Relieved

Summary: A chance to get home compromises the crew's ethics. In the wake of events, Captain Chakotay re-examines a few of his own ethical choices.

 

Characters: Chakotay, Janeway, Paris, Tuvok, Kim, Torres, VOY crew, O. Paris, Sisko, Nechayev, Sloan, Original Characters

Codes: Janeway/Chakotay, Janeway/Paris, Kim/Torres

 

Disclaimer: Paramount offered me a box of assorted chocolates. I picked out the ones I like and left the rest. As always, Paramount is welcome to keep the calories.

 

Notes: Book 2 of the Parallels series. Related episode: Prime Factors. Some crossover with ST:DS9 and ST:TNG characters and situations.

Rated T

Part Three

"Kate? You home?" His voice echoed through the apartment. No answer.

Chakotay pulled off his uniform jacket and turtleneck and tossed them into the refresher. "Water, four degrees Celsius," he ordered the replicator, and took his drink over to the sofa.

Kathryn Janeway was curled up on it in a miserable ball. "Jesus," he reacted, heart pounding. "I didn't know you were there. Why didn't you answer?"

She looked up at him and her face was streaked with tears. Instantly he was crouched at her side, pulling her into the comfort of his arms. "Oh Kate. Your mother?"

She shook her head. "The Galileo." Her face crumpled. "I tried to contact Captain Bradley to let her know I wouldn't be back on board next week, but some admiral intercepted my message." She shuddered. "Oh God, Chakotay. They're all dead. All of them."

"How?" he gasped.

"Starfleet's still investigating." Her voice was raw. "They'd been following a Maquis raider when they entered the Badlands and lost contact with Starfleet. Apparently -" she took a shuddering breath. "There was a warp core breach. No warning, just - boom."

Chakotay held her tight. Thank God you were here, he thought, but didn't say. "Did the Maquis fire on them?" he asked gently.

"We'd been following that raider for weeks. It was a rickety old barge, held together with spit and hope. There's no way it could take on a Nebula-class ship. Starfleet thinks the Galileo was hit by a plasma storm. They shouldn't have been in the Badlands," she whispered. "A Nebula-class starship's too big to maneuver through those plasma storms. Sarah Bradley knew that." She scrubbed at her eyes. "Something's not right. It just doesn't fit."

"You think another ship might have been involved?"

"We weren't the only ones following that raider, Chakotay. There were two Cardassian cruisers sneaking around the DMZ. We'd already warned them off. Maybe they went after the Maquis and Captain Bradley got caught in the crossfire. I don't know." Her shoulders heaved as a fresh wave of tears filled her eyes. "I should have been there. Maybe I could have helped, I don't know ... oh God, Chakotay, seven hundred people ..."

"Shh ..." He rocked her, hands moving gently on her back. Seven hundred people. He thought about the Saber and her destruction at Wolf 359, the desperate agony of that loss, the awful guilt he'd felt at being one of the few survivors. He knew exactly what Kathryn was going through.

Much later he tucked her into bed and held her hand until she fell into a troubled sleep. He pulled the door partway closed and headed into his study to contact Admiral Paris.

~Captain?~

"I'm sorry to bother you at home, Admiral, but I've just heard some bad news. The Galileo was destroyed with all hands this afternoon."

~I heard.~ Paris' face was grave. ~How's Katie?~

"Not good. Admiral, has there been any news on how and why the ship was destroyed? Kathryn said there was an investigation under way."

On screen, the admiral shook his head. ~Preliminary reports suggest they strayed into the Badlands and encountered an area thick with plasma storms.~

"Kathryn says Captain Bradley wouldn't have entered the Badlands unless there was no other option. Was there any indication they were being attacked?"

~By whom? The Maquis?~

Chakotay shrugged. "Or the Cardassians, maybe."

~Don't be ridiculous, son. The ceasefire ...~

"The Cardassians have violated the ceasefire before, Admiral." Chakotay folded his arms.

Admiral Paris leaned forward. ~Captain, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that any Cardassian vessels were anywhere near the Galileo when she overloaded. I suggest you cease this line of questioning immediately.~

Chakotay watched him carefully. Paris always looked stern, but he was downright scowling now. Chakotay realised the admiral was nervous. Why? Because he didn't want Chakotay speculating that the Cardassians could have been involved? Everybody knew the Cardies weren't the greatest respecters of borders and treaties. Was Paris concerned that Chakotay might need to be reprimanded for his suspicions? Or did the admiral know something he wasn't telling?

"Thank you for your time, Admiral. If you hear anything else, would you let me know?"

~Of course. Good night, Captain.~

The screen flickered off and Chakotay sat back. More questions. He was really getting sick of questions.

 

=/\=


"... and Commander Savot wants to meet with you at 1400 hours regarding the latest hull integrity tests ... Captain? Are you all right?"

"What?" Chakotay brought himself out of his daze and blinked at Lieutenant Ajuta. "Sorry, Dari. I'm okay, just got a lot on my mind."

Ajuta put down her PADD. "I heard about the Galileo. Is Commander Janeway still staying with you?"

He nodded. "Dari, have you made any progress on the matter we discussed last week?"

"I'm afraid not. I've tried all the obvious channels, and a few less obvious, but nobody has ever heard of Sloan. I couldn't even find a birth certificate."

"Well, I guess that's progress of a sort," Chakotay said wryly. "It may confirm a suspicion of mine, anyway."

"Such as? If you don't mind me asking, Captain," Ajuta amended hastily.

Chakotay got up and paced over to the window. "Sloan appears out of nowhere, no background, no qualifications, and yet he's working on a high-security Starfleet project. He knows things no civilian should know. He's been keeping tabs on me for who knows how long. My suspicion is that he's some kind of spy."

"Makes sense." Ajuta tapped a finger against her chin. "Think he's working for the Romulans? The Cardassians?" She frowned. "Do you think Admiral Paris knows?"

"He must know something." Chakotay leaned his head against the window. "But if he shares my suspicions, why the hell is Sloan still involved in this project?"

"Could Sloan be working for Starfleet in some capacity?"

"But what?" Chakotay turned, frustrated. "What is he doing here? He told me he's advising Admiral Paris on tactical strategies. But against whom? This ship is being built to defend against the Borg, but Sloan seems more concerned with the Romulan threat. And how could someone who's not even in Starfleet have access to the kind of information he seems to have?" He pinched the bridge of his nose, fighting the headache that had been looming since he'd learned about the Galileo. "If he was with Intelligence I could understand it. But then there'd be personnel files, medical and psych files, service records. And there's nothing." He slammed a hand against the wall and Ajuta jumped. "Sorry, Dari. I guess I'm a little worked up."

She was looking at him with an expression he'd never seen before. It looked ... calculating. As though she were trying to work out how to tell him something. "What?" he demanded.

"Captain -" Ajuta fidgeted. "Call me crazy, but ... have you ever considered the possibility that Starfleet Intelligence might not be the only surveillance and information-gathering outfit in the Federation?"

He stared. "What are you talking about?"

She seemed to be trying to find the right words. "You know how I like to find out the stuff nobody's supposed to know?" she began finally. He nodded. "Well, I've been hacking systems since I was old enough to hold a PADD, and I have a suspicious mind and the ear to go with it. In the past, if ever I've wanted to find out something, it might take a little time and effort, but I'll find it. But this Sloan -" She shook her head. "Blank walls. Everywhere. I've got friends in Starfleet Intel, and they're supposed to know everything, but there's no trace of Sloan in any computer system they can access. That might have been possible a century ago, but these days everybody has some kind of computer record, even if it's just a birth notification. If I hadn't seen Sloan with my very own eyes, I'd swear the man simply did not exist."

He waited.

"What I'm saying," she went on, "is that he must have had a record at some point, but it's been wiped so thoroughly and so expertly that officially, there is no Sloan. Who could possibly have the kind of power that can erase a person from technological existence in this century?" She leaned forward, speaking forcefully, though she already had her captain's complete attention. "Even a surgically-altered Romulan spy leaves some kind of trace, however faint. A transit record from a ship. A molecular trace from a transporter log. Hell, a happy snap at a sidewalk cafe. Something. But not Sloan. Believe me, Captain, the only way a person who's entered Federation space could leave no computer trace of any kind, is if he somehow has access to the kind of Federation surveillance and security sysems I can only dream about."

There was a stunned silence.

"I hope to hell you're wrong about this, Dari," Chakotay said finally. "Because if you're right, it means somebody high up in the Federation echelons is running covert operations which are directly contrary to everything the Federation stands for."

Dari looked even more uncomfortable. "I'm not so sure it's just somebody high up, sir," she admitted. "Off the record?"

"Dari, everything we've said in the past few minutes is off the record."

"Of course," she blushed, "but what I was going to say is that this ... covert operation ... might be a lot more widespread than one top-level Federation officer and a few mavericks like Sloan."

"Go on."

She leaned forward again. "Have you ever asked Admiral Paris about Sloan, sir?"

"He told me Sloan was a civilian with a great deal of tactical experience who was freelancing as a security advisor to Starfleet Operations."

"But he wouldn't tell you where Sloan got this tactical experience, or why his expertise was so necessary to this particular project?"

"He said it was classified," Chakotay said slowly.

"And of course, it's occurred to you to wonder if Admiral Paris knows what it is and why it's classified."

He looked at his hands. "Lieutenant ... Owen Paris was my captain on my second posting. I served under him for three years on the Al-Batani and we've worked closely together twice since. I consider him an honoured friend, and I hope he holds me in the same regard. But ..." and he looked up at her and saw her green eyes brimming with sympathy, "yes. It has occurred to me to wonder."

"And if Admiral Paris is involved," she said evenly, "how many others might be involved as well?"

Chakotay leaned on his desk as though unable to hold himself upright anymore. "A highly organised and incredibly well-hidden network of covert operatives, working for Federation interests. A Tal Shiar for the Federation." He felt sick. "Expressly forbidden by the Federation Charter."

"Actually ..."

Chakotay felt stricken. There was more?

"It's not expressly forbidden by the Charter," she admitted. "It may be contrary to all the principles we claim the Federation stands for, but there is a section in the Charter which could be interpreted to allow for an organisation like this."

She held a PADD out to him. He cringed. "Right here," she pointed. He took the PADD, read, and handed it back to her.

"Interesting, isn't it?" she said. "This 'autonomous investigative agency' they mention - why has nobody ever heard of it? If it's autonomous, it can't be an agency run by Starfleet officers, like Intelligence or Internal Affairs, can it? And the reference to 'nonspecific discretionary power over nonspecific Starfleet matters' is so broad it could be interpreted to mean almost anything."

Chakotay's bronzed skin had taken on an ashy pallor.

"So what the hell," Dari finished, "do they want with the Liberty?"

 

=/\=


"Are you sure you feel up to this?"

"Chakotay, I'm fine. Really."

"Because we could skip it and stay here if you want ..."

Kathryn paused in the act of affixing the captain's pips to the collar of Chakotay's dress uniform, sending him an amused look. "You've been trying to get out of this reception all day. What gives?"

"I have not," he said indignantly. "I was concerned for you, that's all." After the memorial service for the crew of the Galileo two days earlier, she'd declared that if one more person told her it was a terrible tragedy, she'd self-combust.

"Well, I'll be fine. I could hardly be a no-show at a reception commemorating the Galileo crew when I'm the only one left. Besides, I'm a Starfleet officer, Chakotay. I've lost people I've served with before." Maybe not seven hundred of them at once, but ...

He grasped her gently by the shoulders and brushed his lips against her forehead. "I know." He set her back, holding her at arms'-length. "Damn, I love a woman in dress uniform."

Her smile split her pretty face and chased the clouds away. "Any woman? My, you must be easy to please."

"Oh, no, I'm quite particular," he grinned. "She's got to be the right height to hold - like so -" he gathered her against him, tucking her head under his chin. "She's got to have hair long enough that I can spill it through my fingers," moving his hands into her unbound hair. "And she's got to be sexy and smart, and sweet and strong."

Kathryn snorted into his chest. "Have you been borrowing my sister's reading material?"

"Oh, you wound me," grinned Chakotay. "I thought you women loved that sweet talkin' stuff."

"I'm touched," she said dryly, "but we still have to go to the reception. And I still have to pin my hair up, so would you mind getting your paws out of it?" She softened the words with a smile.

In spite of her brave words, as they ascended the imposing steps to Zefram Cochrane Hall, Chakotay felt Kathryn's hand slip into his and grip tightly as she braced herself for the flow of sympathy to come. He squeezed back reassuringly. "I'll be here," he whispered. She nodded tightly and released his hand. He watched the professional mask slip over her features as Admiral Nechayev detached herself from a group near the entrance and came over to greet them.

"Commander, I am so sorry for your loss. For all of us." Was that a note of genuine regret he detected in the admiral's tone? Chakotay knew Janeway had dealt with Alynna Nechayev before. He also knew there was no love lost between Kathryn and the woman the lower ranks had nicknamed 'Medusa'. Nechayev had been one of the youngest officers ever to be promoted to the admiralty, and had seemingly dedicated every moment of her career to proving she was tough enough to excel at her job. And she did, but not without stepping on a few toes along the way.

Janeway was shaking Nechayev's hand. "Thank you, Admiral. I know you and Captain Bradley were friends. She was a fine captain, and we'll all miss her."

"As we will miss them all." Nechayev paused just long enough to satisfy protocol, then went on, "Actually, Commander, there's something I'd like to discuss with you. I'm aware you're on compassionate leave, but perhaps you could make time to come to my office on Tuesday. 1700 hours."

Janeway raised an eyebrow. "That sounds rather like an order, Admiral."

Nechayev's poise never faltered. "Consider it so, if you prefer. I'll see you on Tuesday, Commander." She nodded to Chakotay. "Captain. If you'll excuse me."

Chakotay could see Kathryn's feathers were ruffled. "An invitation from the brass," he joked, trying to make light of it. "Aren't you the popular one?"

"It was hardly an invitation," she muttered. "I wonder what she wants from me."

"Maybe she wants to promote you."

Kathryn snorted. "Unlikely. Come on. The sooner we do the meet and greet, the sooner we can get out of here."

Some hours later, Chakotay excused himself from a dry debate between two deskbound admirals and snagged a couple of champagnes from a passing waiter, looking around for his date. He eventually spotted her on the far side of the hall, engrossed in conversation with a man in dress uniform and another in a dinner suit. He weaved his way through the crowd towards them.

Kathryn spotted him and broke off the conversation. "Chakotay." She smiled as he reached her side, accepting the champage he offered her. "Do you know Commander Cal Hudson?"

"Only by reputation." Chakotay shook the man's hand. "I hear you've been working as an attaché to our colonies along the DMZ. I get all the gossip from Ben Sisko on DS9."

At the mention of Commander Sisko, Hudson smiled. "Ben and I were at the Academy together. Are the two of you friends?"

"We were colleagues until a few months ago," Chakotay explained. "But I'll consider him a friend as long as he doesn't renege on the bottle of Saurian brandy he's going to owe me."

Janeway rolled her eyes. "Don't ask," she advised as Hudson's dark face took on a puzzled look. She turned to the man in civvies. "Captain Chakotay, this is Jokim Brill, a representative from Volan II."

The Volan system was situated in the demilitarised zone and supported two Federation colonies on its second and third planets. Chakotay shook Brill's hand enthusiastically. "I'm from the Dorvan system myself," he explained. "We're practically neighbours."

Brill inspected him carefully with surprisingly inscrutable Betazoid eyes. "Then you must also be concerned about the recent developments in the DMZ." He spoke softly, but his presence was authoritative enough that the three command-rank Starfleet officers paid close attention.

"To which recent developments are you referring?" Chakotay asked politely.

He thought he caught a flash of anger in the man's dark eyes. "I'm referring to the increased occurrences of Cardassian raids on Federation colonies, and the corresponding loss of life, liberty and security."

Chakotay's smile faded.

"Jokim is here to address the Federation Council on that very issue." Janeway's voice was perfectly neutral.

"Tell me, Captain, have you been home recently?"

"No." Chakotay felt uncomfortable. "I haven't been home for some time."

Brill regarded him coolly. "Then I advise you to do so, before you no longer have the option."

"What do you mean?" He really didn't like the way this conversation was going.

"I place very little trust in Cardassian promises, Captain. And I suspect your people feel the same way. We are targets for their aggression, as your colleagues here can vouch."

Chakotay paled. "Are you suggesting the Cardassians might attack Dorvan?"

"That is a very real possibility."

"Are you Maquis?" he asked bluntly.

Janeway came to life. "Jokim is the official representative of the Volan colonists," she said, adding pointedly, "There's no need for accusations, Captain."

Chakotay calmed himself with visible effort. "Of course, Commander." He sent her an unreadable glance. "May I have a word with you in private?"

Janeway nodded, following him through the crowd until they reached the foyer. Chakotay steered her into a corner and then rounded on her. "What the hell are you playing at, Kate?"

She said nothing.

"Is that man a member of the Maquis?"

She smoothed her chignon unnecessarily. "If he is, he hasn't said so to me."

"If he did, you'd be duty bound to arrest him," Chakotay retorted. "You know that, and so does he. So I ask you again: What are you playing at?"

"I'm not playing at anything," she snapped. "This is deadly serious, in case you hadn't noticed."

"I'm beginning to," he muttered.

She began to pace. "I've been on patrol in the DMZ for the past two years, Chakotay. I've seen things. Things that never reach the Federation news service. Things that Starfleet has been covering up. These people are living in fear every day, and Starfleet is turning a blind eye. Can you blame them for feeling abandoned? For taking steps to protect themselves, because they can't count on those who claim to protect them?"

"I understand your sympathy for these people, Kathryn," he said in a gentler tone. "And I applaud it. But it seems to me you're getting a little too involved."

"And it seems to me you're not involved enough," she retorted. "Jokim was right, you know. You should go back to Dorvan. Spend some time with your family. See what's really going on in the so-called demilitarised zone."

"Don't change the subject. Tell me what's going on."

"I'm telling you. The DMZ is a powder keg, and the Cardassians are lighting the fuse."

"And where will you be standing if it all blows up?"

She stopped pacing and faced him. "I don't know," she said honestly. "But I hope I'll be standing in the right place."

 

=/\=


Automatic doors don't slam, so when Kathryn Janeway stormed into Chakotay's apartment the following Tuesday evening, she kicked the door instead, then turned and gave it another kick for good measure.

"Bad day?" Chakotay couldn't hide his smirk; she looked like a five-year-old in the throes of a temper tantrum.

She was almost speechless with fury. "I've just spent" - she yanked off her winter jacket and flung it in the general direction of the kitchen table - "two hours with Admiral Nechayev" - her scarf went flying as she placed emphatic scorn on the admiral's name - "being taken to task" - she stripped off one glove and threw it at the sofa - "for every decision I ever made" - the other glove sailed perilously close to Chakotay's head - "on the Galileo. She had the nerve," Kathryn continued, stomping over to Chakotay, "to suggest that I curb my maverick tendencies - that's how she put it - if I ever want to move up the ranks and command a ship of my own." She placed her hands on her hips and glared at him.

Chakotay's smirk became a genuine smile. "That's wonderful."

"Wonderful? Chakotay, were you listening to me?"

"So Nechayev gave you a talking-to about your command style." Chakotay captured her hands in his. "Don't you know what that means?"

Her blank look indicated that she was still waiting for the punchline.

"She gave the same lecture to Will Riker, just before he was offered command of the Melbourne," Chakotay explained. "She wouldn't have bothered with the 'effective methods of command' speech if she didn't intend to see you put it into practice. Kathryn, I believe you're about to be promoted."

"You're kidding."

"Nope. Riker told me the same story. Apparently he has 'maverick tendencies' too."

"Riker turned the Melbourne down," Janeway pointed out, still sulky.

"I don't think Nechayev's lecture had anything to do with that decision."

She was silent for a moment, biting the edge of her forefinger. "Well," she said finally, "she hasn't offered me anything yet."

"She will." Chakotay grinned at her. "Captain Janeway, hmm? Let the galaxy beware."