Pressure

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.

Rated T

Chapter Seven
Stardate 48617.8



~Cochrane to Voyager. Voyager, respond!~

He almost didn't recognise her voice, its habitual huskiness now a strained rasp. But he could recognise the panic she was trying to control. This was not good. Chakotay's hands tightened on the armrests. "We're receiving you, Cochrane. What's your status?"

~The Numiri attacked us as we were leaving orbit of Banea. We've taken heavy damage.~

She coughed wrenchingly and the sound made his jaw clench. He heard her suck in a hoarse breath.

~Shields are down. Warp engines are failing. The Numiri are pursuing. I can't outrun them much longer.~

The commline crackled. "Commander?" Chakotay was out of his chair.

~I'm here. Lieutenant Paris is severely injured. How soon can you be in range? He needs urgent medical atten-~

Captain Chakotay heard the unmistakable sizzle of an exploding console before the shuttle's commline was severed. He began barking orders. "Red alert. Seska, take us out of orbit and lay in a course for the shuttle at maximum warp. Tuvok, ready all weapons. Kim, as soon as we're in range I want you to beam them both to Sickbay. Tell Kes to prepare for casualties and to try reactivating the Doctor."

There was a chorus of "Aye, sirs" and Chakotay paced the bridge, eyes fixed on the viewscreen, straining to see past the streaking stars. He heard Kim. "We're in range, sir. Transporting now ... Janeway and Paris are in Sickbay."

He nodded shortly. "Tuvok?"

"There are two Numiri warships approaching our position, Captain. Time to intercept, thirty seconds."

How the hell had the shuttlecraft survived an attack by two warships? "Can you retrieve the shuttle?"

"Tractoring it into the shuttlebay now, sir."

"Get us out of here."

Seska's fingers flew over the conn. Tuvok said calmly, "The Numiri are not pursuing."

"Stand down red alert. Take us on an indirect route to the far side of the Ruatan planet. Hail them and ask them to extend their cloak around Voyager. Tuvok, you have the bridge. I'll be in Sickbay. Seska, you're with me." Batehart slid into Seska's place as she hurried to catch up with Chakotay.

Miraculously, the EMH was online and bending over a bio-bed. Kes was dashing back and forth, carrying laser scalpels and other equipment Chakotay couldn't identify in response to the Doctor's commands. Seska positioned herself at the medical station, studying the readings on the monitor. Chakotay scanned the room: two still figures in adjacent beds. "Doctor, what's their condition?" he demanded.

"Not good," snapped the EMH, "and it will only get worse if you distract me."

Ignoring him, Chakotay moved to the bio-bed over which the Doctor and Kes were labouring. In a triage situation, treat the more severely injured patient first. He hoped to God it wasn't Kathryn.

It was Tom Paris, lying pale and unnaturally still. A cortical monitor was attached to the base of his skull. Chakotay checked the readings on the biobed monitor. He was no medic, but he could recognise a sluggish heartbeat, and he was quite certain normal brainwave readings didn't spike so irregularly. "What's wrong with him?"

"He has multiple contusions, three broken ribs, a punctured lung and a severe concussion, and I can't identify the cause of this strange brainwave activity," the EMH rattled off. "But he'll live."

"Chakotay."

He hardly heard her voice, it was so weak. She was barely conscious, the skin of her face, hands and torso burned and blistered. He moved to her side, taking one singed hand carefully in both of his own. "Don't talk, Kate."

As usual, she disobeyed. "How's Tom?"

"He'll be fine. And so will you." He watched her eyes roll back in her head, heard the warning beeps from the surgical console above her bed. "Doctor!"

The EMH was already moving. "She's going into shock. Give me a cortical stimulator!" Ensign Seska bolted over to the bed and slapped the instrument into his hand. "Captain, please move to the other side of the surgical bay." The Doctor didn't bother to disguise his irritation. "I can't treat her properly if you're in the way."

Chakotay took two steps backward. "What happened to her?" He tried to keep his voice controlled, but he couldn't help clenching his fists.

Kes answered him from the other side of Paris' bed. "It looks like the helm console in the shuttle exploded; she has third-degree burns to her hands, face and chest. She also has a fractured wrist, damaged kidneys and a bruised trachea. Captain, some of their injuries were caused by physical attacks."

Chakotay heard a strange sound and realised it was his teeth grinding.

"Kes, I need you!" and the little Ocampan scurried over to the Doctor's side. Chakotay watched. The Doctor's hands were almost a blur, his expression intense as he bent over Janeway's body, occasionally barking instructions; Kes and Seska anticipated his needs and had the correct instruments ready before he even called for them. It was a graceful dance, and, thankfully, a rewarding one. The Doctor straightened up, and his voice was gentler now that the crisis had passed. He looked up at Chakotay. "Her condition is stable, but it will take some time for her to recover. I'd like to keep her in Sickbay for at least twenty-four hours and confined to quarters for a day or so after that, but I expect she'll want to return to duty as soon as she regains consciousness."

Chakotay nodded, swallowing past the scratching in his throat. "When do you think that might be?" He was mildly surprised to find that his voice sounded relatively normal.

"In about four hours, but I want her to stay here overnight."

"When can I talk to her?"

"I'll let you know."

"And Paris?"

"Will be out of action for the next forty-eight hours. I'm concerned about those unusual neural readings. He was briefly conscious when they were beamed in here, and he appeared to be delirious. I've given him a mild sedative." The Doctor began running a dermal regenerator over the burns on Janeway's chest. "I'll inform you when Commander Janeway is fit for consultation."

"You'll let me know of any change in their condition?"

"Of course."

Chakotay stood a moment longer, looking. Kathryn's uniform was all but burned away along the left side of her torso; the skin underneath was blackened and ragged, healing slowly under the Doctor's ministrations. He watched the pink new skin forming along her collarbone and turned away.

 

=/\=


Tuvok was speaking to Zigan over the viewscreen as Chakotay re-entered the bridge. "How awful," the Ruatan was gabbling. "Of course, of course, we're extending our cloak now. Are your crewmen alright?"

"They will be," Chakotay interjected, stepping down to the command level. "Zigan, I wonder if you could shed a little light on the Numiri? Is it likely that they'd attack with no provocation?"

"Oh dear, yes, I'm afraid so. The Numiri have been blockading Banea for several years now. They tend to attack anyone who approaches the planet, whether for trade or military purposes. They've been unsuccessful in overtaking the planet, however; the Baneans have superior technology, although they're not an aggressive race."

"What are the Numiri's intentions?"

"Revenge. They claim the Baneans introduced a lethal virus into one of the Numiri colonies nine years ago. It decimated the population. The Baneans insist -"

~Kes to Captain Chakotay.~

She sounded distressed and he instantly feared the worst. Kathryn?

"What is it, Kes?"

~Captain, the Doctor's program just went offline again.~

"Understood," he said wearily. The last thing we need... "Are Commander Janeway and Lieutenant Paris in immediate need of the Doctor's care?"

~No, sir, they're both stable, but I could use an extra pair of hands. Could you spare Ensign Seska for a while?~

"Of course. I'll send Lieutenant Torres to you so she can try to reactivate the Doctor." He motioned to Tuvok to comm Torres, and turned back to the viewscreen.

Zigan was looking perplexed. "Did you just say you were going to ... reactivate your doctor?"

"That's right. He's a hologram."

"He's a what?"

"A hologram. He is a projection of photons and forcefields, programmed with the Federation's entire medical database. We lost our original doctor when this ship was pulled into the Delta quadrant."

"And was your original doctor a ... hologram as well?"

"No, he was human, like me." Chakotay smiled impatiently.

"Interesting," Zigan said faintly. It was perhaps the shortest sentence Chakotay had ever heard him utter.

"Mr Zigan, I'd be happy to show you our holographic technology at a later date, but in the meantime -"

"Oh yes, of course, the Numiri. Where was I? Ah - the war. Yes, it seems a Banean trader was establishing contact with a Numiri outpost neighboring their space, and somehow managed to infect the colonists with a virus he was carrying. It appears that the virus was relatively harmless to the Banean race, but devastating to the Numiri. It caused a complete metabolic collapse in eighty percent of the colony's population. The Baneans insist it was a terrible accident; the Numiri are equally insistent that it was a form of biological warfare. They have been unable to develop a vaccine for the disease. That colony was the only one affected; it was permanently quarantined and the Numiri have since dedicated themselves to taking revenge on the Baneans. It's terribly sad."

"Indeed. Have the Baneans considered developing a vaccine themselves, and giving it to the Numiri?"

"They offered, but the Numiri saw it as a further attempt to destroy them. The two cultures have been at war ever since." Zigan shook his head.

"Well," Chakotay sighed, "if we ever get our Doctor back up and running, he may be able to develop a vaccine himself."

 

=/\=


Pain.

At first there were images, disjointed, frightening, surreal. A boot planted in her lower back. Hands grabbing her throat. Her wrist, snapping.

Then the pain.

More images, and this time there were sounds. Her breath rasping in her lungs, the thud and grunt of a fist on flesh, the heaviness of an arm around her shoulder, the weight of a body. Her fingers, flying over the console. The computer's dispassionate warning. Bright jolts of sizzling light. The shuttle rocking under phaser fire. An ugly face on the viewscreen. Golden hair threaded through her fingers.

And feelings. The booted foot; the pain again. Fear, white-hot and familiar. Hard anger, her constant companion, clearing her head. His beautiful face, bloodless. His twisted mouth, his bewildered eyes, the words he spoke that made no sense. Her fingers in his hair. Her terror and despair. Her understanding that he might die.

Screaming, she bolted upright.

"Commander!" Kes came racing out of the Doctor's office, Ensign Seska following hard on her heels. Janeway launched herself from the bed. "Where is he," she managed. Her throat hurt.

Somehow, Kes understood. "Lieutenant Paris is right here," she soothed, taking Janeway's arm.

She led Janeway to the other biobed. "See? He's sedated."

Janeway started to reach out, then dropped her hand. He was so pale. She shut her face down. "Is he alright?" She sounded as though she didn't care.

Kes knew better. "He'll recover from his injuries."

"What about the neural implant?" Her voice was sharp. "Has it been removed?"

"Neural implant?" Kes went wide-eyed. She let go of Janeway's arm and and picked up a medical tricorder. "We didn't detect an implant. That might be what's causing the spikes in his brainwaves ..."

Janeway could tell Kes was no longer talking to her. She made to tap her commbadge and connected with the still-tender flesh of her chest. "Get Chakotay down here," she snapped, turning to Seska. "I need to speak to him."

 

=/\=


"Professor Ren and I were in his lab for several hours," she began, her voice still strained. "We got caught up talking about a project he was working on, a new way of converting termanite - a common Banean mineral - for use in their warp engines. They already use it as an energy source but it's difficult to refine, leaves a lot of waste product. He'd developed a way to purify and stabilise the waste matter. Spinning straw into gold, he called it." She coughed, her fingers unconsciously stroking her throat. Tuvok handed her a glass of water.

"I suppose Lieutenant Paris was with Ren's wife, Lidell. I didn't trust her." Janeway's mouth hardened. "I should never have left them alone."

"Go on," prompted Chakotay when she stopped.

"Everything seemed fine at first," she continued. "I collected Paris and we returned to the shuttle. He was a little quiet, but I wasn't complaining."

Chakotay smiled.

"In the morning, we traded the energy converters for the plasma injector coils, talked to Minister Kray for a while, and went back to the Rens' for lunch. It was strange. Mrs Ren had spent the previous evening flirting with Lieutenant Paris, but at lunch she barely looked at him. And Paris was barely eating - he looked pale, and said he had a headache. The Professor was called away just after we finished eating, and Mrs Ren accompanied us back to the shuttle. That's when they jumped us."

"Who?"

"Two Baneans. They came from either side as we entered the shuttle. They were big, and they were aiming to hurt us. One of them grabbed me by the throat and threw me across the shuttle. I must have hit my head, blacked out for a minute." She was speaking in a monotone, as though reading him a report. Chakotay kept his face calm.

"When I came around they were both going for Paris. He was down, and one of them was kicking him in the ribs. He tried to get up and the other one slammed his head on the floor. The first one yelled at him, told him not to damage the neural implant. They were distracted for a second, and Paris kicked the legs out from under one of them. I managed to land a few punches on the other, before he knocked me to the ground and started kicking me low on my back. It was close quarters, there were tools at hand, so I grabbed a hyperspanner and socked him. I think I got him in the gut. I got my feet under me and charged him. He grabbed my wrist and twisted it; it must have broken, but I had the momentum and he fell backward down the shuttle ramp and landed badly. I think I heard a bone snap."

For the first time she allowed an expression to cross her face. Chakotay thought it was pleasure.

Tuvok asked, "Was Mrs Ren still present at the time you regained consciousness?"

"No." Janeway snorted. "She turned tail the moment those two thugs appeared."

"And you heard nothing more about this neural implant from your attackers?"

"We were all a little busy for conversation, Tuvok."

He nodded. "Please continue."

"Paris was taking a beating, so I used the hyperspanner to smack the other Banean across the back of his head. It knocked him out. We pushed him out of the shuttle, sealed the hatch and powered up. Paris was at the helm. I was too distracted to notice at first, but when he tried to go to impulse without retracting the landing struts I realised there was something wrong. I looked over at him and he was white as a sheet, covered in sweat. I told him to let me fly. He just looked at me and started babbling incoherently. Then he pitched forward, out of his chair, and passed out."

She took in a shuddering breath. "I got us through the atmosphere and set a course back to Voyager, then tried to check him over. His bio-readings were so erratic I thought he was going to die. We'd barely left orbit before we were attacked by the two Numiri ships. I had to leave him ..." She clamped her lower lip between her teeth. "I had to take the helm. The shuttle's faster and much more maneuverable than those warships. They got in a few hits before I managed to evade them and go to warp, but they pursued. Masking the shuttle's ion trail put them off the scent for a minute or two, but I couldn't - I didn't have time to treat him. I didn't even know what was wrong. I don't know who implanted that thing in his brain, I don't even know what it's for ..." She was biting her lip so hard she'd drawn blood.

Chakotay placed his hand over hers. "You did exactly what you should have done, Kathryn. Now I want you to rest."

"Wait a minute," she snapped. "What are you going to do about this neural implant? The Doctor's offline. How the hell are we supposed to figure out what it's for? How do we get rid of it? Who put it in there?"

Finally Tuvok spoke. "I may be able to begin an investigation into this incident, based on the information Commander Janeway has supplied."

"I thought you might," Chakotay said drily. "Where will you start?"

"With Mrs Ren," he replied.