|The Kings of the
Hill own Voyager, her crew and all things Trek.
Chakotay sat on the bridge watching the shuttle as it neared the asteroid field. They had scanned the field but obtained inconclusive results. Something in the field was interfering with their scans, but what information they had obtained suggested there were a number of heavier metals that would prove invaluable to engineering.
Voyager had been crossing an area with few inhabitants so Chakotay had been unable to provide a convincing argument when the captain decided to scan the asteroid field herself from a shuttle. Having the captain on a shuttle exploring an asteroid field made Chakotay uneasy. Having Kathryn alone on a shuttle with Seven alarmed Chakotay. As the shuttle slowly approached the asteroid field, Chakotay's thoughts returned to his conversation with Kathryn after a senior staff meeting earlier in the day.
"You had something else you wanted to discuss, Commander?"
"Yes, Captain." Chakotay had hesitated.
"Well, what is it?"
"This isn't easy for me, Captain. I've started a relationship with a member of the crew. So far, I think we've managed to avoid attracting attention."
"Why are you telling me this, Chakotay? This is not my business nor the captain's business unless it interferes with the ship."
"I know. The first reason is that you are my friend, my best friend, and I wanted you to hear this from me not someone else. The second is that it could affect the ship once it gets around to the crew. The third reason is that we're getting pretty serious. We've discussed the possibility of making the relationship formal and having children – soon."
Chakotay had watched Kathryn's face as she let his words register. Her face was a mask any Vulcan would be proud to wear. After a long minute, she spoke.
"Seven." Chakotay's eyes never left Kathryn's face, and her expression never wavered.
"Thank you for telling me, Commander. You were right; I would rather have heard this from you. Dismissed."
Chakotay recalled the conversation and thought of a thousand more things he should have said. He couldn't help but wonder whether the captain had wished she had said more as well. His attention was abruptly returned to the present by Harry's voice.
"Shuttle is now out of transporter range, Commander. We're getting a transmission from the shuttle."
"Open the channel, Mr. Kim."
"Janeway to Voyager. We've just crossed the perimeter of the asteroid field. The interference has not increased. We have confirmed the earlier readings and are trying to pinpoint the exact coordinates of the . . ."
The captain's words were cut off as another voice broke in on their frequency.
"It's mine! You can't have it! Go away!"
The voice came from the occupant of a small ship about twice the size of the shuttle that had emerged from the center of the asteroid field headed straight for the shuttle. It fired its weapons, but the shuttle's shields deflected them harmlessly. Chakotay glanced at Tuvok. The voice continued to shout its messages and ignored all attempts at communication with the shuttle and Voyager.
"Does that ship pose a serious threat to the shuttle or Voyager?"
"No, sir. Its weapons are not capable of penetrating our shields. However, there are signs that whatever has interfered with our scans of the asteroid field has affected the shields of the shuttle."
"How many life signs on that ship?"
"Lock on a tractor beam and bring it aboard. Maybe he'll talk to us once he's on board."
The tractor beam was steadily pulling the little ship toward Voyager but the pilot caught Tuvok off guard when he dropped Voyager's shields to bring the little intruder into the main shuttle bay. Without warning, the little ship rushed toward Voyager on a suicide assault. The little ship rammed into the hull near engineering and succeeded in disrupting power supplies to several major systems, including the inertial dampeners. Although Voyager's hull was intact, the small ship was not so fortunate. It bounced off the larger ship and exploded, sending pieces of hull in all directions. A large section of its hull flew toward the shuttle.
On the bridge, Chakotay picked himself up from the floor and looked around at the others. Tuvok had managed to stay on his feet at his station and Tom was still in his chair. The others on the bridge had not fared so well. Harry was picking himself up and grimacing as he tried to keep one arm immobilized. Several others had similar injuries. Quickly assessing the situation, Chakotay stood and went to the Ops station.
"Get down to sickbay, Ensign, and take Michelson and Jackson with you." Chakotay quickly scanned incoming status reports from various areas of the ship and noted that all injuries seemed to be minor.
"Commander!" Tom's voice brought Chakotay's attention back to the shuttle. He glanced up just in time to see a large piece of the little ship impact the rear of the shuttle. There was no visible external damage.
"Status!" Chakotay was trying to check every scan he could and waited for Tuvok's confirmation.
"The shuttle has been severely damaged, Commander. My scans indicate that their warp controls have been damaged and that the shuttle's core will breach in thirty seconds."
"Confirmed, Tuvok. Mr. Paris, get us within transporter range! I don't care how close we come to that asteroid field." Chakotay madly worked on setting up a transport from the damaged shuttle.
"Tuvok, I can't get a lock on them. Can you get a lock from your board?"
"Twenty seconds, Commander." Tom's voice kept them all apprised of the passing seconds
"Negative. However, I may be able to improve your signal."
"That's better! I can only get a lock on one of them at a time."
"Tuvok, I need to get a lock on both of them."
"We don't have time to clear up the interference from the asteroid field, Commander. You can only transport one at a time."
"Five seconds, Commander."
Chakotay made one frantic adjustment and energized.
Seconds passed before he spoke again. To the others on the bridge it seemed as if Chakotay had waited until the shuttle exploded and lit up the view screen.
"Transport complete. One person beamed to Transporter Room One."
Chakotay stood staring at the view screen for several seconds before turning to Tuvok.
"You have the Bridge, Commander."
Even Tom was speechless as Chakotay left the bridge. Who had Chakotay beamed aboard Voyager? The question was answered a few minutes later when Captain Janeway exited the turbolift demanding a status report. Tuvok gave a summary of events ending with the explosion of the shuttle.
"Is Chakotay with Seven in sickbay? She only had a sprained wrist."
"Captain, I thought you realized. We were only able to lock onto one of you because of the interference from the asteroid field. Seven was on the shuttle when it exploded."
It took several seconds for all the implications of Tuvok's statement to filter through Kathryn's mind. For the next few minutes she functioned automatically, setting priorities, checking on the injured, making sure engineering had people working on damaged systems. Eventually, everything that she could do had been done and she turned the bridge over to Tuvok and left the bridge. Once in the turbolift, she had the computer locate Chakotay. He was in his quarters.
Kathryn entered Chakotay's quarters using her override after he didn't answer her initial signal. She found him sitting at the table in civilian clothes. He turned to face her as she approached and held out his hand.
"Here. That's my rank insignia and I've sent my resignation to you already. I'd appreciate it if you'd let me off at the next habitable planet."
"What are you talking about? Why are you resigning? Surely you could deal with your loss more easily among friends."
"This is not about dealing with loss. This is about not being able to trust myself again."
"Why can't you trust yourself? You made a command decision. You had to choose between two people. You chose the person you felt was most necessary for Voyager and the crew. You have proven you can put the ship and crew before your personal feelings, Chakotay. Why would you doubt that?"
"You don't understand, Kathryn. I did choose to beam you out instead of Seven and in doing that, I betrayed my friend, my lover and my captain. I didn't choose the captain of Voyager; I didn't put the ship first. Oh, the result is the same, but I chose the woman I love; I chose Kathryn. I can't be your first officer anymore and I can't stay on Voyager as anything else." Chakotay had stared at the tabletop while he spoke, but he turned now to look at Kathryn. "Do you understand now why I must leave?"
"No, I don't understand why you think you have to leave Voyager, but I will consider your request. Please, don't make this decision too quickly."
At 03:00, Kathryn was awakened by Harry Kim who was on bridge duty. She quickly dressed and headed for the bridge.
"What happened, Harry?"
"We had an unauthorized shuttle launch. We don't know yet who took the shuttle. It happened about two hours ago but someone rigged the computer so we wouldn't know. The only reason we noticed was the shuttle left a trail in subspace after it went to warp. The trail is leading directly back to the asteroid field. If it gets that far we won't be able to track it into the field because of the interference."
"Reverse course, Harry. We have to try to get him back."
"I'll explain tomorrow. When we get to the asteroid field, try to locate the shuttle. Let me know if you find anything. You have the bridge."
Kathryn walked slowly to
Chakotay's quarters certain he would not be there. His quarters were as
empty as she had expected. She reluctantly picked up the padd from the
table knowing he would have left her a message. Slowly she read his words.
When she had finished, she sat and thought back over the years and wondered where the turning point was that led to this ending. When was it too late for them? When did this ending, or one like it, become inevitable? There were so many possibilities.
Kathryn had spent most of her shift deep in thought on the bridge. Her head had faced the screen and bobbed as if in response to remarks made by others, but in truth her attention had been on the object of their search in a far different context. She had become so accustomed to having Chakotay at her side that she had forgotten that she had no claim on his personal life. The events of the last few days had brought that one fact home with a shocking clarity. She had lost the man she trusted to help her run this ship so far from the support of Starfleet Command, yes, but she had lost much more -- she had lost a part of herself.
Originally, she had intended to honor his request. What had started as a token search for sake of their crew had become a sincere effort on her part. She refused now to even consider giving up the search. Thirty hours had passed and there was still no sign of Chakotay's shuttle. They had followed the shuttle's trail back to the asteroid field where it disappeared. That had been nearly twenty hours ago but the crew kept saying they wanted to try 'just one more' scan with slightly different adjustments. B'Elanna had tried more tricks than Kathryn could count and Tom had been coming up with new search patterns to make sure they covered as much area as possible, all with no success.
They all refused to give up even though they knew that Chakotay had taken the shuttle into the asteroid field and was probably just out of sensor range. Kathryn knew that if she ordered the ship into the field, not one member of the crew would protest except possibly Tuvok and his protest would be only for the record. Kathryn also knew she couldn’t risk the ship or crew for one man, no matter how she or the crew felt. She needed sleep but that would have to wait. Reluctantly she made her decision.
"Harry, open a channel to all decks."
"Channel open, Captain."
"Attention all hands. The search has ended. I appreciate all your efforts. I know you all did your best. Thank you. Janeway out." Kathryn waited until Harry had closed the channel. "Tom, set a course for the Alpha Quadrant. Warp five."
"Tuvok, go get some rest. Tom can handle the bridge for the next few hours. Make sure that as many people as possible get at least a few hours sleep."
Tuvok and Tom both prepared their stations for their replacements.
"Tom, you have the bridge. Come on, old friend. We both need to rest." Kathryn left the bridge followed by Tuvok.
"The Commander will be missed, Captain."
"Thank you, Tuvok. I suspect that what you have said is the classic Vulcan understatement."
In her quarters, Kathryn changed into civilian clothes then worked at her computer for over thirty minutes setting up her plan. Once it was completed, she ordered a site-to-site transport to the shuttle bay.
Tossing her carryall further over her shoulder, Kathryn hurried across the bay to the Delta Flyer. Once inside, she did a quick check of the emergency supplies. Satisfied with that, she quickly ran through a preflight checklist then ordered the program she had set up to run. She held her breath as she powered up the Flyer and left Voyager. That program had gotten Chakotay off Voyager, now she needed it to work as well for her.
On the journey back to the asteroid filed, Kathryn knew that for once she was doing what was right for herself. She believed it was also the right thing for the captain. She had quickly accepted that Voyager could not find Chakotay's shuttle without entering the asteroid field; she also knew that she could not risk the ship so the only option was sending another shuttle after the first and she would not risk even one person on that mission. Tuvok would rightfully have refused to allow her to leave so she had been left with doing it on her own covertly.
During her brief journey back to the location they had lost the shuttle's trail, Kathryn considered how she would explain her actions to her crew. Eventually she realized that most of the crew would need no explanation for why she went after Chakotay but they would need a very long explanation to understand why he left. She debated with herself whether she should have told her senior staff when they first discovered his departure. She finally decided that if she managed to find Chakotay and get him to go back with her to Voyager that the crew would just have to accept everything with no explanation. She owed them no explanation and was also the only person who could insist on an explanation from Chakotay. She brought herself back to the task at hand; time enough to worry about explanations when they became an issue.
Kathryn found the point where the shuttle had penetrated far enough into the asteroid field to disappear from Voyager's sensors. She directed the Delta Flyer into the field on the same heading the shuttle had been on. Once among the asteroids, Kathryn tried to decide what Chakotay would have done. She doubted that he had planned very far beyond actually reaching the safety provided by the interference. Carefully she moved through the asteroids. She was still debating his probably actions when a much larger asteroid moved into visual range. This one was several kilometers wide and about twice as many in length. It would make an excellent hiding place. Scans of its surface were useless so Kathryn slowly approached it to do a visual sweep. It was tumbling slowly so most of the surface would appear eventually if Kathryn just held her position. After about an hour she saw something unusual and moved the Flyer in closer. It was Chakotay's shuttle. Quickly Kathryn located a flat area near the shuttle and took the Flyer down.
Kathryn secured the Flyer then did a scan of the shuttle. Even though it was less than thirty meters from the Flyer, the results were poor, but they were good enough to tell her Chakotay was alive and that he had powered down all of the shuttle's systems. His oxygen supply, although low, was sufficient for several more days. Sensors indicated he was sleeping. Kathryn knew she needed sleep. She had been running on adrenaline for over thirty hours but the relief at finding Chakotay safe had left her happy but tired. She knew she was in no condition to confront him.
Kathryn tapped into the shuttle's systems and powered up life support before extending the Flyer's shields around both ships. She set an alarm to sound if there was any change in either ship's systems and crawled into a bunk. She was asleep in minutes.
Fourteen hours later Kathryn awoke. After running through an abbreviated version of her morning routine, coffee mug in hand, she had confirmed that there had been no change in the shuttle's status. Chakotay appeared to be awake but still in his bunk.
Chakotay woke from a restless sleep. His dreams had been disturbing but he could recall no details. Hoping he would find some comfort from his spirit guide, he retrieved his medicine bundle from the storage locker. His vision quest started successfully but his guide was nowhere to be seen. Regretfully, Chakotay ended the vision quest and carefully wrapped the medicine bundle before returning to his bunk. He tried to clear his mind and sleep but his efforts were futile. Kathryn danced through his thoughts – on New Earth, on the ship, on shore leave or away missions, and in her quarters. Friends – their actions had always been those of friends but hinting at the promise of something more someday. He had thought the promise had been to explore deeper, stronger emotions not yet developed; now he understood it had been to acknowledge and explore emotions already shared.
Once even the promise of a possibility of more than friendship had been enough for him. He had promised her, and he had promised himself, that he would be there for her. He had tried to live for the future, but the present had finally won and the promise was broken. What had gone wrong? When had he given up on a future with Kathryn? Too many questions! He sought answers. He gave up on sleep and went to the front of the shuttle where he stood staring at the bleak landscape with a horizon that was far too close.
Kathryn had made all the preparations she could but was reluctant to act. She didn't know what she was going to say. When Chakotay moved to the front of the shuttle, she forced herself to activate the Flyer's transporter. All he had to do was look at the board to know the Flyer was off his starboard flank.
Chakotay materialized with his back to Kathryn. He spoke without turning.
"I asked you not to come, Kathryn."
"I know. Kathryn walked over to him and put one hand on his shoulder. "I had to come, just as you would have come after me."
"I can't go back."
"I haven't asked you to go back."
"Then why are you here? Don't try to tell me you don't want me to go back with you because I won't believe it."
"You're right – I do what you to go back with me, I won't lie. But if you won't, then we'll have to find someplace else to go."
"Even if I thought I could function as your first officer, I still can't go back. I thought I could be what you wanted, what you needed but I've reached my limit. I can't be those things, not anymore."
"You are what I wanted. You were always there when I needed you."
"Kathryn, you were what I wanted and I was willing to wait for you. But I know now that sometimes I need you to be there for me in ways you aren't ready or willing to be."
"You're right. I never gave us a chance. I forgot that you needed me at times as much as I needed you so many times. I thought the future we both wanted would be enough. You were always there for me as my first officer and as my friend. You always provided the emotional support and insight that I needed. You never seemed to need more from me than what I offered. I never realized that disguising what you needed was part of what you gave me.
"All these years I thought keeping our personal lives impersonal would be better for the ship. While that may have been true when you first joined my crew, it stopped being best for the ship and for us a long time ago. I know I should have told you how I felt years ago. I love you. I don't want to live my life without you and I'm not going to try."
Chakotay finally turned to face Kathryn and she stepped closer as his arms wrapped around her. Silently they held each other, as they should have years sooner, both unwilling to end the moment. Eventually Kathryn spoke.
"Where do we go from here?"
"I don't know, Kathryn."
"Well, wherever it is, we go together." She took his hand and led him to the rear of the Flyer. "Let's get some breakfast, then we can talk."
The conversation was awkward at first but slowly the seven years of friendship overpowered the recent barriers. They discussed their friends, their families and laughed briefly over memories of various instructors at Star Fleet Academy. Chakotay told Kathryn about the Maquis who had died when the Caretaker brought his ship to the Delta Quadrant and Kathryn told him about the Voyager crew she had lost, leaving Cavitt for last.
"What would you have done if he hadn't been killed?"
Kathryn didn't try to pretend she didn’t understand.
"I'm not sure. Hindsight tells me that the best decision would have been to make you my first officer, but I don't know that I would have made that choice if Cavitt had been alive. He would have been protesting any decision that didn't have you all in the brig. I probably would have made you the second officer and senior helmsman instead of Tom. That would have been a terrible command structure for Voyager. On the other hand, Cavitt would have been a balancing factor for me because he would have been spouting regs and procedure to me constantly. You may have noticed I don't take advice from junior officers very well."
Her wry smile conveyed a self-knowledge that made Chakotay smile.
"I had noticed that from time to time, yes."
"You realize, of course, that had Cavitt been first officer we'd still be on New Earth?"
"Unless it had been you and Cavitt that had been infected instead of you and me."
"Don't say that even in jest." Kathryn cringed at the thought. "But I doubt it. We were the two infected because we were together and I know I'd not have been on that planet alone with Cavitt. For one thing, he would never have considered leaving the ship if I were away. But if it had been Cavitt with me on New Earth, I wouldn't have been there so long."
"You would have been on your way to the Vidiians at warp nine when you left orbit."
"I never knew the man, but from what you've said after two years with Cavitt I might have been glad to leave him behind."
"But you wouldn't have just as I couldn't leave you behind now. "Kathryn's words sobered them both and reminded them of their current dilemma. "You never answered my question."
"Which question was that?"
"The one from earlier – about where we go from here. You never answered it."
"I thought I did when I said I didn’t know."
"Then I guess we stay here."
"You can't stay here. Voyager needs you."
"They need you, too. I need you."
"You'll do fine without me."
"I won't. Have you considered what the crew will think if I go back and tell them I left you here? They'll never understand or accept it. They know you're my best friend and they will know that if I can walk away from you then I can walk away from any or all of them. They won't trust me and eventually that distrust will tear the ship apart. I was lucky they didn't mutiny when I gave up the search."
Chakotay listened and considered her statements. While he was thinking, Kathryn cleared the table and they both moved to the only couch on the Flyer. Chakotay knew Kathryn had a point. He knew the people on Voyager were fiercely loyal – to their captain, to him, and to each other. If she did anything that seemed to betray that trust, they would all share the betrayal. Kathryn seemed to know what he was thinking.
"There are a lot of people on Voyager who are loyal to me because they trusted you. There are others who accepted you as first officer because I told them they should. Over the years we've both earned that trust and respect on our own merits."
"So you don't need me to keep the trust and respect of the former Maquis."
"No, but if I leave you behind, I will lose their trust and the trust of everyone else on the ship."
"Except possibly Tuvok. One loyal person out of nearly one hundred fifty isn't going to get Voyager home safely. They are better off with Tuvok in command."
"I can't go back. There is no place for me on Voyager now."
"Your place is on Voyager where it's always been. Nothing has changed that. The only thing that has changed is you."
"No, what has changed is that I realize I can't keep my private life separate from the command structure. I made a command decision based on my feelings."
"You kept them separate and private for years – even from me."
"I did everything I could to accomplish that."
"When you had time to think?"
"Yes." Chakotay was reluctant to acknowledge the veracity of the qualification.
"But you didn't have time to think, did you?"
"What were you thinking during the seconds when you had to act? What were your exact thoughts?"
"I'm not sure. I was shouting at Tuvok to clear up the signal. I was trying to find a way to get you both out. I knew you would tell me to transport Seven if I had been able to ask you but I couldn't do what you would order. I kept thinking that I had to find a way to get you out and still do what you wanted, but I couldn't. When it was over, I realized I had never considered saving Seven instead of you."
"You were trying to follow orders and save me even though you couldn't do both?"
"Yes. I let you down and I let the crew down."
"If you followed regulations, who would you have transported first?"
"Chakotay, who issues the orders to you on Voyager?"
"No, who issues the orders? Kathryn or the captain?"
"The captain, but you're the same person."
"Maybe to the rest of the crew, but not to you. You just said you try to keep 'us' separated in your mind. You were trying to follow orders you knew the captain would give and still follow the regulations and do what was best for the ship – and you beamed the captain aboard. Not Kathryn. Voyager's first officer beamed back the captain and followed regulations. He also ignored orders that were not in the best interest of the ship – which you've done before. You did nothing wrong. You gave no one any reason to question your loyalty or your ability to command."
Chakotay was reluctant to accept Kathryn's analysis but his own words supported her statement. Still the shock he had felt when he had completed the transport that saved Kathryn and left Seven to die lingered. That shock was accompanied by the knowledge that the woman he loved most had been the one transported to safety. Kathryn allowed him time to reflect on the new perspective. After a few minutes, she put her hand on his shoulder.
"I know we've only been up a few hours, but we're both still exhausted. Let's get some rest."
Silently Chakotay nodded and headed to a bunk. He lay down and closed his eyes only to open them abruptly when Kathryn sat down next to him.
"Move over. When I said together, I meant together. You're stuck with me now so you'd better get used to it. I forgot to mention something. When we get back to Voyager, I'm giving Tom and B'Elanna your quarters. You won't need them."
Kathryn turned on her side to face Chakotay and put her arm over his chest forcing him to put his arm around her shoulders and make himself into a pillow for her.
"You're pretty sure of yourself."
"This isn't just because you love me?"
"You say you trust me."
"Do you trust me enough to let me pilot the shuttle back to Voyager on my own?"
"If you tell me you're going to follow me back, yes."
"I might get 'lost' on the way to catch Voyager."
"It isn't that far."
"What do you mean?"
"Voyager will be waiting for us outside the asteroid field."
"Did you tell them where you were going?"
"I didn't have to tell them, they could figure it out on their own. And before you ask, I didn't tell them to come after me. Tuvok isn't any better at following my orders than you are. The only difference is how long it takes Tom to think up an excuse that Tuvok can pass off as logical."
"So we give them another twenty-four hours and go look for them?"
"Twelve should be enough. Tom's logic has improved slightly over the years."
Chakotay chuckled and turned on his side to face Kathryn.
"What if I want my old quarters back?"
"You can't have them. Your new quarters will have some amenities that I think you'll find quite satisfactory."
Kathryn gently kissed Chakotay's lips as her hand moved slowly down his back. Chakotay's hands started wandering down her back and pulled her closer when they reached her hips.
"You have about twelve hours to demonstrate some of those amenities, Kathryn. I might even decide to pilot the Flyer for you and we can tractor the shuttle back to Voyager together."
"I like your choice of words,
Chakotay. Together is getting to sound pretty good."