|The Kings of the Hill own Voyager, the
characters and all things Trek.
This is a sequal to What Comes First? which I suggest you read first.
Kathryn woke to find Chakotay gone when she reached for him. She smiled to herself. Less than a week since their first night together and she had already adapted to his presence in her private life and bed, or to be more accurate this morning, to her presence in his bed. She was just settling comfortably back onto her pillow when a voice brought her fully awake again.
"Come on, sleepyhead. We have to be on duty in forty-five minutes. Get in the shower. Breakfast will be ready when you get out."
"No, you have to be on duty in forty-five minutes. I don't. I'm the captain."
"Ok, go back to sleep. I'll just recycle the coffee and eat in the mess hall."
"Look, we've had this same conversation three days in a row and I've recycled the coffee three days in a row. Now, is it going to be four for four or are you getting up?"
"I'm getting up." Kathryn eyed his uniform critically. "But the last three days you weren't dressed for duty when you woke me."
"I overslept this morning. It seems someone changed the time on my alarm."
"Wonder who that could have been." Kathryn stretched and grinned saucily before she moved toward the bathroom. Chakotay returned her grin and spoke to her disappearing back.
"I think it was some redheaded wench who'd rather I spent the day in her bed."
"In your dreams, mister."
"You're the one who didn't want to get up."
The conversation ended when the door closed. Chakotay still hadn't figured out how Kathryn managed to make an automatic sliding door 'slam,' but she did.
Chakotay had finished most of his breakfast when Kathryn reappeared dressed for duty. She stopped by his chair and kissed his cheek. "Good morning."
Kathryn sat down in her chair and eyed her breakfast. Her glare contradicted her calm voice as she stared at fruit and a glass of milk.
"Where's my coffee?"
"I'll trade the empty glass for a fresh hot cup for you – as soon as you have an empty glass." Chakotay's voice was equally calm, but he was not certain how Kathryn would respond.
"It's a good thing I like milk." She quickly drank the milk and held out the glass. "Now, I'd like my coffee, please."
Chakotay quietly took her glass to the recycler and brought her a hot cup of coffee from the replicator.
"Thank you. You could have just asked, you know."
"What would you have said?"
"Probably no. I'm already taking supplements from the doctor. Milk isn't necessary."
"So I'm a traditionalist. Speaking of the doctor, when are you going to visit him?"
"I don't have to see him for a couple more weeks unless I start showing symptoms that I'm losing the baby which I'm not."
"Kathryn, he's going to be calling you on the bridge any day now and insisting you come for a checkup. Either way, he will know the baby is healthy. Anyone who hears the page is going to know the doctor wasn't involved in stabilizing your pregnancy so they are going to jump to conclusions, and they are going to be right. You have to decide whether you want the crew to hear it from you or over the ship's intercom."
"I want more time before I let him know about us."
"Don't tell him. Just let him check the baby's health. He doesn't have to do a DNA comparison for that."
"You know he will as soon as I'm gone."
"You planning to keep my identity a secret forever?"
"No, but a week or two more would have been nice."
"I know." Chakotay stood and took their dishes to the recycler. "I'm going to stop by stellar cartography before I go to the bridge. There are a couple of likely planets on the long-range scanners and I want to go over the data with them. Walk with me?"
"Stellar cartography is on the way to sick bay. Walk with me?" Chakotay smiled as he pulled her chair back for her. Kathryn gave him a mock glare knowing when she was defeated. She brushed his lips with her own before heading for the door. As it opened, she looked back.
"Well, come on. We'll both go to sickbay and stop at stellar cartography on the way to the bridge. I want to hear more about those planets, too."
Five days later, Kathryn and Chakotay sat discussing their options. They had located what appeared to be four possible planets along their current course. All were about three light years off that course but in different directions. They could reach the most promising of the four in about three months. That was definitely sooner than Kathryn wanted to stop. They could reach the second most promising in about six months, which put their arrival date about two weeks after the babies were due. The other two were located in the same system, a very unusual situation, but were about five months away, which fit their preferred schedule. The problem was that both were borderline class M planets. Six other planets had been eliminated from consideration because they showed signs of more advanced civilizations.
"I think we should go with the farthest alternative. I know you don't want to keep Voyager in space that long, but it's our best chance of a safe location without wasting unnecessary time on the surface."
"Kathryn, you won't be the one dealing with the crew if the doctor puts all the women on restricted duty in six months. I know this other one would interrupt our journey sooner, but we would have time to plant some crops and start refitting the crew quarters before we have half the crew on restricted duty."
"Refitting the crew quarters?"
"Didn't I mention that yet?"
"No, care to elaborate?"
"It's not something that is going to affect us much, but most of those babies don't have mothers and fathers with private quarters and those that do don't have quarters big enough for two people. Each of us has quarters big enough for two people but neither is designed for parents and children. Yes, we can put the baby in our room, but I'm pretty sure I don't want us to share a room with a teenager no matter how much we love him or her."
"I hadn't thought about that. What exactly do you propose we do?"
"I have a couple of people from engineering who enjoy challenges drawing up possible changes in the crew quarters to accommodate children. Fortunately, we can pull up plans from the galaxy class ships as guidelines even if we won't be able to make them as large."
"When were you going to mention this to me?"
"It's on my list for this morning." Chakotay passed Kathryn his padd with the list of things he needed to talk to her about. Kathryn scanned the list quickly.
"This is going to take all morning at this rate."
"Not really. Most of this will be covered by making a decision about the planets – provided we don't plan to stay in space too long."
"Why does that make a difference?"
"If we stay in space seven months, we have to start working on quarters now while we still have enough people to man regular stations and do the actual work. If we land, in say three months, we can wait and do the work on the planet. It will also allow us time to study the planet and pick the best location."
"Why do I get the idea that you have this all worked out and are just talking me into doing it your way."
"I'm not trying to talk you into anything."
"You going to agree with me until I agree with you?"
"If it works, yes."
"Ok, tell me what your plans are and why I should like them."
An hour later, Chakotay had finished his proposal and recommendations, and Kathryn had run out of questions about his recommendations.
"I'm not used to taking the easy way around a problem, Chakotay."
"There's too much as stake this time to push our crew and ship. All I've addressed here are the physical adjustments we have to make to the ship. We're going to have even more adjustments to make as the personal lives of the crew adapt to the new circumstances. I think emotionally the crew is going to need a break even after only three more months in space."
"You think I'm going to need a break, too?"
"I think we will all need the break offered by the safety of a planet in three months."
"All right. Issue whatever orders are needed to carry out your plans. Can I at least order the course change on the bridge?"
"Of course. I'll get started on the rest of this."
"Oh, and I'd like a copy of what I just agreed to if that's not too much trouble?"
"Meet me for lunch at 13:00 and I'll have it for you then." Smiling, Chakotay stood and walked around the desk to kiss her cheek. "See you later."
Kathryn started to read through the latest reports from the doctor but her mind wandered to Chakotay's recent departure. If someone had told her two months ago that she'd be sitting at her desk today casually accepting kisses from the father of the baby she was carrying, she'd have laughed at them. Already it seemed normal. Shaking her head gently at the things she had learned to accept as 'normal' over the last few years, she sighed and turned back to the doctor's status report.
"Harry, we've all received the complete summaries for each of the proposed landing sites. I'd like to hear your opinion."
Harry looked startled. He had expected to sit through this meeting and insert a comment or two supporting points made by the others. He glanced around the table at the others seated in the briefing room.
"Well, the small continent in the tropical zone looks wonderful right now, but the planet is currently at perigee and in eight months when it reaches apogee, it could be too hot to be comfortable. It is also the area with the most variety of insect life and those insects could prove to be unpleasant for all of us. As inviting as it looks now, I don't think it's our best choice." Harry ignored Tom's glare.
"In comparing the proposed sites with more temperate climates, the three farthest south are probably too cool. I also think we should discount all the ones to the north because that hemisphere of the planet is moving toward winter so we can't plan on crops in any of those locations." Harry was stating the obvious but had managed to gather his thoughts finally.
"That leaves us three locations in areas currently moving into spring. At first glance, the one in the river valley looks ideal. It appears to be past spring flooding and the land is level enough to make planting crops fairly easy. I don't think we should trust that river though. It drains the land for nearly two thousand kilometers in three directions and if there are heavy rains later in the spring, the valley could still flood again.
"The other two sites are similar to each other. Both are in the foothills of a mountain range near rivers we can use as a water source if necessary. Both have good soil but will be more difficult to plant than the valley. I think we should take the one to the west. Our studies show that there are aquifers about 90 meters below the surface that we can use as a water source. The seismology of that area is also more stable than the site to the east."
Kathryn glanced around the table to gauge the reactions to Harry's comments. Chakotay calmly returned her look. No need to ask him, he agreed with Harry's choice. "Tuvok, would you care to comment on Mr. Kim's analysis?"
"Thank you, Captain. Mr. Kim, I concur with your analysis about the sites, but I would be interested in hearing the explanation of why you consider the aquifers an advantage. The site to the east also has aquifers."
"Our readings indicate that the pressure on the water in that aquifer is sufficient to sustain one or more artesian wells. That means we won't have to expend resources bringing the water to the surface. It will be easier to irrigate if the summer months are too dry for our crops."
"We can manage all those things at either site."
"I know, but this one would not have pumps that had to be watched or repaired. So maybe that's only a twenty minute check each day by one person, but that adds up over a couple of months."
Tuvok nodded as if satisfied with Harry's response. Kathryn glanced at B'Elanna who seemed in no rush to express her opinion so she moved on. "Tom, you seem to disagree with Mr. Kim's assessment on at least one of the sites."
"I think he overlooked some of the advantages of the tropical continent. There is a lot of fruit growing in that area and I don't think the insects are that much of a hardship. As for the heat, we can't be sure exactly how hot it will get, but if we pick a location along the coast, the breeze from the water should keep it comfortable. We should also keep in mind that warmer weather is not necessarily bad for the entire crew. I'm sure Tuvok and B'Elanna would agree that a slightly warmer climate would be appreciated."
"You are right about the fruit, but we can send out a team to gather fruit every week or so, Tom. We don't have to live next to the orchard. B'Elanna, care to comment on the temperature of the various sites?"
"Tom is right – to an extent. Yes, I like it warmer than he does but it's usually not a problem. For me, it would be better to say I don't like the cold. As long as I don't have to camp out in a snowstorm, the temperature isn't that big of a factor to me personally. Now, if you want my opinion on the insects, the fewer the better. They get into equipment and the ones that buzz around are very irritating." B'Elanna glanced at Tom but her tone contradicted her next words. "Sorry to disagree with you, Tom."
"I have to agree with B'Elanna about insects causing trouble. Wouldn't you agree, Captain?" Chakotay's words reminded them all just how serious a bad encounter with insects could be. "Doctor, your analysis of the risks of this planet?"
"The risks are within acceptable levels. A few of the plants might cause adverse reactions, but no different than allergic reactions some people experience to certain foods or some varieties of ivy. The same is true of some of the insects, a few will undoubtedly cause mild reactions and some are poisonous to most of the crew. It is no more dangerous than Earth in actual hazards. The biggest risk is that the dangers are not familiar to the crew. It will take some time for everyone to learn which insects and plants to avoid."
Kathryn looked around the table again. "Any other comments? Commander?"
"I agree with Harry's analysis and choice of site. It's midafternoon there now. I suggest we land Voyager this afternoon and make her secure. Teams can begin preparation for their assignments."
"Well, since we all are generally in agreement," Kathryn dared Tom to disagree, "we'll be landing in that western temperate site on the large continent. Dismissed."
As the others moved toward the door, Kathryn nodded for Chakotay to follow her to her ready room. Once there, she moved to the view port and stared at the planet below.
"I don't know if I'm ready to do this yet. I know it's the best thing for the ship and crew and that at this point I have no choice, but I'm still not ready to just stop. I feel like I'm giving up, that I've let the crew down."
Chakotay moved behind her and rested his head on the top of hers as his arms wrapped around her and the baby she carried. He felt the baby kick and softly rubbed that spot, soothing the baby and Kathryn. "Is that all that's bothering you?"
"I'm not ready to give up command yet."
"I feel so frustrated! I used to be able to work 18 hours a day; now I get tired in the middle of the afternoon."
"So take a nap if you need it. Your job now is to keep things organized not to do the actual work. A nap is going to improve your work performance now."
"You're the one keeping things organized, not me."
"Ahhh, maybe there is a different problem here. Do you feel like you'll have nothing to do once we land and get organized?"
"Maybe. I hadn't thought about that, at least not consciously." Kathryn was quiet a few minutes while she considered the idea. "That could be it. I won't have anything to do once we land. You and the crew won't need me. I'm not sure I like that idea."
"I need you." Chakotay nibbled her ear making her smile.
"I didn't mean like that."
"I need you as the captain, too, just like you need me as the first officer when we're in space. The only reason I am more comfortable with what we have to do once we land is because I've spent the last three months working with the plans and you've been dealing with ship's operations. It will only take you a week or two to get up to speed. Then you can take over from me."
"Well, I'm not sure I want to make you useless anymore than I want to be useless. Let's just play it by ear."
"Interested in helping plan the garden? We couldn't do too much until we knew where we were landing. We have general ideas, but nothing specific."
"I'd like to do that." Kathryn still didn't move to return to the bridge. "Chakotay, how long are you and the doctor going to let me stay on active duty?"
"I haven't actually discussed that with him."
"Well, tell me what you haven't actually decided then." Kathryn felt his low chuckle as clearly as she heard it.
"I managed to convince the doctor not to actually relieve you from active duty so long as your condition does not put the crew or ship at any additional risk. He agreed so long as your behavior does not put your health or the health of our baby at risk."
"What exactly does that mean to the two of you?"
"The biggest risk of you remaining on active duty is if you were suddenly unable to make command decisions. As long as I'm around to do that, the crew and ship isn't in any more danger than if you were relieved from duty. The doctor's provision affects you more. Practically, it means you take your supplements, check in with the doctor regularly, drink your milk, cut back on the coffee, take those naps when you are tired and don't try to do more than everyone else on board."
"I have cut back on the coffee."
"I know, but the doctor is going to be pushing you to cut back more. He'd rather you gave it up altogether."
"I know. How did you get him to agree to just letting me cut back?"
"I pointed out to him that the only thing he could do was relieve you of command. At that point you would have no reason whatsoever to curtail your coffee intake and might even return to your usual consumption level. That would be counterproductive to the health of the baby and therefore would be a waste of his time, not to mention that it would undermine his authority and image with the rest of the crew. He agreed."
"Thank you for that much. Can I cut back on the milk, too?"
"How about juice for lunch and dinner?"
"Deal. Any other decisions you've made about my ship or my life that I should know about?" Kathryn's voice carried a hint of irritation mingled with sarcasm and resignation.
"I love you."
"I know. Just help me keep things in focus and I'll be fine." She straightened and turned to face Chakotay. "Let's go tell Tom to land this ship. I have a garden to plant."
Over the next weeks, Voyager's crew settled down to life on a planet. They set up a temporary barracks for those displaced from their quarters while they were being refitted. A few started sleeping outside when the noise in the barracks was too loud. Eventually as the weather warmed up, more and more camped out. Neelix even moved his kitchen to the area near the access ramp. Gentle rain was no problem since Voyager made a more than adequate umbrella. Only the occasional thunderstorm drove them indoors. The lightning proved to be a slight problem until B'Elanna configured the deflector dish to prevent the static buildup that contributed to direct strikes on the ship.
Harry had the dubious honor of being in charge of digging the well. Everyone expected the well to be just as he predicted – everyone that is except Harry. He didn't sleep properly from the time he received his assignment until they had the well drilled, tested and producing fresh, chilled water. Tom hadn't made it any easier with his comments and jokes about dry wells. Harry got even though; during breakfast the day after the well was completed he handed Tom a very long hose and told him there was enough water for Tom to wash down the entire ship.
Kathryn and everyone from hydroponics picked a spot for Voyager's garden and laid out the planting guides. Then they drafted every able body they could to help with the planting, which meant the men got to do most of the work. It took two days to finish but even the able bodies had to admit it would be worth the effort. Kathryn also coordinated the crew trips to the tropics to get fresh fruit and vegetables growing wild. It took them a few weeks to determine which were safe to eat, where to find them, and which were the most popular with the crew.
The crew adjusted to the changes in duties and living conditions. Some of the crew were developing relationships that were more permanent. The most obvious of those was Tom and B'Elanna. His sense of humor and her short temper made their adjustment to shared lives less than smooth. The engineering teams refitting the ship quickly learned to make themselves scarce when Tom stopped joking.
Tom and B'Elanna definitely took the attention away from the command team as they worked out their new relationship. The command team had to make the same adjustments as Tom and B'Elanna; they just toned down their reactions so that the entire crew didn't know about it. Chakotay expected a few things and calmly refused to accept less but was willing to do whatever Kathryn wanted in most things.
By the end of their third month on the planet, everyone had settled into a routine, most of the refitting was completed, and they were starting to harvest some of crops they had planted. Only Neelix seemed upset by the one crop that refused to grow. He missed leola root but it just didn't seem to thrive. That was one assignment that had volunteers lining up – seek out and destroy all leola root in the garden in the middle of the night. Neelix eventually gave his attention to some of the native root vegetables much to everyone's relief.
B'Elanna was due first because of her Klingon heritage but the doctor was keeping an eye on all the pregnant women. The day he told Chakotay that the women shouldn't go on the fruit gathering missions until after they delivered was the first disagreement between the command team for some time. They debated it vigorously in the ready room, still their private 'official' space. They had gone in circles for ten minutes when Kathryn changed tactics.
"I can do this. You said you wouldn't relieve me of command, so I'm ordering you to accept this."
"I said as long as you didn't put the crew or the ship at risk, I wouldn’t relieve you of command. This puts the captain at risk."
"I'm not at risk anymore there than here."
"If you go into labor, you're too far to beam back. That puts you out of the reach of medical treatment."
"I won't go into labor."
"You don't know that. Look, Kathryn. As first officer, I'm not prepared to risk the captain and as the father of your child, I'm not prepared to risk the baby. Most of all, I'm not prepared to risk losing you."
"If you go through with this, you run the same risk." Chakotay knew Kathryn was speaking in anger and frustration but her words still hurt.
"If picking some fruit is more important to you than I am, then that's the choice you should make, but it won't affect my decision. I still have to protect Voyager's captain."
"I told the away team I was going with them. What am I supposed to tell them now?"
"Tell them I asked you to stay. If that isn't good enough, tell them I wanted you to stay and go over Tom's latest idea to improve our campsite – a swimming pool."
"Weren't we going to talk to him tonight?"
"So I'll move up the meeting. Besides, since when did you give reasons to the crew for changing your mind?"
"That's true. You're the only one who seems to expect an explanation."
"That's my job, remember? That and protecting the captain."
"There are some days I wish you weren't such a fine first officer."
"And the other days?"
"Those days I'm glad you're my first officer."
Six weeks later Chakotay slipped quietly into their quarters having made sure all people who regularly camped outside had returned to the ship for the duration of a late night storm. He paused at the door to the bedroom to look at Kathryn as she slept. She looked contented and happy. He quickly undressed then moved to his side of the bed and picked up his sleeping three-week old daughter.
"I love you, kitten, but tonight you're sleeping in your own bed." Carefully he placed her in the crib in the corner then crawled into bed. Rolling over towards Kathryn, he put one arm over her waist and wrapped one leg around hers.
"Good night, Kathryn, I love you." He kissed her cheek and was asleep before Kathryn could answer. She felt guilty that he had been the one dragged from his bed to secure the ship and crew from the storm. His departure had awakened the baby early for her feeding, but she settled back to sleep as soon as her belly was full. Kathryn knew Chakotay would like the excuse to hold his 'kitten' so she left her sleeping on the bed but fell asleep herself before he returned. Now, he was asleep and she was in the mood to cuddle and talk.
Kathryn smiled as she recalled the recent weeks and just exactly why Chakotay was so tired. B'Elanna's baby had made his appearance only a few days after the doctor 'grounded' the women from trips away from the ship. Little Eugene Robert, his father's pride and joy, had almost two weeks as Naomi's best friend before being replaced by three other arrivals. By the time Kathryn had gone into labor, the novelty of a new baby had worn off for most of the crew so Alexandra Marie's arrival was unremarkable except to her parents. She had her father's dark hair and eyes and even showed signs of having her father's temperament but she was also stubborn and determined to be completely comfortable regardless of the inconvenience to her parents. She was not shy about expressing her opinion when something displeased her either. If Kathryn were honest, she would have to admit that those last two traits were from both parents. She hoped that in time, her father's temperament balanced that determination.
Kathryn's thoughts moved on to the changes in the last month. If she had thought there had been changes when they first landed Voyager, upheaval would best describe what they were currently experiencing. Yet she had never felt the unity of her crew so much as she had these last weeks. Nearly eighty of the people on the ship had some bond with at least one baby. Twenty more were still awaiting the birth of a child. The rest were covering for as many tired parents as they could. Chakotay had been the one trying to keep things moving forward, to make sure everyone kept a positive outlook even though there had been days when he had been positive that they would never get organized again. To add to the challenges they were facing, many of their crops were ripening and needed to be picked and put in stasis as soon as possible. Bedlam would describe the scene in the morning, yet Kathryn knew that the ripest of their crops would be picked and tomorrow night would see them all just as they were tonight – wondering how they would get through the next day. She shifted to get more comfortable and Chakotay pulled her closer without waking. Kathryn drifted off to sleep with his warm breath on her neck, safe and secure in his arms.
"Bridge to Chakotay."
The call brought both Kathryn and Chakotay fully awake.
"Chakotay here. What is it?"
"We've just received a message, sir, from Olkra'm."
"Olkra'm?" Chakotay's mind was fuzzy and the name at first meant nothing to him.
"He sent the message about the alien who shared her joy with us about twelve months ago, Commander."
"I'll be there in a few minutes. Chakotay out."
"I'm going with you."
"You have to stay with Alexandra."
"She can come with us to the bridge." At Chakotay's blank look, Kathryn continued. "There is no danger, just a message. I'm still on active duty. Remember? I need to see the message, too."
"Of course. You're right."
Quickly they dressed and gathered up three-month old Alexandra and her paraphernalia and headed to the bridge. Once they were certain that no immediate response was necessary they went to the ready room to discuss what it said. As they left the bridge, Chakotay issued an order to the sole ensign manning the bridge. "On no condition is the arrival of this message or its contents to be mentioned."
Once in the ready room, they
settled Alexandra and reread the message.
"Chakotay, what do we do? I thought his first message was bad enough, but this one…"
"I'm not sure it's our decision to make."
"You're not suggesting we accept this offer, are you?"
"Not us personally, no. But shouldn't the other parents be the ones to make this decision about their own children?"
"You'd really allow them to leave their children with a species we've never met?"
"I'm not sure either of us has the right to stop them."
Kathryn turned her eyes to where Alexandra lay sleeping oblivious to the impact the recently delivered message could have on her or the other babies. "How could anyone send a baby off to live with aliens? Chakotay, I couldn't live with myself if I allowed that to happen."
Chakotay stood and pulled Kathryn to her feet and led her to the couch. He sat down and pulled her down next to him, wrapping both arms around her. "You might have to. You know you have to let the parents choose."
"No, I can tell Olkra'm 'thanks, but no thanks' and forget I ever heard from him again."
"You couldn't do that and you know it. Some of these parents may welcome this offer. We can't know what's in their hearts or minds. At the very least, they will be given the choice and none of the children will ever feel unwanted."
"I hadn't thought of that. After all we've gone through, it's hard to imagine they could feel like we didn't want them, but I imagine as we look back in the years to come, we're going to focus on the delay in our journey and the sacrifices we make to support so many on a ship the size of Voyager. I can see how a child could feel like an unwanted addition.
"Ok, I can see the value in letting the parents choose, but what do I do if they say they want to send their children to Olkra'm?"
"I don't know. Feeling as you do about Alexandra, do you really think any of the mothers could send their child away?"
"No, I don't see how they could even consider it."
"I don't think they would either, but what we think doesn't matter. We have to tell them about the message."
"Ok, we'll tell them after breakfast in the morning. Will you explain it?"
"If that's what you want."
"It is. Then I want to talk to them. I want to tell them that Alexandra is staying right where she is."
They sat lost in their thoughts until the sun told them it was time to join the crew for breakfast before the work day started. Quietly they picked up Alexandra and returned to their quarters to prepare for the day. Chakotay looked out the view port as they left the ready room hoping the bright morning sun breaking through the clouds was a good omen for them all.
Chakotay told Tuvok about the message before they ate. He asked him to make sure no one left and that he seek out any stragglers and get them into the eating area, including the doctor and anyone in sickbay.
When most of the people had finished eating and a few had been sent back to their tables by Tuvok or another member of security that he had instructed to assist in keeping the group together, Chakotay stood.
"I have something to report to all of you. Last night we received another message from Olkra'm, the same Olkra'm who explained to us how we ended up with all these babies. Since that last message, he has figured out the exact nature of the 'gifts' we received from Oooga and the impact it will have on all of us." Chakotay took a deep breath then read the message. He waited a minute before continuing. "You didn't misunderstand the offer. He's offering to take any or all of the babies and provide them a home. The captain and I have discussed this offer at length. The decision is not one we can make for you. We will prepare a message to send to Olkra'm acknowledging his offer and thanking him for his concern. We will also tell him that we've left the decision to you. What I ask on behalf of each baby is a message to attach. A simple 'yes, please' or 'no, thank you' is sufficient but if you want to say more, you may. I'd like your messages within ten days, but if you need longer, then you can answer when you are ready. Now, the captain would like to speak to you."
Kathryn stood and picked up Alexandra before she turned to face her crew. "When I first read Olkra'm's offer, I refused to understand what he meant. It scared me. Not because I thought he would hurt Alexandra but because I thought for one horrible moment that my commitment to this ship and crew might make me consider it. My fears were unfounded as I realized about a second later. All I felt was horror at the thought of losing her. In that split second, my decision was made, not by my head but by my heart.
"Alexandra, like the rest of the babies, was not planned and her presence is inconvenient at times. We've added nearly a year to our journey by stopping here because of all of Oooga's 'gifts'. We've had to make a lot of changes to the ship and in our personal and professional lives to accommodate the babies, but we've managed and will continue to manage. We did all this because they are wanted and loved, not just by their mothers and fathers but by the entire crew. My heart made its decision in the early morning hours and my head took a while to figure out just what that decision was." Kathryn stepped closer to Chakotay. "I want all of you to make your decisions and write those notes to Olkra'm with your hearts, not your heads, like I did."
"If you have any questions or concerns, please let me or the captain know. If you just need to talk, we're both ready to listen. Talk to your friends, talk to each other."
Chakotay sat listening to B'Elanna. For the last half hour, she had been describing the problems she and Tom had been having since Eugene was born. When she finally finished he knew what he had to say and only hoped she understood it was because he was her friend.
"B'Elanna, everything you've said has been about Tom, not Eugene. I think you are trying to decide whether to keep Tom around. Tell Tom to move into his own quarters, at least until you two work things out between you."
"I want Eugene to know his father and I want Tom to know his son."
"That can happen with Tom in other quarters. There are at least fifteen other babies thriving with that arrangement now. This ship isn't that big. Eugene will grow up being Tom's son unless you think he would be better of with Olkra'm.
"B'E, do you want Eugene to stay with you on Voyager even if Tom isn't part of your life?"
"Then that's what you tell Olkra'm. As for Tom, my advice is to ask him to move out temporarily until the two of you can work things out. Tell him what you've told me and tell him how you feel. You might also try asking him to tell you how he feels about you and Eugene. Just listen to his answer."
Chakotay stood and left B'Elanna to consider his advice. He exited engineering and asked the computer to locate Kathryn. She was in their quarters so she must have finished her talk with Crewman Dorado. He entered to find Kathryn feeding Alexandra and crossed the room to join them.
"How's my Kat and our kitten today?" He leaned over to kiss both his felines before sitting down next to Kathryn.
"Someday someone is going to hear you call me that, then I will have to hurt you."
Chakotay smiled. "How did things go with Dorado?"
"She's young, at least that's what it boils down to when you sort through things with her. She had just come out of a bad relationship when she found out she was pregnant. At first, she thought it was her former boyfriend's baby. Then she found out it wasn’t, then she found out she had to pick a father. You can imagine the turmoil she was going through by that point. Then she gets her donor list and sees the former boyfriend's name on it along with one other man's name and two anonymous people. The exboyfriend wanted to be involved with the baby; the other man didn’t. She barely knew the second man but since he let her decide about his involvement, she chose him.
"He came to see the baby a couple of times, usually in the nursery when his friends were visiting other babies. I doubt anyone has made the connection between her baby and the father. At any rate, he's keeping his distance. Dorado isn't the most organized person and she is feeling like a failure as a mother for a variety of reasons. I feel like that too when Alexandra is fussing and I don't know why. But you help me with Alexandra and I'm not up all night every night. Dorado has to do that alone, then still try to keep up with the rest of her responsibilities during the day. It's a wonder more of us aren't having similar doubts."
"Who's the baby's father?"
"Johnson from security."
"He's a good officer and would be a good father."
"I agree. I asked Dorado if she had considered letting him be involved with the baby. She had considered trying to find another person to help her, but was thinking in terms of the exboyfriend. I told her to consider Johnson since he had already indicated that he was interested in helping. She seemed really surprise and said she had already told him 'no'. I told her she was allowed to change her mind. Then I reminded her that there must have been some reason he put his name on her donor list and that maybe it was worth investigating his motive. She had a lot to think about when she left."
"What do you think she will do?"
"She wants to keep the baby. She just feels inadequate to raise a child on her own. I don't know what she will do about Johnson, but I do know what Johnson is going to do."
"Care to explain that?"
"Not really, but I will anyway. I called Johnson in and asked him if any of the babies were his. He told me one was his and went on to brag for about ten minutes. He also said he wished the mother would change her mind and let him help care for him. I suggested he offer to baby-sit one afternoon when she was off duty so she could have some time to herself. He said that with the current duty assignments, that would be difficult but he would consider that or something similar."
"I suppose you want me to revise the duty roster now?"
"Of course. Here, hold your daughter. I'm going to go take a bath while I have the chance." Kathryn handed the now sleeping baby to Chakotay. She glanced back at the two as she entered the bedroom – he still hadn't lost the look of wonder when he watched Alexandra.
Both Kathryn and Chakotay talked to other members of the crew but mostly the problems were similar to Dorado's concerns or adjustment problems like those Tom and B'Elanna were experiencing. When they finally assembled the messages to Olkra'm, his offer had been acknowledged and declined seventy-two times. Kathryn and Chakotay both relaxed considerably when the last message was added. Chakotay was getting ready to take it to the bridge to be transmitted when the door of their quarters chimed. The door slid back to admit Naomi.
"Captain, Commander, I have a request." Naomi sounded very formal so Kathryn responded in kind.
"Of course, Naomi. Please be seated and state your request."
"Thank you, Captain. I know I don’t have to send a message to Olkra'm and Oooga, but I'd like permission to send them one anyway."
"I see. Do you have this message prepared?"
"Yes, Captain." Kathryn held
out her hand and Naomi brought her the padd with her message. Kathryn read
Kathryn passed the padd to Chakotay. "Please add this to Olkra'm's message, Commander."
"Thank you, Captain. Permission to be dismissed." Naomi stood as tall as she could trying to control her smile.
"Permission granted." Naomi disappeared out the door in a rush, eager to tell her mother that the captain had allowed her to send her message. Chakotay followed her out to take the message to the bridge.
When he returned he found Kathryn holding Alexandra as she bubbled and cooed. He crossed the room and sat down putting his arm across Kathryn's shoulders. She tilted her head back against his arm. "Do I really smile more now?"
"Probably. Maybe it's not the smile as much as the happiness behind it. I think you're happier now. Naomi would notice the difference even if she didn't understand it completely."
"I've been thinking."
"Yes, about whether we shouldn't just stay here. That might be the best thing I can do for these people."
"Kathryn, we stopped for a reason. That reason wasn't to find a better place to live, that reason was because we couldn't properly run the ship with so many people on medical leave and restricted duty. In another month, that won't be a problem."
"I never thought I'd hear you encourage me to push on for the Alpha Quadrant."
"I've never said we shouldn't keep trying; I just said that sometimes you tried too hard and needed to rethink priorities."
"That's what I'm doing, rethinking my priorities."
"Well, you forgot one thing I think." At Kathryn's questioning look, he continued. "You forgot the message we just sent to Olkra'm. Every one of the attached messages was written thinking we would continue on our journey as soon as it was safe to take Voyager back into space. Even you made your decision on that basis. This crew is expecting to continue the journey as long as it's possible. More than a few are starting to get itchy feet from staying in one place too long."
"Traveling with this many children on a ship this size isn't going to be easy."
"Nothing about this journey has been easy. If so many children make the duty roster more of a challenge, they also make the ship a better one."
"But why make the journey at all? We could all build new lives here."
"Kathryn, have you heard anyone refer to this planet as 'home'?"
"I don't think so."
"We don't even have a name for it. This isn't home and the crew wants to go home. Olkra'm gave us a second chance to give up the children. No one took him up on the offer. I think he gave us all a second chance at happiness on our journey home. All we have to do is accept it."
"Ok, Commander, start making
preparations to resume our journey in the morning. I'd like to be on our
way within a month." Kathryn turned her head to his for a kiss. "And for
the record, Commander, I've already accepted that second chance at happiness."
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