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.
B'Elanna Torres sat back on her heels and blinked back tears of frustration. I will not cry, she scolded herself. I will not be defeated by a malfunctioning projection of light. She blew an errant lock of hair from her forehead and tapped her commbadge. "Torres to Kim."
"Ensign Kim, respond, dammit!"
~B'Elanna?~ Kim's voice was a weary groan. ~You woke me up.~
"Sorry," she snapped, not sounding sorry at all. "But since you're awake now, I suggest you get your sweet little butt down here and help me with this Ha'DlbaH Qlp before I kick a hole in the holodeck wall."
There was a pause, then Kim answered cautiously. ~Uh, did you just say something about my butt?~
Torres stopped short, flushing. "Just get down here, Harry."
He couldn't hide the grin in his voice. ~Yes, Lieutenant. On my way.~
Tactical Training Program Tuvok Kazon Beta flickered nauseatingly around her as B'Elanna hunched over the access panel again. She aimed the emitter realigner at it like a weapon. "Damn shame you can't kill a holographic projection," she addressed it, "because today would be a very good day for you to die."
~All senior officers report to the briefing room immediately.~
B'Elanna stood and flung the tool into her engineering kit. "Computer," she said grimly, "end program."
Chakotay rarely bothered with the unspoken captain's privilege of being last to arrive at any meeting. He took his chair at the head of the table, waiting for his senior officers to file into the room. He could picture them already: Janeway, poker face perfect. Kim, still scrubbing sleep from his eyes after his short night's rest. Torres, looking murderous and ready to lynch the first person who mentioned the word "hologram". Neelix, spots glowing with apprehension. Kes, calm as always - he was a little relieved she'd be standing in as Chief Medical Officer while the ever-temperamental EMH was offline. The two other stand-ins - Lieutenant Ayala, covering Tuvok's duties, and Seska, who would take Paris' empty chair - would most likely look dependably underwhelmed at their temporary promotions. Chakotay tapped the monitor before him to call up their personnel files.
Ayala he knew little about; one of the former Maquis, the dark-haired security officer kept to himself. But Janeway had proposed him for the position of Acting Tactical Chief, and during the last crew performance assessment Tuvok had described him as "calm, rational, and possessing adequate, if unconventional, tactical skills"; high praise from the perfectionist Vulcan. Chakotay had no doubt Ayala would perform.
Ensign Seska was a different matter, but Chakotay wasn't sure why. Lieutenant Paris commended her piloting skill. The Doctor had offered no complaints about her performance in Sickbay. Her Starfleet personnel file was a dry affair, containing a commendation from Captain Sanders of the USS Melinche, her previous posting, and little else. Her academic record was solid without being outstanding, the only illuminating information being that, as she was Bajoran and not a member of the United Federation of Planets, her entry into Starfleet Academy was required to be sponsored by a command-level officer. In her case, sponsorship was provided by Captain Benjamin Maxwell of the USS Phoenix, whose sympathy for the Bajoran people was well-known - and whose hatred of Cardassians had led him to make unprovoked attacks on Cardassian supply ships after the signing of the peace treaty, earning him a court-martial on Stardate 44451, halfway through Seska's third year at the Academy.
Maxwell. The name teased a memory: a briefing at Starfleet HQ by Admiral Nechayev the day the Federation had signed the treaty with Cardassia. Captain Maxwell had been irate and unable to hide it. The icy Nechayev had almost cited him for insubordination. Chakotay had taken Kathryn to Nechayev's reception that evening, and if he remembered correctly, she and Maxwell'd had quite a long conversation. He'd have to bring it up with her - an insight into Maxwell's character could lead to an insight into Seska's. He brought his attention back to the screen before him.
Seska's medical file listed no major injuries, no illnesses other than a childhood brush with Orkett's disease. Her psychological report from the counselor on the Melinche stated that she had attended one counselling session, on the order of her supervisor, after an ill-fated away mission during which her team had been abducted by a group of Ferengi intent on holding them for ransom. The counselor's conclusion was that Ensign Seska was well-adjusted and had suffered no long-lasting trauma from the incident. And Chakotay himself thought that she seemed on good terms with the Voyager crew, Starfleet and Maquis alike, though he had no idea which of them she'd call her friends.
Perhaps that was the source of his unease. His crew included eight Bajorans: five from the Liberty and three from the original Starfleet crew. The history of Bajor was a tragic one, at least in recent times, and one with which he couldn't help but empathise - Bajor had been crippled by Cardassian occupation; Cardassian attacks had devastated his own home world. Since the Federation-Cardassian ceasefire the number of Bajorans seeking to enter Starfleet had remained relatively constant, but he knew from personal experience that a desire to serve the Federation did not always sit well with Bajoran officers. Chakotay sighed, remembering the defection of Lieutenant Ro Laren to the Maquis, almost immediately after she'd studied advanced tactical training under his command. She'd been fiercely proud of her Bajoran heritage, and outspoken (to say the least, he grimaced, recalling their debates) on her opinion of Cardassians. Perhaps her defection shouldn't have been such a surprise.
But since the early days in the Delta quadrant, the Bajorans aboard Voyager had been a stabilising influence in the integration of the two crews. Their pride in their culture and the horrific experiences most of them had suffered at the hands of the Cardassians had created a bond between them which evidently transcended their military allegiance. It wasn't unusual to enter the mess hall to find a group of them, from the vehement Tabor to the timid Celes, trading war stories or laughing together or just sharing a table in silence. All except Seska.
He knew she attended the many religious and cultural events the Bajoran crewmembers organised, he'd seen her wearing the traditional Bajoran earring in her off-duty hours, and her speech was littered with references to the Prophets. But he'd never observed her seeking out the company of her Bajoran crewmates, nor they hers. Somehow, she just didn't seem to belong.
Chakotay shook his head. This train of thought was nebulous at best, and in any case he should be concentrating on the mission ahead. He switched off the monitor as the door slid open and his senior staff filed into the room.
"Good morning," he addressed them pleasantly. "We have a big day ahead of us."
Chakotay caught up to her as she strode from the briefing room. "Kathryn, are you sure you're up to this?"
She tossed her head in irritation. "Captain, let me remind you that I am a capable pilot. I can handle it."
"That wasn't what I meant."
She still wouldn't look at him. "I feel fine," she said shortly.
His voice cooled a little. "I have no doubt that Lieutenant Paris is in good hands." Before she could snarl at him, Chakotay turned back to the bridge.
The turbolift doors opened and she stepped inside. "Shuttlebay one," she barked. She realised she was clenching her fists and forced herself to relax her fingers, breathing slowly. Her blood pressure was almost under control by the time she'd commed Ensign Lang and Crewman Dalby. By the time she'd unlocked the Cochrane and begun the pre-flight sequence she felt almost calm. She knew better than to believe she was no longer angry or embarrassed. It was simply the centering effect of preparing for a dangerous mission.
"Commander." The dark-haired Lang acknowledged Janeway in her usual no-nonsense fashion as she swung into the shuttle. Dalby followed her, mouth downturned in his habitual scowl. Janeway tapped her commbadge again. "Janeway to Sickbay. We're ready for transport."
Tom Paris materialised on the pallet in the shuttle's rear compartment. Janeway stepped over to him; he was awake and seemingly lucid. "Ready?" she asked curtly. He nodded.
She turned back to the other two. "Dalby, take tactical. Lang, you're at navigation. Here's what's going to happen."
~Cochrane to Bridge; all systems go. Clear us for departure.~
"Cleared, Commander. We'll be right behind you." Chakotay hesitated. "Good luck," he added, his tone slightly less crisply professional. He watched the small shuttle clear the docking bay and go to warp.
"Keep a sensor lock on the Cochrane, Mr Kim. Hail the Ruatans." He waited until Zigan's smiling face appeared on the viewscreen. "Mr Zigan, we're about to set a course to Banea. We hope to see you in a few hours. And thank you again, for all your help."
Zigan bobbed his head. ~I wish you luck, Captain. See you soon.~ The viewscreen blinked off and Chakotay sat, placing his hands on the armrests.
"Ensign Seska," he said. "Take us out of orbit, and go to full impulse once we're clear of Ruata."
"Laying in a course to the Banean system," Seska answered. "Engaging at full impulse."
"How soon will the Cochrane be in range of Banea?"
"At their current speed of warp five, they will enter the system in four hours, seventeen min -"
~Sickbay to Bridge.~
Chakotay's head shot up. "Doctor?"
~Thankfully, yes,~ came the EMH's tart reply. ~Furthermore, I appear to be fully functional. And not a moment too soon, I might add. It appears somebody has released Lieutenant Paris from Sickbay without my authorisation. His condition is serious, Captain, and he should be returned imme-~
"Doctor," Chakotay interrupted, "we're a little busy right now. Kes will fill you in. Chakotay out." He turned to the Ops station. "Did Lieutenant Torres manage to repair the Doctor's program?"
"No, sir," Kim said excitedly, "but I think I know what did. We detected an unknown energy field interfering with the holosystems but couldn't locate the source. When we left orbit of Ruata a few minutes ago, there was a decline in the concentration of kedion particles throughout the ship. Kedion particles are generally harmless to our technology, but at higher concentrations, and in combination with resonating positronic devices, they have been known to initiate shutdown in axionic or positronic networks. It's possible that a similar effect would occur in photonic matrices as well. I believe the Ruatan cloaking device uses resonating positrons to create a kind of phased kedion pulse, which interfered with the holo-imaging processors." Kim paused for breath. "Uh, the upshot is, as long as we remain outside the Ruatan cloak, we shouldn't have any further problems with our holosystems."
Chakotay allowed a grin to pull at the corner of his mouth. "Good work, Harry. I'll leave it to you to inform Lieutenant Torres."
"Thank you, sir," Kim said with an answering grin.
The Captain turned back to Seska. "How long now until the Cochrane reaches the outskirts of the Banean system?"
"Three hours, fifty-six minutes, sir. If we go to maximum warp in two hours' time, we'll reach that system three minutes after the Cochrane does."
He nodded, standing. "Inform me when we're approaching Banea. I'll be in my ready room." He hesitated. There was a decision to make.
In normal circumstances, he'd hand control of the bridge to Tom Paris if neither Janeway nor Tuvok were present; as chief helmsman, he was also the third officer. With all three absent, the guidelines were a little murky. Harry Kim was the sole remaining senior officer on the bridge, but Seska was acting chief helmsman; and by rights, he should place the bridge under her control. But Kim had command experience, even if it was minimal. To his knowledge, Seska had none. And much as he tried to dismiss his instincts about her, he couldn't. The truth was, he wasn't sure he trusted her.
They were looking at him expectantly; he couldn't prevaricate any longer. "Ensign Kim," he stated. "You have the bridge."
Seska's face revealed nothing as Chakotay walked into the ready room.
~Seska to Captain Chakotay. We will reach Banean space in fifteen minutes.~
"On my way." He picked up the PADD he'd been reading, containing the information the Ruatans had given him on Numiri battle tactics, and entered the bridge.
"Shuttlecraft status." Chakotay couldn't quite keep the tension from his voice.
"The Cochrane is approaching Banea, sir," Kim informed him. "The Sacajawea and the Drake report all systems ready."
"Ready, Captain," replied Seska.
"Photon torpedoes armed and standing by. Phaser banks are fully charged."
Chakotay nodded. "Open a channel to the Cochrane."
~Understood. All engines shut down. Initiating power surge to the port plasma relays. Venting plasma from the port nacelle. The Numiri vessels have detected us. Two warships and three scout vessels are approaching our position. Time to intercept, twelve minutes.~
"Acknowledged, Cochrane; hold your position. Chakotay to Drake and Sacajawea."
~Drake ready. Initiating launch sequence,~ Batehart responded.
~Sacajawea ready,~ replied Culhane. ~Clearing shuttlebay in ten seconds.~
Ayala spoke. "The remaining Numiri warship and scoutship are holding position on the other side of the Banean system, Captain. The vessels approaching the Cochrane have powered their weapons. Ten minutes to intercept."
Chakotay nodded. "All hands to battle stations."
Something picked at the grey mist of his consciousness.
". approaching fast ... warship ... closing in ... seconds."
"Readying starboard thrusters ... second scout vessel ... "
Voices. He struggled to open his eyes. The effort required was extreme. Why bother, he thought, and began to sink again.
"... firing. Hard to port!"
His world lurched sickeningly. The mist subsided a little; Tom forced himself into semi-awareness. Where was he? He tried to piece together the jigsaw of his memories. There had been voices. Somebody had mentioned a warship. Voyager was under attack, he decided. I have to get to my post.
He forced his eyes open. There was nothing familiar about his surroundings. Vertigo came in nauseating spirals. Tom swallowed carefully and felt for solid ground. His fingers met fabric and metal and his dull brain struggled to comprehend. He was in bed. Sickbay, he remembered suddenly. I must be in Sickbay. "Doctor," he croaked, but the Doctor didn't answer. He squinted. This wasn't Sickbay. He was - he was - in a shuttlecraft! He felt ridiculously proud of himself for working that one out.
"Incoming fire from the second scoutship!"
He heard the whine of a torpedo and an instant later was jolted from his bed, crashing hard onto the shuttle floor. Bright pain sparked inside his head. He groaned.
Janeway heard it from the cockpit. "Lang, see to Paris," she ordered, and the ensign scuttled to the aft compartment with a medkit. Through a thickening haze of pain, Paris managed to focus on her face. He mumbled something.
"Shh, don't talk." The voice was female, soothing, though he couldn't quite identify the features. It seemed very important that he make her understand him. Paris gathered his strength and moved his fingers to brush against her hand. "Cardassians or Romulans?" he asked her.
The face puckered. She said something but he couldn't understand her. Perhaps his universal translator was malfunctioning. "Are we in the demilitarized zone?" he tried again.
Lang called over her shoulder, "Commander, I think he's getting worse. He's making no sense at all."
Somehow Paris managed to curl his fingers over hers. "Talk to me," he said as forcefully as he could. "I want to know what's going on - I have to get to the Bridge ..."
The face retreated. Lang leaned into the cockpit. "Commander, he's delirious. I don't think I can give him anything safely. His temperature's forty-two degrees and his heartrate is almost twice normal. I've only done basic first aid, but I'm not sure he can survive much longer."
Janeway nodded, mouth tightening, without taking her eyes from the sensor readouts. "Do the best you can, Ensign. It won't be much longer now."
Paris had drifted again, but now the face was back and making gentle noises at him. He felt a cool hand on his forehead. Somewhere, it sparked a memory. He smiled. "Kat," he murmured. "I'm glad you're here."
The face looked a question at him, but his eyes had closed again.
Janeway suppressed a shudder of distaste at the ugly Numiri face filling the shuttle's viewscreen. "You will surrender your vessel immediately," it demanded. "Lower your shields and prepare to be boarded. Any attempt to defend yourselves will be met with deadly force."
On the sensor panel a light began to flash. Janeway smiled.
"I don't think so," she addressed the viewscreen calmly. "You see, the cavalry's just about to arrive." With a certain vicious pleasure she stabbed at the control to close the channel. The Numiri captain disappeared, his knobbly skin and beady eyes replaced by the graceful white lines of Voyager streaking out of warp.
"They're hailing," Dalby told her.
Janeway nodded. "Open a channel."
Chakotay's face appeared. I like this view better than the last one, Janeway thought, and suppressed it immediately.
~Everything under control, Commander?~
"Your timing is impeccable, Captain," she replied. "The Numiri were just about to board us."
~Leave your comm line open while I hail them.~
She nodded, and closed visual, leaving audio online. She heard Chakotay addressing the Numiri captain.
~This is Captain Chakotay of the Federation starship Voyager. Why have you fired on our shuttle?~
The Numiri captain sounded outraged. ~Alien vessel, you have entered Numiri space. Your crew will be imprisoned and your vessel impounded. Do not attempt to resist or we will destroy you.~
~You seem awfully certain of that, Captain.~ Janeway hid a smirk at the deceptive mildness of Chakotay's words. ~However I think you'll find us prepared to defend ourselves.~
There was a horrific grating noise which Janeway realised was Numiri laughter. ~Then prepare to die,~ the alien said, and immediately bombarded Voyager with phaser fire. The elegant ship went into a rolling dive. Evasive maneuvres, pattern Omega, Janeway thought with satisfaction, watching as the Numiri phasers grazed the forward shields with minimum damage. "Voyager's shields are down to 98 percent," Dalby reported.
The second warship, as though surprised that Voyager hadn't been instantly destroyed, suddenly leapt into life, circling behind the Starfleet ship. The Cochrane crew watched as both Numiri ships concentrated their fire on Voyager's aft shield generator. Blue lightning cracked through space as Voyager retaliated. Dalby commented, "Direct hit on the first warship's engines. The Numiri still haven't detected our shuttles."
Janeway nodded. "All right, let's get moving." She tapped at the helm console and the shuttle began to inch forward at just over 200 kilometres per hour. "Dalby, keep monitoring those scout ships and let me know the minute they wake up. And keep up the status reports."
Dalby acknowledged. "Voyager's shields are at 76 percent. Our shuttles are still in formation. The first warship's warp engines are offline. The second ship is undamaged. They're coming about ... Commander, the three scout ships are moving to intercept us. They're firing -"
Janeway's fingers flew over the controls and the shuttle pitched to starboard, speed increasing to one-quarter impulse. She'd avoided the first shot but could do nothing about the second. Sparks flew from Dalby's station and he ducked automatically. "Our shields are down," he shouted. "One of the scout ships is preparing to fire again."
"Come on, Chakotay," Janeway muttered as she flung the Cochrane through a near-impossible series of twisting rolls. She heard the cold whistle of a torpedo and spun the small shuttle almost 180 degrees to avoid it. She was almost successful. But the torpedo had been programmed to explode when it reached proximity of the shuttle instead of on impact. The blast threw her out of her chair and knocked the Cochrane into a flat spin. Janeway landed on her knees - hard - and let loose a string of Klingon expletives which made even Dalby blush.
Lang clutched her way into the cockpit. "Lieutenant Paris is unconscious again," she told Janeway, hauling her up from the floor.
"Take the helm, Ensign." Janeway limped toward the engineering console as Lang stabilised the shuttle. "Dalby, report?"
"Shields are gone, phasers are offline, and we took damage to the navigational array. And warp engines are failing. Basically," Dalby concluded, "we're fucked."
"Or not," Lang broke in, unable to suppress her relief. "The Drake just disabled one of the scout ships, and the Sacajawea is breaking formation with Voyager. They're laying down covering fire."
"If we don't stabilise the warp engines it won't do us much good," Janeway muttered. She pried a panel from the bulkhead. "Lang, try to keep us out of reach of those scout ships. Dalby, try to fix the navigational array. This should only take a moment ... Got it!" She scrambled to her feet.
"Navigational array fully operational," Dalby called. He checked the tactical display. "Commander, one of the warships is moving away from Voyager. It'll be in weapons range in twenty seconds."
Janeway swore again.
"Voyager is in pursuit," reported Lang. "Our shuttles are moving between us and the warship."
They watched as the Drake and the Sacajawea fired continuously on the warship, targeting its weapons array as they performed acrobatics to stay out of its line of fire. And then the two Numiri scout ships swooped out from behind the warship and headed directly for the Cochrane.
Chakotay gripped the back of Seska's chair, steadying himself as Voyager absorbed another phaser blast from the Numiri warship to their rear. He summed up the on-screen crisis and decided he didn't like it at all. "Seska, bring us to heading one-eight-two mark four, maximum impulse. Ayala, prepare to launch a photon torpedo."
"Captain?" Seska didn't spare him a glance but he could tell she thought he was crazy. "That heading will take us directly into the lead warship's path."
"Do it," he ordered, and settled himself calmly in the command chair.
On screen, the Starfleet shuttles buzzed about the hulking warship like a pair of gnats, striking whenever they had a clear shot. Culhane and Batehart knew as well as Chakotay did that the damage they could inflict was negligible, but they'd keep the warship sufficiently distracted while Voyager maneuvred into position. He watched as the Numiri scout ships evaded the thick of the battle, edging toward the defenceless Cochrane.
Just another second ...
"Do we have weapons yet?" Janeway demanded.
"Negative. Our phaser relays are fused." This time there was a definite quiver in Ensign Lang's voice. "And we'll need at least ten minutes to re-initialise the shield grid."
"We're sitting ducks," muttered Dalby.
"Not if I can help it." Janeway limped toward them. "Lang, get out of that chair. I'm taking the helm."
"What are you doing?" Dalby asked warily, one eye on the tactical console.
Janeway was laying in coordinates. "Lang, on my mark I want you to give me a one-second burst of warp power, then completely shut down all engines. Dalby, at the same time I want you to generate a thoron burst. That should fool their sensors for a little longer."
Lang was looking at Janeway with something approaching hero worship. "Understood," she breathed. Dalby, clearly still confused, checked his sensors again. That trailing warship wasn't trailing anymore. It was circling behind Voyager and powering its weapons, and its weapons were trained directly on the Cochrane.
"Direct hit on the port scout ship," Ayala reported. "Its shields have failed. It is retreating."
"One down," muttered Chakotay. "Tell Batehart to target the other scout ship's impulse engines, I'm detecting fluctuations in its energy readouts."
"Acknowledged," said Ayala, and a moment later the second scout ship faltered under fire from the Drake, sputtered, and careened drunkenly to starboard.
And then Voyager was sliding like a warm knife through butter between the disabled scout ships. The lead Numiri warship loomed huge on the viewscreen, haloed by the diving, swooping shuttles. Chakotay tapped his commbadge. "Voyager to Drake and Sacajawea. Get the hell out of there - now."
The two shuttles broke from their intricate dance, looping smoothly back toward Voyager. Chakotay nodded to Ayala. "Fire torpedo."
Simultaneously, Lang triggered a short burst of warp power and Dalby activated the thoron emitters. For a split second the stars became streaks and then they were specks again. Lang shut down the engines and Janeway routed minimum power through the thrusters, coasting the shuttle gently into position. "All stop," she commanded.
There was an eye-watering explosion of light and Voyager swayed nauseatingly as it surfed the shockwave. For a moment time seemed to stand still. Then space cleared.
"The lead warship has been destroyed," reported Ayala. "The remaining warship and the damaged scout vessels are retreating."
"Chakotay to Drake and Sacajawea. Get back to the shuttlebay as soon as you can." Chakotay spoke on autopilot, scanning the viewscreen, suddenly terrified. "Ayala ... what the hell happened to the Cochrane?"
Ayala was already busy running sensor sweeps. "Sir, I'm not sure. They should have been out of the blast range, but I'm not detecting them."
Chakotay swallowed. "Are you detecting any debris?"
"No, sir, but it's difficult to tell what's out there. There's a lot of thoron radiation jamming the sensors ..." His voice trailed off and he looked up at the captain, a rare grin wreathing his face. "If I know Commander Janeway, they're fine, sir. We used thoron radiation in the Maquis. It was pretty effective at fooling sensors. My guess is -"
~Cochrane to Voyager.~
Chakotay's shoulders sagged in visible relief as Janeway appeared on screen. "Where are you, Commander?"
There was no trace of smugness in her voice. ~We're parked behind the Banean moon. The shuttle's in pretty bad shape. We could use a tow, if you're not too busy.~ She allowed herself a small smile.
The captain leaned back in his chair, straight-faced. "Care to let us in on your escape strategy, Commander?"
~Hide and seek, sir, or if you prefer, a combination of Maquis guile and Starfleet pilot training. Didn't they teach you the Picard maneuver at the Academy?~
"As a matter of fact, they did." Chakotay's smile was for her alone. "Well done, Kate."
Her blue eyes warmed for an instant, and then she was back to business. ~With your permission, I'll leave Ensign Lang in charge here while Lieutenant Paris and I transport to the planet. His condition's deteriorating.~
"Permission granted, Commander. Chakotay out."
Ayala spoke up as Janeway closed the channel. "Captain, I'm detecting three more Numiri warships on long-range sensors. They're on an intercept course and should reach us in three hours."
Chakotay nodded. By that time, he hoped, the Baneans would have finished with Paris and Voyager could set course back to the Ruatan system. If he never saw another Numiri face it would be too soon.