Summary: Captain Chakotay's Starfleet crew and Kathryn Janeway's Maquis have merged into one crew aboard the Federation starship Voyager, stranded 70,000 light years from their homes. The command team must find a way to reconcile their past relationship. Old betrayals, new attractions and the dangers of an unknown quadrant are brought into play when the one crewmember who belongs nowhere is caught up in an interstellar conspiracy.
Characters: Janeway, Chakotay, Paris, Kim, Torres, Kes, Tuvok, EMH, VOY crew
Codes: Janeway/Paris, Janeway/Chakotay, Kim/Torres
Disclaimer: A company named Paramount would likely be disturbed about my borrowing its characters. But it's not fattening my purse.
Related episodes: Caretaker and Ex Post Facto.
~Torres to Bridge.~
"Go ahead, Lieutenant."
~I'm detecting traces of dilithium from an M-class planet approximately one point six light years from our position.~
Chakotay tried not to grin with relief. "Inhabitants?"
~Can't tell yet, sir, but -~
"Sir, I'm picking up a small vessel on an intercept course," Kim interrupted. "Unknown signature. Should be in hailing range within three minutes."
~I can't tell for sure, Captain, there's some kind of interference disrupting long-range scanners. Trying to remodulate.~
"Keep me informed. Chakotay out." He turned. "Harry, what can you tell me about that ship?"
"Uh -" Ensign Kim looked flustered. "Not much, sir. It looks like the same interference B'Elanna's detected is throwing off our sensors. Maybe it's their planet."
"If that's the case, let's hope the natives are friendly. Hail them as soon as they come into range, Tuvok." Chakotay glanced at his executive officer. "Could be our lucky day."
She didn't respond.
She'd barely said a word since coming on shift. He leaned over a little. "Kathryn?" She turned, and he thought her eyes looked dead. "Are you alri -"
"Captain, the ship is in range. Hailing now." Tuvok paused. "No response."
"Hail them again. All subspace frequencies." Chakotay stood, trying to ignore his unease.
"This is Captain Chakotay of the Federation starship Voyager. We are on a peaceful mission through this region of space -"
~Greetings, Voyager!~ The viewscreen flickered to life as Chakotay was enthusiastically interrupted. On screen, a melee of small smiling humanoids blinked happily at him. Taken aback, he returned their smiles. "Hello," he said cautiously.
~Welcome to Ruatan space,~ came the response. ~I am Zigan. How may we be of service?~
Beginning to relax, Chakotay replied, "Well, now that you ask, we are in need of dilithium crystals for our warp drive, as well as several other supplies. If you would consider a trade -"
~Consider it done!~ Chakotay thought Zigan's face might split if he smiled any wider.
"That's - that's wonderful." For once Chakotay was at a loss for words. "Perhaps you'd like to beam over so we can discuss it?"
~We thought you'd never ask!~ Zigan bounced in his chair and one of his companions clapped his hands delightedly. The viewscreen went black.
Chakotay exchanged a raised eyebrow with Tuvok. "Lieutenant, transporter room one -"
There was a sizzling yellow flash and twelve Ruatans materialised, giggling, on the bridge. Janeway jumped to her feet.
"Oh now, no cause for alarm!" chirped the one Chakotay recognised as Zigan. "My apologies, Captain, we were in such a hurry to meet you that we quite forgot our manners."
Chakotay motioned Tuvok and Ayala to re-holster their phasers. "I'm very pleased to meet you. Perhaps you'd like to step into the briefing room. Commander, Lieutenant -"
"Lovely!" Zigan clapped his six-fingered hands. "But my crew is rather interested in a tour of this ship. What is your top speed? What's your anti-matter flow conversion rate? What's the range of your transporters? What's -"
"Mr Zigan -" Chakotay interrupted, trying to hide his grin. "I'm sure Commander Janeway would be pleased to show your people around the ship while you and I discuss our trade agreement. Commander, perhaps you could take Lieutenant Paris with you. Tuvok, you're with me." He led Tuvok, Zigan and one of the other Ruatans into the briefing room.
Janeway stared in dismay at the gaggle of boisterous Ruatans. Some were now marvelling at the size of the viewscreen, some peering over Kim's shoulder at the operations console, and one was poking at the helm controls. "Don't touch that!" Paris warned, more sharply than he'd intended. The little Ruatan leapt back and began to - to cry? Janeway blinked in disbelief.
"Sorry," Paris said hastily. "I didn't mean to yell, but you were about to warp us right into your ship."
"Oh. Oops." The Ruatan blinked its - her, Janeway decided - eyelashes at him, tears forgotten. She rolled her eyes, trying to suppress uncharitable thoughts concerning Paris and weeping females. "Lieutenant," she said evenly, "shall we?"
"Of course, Commander." Paris stood and Seska slid into his place at the helm. "Uh - where to first?"
Janeway considered it and smirked. "Engineering."
"B'Elanna's going to love this," she heard Paris mutter sotto voce as they ushered their visitors into the turbolift.
::You're a telepath!::
Tuvok's face registered the Vulcan equivalent of surprise as Zigan spoke inside his mind. "That is correct," he replied aloud.
"What's correct?" asked Chakotay.
::The others are not?::
Tuvok said stiffly, "Captain, it seems our guests have telepathic abilities. To answer your question, Mr Zigan, there are a number of species on board this ship. Some of us are telepathic. However, most are not, and will not be able to communicate with you in that manner."
"How rude of me!" Zigan covered his eyes. "I beg your forgiveness. We shall speak aloud."
Chakotay gestured him to a chair. "Mr Zigan, you mentioned before that we've entered Ruatan space. Can you tell us a little more about this region? We're a long way from home and have little knowledge of this quadrant."
"We know, we know! We've heard all about your ship. The great Federation starship Voyager from the other side of the galaxy. How exciting for you, to explore the great unknown!"
"I'm glad you agree," Chakotay grinned. "Where exactly is Ruata? How far does your territory reach?"
"Our home planet isn't far from here," Zigan bubbled. "Your sensors probably detected it ."
"If you are referring to the M-class planet one point six light years from this position, then they did," confirmed Tuvok. "However, they were unable to fully penetrate the atmospheric interference. We were able to detect traces of dilithium, but not humanoid life or any signs of a civilisation."
"Sadly, we've found it necessary to develop cloaking technology in order to protect ourselves from more aggressive races." Zigan looked as if this actually caused him pain. "Our planetary sensor net can detect alien ships up to twenty-eight light years distant, and automatically suppresses our bio-signs. Our ships are equipped with similar technology. We can make a science vessel look to sensors like a hovercraft!"
"Why would you wish to appear less powerful than you are?" Chakotay was genuinely intrigued.
"It's a necessary, if distasteful, precaution, particularly in light of the Lodian and Numiri presence in this sector. And so far we have been successful in diverting the attentions of the Vidiians away from our planet. If we're to continue our association, we can extend the cloak to conceal your ship, so long as you remain in orbit of our planet."
"And your space?"
"Our territory is not large, but we have no desire to expand it. Conquest is not our way. We are explorers, like you, and wish only for peace and understanding of other races."
"You have no idea how glad I am to hear that," muttered Chakotay. "After the Kazon and the Vidiians we were beginning to wonder if we'd be fighting the whole way home."
"Oh no!" Zigan answered brightly. "Of course, your troubles are far from over."
"What do you mean?"
"Zigan, shh!" The other Ruatan spoke for the first time. Chakotay turned. This one seemed older than the rest of the group. "I'm sorry, I don't think we were introduced -"
"I am Orta, Zigan's advisor. It is our way to travel with an elder, to provide counsel when making first contact with a new species. You may have noticed our people are rather ... excitable."
Chakotay hoped Tuvok's eyebrows would remain attached to his head.
Orta continued, "Our people have a tendency to voice what should be left unspoken. We are not merely a telepathic species. We also have precognitive abilities."
"You can see into the future?"
"Yes, on a limited scale. Our visions are non-specific; we receive a collection of emotions and images rather than a clear linear understanding. Our prime directive forbids us from revealing future events to those of other races; however, as you can see, it is sometimes necessary to remind our younger members of that rule." Orta twinkled at them. "We mean no harm."
Tuvok bowed a little. "We also follow a prime directive: a policy of non-aggression and non-interference. Perhaps our two cultures share other similarities."
Zigan bounced on his chair. "I don't think it breaks our directive to tell you that I foresee a mutually beneficial acquaintance between our peoples."
"You have to be kidding!"
"Oh come on, B'Elanna. They're kinda cute, aren't they? So enthusiastic and ... uh -" Paris trailed off as the half-Klingon's dark eyes flashed with ire.
"Enthusiastic? Try incredibly annoying! That little squirt just uncoupled the magneton relays in Jeffries tube 17. I spent four hours recalibrating them this morning! Now get them the hell out of my engineering room before I disembowel them with a hyperspanner!"
"Lieutenant Torres, is there a problem?" Janeway folded her arms.
"Uh, no, Commander, it's just -"
"Good." She stalked away.
Torres glared after her. "What's up with her?" she muttered.
"Leave her alone."
"I said leave her alone. Why are you so hard on her?"
Torres gaped at him. "I - what are you talking about, Paris?"
"Everybody treats her like she's some hard-assed bitch."
"That's because she is."
"So you think it's easy for her, giving up command of her ship and crew and toeing the Starfleet line under Chakotay's command? You think she's living it up out here in the Delta quadrant while all her Maquis friends are dying like flies back home? You think -"
"Hey!" B'Elanna stepped up to him, toe to toe. "In case you've conveniently forgotten, those are my Maquis friends as well. I was on her ship, Tom, I was a member of her crew! I know what it's like to be stuck out here, helpless, knowing that every day my friends are fighting the Cardassians and I can't do a damn thing to help them -"
"So show a little compassion sometimes, okay? She's not some heartless automaton, despite what everyone on this ship seems to think." He glared at her for a moment longer and then stomped away.
B'Elanna stared at Tom's retreating back. "Now what the hell is up with him?"
She didn't break stride, and Paris had to run to catch up with her. "What is it, Lieutenant?"
He gulped for breath. "I asked Neelix to collect the Ruatans from Engineering and take them to the mess hall. I figured his ... exuberant personality would be more their style." He grinned sideways at her, but she didn't crack a smile.
He tried again. "Commander, about the other night ..."
Janeway sent him a humourless look. "Forget it, Lieutenant."
"I'd rather not forget it, sir."
"Then consider that an order," she snapped. They reached the turbolift and she waited impatiently for the doors to open.
"Commander, please -" Tom sighed. The turbolift arrived and he followed her in. "Deck one," she barked. They stood in silence on opposite sides of the lift and Tom mentally counted down the decks. Ten ... nine ... Was she ever going to talk to him again? Eight ... seven ... It was now or never.
"Commander, I just wanted to say that I'm sorry for what happened. I don't want you to feel - ill at ease around me."
Five ... four ...
"And I wanted you to know that if you ever need a ..." a what? A friend? "... uh, a pool partner, I'm here. I know you outrank me and I ... behaved like an idiot and hey, you probably don't even like me anyway, but ... the offer stands."
Three ... two ... one. The doors opened onto the bridge.
She looked at him and he saw a shadow of the woman he'd seen in Sandrine's. She opened her mouth to speak and stopped. And then she smiled.
It wasn't the radiant, open smile he'd have wished for. It was small and unsure and it wavered almost instantly. But it was there, and he wasn't prepared for the hot double-thump in his throat at the sight of it.
Then she stepped onto the bridge and it was gone altogether. "Take your station, Lieutenant," she said coolly, and he followed her order.
Chakotay led Zigan, Orta and Tuvok back onto the bridge. "Lieutenant Paris, lay in a course for the M-class planet we detected earlier. As soon as Mr Zigan and his crew are back on board their ship we'll be following them to Ruata to continue our association." He smiled around at the bridge crew. "Looks like we've earned ourselves some shore leave."
Tuvok addressed the Ruatans dryly. "Shall I escort you to our transporter room, or would you prefer your own means of departure?"
Zigan gurgled with laughter. "Again, I apologise for our ... enthusiasm. Actually, I'd quite like to see your transporter technology. And, Mr Tuvok ..."
"Yes, Mr Zigan?"
"Could we communicate telepathically on the way? We find it quite tiring to speak aloud for long periods of time."
Nobody heard Tuvok's response.