Disclaimer: As always, they own ‘em;  I play with ‘em

Rating:  PG-13


                                                        UNFAMILIAR TERRITORY


By Mary S.


Part 1:   Kathryn


           “Captain!  Commander!  Report to the bridge”, paged Tuvok as Kathryn Janeway and Chakotay reviewed reports in her ready room.

           “Yes, Tuvok”, she answered as both emerged onto the bridge;
“what is it?”

           “Captain”, spoke up Harry Kim, “our scans have picked up an M-class planet in the system 1.5 light years ahead.  They indicate possible dilithium”, Janeway’s eyes brightened, “and various plants which might prove useful to Neelix.”

           “Inhabitants?” inquired Chakotay.

           “Yes, Commander.  Scans are showing a number of satellites in orbit which would indicate some space technology,  but I don’t know yet how advanced.”

           “What do you think, Commander?”  Janeway looked at her first officer.
          
           “I think it’s worth a try.  Food supplies could do with updating, and we can always use more dilithium crystals.  Can’t have too many of those.”

           “I agree.  Mr. Kim, hail them.”

           The planet’s governors proved quite friendly and receptive to trade negotiations.  As Janeway remained unsure about the level of technology, she decided to send Chakotay with an away team on the delta Flyer.  She had learned that her ship could prove very attractive to quite a number of races in the Delta Quadrant; it was safer to keep it hidden.

           “Chakotay to bridge.  The Delta Flyer is ready for launch.”

           “Very good, Commander.  Contact us every six hours.  We will see you in two days.  Good luck.  Janeway out.”  As the Flyer sped away, the captain settled down in her command chair with another report.

           Eight hours later, all seemed well.  Chakotay had checked in twice, reporting each time that their initial impressions had been borne out.  The governing officials were very interested in trade and learning about a new culture.  They were also very interested in the Flyer but so far, he had managed to keep them away from it.

           The planet was a fairly absolute monarchy, although, as the current king was only some ten years old, at present the actual ruler was a regent, Teedarn.  He invited the away team to an elaborate feast at the palace, where the young sovereign could meet them and have his first contact with another race.  There was no question of refusing;  Chakotay sighed.  He hated these diplomatic functions.  Kathryn was much better at them – he wondered what she was doing.

           At that moment, Kathryn Janeway was ambling down the corridor to her quarters, wondering how she would spend the evening.  She was somewhat restless and not in the mood for company.  After a quick shower and change of clothes, she ate her dinner alone, reading yet another report.  But that activity palled, she couldn’t concentrate, and got up to stare out the viewport.  She couldn’t see the planet as Voyager was tucked in behind a small moon, but she looked in that direction, and sighed.  She wondered what  Chakotay was doing.   Enough of this time-wasting, she told herself and went to look for next month’s duty roster.

           Chakotay had told her it was ready, but she couldn’t find it in the pile of padds.  Must be in his office – she was sure he wouldn’t mind if she looked.  However, a thorough search resulted in failure.  Where else could it be!  Perhaps his quarters.  Now, what would he think if she poked around in there.  Well, he wouldn’t know anyway, so why worry about it.

           Using her override, she slipped into his cabin and called for lights.  She prowled through several padds stacked on his desk and – there it was!  He must have forgotten about it in the last minute hurry to get away, or thought it was in his office.  She glanced at the other padds, then looked around the room.

           She had not often been here.  Their private dinners were always in her quarters, which were bigger and had a proper dining table.  The only other times they were alone were when they were on duty.  There had rarely been any reason for her to come to him here.  She started to poke around, aware that she was snooping and deciding she didn’t care.

           Several sand paintings adorned the walls, the armchairs were covered in an abstract geometrical  design which had always intrigued her, several stone carvings sat on shelves on one wall.  She decided to peek in his bedroom – might as well go for broke.  The medicine wheel hung on the wall opposite his bed under the viewport.  And his medicine bundle lay on the side table where he could reach it easily.   On the other side table sat a pair of holoimages of her.  One had been taken at the last Prixin celebration; she was smiling at someone – maybe him.  He must have coaxed it out of the doctor.  The other was from New Earth.  She didn’t remember this particular image – he had taken quite a few, but there could be no doubt.  That was the only time in over six years that she had looked that relaxed and carefree.  And was that a smudge of dirt on her nose?  Yes, it was.  Probably he’d taken it when she was tending her tomatoes.

           Kathryn sat down on the bed to study it more closely.  It was positioned so that he could see it easily while lying in bed.  Oh Chakotay!  I didn’t think you still felt that way; or to be honest, I guess I pretended to myself that you had moved on.  Their whole situation was so complicated anyway, that it was much easier to maintain the fiction that they were just good friends.  Well, here was the truth.  She had no idea what to do about it or whether she should do anything.

           In the silence of his quarters, she lay down on his bed and let her mind speculate about what might have been if Tuvok hadn’t come back for them.  She dozed for a while until awakened by a chirp from her comm badge. 

           “Tuvok to Janeway.”

           She sat up.  “Yes, Commander.”

           “Captain, there is an urgent communication from Regent Teedarn.  He will speak only to you.   Shall I put it through to your location?”  which was a subtle way of telling her he knew where she was but wouldn’t broadcast it to the crew. 

           “Please.”  She flipped on Chakotay’s monitor and a moment later, Teedarn appeared on the screen.

           “Captain Janeway, I regret to inform you that there has been an incident  regarding your crew.”

           “What kind of incident, Regent?”

           “ A band of criminals has kidnapped Commander Chakotay.  We believe they are holding him for ransom.  Unfortunately, we have been unable to locate them.”

           “Kidnapped?!  When did this happen?  Where is the rest of the away team?”

           “Captain, your remaining crew are here in good health and safe hands.  The commander was taken ten koloons ago.”  Half an hour, Janeway thought.

           “Regent, what measures are you using to find him?  Perhaps we can help the search.”

           “Thank you, Captain.  We would appreciate any assistance.”

           “We’re on our way.  Janeway out.”

           She hailed the bridge.  “Tuvok, recall the away team at once – Chakotay’s been kidnapped!”
           “Aye, Captain”  came as she hurried out the door.

        ________________________________________________________


           Over the next several hours, the captain became increasingly frustrated with the complete failure of the rescue operation.  Scans were inconclusive, search teams were sent to different coordinates only to discover nothing, and the regent was becoming more and more evasive.  Finally, she determined to take charge herself.  Tuvok objected – strenuously for a Vulcan, but she was adamant.

           “We’re getting nowhere, Tuvok.  And time’s a-wasting.  They need a good kick where it’ll do the most good.  And I intend to deliver it.”  And off she strode to the transporter room.

           “Come along, Ensign, hurry it up!  What’s the problem?  Just transport me to the same coordinates as the others.”

           “Yes, Captain”, she replied nervously, “we have been trying to screen the transports so the locals are not aware of them – and there’s a group standing right on the spot.”

           “Can you find a building, or clump of trees handy – anything?”

           “Oh.  They’re moving away.  I can send you down now, Captain.”          

           “Very good, Ensign, energize.”

           She materialized in a large glade encircled by trees.  The area was not heavily wooded, but there was enough ground cover to disguise her sudden appearance.  She started to walk through the trees towards buildings in the near distance.  Suddenly a group of men jumped up, surrounded her, grabbed   
her arms and covered her mouth.  She struggled fiercely but had no hope of fighting off so many.  She felt a prick against her neck, then passed out.

           When Janeway came to, it was immediately evident that she was on a ship.  Her eyes were blindfolded, hands tied and mouth taped, but there was no mistaking the vibration of impulse engines.  She felt movement beside her, someone brushed her head, and then her blindfold and gag were removed.  Two men looked her over carefully as they conversed.  The universal translator wasn’t working – well, no wonder:  no comm badge.
As she stared blankly at them, one stuck a small device behind her ear – ah, apparently this planet’s version of a translator.

           “There, Captain Janeway, that’s better.  Now you should understand us.  I am Shawbag: this is Rordit.  I will explain your abduction.   You should know that no harm will befall you if all our terms are met.”

           “Terms?!  Am I a hostage, then?  Are you the people who seized Chakotay?  Where are we going…?”

           “One question at a time, Captain.  Yes, you are a hostage of the Freedom Fighters Alliance.  I do not know any ‘Chakotay’ – is he/she one of your crew?  And you will see soon enough where we’re going.”

           “My crew will search for me.  They won’t leave without me.”

           “I am glad to hear it.  Hopefully, they will persuade the Revolutionary League and the regent to come to an agreement with us quickly.  Then you can go back to your ship and be on your way.”

           “Even if that happens, I will not go without my first officer – where is  he?!!  she demanded.

           “Ah!” said Rordit.  “Do you mean this Chakotay you spoke of?  What happened to him?”

           “You should know!!  He was kidnapped, abducted just like me.”

           “We don’t know anything about another abduction, Captain.  I will ask our field leader – perhaps he heard something.”  And he left the room.

           Janeway was starting to get a very bad feeling about all this.  Apparently, there was more than one rebel faction and their methods included kidnapping offworlders, no doubt to raise funds.  It really would have helped, she mused, if Teedarn had given them some sort of warning.

           Time passed; Shawbag went out and did not return; she looked around as best she could.  The ship appeared to be a small interplanetary freighter, and not new either.  She could hear a heavy staccato note below the regular vibrations and thought the engines probably hadn’t seen any maintenance for some time.   Even as she listened more intently, trying  to decide what was causing such a sound, there was a sudden exclamation, then a warning yell.  As she peered around, a loud bang was heard and the ship heeled over onto its side.  There were more shouts, she could feel a blast of heat and then Shawbag dashed in, pulled her up, and unfastened her bonds before tearing out the door.  The ship’s nose suddenly dropped and it began to spiral.  Janeway was thrown against the door frame and grabbed on tight with both hands.  She knew they were going down.

           At the last second, the pilot managed to pull the nose up just enough that the freighter didn’t disintegrate completely when it hit the ground.  But the impact was severe enough to break it in two.  The forward section careened across desert scrub and smashed into a large outcropping of boulders.  Those inside were crushed by the impact, which killed everyone not already dead.  The rear portion skipped like a flat stone across a pond before coming to rest against a small sand dune. 

           For some time, there appeared to be no sign of life, but then a head peeked out carefully.  Kathryn Janeway felt as if she had been kneaded and rolled like a piece of bread dough, but she was alive and more or less intact.  She realized she was the only one.

           Things did not look good, she reflected.  The surroundings were mostly desert with some areas of pure sand.  She had no idea where she was on the planet and no water or provisions.  Well, maybe there would be something in the rest of the ship.  She climbed out the breach in the hull, walked around her part only to find she couldn’t even see the rest of it.  Slowly she turned until she spotted a flash of light in the distance.  There, was that a reflection off metal, or just a trick of light?   Since she had nothing to lose, she set off towards it.

           Half an hour’s hard tramping brought her to the outcropping where she found the remainder of the ship.  She held her nose and climbed over the three dead crewmen, poking anywhere she could.  Nothing.  I guess this was going to be a short trip, she thought.  Walking around the outside, she found a damp patch of ground and then the ruptured water tank.   Damn!  Now what!  Maybe there was some left.  A container, she needed something to hold liquid.  There – a metal jug – that would do.  Quickly, she moved back to the tank, jug in hand, and caught the last trickle.  Damn again!  If only she had realized sooner!  Well, she hadn’t.  There was a scant two cups in her jug.  It would have to do.  If her luck turned for the better, not a common occurrence in the Delta Quadrant, rescue was on the way.


          ____________________________________________________



           Fifty-two hours later, Kathryn Janeway knew her run of bad luck was holding firm.  The sun, or suns – she wasn’t sure now how many there were – beat down mercilessly; the heat was utterly enervating.  All she could do was sit or lie in the shadow of the wreckage and endure.  She had started out allowing herself one sip of water every two hours, but now she was trying to lengthen that period to three.  Her hands were shaking nearly all the time and her greatest fear was that she would spill what was left.

           Several times, she was sure help was at hand.  Voices would echo off the rocks, but no one ever came.  After the third time, she knew she was hallucinating and tried to focus her mind on an absolute – the square root of pi, Fermat’s Theorem, anything.  For a while, it worked but then they began again.

           Just over there – she was sure that was her father coming towards her.  With Justin beside him.  She tried to look away, knowing they were mirages, only to see Mark approaching from another direction.  The voices were back, dancing all around her in the desert air.  They were telling her something – what?  Walk that way, no – stay here, climb up the rock, do this, do that.  What was real?  What wasn’t?  What should she believe?

           She thought she felt movement beside her leg and looked down to see a small lizard.  Her spirit guide? or just a lizard.  She didn’t know; she was becoming more and more confused, not knowing how to distinguish reality from imaginary anymore.  Desperate, she tried to pray to any god who might choose to hear her.  But there was no answer.

           Frightened now, unable to think clearly anymore and close to panic, she found herself crying for help, the tears pouring down her face.  She collapsed to the ground, alone and helpless.   Her mind degenerated into chaos – a disorder of colours, images, memories  all jumbled together; she could no longer think coherently.  She slipped into a coma.


Part 2:   Chakotay


           At 1900 hours on the day after Janeway set out to find him, and some thirty hours after her freighter crashed, Commander Chakotay was rescued by, of all people, a group of picnickers who found him bound and gagged hidden by underbrush near a stream.  Actually, it was the children, playing the local version of hide-and-seek, who discovered him first.  Quickly they called to their parents, who in turn contacted the authorities; the commander was soon freed and even offered a share of their meal, which he gratefully accepted.

           Shortly thereafter, he was retrieved by a personal representative of the regent who wasted no time in escorting him to the palace.  Teedarn was most apologetic, if somewhat vague about just who the kidnappers were.  Chakotay decided he didn’t really care and, as soon as he could get in a word, requested a message be transmitted to the Flyer since he no longer had his comm badge.  To his surprise, the call went instead to Voyager; shortly after he returned to his ship.  Heading directly to the bridge from the transporter room, he was met with a scene of controlled uproar.  The captain had disappeared, no one knew where.  All efforts to locate her had failed.  Chakotay collapsed in his chair and buried his head in his hands.

           Twelve hours passed – nothing.  Chakotay paced, sat, paced again.  Tuvok came very close to physical violence before he was able to persuade the commander to go to the mess hall for a meal, and his quarters for a change of clothes.  But all too soon he was back on the bridge.  Pacing.  Still nothing.  Tuvok called him into the briefing room and made it very plain that Chakotay would have to find some occupation – he was driving the crew to distraction.  He agreed – he knew that, and if it had been anyone else, he would have been much calmer.  But not when it was Kathryn.

           He retreated to her ready room so he could be close by but not upset the crew any further.  He wandered to the viewport where she so often stood, looked back to her desk, then went and sat in her chair.  Funny how different the room looked from this side.  He flipped on her terminal – her log was open – and played the last entry, heard her voice become more husky as she noted the details of his disappearance and what she planned to do about it.   No clues there.  He turned it off; opened a drawer at random, found several padds on a variety of subjects.  Another drawer – Mark’s picture with the dog; so that’s where it had ended up – he’d wondered.

           He got to his feet, roamed around the room again but couldn’t find a spot where he was the slightest bit comfortable.  There was too much Captain in  here – the place reeked of her.  He headed back out to the bridge but a very stern glare from Tuvok propelled him straight on to the turbolift.

           He wandered down the corridor to his quarters, then veered past them and headed for hers.  Desperation was creeping into his soul – they had to find her!  They had to!  He overrode her door code and slipped inside.

           Looking around, he wandered to her sofa and sat down.   But restlessness forced him up again.  He poked through her books, rummaged across her desk – not much here, and eventually worked his way around to the entrance to her bedroom.  He shifted uncomfortably, but the feeling that he must hold on to whatever he could of her, drove him on.  He prowled around her bed, glanced in the bathroom and sat down at her dressing table.  He examined everything – hairbrush, makeup jars, lipstick, all of it.

           Finally, he looked at the bed and seemed to come to a decision.  He kicked off his boots, lay down on top of the covers and buried his face in her pillow.  Now he could relax, and so he drifted off to sleep.

           Six hours later, a call came from engineering.  B’Elanna had been experimenting with the sensors, trying different kinds of sweeps – high frequency, low, magneton, whatever she could think of.  Something was masking biosignatures; she didn’t know if the block was natural or artificial, but a lot of lifeform readings were distorted.  Now her persistence had paid off.  There was a shadow, almost a hint of a human biosignature rather than an actual reading, but it was the first positive sign they had gotten in over two days.  Chakotay raced down to deck eleven.

           “Report, Torres!  What have you got?”

           “Commander, I have been trying every different kind of scan and sweep that I can think of – plus a few new combinations.  I don’t want to get your hopes up, but there seems to be something down there.”

           “Define  ‘something’, Lieutenant.”

           “Well…” B’Elanna hated being so imprecise; it went against her nature.

           “Come on, B’Elanna, what?!   You didn’t call me down here for no reason.”

           “Chakotay, it’s a shadow, a ghost image if you will, but it could be a human lifeform.  It came and went in a flash – but I did see something.”

           “Can you run that sweep again?”

           “Yes, but I find it difficult to concentrate both on the sensor settings – they’re very delicate – and the readings at the same time.  Could you watch the monitors?”   He sat down eagerly.  Finally, something to do!

           “Tell me everything you see!” ordered B’Elanna.  “Everything!  I’ll adjust the sensors accordingly.”  They began with a very slow sweep of a desert area.  Chakotay reeled off the location of every hill, rock, plant even.  B’Elanna interrupted several times, exhorting him to look harder and make sure he omitted nothing.  He chuckled inwardly.  In her engine room, she was absolute ruler.  She was barking out orders as if he were some hapless crewman a little slow on the uptake.

           At the end of half an hour, the sweep had covered a large area.  B’Elanna’s plan was two-fold:  map the area thoroughly so every possible distinguishing feature was displayed.  Then run the scan again and compare it to the first.  Hopefully, any discrepancies would show up the second time through.

           At the end of the second half hour, Chakotay’s eyes were aching and his mouth was dry.  He was trying to find his voice to tell her to stop, when – there!  What was that?   “B’Elanna, focus on that last part again, grid 14 – on the edge.  There’s a rock outcropping – to the left – there!  What’s that?”

           “What did you see, Chakotay?  Where?”

           “Right there.  I thought I caught a movement of sorts, a shadow if you like – a ghost!  Cloaking device!  My god, B’Elanna, that’s it!”
      
             He ran full speed out of engineering to the turbolift, paging the bridge as he went.   “Chakotay to the bridge.  We’ve found something!  I’m going to transport down to the surface.”

           “Commander,” came Harry’s reply.  “I was just about to call you.  There is a large ion storm approaching off the starboard side.   It was masked by the planet, which is why we didn’t notice it sooner.  ETA is ten minutes.  The advance wave is already disrupting transporters.”

           “Prepare a shuttle.”

           “Commander,”  he heard Tuvok’s voice now.  “It is unwise for both senior officers…”

           Chakotay interrupted him.  “Stow it, Tuvok!  I’m going!  You have the bridge.  Chakotay out.”

           He rounded the last corner and nearly crashed into the door of the shuttle bay, he was hurrying so fast.  The crew were just finishing – “all ready to go, Commander.”

           “Thanks, Seymour” with a quick smile, and he dashed in, sealed the hatch and fell into the pilot’s seat.

           “Chakotay to bridge.  Prepare for launch.”

           “Bridge here.  You are clear – proceed.  And good luck, Commander.  We will break orbit now and return as soon as possible.  Bridge out.”

           As the shuttle lifted off and soared out of the bay, he reflected briefly that an ion storm could last for days.  It might be a while before he saw Voyager again.  He aimed the nose downward, and headed for the planet at maximum speed.  The storm was gaining on him but he managed to get through the atmosphere before the full force of it could be felt.

           Once he had reached a height of three thousand meters, he levelled out and cruised until he found the spot where they had located the sensor ghost.  And then he saw it – a wrecked ship, a small freighter by the look of it – under that outcropping.  It faded in and out of view several times; apparently, the ion storm was disrupting the cloak. 

           Chakotay set the shuttle down beside it, opened the hatch, walked out into the heat, around the ship and stopped.  Ahead was what looked like a bundle of red and black rags.  And then he ran forward – Kathryn!

           He knelt by her side and felt her neck.  There was a pulse – weak, but there.  She was unconscious, not just asleep, her face bruised in a couple of spots, as were her forearms he could see when he pulled up her sleeves.  He felt all her limbs carefully but couldn’t find any breaks.  He knew he was taking a chance moving her, but they had to get to shelter; he picked her up as gently as possible, returned to the shuttle and sealed the door.

           The emergency medkit provided a tricorder which confirmed some bruising but no fractures, extreme dehydration, heat prostration and coma.  He washed her face and hands lightly, then let a trickle of water drip into her mouth.  He ran the damp cloth over cracked lips, then let more dribble in.  She swallowed convulsively, then swallowed again.  He repeated the procedure twice more; by then, her eyelids were fluttering.  He lifted her enough to remove her clothing down to her underwear, and then wiped her whole body with a cool, damp cloth.  He checked her body temperature – good, it was near normal.  When he looked back up, her eyes were open.

           “Don’t try to talk, Kathryn.  I found you.  We’re in a shuttle on the planet.  You’re safe now.”

           She nodded her head slightly, then looked up startled as the little ship rocked.

           “There’s an ion storm – must be almost on top of us now.  I got here just before it started.  We were very lucky to find you.  That freighter has a cloaking device.”

           She tried to speak.  “How long?”  she croaked.

           “Over two days since you disappeared.  I was rescued yesterday – by a bunch of picnickers of all things.  I was okay – a lot better than you.  You can tell me what happened later.  Don’t try to talk right now.”

           The shuttle rocked again – harder.  One end lifted up slightly before dropping back down.  The storm was a bad one, he realized.  He found some blankets which would make the floor more comfortable and settled down beside her.  She was too weak to brace herself against the increasingly violent motion, so he pulled her into his chest and wrapped his arms and legs around her as tightly as he could.  He loosened his grip slightly when she pushed at him, gasping for air.  He angled her head so she could breathe easily, then buried his face in her hair.  His whole body trembled as the relief of finding her alive flowed through him.

           Kathryn’s head gradually cleared, and with it, her grip on reality.  She had thought Chakotay’s presence was another hallucination, but apparently not.  Somehow, he had found her and was holding her very tightly, why she didn’t know.  It seemed they were in a cradle of some sort.  No, as her eyes opened, it was the shuttle.  They were lying on the floor of the shuttle which was being tossed around by a giant hand.  Flickering light showed her that they were on the planet, not in space.  It must be a storm – a big one.  Having worked out this much, she then discovered that she was dressed only in her underwear.  Oh dear!  This was cozy!

           She turned her head a bit and the movement roused him for the doze into which he had fallen.

           “Hi there.  Feeling better?”  he asked.

           “Yes, I am.  Uh, could you explain why we’re lying here like this?”

           “There’s a bad ion storm; it must be at least force four.  Lying here seemed a safer…”

           “I figured out that part, Chakotay.  Why are you dressed and I’m not?”

           “Oh.  Well.  It’s like this.  I found you unconscious, Kathryn, in a coma, and very dehydrated with a fever – due to heat prostration, I imagine.  I was trying to cool you down.”
           “I see.  And let me guess.  There wasn’t time to get my clothes on before the storm hit.”  Her tone was very dry.  “Enjoying yourself, Commander?”

           Oh, that brought out the dimples!  “You bet, Captain.  I’m having a wonderful time.”

      
    “I’m sure you are”, in an even dryer tone.  The shuttle lurched harder, pushing her up tight against him, so that he could feel every inch of her and she him.  His breathing changed to a pant and he swallowed.  Oh man!  Did she feel good!  His hands wandered up and down her back and arms, stroking, caressing, and his hips jerked against her pelvis.

            ________________________________________________


          He lay still, not quite able to believe what had just happened.  He had stopped dreaming, stopped hoping, sure that she felt only friendship, that she wanted nothing more.  And now, out of the blue, in a damn shuttle on a godforsaken planet, in the middle of an ion storm that threatened several times to overturn them – she had proved him completely and totally wrong.  He started to chuckle.  Who would have thought.  Not him, obviously.  She looked over her shoulder at the sound and gave him a very saucy smile.  He grabbed her shoulders, pulled her down and gave her the longest, most passionate kiss he could.  Life was good; he didn’t care what came next.


      _______________________________________________________


           Some six hours after Voyager had broken orbit to ride out the storm in deep space, it was finally able to return to the planet.  As soon as he could, Tuvok hailed the shuttle.

           “Voyager to Commander Chakotay.   Do you read?”

            The hail repeated twice more before Chakotay finally located his comm badge and answered.

           “Chakotay here.  I have the captain.  She’s alive and well except for a few bumps and bruises.”

           “Tuvok”, Janeway spoke then.  “It’s good to hear you.  Status.”

           “The ship has ridden out the storm undamaged, Captain.  All systems are functioning normally.”

           “Well, the shuttle wasn’t so fortunate.  We haven’t finished checking, but it appears that propulsion is off line.  That’s for starters.”

           “Under the circumstances, Captain, may I suggest that you and the commander beam back to Voyager; in turn, I will send a repair team to retrieve the shuttle.”

           “Sounds good to me.  Give us ten minutes to tidy up”,  tidy up what?  Tom wondered, “and I’ll call for transport.  Janeway out.”

           “Bridge to engineering.  We have found the shuttle but it is damaged.  The captain and commander will transport back to the ship.  Please assemble an away team to go and make enough repairs that it can be retrieved.”

           “Very good, Commander”, came B’Elanna’s voice.

           Shortly after, having made themselves presentable, the captain and commander returned to Voyager.  He headed for the bridge while she took herself to sickbay for the required checkup.  The doctor announced that she must take two days off duty to recover from her ordeal;  he agreed she could spend the time in her quarters.  Kathryn consented without argument.  She had a lot to think about.


Part C:  Together


           A good night’s sleep did much to restore her equilibrium.  She pulled up the ship’s logs for the time she had been absent and brought herself up to date on all that had happened while she was gone.  By lunch, she thought she had a pretty good grasp of their situation.  She paged several department heads over the course of the afternoon to get the latest reports on engine status, supplies of both food and dilithium, and the state of affairs on the planet.  At that point, the doctor turned up at her door to lecture her in no uncertain terms on just what ‘off duty’ meant.  Since she had already accomplished most of what she had wanted to, she confounded him by smiling sweetly and agreeing with everything he said.  It shut him up much faster, she found.   She must remember that.

           After he had left, she sat and stared out the viewport, letting her mind wander.  What had been real?  What hadn’t?  Take the voices, for instance; the way they had echoed back and forth, sometimes clear, other times just sound.  What had they been?  Where had they come from?  She still could make no sense of them.

           The images of her father, Justin and Mark she knew had come only from her imagination.  That much was clear.  Glad to be able to rationalize at least one part of her experience, she put it aside and examined the last – vision, for want of a better word.  The lizard.  It had looked like her spirit guide but she couldn’t be sure.  It  had been a long time since she had gone on a vision quest – a very long time.  It could have been just a lizard; she had been in a desert, after all. 

           She did clearly remember the feelings:  paralysing fear, desperation akin to panic, terrifying loneliness, all of which had driven her to near hysteria.  Those had certainly been real.  This line of thought led her to the next part – waking up near-naked in Chakotay’s arms.  And all that had happened after.  Well, that part was pretty straightforward.  There could certainly be no doubt it was real.  The question was – what was she going to do about it.

           Chakotay went directly to Kathryn’s quarters after his shift to report on the ship’s status.  Repairs were underway on the shuttle, the regent had been informed of the captain’s rescue, and his report was logged.  He hit her doorchime impatiently, anxious to see her, a little afraid of her reaction now that events had had time to settle.

           As she let him in, he eyed her a bit warily.  There was no hint of her thoughts in her expression.  After giving her a summary of Voyager’s status, he inquired if she had been able to make any sense of her experiences.

           “Yes, Chakotay, a lot has become clear, but there are still some puzzling bits.  I’ve been going over it all; I’m having trouble understanding what was real and what wasn’t.  I even thought I saw my spirit guide but then – I’m not sure.  That shouldn’t  have happened, should it, without going through the ritual.”

           “I don’t know, Kathryn.  Spirit guides can be quite independent.  They’re not bound by rules.  If yours wanted to tell you something, something important, it could certainly appear without using the akoonah.  Did you sense a message of some kind?”

           “No, I didn’t.  But to tell you the truth, I was in such a jumble, it could have shouted in my ear and I wouldn’t have known.”

           “Do you want to go on a vision quest?”

           “I – don’t know.  In a way, I would, but then, it’s been so long.  Could you come with me?”

           “I could but I don’t know if I should.  Joint quests are rare, Kathryn.  It’s meant to be a solitary exercise.”  At the look of disappointment on her face, he continued.  “If you really want me to, I will.”

           “It might help sort out the confusion in my head.  I would like you there.”

           “Very well.  I’ll get my medicine bundle.”  And he started to head for the door before turning back.  “Uh, Kathryn, I should tell you.  A joint quest can bind two people permanently.  With a couple, it is akin to the Vulcan mating bond.”  He hesitated.  “Do you want to reconsider?”

           She looked at him long and hard; and then her face broke into one of those gorgeous full smiles that he so rarely saw.  “No I don’t.  Get your bundle.”

           His heart singing with sudden joy, he hurried out and was back almost instantly, medicine bundle in hand.  He sat crosslegged on the floor and spread it out as she joined him.  He took her hand in his and placed both on the akoonah, then began to speak the words of the ritual.  Their eyes closed in unison.

           Even before she could see, she could hear the ocean, feel the wind on her face and his hand warm in hers.   She watched him as he looked around before coming back to her.  He smiled.

           “This is a beautiful spot, Kathryn.  Most appropriate for a quest.  I can feel the peace.

           “Can you?  It’s a wonderful place, Chakotay.  Maybe someday I can show you the real thing.”

           She turned her head to find herself staring at a most unlikely pair of creatures.  Her spirit guide, the little green lizard, was perched on the head of a great gray wolf.  What on earth! She wondered before the answer became obvious.   Of course, this was Chakotay’s spirit guide.  Very impressive  - and fitting, when she thought about it.

           She heard the voice in her head.  “Why are you here, sister?  With him?”

           “He is helping me – I am confused about a recent experience.  I asked for his help.”

           “You realize what bringing him here signifies.”

           “Yes, he told me.”

           “Up to now, you had not wished to have him in your life, except as a friend.  Has that changed?’

           “Yes, it has.”

           “Why?”

           Well, there was a question.  Why indeed.  She thought for a minute, then began to speak without knowing what words she would say.

           “He is more than my friend.  He is a part of me.  He completes me.  I am no longer whole without him.”  Chakotay was staring at her – she must have spoken aloud. 

           “Do you wish to be his mate?” asked the lizard.

           “Yes,” she replied, “I do.”  And the quest ended.

           Kathryn opened her eyes to find Chakotay gazing at her just as  intensely as he had in the vision quest.

           “Kathryn, what you said – did.  Did I dream it, or is it real?”

           “It’s real, Chakotay.  I  meant every word.”

           “Oh Kathryn.”  And he hugged her tightly to him.  “I was so afraid that you would back away, pretend it never happened.”
   
           “Not this time.  Chakotay, I…” she hesitated and then grinned.  “You know, Chakotay, I feel wonderful.  Just this once, everything’s right in my life.”

           “A rare occurrence in the Delta Quadrant.”  He still looked a little worried.  “Do you think it will last?”

           “This will,” she whispered.  “As long as we can be together, live and work together, this will.”  And Chakotay felt a deep contentment wash over him, one he had never thought to find.

The End

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UNFAMILIAR TERRITORY THE NC17  VERSION