answer came to him in the middle of the night, waking him sharply from a deep, uncomfortable sleep. He bolted upright in darkness, filled with stunning clarity.

Where the revelation originated, he wasn’t certain. Perhaps it was all the lingering memories of Seska, the fragmented dreams of the woman who had first tested his ability to keep his own dark secrets, the creature who had threatened to destroy it all. Maybe it was having explored every other possibility before landing on the one he least wanted to consider.

The origin didn’t matter. It was all too obvious now where the problem lay. He should have seen it sooner.

Who had ultimately thwarted Seska when she’d taken Voyager? Who had played her own game better than she did? Who indeed but the doctor?

Years ago, Chakotay had read the doctor’s report with a dark sense of irony pulling a crooked smile no one saw from him while he sat alone in his office. Now, his face was expressionless. Tight.

Dangerous.

The more he sat with it, his undershirt damp and clinging to his chilled body, the more the idea insinuated itself into his consciousness as fact. There was no other answer. Either he himself had made a mistake several years ago – and he didn’t make those – or the doctor had somehow shown a bit of misplaced loyalty that Chakotay really should have expected, given the hologram’s easy treachery against Seska.

Did the hologram know? Had the mistake been in wiping the doctor’s memory subroutines after the fact, or had he managed to subtly thwart the first officer’s plans before that had happened? Chakotay didn’t think it was possible that the doctor knew. It must have been before his subroutines were wiped of the entire experience. Otherwise, he would have gone to Kathryn long ago.

Wouldn’t he? The hairs on the back of Chakotay’s neck stood on end. Who in the hell knew what a hologram thought, how he planned? If it was after... If he knew...

His jaw a steel line, he threw back the covers, reaching for the uniform jacket he’d haphazardly tossed on the bedside table before losing consciousness a few hours before.

If the doctor had been playing games with him, he would know soon enough. And when he found his answers, he would fix the problem. One way or another.

*****

“Computer, activate Emergency Medical Hologram!”

A slight shimmer lit up sickbay then metamorphosed into the doctor. Glancing around, he stepped forward when he spotted Chakotay standing just inside the door. “Commander! Is there a problem?” His hands were reaching for the nearest medical tricorder as he spoke.

With a shrug, Chakotay moved forward. “Yes and no. I’m having trouble sleeping, and while I was lying in bed just now, something occurred to me.” He smiled gently. “You know how it is – well, maybe you don’t, but when your mind gets fixated on a problem, sometimes it won’t let go until you do something about it.” He gazed thoughtfully at the doctor. “Do you understand what I’m talking about?”

The doctor frowned. “Yes, I believe so. Although I’m a little unsure how I can help beyond giving you something to help you sleep.”

“Actually, Doctor, if I could explain the problem, that might be more helpful than simply taking a hypospray. I think you may be able to help settle this for me, once and for all.”

Typical of the doctor, he looked pleased to be considered for what he assumed was to be the role of confidant. “Then, by all means, tell me.”

Slowly, Chakotay paced across sickbay. “Doctor, are you aware when your programming is altered? Is there some sort of alert that’s triggered?”

The doctor’s face fell into a puzzled frown as he hesitated before replying. “No, I’m not. There are basic safeguards in place, of course, but I am vulnerable to someone skilled in programming altering my algorithms. I think, now that you mention it, that it would certainly be a good idea to have such an alert.”

Chakotay nodded. “That was my thought as well.” He moved to the wall consoles. “So how could we set up such an alert? How sophisticated would it need to be?”

Pleased at the commander’s evident concern for his welfare, especially at 0200, the doctor was only too happy to show him how it might be done.

“There, you see? It really should be quite easy – ”

“Computer, deactivate EMH.”

The doctor disappeared.

Wasting no time, Chakotay instantly began a detailed check of the doctor’s memory systems. His eyes focused intently on the screens before him, he moved from one file to the next, always careful to erase all signs of his activity.

Half an hour later, he finally found it. An indication in a single file which referred in vague terms to procedures performed on three members of the senior staff shortly after Voyager’s arrival in the Delta Quadrant.

Forcing himself not to hurry, he pulled up the file then searched through every line. There…no, there! “That’s it,” he muttered under his breath as he scanned through a cryptic reference to memory wipes. From that point, it got easier. He was able to follow a thread that showed how a trace of a memory, a kind of ‘seed memory’, could be left in a subject’s brain even after what seemed to be a complete wipe, to be triggered by a particular set of conditions or even a specific lapse of time.

Suddenly, Kathryn’s, Harry’s and B’Elanna’s dreams were beginning to make a lot more sense.

Somehow, and Chakotay would have to figure out the ‘how’ later on when he had more time, the EMH had overcome his reprogramming, leaving seeds of memories that formed vivid dreams: dreams that were not exactly like what had actually happened but close enough to be worrisome. Close enough to have the three people who could have unravelled years of careful strategizing asking the wrong questions if left unnoticed.

Despite his best efforts at concealment, the EMH had foiled him, leaving a trail that was starting to appear four years later.

Clearly, it was time for some major damage control. The question was – how best to contain the damage while leaving no trace of any tampering? And this time, there could be absolutely no trace or crumb left to lead his curious comrades down a dangerous trail to the truth. He needed to think long and hard about his options but, as always, he didn’t have much time.

First, however, he needed to take care of the doctor.

Studying the screens, he input a series of commands, then abruptly turned and departed sickbay. This time, the EMH should have no memory of their conversation or even that Chakotay had ever been there.

He hurried back to his quarters, well aware that he would get no sleep tonight.

*****

Several hours later, after examining every possible option he could think of, Chakotay eventually came to the conclusion that there was really only one solution that would solve his problem once and for all. He would simply have to sedate the entire crew and then, after altering the EMH’s programming once more, have Janeway, Torres and Kim undergo the memory wipes again.

And as a safeguard, he would double-check every step along the way to ensure there were absolutely no remnants of any memories that could be left as ‘seeds’.

Once he’d decided on his course of action, he knew he must implement his plan quickly. Time was short; if he didn’t hurry, he could very well be discovered. These surfacing memories were causing Kathryn and the others to experience doubt; he saw it every time they looked at him. The longer it took him, the longer they dreamed, and the longer they dreamed, the more suspicions they formed. If he knew Kathryn, and he did, he was fortunate that she hadn’t already been doing some late night database digging of her own, digging which could prove...disastrous. Quickly, he ran through several possible sedatives: axenol, neurozine, anaesthazine…. Neurozine would probably be the most effective and could be easily distributed through the ventilation system. However, internal sensors might well detect it before it had a chance to spread.

Chakotay cudgelled his weary brain, straightening in his chair as an idea took shape. If he could simulate a ship-wide bio-hazard, the computer would think there was a microbiotic contamination on all decks and open every vent simultaneously, allowing rapid distribution of the gas before the sensors could signal a warning. In order to deceive the computer at a level of this magnitude, he would need to go to the primary computer lab to access the main computer but with his command codes, that wouldn’t be a problem.

One more thing: his eyes rapidly scanned through the properties of neurozine searching for one more significant piece of information. There! That was it. Now, he was set. A quick command to the replicator produced a small vial which he tucked in his pocket before turning to the door. Briefly, he paused to check that the corridor was clear – it was. Good. The sooner he got this done, the better.

*****

Chakotay’s luck held, and he was able to reach the primary lab on deck twelve without meeting anyone. Fortunately, it was still very early, and alpha shift had not yet begun.

Without hesitation, he moved to the main console and began entering the first set of commands. Less than a minute later, he had successfully bypassed all security lockouts.

Heaving a sigh of relief that he’d overcome the first hurdle, he started on the next series. He was well aware that this was the tricky part – the computer’s systems had been expressly designed to prevent exactly what he was trying to do, that is, to deceive it into sounding a false alarm. However, he still had a few Intelligence tricks up his sleeve that regular Starfleet programmers had never encountered.

Carefully, he input each command, waiting just until his instructions were acknowledged before continuing to the next. His final order was to mute voice warnings – he wanted to maintain the element of surprise as long as possible. His fingers flew across the board, then hesitated before pushing ‘enable’ for the final time. That should do it. Sure enough, in less than a second, a warning flag appeared indicating bio-contamination throughout the ship.

At once, all the vents began to open simultaneously.

“Computer. Initiate distribution of neurozine gas now. Authorization Chakotay gamma four four nine.”

“Neurozine gas is being distributed.”

Quickly pulling the vial out of his pocket, Chakotay tipped the contents into his mouth, then turned his attention back to the console. Time for the last step.

Once more, his fingers darted across the board as he erased all signs of his tampering. There, that should do it.

Wasting no time, he hurried out the door, then into the turbolift. Best to get back to his quarters as soon as possible before someone spotted him and started wondering what he was doing down here.

*****

As the doors to his quarters slid open, Chakotay stepped through with a sigh of relief. He’d done it. Now, all he had to do was wait about ten minutes to make sure every member of the crew was unconscious, then go to sickbay, alter the EMH’s programming, beam in the captain, Torres and Kim, repeat the memory wipes, ensure they were done completely this time, return everyone to where they were supposed to be, readjust the EMH, and erase all signs of anything untoward. ‘Should be a piece of cake’, he thought caustically as he turned to the replicator.

“Tea, hot, Chakotay blend four….” His voice trailed off as he suddenly became aware he wasn’t alone.

From the shadows near the viewport, Kathryn Janeway stepped forward slowly, a phaser in her hand and pointed directly at him. “You’ve been busy, Commander,” she murmured in a conversational tone. “Care to tell me exactly what’s going on? And this time,” she added, her voice suddenly a whiplash striking deep at his core, “I want the truth. All of it!”

Her eyes blazed in fury as she indicated he should sit in the nearest chair.

Completely nonplussed at her appearance, at first, Chakotay could only stand gaping at her. Questions screamed through his head. What did she know? Was she simply guessing or did she have concrete information? How had she found out? And how much time remained before the gas took effect? By the look in her eye, she wasn’t going to settle for anything less than the truth.

Aware he had to stall for time, Chakotay backed up until he abruptly sat in the chair behind him.

“Answer me!” snarled Janeway when he didn’t respond. “What have you done? And don’t tell me you don’t know what I’m talking about! After the last time you ‘accidentally’ tampered with the computer, I had Tuvok install an alarm in my quarters and ready room, in case it happened again. And now it has.” If possible, she looked even angrier, but the phaser never wavered, still pointed at his chest.

Well, at all events, that explained the how. He had to give her full marks for prudence.

“Captain,” he began hesitantly, “I can explain.”

“Then do it!” She snapped.

Chakotay tried to maintain the appearance of innocence even as he rapidly ran through various scenarios. “Very well,” he began, his voice calm, his tone sounding slightly injured at her evident lack of faith in him. “It started when I couldn’t sleep. You know how it is, when you lie awake for hours and your mind starts going off on all sorts of tangents. For some reason, I began to wonder about the safety protocols concerning the EMH. Eventually, it nagged at me so much that I got up and went down to access the main computer to find out exactly what the protocols are.”

“Why didn’t you simply go to sickbay? The doctor knows what safeguards are in place.” He could tell from her tone that he hadn’t allayed her suspicions.

He shrugged slightly. “You know as well as I do how wound up the doctor can become. I didn’t want to have to listen to yet another diatribe on how unappreciated he is, et cetera. It seemed easier to go through the main computer first so I would have some idea before I went to him.”

As he finished, he gazed at her, keeping his expression slightly anxious. In fact, he didn’t have to try very hard to fake it. But if the look on her face was any indication, she wasn’t buying it. With a sigh, he went on the offensive.

“Look, Kathryn,” he held out his hands in supplication, “I’m sorry to have upset you but I really don’t understand what the difficulty is. If anything, I’ve been trying to avert a problem before it’s arisen. You seem to think I’ve been up to some nefarious purpose when all I’ve been trying to do is be proactive.”

Her hard expression softened slightly. “That may be true. And then again, it may not.” Her hand reached for her commbadge. “However, I’m not willing to take any more chances. Right now, I’m calling security to have you placed in the brig until we get to the bottom of this. Janeway to….” Her voice trailed off as her eyes rolled back in her head and she slumped to the floor, unconscious.

“Not a moment too soon,” muttered Chakotay as he moved to kneel beside her. Carefully, he checked her pulse, then gently smoothed her hair, his fingers lingering on her face. “I’m really sorry, Kathryn, but believe me, it’s better this way. There are certain things you’re not meant to know, now or ever.” As he spoke, he picked her up then headed out the door to sickbay, reminding himself as he went to be sure and erase the fact her alarm had gone off.

One more little hazard that would trip him up if he weren’t extremely careful.

*****

Two hours later, having worked out a scenario to fit the sensor readings, Chakotay glanced around the bridge before settling into his chair. All was ready. They should start waking up any time now. In order to appear as if he too had been unconscious, he slumped in his seat, letting his head loll to one side.

Around him, his crewmates gradually began to rouse, one by one shaking their heads to clear their brains before moving to take their positions.

“What happened?” murmured Harry from Ops as he pulled himself to his feet and began to study his console.

At the helm, Tom Paris was likewise muttering, “Where are we?” even as his fingers slid across his console, bringing up the navigational logs.

Careful to keep his eyes closed, Chakotay listened intently, waiting for Kathryn. A faint rustling alerted him to her movement. A second later, he heard her voice, huskier than usual.

“Report!”

For several seconds, there was silence, and Chakotay judged it time for him to wake up as well.

Pushing himself upright, he blinked rapidly and looked around, his expression slightly befuddled. “What’s going on?” he asked.

Beside him, Kathryn was already focused intently on her console. “That’s what I’d like to know. Mister Kim! What happened here?”

Hesitantly, Harry cleared his throat. “Uh, I’m not quite sure, Captain.” His fingers danced across the panel. “It would appear we encountered some kind of anomaly….” His voice trailed off in confusion.

Sounding even more exasperated, Kathryn got to her feet. “What kind of anomaly? I need answers here, Mister Kim. What kind?”

But Harry could only shake his head. “I’m sorry, Captain, I can’t tell you any more than that.”

With a strangled curse, she strode to his side, peering for herself at the readouts, as Harry slid out of her way. “Hmm…” Her eyes flicked rapidly across the board before she made several adjustments but the readings didn’t change.

After a moment, she turned to look at the viewscreen as if to find an answer, but of course there was nothing to be seen beyond the usual phalanx of unfamiliar stars. Sighing, she returned to her seat, glancing at Chakotay as she did so. “Looks like another Delta Quadrant mystery.”

Giving her a sympathetic nod, he returned his attention to his console, always the helpful first officer. Apparently, this time his plan had worked.

From behind, Tuvok spoke up. “Captain, it would seem that we have passed through an unknown anomaly which in some fashion rendered the entire crew comatose. Sensor readings indicate the ship continued on its course, taking approximately two hours to traverse the anomaly. All decks have reported in and there are no injuries or apparently any lasting effects from our passage beyond several mild headaches. The doctor believes these will shortly disappear as we increase our distance from the anomaly.”

Her hand fell away from her temple. “Good to know,” she murmured almost to herself. With a thoughtful nod, she got to her feet and turned to face him at Tactical. “So tell me, Commander, just exactly where is this anomaly now? Because I can’t find any sign of it. If it weren’t for the sensor logs, we’d have no knowledge of it at all.”

“Unknown, Captain. It would seem to have disappeared as mysteriously as it appeared.”

For a moment longer, she continued to stare at Tuvok while behind her, Chakotay silently held his breath. This was the weakest part of his plan. Kathryn Janeway was a competent scientist – if she chose to investigate the ‘anomaly’ more closely, his fake sensor readings would be exposed.

Finally, however, she settled into her chair, leaning her head back as she rubbed the back of her neck. “Let’s keep on our way. I don’t want to take the chance of running into another of these peculiar anomalies. The sooner we’re out of this part of space, the better.” Again, she glanced over at Chakotay. “Go down to Astrometrics and see what they’ve got. We need to make sure we’re on a safe course.”

At once, Chakotay rose. “Aye, Captain.”

As the turbolift doors slid shut, he breathed a sigh of relief. Although there was still a chance of discovery, it definitely seemed more hopeful that his deception had been successful. While he was in Astrometrics, he would discreetly run a series of checks in the guise of checking up on all systems.

Briefly, he allowed himself a moment of regret. He was really sorry to have to deceive the crew this way, particularly his captain, but he’d had no choice.

Maybe someday, if and when they ever got home, he could finally stop leading his double life and look forward to a future where there were no secrets. And dream of a day when he was free to live a life with Kathryn; that is if, once she knew the truth, she would even speak to him. But, he could hope.

Meanwhile, until that day, he would continue to keep Starfleet’s secrets, and his own.

Maybe someday…