Summary: Janeway agrees to an unusual trade with a race of telepathic aliens, and dips a toe into seven possibilities.
Characters: Janeway, Tuvok, Chakotay, Seven, Paris
Codes: Janeway/Chakotay, Janeway/other
Disclaimer: Paramount's universe; fanfic's playground.
Warning: Most of this story could be rated PG-ish, but there's some heavy stuff in a few chapters, particularly Chapter IV. You have been warned.
Part I | Negotiation
As she rubs at her temples and drains her third cup of coffee in an hour, Kathryn Janeway reflects that, thanks to the Kh’Laan, diplomatic negotiation is fast rising in the list of her least favourite duties of command.
“How much longer until we beam down for the next session?” she asks her tactical officer, and Tuvok doesn’t have to check the chrono to respond.
“Seventeen minutes, Captain.” He folds his hands over the PADD in his lap. “It is to be hoped that this conference will settle the final points of our negotiation.”
She arches an eyebrow. “Don’t tell me they’re even getting to you, Tuvok.” She rises from her desk to save him the trouble of deflecting her accusation and moves to the couch, rubbing the tension at her nape. “All right, I’m ready. Let’s hope the Doctor has something stronger in his hypospray when we get back this time. I don’t mind telling you the last one barely touched my headache.”
Tuvok sits regally beside her. “I regret that my methods are causing you pain.”
“It’s a necessary inconvenience.” She sighs and turns to face him. “Go ahead, Commander.”
Her eyes close automatically as he reaches for her face, his long fingers unerringly finding the correct points on her temple, cheekbone and jaw. As he speaks the words that will join his mind to hers, she allows herself a brief moment to ruefully reflect that if she never hears the words my mind to your mind again it will be too soon, and then the first tendrils of Vulcan equilibrium unfurl inside her brain and render the emotion irrelevant.
It takes all of her considerable control, even bolstered as it is by Vulcan assistance, to ruthlessly smother the rage that threatens to rise at the Kh’Laan’s latest demand.
“First Prelate Mekhaal, the minds of my crew are not for sale.”
::Sale is an inaccurate description of our request,:: Mekhaal retorts telepathically.
“Trade, then. Loan. However you wish to describe it, your request is denied.”
::You would be wise to reconsider. No harm would come to your crew.::
“Be that as it may, my answer is the same. We will not submit to telepathic control.”
::A curious statement, given your acquiescence to your companion’s techniques.::
“That’s different.” She pauses, unwilling to explain further, and feels a nudge at the corners of her mind: Mekhaal, the dirty dog, reminding her that he could break through her mental fortifications without lifting a telepathic finger, could surge over and through them like a tsunami breaching a sea wall.
But that’s not what he wants. He wants the kiaa’meral, which as she understands it, requires its subjects’ compliance. He wants her, and Voyager’s crew, to willingly allow the Kh’Laan into their minds, their innermost thoughts and dreams and fears. He has been quite clear that their consent will ensure his people a much more satisfactory experience.
She tries harder to white out her anger; it won’t serve her. “We must have something else you desire in return for safe passage.”
::If safe passage is all you want, we will grant it in place of the other concessions you have demanded from us.::
“Without your dilithium, safe passage will be irrelevant. We won’t make it a third of the way through your territory.” As you well know, she thinks, viciously. And I’ve already made far too many concessions as it is.
::A quandary indeed, Captain Janeway.::
The smug self-satisfaction in Mekhaal’s telepathic voice is unmistakable and she forces herself not to react. “Our holographic technology, then,” she concedes, “in return for safe passage.” It is, after all, not the first time she’s offered this technology in trade, though she hates this damned quadrant all the more for that forced circumvention of the prime directive.
::What need would we have of this technology? It represents a juvenile pastime for an unimaginative culture dependent on external factors for entertainment.::
She swallows the insult; what’s one more, on top of the feast of them she’s been forced to ingest these past few days? “It’s far more than that. We use holography in tactical training exercises, medical applications…”
::Our medicine is, naturally, far more advanced than your own. And we have no need to rely on holographic technology to achieve tactical superiority. Our mental prowess is more than adequate in this area.::
Having been treated to several demonstrations of the Kh’Laan’s mental prowess, she is forced to concede this point. She mentally adjusts her previous no-go list of Voyager’s unique assets. What could these people possibly want that she hasn’t already offered up in exchange for the food and resources critical to continuing their journey? Replicators, transporters, bioneural circuitry, the specifications for the failed quantum slipstream drive?
::You have nothing else we want.:: Mekhaal’s interruption of her internal catalogue is peremptory and lacks even the faintest pretence of civility. ::Our previous agreements are now void. Allow us to bond with the minds of your crew, or our negotiations are terminated and we will commence hostile action.::
The stare she levels at the frail and shrouded body of the telepathic First Prelate has felled far stronger opponents, and the fact that he can further read the iron will behind it should only add to its effect. It does not. For perhaps the first time since she learned to employ that glare, Kathryn finds it elicits only scorn in her opponent. He speaks inside her mind again. ::Choose quickly, Captain. I grow weary of your prevarication.::
“I will not submit my crew to this kiaa’meral,” she repeats forcefully. “But I am willing to compromise.”
Mekhaal doesn’t deign to reply; he simply waits.
“I’ll allow you into my mind and my mind only, if you agree to reinstate the trades we have already negotiated and allow Voyager safe passage through Kh’Laan space.”
“Captain.” Tuvok speaks for the first time since this meeting began - a serious breach of protocol, but it appears that in this instance, interspecies diplomacy is superseded by Starfleet duty. “I must caution you against this course of action –”
::It is decided.:: Mekhaal cuts him off, speaking the phrase that has finalised each of their previous discussions. ::We will commence immediately.::
“Wait.” She holds up a hand. “First Prelate, I would appreciate it if you would explain the process. My people will need to be assured I won’t be harmed.”
Mekhaal inclines his head. ::You will accompany me to the Reading Chamber. Your body will be submerged in a suspension fluid and connected to a system that will cater for your physical needs. The kiaa’meral will be performed by seven members of the Ministry. Each will explore a different aspect of your memories, your probable actions, your very nature. You may experience these explorations passively, as if you were watching a performance, or more actively, as you would a form of entertainment such as those on your holodecks or a particularly lucid dream. It is possible they may seem almost indistinguishable from reality. Your physiology and the peculiarities of your brain structure are unfamiliar to us; it is impossible to predict exactly how you will react until the kiaa’meral begins. However, you may be assured you will be quite safe. There have been minimal occurrences of aliens suffering adverse effects during the process.::
Kathryn doesn’t spare Tuvok a glance; she can, unlike Mekhaal, predict quite accurately how the Vulcan is reacting to this little speech. He does not disappoint. “First Prelate, as Captain Janeway’s chief of security, I am responsible for her safety. I will require more information on the hazards this process might pose to the Captain, however minimal you claim them to be.”
Mekhaal is clearly impatient, but complies. ::The process is intensive. Some species emerge in a state of mental and physical exhaustion and require a short period of recuperation, up to several days. We have encountered a small number of species that have undergone training to deflect telepathy and thus proved highly resistant to the kiaa’meral. Members of those species who undertook the process suffered permanent brain damage. There is also, in extremely rare circumstances, a minuscule risk of death.::
“Please elaborate on these circumstances,” Tuvok requests.
::One or two species have been known to become so fundamentally linked to the situations experienced during the kiaa’meral that their brainwave patterns have synchronised to those of the Ministry member guiding them. In these atypical instances, the subject believes himself to be experiencing absolute reality. Upon completion of the process, when the guide disengages from the kiaa’meral, the subject believes he is experiencing the end of his life and is unable to disassociate from the process. Brain activity ceases and death is instantaneous.::
While knowing the risks – and she knew there would be risks – is of some help to Kathryn, who is uncomfortable with the unknown, she can’t help her level of anxiety building rather than lessening at Mekhaal’s clinical explanation. She is also well aware that Tuvok’s aversion to risk is far more vigorous than her own, and particularly so when that risk applies to her. “How long is this process expected to take?” she asks, before the Vulcan can waste his breath trying to talk her out of this.
::It varies, depending on the subject’s innate level of resistance to the process and the guides’ interest in exploring certain permutations of the subject’s neurology or personality. The kiaa’meral has been known to last for less than an hour or more than a month. Most encompass several days.::
Kathryn fervently hopes that the Kh’Laan find her deeply uninteresting.
::Your officer will return immediately to your ship,:: Mekhaal continues. ::We will allow your people to monitor your condition remotely.::
“Given the risks you have described, and the fact that you are unfamiliar with human physiology,” Tuvok interjects, “I request that a member of Voyager’s crew be allowed to observe this process, and render medical aid if it is required.”
::No outsiders are permitted to observe the process directly,:: Mekhaal retorts, then appears to concede. ::However, there is precedent to allow the presence of a tak’aan; a support person. We will allow one crewmember to remain planetside. The subject often returns to wakefulness between sessions. If this occurs, the tak’aan may be allowed to converse with the subject and offer assistance to her, if assistance is required.::
“Commander Tuvok will act as my tak’aan for the first session,” Kathryn says. “If the process encompasses more than a few hours, however, he will need to return to his duties. Is there precedent to replace the person acting as tak’aan?”
::That is permissible,:: Mekhaal allows. ::However, during the process, any attempt at communication from your ship that is not directly related to an exchange of crewmembers acting as tak’aan will be disregarded. Your people must attempt no interference of any kind, or our agreement is forfeit and we will take immediate action against your ship.::
“I assume that if hostilities were to ensue, returning me to my ship would not be a high priority,” Kathryn says drily.
::You assume correctly, Captain Janeway. I trust I have answered your questions to your satisfaction.:: She feels that nudge again, and understands that Mekhaal’s apparent willingness to satisfy their curiosity is an indulgence he allows them only to ensure her compliance, and that any further delay will likely result in the First Prelate ending their negotiations with violence.
She nods. “Tuvok, while I’m undergoing this process, please relay the situation to Commander Chakotay. Inform him that he should implement protocol Epsilon Seven Alpha.”
She knows that Tuvok is aware that this protocol has been devised to cover situations where there is a reasonable chance that the captain may be permanently lost to a superior force. It will deactivate her command codes and transfer command to the first officer permanently, unless invalidated by another protocol that can be activated only by her. It will also release a number of directives for Chakotay’s eyes only, and only to be accessed in the incontrovertible event of her death, or other permanent removal from duty – orders and information limited to Starfleet officers of captain’s rank and above, confidential log entries she has made over the past six years, instructions for future communications with Starfleet, a message she has prepared for him and him alone … Kathryn swallows, hoping he won’t have cause to play that message. She has always known there’s a high probability that he would someday have to watch it, given the precarious nature of their journey through this unholy quadrant and her own, much lamented appetite for risk. She only hopes that, should he be forced to open it, it doesn’t hurt him as much as she fears it will.
“Captain.” Tuvok’s voice is quiet, and there is nothing more he needs to say.
“I know.” She smiles, laying her hand on his arm. “I’ll see you soon, old friend.”
When Tuvok has returned to the ship in a shimmer of blue light, Kathryn turns to Mekhaal. “All right, First Prelate. I’m ready.”
In the darkened chamber, seven slender, hooded Kh’Laan silently ring the bath-like vessel filled with luminescent, vaguely pinkish fluid. Declining the hands offered to assist her, Kathryn steps naked into the tub, lowering herself into the fluid. Two white-clad Kh’Laan appear, seemingly from nowhere, and insert needles into her inner elbow, neck and abdomen, attaching them to tubes that lead below the tub. One puts a hand on her shoulder and she allows the pressure to sink her body into the fluid, her head resting on the lip of the tub.
She tries to concentrate on her surroundings, to analyse the procedure, to remain scientifically detached, but she has to admit to herself that she is afraid.
The light dims further; she can’t see the ceiling or the edges of the room. She watches as a substance flows through the line snaking into her arm. She feels a tingle in her veins, a burning; she takes a gasping breath as the liquid fire rushes through her body, arching her back, leaving in its wake a trembling exhilaration.
One of the Kh’Laan steps forward, places his hand on her forehead. She can’t see his face. She feels drowsy, comforted, secure, and although some part of her knows she was frightened a few moments ago, she can no longer remember why.
“Now what?” she asks, and is mildly surprised to realise she hasn’t spoken aloud.
::Now you sleep,:: comes the reply, and Kathryn closes her eyes.