The Huntress and the Moon
Summary: “I know I’ve always said weird is a part of the job, but…” she flashes me a wry grin, “I never thought I’d end up running around in an alien forest, playing the part of a moon goddess. And this outfit isn’t exactly practical for slaying enemies.”
Characters: Janeway, Chakotay, Paris, Ayala, Tuvok, EMH
Codes: Janeway/Chakotay, Janeway/Paris, Janeway/Ayala
Disclaimer: Paramount/CBS own the rights to the Voyager universe and its characters, which I am borrowing without permission or intent to profit. Kit Williams owns all rights to his incredible artwork, which inspired this piece of crazy.
Notes: Inspired by Kit Williams’ artwork, Hunter's Moon. I owe a lot of this to Greek mythology (obviously) but it’s by no means supposed to satisfy the purists.
It was no surprise that Lieutenant Tuvok grilled me for close to two hours after the event, even having read my pedantically lengthy report in its entirety. I could tell that old Vulcan was kicking himself for having sent me down to that planet in his place. Not that he’d had much of a choice, since the captain wasn’t having any of his objections over her and Chakotay leaving the ship at the same time.
“I’m perfectly aware of standard away mission protocols, Mr Tuvok,” she’d breezed as Paris started the pre-flight checks. “And it’s not as though we’re unprotected. I have every faith in Mr Ayala’s ability to protect us from the local wildlife.”
“Sensors detected no predatory animals in the vicinity,” Tuvok replied.
“Well, there you are then.” Janeway turned to smirk at him. “Take care of my ship, Lieutenant. We’ll be back in the morning.”
I could sense his displeasure as he backed out of the shuttle – and I’m sure it was the reason for Paris’ particularly showy barrel roll past Voyager’s bridge before we descended into the atmosphere – but what could he do? She’s the boss, and what she says goes.
Upon our return, after he’d interrogated me thoroughly, Tuvok assigned me to refresher training and implemented what my Security colleagues and I privately referred to as the Janeway Protocol, which stated that whenever the captain was off the ship she was to be accompanied by two security officers at all times, who would personally scout the planet before allowing her on its surface and would check in with the ship every thirty minutes for the duration of the mission.
It’s a prudent measure – as long as the captain doesn’t blithely override it, as she’s prone to do whenever she decides Tuvok needs to loosen up a little. And maybe it would have helped on the planet we’ve come to call Artemisia. At the very least, it might have got us out of trouble a little earlier.
Still, I fail to see how I could have predicted the way things turned out, or changed them even if I’d had an inkling.
My first impression, as Ayala cracks open the shuttle hatch, is heat. It’s not the arid heat I grew up with on Dorvan, though; this is like being slapped in the face with a boiling towel. Sweat prickles my neck even before I’ve stepped outside.
I hear Paris groan from the helm. “Sauna, anyone?”
Ayala turns back to grin at him. “You should try growing up in Corrientes. Summers there would knock your socks off.”
“I’m from Irish stock,” Paris complains. “We’re built for cold climates.”
“I don’t see the captain whining,” I point out, “and she’s more Irish than you are.”
I catch the smirk on Kathryn’s face as she secures a phaser at her hip. “Don’t worry, Mr Paris. Scans show there’s a natural spring not too far from here. If you collect enough samples, I’ll give you permission to cool off with a dip.”
“And if you don’t,” I add, “I’ll push you in myself.”
Paris’ good-natured grumbling follows the sound of our laughter as we step onto solid ground.
We’ve landed on a flat stretch of grass bordered on one side by a tor so barren and treacherous a mountain goat would enjoy the challenge of climbing it. Surrounding us to the south and east is a thickly-clustered forest of tall, white-barked trees with broad blue leaves. To the west lies open space, where the flatter ground tapers gradually downward.
“The possible dilithium source is in that direction,” Kathryn points. The sun is dipping low and she shades her eyes with her free hand. “I estimate we have an hour’s worth of light left, gentlemen. Paris, Ayala – find us a suitable site and set up camp while Chakotay and I take a look for those mineral deposits.”
After we’ve checked in with the ship, Paris and Ayala trudge off toward the copse of trees and I follow the captain around a rocky outcropping. She sets a brisk pace despite the thick heat, tricorder held out like a talisman, but as she rounds the stand of boulders I hear her gasp, and she stops so quickly I almost run into her.
Below us is a valley of breathtaking beauty. In the foreground, a field of golden grasses speckled with bright purple flowers waves in the faint hot breeze. There are thickets of trees dotted here and there, and beyond, a slow-moving river sparkles in the sun, its banks lush with brightly-coloured foliage that, on its far side, melts into more of the white-barked forest. I can hear the quiet trickle of water, the hum of insects, the gentle hoot of a native bird.
“Astonishing,” Kathryn whispers.
Her tricorder beeps rudely and she glances at it, then back at me. “It seems our dilithium source is near that river. Shall we, Commander?”
“After you, Captain.”
She picks her way along the steepening slope, eyes fixed on her tricorder; more than once I have to murmur a warning before she loses her footing. The ground begins to even out as the flaxen grasses sprout in thicker clumps, until finally we’re wading through them, hip-high. I brush my fingers through the stalks. They feel fine and soft as silk.
Kathryn rubs one of the tiny purple flowers in her fingers and sniffs them experimentally. “It’s beautiful,” she says, surprised. “I’ve never smelled anything like it.”
She holds her fingers up for me and I catch her hand carefully as the scent of fresh water and sunshine and exotic blooms wafts over me. My breath gusts out against her fingertips and she shivers, pulling her hand away.
“We should keep going,” she says, her voice breathy.
There’s a stand of trees in between us and the river. As we approach the sound of rushing water grows louder, and I squint into the setting sun. “Sounds like there’s a waterfall close by.”
“As is the source of that dilithium,” she comments, indicating her readings.
We push through low-hanging branches, waving away insects as brightly-coloured as jewels, and emerge into a mossy clearing. There’s a cluster of large boulders on the western side. Water rushes brightly over them, cascading into a stream that winds through the centre of the clearing and disappears into the greenery beyond and, I assume, into the river.
“Chakotay,” Kathryn whispers.
I turn to look at her and realise she’s staring at the rock formation. There’s something odd about it. The rocks are too evenly spaced, too uniform. It looks … deliberate.
The miniature waterfall seems to emerge from a crevice set beneath a stone so broad and flat it looks like a table.
“What is that?” Kathryn wonders, stepping closer.
Or an altar.
A movement catches at the corner of my eye, and by reflex I grab Kathryn’s shoulder, yanking her behind me.
“Chakotay, what on earth –”
Her protest tails off abruptly on a sharp intake of breath.
Something – someone – moves out of the trees to our left and seems to float toward us.
The figure appears almost human; a female, with pale skin, limpid eyes and long silvery hair. She’s wearing a gauzy robe in shades of lilac and blue, and her feet are bare. They leave no imprints on the moss as she drifts in our direction and comes to a stop barely five metres away.
“I’m Captain Kathryn Janeway,” I begin, falling back on protocol.
The figure inclines her head and smiles, but doesn’t speak. I’m about to try again when the pressure of Chakotay’s fingers on my shoulder tightens and I realise more feminine figures are wafting out of the trees. They group together behind the first, and as I glance from one face to the next, I realise they’re identical except for the varied shades of their clothing.
They observe us silently. They appear to be waiting for something, though I have no idea what.
“We apologise for intruding,” Chakotay tries. “Our scans showed this world to be uninhabited. We’re only here to scout for a mineral our ship requires.”
Aside from switching their attention from me to him, the beings don’t respond. Chakotay and I exchange glances.
“They don’t show up on the tricorder,” I murmur. “And I’m not detecting a dampening field of any kind. Do you suppose their physiology naturally scatters sensors?”
Chakotay shrugs. “It wouldn’t be the first time our technology has failed to detect an alien species. They don’t seem hostile, in any case.”
“They look like fairies,” I can’t help blurting, then blush at Chakotay’s amused sidelong glance. Clearing my throat, I step out from behind him and address the lead creature. “Are you able to communicate verbally?”
Her smile widens and her eyes twinkle. “We are,” she answers in a voice that sounds like silver bells. “Though we are very selective about it, Kathryn.”
The use of my first name stiffens my spine a little. “May I ask whom I’m addressing?”
“My name is Amanisia,” she replies, “and my companions are the Naiades. We protect and nourish this spring in readiness for the night of the hunt.”
“Of course,” Amanisia replies. “It’s why you’re here.”
Ayala and I set up the temporary shelter – a couple of poles, a tarpaulin and some sleeping bags – in a matter of minutes, then set off in the same general direction as the command team, hoping to find edible vegetation that won’t taste anything like leola root.
This place is incredible. There’s no wildlife here bigger than a hawk, the insects are harmless to humans and the leaves on those weird white trees are packed with nutrients – although I’m not overly keen on eating leaves. There are sweet-smelling flowers all around and the scenery makes me wish I could paint.
If only it wasn’t so goddamned hot.
“Step it up, Paris,” Ayala calls from a dozen paces ahead. “The faster you move your ass, the sooner we can all take a swim.”
“Yeah, yeah,” I mutter, tugging my collar away from my sweaty neck. “You reckon they’ve found the dilithium yet?”
Ayala shrugs and taps his commbadge. “Ayala to Captain Janeway.”
The only answer is a low, static-y buzz.
We exchange perturbed glances and I activate my own badge. “Paris to Chakotay.”
Ayala doesn’t have to tell me to move my ass anymore. We break into a steady trot, Ayala scanning the route ahead. “They’re in there,” he indicates as we approach a thick copse of silvery trees. “Makes sense – I’m getting strong dilithium readings, and it looks like they found that natural spring as well…”
His voice dies away as we push through the trees and into a glade. There’s a picturesque little waterfall set amongst the rocks and an abundance of flowers lining the mossy banks, but the scenery is not what’s caught Ayala’s attention.
The captain stands a few metres in front of us, Chakotay protectively close to her side, although his body language isn’t setting off any alarm bells. What does make my jaw drop is the horde of extraordinarily beautiful women facing them.
The one at the front of the group turns to Ayala and me, smiling. “You’re here,” she says in a voice that sends tingles along my spine.
The captain glances back at us. “Amanisia, these are my officers, Lieutenants Paris and Ayala.”
We step up either side of the command team, both of us taking the at-ease posture.
“Your protectors,” the woman says, head tilted to one side. “The men who guard you, guide you and do your bidding.”
“I suppose you could look at it that way,” Captain Janeway allows.
Amanisia fixes her with piercing silver eyes. “Then the legend will bear out tonight.”
“Legend?” Chakotay asks.
She glides toward us, stopping in front of the captain as her companions drift into a circle around us. Ayala’s hand rests on his phaser.
“The sun has almost set,” Amanisia says, and I realise she’s right – I can’t see beyond the trees anymore and the air around us is dim. “When night falls, the transformation will begin.”
“What transformation?” Janeway demands.
“The fulfilling of your purpose here.” Amanisia raises one hand, resting it lightly against the captain’s face. “Each year on this night, the moon-dweller Celyne leaves her sanctuary to hunt and defeat Tanatos, the Bringer of Decay, and his three acolytes. When this task is complete, Celyne must choose one of her three champions to become her chief protector, companion and helpmate. Their joining will bring about a new cycle and the land will be renewed.”
I watch Janeway and Chakotay exchange one of their loaded looks. “And how, exactly, are we involved in this?”
“You must undertake the ancient hunt,” Amanisia replies. “Your companions – the Guards of Air and Stars and Night – will accompany you. Once you have slain Tanatos, the Guards are yours to take and join with as you will. Choose wisely, Kathryn. Only the other half of your soul will complete the cycle and free you from the legend, and your bonding will be eternal.”
The captain’s eyes are huge. “I don’t understand –”
Her words trail off as Amanisia raises her other hand so that both of them cradle Janeway’s face.
“You will,” she says as the last of the ambient light dies and, one by one, fireflies spark into life in the dark trees all around us.
And then this feeling rushes into me. It’s overwhelming, fiercer than the most potent drug, wilder than the rush I get from an exhilarating test-flight. It’s like sex and drowning and the most perfect moment of clarity, and then it’s fading and I’m – I’m –
I’m somebody else.
When the rush fades, I’m seeing the world through changed eyes.
The woods around us seem thicker somehow, darker and more menacing, and the only light comes from the tiny, sparkling fireflies that glimmer from the leaves and in the air around us. Reflected light falls on the group of strange women, making them appear even more ethereal, and on the water streaming through the rocks.
A breeze stirs through the trees and across my skin like a caress.
But I shouldn’t be feeling that. My uniform –
I glance down at myself.
My uniform is gone, and in its place I’m wearing what appears to be soft, moulded breeches made of the hide of some animal. My feet and chest are bare, and my phaser and tricorder gone as well. In their place at each hip, I’m carrying a pair of long-bladed knives in leather sheaths.
I turn to the others and realise Chakotay and Paris are dressed in similar fashion, though there’s a sword hilted at Paris’ side, and Chakotay holds a spear. As for the captain – my jaw drops. Her uniform has disappeared as well, replaced by a short, white one-shouldered tunic, belted at the waist. An opalesque stone hangs from a silver chain around her neck. Her hair is loose and slung across her back is a quiverful of arrows tipped with varicoloured feathers.
Before I can make sense of any of this, Amanisia approaches us. “You are Astrus, the Guard of Stars,” she tells me. She turns to Paris. “You are Zefir, Guard of Air, and you” – facing Chakotay – “are Onix, Guard of Night. Your task is to protect Celyne of the Moon from those who would harm her as she seeks to slay Tanatos. Do not fail.”
“Is this some kind of simulation?” the captain demands.
It’s hard not to stare at her. That tunic she’s wearing doesn’t leave a whole lot to the imagination. And I’m pretty sure my imagination shouldn’t be going in its current direction when it comes to my commanding officer. I’m not the only man suffering, either; Paris is shifting his feet and Chakotay looks like he desperately wants to get the hell out of here.
“A simulation?” Amanisia appears thoughtful. “In a way. The legend of the hunt exists outside of your known reality, but what you will experience tonight is real, and your choices matter. If you choose well, you will return to your world when dawn comes. If you do not, or if you fail in your task, the consequences will be lasting. However,” she holds up a hand as the captain moves to protest, “you have another choice. You may refuse this quest, and if you do, this ends now.”
Janeway narrows her eyes. “What are the consequences of refusal?”
Amanisia smiles. “You are wise to ask. If you refuse, the cycle will remain incomplete. Celyne will return to her home among the stars until the next Night of the Hunt. Tanatos and his creatures of decay will overpower this world, and for the next cycle, the sun will not rise, the river will not flow and the flowers will fail to bloom. All you see here will die a slow death, including my Naiades.”
“What about my people?”
“You and your men will be returned to your vessel unharmed. You will not, however, be able to glean from the earth the precious mineral you came here to find.”
“I see.” The captain’s hands move to her hips. “If we agree to undertake this mission, is there any danger to us?”
“There is always danger,” Amanisia replies. “What matters is how you choose to face it.”
Chakotay dips his head. “Captain, if there’s a risk you could be injured or killed…”
“I know, Chakotay.” She frowns. “I don’t like it any more than you do, and I don’t pretend to understand it either. But if refusing this means that this planet somehow dies –” She shakes her head. “I can’t take that risk. Besides,” she sighs, “we desperately need that dilithium.”
She turns to Paris and me.
“I won’t order you to do this, gentlemen.”
Paris shrugs, fixing his gaze on her face. “Sounds just like a night on the holodeck to me, Captain. I’m in.”
“And you, Commander?”
Chakotay gives her a half-smile. “Far be it from me to defy an ancient legend.”
She blushes at that – something I never thought I’d see – and bites her lip, turning back to Amanisia. “In that case, we accept. What happens now?”
“Now,” says Amanisia, “you hunt.”
In that instant, a full golden moon rises over the treetops, bathing the clearing in amber light. A cloud of fireflies billows toward us and the shrill singing of some alien bird rings in my ears. I find myself gripping the hilt of one of my daggers, my heart pounding in mingled fear and anticipation.
“Go,” she says, and as one, the four of us turn and run into the forest, the mossy ground soft under our silent bare feet.