Desperate Measures

Summary: They’re home… but it’s not what they hoped for. Estranged by circumstance and misunderstanding and kept apart by devious design, Voyager’s former command team are drawn into a world of danger, deception and political intrigue that could end up costing their lives.

 

Characters: Janeway, Chakotay, Seven, Kim, Tuvok, Torres, Paris, Sekaya, Original Female Characters, Original Male Characters

Codes: Janeway/Chakotay, Janeway/Other, Chakotay/Seven, Kim/Seven

 

Disclaimer: Paramount/CBS own the rights to the Voyager universe and its characters, which I am borrowing without permission or intent to profit.

Warning: Non-consensual sex depicted.

Rated E

Do you remember the time we...
And all the times we...
And should have...
And were going to...
I know
And I know you remember
- Nine Inch Nails, Zero Sum

===0===


Chapter Eleven: Dirty Work
April, 2379



She wasn’t sure what woke her: the displacement of air as he moved quietly about the room, or the absence of his warmth in the bed beside her. Kathryn blinked her eyes open and turned her head. Chakotay was bent over his tote bag, stuffing in the jeans and t-shirt he’d been wearing the night before.

“You’re leaving.”

He straightened at the husky ache in her voice, turning to look at her. Kathryn pulled her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them, clutching the sheet around her body, protectively, almost defensively.

“I have to,” he answered with a regretful half-smile. “I'm sorry.”

She pushed sleep-tousled hair out of her eyes and tried not to let reproach colour her voice. “Where are you going?”

Chakotay lowered himself to the edge of the bed. “I can't tell you, Kathryn. You know I can't.”

She reached for his hand, folding her fingers around and into his. He shifted towards her on the bed and she pushed the sheet aside, crawling into his open arms, relishing the steady beat of his heart where her cheek was pressed to it and the oh-so-tender slide of his palm down the bare length of her spine.

“I don’t want to leave you,” he mumbled.

She turned her face against his throat and felt his pulse pick up. “Do you have to go right away?”

“In a minute,” he said, and when she took that as encouragement to take his hands and slide them onto her breasts, he groaned softly and held her still. “Kathryn, we can’t do this now.”

“Why not?” she nuzzled into his neck.

He sucked in a breath and backed off, holding her gently away from him. “There’s something I need to give you.”

She sat back on her heels, not missing the way his eyes darkened as he took in the sight of her. Chakotay dug into his pocket and held out his open palm. On it rested a data chip.

“This is everything I’ve found out about Austin’s background,” he told her. “I need you to promise you’ll stay away from him. He’s dangerous, and when you’ve seen this you’ll understand why.”

He picked up her hand and placed the chip in her palm, and reluctantly she closed her fingers around it.

“Promise me,” he urged.

Kathryn nodded, and Chakotay leaned in, his lips brushing hers in a kiss so light its tenderness almost hurt.

“I really have to go.”

“Come back to me,” she whispered.

He kissed her again, harder this time, his hands framing her face. But when she sighed and leaned into him and wound her fingers into his hair he pulled away, turning from the bed as though he didn’t trust himself not to stay. Then he shrugged on his overcoat, slung his tote bag over one shoulder, and left without looking back.

Kathryn squeezed her eyes shut and turned to press her face into the pillow. There was an ache in her throat, and a tightness behind her eyes that warned of an impending migraine.

It took several minutes to wrestle the threatening tears under control. After a while she turned over to stare up at the ceiling, letting her eyes blur out of focus to ease the throbbing pain in her temples.

Just as her consciousness began to drift, she was startled by a sharp succession of taps on the door of the hotel room.

Who in the world? Head and heart pounding, Kathryn scrambled naked from the bed and cast around for something to cover herself. A dark, high-necked sweater lay crumpled on the floor. As she yanked it on, grateful it was several sizes too big, she felt her eyes start to water and she scrunched up her nose, trying to silence the sneezing fit she knew was coming.

The knock came again, louder this time, and Kathryn bit her lip, uncertain what to do next. Her fingers tightened around the data chip tucked tightly in her palm.

“Admiral,” she heard – a woman’s voice, low and urgent. “Admiral, please open the door.”

Tora Jens, she recognised, eyes widening. Tugging the sweater down almost to mid-thigh, she strode over to unlatch the door and had to step back quickly as Jens, wearing a voluminous woollen overcoat, pushed her way into the room.

“Sorry,” the younger woman murmured, shutting the door behind her as she swept back the hood obscuring her face. “I couldn’t risk anyone seeing you here.”

A volley of sneezes prevented Kathryn from challenging her immediately. Jens strode to the replicator and called up a hypospray, just as Chakotay had the previous night, before they –

Kathryn cut off that train of thought with ruthless precision.

“Do you mind telling me how, exactly, you knew I was here?” she demanded when she’d finally stopped sneezing, tilting her neck to allow Jens to apply the hypo.

Jens hesitated, then pulled a tricorder from her coat pocket, showing Kathryn the screen on which a small red dot was blinking.

“Is that –” Kathryn stared at her for a moment, then skirted the bed – averting her eyes from the rumpled sheets – and made her way over to the couch where she’d discarded her cloak the night before.

Rummaging in the pocket, she pulled out her personal transport device, then glanced from it to Jens, who looked uncomfortable.

“You put a tracker on me?”

“No …” Jens paused, “but I knew about it. I’m sorry, Admiral. I should have told you.”

Kathryn’s teeth were clenched. “If it wasn’t you, who –” She stopped. “Kjogo.”

Jens nodded. “Which is why we have to get you back to your hotel. Right now.”

Kathryn frowned.

“You’re scheduled for an interview at 0700,” Tora reminded her. “I’ve covered for you – as far as Admiral Kjogo knows you’ve been in your own room all night – but we’re running out of time.” She paused. “And I mean no offence, Admiral, but I’m pretty sure you don’t want to deal with the obvious questions.”

In case her meaning wasn’t clear enough, the lieutenant’s gaze panned from Kathryn’s bare legs and tangled hair to the bed, which had clearly been occupied by more than one person.

I will not blush, Kathryn ordered herself, favouring her aide with a frosty glare instead.

“Please, Admiral, activate your transporter,” Jens urged, and when Kathryn still hesitated, “Ma’am, it’s past 0600. Go. I’ll take care of things here.”

“This conversation isn’t over,” Kathryn told her, voice like flint, and Tora Jens dipped her head in acknowledgement.

With the data chip hidden in one hand, she thumbed the button on the transport device and materialised moments later in her ridiculously opulent hotel suite.

She glanced around at the spacious room, the pristine bed, the uniform lying pressed and ready on the coverlet. Inoffensive music played at low volume, the drapes were opened to the optimum width to allow a glimpse of the city waking up, and a silver-domed breakfast tray waited on the table by the window.

If she’d ever imagined the morning after her first night with Chakotay – and she couldn’t deny that she had – she hadn’t pictured it like this.

She thought about waking up in that other, smaller, dingier room less than half an hour ago. How for a few blissful moments she’d thought she wasn’t alone, that she would turn over in that bed and, blinking, see him smiling down at her. How he’d wrap her in his arms and kiss her, and they would move together lazily, revelling in the first of a lifetime of mornings to come.

One night, she thought bitterly. One single, perfect night. Is that all we get?

She tossed the data chip onto the bureau, stripped off the sweater – Chakotay’s sweater, she recognised with a pang she forced herself to swallow – and stepped under the shower spray, trying to ignore the way her skin still tingled in all the places he’d touched it.

Towelling dry, Kathryn dressed in her uniform, pinned up her hair and concealed the dark circles under her eyes with makeup. She ignored the food waiting on the breakfast tray in favour of pouring a tall cup from the silver coffeepot and reviewing her schedule on the padd someone – Jens, she assumed – had thoughtfully left for her.

The day ahead promised to be mind-numbing: after gritting her teeth through her upcoming interview with the Midrian news service, she was scheduled for a meeting with Sina, the premier of Regulus; Kathryn groaned, remembering his unwelcome interest in her the last time they’d met. She’d probably be sneezing and brushing cat fur off her uniform all day. The hours after lunch would be occupied with providing decoration while President Zife met with Chancellor Martok, and in the evening she would attend yet another formal function at which she’d be expected to mingle and smile and flirt with anyone the president ordered her to charm.

She rubbed her temple against the worsening headache. Somehow, after last night, her life as it was seemed even less bearable. In a few days she’d be returning to Earth, to Kjogo and her incessant and chafing demands. To a husband she mistrusted and – she bit her lip, acknowledging the truth of it – feared.

Kathryn sat down hard on the bed.

What the hell had she been thinking – that Chakotay would sweep her into his arms and whisk her away from her sham of a life? She clenched her hands into fists, disgusted. She’d never relied on a man to solve her problems before. She’d gotten herself into this mess, and she was the only one who could get herself out of it.

She would start with her farce of a marriage. As soon as she got home, she’d kick Ryan out and file for divorce. Then she’d go to Admiral Kjogo and demand an assignment in which she could be useful. And then she’d take some leave, see her family, catch up with the Voyager crew…

And she’d find Chakotay and finally, honestly, tell him how she felt about him.

I’m on a mission … It’s classified.

She frowned.

Are you in danger?

No more than usual.


She’d known he was lying.

“Oh, Chakotay,” she muttered. “What are you up to?”

 

===0===


Chakotay collapsed into the co-pilot’s seat and Kash turned to scrutinise him, her amber eyes glittering with what Chakotay had come to recognise as amusement.

“Cutting it a bit fine, aren’t we?” She tapped the key sequence to close the shuttle’s hatch. “So, who was she?”

“What?” he couldn’t quite muster up a glare.

“I can smell her on you,” Kash smirked, then held up a hand as Chakotay opened his mouth. “No judgement, Captain. I’m pleased you enjoyed yourself, but playtime is over now.”

He grunted in answer. “Where are we headed?”

“Seems you made an impression on Premier Sina. He wants me to take you to home base.”

“Which is where?”

Kash swivelled back to the helm. “Hidden in plain sight, my friend. Have you heard of the Celendi Nebula?”

Chakotay kept his face impassive. “Isn’t that on an Orion-controlled trade route?”

“They’d like to think so.” Kash looked smug. “The Orion Syndicate isn’t the fearsome thing it used to be. We have insiders throughout their organisation, and it’s not the only so-called superpower Entera controls.”

Chakotay had learned it was more productive to let Kash talk, so instead of questioning her he merely raised an eyebrow.

“The Ferengi are easy – they’re motivated purely by profit, and their current Grand Nagus is an idiot. The Cardassians are desperate. Klingons, well, let’s just say not all of them define honour in the same way, and the Romulans are happy to trade goods and information with us as long as they think they’re getting the better deal. As for your Federation,” she snorted, “well, you’re living proof that those high-minded ideals aren’t worth the data chips they’re stored on.”

Chakotay shrugged. “I’m not exactly a model citizen of the Federation. I think you’ll find those high-minded ideals aren’t as flimsy as all that. There are plenty of people I know who still believe in seeking knowledge for its own sake, not for power.” He allowed a note of derision to creep into his voice.

Kash threw back her head and laughed. “Lucky for us, Captain, those in the Federation who do hold the power are generally not so naïve.”

“Oh?”

“Politicians, Starfleet brass, successful businessmen… Ambition doesn’t lend itself to those finer feelings the average Federation star-gazer holds so dear.” Kash grinned at him. “You have no idea who’s on our side, Captain. But if you prove yourself to us, you might just find out.”

“Then you’d better let me prove I’m loyal to Entera, because I have no intention of wasting my time.”

“Understood,” Kash answered in amusement, and the shuttle lifted off.

Chakotay monitored atmospheric pressure and impulse engines until they’d cleared the Ajilon system and gone to warp, then yawned showily and announced his intention to take a nap. Closing his eyes and tilting his seat back, he pretended to doze while he took silent stock of the things he’d learned.

Premier Sina of Regulus was a key player in the Entera Coalition.

Entera had an untold number of spies within Starfleet, including one unnamed officer stationed on patrol in the Borderlands whose loyalties were questionable.

The Coalition’s reach extended into the upper echelons of Federation politics.

Kathryn Janeway made a sound that curled his toes when she climaxed.

Chakotay shifted in his seat. Fascinating as it was, he didn’t need to review that kind of discovery right now. He tried to banish the memory of her long pale throat, her breasts cupped in his hands, her husky gasps and the way she squeezed around him as he pushed into her, but it was no use. Eight years of fantasies had been brought to fruition in the space of a few short hours, and neither his mind nor his body were about to let him ignore that.

For a few moments he let himself remember her soft, even breaths as she slept in his arms. It had been nearly impossible to leave the warmth of her body, to slip out of the bed and gaze at her while he dressed. She’d shifted onto her stomach and the sheet had slipped down to her hips. In the dim light filtering through the curtains his gaze had traced the pale lines of her torso, her outflung arm, the curve of her breast against the sheet.

And then she’d woken, naked and flushed, hair tangled, and her eyes had begged him to stay, and he’d cursed the irony of his duty to Starfleet, instead of hers, pushing them apart.

 

===0===


Her interview with the Midrian news service was, as Kathryn had predicted, little more than a photo opportunity. Tora Jens arrived halfway through, dressed in her uniform; she sent Kathryn a subtle nod, then absented herself until the allotted time for the interview had passed but the reporter was still lingering.

“I’m sorry, but Admiral Janeway is on a tight schedule today,” Jens was saying as she politely hustled the journalist from the room. “I’m sure you understand…”

Alone, Kathryn wandered over to press her aching forehead to the windowpane, shoulders slumped as she stared down at the street below. She let her eyes drift closed, but behind them appeared an image of Chakotay’s expression, intense and soft and completely focused on her as he moved inside her, and she groaned and forced her eyes open again.

Her gaze swept over to the bureau and landed on the data chip Chakotay had given her.

Kathryn checked her chrono; still fifteen minutes until her meeting with Premier Sina. Jens would be gone for at least five while she escorted the interviewer out, she calculated. She locked the door anyway, in case of Jens’ early return, then quickly slotted the data chip into her personal computer.

The file Chakotay had prepared was short. Kathryn scrolled through the information she had already discovered – Ryan’s unknown parentage and the likelihood that his mother had been Deltan, as well as his short-lived marriage – and then she paused.

Ryan’s ex-wife, Maja Hansen, was related to Seven of Nine. That was interesting, if ultimately unimportant.

What she read next almost made her swear aloud.

Maja Hansen was permanently confined to a psychiatric institution. And there were rumours that she had given birth to a child – Ryan’s child – twenty-five years ago.

Kathryn stared unseeingly into the middle distance. Was it true? And if so, what had happened to the child?

Did Ryan know?

For the second time that morning, Kathryn was startled by a knock on the door of her hotel room.

“Admiral?” Tora Jens called. “May I come in?”

Quickly, Kathryn shut down the file and switched off her computer, then unlocked the door. “Lieutenant,” she said frostily, remembering she was irritated with her aide, “you and I need to talk.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Jens answered. “But your meeting with Premier Sina is in five minutes. May we save the disciplinary discussion until afterward?”

Is she being a smartass? Kathryn narrowed her eyes, but Tora’s smooth expression gave nothing away. “Fine,” she said evenly. “Report to my suite when I’ve returned from lunch. We’ll address your discipline before you brief me on this afternoon’s negotiations.”

Moments later, Kathryn entered the opulent drawing room where Jens had arranged her meeting with Sina and immediately felt her eyes begin to water. The Caitian stood to offer his arm, his two-metre tail winding sinuously around Kathryn’s waist as he led her to a seat at the couch. Before she dissolved into a volley of sneezes, her aide was there with a hypospray that she discreetly applied to Kathryn’s neck.

The meeting went on longer than she’d expected and she had to unwind Sina’s tail from various parts of her body more than once. But when he casually inquired about her absent husband and she realised that the premier knew Ryan personally, she invited him to continue their conversation over lunch.

She made sure Sina was well into his second glass of Ajilon’s finest vintage before asking when he and Ryan had met.

“The same time I met you, Admiral – a few months ago at Starfleet Headquarters.” Sina laid a clawed hand on hers. “Your husband was negotiating for access rights to a shipping route that falls under Regulan administration.”

“Oh?” She kept her expression politely distant. “You’ll have to forgive me, Premier – I wasn’t aware that Federation citizens were required to purchase access to areas of space regulated by Federation member worlds. Clearly my husband is the one with the head for business, not me.”

“I find that hard to believe.” Sina’s eyes grew sharp. “My counterpart on Midrian tells me you drove a hard bargain with that trade treaty you negotiated.”

Kathryn smiled sunnily. “Just following orders, Premier.”

The Caitian gave her a flat-eyed look. “In any case, Admiral, you misunderstand me. No latinum exchanged hands. Your husband was merely making certain of the security of the Regulan trade route. We all know how troublesome the Orions can be.”

“Security?” She widened her eyes at him. “Surely that isn’t a problem anymore, now that Starfleet has sent additional patrol vessels into the region.”

“Yes, and I understand we have you to thank for that.” Sina raised his glass.

Me? she thought, dismayed. She’d objected when Ryan had tried to convince her, months earlier, to call for increased Starfleet presence in the Borderlands region, but it appeared she was being blamed – or, in Sina’s case, celebrated – for it anyway.

She smiled disingenuously at Sina and steered the conversation onto safer topics; she’d have to puzzle this out later tonight, when she was alone.

Alone. She tried to curb the bitter twist of her mouth. Strange how it smarted now, like a fresh wound, after a few blissful hours of believing she wasn’t alone anymore.

The antihistamine hypospray was beginning to wear off by the time Sina pushed his empty plate away, and Kathryn was relieved to escape to her suite for a few minutes’ respite, almost as much as she was looking forward to tearing a few strips off her wayward executive aide. She deliberately remained on her feet, forcing Jens to stand at attention as Kathryn glared up at her.

“I want an explanation,” she ordered when Jens’ impassive mask finally began to slip. “Why does Admiral Kjogo feel it necessary to control my life to such an extent that she ordered you to track my movements?”

“I can’t speak for Admiral Kjogo’s motives, ma’am.” Jens lowered her gaze. “All I can tell you is that she’s not someone you want as an enemy.”

“That much I figured out for myself,” Kathryn said tartly. “What I don’t understand is why you still don’t seem to realise who you’re working for. I told you months ago that if you lied to me again, you’d no longer be in my employ. Didn’t I?”

“Admiral –”

“Pack your bags,” Kathryn said tersely. “I believe there’s a shuttle to Earth leaving tonight, and I want you on it.”

“But, Admiral –”

“Dismissed.”

Tora Jens swallowed. “Yes, ma’am.”

“And Lieutenant?”

Jens turned back from the door.

“If I hear of any rumours regarding my whereabouts last night, I’ll know who started them. And my reaction won’t be pretty. Understood?”

Jens met her gaze. “Your secrets are safe with me, Admiral.”

“They’d better be,” Kathryn answered, turning away as her erstwhile aide left the room.

 

===0===


“So this is home base?”

Chakotay leaned over Kash’s shoulder at the helm, staring through the shuttle’s viewport at the multi-pronged space station constructed in the centre of the Celendi Nebula. Small vessels were docked at various ports; Chakotay recognised their designs – Midrian, Trialan, a Klingon escort vessel, even a Cardassian shuttle.

He swore silently. How far did the influence of this coalition extend?

“That’s B’Kor’s ship,” Kash pointed to the Klingon shuttle.

“Martok’s second in command?”

Kash smirked in answer.

“And the Cardassian vessel?”

“That belongs to Legate Sikola.”

Sikola had been a high-ranking officer in the Cardassian military, who’d made herself visible promoting peace with the Federation after the end of the Dominion War. Chakotay hissed through his teeth. Kash hadn’t been exaggerating about Entera having friends in high places.

“What are they doing here?”

“Regrouping. Word is the Orions intend to launch an assault on our fleet. We’ll be coordinating the counter-attack from this base.”

“We?”

“Yes, Captain, that includes you.” Kash guided the shuttle toward a docking port. “That colleague of yours Premier Sina was referring to was supposed to be entrusted with keeping your ‘fleet friends out of our way. Since we can’t be sure he’s trustworthy, that task now falls to you.”

The shuttle docked with a reverberating thump and Kash keyed open the doors.

“After you,” she gestured with a mock bow.

Chakotay stepped through the hatch and hung back, waiting for Kash to lead him through the shuttle bay and onto a utilitarian promenade that reminded him of Deep Space Nine. He felt eyes watching him; the back of his neck prickled, and he injected an extra swagger into his step. If he was being observed, he intended to look the part he was playing.

Kash turned into an antechamber and came to a halt in front of a pair of imposing Klingons flanking a set of double doors. One of the guards stepped forward and passed a scanning wand over her. The other bared his teeth at Chakotay.

Ha' Sumbej, human,” he barked. “Come closer.”

“I suggest you do as he says, Captain,” Kash told him over her shoulder. “Torag has a notoriously short temper, even for a Klingon.”

Chakotay stepped forward and fixed his gaze on the doorway, forcing his muscles to remain loose. Torag scanned him and moved back with a grunt, looking disappointed at finding no contraband weapons.

juS SoH,” he jerked his head. “You can pass.”

“Thanks,” Chakotay muttered, and followed Kash through the doors and into a room that he could only describe as a war council chamber.

An enormous polygonal table stood at the centre of the cavernous room, littered with communications equipment and holo-viewers, some of which were in use. Chakotay recognised a stellar map of the Borderlands displaying several blinking lights he guessed were Entera vessels, before the Yridian working that console glanced up, saw him looking and angled the screen away.

A few seats along, a Midrian was holding a hushed subspace conversation with a Ferengi. From the brief snatches Chakotay heard, it seemed they were finalising an arms deal. He was about to sidle closer when Kash placed a hand on his arm, murmuring, “This way, Captain,” and he was forced to follow her, taking in as much of the activity in the room as he could without making his interest too obvious.

On the far wall, in the direction they were headed, was a holographic display of the Orion sector, around which several people were gathered. They were mostly natives of the Borderlands planets, Chakotay noted, though there were also three Klingons, one of whom was Vice-Chancellor B’Kor. He assumed, from their professional appraisal as he and Kash approached, that the other two were bodyguards.

A slender Cardassian in a tailored crimson suit detached herself from the far side of the group and strode toward them, hand held out in greeting.

“Captain Chakotay, I presume.”

Chakotay took her hand. “Legate Sikola.”

The woman’s eye ridges curved upward in pleased amusement. “Either Kash has briefed you well, or you follow the news.”

“Both,” acknowledged Chakotay.

“I follow it, too,” Sikola informed him, slipping a hand through his elbow as she guided him around the table, “which is why I recommended we recruit you. Chakotay, Maquis renegade turned first officer of the intrepid ship Voyager, lost on the other side of the galaxy for seven years, and brought home in spectacular fashion by her captain, Kathryn Janeway.” She smiled in a way that made Chakotay’s neck prickle. “To whom, it seems, you have less loyalty than even to Starfleet.”

“I wouldn’t say that,” Chakotay responded evenly as Sikola brought them to a halt near another, much more discreet door set into the wall behind the table.

“Wouldn’t you?” Sikola asked mildly. “And yet my sources tell me the two of you have barely been in contact since Voyager returned over a year ago.”

“Your sources?” Chakotay repeated, just barely managing to keep his tone polite.

“Oh, don’t be offended, Captain.” Sikola’s smile widened. “I’m a former Obsidian Order operative. Who better for Entera to charge with investigating your suitability as a recruit?”

“I see.”

“Of course, I had the advantage of already being acquainted with you, Captain.” Sikola placed her hand on the access panel beside the door and after a soft beep, it slid open. “In a manner of speaking.”

Chakotay followed her into a narrow corridor. “What manner would that be?”

“I compiled your intelligence file for the Obsidian Order, prior to your disappearance in the Badlands, of course.”

He raised his eyebrows. “My file?”

“And I received reports from an operative we placed in your Maquis cell. I was her handler.”

Chakotay’s step faltered; he recovered, but not quickly enough to evade Sikola’s notice.

“My apologies, Captain,” the Cardassian said smoothly. “I didn’t mean to bring up unpleasant memories.”

Unpleasant doesn’t even begin to cover my memories of Seska, Legate Sikola.” He kept his voice low and dangerous and was satisfied at the slight widening of the Cardassian’s eyes.

Good, he thought, let her see I have teeth.

“Of course,” he deliberately lightened his tone, “that was all a long time ago, and I’m not one to hold a grudge, especially when there’s nothing to be gained from it.”

“A commendable attitude,” Sikola murmured, continuing along the corridor. “What is it you hope to gain by becoming a member of Entera, Captain?”

He shrugged. “Profit. Power. What else?”

“And your oath to Starfleet won’t interfere?”

“Are you suggesting I should feel some kind of loyalty to Starfleet?” he asked, injecting scorn into his tone. “You are aware I’ve been a Federation outlaw, aren’t you? That I’ve killed Starfleet officers,” he paused, deliberately emphasising his next words, “and Cardassian soldiers alike?”

“Oh, I’m aware, Captain.” Sikola stopped in front of another door. “Still, your intelligence profile did depict you as a man who would feel loyalty to a cause, if not a uniform.”

“That was then,” he said, flat. “I’m older and wiser now. And loyalty can be so … adaptable, wouldn’t you agree?”

Apparently satisfied, Sikola smiled and accessed the door panel. “I would,” she conceded. “And we’re not alone in that, Captain.”

The door slid open and she ushered Chakotay into a spacious room, dimly lit by candles in wall sconces and decorated with surprising opulence in silks and velvets. It reminded Chakotay of the drawing room at the Paris hotel he’d taken Seven to, back when they were newly released from debriefings.

A Coridanite man, seated on a plush, brocaded couch, glanced up from a padd. Chakotay swallowed in recognition, forcing himself to keep his expression impassive.

“Captain Chakotay,” Sikola purred, “I’m sure you’re already acquainted with Starfleet’s liaison to President Zife’s office, Admiral Ube Mekas.”

“Admiral,” Chakotay dipped his head.

How far up the chain of command does this conspiracy go? he wondered frantically. Nyla Kjogo’s boast about her friends in high places hadn’t been false pride at all.

A feminine figure moved out of the shadows, and Chakotay fought not to react. Jonah Miles was right, he thought.

“And this,” Sikola introduced, “is Senator Tal’aura of the Romulan Star Empire.”

“Delighted to meet you, Captain,” said Tal’aura, her dark eyes assessing him. “I believe you’re going to be very useful to us.”

© 2021 by Mia Cooper