Disclaimer:  Some things never change.  Despite wishful thinking, they still belong to Paramount/Viacom.

 

Rating:  G

 

Notes:  This story is written for my friend Ben, who loves Star Trek as much as I do, on the occasion of his tenth birthday.  

 

As always, many thanks to my long-suffering betas, Shayenne and Brianna Thomas.   I didn’t take all their advice so any mysterious plot points, etc. are my fault and not theirs.   They did try.

 

For those who have not seen the movie ‘Star Trek’, it should be understood that it takes place in an alternate universe.   The elder Spock, aka Spock Prime, is from Voyager’s universe.

 

The prologue is paraphrased from Wikipedia.

 

 

 

Trekking Through Time

 

By Mary S.

 

 

 

 

Prologue:

 

In the year 2387, the galaxy was threatened by an unusually volatile supernova. Ambassador Spock piloted a ship carrying "red matter", which was designed to create an artificial black hole which would consume the supernova. But before Spock could complete his mission, the supernova destroyed the planet Romulus.

Captain Nero of the Romulan mining ship Narada attempted to exact revenge on Spock, whom he blamed for the destruction of his homeworld and its inhabitants, including his wife and unborn child. Both ships, however, were pulled in to the black hole's event horizon and traveled into the past.

The Narada arrived first, 154 years in the past, in 2233. Its arrival was preceded by what appeared to be a lightning storm in space, which the Federation starship USS Kelvin investigated. Nero attacked the Kelvin, causing severe damage. Acting-Captain George Kirk ordered an evacuation and stayed behind to provide cover for the fleeing shuttlecraft, his pregnant wife among the passengers. George piloted the Kelvin into the Narada moments after his son James Tiberius Kirk was born.

Spock arrived 25 years later, in 2258, and was captured by Nero and marooned on the planet Delta Vega so that he could witness the destruction of Vulcan, as retribution for Spock's failure to save Romulus.

Kirk grew up to be an intelligent, though reckless and cynical, young man. To get him to embrace his potential, Captain Christopher Pike challenged Kirk to emulate his father's heroism and convinced him to join Starfleet. En route to Starfleet Academy, Kirk befriended fellow cadet Leonard McCoy.

In his third year at the Academy, Kirk was accused of cheating on the Kobayashi Maru test by its programmer, Commander Spock. During the resultant hearing, Starfleet received a distress signal from Vulcan that indicated the appearance of a lightning storm in space, and the cadets were  mobilized to help crew the ships in orbit. McCoy smuggled the grounded Kirk aboard the USS Enterprise as a patient under his care.

Kirk recognized the similarities between the Vulcan incident and the encounter that had destroyed the Kelvin, and warned Pike that the fleet was heading into a trap. The Enterprise arrived late to find the fleet destroyed and the Narada drilling into Vulcan's core.

Nero ordered Pike to surrender himself via shuttlecraft. Pike obeyed, promoting Spock to captain and Kirk to first officer. En route to the Narada, Kirk, Hikaru Sulu, and Chief Engineer Olson performed an orbital skydive onto the drilling platform to destroy it; Olson was killed, but Kirk and Sulu succeeded in stopping the drill. However, it had drilled deep enough for Nero to launch red matter into the planet's core, imploding the planet into a black hole. Spock rescued some of the planet's elders, including his father, but his mother died along with the majority of the planet's population. Nero then set course for Earth and tortured Pike for the command codes to its perimeter defenses.

After a heated argument with Spock about their next move, Kirk was marooned on Delta Vega for mutiny. Spock ordered the ship to rendezvous with the rest of the fleet. On Delta Vega, Kirk encountered Ambassador Spock, who relayed the future's events through a mind meld and insisted that Kirk must become captain of the Enterprise.

The two traveled to a nearby Starfleet outpost where they met Montgomery Scott. The elder Spock beamed Kirk and Scott aboard the Enterprise. Once aboard, Kirk deliberately enraged Spock to force him to acknowledge that he was emotionally compromised, thereby forfeiting command which then passed to Kirk.

Spock, Scott, and Pavel Chekov devised a plan to ambush the Narada by dropping out of warp behind Saturn's moon Titan. Kirk and Spock beamed aboard the Narada. While Kirk rescued Pike, Spock retook the elder Spock's ship, destroying the drill and luring the Narada away from Earth before piloting a collision course.

The Enterprise arrived and beamed Kirk, Pike, and Spock away before the collision, which ignited the remaining red matter, creating a black hole within the Narada's superstructure. Kirk offered to help rescue Nero and his crew, but the Romulan refused and the Narada was destroyed. The Enterprise escaped the same fate by ejecting and then igniting the ship's warp drive reactor cores, with the resulting explosion pushing them clear.

Kirk was promoted to captain of the Enterprise, relieving the newly-promoted Admiral Pike.

While searching for his father, Spock encountered his older self in a hangar; Ambassador Spock was departing to help establish a new colony for the remaining Vulcans. The younger Spock informed his older self of his wish to leave Starfleet to aid in the establishment of a new Vulcan colony. However, Ambassador Spock told his younger self that he and Kirk needed each other and that he should do what ‘felt’ right. Taking the advice, Spock remained in Starfleet, becoming first officer under Kirk's command.

 

 

 

Part One:  The Rift

 

 

Chapter One:  2377

 

 

In the Delta Quadrant….

 

 

           It was, Tom Paris decided, what could be colloquially described as ‘a slow day at the office’.   

 

           Voyager was sailing steadily through empty space at an even warp six, with nothing, not even an asteroid, registering on sensors for several light years in all directions.

 

           Tom was bored out of his mind.

 

           Surreptitiously, he glanced over his shoulder towards Harry Kim but his friend was focused on the ops panel and quite oblivious to anyone else.   Another quick glance behind showed Commander Chakotay equally engrossed in his console, while the captain’s chair remained empty.  Tom rather envied Captain Janeway; at least she could escape to her ready room, where no doubt she was holed up with her feet on the desk and a cup of fresh coffee to hand. 

 

           With a sigh, he scanned his own panel once more before sitting back to gaze blankly at the viewscreen before him, wishing for something to ease the tedium.   At this point, he’d even take a Borg cube – anything for a little excitement!

 

           His mind drifted between his latest holoprogram and what Neelix might be serving for dinner, his attention wandering to the point that he nearly missed a slight ripple that suddenly appeared on the viewscreen.

 

           Abruptly, he sat up, exclaiming at the same time, “What was that?!”

 

           Heads snapped around to stare at him.

 

           “What was what?” demanded Chakotay.

 

           “There.”   Tom pointed at the screen.  “I saw…something…a wave or ripple of some kind.   Just for a split second.”

 

           The commander turned to ops.  “Mr. Kim?  Anything on sensors?”

 

           Harry was already focused on his console.   Nooo….  Wait a minute….   Yes!   There is a rift of some kind, directly ahead.”

 

           “Tom!” snapped Chakotay,  “All stop!” 

 

           However, seven hundred thousand ton starships are not easy to halt in the vacuum of space.    Although Tom’s hands flew over the console, shutting down the warp drive, Voyager continued to drift forward on her own momentum, closer and closer to the rift.

 

           “Captain to the bridge,” paged Chakotay, as he rose to move behind Tom.    Peering at the screen, he continued, “Reverse power.”

 

           Within seconds, Captain Janeway was barreling out of the ready room.   “Report!”

 

           “We’ve detected a rift of some kind, directly ahead,” began Chakotay.   “Despite dropping out of warp and reversing power, our momentum is carrying us directly towards it.”

 

           “In fact,” interjected Tom, “our speed is increasing.”

 

           Quickly, Janeway examined the helm readouts over Tom’s shoulder, her mouth tightening in a worried frown.   “I don’t like the look of this at all!”

 

           From behind, Tuvok suddenly spoke.  “It would appear the rift has caught us in some kind of gravity well and is pulling us in.”

 

           “Full reverse power!” shouted Janeway.  “Tom, get us out of here!”

 

           Desperately, Paris’ fingers flew over his console.  

 

           Creaks and groans became audible as the ship strained against the increasing pull of the rift.

 

           “The hull is starting to buckle,” stated Tuvok.

 

           “Open the antimatter injectors to one hundred twenty percent!” ordered the captain.

 

           The vibration increased along with the noise, and a console shorted in a flurry of sparks as smoke began to fill the bridge.

 

           “Captain, we’re starting to break up!” shouted Harry.

 

           Chakotay caught Janeway’s attention as the shuddering increased even more.    “It’s not working!” 

 

           Her mouth set in a grim line, she moved to grip the edge of the navigation console for balance.   She could see for herself that despite using every micron of power available, Voyager could not break free.   

 

           His face pale, Tom turned to Janeway.    “It’s no use, Captain, I can’t get us clear.”

 

           With a tight nod, she issued the order.  “Shut it down.    All hands, hang on!   We’re going in!”

 

           With nothing to hold it back, the ship was sucked into the rift and in a heartbeat, was gone.

 

 

Chapter Two:

 

 

           Smoke wafted lazily over consoles as the crew began to pull themselves together and look around the bridge.          

 

           “Where are we?” was heard from several different voices.

 

           At the centre of the command deck, the captain scrambled to her feet and stepped forward to peer at the viewscreen.

 

           “Harry?” she called over her shoulder.   “Report.”

 

           Her voice echoed in a sudden silence as everyone turned to look at ops.   The space behind the console was empty.

 

           Immediately, Chakotay hurried around the railing, then knelt down behind the console.   “He’s out cold, Captain,” he called.

 

           At once, Tom started to rise before casting an imploring glance at Janeway.   At her nod, he strode rapidly to ops while the captain, unwilling to wait for the relief pilot, slid into his seat.  

 

           From behind, Tuvok spoke, his voice unnaturally calm.   “Captain, the rift we have just passed through is displaying some very unusual characteristics.   Not only are there indications of chroniton radiation, but it also appears to be some kind of wormhole.  These readings indicate we are in the Beta Quadrant.”

 

           “What?!” exclaimed Janeway, gasps from the crew echoing her.    “Confirm!”

 

           Tuvok’s fingers slid easily across his board, his gaze concentrated on the sensor readings.   “Confirmed,” he replied a moment later.  “We are in the Beta Quadrant, in an area of space containing a number of nebulae as well as several different anomalies.”  He paused, then added, “I would advise we proceed cautiously.”

 

           Janeway’s eyes were already focused on the navigation console.   “I see what you mean,” she muttered, as her hands moved across the controls.   “Speed is one-half impulse.  Tuvok, keep your eyes open.”  

 

           A groan from behind her alerted the crew to Harry Kim’s return to consciousness.

 

           “Easy,” warned Tom, waving a medical tricorder over his head, “you have a mild concussion.   Keep still for a moment…,” he paused as he filled a hypospray then injected it against Harry’s neck.  “There, that should help.”

 

           With Chakotay’s help, Kim sat up carefully, his hand rubbing the base of his neck.   “Thanks,” he told Tom gratefully, “it does.”

 

           “I think you’ll live,” smiled Chakotay as he climbed to his feet, then reached down to help Harry stand.

 

           “Yeah,” replied Kim as he gripped his console, steadying himself.  “Where are we, anyway?”

 

           “Beta Quadrant,” answered Tom briefly, starting to pack up the medkit.   “From what I heard, in the middle of – ”

 

           His next words were cut off by sudden phaser fire raking across the bow.   The ship rocked hard.

 

           The captain’s shout of “Red Alert!” was drowned out as another strike smashed into Voyager’s hull.  

 

           Frantically, Chakotay scrambled back to his chair, his fingers flying across his console before he’d even settled into his seat.  

 

           Janeway was thrown to the floor where two of her crew had already landed.   

 

           Smoke billowed across the bridge as several consoles exploded simultaneously and others shorted out. 

 

           “Report!” shouted Janeway, as she pushed herself up.   Even as she spoke, she was experiencing an eerie sense of déjà vu – it was all very similar to the day they had been thrown into the Delta Quadrant.

 

           Again, the ship was rocked hard by weapons fire, several shots scoring direct hits and sending Janeway to her knees once more.

 

           “Harry!” she shouted, “hail whoever that is and tell them we mean them no harm!”

 

           “No response, Captain,” replied Harry a moment later.

 

           “Weapons?!” she called to Tuvok, as she scrambled up, her fingers wrapped around the railing to keep her balance.

 

           “Partial phasers only,” he responded.

 

          “Shields?”

 

           “At forty five percent and falling.”

 

           Again, the ship was hit, this time vibrating in an unnerving fashion.

 

           “Captain,” spoke up Chakotay, “we are surrounded by several ships….”  He paused as his fingers continued to bring up information, “…of Orion as well as unknown origin.”

 

           “Orion?!” exclaimed Janeway.  “Harry, hail them again and tell them to stop firing!   We are not their enemy!”

 

           But the ships continued to fire, pounding Voyager steadily from several sides.

 

           “Shields at twenty percent,” announced Tuvok.

 

           “Return fire with everything we’ve got,” ordered the captain grimly.

 

           A minute later, Tuvok was forced to report that all phasers had been damaged and were losing power.

 

           “Photon torpedoes?” asked Janeway worriedly.

 

           Tuvok shook his head.  “The launchers have taken heavy damage and are inoperable.”

 

           Janeway turned back to the viewscreen, then stepped forward to the helm, where Tom had retaken his seat.

 

           “Tom, get us out of here!  Maximum speed!”

 

           But Tom was shaking his head as well.  “The warp core is offline and impulse drive is failing,” he told her sadly.

 

           Desperately, Janeway looked around the bridge.  “We’re in trouble,” she murmured.     She knew if she didn’t come up with an escape plan very quickly, her ship would be destroyed.   “We’ve come so far,” she whispered, “there must be a way out.”    But despite frantically cudgeling her brain, she couldn’t think of anything else they might do.    Turning, she moved to her chair, then glanced at Chakotay.    “I don’t think surrender is an option; we can’t let them have our advanced technology.”  Her eyes on his face, she continued, “Computer, initiate self-destruct.”

 

           However, before she could finish saying the words, Tom shouted from the helm, his cry echoed by Harry.  

 

           “They’re breaking off!”  

 

           “Captain, look!   A ship has just dropped out of warp and is firing on the enemy ships!”

 

           Janeway wasted no time.   “Harry, take power from everything except shields and reroute it to weapons!   Tuvok, help them!   Fire whatever we’ve got left!!”

 

           Frantically, Harry worked his console even as Tuvok fired all phasers.

 

           Within a minute, two of the enemy ships had been destroyed and two others damaged, with the remainder backing off.

 

           “They’re turning tail,” crowed Tom triumphantly, “they’re running!”

 

           Breathing a huge sigh of relief, Janeway turned to smile at Chakotay.  “Talk about the cavalry arriving in the nick of time!   Who are they?   Harry, hail –”    Her jaw dropped in amazement as gasps of astonishment echoed across the bridge.

 

           Sailing gracefully into view before them was a page out of history.

 

           Enterprise!” breathed Tom into the sudden silence.

 

           “Captain,” spoke up Harry, his voice hoarse with awe, “we’re being hailed.”

 

           “On screen,” replied Janeway automatically, her gaze riveted to the viewscreen. 

 

           Before her, a young man was staring at her, a frown on his face.   “This is the USS Enterprise,” he began after a moment, “our sensors indicate you are a Federation vessel, although I’m not familiar with the class….” 

 

           His voice trailed off at the looks of disbelief mirrored on every face staring back at him.

 

           “My god!” exclaimed Tom again.

 

           “Kirk!” whispered Harry, his eyes nearly falling out of his head.

 

           Even Tuvok’s eyebrows were practically in his hairline.

 

           Slowly Janeway moved forward, and as she did, Chakotay rose to stand beside her.

 

           “Are you –?” she began then hesitated, unable to voice the impossible.  

 

           “Captain James T. Kirk,” replied the young man, his eyes raking across her.  “Do you know me?” 

 

           “Oh yes!” responded Janeway fervently.

 

           “Then you have the advantage of me, ma’am,” retorted Kirk. 

 

           Janeway swallowed visibly, then straightening her spine, took a deep breath.  “I am Captain Kathryn Janeway of the Federation starship Voyager.   It appears we have been caught in a temporal anomaly of some kind.   May I ask the stardate?” 

 

           Kirk stared at her.  “2259.1” 

 

           She glanced at Chakotay.  “We’re in trouble,” she repeated softly.

 

           Silence reigned on both bridges as each crew stared at the other.

 

           After a moment, Kirk leaned forward slightly.  “Can I assume, Captain, that since I don’t recognize your ship, and you don’t know the date, that you’re from the future?”

 

           Briefly, Janeway hesitated but there was really no point in denying the obvious.  “Yes,” she answered tersely.

 

           Kirk glanced away, rolling his eyes, then heaved a sigh.  “We’ve been down this road before,” he remarked enigmatically.

 

           Janeway simply stared in puzzlement.

 

           After a moment, Kirk continued.  “Our sensors indicate you have sustained considerable damage.  Whatever your time, you’re still a Federation starship and therefore, I can do no less than offer whatever assistance you need.”

 

           He broke off as she shook her head firmly.  “Thank you, Captain, but I think it best to decline your offer.  We must minimize the threat of contaminating the time line as much as possible.”   Pausing, she added cryptically, “We’ve been down this road before as well.”

 

           Kirk nodded in agreement although his eyes conveyed some regret – obviously, he wouldn’t mind having a closer look at Voyager.   “I’m sending a message detailing your situation to Starfleet Command,” he said, “and until I receive a reply, the Enterprise will remain here.”   His meaning was obvious – he might not be allowed to examine Voyager but in turn, Janeway would not be allowed to roam through his universe at will. 

 

           Janeway shrugged – it didn’t matter to her.  All she wanted was to repair her ship and get back to her own time as quickly as possible. “Understood, Captain,” she replied, “we will be grateful for your protection. Voyager out.” 

 

           As soon as she’d signed off, she turned to Chakotay.  “I need a full damage report as well as a list of essential repairs.  Anything that isn’t absolutely necessary to the operation of the ship, put aside.  The sooner we get out of here and back where we belong, the better.”

 

          Acknowledging her order, Chakotay immediately sat down to work on his console, making detailed notes of all the damage and prioritizing what needed to be done first.

 

           Rising to her feet, the captain turned the bridge over to him and headed to her ready room.   True to form, she had a splitting headache.

 

***********         

 

           Half an hour later, Chakotay appeared with his report.

 

           As he worked through the long list, Janeway’s heart sank.  

 

           The damage was extensive.    Engines, both warp and impulse were offline.  

 

           “Although we do have partial thrusters,” added Chakotay, trying to sound positive.   

 

           However, weapons, both phasers and photon launchers, were badly damaged and would need extensive work as well as delicate recalibrating.

 

           “What about shields?” she asked. “And while I’m thinking of it, how is it that a ship with our advanced shielding could take so much damage?   I mean from our point of view, those Orion vessels are well over a hundred years old!   We should have been able to withstand their weapons fire easily!”

 

           Scrolling through his PADD, Chakotay frowned in silence before straightening to hand it over.   His finger indicated a paragraph.  “There, Captain.   B’Elanna explains that the shields were damaged in our passage through the rift.   They were only at half strength when we were attacked.”

 

           “I see,” sighed Janeway.   “All right, so how long will it take to repair them?”

 

           The commander shrugged. “If we didn’t need power for anything else, we could get them up to full strength pretty quickly.  As it is, since power has to be rationed between different areas, you’re looking at probably twenty-four hours.”

 

           She shook her head, her face creased in a worried frown.  “I don’t like this, Chakotay, not at all.   We’re far too vulnerable.  Is there any way to speed up the process?”

 

           “A lot of the problem is personnel.  We only have so many people who are certified to work in engineering.  I’m trying to allocate anyone who has even a bit of experience but – there is simply too much damage.   Like it or not, we’re going to be sitting here for at least a couple of days.” 

 

           Restless, she got to her feet and wandered to the upper level where she stared out the viewport at the Enterprise hanging off their starboard side. 

 

           Following to stand beside her, Chakotay also stared at the legendary starship.   After a moment, he spoke.  “We could take them up on their offer to help.”  He could feel Janeway tense at his words.  As he glanced down to meet her eyes, he smiled ruefully.  “I know it’s not what either of us want, but….”  His voice trailed off; he didn’t need to elaborate the obvious.

 

           The captain heaved a sigh.  “I hear what you’re saying.   However, if those pirates come back with reinforcements before we can finish repairs, we’re dead.  Literally.”   Again, she sighed before turning back to her desk to pick up the PADD with the list of needed repairs. 

 

           While she scanned through it again, the commander stood silently, waiting for her to come to the decision that he knew she had to make.

 

           After a moment, she tossed down the PADD then lifted her eyes to his.  “We don’t have a choice, do we?”

 

           “Not really,” he answered, “unless you’re adamant about not breaking the Temporal Prime Directive.”

 

           “No,” she replied firmly.   “The safety of the ship and crew must come first.”   She gazed once more at the Enterprise.   “Starfleet will simply have to understand.”

 

           Chakotay nodded.   “As I’ve said before, Kathryn, we’re a long way from Command.   We do what we have to do to survive.”   His eyes also went to the ship outside the viewport as he added, “We’ll try to limit their contact with Voyager’s systems as much as possible.   It’s not as if they won’t understand; the Prime Directive is in force here, too.” 

 

           “I know but – you’ve read the same histories I have about this era and in particular about Kirk. The man is legendary for unconventional thinking, operating outside the box, in effect, doing whatever he damn well pleases!    To him, regulations are there only for his convenience, and when they aren’t convenient, he ignores them!”  She pinched her nose tiredly.   “I really don’t want to let him or his people anywhere near us but as you say, we don’t have a choice.    In order to survive, we need their help.”   She gave him a rueful smile then stood up straight.   “Well, let’s get it over with.”

 

           Turning on her heel, she headed for the door, Chakotay right behind her.  

 

           “Harry,” she called out as she entered the bridge, “hail the Enterprise!”

 

           “Yes, ma’am!”  replied Harry, realizing it was crunch time. “They’re responding.” 

 

           “Captain Kirk,” began Janeway as the other bridge appeared on the viewscreen.  “The damage to our systems is more extensive than I first realized.   I’d like to take you up on your offer of assistance, if I may.”

 

           “Certainly, Captain Janeway,” answered Kirk almost gleefully, “we’ll assemble repair teams immediately.   Our chief engineer, Mr. Scott, will lead them.  As well, I’ll send Mr. Spock, my first officer, to coordinate with your exec so we can best assist you.”

 

           “Thank you, Captain, we appreciate your kindness.”

 

           Pausing, Janeway eyed him, knowing good manners should include an invitation to him as well.   He was sitting forward almost expectantly, and she realized he knew it too.   Oh hell, fine, she thought, crossing her fingers.   “Captain, would you care to come for a visit as well?  Perhaps you can fill me in on what we might expect in this time frame….”

 

           Kirk grinned at her.  “I’d be delighted, ma’am.”   He bounced out of his chair.   ‘”See you shortly.  Enterprise out.”

 

           Heaven help me, thought Janeway, what have I let myself in for?!

 

           Turning to her crew, she started issuing orders.  Chakotay, meet them in the transporter room, make sure that each team is accompanied by at least two security officers.  Coordinate with Tuvok.  When Kirk arrives, bring him to the ready room via the corridor. I don’t want him on the bridge if it can be avoided.”  

 

           She paused before tapping her combadge.   Janeway to Seven of Nine.”

 

           “Seven here.”

 

           “Repair teams from the Enterprise are going to assist us, which means you must remain in the cargobay until I tell you it’s safe to appear.  Under no circumstances can anyone from the Enterprise be allowed to see you.   Understood?”

 

           “Yes, Captain, I am on my way now.  Seven out.”  

 

           The captain turned to Tuvok.   “Post a guard outside cargobay two.   It is imperative that no one from the Enterprise go in there.”

 

           At Tuvok’s acknowledgement, she continued.     “Harry, get down to Engineering.  You’re going to assist B’Elanna with organizing repairs.”

 

           “Yes, ma’am!”

 

           “Before you go, put me on shipwide.”

 

           Quickly Harry tapped his console then nodded to her.

 

           “All hands, this is the captain.   Due to our precarious situation and the extensive damage Voyager has taken, I have agreed to allow teams from the Enterprise to help us make repairs.   I don’t need to tell any of you that I’m only agreeing to their offer of help because I believe we have no choice.   We have to get back to our own time as quickly as possible and we can’t do that until key systems are functioning.  However, it is essential that the Enterprise people have as limited contact as possible with the ship and its systems.   To that end, I am ordering all of you, and this includes Naomi Wildman, Icheb and Neelix, not to answer any questions unless they pertain directly to the repairs at hand.   We must limit contamination of the time line as much as possible.  Hopefully, the Enterprise crew will respect our wishes but they are bound to be curious about us – I know in their shoes, I would be – so everyone must be on their guard.   Janeway out.”

 

           With a final glance around at her crew, she ordered, “Do it!”

 

           Stepping off the command deck, she continued, “I’ll be in my ready room.  Tuvok, you have the bridge.”

 

           A few minutes later, she received a hail.   Chakotay to Janeway, Captain Kirk is here.”

 

           “Very good, Commander.”    Rising, she moved to stand beside her desk facing the door to the corridor.

 

           A moment later, it opened and Kirk walked in, Chakotay following behind.

 

           Stepping forward, Janeway extended her hand.  “Welcome to Voyager, Captain.”

 

           She saw Kirk’s eyes widen slightly as he took in her small stature so she made a point of putting a ring of authority in her voice.   Short she might be but she would have him know she was no pushover.

 

           For a moment, silence reigned as each captain sized up the other, then Janeway nodded to Chakotay.   “We’ll be fine, Commander.”

 

           His eyes remained on Kirk for a moment longer before he too nodded.  “Very well, Captain, I believe Commander Spock is waiting for me.”

 

           As he left, Janeway turned to step up to the seating area where her coffee service was placed on the low table.   “Join me, Captain.   Would you care for a cup of coffee while we talk?”

 

           “Thank you, Captain Janeway, I would.”

 

           After pouring them each a cup, Janeway settled back on the couch, her eyes examining Kirk closely.  “You’re a lot younger than I expected,” she remarked abruptly.

 

           Caught off–guard, he blinked at the non sequitur then tossed her a grin.   “Well, ma’am, circumstances were such that I didn’t have a lot of time to spend working my way up the career ladder.   The Enterprise needed a captain and I was it.”   He paused, then added with a shrug, “But I suppose you already know that, don’t you?” 

 

           Janeway’s eyes narrowed and before she could stop herself, she fired back, “You’re very sure of yourself, aren’t you, as well as your place in history.”

 

           If she hoped to disconcert him, she was disappointed.

 

           “Ma’am,” he replied quite unabashed, “after what we’ve been through in the last year, I would be very surprised if I wasn’t.”

 

           Deciding she’d had enough of his brashness, Janeway abruptly changed the subject.   “Tell me about our attackers.   Who are they?”

 

           “We believe they are Orion pirates,” answered Kirk.  “Starfleet has received reports of a number of attacks on ships in this area.   Yours is not the first vessel of, shall we say, futuristic design to suddenly appear.   It would seem the pirates are taking advantage of this temporal anomaly by sitting here waiting to disable whatever hapless vessel is pulled through it.  Starfleet diverted us from our original mission to investigate and if possible, seal the anomaly.” 

 

           Janeway nods thoughtfully.  “I see.  We will endeavour to make our repairs as quickly as possible before anyone else is caught.” 

 

           At that moment, her combadge chirped.   “Torres to Janeway.”

 

           “Yes, B’Elanna?”

 

           “Captain, we’ve got a problem.   Can you come to Engineering?” 

 

           “On my way.” 

 

           Standing up, she looked at Kirk.  “I guess we’re starting our tour.  Care to join me?”

 

           He was already on his feet.   “Lead the way,” he grinned enthusiastically.

 

**********

 

           In Engineering, the two captains drifted apart.

 

           While Janeway began to confer with Torres, Kirk spotted Mr. Scott and walked over to speak to him.

 

           Janeway’s eyes shifted as she followed him across the room. 

 

           “Captain,” explained B’Elanna, “the damage we sustained is a good deal more severe than we first thought.   Not only are engines, both warp and impulse, off line, but the hull has suffered a number of microfractures.   For the moment, force fields are holding us together, but in order to properly repair the fractures, we need to land the ship.”

 

           Her mouth tightening into a grim line, Janeway frowned – this was not what she wanted to hear.  “I’m not happy with that suggestion, B’Elanna.   Are there any other options?” 

 

           Torres shrugged.   “It’s either that or we spend three times as long attempting to repair them in space but you know how slow it is in EVA suits and gravity boots.   We’d be looking at probably close to two weeks, whereas on the ground, I can get it done in four or five days.   Given our present situation, I assumed you would want repairs made as quickly as possible….”

 

           At the captain’s nod, B’Elanna continued.  “However, the work has to be done carefully, especially when you consider the stress the hull may undergo when we attempt to return through the rift to our own time.”

 

           Again, Janeway nodded.   “I understand,” she sighed, then frowned, “May I assume the landing gear is undamaged?”

 

           B’Elanna glanced at the PADD in her hand.  Nicoletti checked it just a few minutes ago.   It’s fine.”

 

           “Thank goodness for some mercies,” responded Janeway as she glanced around then beckoned to Harry Kim.   “Ensign,” she ordered as he approached, “return to the bridge and start looking for somewhere we can set down the ship, preferably with a breathable atmosphere.    I want to avoid using EVA suits if we can.”

 

           “Aye, Captain,” responded Kim promptly, turning towards the door.

 

           Janeway started to move away as well, then paused to gaze at the Enterprise crewmembers.   “How are they doing?” she asked in a low voice.

 

           Torres’ eyes followed where the captain was looking.    “When it’s basic engineering, they’re fine and we can certainly use the help.  Of course, we’re not letting them near anything such as the gelpacks.” She paused, then added, “They’re definitely more help than hindrance, if that’s what you’re asking.”

 

           “It is, and thank you.   I better go talk to their captain.   Start organizing your repair teams.   As soon as the ship is down, I want them ready to go.   I don’t want to stay planetside one second longer than necessary.”

 

           “Yes, ma’am,” responded Torres as she turned away and started shouting orders.

 

           Meanwhile, Janeway moved to where Kirk was standing, his eyes wide, taking in every inch of the deck.

 

           When he became aware of her, he turned to smile boyishly.  “Very impressive, Captain,” he told her. “Mr. Scott is itching to get his hands on your warp core.”

 

           His smile was infectious and she couldn’t help returning it despite her misgivings.   “Tell him he better ask Lieutenant Torres for permission.   She tends to be somewhat possessive of it.   Otherwise, he may end up with a broken nose – it wouldn’t be the first time.”

 

           Kirk looked a little startled but duly repeated Janeway’s warning to Scotty, who grinned unabashedly.

 

           “Aye, Captain, thank you for the advice but I’m aware of the social niceties when visiting someone else’s engine room.”

 

           He walked away toward Torres. 

 

           Janeway took a deep breath, “Captain, I’ve just been informed that in order to expedite repairs, it would be advisable to land the ship.   Can you suggest –?” 

 

           Kirk interrupted excitedly, “Land?? Can you do that??”

 

           “Yes,” answered Janeway simply, “we can.”

 

           After apologizing for interrupting her, he continued enthusiastically.  “I would love to see that.  Where are you going to land it?” 

 

           “Let’s see if Harry has found anything yet.”  She tapped her combadge.   Janeway to ops.”

 

           “Captain,” sounded Harry’s voice, “I was just about to hail you.   I think I’ve got something.   There is an asteroid belt half a light year away and just beyond it are a couple of small planetoids.   They aren’t pretty, they’re mostly rock, but one has an atmosphere of sorts.   Anyone working outside would probably have to wear an oxygen mask but – well, it’s about the best I can find.”

 

           “Then it will have to do.   Thank you, Harry, send the coordinates to the helm.  Janeway out.”

 

           She moved to tap her combadge again when Kirk stopped her.   “You don’t have engines, do you?” he asked.

 

          “We’ve got thrusters.   It may be slow but we’ll get there.”

 

           His eyes gleamed.   “What if we towed you?” 

 

           For a moment, she stared at him blankly before nodding.   “If the Enterprise has the capability to move a dead weight of 700,000 metric tons….”  Her voice trailed off.

 

           Now it was his turn to frown, before he glanced around.   “Where is Mr. Scott?”

 

           Even as he spoke, he spotted the engineer examining one of the consoles on the other side of the room.  Without waiting to see if Janeway was following, he hurried over to him.   “Scotty, is it possible for the Enterprise to tow this ship?” 

 

           There was dead silence as Scott stared at him, obviously puzzled. “…tow…?”

 

           “Yes,” answered Kirk.  “Captain Janeway tells me that to expedite repairs, they need to land Voyager.    Her ops officer has discovered a possible location half a light year away but their engines are down and they have thruster power only.   Is there a way we can help them along?” 

 

           Like Kirk, Scott’s eyebrows rose at the mention of landing.   “They can put this ship down on a planet??  By heaven, I’d pay good money to see that!” 

 

           Kirk grinned at him.  “Well, if you’re lucky, maybe you’ll have a front row seat.   But first they have to get there.   So, what do you think?  Is there something we can do to assist?” 

 

           Scott shrugged.   “Theoretically, it can be done, Captain.   However, I need to make some calculations before I can give a definite answer.”

 

           “Then do it,” responded Kirk.  “These people need to get underway as soon as possible.”

 

           While Kirk was talking to Scott, Janeway had walked back to where Torres was handing out assignments.   Quickly, she explained Kirk’s idea.

 

           Immediately, B’Elanna became very intrigued and began her own calculations, her fingers flying across a PADD.   “It’s a question of power, Captain,” she explained.  “If they have enough power to extend a warp bubble around Voyager, then it’s certainly feasible.”

 

           Captain Janeway glanced over at Kirk who was listening intently to his communicator.  “I think that’s what they’re figuring out right now.”

 

           The words were barely out of her mouth when Kirk came striding across the room to them, his eyes alight with eagerness.   “Mr. Scott tells me it can be done.”

 

           From behind him, Scott added a proviso.   “Theoretically.   I can’t say I’ve ever tried it myself.”   He looked at Torres.  “I need some more information about your ship – dimensions, weight, and I’ll have to take her configuration into account as well….” 

 

           B’Elanna, give him all the help he needs,” cut in Janeway.

 

           “Aye, Captain,” replied Torres, then stepped to Scott’s side.   “Right.   Here’s a schematic….” 

 

           The pair wandered across engineering, heads together as they muttered back and forth. 

 

           Janeway watched them for a moment, then turned to find Kirk’s eyes on her.   She gave him a grateful smile.   “Thank you,” she told him, “with your help, we’ll be back where we belong much sooner.”

 

           “You’re welcome,” he answered, ‘now, could we continue the tour?  This is a fascinating ship.”

 

           What could she do but agree?  

 

           “Come this way, Captain,” she replied as she led the way out of Engineering.

 

***********

 

           Half an hour later, Kirk and Janeway returned to engineering to find their respective senior staffs waiting for them.

 

           “Captain!” announced B’Elanna as soon as she saw them, “we can do it.   Even though the Enterprise is considerably lighter than Voyager, by engaging our thrusters at maximum, we can overcome our own inertia, in other words, keep the ship from being a dead weight.”

 

           In response to Kirk’s raised eyebrow, Scott jumped in.  “She’s quite right, Captain.   Once Voyager is moving under her own power, even at a slow speed, we can in effect ‘pick her up’ and enclose her within our warp bubble.   It will take some very careful piloting of course, on both ships, but I believe Mr. Sulu can handle it.”

 

           “Very well, Mr. Scott,” replied Kirk, “then let’s do it!”

 

           Around them, the Voyager crew grinned at hearing Janeway’s favourite phrase.

 

           “Captain?” asked Chakotay.    At her nod, he turned to Paris.   “Tom,  coordinate with their helmsman.   Harry, keep an open comm line from our bridge to theirs.   B’Elanna, do the same.”  

 

           “I’ll be in constant contact with Mr. Scott,” promised Torres.

 

           Before they could disperse, Janeway stepped forward.  “On behalf of my crew, I want to thank you for helping us.   I can see for myself that the reputation of the Enterprise is well-deserved.”

 

           “And what reputation is that?” asked Kirk with a cheeky grin.

 

           Janeway grinned back.  “Now, Captain, you know I can’t tell you that.”

 

           Tossing her a casual smirk, he turned to face his crew.   “Gentlemen, we need to return to our ship.   Spock, round up our teams and have them beam back to Enterprise – we have some work to do.  Captain, I’ll keep you apprised of our progress.”

 

           A moment later, they were gone.

 

           With a quick glance around that encompassed everyone present, Janeway ordered, “You heard the man – we have work to do as well.    Dismissed.”

 

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

        

           Shortly after, Kirk hailed Voyager.   “Mr. Scott tells me we’re ready here, Captain.”

 

           “Likewise, Captain,” replied Janeway, from her chair on the bridge.  “Tom, power up thrusters.”

 

           Slowly Tom eased the controls forward, careful not to exert more pressure than necessary on Voyager’s patched-up hull.   Gradually the ship began to slip forward, moving faster as Tom increased speed.

 

           “Thrusters are at maximum,” he announced, “Mr. Sulu, it’s up to you.”

 

           On the Enterprise bridge, Sulu worked the controls deftly until he had both ships moving in tandem.

 

           Both crews held their breaths at how close the two ships were flying.

 

           “Ready, Sulu?” asked Kirk.   At the helmsman’s quick nod, Kirk continued, “Mr. Scott, we’re as ready as we’re going to be.”

 

           “Aye, Captain, activating warp power and extending bubble….. there!  We’ve got them!  You can go to warp one, Mr. Sulu.”

 

           Sulu’s fingers were already dancing across the console and Kirk felt the ship start to tremble.

 

           “Careful,” he murmured although he knew the helmsman needed no order.

 

           Straining mightily, the Enterprise struggled to pull three times its weight into warp.   Instead of the usual instant streak of stars which told the crew they were at warp speed, they seemed to slide their way forward.  Everyone was holding their breath, watching intently, as the vibration in the deck plates increased.

 

           “We’re at maximum power, Captain,” reported Scott.

 

           “Sulu?” asked Kirk. 

 

           “Warp one,” responded the helmsman, then carefully slid the control forward.   “Warp two.”   

 

           “Warp three.”

 

           “Warp four.”

 

           The ship was noticeably vibrating.

 

           “Easy,” cautioned Kirk, then as the motion smoothed out, added, “can you make warp five?”

 

           Slowly, Sulu pushed the control forward one more notch.  “Warp five.”

 

           The vibration increased again.

 

           “I might be able to get a little more out of her, Captain.”

 

           “Try warp six.”

 

           Again, Sulu’s hand inched forward.   “Five point five…five point seven….”

 

           “Engineering to bridge!’ Scotty’s agitated voice sounded from Kirk’s console.   “Captain, if you increase speed any more, she’ll fly apart!” 

 

           “Understood, Mr. Scott,” answered Kirk, before continuing, “Mr. Sulu, you heard the man. Let’s keep to warp five.  Steady as she goes.”

 

           “Aye, Captain.”

 

           On Voyager, the entire crew was also holding their breath, not daring to relax even as their speed evened out.    

 

           After a few minutes, Tuvok reported that the Enterprise had them firmly in tow.   “ETA is approximately 26 hours, 32 minutes,” he added.

 

           Janeway nodded, her eyes never leaving the viewscreen.

 

           Beside her, Chakotay sighed softly, knowing it would be useless to suggest she go to her quarters to rest or even to the mess hall for a meal.   He was well aware that her gaze would remain riveted on that viewscreen for the entire time it took to reach the asteroid.   Well, he thought, if she can stay here, so can I.   And he settled himself more comfortably into his seat – it was going to be a long night.

 

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

 

           Right on schedule, the following day, the two ships reached the cluster of asteroids.

 

           With a long sigh of relief, Janeway finally got to her feet.   Just as Chakotay had predicted, she had barely moved in the last twenty-four hours.  “Bridge to Engineering,” she announced, “we’ve arrived.”

 

           “Understood, Captain, preparing to land.”

 

           Turning her head slightly to her right, Janeway continued, “Mr. Tuvok, go to blue alert.”

 

           “Bridge to all hands, Code Blue.”

 

           “Voyager to Enterprise,” hailed Janeway.   At their response, she went on, “Captain Kirk, you can set us free whenever you’re ready.”

 

           “Very well, Captain,” came Kirk’s reply, before he tapped his console. “Bridge to Engineering.  Mr. Scott, release Voyager.”

 

           “Aye, Captain,” responded Scott, “Collapsing the warp bubble…on my mark…now!”

 

           A slight tremor raced through the Enterprise even as Sulu dropped to impulse.   

 

           Coasting on momentum, Voyager was right beside them.

 

           “Mr. Sulu,” ordered Kirk, “put us in an orbit that allows us to keep a sensor watch on them.”

 

           Sulu’s fingers flew across his console.  “Aye, Captain, orbit achieved.”

 

***********

 

           On Voyager, Tom Paris was going through the now-familiar routine of landing the ship.   Carefully, he established a glide pattern that would put Voyager on a level patch of ground in the shadow of a mountain range.  Hopefully the rough terrain would help to shield the ship from alien sensors.

 

           As the ship drifted down, landing gear locked in place, from above, the crew on Enterprise watched in fascination.

 

           “I never thought I’d see the day!” muttered Scott, his eyes glued to his monitor.

 

           On the bridge, everyone, even Spock, was staring with concentrated fascination at the sight of the graceful starship slipping through the atmosphere until she came to rest with a slight bump on the surface. 

 

           “Well, I’ll be damned,” murmured Kirk, “I didn’t think they could do it.”

 

           Spock glanced at him.   “Captain Janeway does not strike me as someone given to false boasting.”

 

           Kirk grinned almost apologetically.  “No, I guess she doesn’t.” 

 

           Straightening in his seat, he turned to Uhura behind him.  “Lieutenant, hail Voyager.”

 

           “Hailing frequencies open,” she replied. 

 

           Kirk rose to his feet.   “Captain Janeway, I’m impressed!   As is my crew.”

 

           Janeway smiled slightly with a brief nod of acknowledgment. 

 

           “Our engineering teams are standing by,” Kirk went on.   “They can beam down at your order.”

 

          “Thank you, Captain,” she replied.    “The sooner the better, I think.   We’re feeling a little vulnerable down here.”

 

           Kirk was quick to reassure her.   “Don’t worry, Captain, we’re watching your back.”

 

           This time, her smile was a little more relaxed.  “Then thank you again.”   She paused before adding almost hesitantly, “Would you like to come as well?”

 

           He was about to answer ‘yes’ until he noticed her first officer frowning.    Suddenly unsure, he paused as well, which allowed Chakotay to interject that perhaps once repairs were underway, the captain should take some time to rest.   He would be glad to escort Captain Kirk.

 

           Frowning as well, Janeway muttered, sotto voce, “You’ve been on duty just as long as I have.”

 

           Realizing that neither one had left the bridge during their journey, Kirk intervened to suggest they had plenty of time.   “I’ll look forward to seeing you tomorrow, Captain,” he told her.

 

           Janeway smiled gratefully.  “Thank you.   I guess we could use some sleep.”

 

           Signing off, she handed the bridge over to Ayala who was taking beta shift.     “Commanders, Tom, Harry,” she ordered, “head for your quarters.   I’ll see you tomorrow.”

 

           “Yes, ma’am,” they replied gratefully.

 

 

Chapter 3:

 

 

           While the Voyager crew was starting work on repairs, a discussion was taking place on the Enterprise.   Unbeknownst to almost everyone on board, they were carrying a very special passenger, one whose presence had been kept secret from the crew.   Only Kirk and Spock were aware that Spock’s counterpart from another universe was aboard.

 

           The Enterprise had been transporting him to a distant planet where a group of Vulcans had taken refuge from Nero, when Starfleet had ordered Kirk to divert to the rift in space and hopefully seal it, with Spock’s advice and assistance if needed.

 

           With the discovery of a Federation starship which they had soon determined was from his reality, young Spock and Kirk were now asking the elderly Vulcan if he would rather take the opportunity to return to his own time.

 

           Spock the elder was not so sure – he had been out of the loop for a long time.    He had spent the Dominion war and some years after in hiding on Romulus, leaving only to try to prevent a supernova from destroying the galaxy – which was how Romulus had come to be destroyed, causing Nero to embark on his journey of revenge.   Spock the elder thought that perhaps he should stay where he was, now that he was here.  He could help his people establish a new colony, a new beginning, and what better purpose could he have than that? 

 

           Young Spock was willing to acquiesce to his older self but Kirk persisted, suggesting that he could at least talk to Janeway.

 

           “It won’t hurt, after all,” he argued, “If nothing else, you could ask her to deliver a warning to the Romulans, perhaps preventing the disaster in the first place.”

 

           Spock the elder pursed his lips as he debated how to reply.  “Tampering with the time line is always extremely risky.   Perhaps events in my universe happened for a reason, we do not know.   I am unsure whether making such a request of Captain Janeway would be even ethical.”

 

           Kirk shrugged.   “Well, it’s your universe not mine, but it seems to me you’re being presented with a golden opportunity to save the lives of billions of people in both universes, Romulans and Vulcans alike.   If Romulus isn’t destroyed by the supernova, Nero won’t seek revenge and Vulcan will continue to exist.    It seems to me that’s worth the risk!”

 

           Spock nodded slowly, acknowledging the force of Kirk’s argument. “You are correct,” he answered, “It is a turning point, a moment in time, when what we do now affects the course of events in two universes.”   He turned to face Kirk.  “I will meet with her.”

 

           So it was that the next day, when Janeway answered Kirk’s hail, she was surprised to receive an invitation to join him on the Enterprise.  “And Commander Tuvok as well,” he nodded towards Tuvok standing behind her. 

 

           On the Enterprise’s bridge, Spock’s head snapped around at the inclusion of Tuvok and he started to protest, but even as he opened his mouth, Janeway was accepting the invitation.

 

           “Thank you, Captain, we’ll be with you shortly.  Voyager out.” 

 

           Constrained by the crew’s presence, Spock could say nothing, a fact Kirk was well aware of.

 

           Rising to his feet, he grinned at his first officer.  “Well, Mr. Spock, let’s go greet our guests, shall we?”

 

           Although his expression hadn’t changed, Spock was radiating disapproval, making Uhura stare at him in some concern.  But he ignored her muttered query as he followed Kirk into the lift.  Only when it was in motion did he raise the issue of inviting Tuvok.

 

           “Captain,” he began, ‘I see no reason to invite Captain Janeway’s officer. I do not believe the ambassador will be…pleased…at his inclusion.”

 

           But Kirk simply smiled cheerfully.   “Oh come on, Spock, the more the merrier.   Besides, he’s a Vulcan.  Don’t you think he’d enjoy meeting a legend of his own time?”

 

           Despite his efforts at control, Spock actually frowned.   He knew Kirk well enough by now to realize he was being teased and was determined not to respond.    At the same time, he felt constrained to express his very legitimate concerns.

 

           “Captain,” he began anew, but was cut off by the door opening. 

 

           “Here we are,” announced Kirk gaily, stepping into the corridor before glancing back.  “What’s the matter? Aren’t you coming?”

 

           With a resigned sigh, Spock followed, knowing he was fighting a losing battle.  “Yes, Captain,” he murmured.  

 

           A moment later, they arrived in the transporter room.

 

           “Energize,” ordered Kirk, his eyes dancing.

 

           Two figures materialized on the pads and Kirk stepped forward, his hands extended.   “Captain, Commander, welcome,” he greeted his visitors.

 

           Feeling much better after a good sleep, Janeway was looking forward to seeing this legendary ship, and was pleased as well that Tuvok had been included in the invitation.    “Thank you, Captain,” she responded, gracing him with one of her brilliant smiles.   “We are delighted to be here.”

 

           As he led the way into the corridor, Kirk announced they would start with the bridge.   “And at the end, I have a little surprise for you,” he promised, making Janeway raise her eyebrows.

 

           “Oh?” she asked, but Kirk refused to say anything beyond, “you’ll like it, trust me.”

 

           Janeway had no choice but to follow as he entered the lift.

 

*********

 

           Nearly an hour later, they had just finished inspecting an absolutely spotless engine room.

 

           “Lieutenant Torres would approve,” murmured Tuvok, voicing Janeway’s own opinion.

 

           As she was nodding in agreement, Kirk beckoned them back into the corridor.   “Now for my surprise,” he announced gleefully, shepherding them into the lift once more.

 

           A short ride brought them to another corridor.   Kirk strode along it confidently, then stopped abruptly at a door and rang the chime.  A second later, it opened and he stepped in, gesturing to the others to follow.

 

           Janeway went first, quickly walking through before glancing around. As her eyes met those of the tall figure standing across the room, her jaw dropped and she gaped in astonishment.   Behind her, she heard an audible gasp.

 

           For several seconds, there was complete silence until the elderly Vulcan stepped forward.

 

           “Welcome, Captain,” he greeted her.   “I am –”

 

           “Spock!” whispered Tuvok, his voice filled with awe, his emotional control ruptured at the sight of the man whose exploits were legendary throughout the Alpha Quadrant.

 

           Stunned beyond words, the pair from Voyager simply stared in utter disbelief.

 

           Finally Janeway found her voice.   “How…?”  she stuttered, then cleared her throat, took a breath and tried again.   “Ambassador, I am at a loss for words.”  Gathering herself, she continued more coherently, “May I assume you are from our time line?”

 

           Spock nodded slightly.   “That is correct.”

 

           “Then how did you get here?”

 

           With a slight sigh, Spock glanced at his younger self, standing silently nearest the door.   “It is a long story, Captain, one which we don’t have time for you to hear right now.   I asked to speak to you so that I may make a request.” 

 

           “Of course,” Janeway agreed instantly.   “Anything.”

 

           He smiled very faintly.   “You should be careful how you respond;  you do not know what I am about to ask.”

 

           Her eyes boring into his, she retorted, “Ambassador, above all else, you are renowned for your integrity.   I need have no concern that your request will be anything other than honourable.”

 

           Spock nodded slightly in thanks, then moved to stand in front of her. “When you return to Earth, would you send a message to the authorities on Romulus that they must beware the star Hobus.  They ignore this warning at their peril.” 

 

           Janeway stared at him with a puzzled frown but he held her gaze and she understood he was deadly serious.

 

           “Very well, Ambassador, I will do all in my power to pass your message on to the Romulans.  Assuming, of course, Voyager has returned to the Alpha Quadrant by then.”

 

           “Thank you,” he replied before moving back to stand a little pensively before the viewport.

 

           Her eyes fixed on him carefully, she wondered if he wanted to go home.   Deciding to take the bull by the horns, she spoke bluntly, “Ambassador, do you want to come back with us?   I can’t guarantee when we’ll get to Earth but I know we will make it eventually.   You are most welcome to join us if you wish.” 

 

           Spock stared at her speculatively before shaking his head.   “Thank you, Captain, but I have work to do here, work I must complete.   Besides, I understand that for you the year is 2377.”

 

           Yesss,” she replied hesitantly, picking up his implication.   “What year is it for you?”

 

           But he ignored her question, saying only, “Then there is still time.”    With that cryptic remark, again he turned away to gaze out the window.

 

           Kirk, who had remained in the background, now moved to take Janeway’s arm, indicating the door.

 

           However, before they could leave, Tuvok stepped forward.  “Live long and prosper, Ambassador,” he murmured.

 

           Spock gave him a nod and, holding up his hand in the split salute, responded, “Peace and long life, Commander.”

 

           Turning on his heel, Tuvok quickly followed the others out the door. 

 

           In the corridor, Janeway grabbed Kirk’s arm, her face determined. “What is he doing here?  For that matter, how did he get here? What’s going on?”

 

           Quite unrepentant, Kirk faced her, grinning.   “We’re taking him to a Vulcan colony.”

 

           “And?’ she demanded, her voice dropping to a growl, warning him her temper was rising.

 

           However, Kirk remained completely unintimidated.   “And he needed a ride.”

 

           Before she could ask anything else, her commbadge chirped.

 

           Torres was hailing her – she was needed on Voyager.    Staring hard at Kirk, she muttered, “This conversation isn’t over.  I want some answers.”

 

           However, Tuvok was already moving towards the lift.   “As do I,” he told her, “but they will have to wait.  We have our own ship to tend to.”

 

           Reluctantly, Janeway followed him down the corridor, her mouth set in a grim line.    Before they returned to the Delta Quadrant, she was determined to find out what was going on here.

 

***********

 

           Three more days passed, days full of frantic activity as every hand from the captain on down through the lowliest crewman pitched in to assist with repairs.    Even Naomi was detailed to run messages and deliver PADDs from one department to another as needed.  

 

           Several times, Janeway tried to find a few spare moments to return to the Enterprise and hopefully speak once more to the elder Spock, but she was thwarted repeatedly by the needs of her ship and crew.     In the end, she had to put aside her curiosity and devote all her energies to preparing her ship for lift-off.  

 

           The greatest centre of activity on Voyager was engineering, where Torres, assisted by Engineer Scott, was directing repairs.    The two of them were constantly on the move, either checking the read-outs from the warp core or climbing through Jeffries tubes to ensure all the burned-out relays had been replaced.

 

           Operating on the same wavelength, by now, the two were firm friends as well as colleagues.    Both were well-used to working on the fly, and neither was above indulging in a little one-upmanship to see which of them could come up with the more outrageous solution to whatever problem they were currently trying to solve.

 

           However, even B’Elanna was dubious about some of their more elaborate jury-rigging.    Voyager was a sturdy ship but it had been through many a battle and had been patched up far too often.   

 

           However, when she voiced her fears, Scott was quick to assure her the repairs would hold.  

 

           “I hope you’re right,” retorted B’Elanna, “because if you’re not, it’s going to be a short ride.”

 

           “Now, lassie,” remonstrated Scott, “have a little faith!   She’s a bonny ship, almost as bonny as my own.    She’ll be fine.” 

 

***********

 

           Finally, after four very long days, Torres was able to contact her captain with good news.  

 

           “We’re as ready as we’re going to be, Captain.   She’s not in the best of shape but I believe she’ll hold together.    However, once we’re through the rift and back in our own time, I would really like to find a nice friendly spacedock where we can make more extensive repairs.”

 

           “One step at a time, B’Elanna.   Let’s get there first.”

 

           “Aye, Captain.   Awaiting your order.”

 

           Janeway looked around her bridge.   “Well, people, shall we go?”

 

           “Yes, ma’am!” echoed from all sides.

 

           Taking her seat, she sat back, her eyes straight ahead.  “Harry, hail the Enterprise, please.”

 

           A second later, Captain Kirk appeared on the viewscreen.

 

           “Captain,” began Janeway, “we’re ready to lift off.    Are all your people accounted for?”

 

           Kirk looked to his right, then nodded.   “All present, Captain.   Everyone is back where they belong.”

 

           “Very good.   Voyager out.”   Janeway waited a beat, then ordered, “All stations, prepare for departure.   Mr. Tuvok, Code Blue.   Engineering, anti-grav thrusters online.”

 

           “Code Blue,” repeated Tuvok, his fingers flying over the console as he repeated the order shipwide. 

 

           “Thrusters enabled,” confirmed Torres.

 

           “Tom, inertial dampeners to flight configuration,” continued Janeway. “Impulse drive to stand by.   Take us up nice and easy.”

 

           Paris grinned cheekily, “Don’t I always?”

 

           The captain smiled very slightly but remained silent as Harry reported that all stations were ready.

 

           “Then, let’s do it.”

 

           “Aye, Captain,” responded Paris as his fingers slid smoothly across the helm.   “Thrusters engaged.”

 

           Very slowly, the ship began to rise, her bow pointed slightly upward as she rose through the atmosphere.   Every one of the crew held their breaths as creaks and groans echoed around them and the hull vibrated noticeably, but Scott’s promise was good and she held together.    Once clear of the asteroid and its gravity, in the vacuum of space, the ride smoothed out.    Within minutes, she moved into orbit near the Enterprise.

 

           “Looks good, Captain,” reported Harry from ops.   “Engineering reports more stress than normal but nothing we can’t handle.”

 

           “Very good.   Prepare to go to warp.”

 

           “Captain,” interjected Harry again, “the Enterprise is hailing us.”

 

           “On screen.”

 

           “How are you doing?” inquired Kirk. 

 

           “A few more moans and groans than usual, but we’re good to go, Captain,” replied Janeway with a smile.   “And may I add, on behalf of all my crew, our heartfelt thanks for all your assistance.”   

          

           Kirk returned her smile.   “You’re most welcome.  Now, can you make warp six?”

 

           Janeway looked to Tom.  “What do you think, Mr. Paris?”

 

           “Shouldn’t be a problem, Captain.    Remember for us, it’s the equivalent of warp two.”

 

           “Then yes, we can.   Voyager out.”

 

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

 

          A day later, the two ships cautiously approached the coordinates of the rift at impulse.

 

           “Anything?” asked Janeway, her gaze fixed anxiously on the viewscreen.

 

           “Looking good so far, Captain,” reported Harry, his eyes glued to the sensor readings.   “There’s no sign of anyone, pirate or otherwise.”

 

           “If they’re here,” retorted Paris, “they’ll be in that large nebula to starboard.”

 

           No sooner were the words out of his mouth than nearly a dozen sleek ships burst out of the nebula, racing towards them.

 

           “Shields!” shouted Chakotay.

 

           Tuvok, are we in position?” asked Janeway.

 

           At his response of yes, she ordered, “Fire two photon torpedoes.”

 

           “Torpedoes fired.”

 

           Slowly, almost gently, the fabric of space in front of them rippled, then began to split apart.   However, even as they watched the rift appear, the ship was shaken by weapons fire.

 

           “Return fire,” ordered Janeway, then continued, “Tom, take us in, half-impulse.”    As Voyager slid forward, she added, “Tuvok, status of the Enterprise.”

 

           “The Enterprise is surrounded by six of the pirate vessels,” replied Tuvok gravely.   “She is taking damage but so far is holding them off.”

 

           Again, Voyager shook as she was rocked by weapons fire and a console on the back wall suddenly exploded.

 

           “Harry, secure that console!” ordered Janeway.  “Tom, all stop.”  At her order, heads swiveled around to stare at her in astonishment.  

 

           “Captain?” murmured Chakotay softly, his face reflecting the crew’s puzzlement.

 

           “We can’t just abandon them,” explained Janeway.    “We have a minute or two, let’s help as much as we can.”  She raised her voice.  Tuvok, continuous phaser fire.” 

 

           Deftly, the Vulcan’s fingers danced across his panel, each shot landing among the enemy and causing havoc.

 

           A moment later, Harry shouted that the Enterprise was hailing them.

 

           “On screen,” responded Janeway.

 

           The viewscreen shifted to show Kirk in his chair, leaning forward as smoke billowed around him.   “Captain!” he shouted, “don’t stop!    We can hold them off but you must keep going!”

 

           “But –” Janeway started to protest but Kirk cut her off.

 

           “Do as I say, Captain!”  he yelled at her.  “Get out of here now!” 

 

           Chakotay looked up at her.  “Captain?” he asked, his voice tense.

 

           For a few seconds longer, she hesitated before nodding resignedly.  “Very well.  Mr. Paris, best speed to the rift.  Captain Kirk, I wish you well.   Voyager out.” 

 

           As Voyager slid through the opening, the bridge crew’s last view astern was of the Enterprise wheeling about, her phasers lashing out in all directions.  

 

           Then the portal closed and they were alone.

 

           Quickly, Harry established that they were in their own universe again.  He paused briefly to examine his readouts before adding that he thought the rift was now sealed although he couldn’t be sure.

 

           Silence reigned on the bridge as everyone reflected on their last sight of the Enterprise.

 

           “If it is sealed then they might have made it,” muttered Tom, voicing the general feeling.   “But it didn’t look good.”

 

           With a sigh, Janeway rose to her feet.  “Set a course for the Alpha Quadrant, Mr. Paris, warp two and engage when ready.   Commander,” she continued softly, “you have the bridge.  I’ll be in my ready room.”

 

           Chakotay murmured his acknowledgment as the door closed behind her.

 

           In silence, Voyager resumed her long journey toward home, the crew well aware they would never know the fate of the Enterprise.

 

 

 

Part II:  The Hunted

 

 

Chapter 1:   2378

 

 

           Home.

 

           Kathryn Janeway stared out the viewport of her ready room, her gaze fixed on the planet she had worked so hard to reach.     Wreathed in white clouds with the blue of oceans peeking through here and there, Earth hung in space as it had for uncounted millennia.   

 

           A sudden impulse made her pinch herself; she had longed for this day for seven interminable years and now that it was finally here, she was having trouble believing it.  

 

           Home resonated through her being, and gradually her face relaxed into a broad smile.   We did it.  Against all odds, we’re really home!  

 

           The chime of her door broke into her musings, making her turn back towards her desk.  “Enter,” she called as she moved to sit in her chair. 

 

           Commander Chakotay strode in, his arms laden with PADDs, making Katheryn groan.    They were home all right and Starfleet wanted the event recorded chapter and verse.   Wordlessly, she held out her hand.   Much as she had wanted to get back, she could have done without the paperwork.

 

           “Is that the last of them?” she asked hopefully but Chakotay merely shook his head.   

 

           “Sorry, there are more yet to come.”   Placing the pile on her desk, he fingered through them before picking out one.   “Here’s the schedule for debriefing.   I’ll post it for the crew but I thought you’d like to look it over first.”

 

           “Yes, thank you.”  Taking the PADD, Kathryn scrolled down quickly, her face creasing in a frown.   “They want me for a whole month?!     But haven’t they been reading the reports we’ve been sending?  How can they possibly need a month?”

 

           He shrugged.  “One of the perks of being captain, I guess.   I’m scheduled for three weeks, and I’ve already been told to keep myself available for recall.”   Sifting through the heap, he pulled out another.  “Here’s the list of data they require.   As you can see, they want personal logs as well as….”   Chakotay paused as Kathryn reached across to grab the PADD from his hand.

 

           “What?!   They have no right to ask for personal logs!”  Barely pausing for breath, she tapped her commbadge.   Janeway to ops.  Harry, get me Admiral Paris at once!”

 

          “Yes, ma’am!”   Harry immediately understood it was crunch time.

 

           A moment later, he hailed her.   “I have the admiral.  Patching him through to your ready room.”

 

           Activating her terminal, Kathryn faced her old mentor, Admiral Owen Paris.  

 

           “Captain,” he greeted her formally, although his voice was warm and he was obviously pleased to talk to her.   “What can I do for you?”  

 

           Kathryn took a deep breath to calm her anger.   “Admiral, we have received a demand from Starfleet Command for the crew’s personal logs.   That isn’t normal debriefing policy.  Quite frankly, I find it unacceptable and I believe everyone else aboard will as well.”

 

           Paris’ face fell into a frown and he hesitated, obviously searching for words to explain Command’s request.   “I saw that item on the list,” he began, “and while I understand it’s unusual, it’s not unheard of.    You’ve been gone a long time, Kathryn, on a most unique journey.   Command is anxious to learn as much as possible about that journey.   It’s not a wish to pry –”

 

           “In a pig’s eye!” interrupted Kathryn.

 

           “I disagree,” retorted Paris firmly.  “The counseling division in particular is most anxious to study your experiences, the methods you employed to handle disputes both on and off the ship, how you integrated two disparate crews….   All that sort of thing.   They believe in order to do it properly, they need to study the crew’s personal logs.”

 

           But Kathryn refused to be mollified.   “Personal logs are just that – personal!” she declared.   “And therefore off limits to counselors or anyone else without permission.”

 

           Paris’ features hardened.  “I would remind you, Captain, that you are no longer the sole authority and you will follow orders.   If you are ordered to produce your personal log, you will do it.”

 

           “And if I refuse?”   Her voice held an edge that even Paris recognized.  

 

           “Then there will be consequences for you and your crew.” 

 

           “What sort of consequences?” she demanded.

 

           His reply was a shrug.  “There are some in the Admiralty who bear no love for the Maquis.    If you show intransigence, they could take that as an indication that the Maquis have unduly influenced you.   Your decisions will be questioned; we could be looking at possible court-martial.” He took a deep breath, then added in a mollifying tone.  “Kathryn, try to be reasonable.  Your experiences, the data you’ve collected, the things you’ve seen, will add immeasurably to our knowledge not only of other beings, societies and galaxies, but also how you adapted to the pressure of captaining a starship lost and alone, completely cut off from any support.  

 

           “What your logs tell us could help us formulate strategies as to how to deal with deep space missions for years to come.   This is invaluable information which we are unable to acquire any other way.   Please, for the good of Starfleet for the next generation, let us have your logs.”

 

           She stared at his earnest face, torn between what was good for Starfleet and good for her crew.   Eventually, she replied, “I will explain Starfleet’s position.  If – and only if – the crew agree, will I authorize release of their personal logs.   As well, I will want to personally vet the security arrangements for their use.   The last thing we need is some nosy media type getting hold of them.”

 

           Paris was quick to agree.  “I can guarantee that won’t happen.   They will be held in the strictest security with only a very few individuals allowed to peruse them.”   He paused briefly then added, “Thank you, Kathryn.    Your cooperation won’t be forgotten.   Paris out.”

 

           Sitting back in her chair, she stared at Chakotay who had remained silent throughout the exchange.   “What do you think?”  she asked eventually.

 

           His face tightened in a grimace.  “Like it or not, they have us over a barrel.   We really don’t have much choice, do we?”

 

           “He didn’t actually say –” she began but he cut her off.

 

           “Oh come on, Kathryn!   He didn’t have to.   The threat is obvious.  Hand over all the logs or Starfleet will nail the hides of the Maquis and you to the wall!”

 

           She scowled.   “Damn, I hate being threatened like that!”

 

           He smiled in commiseration.   “I know but it looks as if this is one fight we’re not going to win.  I would suggest we give in gracefully now and earn some brownie points for the future.”

 

           “You sound like James Kirk, you know that.”

 

           “The man had his moments,” replied Chakotay. “Sometimes you have to pick your battles.   This is one of them.”

 

           “I guess,” she agreed sullenly.

 

           “I’ll tell the crew, if you like,” he offered.

 

           She gave him a rueful smile.  “Thanks but I think this is a job for the captain.”

 

**********

 

           Rather to her surprise, most of the crew agreed, albeit reluctantly, to allow selected members of the Counseling Division at Starfleet Command to examine their personal logs.    There were some who flatly refused – a few ‘fleeters, as well as most of the Maquis who declared they had never kept them in the first place.

          

           Kathryn herself was under no illusions about her own logs – it had been made very clear that she must hand them over or else.    Sighing heavily, she debated whether to edit some of the more outlandish entries, particularly those focusing on certain fantasies.   However, a moment’s reflection made her realize that Command would quickly see through her attempts which would lead to all sorts of awkward questions.   No, better to let it all hang out, as Tom liked to say.   

 

            Starfleet’s demand did make easier one decision she had been mulling over – whether or not to mention the encounter she’d had with Spock the elder on the Enterprise the previous year.   She had made a promise and yet, even at the time, she’d wondered if it was a promise she should keep.    But…could she live with herself if she did nothing and an entire planet and its inhabitants died?  

 

           Since the entire meeting had been recorded practically verbatim in her personal log, she would have no choice now but to discuss it.   Perhaps it was for the best.    Maybe Starfleet would find a way to warn the Romulans about the pending supernova of the star Hobus and perhaps even offer to assist in averting the disaster.    And she would have kept her promise.

 

*********   

 

           Over the course of the next month, the Review Board waded through the mountain of information gleaned from Voyager’s logs.   And Kathryn was with them every step of the way.   At times, she found it incomprehensible why they needed to know every last detail – information which somehow they expected her to recall with the snap of their fingers.  

 

           Day after day, on and on it went until she began to wonder if she’d ever existed anywhere else besides room 304 at Headquarters.

 

           Eventually, the Board came to the record of Voyager’s encounter with the Enterprise.   

 

           “Kirk,” she heard muttered in a disapproving tone from one officer.  

 

           “Man was an outright menace!” stated another flatly.   “Never should have been accepted to the Academy!”

 

           Hmm, thought Kathryn.   Their attitude does not bode well for Spock’s request.    However, she said nothing, waiting for their reaction when they read her personal log.

 

           She didn’t have to wait long.

 

           “You did what?!” exclaimed Admiral J’jorn, his antennae quivering in outrage.   “Explain to me, Captain,” he continued in icy tones, “exactly why you made such a promise!”

 

           “Because I believed in the integrity of the person who made the request,” she replied, her voice edged with anger.   Who the heck did this two-bit admiral think he was, to be questioning Spock’s motives?!   Spock, for heaven’s sake!   One of the foremost citizens of the Federation, a man renowned throughout the quadrant for his selflessness and courage.

 

           The admiral raised his eyebrow in rebuke at her tone but, fed up with his self-importance, she stared right back.     If she’d had any doubts earlier about fulfilling her promise, she didn’t now.    

 

           Commodore Bodonn cut in smoothly, obviously trying to ease the tension.  “Perhaps, Captain, you could tell us in greater detail exactly what you were thinking when you agreed to this request.”

 

           But by this point, Kathryn had had enough.    Her back was up now and if they wanted a fight, by golly, they’d get one!

 

           Her tone was unrelenting.   “It’s all there in my log, Commodore, I have nothing to add to it, except to make a formal demand that Spock’s request be honoured.”

 

           She’d backed them into a corner and she knew it.

 

           For several minutes, the members of the Board conferred among themselves but Kathryn, well-versed in the ways of Starfleet, already knew what their answer must be.  

 

           The protocol was clearly laid out.   A formal demand had to be considered by her superiors.   If they agreed to pass it on – and very few were denied – the Admiralty must meet to debate whether or not to grant it.    As the officer making the demand, Kathryn would be called on to explain and if necessary, argue, why her demand should be met.

 

           The admiral finally swiveled around to face her.   “Your demand will be considered, Janeway, and you will be informed in due course.  Dismissed.”

 

           His tone left no doubt in her mind that as far as he was concerned, the sooner she got out of his sight, the better.

          

           Feeling better than she had in weeks, Kathyrn departed room 304 in search of a reviving cup of coffee.   

 

*********

 

           As expected, within three days, she was notified that the Admiralty would meet immediately to discuss her demand.    She would present herself at briefing room 4209 at 9am the following day.  

          

**********

   

           By now adamant that she must fulfill her promise, her earlier doubts pushed aside, Kathryn argued forcefully in favour of sending a message to Romulus as soon as possible.

  

           Spock himself had disappeared several years earlier under mysterious circumstances, although now and then rumours surfaced that he had been seen on Romulus.   But in fact, no one knew where he was.

 

           However, Starfleet Command proved to be deeply divided on the issue.

 

           Some of the Admirals were of the opinion that this was a golden chance for peace with Romulus, that finally they could bury their differences once and for all.

 

           Others, the majority, were more wary.   The Federation had just come through a long and costly war, and even though eventually the Romulans had joined the fight against the Dominion, their participation had always been tinged with suspicion of their allies.   “You can’t trust them” was the general opinion of this group. 

 

           Then there was a third opinion which said that tampering with the time line at all was simply not an option.  This argument, advocated by the head of Starfleet’s Temporal Mechanics division, named Janeway in particular as someone who had indulged in that particular activity far too often.

 

           At that point, Admiral Hayes reminded the Admiralty that Janeway’s Review Board was still weighing whether or not to officially censure her for her time incursions, as well as some other very questionable decisions in the Delta Quadrant.   Many believed she simply could not be trusted to offer an objective opinion and therefore, her arguments should be treated with extreme caution.

 

           Realizing she was fighting a losing battle, Janeway desperately tried to enlist support from anyone, even calling on her crew for help.   However, much to her surprise, she discovered that the majority, while sympathetic to her personally, were not in favour of her position.

        

           In particular, Chakotay called her on it, telling her bluntly that she was wrong, that she could not continue to try to reshape the galaxy as she saw fit.   “You have to stop, Kathryn.    There may be a very good reason why Romulus must be destroyed, one we can’t possibly be aware of.”

 

           For a moment, she was stunned into silence, staring at him in astonished disbelief.    When she found her tongue, she demanded, “How can you say that?!   How can you let those people simply die – for no good reason?!”

 

           He started to answer but her temper rising, she drowned him out.   “Well maybe you’re that heartless, but I’m not!   I made Spock a promise and I intend to keep it!”

 

           Again, Chakotay tried to reason with her.   “Kathryn, that was a promise he should never have asked of you!   He put you in an impossible position!  If you won’t listen to me, then go to the Vulcan you know best!   Tuvok!   He’ll tell you the same thing!” 

 

           But by then, Janeway was digging in her heels, retorting she already knew Tuvok’s opinion. 

 

           With a sinking heart, Chakotay recognized the stubborn glint in her eye and knew nothing he could say would change her mind.   His face filled with sorrow as, holding out his hands in supplication, he begged her to reconsider.   

 

           But she backed away from him, shaking her head.  Her mind was made up.   If he wouldn’t help her, then she would have to find other means to accomplish her goal.  

 

           Abruptly she spun around on her heel and strode out the door.

 

           For several moments, Chakotay was so despondent he simply stood where she’d left him, staring blankly at the door.    Suddenly his reflexes kicked in and he tapped his commbadge to hail her but there was no response.    His suspicions growing by leaps and bounds, he contacted Starfleet Security, saying he must find Captain Janeway immediately but she was not answering her commbadge.   

 

           Twenty minutes later, his worst fears were confirmed – Captain Janeway was nowhere to be found at Headquarters and it appeared her commbadge was inactive.

 

           Hurriedly, he put in a call to her mother but drew a blank – Gretchen Janeway declared she hadn’t talked to Katie in several days.    Really frightened now, Chakotay contacted Admiral Paris, relating his last conversation with Kathryn and warning him that she might be trying to get to Romulus.  “She’s absolutely determined she’s right,” he told the admiral, “and she’s so pigheaded, she’ll try to do it, never mind what obstacles are in the way.” 

 

           Paris was equally horrified, well aware that Kathryn on a rampage would do anything, no matter how reckless.   “We have to stop her before she gets away from Earth,” he stated and began issuing orders to that effect.

 

           Within an hour, a full scale search was launched of the entire planet but deep down, Chakotay already knew what they would find – nothing.  

 

           Kathryn Janeway was gone.

   

           

Chapter 2: 2378

 

 

           While within the walls of Headquarters, the argument raged more strongly than ever as to whether the Romulans should be notified of the impending supernova, a parallel operation to find Janeway was set into motion.

 

           Since he knew her best, Chakotay was put in charge of a Defiant-class ship and ordered to track down his rogue captain by whatever means possible and take her into custody. 

 

           Quickly, he contacted as many of the Voyager crew as he could, hoping there would be some among them, particularly from the senior staff, who would join him.   Much to his disappointment, all refused. 

 

           The reasons varied.   

 

           Tom and B’Elanna Paris were well-settled into a new life as civilians with baby Miral and not inclined to leave Earth.   

 

           “It’s like this, Chakotay,” explained Tom over the commlink.  “We’ve just signed a contract with Starfleet Engineering as a team to design small vessels, shuttles and runabouts, like the Delta Flyer.  For us, it’s a dream come true, and with the baby as well as a new house…well, we’re not keen to go off-planet right now.   I hope you understand.”

 

           What could he say? thought Chakotay as he nodded his understanding.   “Of course,” he replied although he found himself a little puzzled at Tom’s slightly anxious tone.    Why would he be worried?  His reasons made perfect sense, and Tom was not naturally a nervous person.   And where was B’Elanna?   He hadn’t seen her at all.

 

           Pushing aside his concern – after all he didn’t have time right now to be worried about Tom Paris’ state of mind – he merely continued, “Give my love to B’Elanna and a kiss for Miral.   I’ll see you…whenever.   Chakotay out.”

 

           Likewise, Tuvok had also retired from Starfleet to return to his home on Vulcan, where he had taken a position lecturing part-time at the Vulcan Institute of Defensive Arts.    

 

           Chakotay debated whether to even contact him; after all, there was very little chance Tuvok would be leaving his home planet – his wife T’Pel would see to that.     However, it was possible that as Kathryn’s oldest friend, Tuvok might be able to offer a suggestion or two about where he might start his search, and with that in mind, Chakotay sent a message.

 

           While Tuvok was quick to respond, his reply said very little beyond the fact that he was unsurprised at Kathryn’s reaction to Starfleet’s refusal to act, “we both know how stubborn she can be”, and he had no idea where she might have gone.     “I wish you success in your mission, Commander.   I regret I cannot be of more assistance.   Live long and prosper.   Tuvok out.”

 

           It had been something of a long shot, Chakotay knew, but still, he had held some hope that Tuvok would be more helpful.   Apparently, it was not to be.

 

           Which left the next person on his list – Seven.   

 

           She was also on Vulcan.   After considering numerous offers, she had accepted an appointment at the Vulcan Science Academy as guest lecturer on the theories behind Borg cortical nodes and how they might translate into technology for various practical applications such as medicine.       While it appeared she had selected the position best suited to her talents and expertise, there were some who wondered if in fact, she had gone to Vulcan to recover from the abrupt ending of her romance with Chakotay. 

 

           Although they had parted amicably, Chakotay himself couldn’t help wondering the same thing.   

 

           Breaking up had not been his idea but Seven’s.     Two days after Kathryn had disappeared, when he was still frantically searching Earth and nearby planets, Seven had come to him to state flatly that given the circumstances, she believed it best to “terminate our affiliation”. 

 

           Chakotay hadn’t understood what she meant by ‘circumstances’, and distracted as he was just then, he hadn’t taken the time to ask.     At that moment, Kathryn’s whereabouts were far more important.    Only later did he wonder if Seven had meant that Kathryn would always be more important to him than anyone else.    However, by the time he thought to ask her, she had already left.    The fact she had gone to Vulcan indicated pretty clearly that she didn’t expect to hear from him anytime soon.

 

           While he’d still been contemplating the end of their relationship, Admiral Paris had delivered his orders to search for Kathryn.   After that, he had no time to think of anything but his mission.

 

           He was reluctant to contact Seven now and yet, if she would consider joining him, she would be a tremendous asset to his crew.   Finally, he decided to send her a message briefly explaining his assignment and requesting her assistance.   He couched it in formal terms, hoping to make clear that if she accepted, theirs would be a professional association only.  

 

           But the only reply from Seven was silence.   When after a week, she still hadn’t responded, he shrugged and went to the next person on his list.      

 

***********

 

           As crewmember after crewmember declined his request to join him, Chakotay’s hopes dwindled.   Finally, he was able to contact Harry Kim, who had been away on a training mission.    And it was Harry who bluntly explained why so many were refusing Chakotay’s invitation.

 

           “I heard you were asking members of the crew to go with you,” remarked Harry.   “And I’ve also heard that no one will do it.   Is that right?”

 

           When Chakotay confirmed the rumour, Harry nodded thoughtfully then, without changing his tone of voice, asked bluntly, “How can you justify hunting down the captain?   How can you betray her like that?   After all she did for you, for all of us, I don’t understand how you can turn on her!    You want to know why no one from Voyager will go?  Because we’re loyal to her and we won’t participate in Starfleet’s vindictive headhunting.”  

 

           For a moment all Chakotay could do was stare at Harry in stunned silence.    Finally he found his tongue.   “What do you mean?” he demanded.  “Harry, I’m not betraying her, I’m trying to save her from making what could be a disastrous mistake!   She’s trying to alter events, to change the time line, and I can’t let her do that!    I shouldn’t have to explain the Temporal Prime Directive to you, for pete’s sake!”

 

           But Harry’s face set in a stubborn frown as he shook his head, and Chakotay realized his mind was made up.   Their ‘perfect ensign’ had grown up and changed over the years in the Delta Quadrant; his loyalty to Janeway superseded loyalty to anyone or anything else, including the Federation and Starfleet.  

 

           The irony was glaring:  now it was him, Chakotay, the former outlaw, upholding Starfleet’s orders, and the ‘fleet crew who were ignoring them.   

 

           With a heavy sigh, Chakotay ended the conversation, wondering if he would be able to find anyone from Voyager who would be willing to work with him.   

 

***********

 

           Eventually, Chakotay was able to recruit a few of his old Maquis crew – Dalby, Henley, Jor and one or two others – but that was all.   The remainder were assigned by Headquarters.     

 

           Despite their need for haste, between the difficulty in finding the crew he wanted and outfitting his ship, the Relentless (what an apt name, he thought), ten days passed before they were finally able to leave space dock.   Chakotay was well aware that in the meantime, Kathryn had built up a possibly insurmountable lead. 

 

            As he explained to Admiral Paris at their final meeting, all he could do was his best but at this point, he didn’t know if that would be enough to succeed.   

 

           Paris nodded, understanding only too well what a difficult task Chakotay and his crew were undertaking.

 

 

***********

 

 

           Meanwhile, thanks to the delays that Chakotay endured, Kathryn was able to make good her escape from Earth.   

 

           Unbeknownst to him, when she had realized Starfleet was unlikely to contact the Romulans, she had begun to make plans to do so on her own.   Very quickly, she had enlisted the assistance of several of her former crew, specifically Tom and B’Elanna Paris who, while disagreeing with her proposed action, were unable to refuse her request for help.   Bottom line – she was and always would be their captain.  They rapidly put their considerable skills to use in figuring out the best way for her to leave Earth as swiftly and covertly as possible.  

 

           After she had stormed out of Chakotay’s office following their final argument, she had immediately put those plans into effect.   By the time he contacted Starfleet Security to initiate a search, Kathryn was already piloting a shuttle to Jupiter Station.    There, with the doctor’s assistance, she disguised herself as a Vulcan, right down to false DNA readings so that she could pass any security checkpoint.    The next day, she was on her way via a circuitous route to Ankaa, the largest planet on the Federation side of the Neutral Zone.

 

           A month later, after lying low while she discreetly searched for ways to cross the Zone, she boarded a smuggler’s ship and was ferried to a small planetoid inside the Romulan Empire known colloquially as the Trading Post.     From there, it was easy to find another ride directly into the heart of the Empire.

 

           Pleased and not a little surprised at the success of her plans, Kathryn hadn’t yet figured out who she should contact once she actually arrived on Romulus.  

 

           For several days, she wandered through the streets, haunting cafés, anywhere people gathered, listening carefully for clues.    Although occasionally, she drew someone’s attention, for the most part, she was able to blend successfully into the background.

 

           Or so she thought.

          

           In fact, although her disguise was very good, successfully fooling Federation scanners, Romulan security was a different matter.   Almost from the moment of her arrival, the Tal Shi’ar, the Romulan secret police, was aware of her presence.  

 

           Curious to learn her motives and hopeful of uncovering some new nefarious plot against the Empire, they allowed Kathryn to wander at will while operatives discreetly followed her every movement.    

 

           And unbeknownst to those agents, behind them trailed yet another person, whose task it was to follow members of the Tal Shi’ar and try to learn what was exciting their attention at any particular moment.    Those in the underground had learned the hard way that the more information they had on the activities of the Tal Shi’ar, the safer they were.

 

           Meanwhile, Kathryn had discovered that the Praetor, Neral, leader of the Empire, would be parading through the city the following day.    Deciding to throw caution to the winds, she determined to stand in the crowd and shout her warning to him as he passed by.   It was a plan fraught with risk but, she thought, one which held the best chance of success.

 

**********

 

           To her surprise, Kathryn’s idea succeeded beyond her expectations.   Not only did Neral stop to stare at her when she called out, he beckoned her to come close so he could speak to her.

 

           “What did you say?” he demanded as she was brought forward by his guards.

 

           “Praetor, I come to warn you of impending disaster.   Beware the star Hobus.  You ignore this warning at your peril.”

 

           “Who are you?   What do you mean?” 

 

           “At the moment, I am a friend of the Empire; I was told this information by one from the future who requested I pass it on to you.”   Kathryn held his gaze, her eyes unwavering.    She knew above all, she must show no fear.

 

           The Praetor stared back suspiciously, then nodded slightly.   At his signal, the guards seized Kathryn’s arms, holding her securely.

 

           “You will come to the palace where you will explain this preposterous story more fully,” he ordered.

 

           Her heart sank – she knew it was unlikely her disguise would hold up under close scrutiny.   However, since she had no choice, she merely nodded.    “Certainly.”

 

           An hour later, in the Great Hall of the palace, Kathryn stood once more before Neral, who was surrounded by a number of Senators and Legates as well as various functionaries and guards, nearly one hundred altogether and all very suspicious.     Lifting her chin, she straightened her spine and gazed steadily at the only person who really mattered – the Praetor.

 

           “Describe to me, in detail this time, exactly what this ‘peril’ is,” he ordered in a harsh voice.

 

           Kathryn repeated her story.

 

           “And who was it who gave you this warning?”  His tone was contemptuous.

 

           Crunch time.    If she replied ‘Spock’, there would be an immediate hue and cry, and yet, if she refused to name anyone, no one would believe her and all this effort would have been for nothing.    Finally she answered, “I have sworn an oath not to reveal the name of the person, for reasons which I cannot explain.   You will simply have to take my word.”

 

           Derisive laughter echoed around the room.

 

           “And who are you?” snapped Neral when the noise had died down.

 

           She stood even straighter.   “Kathryn Janeway.”

 

           Sudden tension filled the room as Neral stared at her in growing suspicion.   Janeway?” he queried.  “That is a human name, is it not?”

 

           “Yes, Praetor, despite my appearance, I am human.  I employed this disguise in order to reach Romulus to warn you….”   She got no further as the entire assemblage exploded in howls of astonishment, which quickly turned to outrage.

 

           The ensuing uproar nearly drowned out the Praetor’s shouts to his guards.    “A Federation spy!” he screamed, leaping to his feet, as he pointed dramatically.  “Arrest her!”

 

           At once, six guards jumped forward to grasp Kathryn who made no attempt to resist.     At best, it had been a long-shot and she had known from the start that the chances of her surviving to leave Romulus were extremely remote.    She had hoped that someone in authority might take her warning seriously but judging by the looks of the infuriated crowd surrounding her, it didn’t look too likely.    

 

           “I guess Chakotay was right after all,” she murmured under her breath, “it was all for naught.”    

 

           Resignedly, she allowed the guards to lead her away, putting up no resistance.    After all, what was the point? 

 

*********

 

           Thirty-six hours later, stripped of her disguise, Kathryn sat in a jail cell contemplating her options.    Overall, she had to admit, they were extremely limited.   

 

           Earlier that day, she had been paid a visit by a special prosecutor who had gleefully informed her that she would be put on trial as a Federation spy.    A show trial, he had called it, designed to rouse the fury of the general populace, thereby diverting them from the miseries of their existence.   

 

           Her heart had sunk at that news; not only was her mission a failure but she would be used as a pawn to whip up resentment and anger against the Federation.    Her only hope, and it was a very slim one, was that she might yet convince the authorities to at least put a watch on Hobus, perhaps install some kind of warning system.     But realistically, she doubted anyone would listen.

 

           While she was still mulling over possibilities, her attention was caught by an odd sound.    Listening carefully, she realized someone was rhythmically tapping on the wall she was leaning against.    Straightening up, she turned so she could put her ear next to the wall.    Was it a code of some kind?   It certainly sounded like it although she had no idea what the message was.

 

           Tap, tap, tap.    There it was again.

 

           Curious to see what would happen, she tapped the same rhythm on her side of the wall.    For a moment, there was silence, then the tapping started again.    

 

           Tap, tap, tap.

 

           Now definitely intrigued, she repeated the same pattern then waited.

 

           There was a brief silence followed by a muffled boom very close by, which made her jump.    If she weren’t mistaken, that was the sound of an explosion.

 

           Quickly, she got to her feet and stood in the middle of the cell, unsure what to do.   

 

           Seconds later, she heard running feet in the corridor outside followed by shouts echoing through the halls.     Then her door swung wide open, silhouetting a large male figure.

 

           “Kathryn Janeway?” he asked breathlessly.

 

           Yesss,” she answered hesitantly.   “How do you know my name?  And who are you?  Was that you tapping on the wall?”

 

           “Yes,” he replied, stepping forward into what light there was.  “I knew which cell block you were in but not the exact cell, and I didn’t want to set off the explosives in the wrong place!   We were told only a few hours ago that you had been arrested.  

 

           “I’ve come to rescue you but we must hurry.  The guards won’t be distracted for long.”

 

           Deciding she had nothing to lose – after all, for all intents and purposes she was dead anyway – Kathryn wasted no time.   “Then let’s go,” she said and stepped past him into the smoke-filled corridor.   “Which way?”

 

           With a startled grin, he nodded to the right.  “Follow me.   And keep low.”

 

           The two worked their way carefully down the hall, rubbing their eyes almost continuously as acrid smoke continued to drift around them.   Blinded by tears, Kathryn finally had to call to her rescuer to wait as she could barely see him.

 

           Reaching back, he grabbed her hand, tugging her forward.   “Watch your footing here,” he warned as they navigated their way across a jagged hole in the floor.   A little further on, they had to inch around a pile of rubble where part of the ceiling had collapsed.

 

           Behind them, Kathryn could hear what sounded like guards shouting out conflicting orders but in the dim light, it was difficult to make out where they were.     “Are those shouts getting closer?” she murmured after a few minutes.

 

           Her companion’s only response was to grip her hand more tightly as he picked up their pace.   

 

           Gasping for air, her vision completely blurred, Kathryn no longer had any idea where they were.    All her faith was in the man towing her along.

 

           Finally, he slowed, whispering as he did so.  “Nearly there.   Can you make it?”

 

           Unable to speak, she simply nodded, although most likely he couldn’t see her anyway, and kept her feet moving.     A few seconds later, he pulled her to a sudden stop, then slid a hand over her mouth as he backed into a slight indentation in the wall.   

 

           She didn’t need his warning to understand she must remain completely silent.     All around them, shapes and shadows were moving, voices murmuring softly.     Hardly daring to breathe, she kept perfectly still as they waited for the guards to move on.

 

           Finally, after what seemed like forever although it was only a few minutes, a voice shouted an order to move out and establish a search pattern outside.      The shapes rapidly disappeared and in seconds, they were alone.

 

           Again, her rescuer seized her hand, tugged her through a side door into a small room, then through another door which led outside.   

 

           Thrust into the open air, Kathryn was relieved to finally be able to take a proper breath.   For a moment, she bent over, trying to ease her congested lungs but the man wasted no time, urging her forward.   

 

           The two of them dashed along a rock-lined tunnel, slid past a sentry post which seemed to have no guard and finally out through an open gate into the street.

 

           Before she could say anything, another man suddenly appeared with a hooded cloak which he threw around her, completely enveloping her in its folds.    Grasping her other hand, the two hurried her down the street, lifting her where necessary to clear whatever obstacles were in their way.   

 

           Unable to see at all, Kathryn simply had to trust they were taking her somewhere safe as she had no idea where she was.    

 

           After only a few minutes, they abruptly halted their frantic pace before slipping through what felt like a very narrow aperture.    

 

           The three walked a little further, the men each grasping one of her elbows, before they paused and she heard one speak very softly.  A door creaked slightly; she was guided carefully across a threshold, then led into a room where several voices were murmuring softly.    Much to her relief, the hood of her cloak was thrown back and she was able to look around.

 

           Kathryn found herself standing in the centre of a low-ceilinged room, encircled by several individuals, all of whom were staring intently at her.  

 

           For a minute, silence reigned as everyone gazed at her while she in turn took stock of her surroundings.     “Where am I?” she finally asked when no one seemed inclined to speak.   “And who are you?”

 

           Several of the persons there – all men, she realized now that she could see better – glanced at each other before stepping back as a tall elderly Romulan walked forward out of the shadows.   Or was he Romulan?   As he moved into the light, Kathryn gasped. 

 

           “Spock?!” she whispered, her eyes wide with astonishment.

 

           He inclined his head slightly but kept his gaze fixed on her.   “Yes,” he replied simply.   “And you are Kathryn Janeway, captain of the starship Voyager.”   It wasn’t a question.

 

           “Yes,” answered Kathryn, suddenly tongue-tied.   Where to start?  There was so much to say….     “I wasn’t expecting to meet you,” she began, then cursed herself for such a banal statement.    Lifting her chin, she steadied herself, then glanced around.   “I have much to tell you, Ambassador.  Is there somewhere we can talk?”

 

           Spock’s eyes gleamed with curiosity as he nodded to one of the other men, who walked up to the wall and pressed some hidden switch which resulted in a section sliding open.   

 

           Looking past him, Kathryn could just make out the beginning of a staircase leading downward.   She felt a hand on her arm as Spock indicated the stair.   “This way,” he told her, “we’ll be safe down there.”  His mouth twitched very slightly in what Kathryn recognized as the Vulcan version of a grin.   “In fact, we will be underneath the prison where you were recently incarcerated.”

 

           Following him down the steps, she chuckled in appreciation of the irony.   

 

           When they reached the bottom, Spock led her into a small side room where there was a table and several chairs, as well as a cot and two shelves containing a few belongings.    He swept his hand around.   “Welcome to my home, such as it is.”

 

           Taking one of the chairs, Kathryn sat down.    “Thank you.”

 

           As Spock settled into one of the other chairs, the remainder were occupied by several of the men, including the one who had initially broken her out of the prison, and who was now introduced as Orum.

 

           “So, Captain Janeway,” began Spock, “indulge my curiosity, if you would.   Tell me how it is you find yourself on Romulus.”

 

           “It’s a long story, Ambassador.”

 

           “I’m sure it is,” he replied softly.

 

           “Actually, it began over a year ago while we were still in the Delta Quadrant.    Voyager was pulled through a temporal rift, sending us back in time over 150 years.    We ended up in the Beta Quadrant, where we encountered the Enterprise, captained by James Kirk whose first officer was…you.”

 

           Spock’s brow was creased in a slight frown but he said nothing, merely waving his hand to indicate she should continue.

 

           “After some consultation with the Enterprise, we realized we were actually in an alternate universe as well as an earlier time.    Subsequently, I met a future version of you from this universe.”  Kathryn rubbed her temples.  “Sorry, temporal mechanics is not my favourite subject.   The past is the future, the future is the past.   Invariably, it all gives me a headache.”

 

           “I can see why.    Can you perhaps explain how I ended up in this alternate universe?”

 

           “How you arrived there I don’t know – we were in a crisis situation at the time and I never found out.   As I said, when we met the Enterprise, you were on board.  And when you learned we were from your timeline, you asked to meet me to make a request.”

 

           “And that was?” prompted Spock when she didn’t continue immediately.

 

           “When Voyager returned to the Alpha Quadrant, to ask that the Federation warn the Romulans to beware the star Hobus, that a disaster would occur which they would ignore at their peril.”

          

           Silence fell once more as her words hung in the air.  

 

           Spock leaned forward, steepling his fingers in a way that reminded her very much of Tuvok contemplating a problem.    It would seem there were certain characteristics common to all Vulcans.

 

           Eventually, he remarked, “May I assume that your presence here would indicate the Federation was not willing to honour your request?”

 

           Kathryn nodded.   “In a nutshell, yes.”

 

           Again, Spock contemplated his fingers as he mulled over her words.   After a moment, he sat up straight, obviously having come to a decision.    Settling his hands on the table, he gazed at her steadily.    “Captain, I have a favour to ask of you.   I would like to initiate a mind meld.   Would you be agreeable to such a procedure?”

 

           His slightly stilted language was an obvious indicator that he was not making such a request lightly. 

 

           With a small shrug, Kathryn nodded again.   What could she say, after all?    Although a meld wasn’t something she particularly enjoyed, a refusal would jeopardize her entire position within this group.    “Certainly, Ambassador, I have nothing to hide.”

 

           Leaning forward, Spock raised his hands to rest them on her face, fingers splayed across her cheeks and temples.  

 

           “My mind to your mind….”

 

           “My thoughts to your thoughts….”

 

           Willing herself to relax, Kathryn took deep regular breaths, trying not to tense up….   There!    He was with her.

 

           A vast, keen intelligence, easing into her mind…rapidly sifting through her memories…examining then quickly discarding the inconsequential before moving on to the next…pausing only when reaching

 

           Enterprise…” they murmured together.

 

           Probing deeper until he saw himself, heard the words, listened to her offer to take him back and his refusal, watched Kirk watching him….

 

           Abruptly, Spock broke the meld, leaning back in his chair as he took deep breaths, re-establishing his emotional control.

 

           Across from him, Kathryn sat slumped over the table, her head in her hands.   Although she had melded with Tuvok on more than one occasion, this had been a far more profound experience than any she had ever known before.    Spock’s   amazing mental abilities, the incredible sharpness of his thoughts honed by decade upon decade of unmatched life experience, had nearly overwhelmed her, making her feel extremely small.   Rather like a tiny fish in a very large ocean.

          

           Around them sat the Romulans, staring at them in horrified fascination.  Mind melds were not unknown among their people, but the practice was limited to a few highly trained adepts.    Most of the populace feared them and with good reason – the Tal Shi’ar was known to use melds to probe the minds of those who proved uncooperative when questioned.

         

           After a moment or two, Spock relaxed again, his eyes flicking over Kathryn.   “Are you all right, Captain?” he inquired when she hadn’t moved.

 

           Raising her head, she looked at him almost blankly, then gradually straightened in her chair.   “I’m fine,” she replied, “it was a more… invigorating… meld than I have previously experienced.”   Briefly, she paused to organize her thoughts, then continued, “What now, Ambassador?  Do you have any suggestions on how we might proceed?”

 

           “I regret that I do not.   At the moment, we are all fugitives here.   You have tried to warn the authorities but they refused to listen.   I certainly won’t be able to convince them.”  

 

           Kathryn’s face fell.   “I was hoping you might know someone who could help, who would listen….”    Her words trailed off as he shook his head.

 

           “I guess Chakotay was right after all.”  Her voice filled with despair.   “I should have known better and not presumed I could save the universe.    Now I’ve thrown away everything – my family, friends, my career, any kind of life in the Federation – on an act of futility.   What an arrogant fool I’ve been!”

 

           “Your intentions were honourable, Captain, I don’t see that as foolish.”

 

           But Kathryn was having none of it and retorted angrily, “Honour doesn’t seem to be getting me very far, does it?” 

 

           He had no answer that she would accept.   However after a minute, he remarked, “You are welcome to remain with us if you wish.”

 

           But she knew she couldn’t stay.   “I would endanger all of you.   As a human, I’m much too easy to find.    For your safety, I must leave and the sooner the better.    They will be searching for me, I’m sure.”

 

           Spock couldn’t refute her logic – he knew she was quite right.   “Then at least let us help you in whatever way we can to get you safely off the planet.   After that, I’m afraid you will be on your own.”

 

           “Story of my life,” replied Kathryn sadly.

 

           

**********

 

 

           While Kathryn was working her way towards Romulus, Chakotay on board the Relentless and Admiral Paris at Headquarters were following up one rumour after another of sightings of her in different parts of the Alpha Quadrant, but every one eventually proved to be false. 

 

           As the weeks stretched into months with no results, Chakotay found himself wearying of the chase, yet he couldn’t give up.    He had to find Kathryn, although with the passing of time, he realized his motives had taken a subtle shift.   Where at first, he had been ready to arrest her and bring her back to Starfleet for trial, now he simply wanted to protect her from harm.  Federation justice was taking a back seat to his loyalty to her – he no longer cared what she had done, only that she was safe.

 

 

Chapter 3: 2380

 

 

           Several weeks elapsed after Kathryn’s escape from the Romulan prison, during which time she was constantly on the move, passed from one underground cell to the next.    ‘Like so much contraband,’ she sighed, although she knew it was necessary.    The agents of the Tal Shi’ar were everywhere.

 

           At first, she wondered if she might get back to Spock’s hideout at some point but apparently her minders, as she came to think of them, believed it to be too dangerous.    Whatever the reason, she did not see the Vulcan again.

 

           Living constantly under tension, added to the stress of knowing that one slip would result in her arrest as well as those helping her, wore her down to the point where she nearly collapsed.    Kathryn was a strong woman but even seven years in the Delta Quadrant had provided a respite now and then.   Here, there was none.

 

           Day after day, slipping through the shadows, hiding wherever she could, always terrified that she would be discovered….    If nothing else, it gave her a new appreciation for the life of a guerrilla; however, contrary to the romanticized stories popular in the Federation, there was nothing whatsoever romantic about it.    She was always tired, always grubby, mostly hungry and after a week, completely fed up.   The sooner she could get away from here, the better.

 

           Finally, nearly a month later, Orum suddenly appeared in her latest hideout.  

 

           “We’ve found a way to get you off Romulus,” he told her without preamble.    “It’s dangerous but we believe it holds the best chance of success.”

          

           Kathryn gave him a genuine smile of relief.  “Sounds good to me.  When do we go?”

 

           He returned her smile then got down to business.  “This is what we’re going to do….”

 

**********

 

           Twenty four hours later, after another rapid trip through the back alleys of the city to a particular warehouse, Kathryn lay in a modified torpedo tube, perforated to allow air to circulate, a portable thoron generator clutched in one hand.   In her pocket were a few strips of latinum given to her by Orum, and close by her head were two small containers saturated with a mineral designed to mask their existence from probing scanners.   One container held water, the other two ration bars.   They would be her only sustenance on her long journey out of the Empire.

 

           The torpedo tube was one of many to be loaded onto a freighter for delivery to a Romulan outpost close to the Neutral Zone.  However, the captain of the freighter had been bribed to allow his ship to be attacked and captured by one of the many smugglers haunting that sector.   The smuggler, who had also been bribed, would steal a number of photon torpedoes as well as their tubes – one of which contained Kathryn – and take them across the Neutral Zone to a small planet in the Yadalla system on the Federation side, where she would be freed.   The thoron generator would effectively mask her lifesigns from any security agent checking the cargo.

 

           When she asked Orum how many times this method of escape had been used, he replied that she was the first.    If she got away successfully, they would try it again.

 

           Now, here she was, lying motionless in the dark, unable to see at all, in a coffin-like tube barely large enough to hold her.   And here she would stay until either she received a pre-arranged signal – two double raps followed by a single one on the lid – or she would eventually suffocate.  In which case, it really would be her coffin.

 

           I must be crazy! was one thought that kept running through her head, alternating with how do I get into these situations?   At least she wasn’t claustrophobic; she should be grateful for small blessings, she told herself firmly as she attempted to relax enough to sleep.

 

           Since the tube was sound-proof, she had no way of knowing how the plan was progressing until she felt it lifted, swung about, then lowered with a thump.    After that, for some time she felt no more until a slight vibration through the tube told her the ship’s engines had been engaged.

 

           “Well, I guess I’m on my way,” she muttered.   “So far, so good.”

 

           Gradually easing onto her side, she tried again to fall asleep.   As always, her last thoughts before she dozed off were of her crew.

 

***********

 

           Kathryn had no idea how much time had passed when she was abruptly roused by the sudden movement of the tube.     Carefully listening, she waited for the pre-arranged code but although there was the occasional thump, they appeared to be random bumps.    Obviously, she was being moved; she could only hope for the best.

 

           More bumps, then smooth movement – an anti-grav unit, perhaps? – then another bounce before she felt herself dematerializing.    Good.  That must be a transporter which meant, with any luck, she was now on the smuggler’s ship and would shortly be freed from her confines.   

 

           However, nothing happened.

 

           Time passed, how long she didn’t know but it seemed like forever, but there were no more thumps of any kind.    All she knew was, judging by the increased vibration, she was on another vessel which must be moving at high warp.

 

           With increasing anxiety, she did her best to calm her worries.   The smuggler would come, she repeated the mantra, she simply had to be patient.

 

           Finally, when she was ready to give up hope, she heard the double thump followed by a single one.    Almost frantically, she replied with the same code, and seconds later, the lid was finally lifted open.

 

           Looking down at her was a Nausicaan, one of the uglier aliens in the quadrant.   However, at that moment, Kathryn thought she had never seen a more beautiful sight.

 

           “Thank heavens!” she exclaimed, “I had about given you up!”

 

           The Nausicaan shrugged, then reached down to help her out of the tube.    “I could not come sooner.    My crew is unaware of your presence.   You may come out for a few minutes to use the head but then you must stay in there until I can deliver you to the Yadalla system.”

 

           Kathryn groaned in protest but the Nausicaan merely waited.   Knowing she had no choice, she quickly availed herself of the toilet in a corner of the cargo bay, then climbed back into the tube and took out a ration bar.    Although normally she would turn up her nose at them, now was no time to be fussy.    Besides, while they might taste awful, they would satisfy her sudden hunger.

 

           “Here,” spoke up the Nausicaan, holding out a ration packet.   “Eat this one and save yours for the journey.   I do not know when I can return here.”

 

           With a nod of thanks, she accepted the food, returning the bar to its container.

 

           “How long until we get to Yadalla?” she asked as she yanked open the packet and pulled out the contents, which she quickly stuffed into her mouth.

 

           “I had planned about twelve hours but unfortunately, we have had to double back in order to throw a warbird off our trail.    Now, it will most likely be over twenty hours.   If,” he added ominously, “we meet no more warbirds.”

 

           Grimacing, Kathryn reminded herself to count her blessings, which she seemed to have been doing a lot of lately.   “Will you come here again to let me out for a few minutes?” she asked, more anxiety in her tone than she meant to show.

 

           The Nausicaan shrugged again.   “If I can,” he replied briefly.

 

           “Try,” she retorted with a glare.

 

           But he made no answer, simply reaching for the lid to pull it back into position but, unbeknownst to Kathryn, leaving it unlatched.

 

           Meanwhile, once more enclosed in her small space, Kathryn did her best to make herself comfortable.    It was going to be a long ride.

 

***********

 

           An hour later, the Nausicaan quietly re-entered the cargo bay.   Walking softly, he made his way to a dark corner, then paused to stare at a particular torpedo tube.   After a moment, he slowly lifted the lid and gazed down at the sleeping woman.   The sedative in the ration packet had worked just as he’d planned, he thought, as he quickly rummaged through her pockets.   Within seconds, he’d found the strips of latinum; smiling in satisfaction, he pulled them out.   Silently he lifted the lid back into place, this time latching it tight. 

 

***********

          

           Hours later – she had no idea how many – Kathryn was once more brought out of semi-consciousness by thumps on the tube.   Her head felt very fuzzy and she was having trouble focusing.  As her brain cleared, the thought flitted through her mind that she might have been drugged.   However, the continuing noise on the tube made her push aside everything else as she strained to hear the code. 

 

           Suddenly, she felt a transporter beam, but unlike the previous occasion, this time, she was beamed out of the tube which remained in the cargo hold.

 

           As she rematerialized in a small room, Kathryn lay sprawled on the transporter pad.    With no idea where she was, she tried to scramble up but her legs refused to cooperate, the muscles weakened after so many hours in such a cramped space.   Falling to her knees, she paused to catch her breath then tried again, wobbling onto her feet.

 

           A hand reached out to grab her elbow, steadying her, and Kathryn looked up into the face of a human male.   “Welcome to Yadalla Minor,” he greeted her with a smile.   “You’ve had a long journey.”

 

           “Thank you.   I, uh….”  She stammered hesitantly, feeling quite disoriented.   Pausing, she gathered herself and straightened up.   “Who are you and what happens now?”

 

           “My name isn’t important,” the man answered diffidently, “and as for what happens, that’s up to you.    You’re on your own now, free to do whatever you wish.”

 

           Kathryn blinked, abruptly unsure what her next course of action should be.    For so long, she had blindly followed the lead of others, never pausing to question their directions.   To suddenly have unlimited freedom left her feeling oddly at a loss and very much alone.   As she attempted to regain her equilibrium, she felt in her pocket for the strips of latinum.

 

           They weren’t there.

 

           Hurriedly, she checked the other pocket but with no more success.  

 

           Her mouth tightened in a grim line.   That thieving Nausicaan must have taken them while she’d been asleep. She glanced around the room, then turned her attention back to her companion.  

 

           “Perhaps you could give me some advice.   I have no credits or, it would appear, any latinum….”   Her face creased in a frown as she rapidly ran through her options.    “I guess I’m going to have to find some kind of work.”

 

           The man shrugged.   “If you’re not fussy, there are lots of jobs available.    Do you know anything about space ships?”

 

           Kathryn nearly choked.   “Yes, you could say that.”

 

           “Good.   Here, crews are always changing over.   I’m sure you’ll find someone willing to take you on.”   He nodded toward the door.   “Let’s go to the nearest bar and see what we can find.”

 

           Relieved that he wasn’t going to immediately abandon her to her own devices, Kathryn readily followed him out the door.

 

**********

 

           It was later that night when Kathryn finally had time to properly assess her situation.

 

           While she had found a temporary job at the local spaceport as a mechanic, she knew it wouldn’t last long.   She was merely filling in for someone who had been injured in a bar brawl and her expertise, while adequate, certainly wasn’t enough to push someone else out of a job.    Besides, she’d realized pretty quickly that her employer was one of the more unsavory characters she’d run across in the last few hours and she didn’t relish working for him any longer than absolutely necessary.

 

           Once she’d found work, her nameless benefactor had silently disappeared.   One minute he was there beside her, the next, he was gone. 

 

           Exhausted after her long ordeal in the torpedo tube, Kathryn couldn’t muster up any real regret.   She had much more pressing concerns, namely shelter and food.   

 

           After questioning the waitress in a small café she’d discovered, she was able not only to get a meal on credit but also locate a room to rent.   She suspected the waitress had taken pity on her but at this point, she didn’t care and was simply grateful for the help.

 

           Now, she sat on the bed, the only piece of furniture in the room besides a small dresser, and examined her options.

 

           While she was free, for the moment anyway, she was also an outlaw, on the run from Federation authorities.   Which meant she would have to constantly watch her back and trust no one.   

 

           Heaving a sigh, she let her mind wander.    Who would have believed, all those months ago when she had returned in triumph to Earth aboard her ship, that she would end up on some backwater planet a fugitive?   It all seemed so unfair when she had only been trying to do the right thing.   

 

           Sighing again, she forced her mind onto a different track.   So, it wasn’t fair, but who said it would be?   That was life and she simply would have to accept her new situation and move on.    Which meant, in the immediate future, that she should probably start looking for a better job.

 

           Feeling a little better, she settled down on the bed and before she knew it, was fast asleep.

 

***********

 

           As Kathryn had predicted, her job as a mechanic didn’t last long, less than a week in fact.    Although she wasn’t sorry to see the back of her unpleasant employer, she knew she had to find something else in a hurry.   The best bet, she decided, was the local bar.

 

           Every night, she sat in a corner, watching and listening, nursing her one drink so the bartender wouldn’t kick her out.    Although he appeared to be a nasty individual, in fact, it was he who warned her one evening when Federation security was about to pay an unannounced visit.    Quickly, he steered her around the back of the bar before returning to calmly watch as the security team methodically questioned everyone present.   And it was also he who pointed her in the direction of a freighter captain who needed to hire a new crewmember.

 

           “It isn’t safe here for you,” he muttered to her as he mopped up her table.   “The authorities have heard rumours that someone matching your description is in the area; sooner or later, they’ll find you.”  He indicated the ship’s captain.   “He needs an engineer.   Last night, the one he had died in a fight.”

 

           Kathryn nodded thoughtfully.   “Thank you.   I’ll go and speak to him right away.”

 

           But the barman shook his head.   “I will bring him to you, lady.   It is safer that way.”

 

           She gave him a grateful smile.  “Then thank you again.”

 

           And sure enough, within a few minutes, the captain, an Yridian, was standing over her.   “I hear you’re looking for a job,” he began bluntly.

 

           She nodded.  “I hear you need an engineer.”

 

           “Qualifications?”

           “Level ten, Starfleet Engineering.”

 

           The Yridian’s eyes opened wide in surprise.   “Level ten.   Impressive.  You’re hired.”  He started to move away then turned back when she didn’t immediately get up.   “Come now.”

 

           Kathryn got the point and rose.  

 

           “One more thing,” expounded the Yridian.  “If you’re lying, you’ll be food for the targa dogs by morning.  Understood?”

 

           “I’m not lying,” she retorted, her eyes flashing with anger.

 

           “I hope not.”

 

           Since she had no belongings, all she had to do was follow her new captain to his ship.    As they walked, she tried to question him about what sort of cargo he carried and what systems he visited, but he ignored her questions, walking hurriedly through the spaceport until finally, they reached a nondescript ship, a tramp freighter like a hundred others nearby.

 

           Once on board, the captain handed her over to the first crewman they met, ordering the man to show Kathryn around.   “And take her to meet Dr’oghtan,” he added.

 

           The crewman nodded before turning to Kathryn.   “This way.”

 

           “Who’s Dr’oghtan?” she asked curiously.

 

           “Chief engineer, and a very intimidating person.   He enjoys making others suffer.  You won’t like him,” replied the man.

 

           “Oh.”   It would seem she had merely exchanged one bully overseer for another.   “Guess I won’t last long in this job, either.”

 

           He smiled mirthlessly.   “Few do.”   Gesturing to a door, he continued, “I expect these are your quarters now since the previous occupant won’t be needing them anymore.”

 

           “What happened to him?”

 

           “Dead.”

 

           Ah, her luckless predecessor.  “I see.”   She pushed open the door slightly and peered inside.    The room was small, barely large enough for a cot and a table, with a tiny bathroom tucked into one corner.   Kathryn shrugged – it would do.

 

           Stepping back into the corridor, she turned to her companion.  “Let’s go to Engineering so I can meet this Dr’oghtan and get it over with.”

 

**********

 

           In fact, Kathryn soon discovered that the feared Dr’oghtan was no worse than any other bully she had ever met.    Once she showed him that she knew her way around an engine room, and that she refused to be intimidated, he left her alone.    However, she wasn’t stupid enough to believe that she’d won him over; he was simply waiting for an opportunity to get back at her.   She would have to watch her back every moment of every day.

 

           Resolving to get off the ship as soon as she found something better, in fact, Kathryn remained on board for several weeks. 

 

           Eventually they arrived at Dessica II, like Yadalla once the site of an ancient Romulan colony but now a haven for all sorts of nefarious characters holding allegiance to no one.

          

           As soon as she could, she transported to the surface, acutely aware that she must find another job and quickly.  

 

           Only that morning, she had discovered Dr’oghtan in the process of sabotaging her work station.   When she demanded in her best captain’s voice to know what he was doing, he attacked her with his fists.    Fortunately, her Starfleet training in martial arts served her well and she was able to defend herself.   However, the fact that he had blatantly gone after her, and that, although several crewmen were watching, no one tried to help, told her it was time to leave.

          

           Aware now that the best place to look for work was in a bar, she walked into the first one she came across.    Unfortunately for her, it was a place frequented both by Klingons and Nausicaans, which meant bar fights were inevitable.   Kathryn walked through the door right into the middle of one such scuffle.

 

           Desperately, she tried to dodge the huge Klingon hurtling straight towards her, but there was nowhere to go.   All she could do was hit the floor and roll into as small a ball as possible.   The Klingon smashed into her back, and she felt several ribs crack.

 

           Screaming with the sudden pain, she tried to scrabble out of the way only to have the Klingon trip over her, his boot kicking her back.   Kathryn gasped in agony, unable to move, and terrified she was about to be trampled into oblivion, when suddenly a human male appeared in her line of sight.

 

           Turning, he propelled the Klingon away from her, then bent down over her.   “Keep still for a moment.  I’m going to try to get you out of here.”

 

           Since she couldn’t have moved if she tried, she simply did as she was told.

 

           The man disappeared briefly, then returned with someone else, another human.   “We’re going to pick you up,” he warned her, “we’ll try to be as careful –”  

 

           Agghh!”  He broke off at her sudden shriek of pain, peering more carefully at her.    “Where do you hurt?”

 

           Unable to speak, she could only try to move his hand off her broken ribs.    Fortunately, he seemed to understand as he shifted his grip to her shoulders.    It wasn’t much better but at least the searing pain of a moment before was abating.

 

           The man’s helper picked up her legs and together, they carried her as gently as possible out the door.   Here they paused while the man spoke into a communicator, and a second later, the three dissolved in a transporter beam.

 

           By the time they rematerialized in a small medical bay on a ship, Kathryn was losing consciousness.    Her vision was blurred and while she could hear people talking around her, she couldn’t respond.   I think I’m going to throw up, was her last coherent thought before she passed out.

 

**********

 

           Two hours later, Kathryn gradually wakened to the sound of voices talking in hushed tones.      Sickbay was her first thought as she relaxed onto the bed, waiting for the EMH to realize she was conscious.  A moment later, she remembered – she wasn’t on Voyager anymore, that was in the past.   So…where was she?

 

           “I see you’re awake,” spoke a vaguely familiar voice. 

 

           Opening her eyes, Kathryn looked up into the face of the man who had rescued her from the bar.  

 

           “Don’t worry, you’re safe,” he continued.   “I brought you to my ship; it seemed the quickest way to get out of an ugly situation.   I’ve healed your injuries, too, so I hope you’re feeling better.”

 

           “You’re a man of many parts, sir,” she replied in a slightly hoarse voice.   “May I ask your name?”

 

           Mashtun,” he replied, “and the name of my ship is the Shark.”

 

           While she absorbed this information, Kathryn struggled to sit up.  “Then I must thank you, Captain Mashtun, for not only rescuing me but treating my wounds.   I am much obliged.”   

 

           Her formal words made him smile.  “You’re most welcome – Captain Janeway.”

 

           Her features tightened in a frown.  “How do you know my name?”

 

           “I recognized you,” he replied easily.   “When you brought your ship back to Earth, your face was plastered all over the Alpha Quadrant.   And despite Starfleet’s attempt to keep your disappearance secret, too many rumours have surfaced.    Your first officer, Commander…Chakotay, is it?...  has been searching the entire quadrant for you.     Word gets around.”

 

           “I see,” she answered in a tight voice.  “And what exactly do you plan to do with this information?”

 

           The captain was quick to reassure her.   “I intend you no harm, ma’am.   In fact, I would like to offer you a place here in my crew.   I believe your experience would be an invaluable asset in my, uh, line of work.   And quite frankly, Captain, this part of the world is no place for a woman alone.   I can offer you not only a place to hide but just as importantly, protection.”

 

           When Kathryn raised her eyebrows at the implication, he shook his head.   “You needn’t worry.   I won’t allow anyone to harm you.”

 

           “You’re very kind, Captain, but I’m not sure how I deserve such consideration.”

 

           “Call me a soft-hearted pushover,” he answered, “but I have a weakness for hard luck cases, and I’d say you certainly qualify.   I don’t know what made you run, but no one here has any love for Starfleet.   You’ll be safe on my ship.”

 

           Kathryn sat silent, mulling over his suggestion.   In the end, once again it came down to the fact that her options were very limited.   She’d seen enough of these non-aligned planets to know he was speaking the truth.   She was an outlaw – she had to remember that and stop thinking with a Starfleet mentality.   

 

           So with nothing to lose, she thanked him for his generosity and accepted his offer.

 

           It was only afterwards that she thought to ask, “What is your line of work, anyway?”

 

           “Smuggling,” he answered cheerfully.

 

           Oh.  Well, in for a penny, in for a pound, as her mother used to say.

 

 

*********

 

 

           In fact, Kathryn adapted to the life of a smuggler much more easily than she had expected.    While at first, she found herself reluctant to go so far outside the law, as the weeks and months passed, her scruples were gradually eroded away.

 

           By the end of six months, she didn’t even think about what use their cargoes of contraband might have.   Whether it was medical supplies for a band of rebels hiding in the Neutral Zone or weapons for a planetary war, it was all the same to her.

 

           Repeatedly, the Shark slipped through the Neutral Zone, much of the time operating in and around the Bassen Rift, an area of space between Romulus and the Zone.    

 

           The Rift consisted primarily of a dense nebula field with many greenish-hued cloud formations, which routinely disrupted subspace communications.   As well, it had become notorious two years earlier as the site of the final battle between the Reman warbird, Scimitar, commanded by Shinzon, the Reman usurper, and the Enterprise-E, in which Commander Data had been destroyed saving his captain, Jean-Luc Picard, from certain death.    

 

           While not precisely avoiding the Rift, given a choice, Federation starships tended to go around it.      Which of course, made it an ideal hiding place for pirates and smugglers.    

   

           Again and again, they successfully dodged both Romulan warbirds and Federation starships patrolling the border.  

 

           As had happened during the years she’d spent in the Delta Quadrant, Kathryn found her primary concerns became survival of the ship and crew.  Every other consideration took second place.

 

           When she took the time to think about it, she was amazed at how much her attitudes had changed.    Not only had survival become a priority but without Starfleet protocols to hamper her, she became a willing accomplice in all sorts of nefarious activities such as theft, larceny and once even close to murder.   Her world was the Shark and its crew and captain, and she did whatever was required to ensure their well-being.  Nothing else mattered anymore.

 

 

*********

 

 

           Another year passed and while Kathryn settled into her new life, Chakotay was ordered back to Earth, the search for her officially ended.

 

           Starfleet was aware that Janeway had reached Romulus and been arrested, although the Romulans had categorically refused to acknowledge that she’d ever been in the Empire.

 

           Since no rumour of her presence had surfaced anywhere after that time, the general consensus was that she had died there, either in prison or during an attempt to escape. 

 

           Voyager’s former crew was heartbroken but without any official confirmation of her existence anywhere at all, there was nothing they could do.

 

           When Chakotay returned to Earth, some of the crew talked about mounting a search mission themselves but the cost was prohibitive and besides, as several pointed out, Chakotay had already been out there hunting her for over a year.   What more could they do that he hadn’t? 

 

           Chakotay himself discouraged any such attempt. 

 

           “I’ve looked everywhere,” he told them sadly at an informal gathering of some of the crew, “and I’ve been unable to find any trace of the captain.   I’m more sorry than I can tell you but,” he raised his hands helplessly, “I think any further attempt is useless.   Unless we hear some new information….”

 

           B’Elanna seized on his words.   “How will you know?” she demanded, “how will you hear anything?”

 

           He smiled very slightly.   “I made a lot of contacts out there in the last year or so.   If Kathryn shows up anywhere, I’ll know.” 

 

           More he wouldn’t say and as the crew dispersed, the idea of mounting a search was dropped.

 

           Kathryn Janeway would never be forgotten but she had become a part of the past.

 

 

Chapter 4: 2381

 

 

           A month after his return, Chakotay abruptly retired from Starfleet.  His reasons were several, but those who read between the lines generally assumed that with the loss of Janeway, his heart simply wasn’t in it anymore.

 

           Once the news got out, he immediately received a number of offers, mostly teaching, but he refused them all, saying he needed some time on his own to think about what he wanted to do next. 

 

           Only B’Elanna was suspicious of his motives, but even though she pressed him about it when they met, he remained vague.   “I haven’t made any decisions,” he told her when he came to say goodbye, “because I don’t know what I’d like to do.    That’s why I want to take off and wander on my own.    Hopefully, it will clear my head and maybe give me some direction.”   

 

           All she could do was hug him tightly and remind him not to forget them.

 

           “I won’t,” he promised, “and don’t worry.   I’ll be back eventually.”

 

           So it was that when he disappeared a week later, no one was really surprised, assuming he’d gone away to contemplate his future. 

 

           In fact, Chakotay knew exactly what he was doing.

 

           He had received word that Kathryn might be on a smuggler’s ship operating near the Neutral Zone.    It was only a vague rumour but it was the first news he’d had of her in nearly two years, and it was enough for him to set his plans in motion.

 

***********

 

           Upon leaving Earth, Chakotay first made his way to Starbase 39, one of several starbases monitoring the string of Federation outposts ringing the Neutral Zone.  

 

           Once there, he found a trader who agreed to take him to Ankaa, a planet close to the Bassen Rift.    

 

           His strategy was simple.   The quickest way to discover information was to hang about in places where ships’ crews might be found.    Apparently at a loose end like so many others, Chakotay drifted from one bar to another, staying in the shadows, not drawing attention but always listening for the slightest hint of news about Kathryn.

 

           Eventually, after a couple of weeks, his vigilance paid off.    One night, he overheard two grubby-looking characters talking about the crackerjack red-headed woman Mashtun had in his crew.

 

           It wasn’t much, but enough for Chakotay to inch closer.   However, almost immediately the conversation drifted to another topic and he learned no more that night.   However, at least now he had a name.

 

           The next night, in yet another bar, he heard the name Mashtun again, in reference to a run he’d just made.   From what Chakotay could gather, he understood this Mashtun was a smuggler of some sort, apparently operating across the Neutal Zone.   His mouth tightened grimly as he contemplated just what Kathryn had gotten herself into; however, it made him more determined than ever to find her.  

 

           Appearing as just another innocuous drifter, he worked his way casually into the conversation, letting it be known that the name Mashtun rang a bell – he thought he might have heard a rumour that an old friend of his was in Mashtun’s crew.  “A human woman, older, red-haired,” he explained. 

 

           At first, no one seemed inclined to answer but eventually someone acknowledged that he might have heard the same rumour.

 

           Chakotay nodded then changed the topic so as to allay suspicion.

 

           On a hunch, the following night he returned to the same bar and this time struck up a conversation with a man who, it turned out, had been in Mashtun’s crew for a while.    He had left before Kathryn appeared but he had heard of her from one or two of his former shipmates.

 

           Chakotay remarked that he wouldn’t mind hooking up with her again if he should happen to run across her.

 

           Chuckling, the man replied that from what he’d been told – good luck. She was under Mashtun’s protection and no one could get near her. 

 

           Although his stomach tightened at this news, Chakotay maintained his casual pose.    With a shrug, he said he would at least like to say hello to her, although since he had no idea where she was that probably wouldn’t happen.

 

           For a moment, the man hesitated before blurting out, “You might find them on Dessica II, but you didn’t hear it from me.”

 

           With a grateful smile, Chakotay agreed that he had heard nothing at all.

 

            He then bought the man a drink and forced himself to engage in conversation for a little while longer, before leaving on the pretense that he had to meet someone.

 

           Hurrying back to his lodging, he quickly packed his bag, then headed to the spaceport to find a ride to Dessica II.

 

**********

 

           At first, Chakotay didn’t have much luck locating anyone heading in that direction.    Not many ships went to Dessica because of its location so close to the border of the Neutral Zone.

 

           Discouraged, he debated whether to continue to hang around the spaceport but as it still seemed to have the best chance of success, he decided to stay.  Eventually, he was rewarded when he met a Ferengi named Kleg who was bemoaning the fact he had lost several members of his crew and couldn’t find replacements. 

 

           After some careful probing, Chakotay learned that the Ferengi needed crew who were willing to risk crossing the Neutral Zone – the profits were enormous but most wouldn’t take the risk.

 

           Deciding to lay his cards on the table, Chakotoay stated he needed to get to Dessica.   If Kleg would guarantee to take him there, he would be willing to join his crew for a run into the Empire.

 

           Delighted to find someone at such a bargain, at once Kleg agreed.

 

           “When do you want to leave?” asked Chakotay. 

 

           “The sooner the better,” answered Kleg, “profits aren’t earned while sitting in a nice snug spaceport.” 

 

           Chakotay picked up his bag.   “Then let’s go.”

 

           Within half an hour, the Ferengi ship, the Guog, was on its way.

 

**********          

 

           It didn’t take long for Chakotay to discover that the Guog had only a skeleton crew of twelve, barely enough to keep it running.

 

           Most were Ferengi but there was also a Nausicaan and a Bolian as well as himself.   Since their numbers were so few, everyone had several jobs.

 

           Chakotay was not only the pilot but also navigator and, when the Ferengi discovered his Starfleet background, tactical officer.  

 

           “I can tell you’re going to be very useful,” stated Kleg in his oily way.  “Are you sure you wouldn’t like to stay on with us?   I can promise you great profit.” 

 

           But Chakotay shook his head.  “I need to get to Dessica,” he declared, although he was careful not to give a reason, even when Kleg pumped him for information. 

 

**********

 

           After stopping at a small planet on the edge of the Zone to pick up cargo, the Guog headed across the border.  

 

           Since one of his jobs was tactical, Chakotay remained on constant alert, the sensors deployed for any sign of warbirds.    But none appeared and their passage was uneventful.

 

           Their destination was another small unnamed planet not far inside the Empire, known colloquially as the Trading Post, which Chakotay quickly discovered was a meeting place for various smugglers.   Here, cargoes from the Federation were swapped for other cargo, particularly the prized Romulan ale. 

 

           Once the Guog had arrived and assumed orbit, Kleg beamed down to the surface with the Nausicaan as bodyguard.

 

           An hour later, they reappeared, the Ferengi grinning gleefully. 

 

           “A most successful transaction,” he told Chakotay.  “Prepare to beam our cargo to this ship” – he input coordinates – “but keep a weapons lock on them.   I don’t want the captain to get any bright ideas about taking off without completing our transaction.  I’ll be in the hold checking on our payment.”

 

           Dutifully, Chakotay locked the Guog’s phasers on the ship in question, then out of curiosity, asked, “Exactly what form is this payment in?”

 

           Kleg’s grin grew wider.  “Only the best, of course,” he replied as he trotted out the door.   Romulan ale.”

 

           Approximately fifteen minutes later, he returned, rubbing his hands happily. 

 

           “Ready to go?” asked Chakotay. 

 

           “Get moving,” ordered the Ferengi, “this isn’t a good place to hang around.”

 

           As if to emphasize his words, two ships in a lower orbit suddenly swung about and started heading directly for them.

 

           Swiftly, Chakotay eased the Guog away from the planet, then set a course back towards the Zone. 

 

            Sitting in his chair, Kleg muttered worriedly.   “Are those ships following us?”

 

           “They are,” confirmed Chakotay.

 

           “Maximum warp.   Let’s see if we can outrun them.”

 

           Ramping up the engines, Chakotay increased speed to full power but could not lose the ships.  “They’re still behind us and closing,” he reported. 

 

           The Ferengi twisted his hands anxiously.  “Nasty thieves!   They want to steal our cargo!   Faster!”

 

           “We’re already at maximum warp,” retorted Chakotay, “we don’t have enough power to escape them.”

 

           As he spoke, a phaser shot zipped across the bow but Kleg yelled to Chakotay to ignore it.

 

           “Keep going!” he screamed. 

 

           Desperately, Chakotay zigged and zagged, trying to dodge a barrage of phaser fire.   For the most part, he was successful, but one or two shots did impact the shields.   Fortunately, the engines were untouched. 

 

           In a last ditch attempt to increase speed, Chakotay opened the thrusters, trying to get every bit of power he could.   However, it was not enough.

 

           “They’re still gaining,” he told Kleg, “they’re right behind us.  One more shot could take out our shields.”

 

           “We can’t surrender,” shouted Kleg, “they’ll kill us!”

 

           Still another series of phaser fire rocked the ship.

 

           “Shields are down,” announced the Bolian manning ops and sensors.

 

           Everyone paused, waiting for the final moment but a full minute passed and nothing happened.

 

           Suddenly the Bolian gasped, “There’s a warbird on our tail!  It’s…. it’s…. attacking those ships, it’s – they’re returning fire….now they’re turning tail….it’s following them!   We’re free!” 

 

           “Get us out of here!” shrieked Kleg but Chakotay was able to tell him they were already in the Zone.

 

           “It’s unlikely the Romulans will follow us here.  They have enough to do chasing those ships.   I think we’re safe.”

 

           Kleg wasn’t convinced however, and continued to alternate nervous pacing with bouncing in his chair until finally Chakotay announced they were across the boundary and back in Federation space.

 

           Heaving a sigh of relief, the Ferengi sat back then ordered Chakotay to head for the Dessica system.

 

***********

 

           A day later, the Guog assumed orbit around Dessica II.

 

           After collecting his bag, Chakotay approached Kleg to tell him he was leaving.

 

           Again, the Ferengi begged him to stay, promising an ever higher percentage of the profits but Chakotay was adamant.   He was not there to earn latinum but to continue his quest.

 

           “And just what is this all-important quest?” demanded Kleg but Chakotay simply smiled and bid him farewell.

 

           In the transporter room, he entered the coordinates for the largest settlement.

 

           However, before he could step up on the pad, the door opened and Kleg appeared in a final attempt to coax Chakotay to stay.   “If you change your mind, let me know,” he begged.

 

           For a moment, Chakotay paused, thinking rapidly, before asking, “How soon are you leaving?  And where are you headed next?” 

 

           “It depends on what cargo I might find here on Dessica and where it’s bound for,” replied the Ferengi with a shrug.   “Why?”

 

           “I might need to get off the planet quickly.”

 

           Smiling toothily, Kleg handed over a communicator. “Keep that with you,” he told Chakotay.  “If you need help, call.  For a price, of course,” he added.

 

           “Of course,” repeated Chakotay, pocketing the communicator.  “Thank you.”

 

           Activating the transporter he stepped onto the pad and a moment later was gone.

 

           Kleg shook his head sadly.  “One of the best crewmen I’ve ever had,” he muttered to himself, “Maybe I’ll be lucky and get him back!”

 

***********

 

           Meanwhile, Chakotay materialized on a side street in Dessica City.  Looking around, he spotted a bar and headed towards it.

 

           One of the constants of the universe, he thought as he opened the door, if you really want to find someone, go to the bars.

 

           Inside, the room was filled with many different aliens all talking loudly, the noise echoing off the walls.

 

           Carefully, Chakotay worked his way around the perimeter, searching for any humans.

 

           When he had no luck, he left and headed for the next bar, repeating the process until finally in the fifth one, he discovered a sad-looking human male.

 

           Very casually, he struck up a conversation, in the course of which he let it be known he was searching for an acquaintance of his, a red-headed older human female; there were rumours she’d been seen in the area. 

 

           The man shrugged – he hadn’t seen any human females in months – but he pointed Chakotay to still another bar, which was regularly frequented by humans. 

 

           Hurrying there, Chakotoay finally hit the jackpot.   Not only did he find humans, he actually caught a brief glimpse of a woman who might be Kathryn, although she was quickly hidden by other patrons.   Unfortunately, by the time he reached the place where she had been standing, she was gone.

 

           Chakotay didn’t try to follow – he wasn’t entirely sure it had been her and he was also not sure that even if it was, whether she would allow him near her.    But he did overhear a conversation that confirmed some of Mashtun’s crew frequented this bar regularly whenever they were in town.

 

           Stepping outside, he noticed a small hotel next door and went in to book a room for the night.   Luckily, he was able to get one on the same side as the bar so he could sit by the window and watch the entrance.

 

           Sure enough, nearly an hour later, he saw the same woman again, in the company of several other humans, entering the bar.

 

           This time, he was able to study her at his leisure – the height and stance were right but her hair was cut extremely short, making her appear much younger.

 

           Briefly, she turned to speak to someone and her face became fully visible for a few seconds in the glow of the street lamp.

 

           His heart gave a great leap of exultation.    Seeing her full on, there was no doubt – it was indeed Kathryn Janeway.  

 

           At once, he was on his feet and out the door.   This time, he was careful to slip into the bar behind several others so that Kathryn would be less likely to see him.

 

           Taking his time, he found a spot behind a pillar where he could watch the room.    After a minute, he spotted her, standing alone on the same side of the room, for the moment apparently deserted by her companions.

 

           Now was his chance.    Silently, he inched his way toward her, always keeping someone between them.    Finally, when he was within a couple of feet of her, he called her name.   “Kathryn.”

 

           Her head snapped around and she stared at him in astonishment.   Joy briefly flickered across her features to be followed immediately by alarm as she realized she’d been found.   Holding out her hands as if to ward him off, she started to back away, then spun about, trying to dodge around a post.

 

           However Chakotay was too quick and caught her from behind. 

 

           “Kathryn,” he said again, “I’m not here to take you into custody.   I simply want to talk to you.”

 

           Shaking her head wildly, her eyes darted around, trying to find an escape route.   “No!” she moaned, “let me go!”

 

           “I can’t do that,” he replied, trying to restrain her struggles.  “Just listen to me, that’s all I ask.   If you still want to go afterwards, then I’ll back off.  Okay?” 

 

           She twisted her head back to look up at him, then with a nod, slowly straightened.  “Very well,” she demanded with all her old authority, “Talk!”

 

           Looking around, Chakotay pointed to an empty table against the back wall.   “Let’s sit there where we’re less likely to be disturbed.”

 

           Silently she followed him to the table, took a seat, then gazed at him expectantly.

 

           For a moment, he simply sat staring at her before he blinked and smiled almost shyly.   Leaning forward, he took one of her hands.  “I’ve missed you,” he murmured softly, “so very much.”

 

           Her features relaxed, the look of wariness disappearing, and she returned his smile.  “I’ve missed you too,” she answered.

 

           Playing with her fingers, he debated how to begin.

 

           His silence caused her to prompt him, “Well, Chakotay?  I’m waiting.”

 

          “I’m wondering where to start,” he began then paused again.  Taking a deep breath, he looked at her straight on.   “First, you should know that I’m not here in any official capacity.   In fact, I resigned my commission several months ago.”

 

           “But,” she interrupted, “for a long time, you were hunting me.”

 

           “Yes, that’s true but over the months, I found my motives had changed.   Where at first, I wanted to stop you from alerting the Romulans and possibly changing the time line – again,” he emphasized, “as the months passed, I realized what I most wanted was to protect you, or at the very least to know you were safe and well.    I know the Romulans captured you and held you prisoner.”   His eyes searched hers carefully before he asked bluntly, “Did they torture you?” 

 

           Kathryn shook her head.   “No, they didn’t have time.”

 

           Chakotay heaved a heartfelt sigh of relief.  “Thank the spirits for that!   It was one of my biggest fears. 

 

           “It was after I heard you had joined a smuggler operating in the Neutral Zone that I realized trying to find you with Starfleet methods couldn’t possibly succeed.   I needed to become Maquis again, so that’s what I did.    I’ve been out here now for a number of weeks, haunting every bar on Ankaa and then here, hoping to find you.”

 

           He leaned forward intently.  “Kathryn, come home.   You can’t keep on this path indefinitely, you know that.”

 

           At his words, she stiffened, her face tightening into a frown.   “And what will happen if I do?    I’ll be tried and convicted of treason, and spend the rest of my days in a Federation prison.”  Pulling her hands away, she stood up.  “No, thanks.   I’ll take my chances with Mashtun.   It may be a shorter life but at least I’ll be free.” 

 

           But Chakotay wouldn’t accept her rejection so easily.    “I promise you, I will do everything I can to get you a pardon.   I won’t allow them to put you in prison.”

 

           “How can you stop them, Chakotay?  You’re one man.   You can’t expect to take on all of Starfleet and win!” 

 

           “I won’t be alone and neither will you!   Kathryn, there are many people who are willing, more than willing, to help.   Together, we will win.”

 

           “You can’t promise me that,” she retorted.

 

           “No, I suppose not, but I can promise that I will stay with you, no matter what the outcome.   If it means prison, so be it.   You won’t be alone.”

 

           He had voiced every argument he could think of; now it was up to her.

 

           Hesitating, Kathryn bit her lip, well aware that in the end, it was her decision, just it always had been throughout their years together.   

 

           Stay or go, she thought, which should it be?

 

           While she pondered, one of her crewmates caught her attention, then gave a quick nod toward the door, indicating it was time to leave. 

 

           Automatically, she started to follow, then paused to stare at Chakotay, his face filling with disappointment as he realized he was losing her.

 

           “Kathryn,” he murmured helplessly.

 

           Her name, spoken with such sadness, tore at her heart in a way none of his arguments had.   Suddenly, she knew exactly what she wanted to do. Reaching down, she gently caressed his face.

 

           “One more run, Chakotay, and then I’ll come back to you.   I owe Mashtun that.”   She gave him her lopsided smile.   “Will you wait for me?”

 

           “Always,” he promised, his eyes brightening with hope.

 

           Her hand brushed his head, then she turned on her heel and was gone.

 

           For several minutes, Chakotay remained seated until suddenly his instincts kicked into gear.   He got to his feet, then paused, thinking hard before striding out of the bar.

 

           Wasting no time, he pulled out the Ferengi communicator and activated it.    After a short conversation, he hurried into the hotel, only to reappear moments later with his bag over his shoulder.  Stepping into a side alley, he again contacted the Guog, then dematerialized.

 

           His plan was simple – follow Mashtun’s ship, staying just out of sensor range but close enough to help if Kathryn should need it.

 

           Since Kleg was about to make another run to the Trading Post anyway, and was more than happy to have Chakotay back in his crew, he was willing to follow Mashtun.    Besides, he told Chakotay when he arrived back on the Guog, he already knew that the Shark was headed there as well, so they wouldn’t even be going out of their way.

 

           For his part, Chakotay was simply grateful that Kleg was agreeing to help, although he reminded himself that payment for the Ferengi’s generosity had not yet been discussed.    Oh well, he would worry about that later.   The important thing was to stay close to that ship.

 

**********

 

           The plan worked well, and both ships crossed the Neutral Zone undetected although there were more warbirds in the vicinity than previously.

 

           Unfortunately, however, when barely through the Zone, the Guog suffered an engine breakdown and was subsequently delayed, arriving at the Trading Post more than a day after the Shark.

 

           By the time they got there, a major battle was in progress.

 

           Ships large and small were dashing about, chased not only by several warbirds but also each other.   Light flashes from multiple phaser fire flared across the blackness of space like a fireworks display.    Quite close to them, a ship could be seen burning while nearby were the last remnants of an anti-matter explosion where obviously, a warp core had breached. 

 

           “All stop!” shouted Kleg, anxious to keep as much out of the way as possible.   

 

           For a moment no one reacted as the crew of the Guog stared at the terrible scene in stunned silence.    Then abruptly, Chakotay’s fingers flew across his console, trying desperately to stop the ship’s forward motion.

 

           Once their progress was halted, he pulled up the sensor grid, frantically searching for the Shark in the chaos before them.   

 

           Nothing.    Between the almost continual phaser fire from all sides punctuated by the occasional photon torpedo, the sensors could barely make out anything.

 

           They would have to get closer.

 

           Slowly, he eased the Guog forward, trying to avoid both the firefights all around them as well as the increasing number of damaged ships.  Unable to both pilot the ship and keep a careful eye on the sensors, he yelled at the Bolian at ops to scan every pile of wreckage they passed as carefully as possible.

 

           On and on they went, one small ship sliding through and around the battle, which for the moment seemed to have abated as the remaining pirates fled with the warbirds in hot pursuit.

 

           Eventually, after a long hunt through thick clouds of debris, the Bolian was able to locate Mashtun’s ship.    To Chakotay’s dismay, however, it was in bad shape, the engines offline, no shields, myriad plasma leaks and hull fractures, and with life support failing.

 

           Desperately, he tried to determine Kathryn’s location but there were too many humans among Mashtun’s crew, and he couldn’t pick out individual biosigns.

 

           “I have to go over there,” he told Kleg.

 

           The Ferengi looked at him as if he had lost his mind.   “You can’t do that, you’ll be killed!” he protested.  

 

           But Chakotay was adamant.  “I have to go.   She’s on that ship, I have to find her.”

 

           “Who’s on that ship?   A woman?!  Is that what this is all about?!”   Kleg threw up his hands in frustration then tried once more to reason with him.    Chakotay, she’s only a female, you can have a dozen.   Leave her.  She’s not worth your life!”

 

           “No, you don’t understand.   She was my captain.  I have to save her.   Please, help me.”

 

           Muttering imprecations on all females, Kleg frowned then reluctantly agreed.  “Very well.  Go.  We’ll keep a transporter lock on you as long as we can but I’m warning you, if we come under attack, we’re leaving and you’ll be on your own.”  As he spoke, he moved to the helm, as if to emphasize he meant what he was saying.

 

           “Understood,” replied Chakotay, dashing to the transporter room.  Moments later, he materialized on the bridge of the Shark.

 

           At first, he could barely see through all the smoke billowing from various consoles and panels.   Holding his tricorder in front of him, he carefully made his way from one side of the bridge to the other.   Several times, he nearly tripped over bodies sprawled on the deck.

 

           The air was becoming increasingly hard to breathe and he knew he had to hurry.   Slowly, he worked his way to the back of the bridge, searching every nook and cranny but there was no sign of Kathryn.

 

           This is where she’d be, he thought, look again.

 

           His brain was starting to become fuzzy with the fumes and he realized he was running out of time.

 

           Suddenly, the communicator in his pocket beeped – it was the Guog.

 

           “I think they’ve found us,” warned Kleg, “we’re detecting scans directed at us.  We can only wait another minute or two at most.”

 

             “Very well,” replied Chakotay, “I’m going to check the bridge once more.”

 

           Trying to take only shallow breaths, he slowly swept the tricorder around in a wide arc, mentally accounting for each beep as it indicated a human lifesign.

 

           “Wait a minute,” he muttered, “in that corner over there….” 

 

           As quickly as possible, he moved to where a pair of legs was just sticking out from under a smashed console.    Dropping the tricorder, he tugged hard, pulling out a small body.   “Kathryn,” he murmured with a sigh of relief.

 

           Slinging her over his shoulder, he activated the communicator.  “I’ve got her!   Beam us out now!”

 

           Even as their forms disappeared, the Shark shuddered, then a great crack appeared across the ceiling as it began to split in two.    A few seconds later, the warp core breached in a massive explosion.

 

          On the Guog, Chakotay carried Kathryn to his cabin, but while he was still laying her down carefully in his berth, the ship came under fire and Kleg called him to the bridge.

 

           “They’re coming after us!” he shouted. 

 

           Dashing forward, Chakotay dived into the seat at tactical and activated the weapons array.   “Shields are at maximum, phasers ready,” he reported.

 

           However, when he glanced at the sensor readout, his heart sank.   

 

           Two sleek little ships were heading straight for them, with a huge warbird right behind.

 

           Instantly, the Guog leaped to maximum warp but Chakotay knew they couldn’t outrun a warbird.

 

           Desperately, he scanned the area of space ahead for somewhere to hide but there was nothing.      “This is much too like the last time we were here,” he muttered.

 

           The two smaller ships suddenly veered off, leaving the warbird to decide who to chase.

 

           “Come on, come on, go after them,” begged Kleg, frantically trying to coax a little more speed from the labouring engines, but this time their luck had run out.

 

           The warbird hailed them, ordering the Guog to drop shields or be destroyed.

 

           Kleg wrung his hands in terror but acquiesced, powering down the engines as Chakotay dropped their shields.

 

           A minute later, several armed Romulans materialized on the bridge, ordering the crew to stand down.

 

           Chakotay and the others all obediently moved away from their consoles.

 

           Moments passed as the Romulans methodically searched the ship before the leader of the away team appeared to question Kleg.

 

           However, the Ferengi was practically incoherent with terror and could only stutter helplessly.

 

           In disgust, the Romulan looked around then approached Chakotay.

 

           “Explain your presence in the Empire,” he demanded in a harsh voice.

 

           Chakotay was thinking fast.    Even at a glance, he’d seen that Kathryn needed immediate medical attention and the Guog didn’t even have a sickbay.   However, he was well aware that she was a fugitive from the Empire as well as the Federation so her identity must be kept secret.   Her life was hanging on what he could make the Romulans believe.

 

           Deciding to opt for a partial truth, he responded, “We were on a rescue mission, trying to save my…friend.”

 

           The Romulan blinked, then sneered, “And where is your friend now?”

He glanced around as he spoke, then nodded at Kleg, “Not this pathetic creature, surely?”

 

           “No,” replied Chakotay, “she is in my cabin, unconscious.    I was able to retrieve her from the ship she was on before it was destroyed but she is injured, I don’t know as yet how severely….”    

 

           “Show me,” demanded the Romulan.

 

           So Chakotay led the way off the bridge and down the corridor to his cabin, where they found Kathryn exactly as he’d left her.

 

           The Romulan looked her over then turned to leave; it was obvious to him the woman was nearly dead.

 

           “Wait!” called out Chakotoay, “can you help her?  There are no medical facilities at all here, and you can see for yourself she’s dying….  Please, she –”   He swallowed, trying to find the words to convince the man. “She’s more than a friend, she’s my wife.   Please, will you help us?”

 

           The Romulan looked at him in some surprise, then abruptly turned away, tapping his communicator.

 

           Now all Chakotay could do was wait, his hand resting on Kathryn’s shoulder.

 

           A moment later, the Romulan turned back to him.  “You will bring her to my ship,” he ordered, “where our doctors will examine her.  And while she is in their care, you will explain how it is that your ‘wife’ came to be on a smuggler’s ship!” 

 

           His tone indicated he wasn’t buying Chakotay’s story, at least not yet.

 

           However, as far as Chakotay was concerned, it was a start – at least hopefully they would treat Kathryn’s injuries.

 

           Nodding, he bent to pick her up.

 

           The Romulan called for transport and a moment later, they were beamed to the warbird’s sickbay.

 

**********

 

           Hours passed.

 

           Questioned extensively by the Romulan officer, Chakotay   improvised at random, embellishing his story with a wild tale of mistaken identity, the kidnapping of his wife who apparently was thought to be someone else by the smugglers, and his frantic chase after her on the Ferengi ship, whose captain owed him a favour. 

 

           He had no idea how much of his tale was believed but hoped there was just enough truth in it to make it plausible.    He was quite aware that the Romulans were no doubt questioning Kleg at the same time.    As well, he was crossing his fingers he’d have a chance to fill in Kathryn once she regained consciousness and before the Romulans could talk to her.

 

           After what seemed like forever, the Romulan told him that the Ferengi supported the main points of his story and the matter was now in the hands of Commander Ar’vath, captain of the warbird.

 

           Chakotay nodded, then asked if he might return to sickbay.

 

           The Romulan mulled that over then, rather to Chakotay’s surprise, agreed, telling two guards to take him back.    However, he also ordered them to maintain a watch on him; he was not to be left alone for even a minute. 

 

           Once in sickbay, Chakotay could see the doctors were still hovering over Kathryn, so he assumed she must be alive.    Pushed down onto the floor in a corner and anxious to find out how she was, he tried to peer around the guards but they deliberately blocked his view.  

 

           Minutes passed; he attempted to stand but one of the guards shoved him back down.

 

           In desperation, he yelled out to the doctors, “Is she all right?”   

 

           The guard raised his disruptor but was halted by one of the doctors who came over to see what the noise was about.   When he spotted Chakotay on the floor, he asked, “Who are you?”

 

           “Her husband,” explained Chakotay.

 

           “I see.  Well, your wife will survive although she has a long road to complete recovery.”

 

           “May I speak with her?” asked Chakotay hopefully but the doctor shook his head.

 

           “She is still unconscious; perhaps tomorrow when she wakes.” Then he turned to the guard and asked, “Is this man a prisoner?”

 

           The guard shrugged; he didn’t know but he had orders to watch him.

 

           “Well then, maybe you should find out!” snapped the doctor. “Either way, he shouldn’t be in sickbay.   Watch him somewhere else!”

 

            Without further ado, the guard hauled Chakotay to his feet, then he and the other guard marched him out the door.

 

           In the hallway, they paused while the second guard spoke on a communicator for a few seconds before nodding and saying something to his fellow guard which Chakotay didn’t catch.    Then they started off again at a brisk pace down the corridor.

 

           After navigating several more corridors and a turbolift, they arrived at what Chakotay soon discovered was the Romulan version of the captain’s ready room.

 

           Ushered inside, he was forced to wait while Commander Ar’vath spoke with his first officer, the same Romulan sub-commander who had led the away team and had questioned Chakotay so thoroughly.    Finally the commander turned and looked Chakotay over.    “And you are?” he demanded, his voice hard with suspicion.

 

           Chakotay was stuck – he had to answer truthfully since everyone on the Ferengi ship knew his actual name.

 

           Mentally crossing his fingers that the Romulans wouldn’t associate him with Voyager, he replied, “Chakotay.”

 

           The commander didn’t even blink, obviously the name meant nothing to him.

 

           “What are you doing on my ship?”

 

           “I was brought here with my wife to sickbay,” replied Chakotay.

 

           Wearing a puzzled expression, the commander turned to his exec for an explanation.

 

           “He carried the woman aboard,” answered the sub-commander nervously.  “And I wished to question him further.”

 

           The commander nodded thoughtfully.  “Did you learn anything more?”

 

           “N-no, sir.”

 

           “So why is he still here?” asked the commander in a deceptively soft voice.

 

           “I – I – don’t know, sir.”

 

           Chakotay spoke up.  “Because I refused to leave her.”

 

           The commander regarded him with some curiosity but his earlier anger had abated.   

 

           “I see,” he remarked.  “The sub-commander tells me your ‘wife’ (and his emphasis on the word indicated he didn’t believe it either) was kidnapped by the smugglers we were chasing, and you followed her into the Empire to rescue her.    Do you have anything to add to this ridiculous tale?”

 

           Unwilling to dig himself in any deeper, Chakotay shrugged.   At this point, they would either believe him or they wouldn’t – in which case, neither he nor Kathryn were likely to be released any time soon.

 

           “No, Commander,” he answered, “it may sound ridiculous but it’s the truth.”

 

           “Well, then and what am I to do with you?”

 

           Holding his tongue, Chakotay waited, but when no else responded, he decided he had nothing to lose.   “You could let us go.”

 

           “I could, but on the other hand, your ship has committed hostile acts against the Empire.”

 

           “Actually, Commander, my ship has not.”

 

           The commander interrupted forcefully.   “Your very presence on this side of the Neutral Zone is a hostile act, sir!”

 

           Knowing he must behave very calmly and rationally if they were to get out of this alive, Chakotay gathered himself.   “We were on a rescue mission only, Commander.   There have been instances in the past when a Federation or Romulan ship has transgressed the Zone in order to rescue its citizens.   The Enterprise encountered Commander Tomalak at Galorndon Core in one such incident some years ago.”  

 

            Commander Ar’vath nodded thoughtfully, obviously struck by the truth of this argument.

 

           “And,” continued Chakotay, “I can personally guarantee that if you were to allow us to return to the Guog, we would immediately depart the Empire as quickly as possible.”

 

           The Romulan chuckled humourlessly.   “Yes, I have no doubt you would.   But what would prevent you from coming back?”

 

           Chakotay sighed – crunch time.   “Commander, I can only speak for myself and that woman lying in sickbay but I can assure you that once across the Neutral Zone, we will not be returning to the Empire.  Ever.   And that’s a promise I’ll stake my life on.” 

 

           In silence, the commander stared at him but Chakotay met his gaze evenly and refused to back down.

 

           Finally Ar’vath moved to sit in his chair, then steepled his fingers before looking up.    “You present me with something of a conundrum, Mr. Chakotay.  On the one hand, regulations demand that every transgression of our space is to be investigated and the perpetrators arrested and taken to Romulus for trial.  However, a thorough examination of the Ferengi ship and extensive questioning of its crew support your story.  Quite frankly, I don’t have the time to spend hauling all of you back to Romulus when many other  smugglers are escaping.  Therefore, I am going to let you go.   However,” he added, leaning forward, his voice becoming harsh, “if you or the Ferengi are ever caught anywhere within the borders of the Empire or the Neutral Zone again, you will be arrested and tried for treason.   I’m sure I don’t have to tell you what the punishment is.”

 

           Chakotay gulped.   “No, sir,” he replied faintly.

 

           “Very well.   Sub-Commander, return him to sickbay and have them both beamed back to the Ferengi ship.”

 

           “Yes, Commander.”

 

           Within minutes, Chakotay was once more in sickbay where Kathryn was still lying unconscious on a biobed.

 

           The sub-commander ordered their transport off the ship, and seconds later, they were back in Chakotay’s cabin on the Guog.  

 

           Hurriedly, he checked Kathryn – her colour was better and she was breathing easily – then ran to the bridge where Kleg was sitting, still twisting his hands.

 

           Chakotay’s abrupt arrival elicited gasps of astonishment from all sides.

 

           Quickly, he filled in Kleg, telling him they had to leave right away before the Romulans changed their minds.

 

           “Gladly!” replied Kleg, giving the order.

 

           The Guog backed away, then heeled around and immediately went to warp. 

 

           “Are we being followed?” asked Kleg after a moment.

 

           Standing beside the Bolian, Chakotay examined the sensors.   “No.  In fact, they’ve turned around and are heading back towards the Trading Post.”

 

           The entire crew let out a mighty sigh of relief although Kleg was heard to remark that it was too bad they had lost such a useful planet on which to transact business. “However,” he brightened, “I’m sure another one will spring up in no time.”

 

           Chakotay’s mouth tightened; he knew Kleg wasn’t going to like the next part but he had to tell him.    “I promised the Romulan commander on my life that neither we nor this ship would ever cross the Neutral Zone again.   I’m sorry, Kleg, but from now on, I’m afraid you’re going to have to confine your smuggling to the Federation side.”

 

           The Ferengi stared at him in horror before letting out a howl of pure rage.    But even as he bemoaned the loss of profit, Chakotay reminded him that while in the short term, he might acquire less latinum, in the long run, it was probably for the best.

 

           “By staying in the Federation, you’ll get to live a lot longer so you can enjoy that latinum,” he reminded the Ferengi.

 

           Mollified, Kleg had to agree that Chakotay had a point.

 

***********

 

           Although he occasionally returned to his cabin for brief checks on Kathryn, Chakotay mostly remained on the bridge for the remainder of their journey through Romulan space and across the Neutral Zone until they reached the Federation.

 

           Finally he was able to relax and let go of the breath he’d been holding.

 

           As he sat back in his chair, stretching taut muscles, Kleg asked him if he had any particular destination in mind now they were across the Zone.  

 

           Chakotay mulled over several choices before deciding on Ankaa.

 

          While he would have preferred a starbase for the medical facilities, he knew Ankaa was Kleg’s home base.  As well, it was a neutral planet which meant he would have time to discuss with Kathryn, once she was well enough, what they should do next without immediately having to worry about Starfleet Security appearing at their door. 

 

           Ankaa will be fine,” he replied, turning his attention to the navigation console and inputting the coordinates.

 

**********

 

           Meanwhile, on the Romulan warbird, Commander Ar’vath had just made an appalling discovery.

 

           “You mean to tell me that human woman was Kathryn Janeway?!   She was here in our sickbay and we let her go?!”

 

           The subcommander nodded miserably.   He knew someone’s head was going to roll, most probably his.   “Yes sir,” he whispered.

 

           Giving him a hard stare, after a moment the commander sat back in his chair.    “It seems to me,” he began slowly, “that we have a choice here.  Either we report exactly what happened, in which case, the Praetor will demand our execution for extreme negligence, or….”

 

           Hope dawned in the eyes of the sub-commander.

 

           “…or,” continued the commander, “she was never on this ship.”

 

           “But sir, there are records, witnesses...!” 

 

           “For both our sakes, Sub-commander, I would suggest you ‘take care’ of those records and witnesses.   After all, if we are dishonoured, our shame will spread to the entire crew.   It seems to me it’s in everyone’s best interest to erase the entire episode from our collective memory.    Once that pertinent fact is pointed out, I don’t think you’ll meet any argument.”

 

           The subcommander nodded slowly.  “Aye, sir,” he replied, and left the ready room.

 

            Settling back into his chair, Ar’vath muttered to himself, “With just a bit of luck, we may come out of this in one piece.”

             

Chapter 5:

 

 

           Kathryn awoke slowly, her mind groggy.   “Where…?” she began to speak before her dry throat made her cough.      Looking around, she realized she was lying on a narrow bunk in a small cabin; from the slight vibration, obviously she was on a ship heading…somewhere.

 

           Slowly, she took inventory of her various aches and pains.   Her extremities seemed to be uninjured although her right leg hurt when she moved it.     There was a localized pain somewhere around her kidneys, her stomach was in some turmoil and her head was aching a little, but all in all, she didn’t feel too bad.

 

           A glass of clear liquid on a small shelf next to her caught her attention.    Gasping as her coughing worsened, she reached out for it, hoping it was water.     Tentatively, she tasted the liquid before sighing in relief – it was indeed water – and gulping down the glass.    As the parched feeling in her throat eased, she moved to sit up and take better stock of her surroundings.   

 

           “Where am I?” she wondered aloud, then glancing once more at the shelf, she noticed a PADD next to the glass.

 

           “Hmm, maybe you have some answers,” she told the PADD as she activated it.

 

           Hi Kathryn, she read, I hope you’re feeling better.   We’re on a Ferengi ship heading toward Federation space.    I’m presently on the bridge but please call me as soon as you read this.  There’s a comm unit on the wall above the shelf beside your bed.    See you later.   Chakotay.

 

           Sure enough, there was the comm right behind her glass.     No time like the present, she thought and turned it on.   Janeway to Chakotay.”

 

           Chakotay here,” came his immediate reply.  “Give me a couple of minutes and I’ll be right there.”

 

           Before she could respond, he’d signed off, so shaking her head to clear the last of the cobwebs, she carefully got to her feet and hobbled into the very tiny bathroom opposite her bunk.    At least I can try to make myself presentable, she thought as she washed her face and tidied her hair as best she could.

 

           A moment later came a knock on the door.   “Kathryn?”

 

           “Come on in,” she answered.

 

           The door opened and Chakotay strode in, his face a picture of concern when he couldn’t immediately see her.  

 

           “Here I am,” she answered his unspoken question, as she limped out of the bathroom.

 

           For several seconds, he simply gazed at her before giving in to his relief and wrapping his arms around her in a tight hug.    

 

           Absurdly grateful to feel him close to her, Kathryn was quite content to simply stand there until finally Chakotay stepped back, although he kept his hands on her shoulders.

 

           “How do you feel?   Are you all right?”   At her quick nod, he went on, “What about grogginess?  Nausea?”

 

           Chakotay!” she protested, “I’m fine!”

 

           His worried expression remained.  “You always say that,” he retorted.  “Now tell me the truth.”

 

           “I am!   Really.   Well…maybe a little lightheaded and my stomach’s a bit queasy but….”   She swayed slightly and put her hand on his chest for balance.  “Stop worrying, you sound like the doctor!”

 

           Beneath her hand, she could feel him slump as he let a sigh of relief. 

 

           Stepping back, she added, “However, I think I will sit down.”   In truth, she was feeling quite dizzy but she wasn’t about to tell him that.

 

           As he sat beside her, Chakotay took her hand again.  “I found you badly injured on the smuggler’s ship.  I really didn’t know if you were going to make it this time.   If we hadn’t been able to bluff the Romulans into treating you….”

 

           Kathryn’s eyebrows shot up.   Romulans?!   What Romulans?!”

 

           “The ones on the warbird that stopped us before we crossed the Neutral Zone.   I talked the captain into letting their doctors have a look at you and, basically, keep you alive.   Otherwise, Kathryn, you wouldn’t be sitting here now.   You can thank them for saving your life.”

 

           A moment passed as she processed this information.  “I didn’t realize,” she murmured.

 

           Blinking, she tried to fight off increasing waves of vertigo.    “Uh, maybe I better lie down again.”

 

           Even as she spoke, she felt his hands on her shoulders, gently laying her down.

 

           “Better?” he asked.

 

           “A little.   It comes and goes.”

 

           She felt the bunk shift as he rose, then a moment later a cool cloth was laid on her forehead.  

 

           “Thanks,” she whispered, trying to open her eyes to see him but her eyelids were simply too heavy.

 

           “Sleep, Kathryn,” she heard him murmur.   “I’m nearby.”

 

           As her breathing slowed, Chakotay stood watching her, his brow creased in a frown.   Despite her apparent improvement, he was deeply concerned.   For Kathryn to admit she wasn’t feeling well meant she hadn’t recovered as much as she would like him to believe. 

 

           All in all, the sooner they got to their destination, the better.

 

**********          

 

           Some hours later, they finally arrived at Ankaa where Kathryn and Chakotay bid farewell to the Guog and her captain before beaming to the surface. There they quickly found a medical facility willing to treat Kathryn’s injuries with no questions asked – for a price.   

 

           Sighing in resignation, Chakotay rapidly calculated how many strips of latinum they would need for the bare necessities and handed over the rest to the bored receptionist.    Apparently it was enough, as Kathryn was shortly hustled out of sight, only to appear an hour later looking much better.   Her colour was good and she was walking easily with no sign of a limp.

 

           At Chakotay’s inquiring glance, she smiled and gave him a nod.   She would be fine.    With a heartfelt sigh of relief, he got to his feet and led her out the door.     Maybe now, they could find a quiet place to sit and have that long overdue conversation about their future.

 

           Meandering along, neither was aware at first they were being followed.    It was only when Chakotay happened to notice the reflection of a human male in a shop window they were passing that he became suspicious.   The man was dressed a little too well for the area.  A casual glance around showed another human, similarly clad, a few meters behind.

 

           Every sense went to red alert and Chakotay paused, his hand on Kathryn’s elbow pulling her to a halt.   As she glanced up at him in puzzlement, he indicated the window as if pointing out something on display, while he quickly told her of his suspicions.

 

           Kathryn didn’t bother questioning him – Chakotay’s instincts had saved them too many times in the past.    “Options?”  she asked.

 

           “There’s a street market of some sort just up ahead.   With any luck, we can lose them there.”

 

           “Do you think they’re Starfleet Intelligence?” she asked.

 

           “Could be,” he replied with a shrug as he began to amble along once more.   “One thing for certain, though.   I think we better get off this planet as soon as we can.   Whoever they are, they probably have backup of some kind and we don’t want to be caught in a trap.”     

 

           “Agreed,” she replied in heartfelt tones as they reached the first of the stalls.

 

           Glancing carefully over his shoulder, Chakotay could see the men had both dropped back.   Good, he thought, we should have just enough time….   Quickly pulling Kathryn after him, he dodged around the stall and between two more, then paused to peer into the street.  

 

           The two humans were looking around, obviously wondering where they’d gone.    After a minute, both men began to converge forward into the maze of stalls.

 

           Wasting no time, Chakotay and Kathryn backtracked, always keeping stalls between them and the men, until they were able to duck up an alley which led to a side street.   Then, keeping a lookout for any more pursuers, they made their way for half a block until they came to a bar, where Chakotay halted their progress.   

 

           At Kathryn’s inquiring glance, he explained.  “I’ve learned that a discreet way to get transport around here is in bars, so….” He gestured towards the door.   “Shall we?”

 

           “I guess,” she answered, stepping through into a dark room which had certainly never seen natural daylight.    Trying not to stumble as her eyes adjusted to the gloom, she made her way to one end of the bar.

 

           Close behind, Chakotay kept a watchful eye on the other occupants.  

 

           Although several had initially perked up at Kathryn’s entrance, Chakotay’s glare was enough to dampen their enthusiasm.   With muttered grumbles, they subsided back into their seats.

 

           Ignoring the complaints echoing behind him, Chakotay addressed the bartender.   “Do you happen to know of anyone needing a couple of extra crew?   We’re heading further into the Federation and we need a ride.”

 

           The bartender made a show of thinking while he polished a glass.  “Could be,” he finally answered.

 

           Chakotay waited. 

 

           “There’s a fellow comes in most days round this time. I’ve overheard a few things.”

 

           “Such as?” prompted Kathryn.

 

           The bartender glared at her balefully but Kathryn simply stared him down.    Finally, he conceded, “He might be short a few crewmen.” 

 

           Chakotay sighed wearily.  “I have only a bit of latinum left,” he explained bluntly.   “I can give you two strips but no more if you will show us where this captain is.”

 

           “Two strips isn’t much,” argued the bartender.

 

           “That’s all I have,” retorted Chakotay, pushing away from the bar.  Taking Kathryn’s arm, he began to lead her toward the door.

 

           “Wait!” called the bartender, beckoning them back.

 

           Slowly, they returned to the bar.

 

           Chakotay put his hand in his pocket but didn’t withdraw it.   His meaning was obvious.

 

           “He’s sitting in the last booth at the very back,” muttered the bartender.  “His name is Vo’tun.”

 

           Removing his hand from his pocket, Chakotay tossed two strips of latinum on the bar.   “Thanks.”

 

           Casually, he wandered towards the back of the bar, Kathryn close at his heels.

 

           There they found a young, oily-looking individual nursing a drink as he sat staring into the distance, his thoughts obviously elsewhere.

 

           “Are you Captain Vo’tun?” asked Chakotay.

 

           The man’s eyes snapped up instantly, his body immediately tensed for action.  “I am,” he replied in a surly voice.   “What of it?”

 

           “I hear you’re headed into the Federation and you’re short of crew.   We need a ride.   I’m a trained pilot and navigator, and my companion here knows her way around an engine room.    We could be mutually beneficial.”

 

           For over a minute, Vo’tun looked them over, his hard eyes sizing them up, before he replied.   “Very well, I’ll admit I could use a pilot and an engineer.    But be warned!  If you’re lying, I won’t hesitate to space the pair of you.” 

 

           Abruptly, he rose, indicating they should follow.    Pulling a small device out of his pocket, he hailed a ship.   “Three to beam up,” he ordered.

 

           Seconds later, they all materialized on an elderly freighter which had clearly seen better days.   The bulkheads were dented and scratched as was the deck.    A scruffy-looking individual was manning the transporter, from which a tendril of smoke was rising.

 

           Kathryn looked around her in mounting disapproval, obviously wondering what on earth Chakotay had gotten them into.   

 

           Meanwhile, the captain was headed through the door.

 

           When Kathryn showed no inclination to move, Chakotay took her arm.   “We have no choice,” he murmured, “we can’t hang around here indefinitely hunting for a ship.   We need to go as quickly as possible.”

 

           Although she continued to look unhappy, she conceded his point and trailed him into the corridor.  

 

           A short turbolift ride brought them all to the bridge.   There the captain took the centre seat before turning to face them.

 

           “I’m assuming you don’t particularly want it known that you’re leaving or where you’re heading?”

       

           “You assume correctly,” answered Chakotay in a tight voice.

 

           “Makes no difference to me,” conceded the other man.   “However, silence has a price, as you may have already noticed.    Five strips of latinum would go a long way toward keeping my mouth shut.”

 

           “We don’t have five strips,” replied Chakotay firmly, “we don’t even have one.   However,” he continued as Vo’tun leaned forward, his face  angry, obviously ready to interrupt, “if you like, we can work our passage.    Otherwise, we get off this ship here and now.”

 

           “Deal,” answered the captain, after quickly calculating alternatives.   “I’m going to Bajor – eventually – so I hope you’re not in a hurry.”

 

           “We’re not,” answered Kathryn, turning towards the turbolift.   “I’ll see you later,” she added to Chakotay, “we’ll talk then.”

 

           Constrained by circumstances, he could only nod in reply.  

 

**********

 

           It was much later before Kathryn and Chakotay finally had a chance to collapse in their bunks.   

 

           Sleeping arrangements hadn’t been discussed; a crewman had simply directed them to a small cabin on the lower deck.   However, despite their cramped quarters, under the circumstances, Chakotay was just as glad they were together.   

 

           During the hurried meal they had shared in the galley, he had noticed the attention Kathryn was drawing from several members of the villainous-looking crew.  While she was certainly capable of defending herself, right now she was still somewhat weak.   For both their sakes, it would be wise, he decided, to continue the fiction of their marriage.    At the very least, it would let their crewmates know she was under his protection.

 

           Now, sitting on the edge of his bunk, he waited for her to come out of the tiny bathroom while he marshaled his arguments to convince her to return to Earth.    His brain was weary after their long day and yet, he reflected, they had been surprisingly successful – the ship might be little more than a bucket of bolts but it was pointed in the right direction.   Now, if he could just convince Kathryn to stay with him on the same heading….

 

           Her appearance put an end to his meandering thoughts.   

 

           “How are you doing?” he asked, noting her eyes rimmed with tiredness.  

 

           Her reply was a non-committal shrug.   “Okay.   It’s a challenge, certainly, but….” she gave him a small smile, “you know how I can never refuse one of those.”

 

           “Only too well,” he answered ruefully.

 

           She tossed him a half-hearted glare before settling down beside him.  “And how are you managing?   Regretting all you’ve had to go through to rescue me?”

 

           “No!” he declared, turning to face her.   “Kathryn, no!   You….” He paused to find the words he wanted.  “You’re worth whatever effort it’s taken and more.   Don’t…don’t belittle yourself.”

 

           Her eyes softened.   Chakotay, all I can say is that although I don’t regret what I did – I had to try to warn the Romulans – I’m sorry I put you through so much worry and stress.   I know I’ve treated you badly and ignored your good advice, and I’ll probably do it again.  You’re the best friend anyone could ever have.”

 

           Chakotay searched her face.  “Only a friend, Kathryn?” he asked softly.

 

           She looked down for a moment before lifting her gaze to him.   “No,” she answered in a low voice, “you are much, much more than that to me.  And you always will be.”   As she spoke, her hand rose to lightly caress his cheek.   

 

           Gently, he covered it before bending his head to softly kiss her fingers.    “Me, too,” he whispered, his eyes making an unspoken promise.

 

           For several seconds they remained still before Chakotay straightened, although he kept hold of her hand.   “Kathryn, I’ve been thinking about our plans once we get off this ship.   I have an idea….”  He paused as her eyes narrowed.

 

           “I’m not going to like it, am I?” she declared.

 

           “How do you know?  You haven’t heard it yet,” he retorted.

 

           “After all these years, I can read you pretty well, and when you use that tone of voice, it means I’m not going to like it.”

 

           He couldn’t help but smile.   “Fair enough.   But hear me out first before you condemn it, will you?”

 

           “Go ahead.”

 

           Right – crunch time.   Because she was quite right, she wasn’t going to like it one bit.   Probably best to simply spit it out.   “I want you to come back to Earth with me and answer the charges the Federation has laid against you.”

 

           Kathryn stared at him in utter astonishment.  “Are you out of your mind?!” she demanded when she finally found her voice.   “For heaven’s sake, Chakotay, we’ve already been through this!   I’ll end up spending the rest of my life in New Zealand!  On the wrong side of a force field!  Surely there are other options…!”

 

           Gripping her fingers more tightly, he held up his other hand as she drew breath to continue.  

 

           “You said you’d listen!” he told her.

 

           Her face tightened into a frown but she said nothing more, tacitly agreeing to hear him out.

 

           “I’m not so sure you’ll go to prison,” he began.  “No one in the general public is aware of what you were trying to do; in fact, not that many in Starfleet are either.   As far as they’re all concerned, you’re the heroine of the Delta Quadrant, who against all odds brought your ship and crew home.    Despite your absence, Starfleet has reaped a lot of good publicity from that and I don’t think they’ll throw you to the wolves now.”

 

           “But that all happened nearly three years ago, Chakotay,” she protested.   “Surely, it’s old news by now?”

 

           “Voyager’s arrival, yes, but bear in mind that you’ve been mysteriously out of the public eye ever since.   There was a lot of speculation about your whereabouts after you left.   Starfleet simply said you were on indefinite leave and your location was being kept private.

   

           “However, with your return, I would expect all the stories to start up again.   You might find the resulting publicity a nuisance and hard to deal with, but it could well save you prison time.    You’re still generally regarded as Starfleet’s golden girl, and I’m betting they won’t abruptly do an about turn to destroy that image, not willingly anyway.”

 

           Kathryn’s eyes fell as she contemplated his words.    Pulling away from him, she got up to pace the small floor.    “I don’t know,” she finally responded.   “I’ll agree that your argument has a certain merit but it’s based on an awful lot of assumptions.”  She wagged a finger at him.   “It could just as easily blow up in our faces, and then where am I?”  Biting her lip, she spun away before turning back.   “It’s not that I don’t want to be with you, but couldn’t we find some nice snug planet outside the Federation?”

 

           “You would never feel completely safe,” he told her, “trust me on that, I know from experience.”  Now it was his turn to bite his lip.   “I grant you there is an element of risk,” he conceded before smiling at her.  “But when has Kathryn Janeway ever let risk stop her?”

 

           “Hopefully, I’ve learned to be a little more cautious in recent years,” she retorted, but Chakotay could see the gleam in her eye.

 

           Cautious, maybe, he thought, but you still can’t resist a challenge, can you?  And taking on the Federation is certainly that!

 

           Watching her carefully, he could see the exact moment she made up her mind.    You will never disappoint me, Kathryn, not ever, he grinned to himself.

 

           “All right, I’ll do it,” she declared, straightening to full height, every inch the captain.

 

           “Good,” he told her simply.   “Then let’s start making some concrete plans.   We should be prepared for whatever they throw at us….”         

 

**********

 

           True to his word, Captain Vo’tun directed his ship on a convoluted course that seemed to touch every little two-bit planet for several sectors around.   

 

           Neither Kathryn nor Chakotay complained, however; indeed, they were quite content to allow the captain all the time he wanted.

 

           Both soon settled into their respective positions, Chakotay at the helm and Kathryn as the de facto chief of engineering.    As the Ferengi, Kleg, had already discovered, Chakotay had not exaggerated his claims about their competence.    Very quickly, Vo’tun was congratulating himself on a brilliant job of hiring them, conveniently forgetting the actual facts of the matter.  

 

           Also, Chakotay was able, with the judicious use of his fists, to establish certain parameters where his ‘wife’ was concerned.     The crew soon learned not to anger their pilot or, once she had regained her strength, their engineer.    After she’d mopped the floor with the biggest bully, the rest quickly fell into line.  

 

           “There’s certainly something to be said for Starfleet training,” she told Chakotay in a very smug tone as she wiped her hands on her pants.  

 

           Although initially concerned when he heard who she had taken on, he wasn’t really surprised at the outcome.   Despite her size, Kathryn was well able to defend herself.   

 

*********

 

           Several months passed as their ship inched closer and closer to the Bajor system until finally they reached Deep Space Nine.  

 

           As the docking clamps locked on, Kathryn and Chakotay shared a meaningful glance.   Although they had spent untold hours refining their plans, making allowances for every scenario imaginable, now that the moment of truth was here, they were both feeling apprehensive.    Reaching out, Chakotay took her hand and squeezed her fingers reassuringly.

 

           “It’ll be fine,” he promised.

 

           “I know,” she replied softly just as the airlock rolled back to reveal several Bajoran officers and a civilian, obviously a customs official from the PADDs he was holding.

 

           “Identity card, please.” 

 

           Kathryn glanced at the official.   “I don’t have one anymore.”

 

           The man peered at her.    “Where is it?”

 

            Taking a deep breath, she straightened her spine and lifted her chin.  “In the Romulan Empire, I imagine,” she replied.

 

           Momentarily silenced, he hesitated before waving over one of the Bajorans.    “You will accompany this officer to Security.”  

 

           As Chakotay started to follow, the official snapped at him, “Not you.”

 

           “Where she goes, I go,” retorted Chakotay, not slowing down at all.

 

           Tired of waiting their turn, the remainder of the crew chose that moment to push their way through, forcing the official to redirect his attention to them.    Deciding that Security could handle two humans, he made no further effort to call Chakotay back.

 

           As they strode behind the Bajoran officer along the corridor toward the main Promenade, Chakotay took Kathryn’s hand once more.    They had agreed from the outset that they wouldn’t lie about her identity, a pointless exercise anyway since it could easily be determined from a retina scan.   Now, marching along this seemingly endless passageway, Chakotay found himself considering ways of escape.   Don’t be silly, he reprimanded himself.  Where could we hide that they wouldn’t find us?

 

           As if sensing his turmoil, Kathryn gripped his fingers tighter.   When he looked down, she was calmly smiling at him.    Reassured by her confidence, he nodded back and pushed aside his worry.  

 

           What would happen, would happen.

 

 

Epilogue: 

 

 

           Kathryn’s return to the Federation presented Starfleet with something of a dilemma.   Justice demanded that she be court-martialed for her actions and yet, the general public saw her as the heroine of the Delta Quadrant, the captain who had single-handedly brought her ship home from seven years of exile.    In the end, pragmatism won.   She was given a dishonourable discharge from Starfleet and encouraged to remove herself from Earth, the sooner the better.   

 

           Well aware that she would be wise to accept in order to avoid awkward questions about who might have helped her escape three years before, Kathryn didn’t hesitate to accept Starfleet’s conditions. 

 

           And indeed, she was perfectly happy to start a new chapter of her life with Chakotay.   The pair soon settled on his home planet of Dorvan Five, which was desperately in need of their expertise in its recovery from almost complete destruction during the Cardassian occupation.   

 

           There were no restrictions on visitors, and as long as she maintained a low profile, Starfleet was content to leave her in peace.

 

 

2387:

 

 

           Nine years earlier, after much debate within the walls of Headquarters, the final decision of Starfleet Command had been to not pass on Captain Janeway’s warning to Romulus.

   

           Tampering with the timeline was altogether too risky a business for most of the Admiralty, and they had chosen to take the line of least resistance – in other words, do nothing and let the chips fall where they might.

 

           However, mindful of her words, Starfleet had dispatched a science vessel which launched a series of probes to surreptitiously keep an eye on the star Hobus.    

 

           Now their watchfulness was paying off.

 

           In recent weeks, Hobus had begun to exhibit various signs which could indicate an impending supernova.

 

           For those few in the Federation who were aware of the potential disaster awaiting Romulus, the possibility of a supernova filled them with considerable trepidation.    Eyes were trained on the star with a certain degree of expectancy, its every twitch followed with great interest. 

 

           And then, Hobus disappeared.     

 

           There was much scratching of heads among the higher echelons at Starfleet as various possibilities were examined then discarded.     Sensor data from the probes was gone over exhaustively but yielded no concrete answers.

 

           In the end, the general consensus was that obviously the Romulans had learned about the supernova and found a way to stop the explosion.    ‘Red matter’ was bruited about as one possibility but no one knew for certain.   

 

           The Admiralty couldn’t ask outright as that would indicate they had known what might happen and hadn’t issued a warning.   And the secretive Romulans were not about to publicize how they had been able to stop a supernova.   

 

           Ultimately, those in the Federation could only speculate.

 

*********

 

           Meanwhile, Kathryn and Chakotay, long since married, were still living in relative obscurity on Dorvan Five, far from the machinations of the Federation. 

 

           Unaware of the impending date of the supernova, in fact Kathryn had mostly forgotten about it.   Events beyond Dorvan rarely impinged on her busy life nowadays, and the disappearance of Hobus would have passed her by completely if not for a mysterious message she received from Vulcan.

 

           The message contained only two words – ‘thank you’ – and was signed with the initial ‘S’.  

 

           After considerable discussion of a number of possibilities, eventually she and Chakotay contacted their old comrade, Tuvok, who was able to tell them that although there was no definite confirmation, for months rumours had been circulating that Spock had reappeared on his home planet as mysteriously as he had disappeared so many years before.  

 

           “Which would seem to indicate,” continued Tuvok, “that the Enterprise did survive.   But, of course,” he added, “it is only speculation.”

 

           When Kathryn related the contents of the message to him, his  eyebrows rose but his only comment was “fascinating”.  As he was unaware of the disappearance of Hobus, he could shed no further light on the meaning of the message.

 

           For a day or two longer, Kathryn continued to worry at the puzzle but then her attention was caught by an immediate problem with the colony’s new water system and everything else was forgotten.

 

           Life went on.

 

 

END

 

 

Author’s notes:   For those readers (including my poor betas, bless them) who are scratching their heads and thinking ‘but after all that turmoil, nothing happened!’, well, not all tales have neat and tidy endings.     Since the story is written almost entirely from the Federation’s POV, the ultimate fate of the star Hobus is left to the reader’s imagination.   I have thrown out a couple of possibilities….