Cold

Summary: Secrets are remembered, a deception is revealed, and Kathryn Janeway learns the consequences of sacrifice.

 

Characters: Janeway, Chakotay, Paris, Tuvok, Kim, Torres, Kes, Neelix, EMH, Seska, O. Paris, Original Characters, VOY crew

Codes: Janeway/Chakotay, Janeway/Paris, Kim/Torres

 

Disclaimer: Most characters and some dialogue and situations belong to Paramount, with a bit of cherry-picking from Jeri Taylor’s Mosaic. Any dubious science or technobabble is entirely my responsibility.

 

Notes: Book 4 of the Parallels series. Related episodes: Message in a Bottle, Hunters.

 

Warning: Depictions of violence and non-consensual sex, as well as the consensual variety.

Rated M

Part Two: Past Simple

 

~ June, 2360 ~

Her very first day on the job, and Ensign Kathryn Janeway was late.

Kathryn the precise, Kathryn the punctual. She checked the chrono again and moaned in frustration. Her internal alarm system was often an annoyance to her; it contributed to her frequent bouts of insomnia, denied her the pleasure of luxuriating in bed of a morning, and forced her to dawdle, solitary, in cafes and parks and lecture halls, waiting for tardier friends. But the one morning she really could have used it, the damn thing decided to take a holiday.

Dragging an arm through one sleeve, she gulped at her coffee, snatched up her PADDs and hurtled into the corridor. She was still fastening her uniform as she stepped out of the turbolift into the science lab, skidding to a halt in front of the duty officer. “Ensign Janeway reporting for duty,” she said quickly, hoping she didn’t sound too breathless.

The dark-eyed human woman in lieutenant commander’s pips regarded her mildly. “Good of you to join us, Ensign. I’m Laura Marshall. You’ll be reporting to me. This is Ensign Dhyl nar Zorok,” she indicated the goggle-eyed, peach-skinned Nhorvian male, whose oversized head bobbed on a spindly neck. “He’s our resident neutron star expert, and has been with us for close to a year now. And this is Lieutenant Justin Tighe, our engineering liaison.” Tighe nodded unsmilingly at Janeway, who couldn’t help standing a little straighter, hoping her hair wasn’t falling out of its braid, as she suspected. His dark blue gaze travelled over her; he seemed to be assessing her and finding her wanting. Flushing, she tilted her chin up.

Commander Marshall gave her a brief update on their project and then Janeway settled herself at a terminal beside the skinny Zorok. It seemed only minutes later that she heard his glottal voice speaking her name. “Time to eat,” he explained when she stared at him.

She’d been utterly engrossed in her first set of analyses; had barely moved, in fact, and was now paying the price. Wincing, she stretched her aching neck and followed Zorok to the mess hall.

She was peppering him with so many questions about the project that she didn’t notice until they’d taken their seats that there was already another person at the table. Kathryn stopped mid-sentence and found herself smoothing her hair behind her ear. God, Lieutenant Tighe made her nervous. “Good afternoon, sir,” she said, subdued.

He nodded and continued eating in silence. She noticed that his gaze roamed the room, his dark blue eyes never still. She glanced around, wondering what he was looking for, and when she looked back his eyes were on her. Kathryn cleared her throat. It was fortunate that Zorok chose that moment to comment on the meal.

The next few weeks were a blur of sensor analyses and sometimes heated theoretical discussions. Their mission was to study rotation rates and gamma-ray bursts from massive compact halo objects. Zorok had completed a doctorate in the topic and was clearly the most knowledgeable, but Kathryn had spent the past two years since her graduation from the Academy studying various stellar phenomena and found she had her own opinions on the topic that sometimes differed from Zorok’s. Commander Marshall encouraged their discussions and often raised suggestions that set them off on further theorising, but Janeway noted that Lieutenant Tighe rarely stirred himself to get involved. She wasn’t really sure what his role was in the project.

The Al-Batani, a deep-space science vessel, was heading for Starbase 718 near the Bhironi system, a group of planets near the edge of the Romulan neutral zone. The small binary neutron star they were on their way to study was a little over a dozen light years from the starbase. As they drew closer to the starbase, Janeway’s job was to monitor the gravimetric pulses and identify any risks to the ship caused by the star’s energetic jets. She was alone in the Astrometrics lab, well past the end of her shift, engrossed in her analyses when a voice spoke behind her.

“Ensign Janeway?”

She jumped. Turning, she came face to chest with a command-red uniform and a pair of silver pips. She raised her head.

Whoa, she thought, and hoped like hell her reaction wasn’t written on her face. Her visitor had dark chocolate eyes, mocha skin and a pair of dimples providing punctuation marks to a blinding white grin. “Sir,” she said, straightening automatically.

“At ease.” He sounded amused, and held out a hand for her to shake. “Lieutenant Chakotay,” he introduced himself. “Chief helm officer. I’m piloting an away mission tomorrow and need to map a route to one of the planets in the Bhironi system. I’m told there are subspace instabilities in the region. The Captain suggested I talk to you.” The dimples deepened. “I need your help, Ensign.”

“Yes, sir,” she said, wondering where her breath had gone. She turned back to the control panel, pulling up a map of the Bhironi system on the display screen, and he stepped up beside her. “Uh, which planet are you going to?”

“The third one.” He indicated it. She tapped into the scientific sensors and overlaid the image with the gravimetric map she’d created. “The binary star is here,” she pointed. “You can see the gamma-ray ejections have destabilised subspace to varying degrees around it. The third planet in the system isn’t as seriously impacted, probably because the asteroid belt surrounding it deflects some of the gamma-ray bursts, but you’re right, you’ll have to navigate around any newly-forming subspace instabilities. The problem is, the neutron star is highly active and it’s difficult to predict the strength and direction of the pulses.”

“Any idea how I’m going to pilot through that mess without getting everyone on the shuttle vapourised?”

“Maybe,” she said slowly. “If you modify your shuttle’s deflector dish to emit continuous low-grade tachyon pulses, the tachyons will reflect off the gravimetric instabilities and you’ll be able to use the echoes to navigate a path through them.”

“Looks like I came to the right place.” The pilot was grinning at her. “You’ve just made my job a whole lot easier. Can I buy you a drink to say thanks?”

“Oh. I, um,” she stammered, then pulled herself together. “Thank you, sir, that would be nice.”

“I think we can stand down on the formalities,” he said. “Call me Chakotay.”

“Okay,” she said. “Nice to meet you, Chakotay. I’m Kathryn.”

 

=/\=


“Ensign Janeway,” Commander Marshall greeted her when she reported for duty three days later. “Captain Paris has asked you to attend the briefing room in half an hour.”

“Me?” Kathryn paled a little. “Uh, may I ask why?”

“The mission to Bhironi III was a success. I believe Lieutenant Chakotay claims your assistance was invaluable.” Marshall smiled. “I’m pretty sure the Captain wants to thank you. You can relax, Kathryn. You did a good job.”

Entering the briefing room, she quailed a little as the eyes of everyone around the table turned to her. “Ensign Janeway,” the Captain boomed, standing to shake her hand, then giving her a quick hug with his other arm. “It’s good to see you again, Katie.”

“Thank you, sir,” she smiled. “It’s good to be here. My mother sends her regards.”

“Next time, tell her to send some of her brownies,” he grinned, and waved her to a seat. “Lieutenant Chakotay there tells me you’re the one who saved his away team’s bacon out there. Well done, Ensign.”

“Thank you, Captain.” She kept her gaze politely on his face, trying not to be distracted by Chakotay smiling at her from the opposite end of the table.

“Good. Well, we’re going to need your assistance again, as it happens. You’ll be joining the away team on the Tesla tomorrow. Report to Shuttlebay Two at 0700 hours.”

“Sir?”

“Chakotay has your mission briefing. Dismissed,” Paris said gruffly, and everyone around the table filed out.

“Come on,” Chakotay said, nudging her out of the room behind the others. “I’ll fill you in.”

They went to the Astrometrics lab and Chakotay instructed her to call up the map of the Bhironi system. “This is where we’re going,” he told her, indicating the fourth planet.

“The subspace instabilities are considerably more intense in the region of that planet,” she observed. “It’s closer to the binary star and not so protected from the gravimetric shear.”

“That’s why we need you. You’ll be monitoring the gravimetric pulses from the science station on the shuttle and keeping me informed of any imminent danger. I’m going to have my hands full navigating and keeping us in one piece, so I’ll be relying on you to help guide us.”

“Why are we going there?” she asked. “I thought only the third planet was inhabited.”

“Officially, yes.” Chakotay paused. “I’m authorised to tell you this because you’re coming on this mission, but you’ll need to keep it classified. You’re aware that Bhironi III has only been a Federation member planet for about five years?”

She nodded.

“Not everybody on the planet was overly keen to join the Federation,” he explained. “A secessionist movement has been gathering strength over the past couple of years, and after they made a number of attacks on the Bhironi parliament, they’ve been declared terrorists. Two weeks ago, a small party of secessionists infiltrated Starbase 718. They’ve taken two Starfleet officers hostage and are holding them on the fourth planet. Our mission is to secure their release.”

Kathryn’s eyes widened.

“The Al-Batani will take us back on board as soon as we’ve cleared the solar system, but the ship can’t enter the planetary area. It’s too big to navigate the subspace instabilities. Don’t worry,” he assured her. “You’ll stay on the shuttle while the rest of the away team beams down. Part of your job will be to monitor our signals and transport us back to the Tesla along with the hostages, once we’ve rescued them.”

She couldn’t help swallowing hard. “Will it be dangerous?”

“It’s possible. We’ll try for a peaceful resolution, of course.”

“Who else is on the away team?”

“Lieutenant O’Day and Lieutenant Tighe.”

O’Day made sense; he was the ship’s tactical chief. “Why is Lieutenant Tighe going?” she asked, unable to suppress a small pang of anxiety. This mission was going to be challenging enough without Tighe’s unreadable eyes boring into her back. “He’s an engineer.”

Chakotay shrugged. “Captain’s orders. Are you okay with this?” he asked her. “If you’re not confident, I can ask the Captain to assign Ensign Zorok.”

At that, she raised her chin and gave him a glare that made him laugh and hold his hands up in front of him. “I surrender,” he grinned.

“Don’t worry about me,” she told him coolly. “Just because I wear a blue uniform, doesn’t mean I don’t know how to handle myself.”

“I have no doubt of that.”

She flushed a little at the undercurrent in his voice. If she didn’t know better, she’d swear he was flirting with her.

“Well,” she said briskly. “Thank you for the briefing, Lieutenant.”

“You’re welcome, Ensign.” The dimples were on full wattage. She’d given him an exit, but he wasn’t going anywhere.

Definitely flirting. Kathryn didn’t know where to look.

“So,” she said brightly. “Have you been on many rescue missions before?”

“A few,” he acknowledged. “My last posting was seven years on the Clement under Captain T’Meni. We had our fair share of encounters with some less than friendly species. The Breen were probably my favourites. Charming people. Then there were the Ferengi, and the Tzenkethi …”

“You’re only a few years older than I am,” she observed. “How have you been in Starfleet so long? You’ve seen so much.” She couldn’t help a twinge of envy.

“I graduated eight years ago,” he answered. “I was fifteen when Captain Sulu sponsored me for early admission to the Academy.”

“I’m impressed,” she admitted. “What made you join up so young?”

“I couldn’t wait to get off my homeworld.” He laughed, but she realised his eyes weren’t smiling. “I come from the Dorvan system, way over near the Cardassian Union. My people aren’t big on technology, and I never really fit into their chosen way of life.”

“Well.” She smiled up at him. “Their loss is Starfleet’s gain.”

“Thanks,” he grinned. “So. You know the Captain?”

“The Parises are family friends. My parents used to host them for dinner occasionally.”

“Starfleet brat,” he teased her.

“Guilty.”

Chakotay’s commbadge chirped; the Captain had summoned him to the bridge. “Gotta go, Katie,” he teased her, and then he turned back and looked at her for a long moment. Under his gaze, she felt her spine begin to tingle. His voice was softer when he spoke again.

“Kate,” he said, as if he was trying the word out, then smiled. “It suits you.”

 

=/\=


You can do this, Kathryn pep-talked herself as Chakotay ran through the pre-flight checks. Monitor the sensors, keep a lock on the away team while they’re on the surface, beam them up. Simple.

The shuttle cleared the bay and set a course for the solar system, and Janeway’s trepidation eased into anticipation. She’d never had a chance to get this close to a binary neutron star before. The Al-Batani had to hold position at least two light years from the object in case its gravimetric pull began to destabilize the ship’s structural integrity, but the Tesla, with its much smaller mass, could approach much closer. Their flight plan would take them along the outskirts of the Bhironi system, passing within a few billion kilometres of the star and looping back around toward the fourth planet. If she found she had the time, she could take some closer readings of the neutron star, maybe even watch it spurt out an energetic jet with her naked eye. Ensign Zorok would be jealous, she thought, smiling to herself.

She set the deflector to emit the measured tachyon pulses and transmitted the sensor map to Chakotay’s navigational terminal. “Pulse series initiated,” she reported.

“Acknowledged,” he replied. “Engaging at half-impulse.”

They flew in relative silence for awhile, broken only by Janeway’s status updates and her occasional warning to avoid an area of potential volatility, and Chakotay’s notifications of course corrections. As they approached their entry point to the Bhironi system, Lieutenant O’Day spoke for the first time. “Ensign Janeway, I assume you’re aware of your responsibilities while the rest of us are on the surface.”

“Yes, sir. I’ll maintain a transporter lock on the away team and initiate transport on your command.”

“See that you do,” he told her dourly. “I’m aware this is your first mission that doesn’t involve faffing with telescopes and looking at pretty lights, but I hope your duties won’t be too taxing for you.”

For a moment Kathryn couldn’t believe what she’d heard. A slow burn rose up the back of her neck. Then she heard a soft snort from the engineering station and whirled around to see Lieutenant Tighe hiding a smirk behind his hand. It was the first sign of a smile she’d ever seen from him, and it was at her expense. Humiliated, she opened her mouth to tear a strip or two off him, O’Day and anyone else who felt like underestimating her, and then caught Chakotay’s eye. He shook his head at her, infinitesimally, and the pause gave her the moment she needed to collect herself.

“I’ll do my best not to disappoint you, sir,” she told O’Day through gritted teeth, and the rest of the flight to Bhironi IV was spent in silence.

“We’re in orbit,” Chakotay said finally, and Janeway silently breathed a sigh of relief. The tension inside the shuttle had swelled to the point she’d started to develop a headache, and she couldn’t wait for a little time alone.

Tighe ran a few scans and determined the optimal beam-in coordinates, and the away team dematerialised. Janeway dutifully tied the targeting scanners into the away team’s commbadge signals and slumped back in her chair. “What an ass,” she muttered, then turned to her sensor readouts. The subspace instabilities around the fourth planet were stronger and formed more frequently than those in the course she’d helped Chakotay plot to Bhironi III, and she needed to stay alert and be prepared to ease the shuttle out of orbit if necessary.

She wasn’t expecting the away team to check in for a few hours; Chakotay had told her the negotiation with the terrorists might take some time. But barely half an hour had passed before her commbadge activated.

~O’Day to Tesla, respond!~

Kathryn almost jumped out of her seat. Was that phaser fire? She tapped her commbadge. “Janeway. Go ahead, Lieutenant.”

~We’re taking heavy fire. Get us out of here now.~

Fingers shaking, she tapped the controls. “Initiating transport.”

Five figures began to materialise on the shuttle’s transporter pad. And then her sensor console beeped a warning at her. Janeway whipped around to check the readings. A gamma-ray burst had been ejected from the neutron star. A subspace disruption was forming a few million kilometres from the shuttle and was producing gravitational eddies. She turned quickly back to the transporter pad. The figures were starting to lose cohesion.

“Oh, shit,” she whispered. Think, Kathryn. She tapped into the transporter controls. “Narrowing annular confinement beam,” she said aloud, the sound of her own voice steadying her. “Boosting power to pattern buffer…”

Four of the five figures crystallised and solidified, and Chakotay, O’Day and the two hostages came to life on the pad. The fifth was still a hazy cloud of matter particles.

“Report,” barked O’Day, stepping off the pad while Chakotay helped the rescued officers to their seats.

“I’m having trouble rematerialising Lieutenant Tighe,” Janeway answered him, trying not to panic. “A subspace distortion –”

O’Day cut her off. “Get him back.”

“I’m trying, sir,” she said, hating the quaver in her voice. “His pattern’s been disrupted by the gravitational instability …”

Suddenly, she knew what to do. “Sir,” she addressed O’Day, “I need you to reroute power to the phase transition coil. Give it all the juice you can find.”

He didn’t move. Kathryn couldn’t believe it, but she didn’t have time to waste on him. “Do it,” she snapped. She could worry about insubordination reports later. Right now Tighe’s life was at stake.

To her relief, O’Day moved to the engineering station. “Transferring power from the plasma relays.”

Janeway checked her console and nodded. “Phase transition coil stabilised. I’m remodulating the gravitational compensator.” She tapped in a command and checked the transporter pad. Nothing; Tighe was still dazzling particles of light. “Trying again,” she said through clenched teeth. This time, when she looked at the pad, she saw the engineer beginning to materialise, then fading again. “I need power to the energising coils,” she called.

Chakotay had moved to the helm. “Transferring power from impulse engines.”

That did it. Tighe materialised fully on the pad, blinking in disorientation. Kathryn locked the transport down and bowed her head. Her hands were shaking.

“Rough ride,” Tighe said tersely, stepping down. “What happened?”

“A gravitational disruption almost scattered your signal,” she told him, trying to keep her voice steady.

“Ensign Janeway here just saved your ass,” Chakotay informed him.

Lieutenant Tighe turned to look at her. For the first time his dark blue gaze didn’t make her feel like she was wearing her clothes backwards. She thought there was maybe even a little respect in his eyes. He nodded, abruptly. “Thanks.”

“Don’t mention it,” she said faintly, and turned back to her sensor panel.

 

=/\=


“Is O’Day always such a pompous old targ?”

Chakotay laughed. “That’s a pretty accurate assessment. He’s a good tactical officer, but he doesn’t suffer fools gladly.” He saw her frown at the implication, and hastily added, “Not that you’re a fool. I’m just saying it’s best to stay on his good side.”

“Huh.” Janeway glared into her Denobulan starburst. “Seems to me someone needs to teach him an etiquette lesson.”

“What are you planning?” Chakotay asked suspiciously.

An impish smile curled the corners of her mouth. “Have you ever attended one of O’Day’s tactical training exercises?”

“Sure,” Chakotay said. “He runs them regularly for his security team, but the senior officers are required to get involved at least once a month.”

“So, you’re probably reasonably familiar with the equipment he uses?”

“You could say that,” Chakotay answered carefully. “Why?”

“I have an idea.” She tugged at his elbow, grinning. “C’mon. Let’s go take Lieutenant O’Day down a peg or two.”

 

=/\=


“Juvenile, irresponsible, destructive and unbecoming of a so-called Starfleet officer! And don’t try to deny it was your handiwork.”

Ensign Janeway wondered if Lieutenant O’Day’s shiny bald head might be about to detach itself from his shoulders and go spinning into orbit. The pulsing in the veins on his temples certainly appeared to be approaching critical velocity.

“No, sir, I won’t deny it,” she answered him serenely. “It was me.”

She had been called on the carpet by O’Day less than an hour after his tactical training exercise had begun. She had reconfigured the simulation phasers to spurt out replicated streams of coloured paint rather than photonic energy pulses, and within minutes of the simulation beginning, it had ended in abrupt disarray.

She was quite proud that she’d programmed each paint jet to correspond to the astrometric pattern of the Bhironi system. She wondered if he recognised it, and if so, whether he appreciated the subtlety. Looking at his irate red face, she guessed the answer was no.

She looked at him placidly as he continued to berate her. O’Day had taken the time to change his uniform before he’d had her summoned to the Captain’s ready room, but she noticed there was still a streak of magenta paint on his left earlobe.

Captain Paris’s face was composed in stern lines, but Kathryn could have sworn there was a twinkle in his eyes. “What do you have to say for yourself, Ensign?” he asked her gruffly.

She stood at full attention. “Sir, I have nothing to say for myself. Only that I apologise for my juvenile and irresponsible actions, and for any damage or embarrassment Lieutenant O’Day has suffered as a result.”

“Very well. Report to Deck Eight, Section 12, and bring cleaning solution. You’ll scrub that paint off the walls until they’re spotless. Then consider yourself confined to quarters until your duty shift tomorrow. Dismissed, Ensign.”

“Sir,” she said smartly, and turned on her heel. She noted that O’Day looked even more incensed; apparently the Captain’s chosen punishment did not, in his opinion, fit the crime. As the door closed behind her, she heard Captain Paris say to O’Day, his voice rich with suppressed laughter, “Oh, settle down, Nathan. She’s just a kid. And by the way, you missed a spot.”

 

=/\=


“You shouldn’t have taken all the blame,” Chakotay grumbled. “I was in on it too.”

They’d planned to eat in the mess hall together, the day after the paint incident; Kathryn’s duty shift had just ended and he’d stopped by Astrometrics to collect her.

“You’re a senior officer,” she pointed out. “I hardly think Captain Paris would have let you off as easily as he did me. There are some advantages to being a lowly science ensign.”

“Well, I owe you one.” He grinned at her. “I can’t help feeling like you got the fallout and I got all the fun. Watching O’Day get covered in paint was a treat.”

Kathryn laughed. “Buy me a drink and we’ll call it even.”

“I’ll buy you two,” Chakotay promised.

She raised an eyebrow, leaning against her console. “Planning to get me drunk, Lieutenant?”

“Oh, no. I think you’re capable of enough mischief without adding alcohol to the mix.”

“Well,” she said slowly, “there was this one time at the Andromeda Bar when I was at the Academy …”

“Go on.”

“An Andorian cadet challenged me to a drinking competition, which I naturally accepted,” she told him, her eyes full of laughter. “It was only after the fifth drink, when I realised I was completely tanked and she was barely showing any signs of intoxication, that I remembered Andorians have an incredibly high metabolic rate. She was metabolising the alcohol at a rate I couldn’t hope to keep up with. I never stood a chance.”

“What happened?” he grinned.

“Oh,” she reddened, “let’s just say it didn’t end well for me. There was dancing. On tables. Uh, without a whole lot of clothing.”

Chakotay burst out laughing. “I take it back,” he said, letting his gaze travel casually from her head to her toes. “I am planning to get you drunk.”

Kathryn wondered if her entire body was blushing. “I stick to a maximum of two drinks these days,” she retorted. “If you want to see me naked, you’ll have to try a whole lot harder than that.”

It was only when the laughter in his eyes changed into something else, something that made her feel a little light-headed, that she realised what she’d said. “Noted,” he said, smiling slowly.

She busied herself fiddling with her jacket so she didn’t have to look into those hot-chocolate eyes again. “So, uh, are we going to the mess hall or what?”

“After you.” Still smiling, he gestured for her to precede him.

She’d just started to put her gaffe out of her mind and relax when Lieutenant Tighe approached their table and instantly her back stiffened. Despite her successfully recoalescing his atoms on the Bhironi IV mission, he had remained a tense and humourless presence in the Astrometrics lab, and she still had no idea why he was even on the team. “Lieutenant,” she greeted him warily. Politeness impelled her to offer, “Would you like to join us?”

“No, thank you, Ensign.” He seemed to contemplate her for a moment. “I heard about your phaser alterations. Lieutenant O’Day isn’t exactly your biggest fan at the moment.” She could have sworn his mouth twitched a little.

“At the risk of insulting a senior officer, I’d have to say the feeling is mutual.”

“Well, I doubt he’ll underestimate you again. And neither will I.”

She stared at him. “Um, thank you. That’s good to know, sir.”

To her even greater surprise, he held his hand out, clearly expecting her to shake it. “I’m transferring to another starship tomorrow. Before I leave, I wanted to tell you it’s been a pleasure working with you.”

She took his hand automatically. “It has? Uh, I mean, thanks. Sir.”

“Goodbye, Ensign,” he answered, and walked straight back out of the mess hall.

Kathryn turned her gaze back to Chakotay. “A pleasure working with me? He’s barely spoken two words to me in the past. Any idea what the hell that was about?”

He’d watched their conversation with unreadable eyes, and now he quirked the corner of his mouth at her. “If you haven’t figured it out, Kate, there’s not much point in me telling you.”

 

=/\=


The Al-Batani had been ordered to return to Earth for upgrades and maintenance, to be followed by the long trip to study a proto-nebula near Starbase 621, along the Tzenkethi border. Kathryn was confused; surely they hadn’t learned everything they could from the binary star near the Bhironi system, and surely maintenance could wait a little while until they had? “Orders are orders,” Commander Marshall had told her calmly when she questioned it.

Despite her scientific disappointment, Kathryn had to admit she wasn’t overly upset about leaving an area of space so close to the Romulan Star Empire, but then again, she knew there was also tension between the Federation and the Tzenkethi Coalition. There had been conflict between them in the past, and she’d heard speculation that another war was brewing. There were plenty of proto-nebulas to explore within the safe confines of Federation space. Why would the Al-Batani make such a long trip to study one on the edge of a trouble spot?

Reading back over the Al-Batani’s recent missions, including this most recent one which had turned out to be a hostage rescue, she realised that the majority of them, while apparently scientific in purpose, occurred in hotspots or locations close to the Federation’s borders. Perhaps it was a coincidence, but the more she read, the more she wondered. But she was just an ensign, and one in a blue uniform to boot. Who was she to question Starfleet Command?

For the first time in her life, she wished she could sit at the briefing table with the senior officers and find out what was really going on. She was envious of Commander Marshall’s place at the table; most Starfleet ships did not have a scientist on the senior staff, but as a scientific vessel – allegedly, she thought – the Al-Batani did.

Not for the first time in her life, or the last, Kathryn Janeway found she could not let go of her curiosity.

© 2021 by Mia Cooper