May 2009

    by Delta Story

    ~ A Spring Fling 2009 Story ~

    Disclaimers: No harm or injury was made to any Voyager script in the writing of this story. Apologies to CBS/Paramount for use of 'their' characters. Also, pardon me, CBS, for using the title and structure of your current comedy series of the same name as the title of this story. It just 'called' to me.


    "You see, kids, it really wasn't like you've heard all these years - Uncle Tom, Aunt B'Elanna, Uncle Harry - they didn't know the real story. It was totally different from the way they always seem to remember it.

    "Now don't roll your eyes like that - I'm not going to go into another 'ancient legend'. You're old enough now to know the truth. But the truth isn't always pretty; it's more like a Parisses' Squares game - even when you win, there's bound to be lots of bumps and bruises, flaring tempers, and even some blood letting along the way.

    "I guess the best way to tell you about this would be to look at some of the holovids from those early days. I don't want to hear any exaggerated sighs - and I certainly don't want to hear any snickers... don't give me any of that guff. You asked, so you're going to get the story.

    "You know that your mom and I got introduced, way back in 2371, back before either of you was even interstellar dust - how I was a renegade, wanted by Starfleet, and your mom was the big, bad sheriff, coming along with her posse to capture my crew and me.

    Starfleet wanted it to look like a non-threatening little escapade by sending an Intrepid class starship after us - not as large, not as intimidating as other flagstaff starships. But Voyager was speedy and could still pack a wallop with her weaponry, as we found out many time in the Delta Quadrant.

    "Let me see what I have here in this set of holovids. Oh, yeah - here's one of the early ones from that memorable chase. You can see, even though Voyager was considered small by 'Fleet standards, she still overshadowed our pitiful Maquis ship, the Val Jean. Nothing like playing the part of the bully! But I'm getting ahead of myself, because we never even met in the Alpha Quadrant. No, it took an even bigger oppressor to do that - to throw us together, battered and bruised, adrift in an unknown area of space.

    "Scared? Sure I was scared - who wouldn't be? We'd just survived a battle with a Cardassian cruiser, thanks to a little bit of help from the notorious plasma storms of the Badlands, only to be hit with the displacement wave that threw us into the Delta Quadrant, something that hit with a punch a hundred times worse than a crazed Cardassian.

    "The crew got tossed around as if they were tribbles, bouncing off the bulkhead, slamming into railings, monitors and work stations. Fire and smoke engulfed the entire ship, making it next to impossible see, much less respond to anybody or anything. I tried to get my bearing, but my head throbbed and my eyes teared; my nasal passages stung with the stench of ozone. I stumbled over the inert form of Kirby Frites, our helmsman. Before I could find an open channel to the rest of the ship and crew, damage reports began pouring in - we had hull breaches; shields and engine were operating at minimal function; and there were injured and dead scattered all over. We had never had a doctor on board, only a crewman with some medic experience - Ahliah Tamkang. But she was one of the first ones reported dead.

    "What? You've heard all of this before? Sure you have - but it's important for you to know how crippled we were, and why it's important in the greater scheme of things. Sure I was mad - I despised the Cardassians for their continual harassment and mistreatment; I despised Starfleet for scoffing at our efforts to control these madmen in our part of the galaxy. Starfleet always thought they knew so much more about the Cardassians, but they didn't have to put up with them day after day; they didn't go to sleep every night, wondering if they would wake up at the wrong end of a Cardassian phase rifle - or, worse yet, not wake up at all.

    "As the able members of my crew rallied to contain potentially fatal damage, extinguish fires and tend the injured as best they could, I tallied our personnel losses. Of our original crew of thirty-five, we had four dead - Frites, Tamkang, and Clive Newberry and Rafu Naitini in engineering. Mercifully, all of them appeared to have died instantly and I silently whispered blessings over their spirits. Another eleven people were injured, three of them critically. Almost a third of our crew, either dead or injured, plus a ship that's limping along - this is not the kind of news a captain likes to hear.

    "Just as I was trying to get my brain to stop buzzing and attempting to get some sort of survival plan in place, Tuvok gave me news that obliterated all other problems. Even with his Vulcan stoicism, I detected a waiver in his voice. 'Chakotay... I have attempted to get a bearing as to how far the displacement wave tossed us - I have double-checked my calculations...'"

    "Out with it, Tuvok!" I yelled, my current frame of mind not needing his pandering palaver.

    "He turned towards me, his raised eyebrow further accentuating his discomfort. 'It seems that we are no longer in the Alpha Quadrant; none of the star systems surrounding us are found in our databases. By my calculations, we are more than seventy-thousand light years away from the plasma storms of the Badlands.'"

    "My mind was trying to wrap around this bit of absurdity when everyone on the bridge got zapped by some sort of transport beam - first Tuvok, then Mike Ayala. I grabbed for B'Elanna, her eyes as big as two of the brown moons of Edos, as she disappeared. Next thing I knew, I was materializing out of transport myself.

    "Ayala and Tuvok, standing in front of me, had been transported with their phasers raised and ready. My hand was still wrapped around B'Elanna's arm; she pulled and twisted, spewing some Klingon curse words I hadn't heard in years.

    "As I got a grip on the sudden surprise and attempted to focus on my surroundings, I could have sworn I was back on Dorvan V - or something incredibly similar. All of us were in an area that looked like the center of a small town built around a common central area. Small earthen buildings, no more than two stories tall, surrounded the area; a mid-day sun emblazoned down from a cloudless sky, brightening the entire area.

    "Human-like people were milling about, smiling at us and murmuring to each other. Their dress blended in with the environment, but most of them were in the midst of decorating the area with festive banners and draping the few trees around with vivid, fluorescent colors. A grizzled old man sat to the side in a small patch of shade, enthralling a group of children with music from a flute that he played with skill and ease.

    "The smiles turned to laughter as more people joined in, setting up several large tables that were soon covered with bowls and trays of every imaginable food. It seemed like we had been beamed planet-side just in time for a festival of some kind.

    "B'Elanna managed to pull away from me with a grunt as I scanned the scene for the rest of my crew. They were scattered about, in groups of three or four, all looking as surprised and shocked as I felt. However, I noted that those who had been injured in the trans-galactic hurl were missing. A kindly looking older woman seemed to overhear my words. She toddled over and, gently patting my arm, she sweetly told me that 'my injured friends' were being taken care of. 'Such lovely people,' she tsk-tsked."

    "Where are they?' I demanded, my voice neither friendly nor cordial."

    "Now, now - nothing to worry about, son', she smiled back. 'You can see them soon. Now - how about some fresh spring water with lemon? A slice of berry pie? Maybe you would like to dance with my niece.' The local population suddenly became alive and moving, weaving in and out of my crew, pulling each one this way and that, trying to tempt them with food or activity.

    "Mike and Tuvok moved closer to me; I could see that they didn't trust any of this hokum, either. Tuvok had managed to bring along a scanner and was furtively taking some readings. 'Well?' I asked him, as he looked up.

    "His demeanor remained calm, but I could sense more disbelief in his eyes. 'Curious', he said. 'It would appear that we are in the middle of some holographic simulation.'"

    "I responded with like disbelief. 'So... this entire thing is a holographic program? Even the fact that we're seventy-thousand light years away?'"

    "No,' Tuvok answered. 'Only this place is a holographic representation - the atmosphere outside of it still has us in the location which I originally noted. But it does seem that this representation is located on an artificial contrivance of some kind.'"

    "I could stand to hear something a bit more specific', I fumed."

    "I am sorry, but that is all I can discern at this time,' he said. 'Except - I am reading some sort of power enhancement coming from... there,' he continued pointing towards a large oblong building towards the rear ones encircling the town square.

    "I turned and caught the eyes of four others of our crew. With a silent nod of my head, they understood and followed us; we traced the tricorder readings towards the targeted structure.

    "So intent had we been on finding the source of the power producing our environment that we failed to notice the village folks converging on us, circling around us like hawks hovering for lunch. But before anyone on either side could take action, a force field came out of nowhere and took us into oblivion.

    "I awoke - or at least tried to - only to find myself strapped to a cold, metallic slab. My chest burned like it was covered with boiling lava. I couldn't even move my head, but I heard groans coming from all around me - some from voices I recognized, others unfamiliar and alien. They all sounded tinny and distant, except for one that was loud and anguished - the one coming from my own throat. Pain and confusion overcame me and I mercifully fell unconscious again.

    "Next thing I knew, we were all back on the Val Jean. The smell and sight of smoke on the ship that we'd been transported away from was now cleared. But B'Elanna was missing - computer readings couldn't pinpoint her anywhere on the ship and no one could remember the last time she'd been seen in the holographic simulation. To add more to the mystery, instruments indicated that we had lost almost seventy-two hours - three days with no memories or recollections.

    "We weren't given the luxury of a further search for B'Elanna, as Mike noted another ship in our vicinity, certainly not one we were happy to see - it was a Starfleet vessel. If we were on the other side of the galaxy, how the hell could a 'Fleet ship be right there? Unless it had been following us, and had gotten caught up in the displacement wave, too. Just our luck - here we were, for once out of reach of both Starfleet and the Cardassians, only to have our nemesis right on our tail. I was beginning to wonder if my ship should have been named 'Moby Dick' instead of the Val Jean, the way every ship around seemed to be hunting us down.

    "The Starfleet vessel looked dormant, almost dead in the water. I quickly yelled for Mike to get us as far away from the larger ship as quickly as possible. With a little luck, they were probably damaged, too, and I crossed my fingers that they had been damaged more. Or maybe their crew had been transported to...wherever... and weren't in place.

    "I can only give you impulse," Mike reported. "Warp drive is still off line, and without B'Elanna..."

    "We're hard put,' I finished for him, hitting my commbadge. 'Seska, who's in charge in engineering?' I yelled, only to have her snidely report that she was and that she was doing the best she could - and I knew better than to say anything to Seska about B'Elanna being the superior engineer.

    "Ah, yes - Seska and B'Elanna. I thought that having spent months with them on a ship had inured me to be able to handle any woman! Never had I known two women to be so stubborn, opinionated and, at least in B'Elanna's case, so dedicated to duty and mission. Little did I know that I was about to meet a someone by whom they would pale as far-off planets do, distant from their home star.

    "Chakotay, I have incoming from the Starfleet vessel,' Tuvok announced."

    "Onscreen,' I snapped. And then I found myself looking into the cold steel blue eyes of your mother, Kathryn Janeway.

    "After perfunctory formal introductions and quick assessments of why each of our vessels was where it was, we discovered that each of our ships had a missing crew member: B'Elanna Torres from the Val Jean and Harry Kim from Voyager. In just those first few moments, I could tell why this woman was a Starfleet captain - her eyes, her voice, her stance - all one package that demanded your attention. There was no doubt that I would need to keep my wits about me in whatever dealings I had with her.

    "She invited - no, demanded - that I beam aboard her ship to discuss our missing crew members. I quite foolishly thought that by taking Mike Ayala and Tuvok with me, all of us brandishing weapons, that we would impose a trio of brutish menace to quell whatever she put up against us. Yeah, I know - that was just plain stupid. But it was the way I acted all too often in those days: all action, no forethought.

    "We materialized on Voyager's bridge, and, of course found ourselves outnumbered at least four to one - that didn't surprise me. What did surprise me was her immediate call for her crew to put down their weapons. And then I was surprised at how small this Starfleet captain was. I could have sworn when I first saw her on the view screen and heard her voice that she must be almost two meters tall and had disguised her Klingon features. But there she was, barely reaching my shoulders, even with her wearing high- heeled boots. Oh, I guess that ridiculous bun of hair probably added a few more centimeters.

    "Her jaw jutted forward, as if she was daring me to take a punch at her. Her eyes blazed with fury - whether it was aimed towards our common predicament or me, I couldn't tell; but the glare was scathing.

    "Suddenly, her demeanor softened and I saw her crooked grin for the first time, as she turned and welcomed Tuvok back to Voyager. I felt my own bravado starting to crack as he and she revealed his duplicity, something up to that time I thought was impossible for a Vulcan. For years to come after this shocking revelation, he constantly reminded me that he was not 'lying', but merely following orders.

    "But the worst thing I had to face came only seconds later, when I looked around and saw the smirking face of Tom Paris and wondered what diabolical plot was in play to cast him as a character in this farce. Funny, isn't it, how over the next seven years, these two men would become two of my best friends. But even stranger things would fall into place, as your mother and I tried to follow the scripts we had been given. This was a road show, and everyone knows that when you're doing a show in a different place each and every day and night, playing to a different audience, you frequently have to rewrite and improvise."

        Is that what we did, Kathryn - improvise? We both knew that we could not survive as two crews, lost and adrift in the middle of a great unknown. More than twenty years have come and gone and yet that first time we saw each other... that first day... I vividly remember the divergent emotions that hit me almost immediately: how you froze my heart with both hate and love... how I knew that I was already defeated without a single shot being fired, without the struggle of a skirmish.

        As quickly as I looked into your eyes, I had to close my own and look away, because you stripped me to my inner being - you saw into my soul. I could not let you know how quickly you had won me over, how completely you could control me. If ever there were two opposites, we were the archetypical example. There you stood, ramrod straight, calm and composed, uniform spit and polish - a shining example of the perfect Starfleet captain, daring me to challenge you or your position. And there I was - mere centimeters from your face, able to feel the caress of your every breath, surrounded by the heat exuding from your skin, wanting to lose myself in the thick softness of your hair.

        In contrast, I hid behind my cold anger, every muscle tensed like a panther ready to pounce. Every nerve was rubbed raw, exposed and maddened by the tricks I'd fallen for, not knowing who I should hate the most-you, for beguiling me; or myself, for my own gullibility and failures. Your very presence recalled everything I had once thought I was and should be - how I had gone against my father's wishes and joined Starfleet, only to turn my back on them when my inner demons surfaced and took me over, when I found out that Starfleet was as arrogant, condescending and unforgiving as the structured society in which I grew up - and I had flouted against that, too. Although your outward demeanor may have tried to present itself with that proscribed armor, I sensed that underneath the Starfleet red and black, behind that stern expression, you were just as much a rebel and renegade as I was.

        When you revealed that Tuvok was your chief of security, I fully expected him to turn on Mike and me and immediately take us to your brig, to be followed by the transport of the rest of my crew to the same place. But you threw me off balance once again by stating that we should work together to find B'Elanna and Kim and to see if we could find out anything more about the array around which we were stranded. You further surprised me with your suggestion that we go back down to the array, Maquis and Starfleet together, to initiate our investigations - you and I would search for our missing crew while Tuvok and Ayala ferreted out the power source for the array. You said nothing about Mike and me leaving our weapons behind and your instant trust further shook up my inbred rage against Starfleet. But what else could either of us do, here in the hidden outreaches of the galaxy? We might be enemies in the Alpha Quadrant, but here in the Delta Quadrant, we now had a common, albeit unknown, enemy - there was nothing else to do but unite our forces.

        Just as the four of us hurried off to the transporter room, Tom pulled one his usual charm bits and wheedled himself into going with us. You acquiesced, much to my displeasure - at that time, I considered him a worse scumbag than any Cardassian. All this just as I was finding myself liking you more and more.

        We got to the transporter room and checked the logs, finding, coordinates for where we had been taken onto the array. I stood behind you as you scrutinized the entry. Then you turned quickly, not giving me enough time to move aside. Your chest hit mine and we each froze, as if daring the other to move first. You took a quick breath, looked up into my face, and gave me the first real smile I'd seen from you. Then, in one electric second, you jabbed me playfully in the shoulder. Through your smile, your voice came in a husky whisper: "Oh, my, Mr. Chakotay - I guess this means that you really do want to work closely together. We'll have to see what we can work out."

        With those few words, I knew that whatever happened, nothing was ever again going to be the same.

    "Anyway, the five of us - Tuvok, Mike Ayala, Tom, your mom and I - went down to the area of the array where we'd been before. Much to my surprise, this time we weren't in a holographic simulation of what had appeared to be Dorvan V to me, but rather one of a farm, much like those found in the mid-western part of the United States - almost an exact replica of the place where your Grandma Gretchen lives. Then it dawned on me - whatever being or entity had created this illusion had based it upon the recollections of 'home' for each of the ship's captains: for my crew and me, they created my ideal home; for your mother, they fashioned it after her family home on Earth. I guessed that we had the Earth simulation now because we had transported from your mom's vessel. Or, maybe it was their way of trying to tell me that she was in charge now.

    "We split up to try to discover more about the place, but this time there were no human-like forms or cheerful festivities to welcome us, nor did our tri-corders give us any indication of life forms, alive or dead. But we knew that Harry and B'Elanna had to be somewhere. It was then that we saw a character both your mom and I had seen before - in this simulation, he was an old man plunking half-heartedly on a banjo; I recognized him as the village elder who played a flute in the scene my crew and I had presented to us. His cryptic comments fit into each of our experiences but all said the same thing - that he did know where our crewmates were, but that they were of no value to him, that all was lost, that there wasn't enough time.

    "Now you know when your mother gets going on something, she doesn't let go of that bone until it's mangled and chewed and digested. That's how she began to light into the old man - I thought he was going to wither into nothingness right then and there. Again she demanded that he return B'Elanna and Harry, but this time she added that, since he had brought our ships here in the first place, he could jolly well get us back to where we came from.

    "That did it - this strange, alien guru said with finality that there just wasn't enough time... and suddenly, we found ourselves back on Voyager, looking out the view screen at the array, shooting off into the surrounding space what appeared to be paintball shots. We were no closer to solving any of our problems than when we first were transported back to our ships.

    "Your mom was seething; I wanted to hit something, rip it apart - neither of us was in a very good frame of mind. 'Any suggestions, Mr. Chakotay?' she finally asked. Her question came by surprise - she was asking me for my opinion, rather than her long-lost buddy, Tuvok.

    "I just wanted to get away... to put as much distance between my Maquis group and her Starfleet crew of droids. But I also knew that B'Elanna and Harry were probably in the same place and that our efforts would be more efficient if we combined forces. And, as both our ships needed repairs, we could probably share some expertise in that area, too. So I decided to put her trust to the test - I ventured that we weren't going to get anywhere in either finding our missing people or finding our way back to the Alpha Quadrant without ships that worked, that we should probably put that as our first priority.

    "She nodded in agreement. 'And let our crews try to acclimate to our... situation.' She closed the space between us and jutted her chin into my face. 'But don't you think for a moment that we won't be watching you. No tricks, Chakotay - even without complete staffing or full warp capabilities, we can still outgun and outrun you. You're my primary mission and I'm not going to let you get away.'"

        Not that I wanted to get away. For once in my life, I wanted to stay, to find out more about you, this woman who seemed so determined, so persistent and focused in her priorities. Were you just as fervent and passionate in your other emotions? You did a remarkable job of containing yourself underneath that Starfleet mask; but I imagined that without all the official trappings, without forced constraints, that you could be as wild and ferocious as a Kryonian tiger. You had been caged too long by Starfleet conventions - what would you be like if freed from that prison? What did you really mean when you said you weren't going to let me get away?

        I mentally slapped myself - what the hell was I thinking? Of course I should try to escape - what prisoner of war wasn't taught to do that, to attempt a break at any given opportunity? Why was I letting myself be taken in by this arrogant woman... this beautiful, demanding, enticing enemy of mine? I was well past the years of my hormones ruling my life - I had other emotions that had burned themselves too well into my psyche. Not that I hadn't allowed myself to have a bit of fun every once in awhile - after all, I was only human. Hell, it was a great ego trip to know that two women on the Val Jean would probably fight each other to get me into each of their beds. But now... in less than a day, I found myself overwhelmed by you, the one and only Kathryn Janeway.

        I'm certain that you were caught up in the same cosmic web - I had heard it in your voice, sensed it in your eyes, felt it in the heat of your voice: two vowed enemies, sworn to loathe each other, but drawn by forces beyond pledged duty. I wanted to grab you right then and there and pull you onto the Val Jean, forgetting the rest of our crews, and head off into the unknown where we would build our own world, without the constraints of obligations to political ideologies or control of our minds and spirits by outsider authorities.

        I wanted to hear you laugh, to see you get tipsy; I wanted to dance with you, to work with you, to love you. I wanted to feel your skin, soft and pliable, warm to my touch; I wanted to taste your neck, your breasts, your lips. I wanted to drink in your smell, your uniqueness - your sweetness followed by the pungent aroma of sex. I wanted to feel your fingers glide all over my body, and finally grip my shaft, working me into hot hardness, begging me to make love to you. I wanted to feel the pain of your fingernails digging into my flesh, ripping and clawing as mounting spasms cascaded through you. I wanted to share your heat and lick the salty muskiness of you, to let you consume me as much as I did you. I wanted to push you to your limits, to hear you cry out my name as I pounded into you, as I found all your secret weaknesses and desires, as I lost myself in my own release.

        Afterwards, we could curl up into one another, clinging to the momentary respite in our chaotic lives. And then we would hate each other for having succumbed to our primal selves, for forgetting who we were supposed to be, for allowing ourselves to be a man and a woman, if only for a stolen moment.

        But it was Mike and I who returned to the Val Jean - our home yet now also our prison. I was exhausted from our return trip to the array, having learned virtually nothing about the array itself and, more frustrating, to come back without B'Elanna. But I knew that the immediate need of making repairs to our ship took precedence over any of my personal needs. Some of the crew had begun work already, especially attending to the hull breeches and computer system damage. Much to my disgust, Seska had barely done anything with the engine and warp core problems. She spitefully told me that she didn't want to do anything without B'Elanna's approval, even though something like our engineer's absence had never stopped her before from doing whatever she wanted.

        Seska pouted her apology as she ran her long fingers across my forehead and down my cheek, purring that I looked tired, that maybe we should go to my quarters for a bit of a rest. Her smile oozed with detached ennui - she wanted nothing more than to get me thinking about something other than her poor performance. To Seska, sex was the answer to everything.

        Although there was no love lost between the two of us, I had to admit that the tall woman knew exactly how to calm my restlessness; a day or two ago, I probably would have taken her up on her offer. But now... her touch burned like a laser scalpel; she repulsed me, both physically and emotionally. I wondered what I'd ever seen in her. 'Get on with your work,' I snapped at her. 'Bendera, Henley, Carlson, Dalby - all of them have bent over backwards to get things back in working order while I was gone - what have you done... cleared away a few weeds from the hydroponics section?'

        Except for times of battle, rank had always been casual aboard the Val Jean; because of that, Seska felt she could always have the last word without fear of reprimand. This time was no different. 'What's happened to you, Chakotay? You act as if someone has cut off your balls.'

        With that, I did something I'd rarely done in my life. I grabbed her by her arms and threw her against a nearby workstation. I wanted to throttle her, to let her know the full force of my disgust, but I reined myself in as my hand went back. She saw through me, knew just how to play me - and I hated that: I hated the idea that I was so obvious. 'That's enough, Seska - the past is just that... past. I'm the captain here and I'll make the decisions. Now get back to your station and get to work or I'll see to it that you never make it back to the Alpha Quadrant.'

        'Be careful what you wish for, Chakotay,' she laughed bitterly as I made my way out of engineering. 'We could be here for a long, long time and you know I could make things most unpleasant for you.'

        I finished my rounds and made notes in my log before fatigue bit into me. I knew I had to get some rest before I had to face Voyager and her captain again, so I handed over the bridge to O'Donnell and headed for my quarters. There, I quickly slipped into a restless slumber punctuated by frenzied dreams of Kathryn Janeway dressed in iridescent swirls of sheer cloth, her auburn hair loose and long and free. She danced and twirled across the outspread arms of the array, laughing... singing... and like a siren from Odysseus of old, calling my name, temping me into her soul.

    "So I went back to the Val Jean and found my ever-resourceful crew busily working on our needed repairs. Mike and I filled them in on what we had - and had not - learned upon our transport to the array, and our quandary about the missing B'Elanna Torres. I slipped away to my quarters for a quick nap while Carlson and Yosa did some investigating of the strange discharges from the array into the nothingness around us. Finally, Carlson interrupted my restless sleep to let me know that they had found a target - the discharges were specifically aimed at a planet in a nearby system.

    "About the same time as they finished their report, Voyager hailed us and the image of your mom filled the view screen. She looked much as I probably did - like she had been abruptly awakened with news. 'Mr. Chakotay, we have some information about the purpose of the array. I'd like for you to come over to Voyager so we can talk.'"

    "You mean about the energy discharges and the planet a little over a light year away? My ops team has documented it, too."

    "You mom's face took on a wearied smirk. 'Oh, I think we have come across something - or should I say someone - who can further enlighten us even more. My ready room in ten minutes?'"

    "And that's how I met Neelix for the first time - the first Delta Quadrant native we had met. Tuvok was with us for the meeting and even with his noncommittal Vulcan demeanor, I could tell that he didn't know if we should trust this newcomer to the scene. But we had little choice, and this Neelix did seem to have a great deal of knowledge about the area, particularly about what he referred to as 'the fifth planet', the place where a humanoid race known as the Ocampa lived.

    "But we saw no indication of life on the planet,' I said, not hiding my distrust of this person. 'The planet is devoid of water and neither our scanners nor Voyager's showed any indication of a humanoid population.'"

    "That's because the Ocampa live underground,' your mom said. 'Isn't that what you told us, Mr. Neelix?' Neelix's tongue zipped back and forth across his lips as he nervously nodded in agreement, but I sensed that he wasn't telling us the whole story. 'I've decided that we should go to this planet and see just what connection it has to the array,' she continued."

    "I could read in-between the lines - the Val Jean would be going along, too. Who said we weren't Starfleet's prisoners? Our brig was just a bit bigger than the one on a starship - our prison was our ship. Even if I said 'no', she could pull us along in a tractor beam and use as like bait dangling from a fishing line.

    "But I could also tell that she read me all too well. 'You have nothing to worry about, Mr. Chakotay - we aren't about to risk you or your crew. In fact, I would like to speak with you further about how we might work together on this.'"

    "Now it was Tuvok's turn to be caught off-guard. His arched eyebrow reached in his forehead as he began to speak. 'Captain, do you really think that this is...' Your mom's hand cut him off - you know how well she can do that! 'Not now, Tuvok; you and I have discussed the plan in detail; now I should do likewise with Mr. Chakotay.' Tuvok's eyes narrowed and he glanced back and forth between the two of us. 'Besides,' she continued, 'I think Mr. Neelix needs a tour of the rest of Voyager, now that he has more or less made himself at home.' I could tell by the twinkle in her eye that Tuvok was not all that taken with the newcomer in our lives.

    "The doors swooshed behind the two men and your mom motioned for me to join her at the long window in the ready room. From that vantage point, we could see the rhythmical bursts from the array, heading out towards their target. 'Tuvok tells me that the eruptions from the array are getting closer together, as if to emphasize what the old man - or the caretaker, as Neelix has told us how it is known around here - said about time running out. And if our people are on that planet, that means their time is running out, too.' She ran her fingers along the ledge of the window, studying their movement. 'Tell me, Chakotay - what do you think about this Neelix? Is he being truthful with us?' She was asking me about truthfulness? Me, her bounty in this far-flung game of hide and seek?

    "I swallowed before answering, realizing that her question was probably as much about how loyal I would be as it was about poor Neelix. Her fingers went from stroking the window ledge to fiddling with her commbadge, something I would learn over time was a sure sign of her being upset or nervous. She looked me straight in the eye awaiting my answer.

    "Uh... he seems to know what is going on in this area, although I think he also is given to exaggerating a bit. However, I think that he's hiding more than he's revealing about this planet. But what choice do we have? He appears friendly enough and genuinely interested in helping us..."

    "For a price,' she chuckled. 'Who would think that water would be worth more than latinum out here? It's water that he really wants.'"

    "Well, there have been enough wars fought on Earth about water and water rights,' I reminded her.

    "She went back to gazing out of the window. Her face turned in profile, with her chin held high and jutting out with determination - yeah, you know the look. She let herself become lost in her own thoughts and I allowed her this momentary luxury - these moments had been too few for either of us. 'We've got to get them back, Mr. Chakotay,' she sighed. 'Not just for them, but for the sakes of those in our crews whom we lost.' When she turned to me, her eyes fighting back tears. 'How many did you lose in the displacement wave?'"

    "Her concern eased my worries somewhat about how she felt about those of us from the Val Jean. I gulped and almost swallowed my answer. 'Four dead and nine injured - but thanks to your doctor, most of the injured are fit for duty now,' I hastened to add."

    "Fifteen - that's how many we lost... including our doctor... our real doctor.' She turned to me, her eyes clearing a bit. 'You do realize that our current doctor is an emergency medical hologram, don't you?"

    "So that's why he lacks a lot in bedside manner, hmm?" I smiled. 'Well, at least he does a good job in repairing those of us of a 'minor bipedal species,' I appended, using the term that the caretaker had used to describe us."

    "She turned serious again. 'We each lost about ten percent of our manifests. Voyager lost her doctor, her first officer, her helmsman and chief engineer, plus three more officers and eight crewmen - all good, talented people. I'm sure that you would say the same about your lost crew, too.'"

    "I wanted to put my arm around her, to comfort her, but I knew that the action would be inappropriate. 'I can't say enough about my people,' I allowed. 'We've served - and worked - together too long, through too many battles and adversities. We were close, and maybe that's not good, because now I know some of them need to grieve, to recalibrate their emotions - and yet, here we are, stuck here in this unknown. Now, with B'Elanna missing, I don't know how long some of them are going to hold together.'"

    "Your mother stiffened a bit. 'Some of Voyager's crew has served together before, too; but for some, like Harry Kim, this is their first mission. Voyager's crew might not have the longevity and closeness of your ship, but everyone aboard is Starfleet and knows we don't leave anyone behind.' She buried any emotion that had surfaced earlier and with a deep breath continued. 'So, I say we go to the planet, and with Neelix's help, we look for our people. My crew is scanning the planet's surface even as we speak. Are you in agreement?'"

    "I tried to read in between the lines of her suggestion. Why was she asking me for my opinion? And who constituted the 'we' she mentioned? I felt my eyes narrow as I finally asked her. 'When you say 'we', who exactly do you mean?'"

    "She looked at me as if I were a first year cadet at Starfleet Academy. 'I mean that people from each of our crews should go down; after all, we each have a crewman at risk.'"

    "I paced along the wide expanse of window; I still didn't trust her, thinking how easily she could take control and put all my Maquis on the frontline - they might as well all be wearing some of the old 'Fleet red shirts, and we knew what that meant. And she had no business trusting me any more than I trusted her. We obviously were testing each other, wondering how far either of us could go. So, I decided it was best to play along with her, to find out just how much leeway she would allow my crew... or if she was just looking for an excuse to throw us all into the brig."

    "Yes, I agree,' I finally nodded. 'But I also think we should think about this from a tactical standpoint. Did Neelix tell you anything more about these Ocampa? How technologically advanced are they? Is there nothing that we can detect on the surface because they hide themselves well, laying in ambush for anyone who lands on their planet? What about the planet itself? We know that it's devoid of water, but maybe its surface is poisonous to humanoid life... maybe it's teeming with non-organic creatures that need no water.'"

    "Stop!' she suddenly said, holding up both hands. 'Are you always so full of questions, Mr. Chakotay?' Her face twisted with that quirky grin of hers. 'You're almost as bad as Tuvok with all of his concerns. I'd like both of you to know that I have had a bit of experience with the unknowns of space before - it isn't as if I were a novice captain or a fair damsel in distress.' She turned to face me, her eyes burning like a pair of laser beams, her stance firm and stretched tall, her hands planted on her hips. 'Before you forget, Mr. Chakotay, you are on my ship... and I am the captain.'"

    "I know,' I blushed. 'I didn't mean to insinuate that you weren't capable, Captain - and never for a moment do I doubt that you are the captain of this vessel. But neither am I as inexperienced as you might think - I've had my share of surprises over the years and I like to go into unknown situations like this with a bit of caution and planning.'"

    "That's not what I've read about your escapades, mister,' she continued. 'My understanding is that you are a bit of a loose cannon, a little like a swashbuckler of old who shoots or swung first and asks questions later. In that respect, I see you and Mr. Paris almost from the same mold.'"

    "That really got my temper going - how dare she equate my actions with those of Tom Paris? Ah - now don't get upset here... don't look at me like that, kids! Remember, in those days, all I knew about Tom was that he was a scoundrel who got whatever he wanted by manipulating and using people, with the only person who mattered being himself. 'That's an unfair comparison,' I answered, weighing my words while I seethed at the idea.

    "She walked over to me and for the first time did that little thing that she always does to calm me - she put her palm onto my chest and smiled sweetly. 'Then prove me wrong, Chakotay. Show me that our people - that you and I - can work along side each other. Something tells me that that's the only way we're going to find our missing crewmen and make it back home - in one piece.'"

        In that one move, your undoing of me had begun.

        Your touch burned through the leather of my vest, dissolved away the fibers of my shirt and sought me out as naked as the day I was born. As surely as my tattoo would never leave me, neither would that touch - it was as much a permanent part of me as that deep blue design on my left temple. I did but didn't want to prove you wrong. I wanted to be that swashbuckler... that scoundrel whom I could tell you wanted, whom you practically begged for. Primal urges clamored to surface, urging me to take you right then and there, transferring your searing touch for one of my own, one that would fill you and mark you and make you mine.

        One part of me wanted to fulfill everything I felt in your touch, read in your eyes; but the other wanted to fling you away, for daring to tempt me away from the purpose that had consumed me for these years. How dare you imply that your way... that Starfleet... was superior to the survival mode that you and your ilk had pushed all of the Maquis into, by branding us vigilantes for wanting to right the wrongs that your bureaucracies had pushed down our throats? Cardassians didn't wait to reason - they lashed out and destroyed before any of you could call together a morning meeting, sipping your coffee and discussing strategies that looked good in theory but weren't worth the dilithium to fuel your starships.

        Yet here you were, treating me almost as an equal, asking me for my input and analysis of your plans for going down to this unknown planet, into an unknown environment to seek out our two missing crew members. You sounded sincere in your requests; I only hoped if I agreed that you wouldn't be luring all of us from the Val Jean into a cleverly designed trap.

    "So several of us beamed to this unknown planet, onto a surface of baked clay filled with cracks wide and deep enough to swallow a small shuttlecraft, with a sun blazing down on us that seemed determined that we would be well-cooked, too, if we didn't find our crew members quickly. I wasn't too happy that your mom chose only me from the Maquis to go - I guess she thought that by including Tom and Tuvok that they would suffice as buffers for both sides. Neelix made up the fifth and final person on the away team, and none of us were too sure about him! At least your mom finally allowed us to go down armed, even if Neelix had told us that the Ocampa were a peaceful people.

    "Of course, I know you've heard about that landing party many times. There are more versions of what happened than there were people who have told it. The bottom line is that Neelix had exaggerated on his knowledge of the Ocampa - and failed to mention the possibility of our encountering our first hostiles in the Delta Quadrant, the Kazon. I don't know who surprised whom the most - the Kazon seeing us materialize out of thin air or us, suddenly becoming aware of very large, armed aliens who hadn't registered on our scans of the planet. Your mom was ready to do her diplomatic best when Neelix took matters in his own hands and before we knew it, the precious water we had beamed down was drenching the thirsty land and the Kazon scrambled to rescue what they could. Tom and I managed to disarm about a half dozen of them. I had hoped to disable them a bit more but your mom had Voyager beam all of us up to the ship before anything else could happen.

    "The biggest surprise of the planet-side trip hadn't been the Kazon, though, but Kes. It didn't take us long to put two and two together when we saw how lovey-dovey she and Neelix were as soon as we got back to Voyager. Your mom wasn't feeling too good about having bent the almighty prime directive of Starfleet by sort of sharing our advanced technology with a race that wasn't quite as developed as we were. That... and we were no closer to finding Harry and B'Elanna.

    "But Kes - bless Kes... did you know that she was only two years old when we found her? Oh, okay - so you've heard that one before. Anyway, she told us that there were some breeches in the security barriers leading to the Ocampa underground world, that perhaps our sensors could locate those points and a team could enter there.

    "Tuvok agreed to make the necessary scans. Tom went back to the bridge to make sure that Voyager was in an orbit that couldn't be detected by the Kazon and also to monitor the energy bursts reining in on the planet from the array. Your mother surprised me by again requesting my counsel in her ready room, to discuss plans for our subterranean excursion.

    "Please - be seated," she said to me, waving me into one of the chairs by her desk. She sat down in the chair next to mine, rather than going to the one behind her desk. "Nice work down there, Chakotay - you do a good job of thinking on your feet.'"

    "I wondered if this was a back-handed compliment of sorts or whether she was trying to catch me off guard. 'Just doing what I've always done, Captain - remember, we Maquis are guerillas who use guerilla tactics - or so says Starfleet.'"

    "You and Tom seemed to work together pretty well, for all the animosity I've sensed between you,' she continued."

    "Survival instinct, I guess,' I added. 'I probably trust you sooner than I'd trust him. And I would advise you to do likewise. He'll turn and bite you as soon as he try to seduce you.' Uh, oh - poor choice of words, I suddenly thought. 'Not that he'd ever try anything like that...' I felt my face filling with color.

    "Oh, come on - don't give me one of those looks, either of you, kids - you know what I meant!

    "Your mom leaned over to me and gave me a little punch in the arm and laughed. 'Point taken, Mr. Chakotay - I've been warned. But now - what about you? Do you come with a warning label?'"

        Maybe I should have come with those instructions, Kathryn. I probably was describing myself as much as Tom when I spoke those words. Maybe you and I each should have had the words written across our foreheads or dangling from our commbadges. Maybe we each should have come with instructions, too - that would have made it so much easier for us. Then again, would it have been as much fun? Would making it easy have allowed us to explore, to savor every new finding, every new touch, every new taste?

        Perhaps we made it difficult on ourselves just for those very reasons - making it simple... laying out a smooth path... would have made the journey a lot less enjoyable. When you have to jump higher or broader hurdles to get to that finish line, the reward is much sweeter. Even our frequent differences in opinion - I hesitate to say arguments, because most of them really had to do with our differing ideologies on how a starship captain should perform his or her duties - ended up with our knowing more about one another, about pealing away one more layer from our psyches.

        The rare but true arguments usually were because of our deep concern for the well being of the other, when we knew that one of us might not survive a battle or mission, wondering what would happen if one of us lost the other. Each of us was willing to sacrifice himself for the ship and crew, but our real fear was about losing one another. And if we had made it simple to just walk into the relationship that we always knew was tempting us, then we knew how easy it would be to put ourselves before our crews.

        For years with the Maquis, I had lived hand to mouth, grabbing at necessities and niceties alike, consuming them quickly and not being able to savor the difference. When we first met, I knew that I wanted you... needed you... and I was willing to just grab what I wanted and run, to hell with any rules and regulations. But your patience taught me that I could - that we could - wait, until we reached a safe harbor again.

    "What do you mean, that your mom and I should come with warning labels now? Let me tell you, kids - she was determined to get those crew members back come hell or high water... yes, I think she loved them almost as she does you!

    "She let me know in no uncertain terms that while she admired my instincts and how they might work, that if we were to work together, we were going to have to go by the Starfleet book. 'You do remember Starfleet rules and regulations, don't you, Mr. Chakotay?' she asked me, her words firm and definitive.

    "You mean just like you followed the prime directive by giving the Kazon a taste of our technology?' I countered, not willing to let her have the final word. 'Something tells me - particularly if there are many sects of this group like we learned on the planet - that we have made multiple enemies in this sector already. Unless you have a plan to get us back seventy thousand light years as soon as we rescue B'Elanna and your Harry Kim.' I was sure that we were be far from being out of the woods yet."

    "I was hoping we could still work together on that, too - after we get B'Elanna and Harry back,' she stated. 'Or don't you want to get back to the Alpha Quadrant?'"

    "Get back with you? And just how do you propose that we return - with Voyager towing the Val Jean and her crew by a tractor beam, like you were leading us to the gallows? I don't think so, Captain.' I wasn't too happy with those prospects, let me tell you!"

    "So we each talk to the caretaker... get him to get our ships back separately.' She got up and began pacing around the desk - I could tell I'd hit a hot button."

    "And then you capture us? That's not on my agenda,' I fumed. 'I'd rather take my chances here... wherever we are."

    "The Delta Quadrant,' she informed me. 'And just what chance do you think your little ship would stand against more Kazon? I'm sure their ships have a bit more firepower than the Val Jean.'"

    "We've managed to hold our own against the Cardassians for several years, haven't we?' I retorted, not at all comfortable with the way she spoke about my terrific little ship. 'I might even know a few more evasive tactics than we were taught at Starfleet Academy."

    "Again I sensed that her good old Irish temper was fuming just under the surface. She rounded the desk and steadied herself against its edge. 'Let's just get our people back and then we'll decide the next move in our little game of cat and mouse, Chakotay. We'll go down to the planet as soon as Tuvok has gotten us some entry coordinates.'"

    "Can I take along a couple more of my crew?' I steamed. 'I don't really consider Paris and Tuvok 'my' men. I'd like Ayala and Bendera to go with along with us this time. They're pretty good with survival instinct, too.'"

    "No, I'd like for it to be the same group as before, along with Neelix and the Ocampa woman. The fewer we beam down, the easier to beam up.'"

    "But the Kazon - what if they detect us? We'll need to fend them off and the more defense we have, the better."

    "Your mom shook her head. 'No, not if we beam directly into the underground area - and we certainly don't want to scare the Ocampas by showing up armed to the hilt. Forceful means aren't always the best, no matter how well it's worked for you in the past. I appreciate your concern, but I'm still in charge here.' With that, she rounded the desk and assumed The Captain's Position - you know it well: no nonsense face, feet slightly apart and planted in place... and her hands on her hips. "

        But I've seen you when you weren't in charge, Kathryn - when you didn't want to be... when all you wanted was to forget all of the outside universes and live only within the one that we made for ourselves. I know how you can delight in turning over control and doing nothing more than let me do everything. I know how the Starfleet uniform stifled each of us with in its straight, staid constraints, how its rules and regulations packaged our emotions into impersonal data logs.

        I know how you responded the first time I dared open that camouflaged and buried part of your being, how it was when we first took off the uniforms and saw each other for the two humans we really were, a man and a woman who could no longer deny the forces that had been pushing us together for months. You shed all that captain's control the moment you opened yourself up to me, letting its layers fall as easily as the layers of red and black and gray fabric puddled on the floor around us.

        Do you remember that first time? How could you forget? I know I never will. We were into the second year of our journey, and planning on having dinner in your quarters on Wednesday, like we had been doing for several months. I knew that the meal might prove to be a bit tense, as there had been another fight among a couple of the Maquis - Jarvin and Tabor, and Platt and Molina of Starfleet, as I recall. Even after Tuvok's sessions with several of the Maquis a few months earlier, strain still ran high throughout the two crews. You and I had had some heated words during the day about how to stem the outburst - I had wanted to discipline all concerned with some brig time, while you said that it was my duty as first officer to talk with them and counsel them - in essence, to give them a slap on the wrist and let them go on their various ways. I snapped back to you that a first officer's job was not to be a nurse maid to spoiled kids and that the sooner they realized that we all had to get along, the better, and that an official reprimand, with prison time on their records, would be the most effective. I didn't say it at the time, but I knew damned good and well that the differences were always going to be there. We stood there, fuming, daring the other to make the first move. Finally, I turned and steamed towards the door. 'Fine. Have it your way... Captain,' I seethed. 'I guess we'd better call off dinner tonight.'

        But you wouldn't let me off so easily. 'No, I think it's all the more important that we meet as usual. If the crews think that we can't agree to disagree and work things out, then what sort of a message does that give to them?'

        If I could have slammed the door to your ready room behind me, I would have as I exited. You were right, of course - but I didn't have to agree.

        When I arrived at your quarters at the assigned time, the doors opened with you nowhere to be seen. 'Kathryn?' I called out.

        'Over here,' I heard your voice say. I looked around and finally saw you on the floor in a position which I found you many times to follow, surrounded by your tool kit and a deconstructed replicator. 'Damn thing and I have a love/hate relationship and it always senses when I really need it to work,' you bristled, pushing back a shank of hair that had pulled out of your bun. 'And I wanted to make something nice for you tonight, after our... disagreement this afternoon.' Your voice sounded whiny and child-like, as I imagined it would have when you were nine years old and you didn't get your own spaceship for Christmas.

        'Come on - it can't be all that bad,' I said, reaching down and pulling you to your feet. 'I'll take a look at it and if I can't fix it, we can always go to the mess hall for dinner.'

        You shoved a bio-neutronic subconsole into my arms. 'Humph - I'd rather go without than to face one of Neelix's creations one more time. I think that's one reason I look forward to these weekly meetings.'

        'Well, thanks - it's nice to know that you appreciate my company,' I smiled, taking the panel from her and adjusting two dangling parts of its circuitry. 'So how many more times do you think you could stand another version of Talaxian surprise casserole?' you snorted. 'It's worse than his coffee.'

        'Point taken,' I chuckled, still working on the disassembled part. 'Er... just out of curiosity, what had you planned for tonight?'

        You began to blush. 'Well, I was going to make up for our... um... falling out this afternoon. I know you like eggplant Parmesan, so I was going to make that... adding some mushrooms, too.'

        I leaned down to reconstruct the replicator. 'I sounds like you're beginning to know me pretty well, Kathryn.' The parts clicked into place. 'There - you want to try it again?' But you didn't answer me. I stood and turned, our bodies mere millimeters apart.

        'Maybe there's more I'd like to know about you, to know the real you' you whispered, your words coming out in a husky whisper, your eyes and lips leaving nothing unimagined in the request.

        I couldn't believe what I was hearing. After months of sly innuendo, of an undercurrent desire, here it was, out in the open - raw and real, more tempting than any favorite dinner from the replicator.

        'Are you sure?' I choked out but not daring to move. 'Because... once I let you... once we begin something, there will be no turning back. We don't know how long we'll be out here, Kathryn. We might become tired of each other and I'm afraid if that happens, any future altercations would make that incident today seem like a sandlot squabble between a couple of three year olds.'

        You reached up and pulled me down to you, your lips already swollen with hungry desire. You kissed me, long and deep. 'Does that answer your concern?' you managed to smile back. 'I've broken enough Starfleet rules already to get me a court martial term of a hundred life sentences - what does one more matter?'

        I took you at your word and kissed you back, pressing into you so that there was no doubt about the fervor of my own response. Our hands began an eager exploration of curves and niches other than the backs of our necks, fumbling with the layers of clothing that hampered them. We pulled back long enough to read the need in each other's eyes, glowing with anticipation and wonder. Your sensuous smile, as you slid your tongue along the curves of your lips, made it clear that our actions were a beginning to another long journey, one that would be filled with as many unknowns as those we faced in the Delta Quadrant.

        I tried to guide you across the room, away from the replicator and from dining area, but your bedroom was on the opposite end of your quarters. A chaise lounge beckoned in the living area, but it, too, was distant from where we scrabbled and groped each other. In my dreams, this first time was to have been slow, with each movement to be savored, not devoured like starving savages.

        But here we were, unable to move beyond a wall in your quarters. One of my hands cupped the fullness of your breasts, and I sensed your nipples harden, even underneath your uniform; the other sought out a target further down, and as I pressed my fingers into your inseam, your heat and wetness welcomed me. Then you groaned as your hands found my pillar of desire, awakened from its long slumber and throbbing for its release. I pushed your hand aside and pressed into you - a foreshadowing of what we both wanted.

        Movements became frenzied as we quickly rid ourselves of all that prevented us from being where we wanted to be - flesh upon flesh, mouth upon mouth. You moaned as I raised your hands above your head and began a fevered trail of opened mouth kisses down your body, until I could taste the moistness of your readiness. You joined in the rhythm of the dance as you pulled your leg up, opening yourself to me. In one easy move, I dropped your arms and grasped your rounded buttocks, allowing you to secure yourself around me. Then I slammed into you, full and forceful, wanting to fill you and find you, wanting to take you as I had for so long.

        You gave everything to me, allowing me to continue my conquest and claim you as my own. You were tight, you were slick; you were welcoming, you were giving. Again and again I thrust into you, playing out my own frustrations.

        I'm sure you came first, but still I pounded away, until I trembled so hard that I thought we would lose our balance. You disengaged your legs and slid down, trying to anchor yourself on legs as rubbery as mine were. Our bodies glowed with a sheen of perspiration and our eyes were hazy with the shock of what we had just done. Sticky rivulets of our mingled post-coital fluids trickled down our legs, becoming cold in the reality of aftermath.

    "Huh? Uh, I guess I got to day dreaming a bit there - sorry about that. Let's see where was I? Oh, yes - we were going down to that planet to find Harry and B'Elanna. What's that, kids? No, never mind what I was thinking about - sometimes we old folks have our minds wander that.

    "Okay, so Tuvok managed to find some of those decaying security areas and he, along with your mom, Tom, Neelix, Kes and I made it to the underground home of the Ocampa. Although there wasn't any natural sunlight there, I must admit that the caretaker had done a decent job in making it seem as if the sun shone right there on them - they had cycles of day and night and were able to grow plants of all kinds.

    "Kes immediately took us to meet her family - and to see if they could help us any in finding our missing crewmen. I remember how thrilled her father was to see her again - he was certain that she had met with some horrible outcome. Yes, I know - all of us dads act the same way, no matter where we are in the galaxy! It wasn't long before others heard of our search, but they didn't seem too helpful. However, with some cajoling by Kes, we found out where B'Elanna and Harry might be, only to find out that they hadn't been seen for several hours.

    "It was while we were searching that the bursts from the caretaker picked up in frequency, until they were almost a constant stream. Then suddenly they stopped altogether. Shortly after that, bursts resumed, but they were of a different nature, and appeared to be with another purpose - according to Rollins, who was monitoring the array from Voyager, these blasts were sealing off all the energy conduits leading to the surface. When your mother asked Tuvok about any ideas he had on these actions, he hypothesized that the caretaker was dying - that he had built up five years' supply of energy for the Ocampa, to allow them time to work out solutions on their own after a millennium of care by the caretaker but now he was performing his final actions.

    "Every little hair stood up on the back of my neck when your mother expressed what I suddenly feared, too: if the caretaker died, how were we going to get home? His knowledge and the energy from the array were our only hope of a quick return - if left on our own, even if we traveled at full warp, it would take us more than seventy years to reach the Alpha Quadrant. I tried to keep things on an optimistic plane, by suggesting that the caretaker might just be leaving. But Tuvok came back with a rebuttal - using his always logical, always no-nonsense words - stating that the current actions from the caretaker were more like a last gasp in trying to provide for the Ocampa... that the caretaker's statement of 'running out of time ' meant that he knew he was dying and wanted to get his affairs in order.

    "Our mission to find B'Elanna and Harry took on a new urgency - we had to find them get back to the surface and then get to the array to talk with the caretaker about what exactly was going on. Tom, Neelix and Kes finally located them in one of the conduits that was still open and your mom told them to follow after Harry and B'Elanna and beam to the ship as soon as they reached the surface, and that we would beam up as soon as possible to meet them there.

    "However, there was one slight problem - we couldn't beam out because of the radiation caused by the array closing off the conduits. Rollins tried several times, but to no avail. So we were left with only one option - we had to follow Tom and his team and hope that all of us could get out.

    "We made it to the conduit, just minutes behind the others - thankfully, Tom had spotted Harry and B'Elanna above them... at least we were all in the same tunnel. Kes knew enough about the structure to warn us and then lead all of us through an energy field shortly before reaching the top - thank goodness our communicators worked, even if we couldn't beam out! Your mom and Tuvok and I hesitated when we heard phaser fire, followed by a rolling rumble, but it was only the first group using their phasers to open one of the closed areas to the planet's surface, to allow them to scramble outside.

    "But the incoming blasts from the array were so strong that they began rupturing the structure of the serpentine staircase that led to the surface. Just as your mom, Tuvok and I reached the top, an incoming discharge shattered the structure under us; we scrambled to hold onto something. Tuvok was stunned, but my leg caught in some of the twisted metal and I grimaced as I heard the ominous crack of my femur breaking. Tom must have sensed that something was wrong because the next thing I knew, he and Neelix had re-entered the opening of the tunnel.

    While your mom and Neelix helped pull Tuvok out, Tom scurried down to help me. My feelings upon seeing him were that I would rather die than let him play the role of my savior. With his usual sardonic sense of humor, he taunted me about 'owing' him if he saved me - I fully expected him to demand redemption on latinum bars. He continued his razzing as he pulled and tugged at me, and anger rose into my throat - I just wanted to grab him and throttle him for his insolence. In retrospect, I'm sure he did that on purpose - to make me angry with him, to give myself some reason to survive. So I clawed up towards him, as he managed to finally grasp me around the chest, freeing me from the rubble and pulling us up to safety... just as everything crumbled beneath us."

        Was that your plan all along, Kathryn... why you had Tom help me, rather than have you and Neelix pulling me up? Did you know that when I sensed that both my rescuer and I could probably die, you knew that I would rather sacrifice myself and not pull you along with me? Yes, you probably did, if only on a subconscious level at that time. You knew I wouldn't mind taking Tom with me, down together into whatever hell awaited rogues like us. And you knew that Tom would save me if for nothing else than to be a thorn in my side.

    "Okay, so you two remember Tom's version of this story, saying that by rescuing me, I 'owed him my butt'. Hey - quit your snickering. And what do you mean 'That's a mighty big butt'? If we had begun tallying all the quid pro quo actions over the years between Tom and me, I think it would probably turn out to be a dead heat.

    "Anyway, we all finally got beamed back to Voyager. No sooner had the EMH performed what he smugly referred to as 'a minor miracle' on my broken leg than we were called to the bridge - two Kazon ships were approaching and their message didn't sound very promising or diplomatic. So B'Elanna and I got back to the Val Jean, promising your mom that we would work with Voyager to keep the Kazon at bay while she and Tuvok beamed down to the array to see if the caretaker could help show us the way to get back to the Alpha Quadrant.

    "The Val Jean was definitely the smallest of all the vessels, but we did a pretty good job of playing the junkyard dog by nipping at the Kazon with strafes from our external rocket phasers in between full torpedo launches from Voyager. For almost an hour, the battle went on, with all our ships taking on damage, albeit none was serious enough to affect life support systems.

    Then Voyager managed to get a clean shot at the Kazon weapons array system, knocking off their capabilities to fire anymore. However, I knew we had to keep them from getting to the array and wresting the caretaker's help from your mom and Tuvok. There was no time to ask for opinions from Voyager - I knew I had to make the decision and act upon it quickly. So I ordered B'Elanna to get all of the Maquis over to Voyager, that I was going to use the Val Jean as a battering ram to deliver the coup de grace to the injured Kazon ship. Hopefully, with its destruction, its sister ship would turn and run.

    "Tom was ready to argue with me, but I didn't have time for any more of his backtalk. Spirits only knew what your mom and Tuvok were going through down on the array - no one on Voyager had heard from them since their beam-down. All I knew was that I didn't want the Kazon to find her there - even if the caretaker were gone, they could still capture her and do unspeakable things to get her to pass along secrets of Starfleet technology. However, just as I began to plot the Val Jean's course, I realized we had lost our automated guiding system. All of a sudden, for this ploy to work, I was going to have to stay on board and fly the ship myself. If this meant I flew into the fiery maws of the collision explosion, so be it - at least hopefully I had saved Voyager... and your mom."

        The records show that I made this decision in a split second, Kathryn, but it was far from that. Oh, the collision trajectory was a given - any Starfleet officer worth his or her pips could see that it was a no-brainer. But when I realized that I would have to guide the Val Jean into the gates of Hell, even with Voyager's transporters locked onto me for a last minute beam-out, I wondered if I should just save all of us a lot of grief that was sure to follow and allow myself to be consumed like my ship. Already I was going against your orders - and this certainly would not be a one and only occurrence. If I rode the Val Jean into its target, you wouldn't have to wonder what to do with me and I wouldn't have to put up with Tom Paris' snide smugness for who knew how long, not to mention the forbidden feelings for you that were rising within me. And what would happen if we couldn't find an immediate way back to the Alpha Quadrant - how would I be able to keep from crossing that line and loving you with every ounce of my being? More so... what would you do with me? Here I was, your avowed enemy and, even though we were struggling for our mutual survival right now, you would have to play it the Starfleet way and incarcerate me.

        But I knew I had seen something in your eyes, a little glimmer in the way you smiled, a lingering in your touch... something that went beyond rules and regulations. If you were as much a woman underneath that uniform as you were in proving that you were a Starfleet captain with the strength and courage you had shown thus far in our surreal odyssey, then it would be worth it to stick around and see how the saga of Kathryn Janeway, Starfleet captain, and Chakotay, Maquis renegade, would turn out. You were a complex puzzle, one that I could - and would - delight in spending a lifetime trying to decipher.

        So it was that at that last nanosecond, I yelled to Voyager to beam me out, willing to face whatever consequences lay in store for me.

    "On Voyager's bridge, we watched as the mortally wounded Kazon ship plowed into the array. Although the array didn't seem to be badly damaged, all of its arms shook as the shock waves rippled through its surface. We were concerned about your mother and Tuvok, as we hadn't heard from them yet, but Tom got a channel open and I let out a silent sigh of relief knowing that they were all right. However we all froze when your mother told us that the caretaker was dead, without telling us how to activate the technology that would get us home.

    "She and Tuvok beamed back to Voyager just as the captain of the lead Kazon ship hailed us, again threatening us to back off, that the array was theirs. To back up his warning, he informed us that additional Kazon ships would be arriving momentarily. I wondered if Voyager had the resources and firepower to hold off yet another Kazon attack.

    "But this concern became of no more than a stubbed toe when your mom uttered the fateful promise that Voyager was going to blow up the array rather than allow it to fall into Kazon control. Starfleet and Maquis alike stared at her as if she had lost her mind. But without looking at anyone, she continued with her orders - for the Kazon to back off, unless they wanted to be destroyed along with the array. She commanded that the tri-cobalt devices be armed and positioned to do the job.

    "B'Elanna blurted out what was on the minds of all of us. 'What are you doing? Without the array and its technology, we won't have a way to get back home!'"

    "Your mother gave B'Elanna one of those looks - yes, you know the one I mean! - and then said matter-of-factly that she was well aware of what she was doing, but that she wasn't willing to sacrifice the Ocampa for our convenience.

    "I had to grab B'Elanna and pull her back - I think she would have lit on your mom like a rabid Denoblian bat for making such a cold decision, without so much as a single word of input from the hundred and forty-five people now on board Voyager. 'Just who does she think she is?' B'Elanna spat out in her fury, still trying to get away from me. I tightened my grip so hard that later I found out I had bruised her pretty badly. 'She's the captain,' I said, my voice calm and steady.

    "With those words, I knew that I had just as much sealed my fate and those of the Val Jean crew as much as your mother had done when Tuvok alerted her that the tri-cobalt devices were ready and in position and she said, 'Fire.'"

    "We all watched in horror as the high-powered weaponry demolished the array in mere seconds. As pieces of debris scattered with the force of a supernova, we knew that we were truly alone here, in an unknown section of the galaxy. We all stood there, stunned and silent, our fears reflected in our faces. Your mother stood ramrod straight, but she couldn't hide the lump in her throat or the tears that threatened to fall. Neither did we need to be reminded that we had made an enemy of a Delta Quadrant race with that action, but the Kazon captain uttered the fateful words anyway. However, the Kazon made no move to encounter us any more that day and they retreated.

    "Several seconds - or was it minutes? - passed before anyone moved or spoke. The post-battle adrenalin drained from us, and the reality of our situation sank in. B'Elanna continued to fume, but now I think her anger was focused as much on me as it was the fact that not only were we stranded in the far-reaches of the Delta Quadrant, but also doomed to live out our existence on a Federation starship. And I knew others in my crew would be sharing B'Elanna's feelings of betrayal and desperation.

    "I approached you mother, calling her out of her private thoughts, with my request. 'Captain Janeway, I don't know what plans you have for my crew and me, but I'd like to talk with my people... to try to explain the situation. If you find it necessary to have security present, I understand.'"

    "Mr. Chakotay, there is no need for security, as your crew is unarmed and outnumbered. Your ship is gone, the array is gone - where would they go? Your crew is as much an enemy to the Kazon as Voyager is.' Then she turned slowly, her eyes daring me to not look at her and she smiled that quirky little grin of hers. 'Besides, I have every confidence in you after what you have just done. You know your crew best and know how to interact with them; they respect you. I've just seen an example that, too. While none of you are off the hook quite yet, I see no reason why all of you cannot be treated with professionalism and courtesy. Please relay this to all of them and let them know that we will provide them with quarters as soon as we can ascertain what all is available. I believe the mess hall is available; why don't you convene there? And then as soon as you're through, I will have Tuvok come to talk to them about what can be expected in the immediate future - they may have to help make repairs on Voyager, including their quarters-to-be, before we can act any further.'"

    "I couldn't believe what I was hearing - was it possible that she was actually willing to attempt to assimilate all of the Maquis into her crew? How would the two crews react? But I'd seen the same respect in her crew - how they would follow her, no matter what, and knew that we were at least going to be treated fairly by Captain Janeway.

    "I placed my hand on B'Elanna's elbow and guided her towards the lift, whispering into her ear that she wasn't to say a thing until we met with the others. She was seething, of course - keeping B'Elanna from expressing herself was like trying to stop a venting volcano from erupting. I knew that making my crew understand the situation was going to be difficult enough without having to pacify her Klingon blood in particular."

    "I heard the captain clear her throat and turned to face her. Her face remained stern but I sensed a slight glimmer in her eyes. 'Oh... and Mr. Chakotay, after you're through and Tuvok has taken over, please meet me in my ready room; we have much to discuss.' Boy, that was an understatement if I'd ever heard one! She more than likely was going to use me her token prisoner, keeping me in the brig to keep my crew under her control.

    "By the time B'Elanna and I reached the mess hall, the twenty-nine others from our ship had gathered already. B'Elanna and I walked in, but neither of the two security personnel from Voyager who had accompanied us followed our entry. I know that they probably remained at attention outside the closed doors, but I didn't think they had been sent there to eavesdrop or contain us - I later found out that your mother was concerned for my safety with what I had to tell the Val Jean crew and wanted help there in case I needed it. "Expressions weren't any too happy on anyone in the room, and the silent words expressed by their body language told me that I was going to be facing a tough audience. Not a word was spoken, but the looks and stares were like two-edged knives; no breath was heard except for my own, as I sucked in a deep one in preparation of what needed to be said.

    "All of a sudden, before I could get started, questions and comments fired in rapid succession, bombarding me from all sides as the crew moved in to circle me. I raised my hands to try to get their attention, but they clamored all the more. Finally, B'Elanna let go with a whistle loud enough to be heard back to the Alpha Quadrant. I found my voice and called for their attention.

    "I know all of you are wondering what all is happening - and what is going to happen - to all of us. As you are well aware by now, with the death of the caretaker and the subsequent destruction of the array, we have no immediate chances of a quick return to the Alpha Quadrant.' Again a buzz arose all around me as the reality of the situation began to register with them. 'There's a bit of good news/bad news with all of this. First off, Captain Janeway is not going to put any of us into the brig - at least not right away. Both of our crews have been decimated by the original displacement wave that brought us here, and we've suffered more injuries to ships and crew with the Kazon skirmishes. At this point in time, we are all in survival mode and we need to rely upon each other, whether Maquis or Starfleet, to come through all of this. So, it seems that Captain Janeway wants to merge our two groups into one workforce, working side by side to make our repairs and look into ways to get back to the Alpha Quadrant.'"

    "But she's in charge,' B'Elanna grumbled. 'Aren't we going to have any representation?' A tidal wave of murmurs arose as many of the others in the room added in to the chorus of displeasure with that idea.

    "It's her ship,' I stated, 'but I think she really wants to treat us as fairly as possible. She's asked to talk with me and I want you to know that I'm going to fight for as much equality as I can. They don't have the manpower to take care of a ship this size without our help, so we have some pretty high cards to play. She's already told me that we'll be assigned quarters and be expected to work side-by-side with her Starfleet crew to make repairs.'"

    "But what if she gets the work out of us for the repairs and then locks us all up afterwards?' Hogan asked."

    "I don't think that's possible - their brig isn't big enough,' I countered, attempting to bring a bit of levity into the increasingly volatile situation. 'Besides, I'm the one she was really sent after with her little chase, and if anyone ends up behind bars, it's probably going to be me.' However, I knew down deep that she could always turn a cargo bay into one gigantic prison room, throw all of us into it and throw away the key, probably stopping off at the first M class planet just long enough to offload us.

    "What happens if she does decide to imprison just you - who will be our leader?' Dalby was now the one talking, but not for long, as Seska jumped in. 'I'm sure one of us could do the job,' she purred. 'Some of us have worked very close to Chakotay and know how he does things.'"

    "As usual, I felt Seska's claws coming out, ready to pounce on the earliest opportunity. 'I'm sure you're right, Seska,' I said. 'But I'm not dead yet, so don't look to replacing me any time soon. If and when that time comes, I'll make the decision. Until then, I suggest we work with Janeway to assure this ship is capable of working properly. We know that we've already made enemies of the Kazon, and who knows how many other obstacles and enemies we'll face before getting back home.'"

    "But can we trust her?' This simple question from B'Elanna quieted the room. Obviously, this was the question everyone wanted to ask.

    "I took a deep breath to steady myself before speaking. 'Yes, I think so. In fact, I'm willing to lay my life on the line to vouch for her sincerity and willingness to work together.'"

    "Be careful about promises that you can't keep,' fumed Seska."

    "I'll keep that in mind,' I returned to her, my words cold and sharp as icicles. 'But for now, let's try to play nice and earn our keep. Tuvok will be here shortly to fill you in on living arrangements and duty rosters. I've got to go talk to the captain again and hopefully I can give you some more definite news about our status after that.'"

    "You better not be betraying us, Chakotay,' Seska hissed. 'And if I were you, I'd always been watching my back.'"

    "From her... or you?' I asked frigidly. The others seemed to understand the situation - even B'Elanna had calmed somewhat. But I sensed that there would always be problems with Seska.

    "I signaled the doors to open and my timing had been perfect - Tuvok was within a few paces from the entrance to the cargo bay. The electricity in the air was palpable as he entered the room. If I had thought my time with the Maquis had been tough, I knew his would be tougher. But I also knew that his Vulcan logic could quell Maquis illogic.

    "Next stop - your mother's ready room again. As I began walking towards the turbolift, I was surprised that neither of the security crew posted by the mess hall doors escorted me. Was this a good sign... or just a last gasp of freedom before she locked me up?

    "When I got to the bridge, your mom was talking with Harry. She looked up from his station when she saw me and hurried down to the main level. 'Well, how did it go? Are your crew in agreement to working with us?'"

    "I...I think so,' I muttered nervously. 'A couple of them have some reservations, but I'm hoping that they'll be able to adjust given time.'"

    "Good - I'm glad to hear that, because there is much that we have to do to get Voyager back into good working shape.' We had come to the doors to her ready room and she buzzed them open. 'I'm afraid we're going to be here in the Delta Quadrant for a very long time and I'd like to build up some camaraderie as soon as possible. Oh, realistically I know that it will take awhile, but I have something to discuss with you that I hope will make it easier for them... and for you and me.'"

    "She signaled me to follow her onto the upper level in her office, where a sofa sat underneath the long expanse of windows. She moved to a low round table in front of it, where a tray with a coffee services and two cups and saucers sat. 'Do you drink coffee, Mr. Chakotay? I can't live without it and I would hope that we can share this little addiction of mine.' I nodded my head in the affirmative. 'Good - we'll have some now, if you don't mind. Cream? Sugar?'"

    "Uh... sugar, please,' I answered. She measured a teaspoon into the cup and she looked up at me. Noting another nod from me, she added another spoonful.

    "She handed my the cup and waved her hand across the sofa. 'Please... sit. It might be the last time for quite awhile for either of us.' She poured a cup of the dark, aromatic liquid for herself and saw me watching her. 'I drink mine just plain black - that's the way my father drank it and he's the one who introduced me to this horrible habit; I was only fourteen at the time.'"

    "She sat down, pulling her legs up onto the area of the sofa between us, stretching herself into a casual sprawl. Before I could speak, she did. 'Now, Mr. Chakotay, it seems as if I have a problem that I think you can help me with. In fact, it would probably be beneficial to integrating our crews and show solidarity between the two of us.' Now this wasn't the scenario I had envisioned taking place right now - how could my being her prisoner show accord between the two of us? What sort of game was she playing?

    "I decided to try to preempt any action from her. I put down my coffee cup and stood at attention. 'Captain Janeway, if you wish to incarcerate any of my crew, I'm offering myself in their place. I'm the one whom you really wanted - just promise me that you'll make every effort to get them back to Alpha Quadrant and see to it that they are dealt with fairly. After all, all of them have done monumental jobs in defending us from the Kazon and...'

    "She laughed and cut off my glorious presumption of self-sacrifice. 'Chakotay, sit down. I told you earlier that I wanted all of us to work together. You have lost people in key positions on your ship and so have we. I would like to assess the capabilities of each of your crew members and place them in some of these vacant positions, including the possibility of replacing some of Voyager's deceased senior officers.'"

    "I swallowed and sat down, watching as she refilled her cup, waiting to hear where she was going with all of this. She took a long sip from her cup and placed it onto the table then leaned towards me. 'Mr. Chakotay, I lost a friend and colleague standing right by my side when that displacement wave hit, a person who already had proven to be a partner in this ship's operations. That person was Commander Cavit, my first officer. Now a ship of this size, one that needs a rather large manifest, needs a good first officer; and a ship's captain needs a person who can act as a personal counselor and confidant. While our political philosophies are poles apart, I have a feeling that you could fill that role for me. I need someone who won't hold back when I need to have insight; to spar with when it comes to risky decisions; and I need someone to be there when I need consoling, a cushion in the bad times. The bottom line is that I believe both crews could learn to respect you in this station and I can't think of anyone else I would want in that position.'"

    "Your mother's words stunned me into silence. I wondered if she was just playing some sort of cruel trick on me, like a cat playing with a mouse before he delivers the fatal blow. Finally I found my voice. 'I... I don't know what to say, Captain.'"

    "You could say yes,' she smiled."

    "What about Tuvok? I thought that you and he...'"

    "She waved off my words. 'No, no; although he and I go a long way back together, Tuvok would serve us best by remaining in the position of tactical officer and head of security. His knowledge of and expertise with weaponry is legendary in Starfleet. And he would not be left out of the loop entirely - he would be next in the chain of command after you. Besides, I've already discussed this with him. While he isn't one-hundred percent behind my asking you to fill the position, he firmly told me that he did not care for that type of responsibility - after all, the first officer has to deal with the daily problems of the crew, crew assignments... you, know, work for someone with people skills. And I think you would agree with me that dealing with people problems is not one of a Vulcan's strong points.'"

    "I was still flummoxed. Here I'd come into her office, fully ready to face a long, long time in the brig... and she was offering me her second-in-command! There had to be a catch...

    "And there was, as she told me next. 'However, I would expect you to don the Starfleet uniform... to be a provisional Starfleet officer. Likewise, I expect your crew to wear Starfleet uniforms. After all, this is a Starfleet vessel and even out here in the Delta Quadrant, away from any communication with either Starfleet or the Federation, I still expect all of us to maintain Starfleet discipline, following their rules and regulations.'" "How about the prime directive?' I asked 'It seems that we have broken that number one rule big time already.'"

    "Sadly, yes,' she agreed. 'And I'm sure there will be other times, too, when we have to either bend or break some of those rules. But we can do our best to abide by them - that's where you and I must be exemplary in our actions.'"

        And we did try hard to maintain those regulations, Kathryn. But some were meant to be broken, and we broke them. Every day I prayed for forgiveness for what we were doing, only to succumb to the temptations, those primal urges, again and again. We were always discreet - although I do think Tuvok had his suspicions and secretly delighted in 'interrupting' us at the most inopportune moments. But the Delta Quadrant was full of unknowns, ourselves included, and rules had to be broken in order to survive.

    "Your mom walked over to her desk, behind it this time. She leaned down and pulled out a covered container. 'Here - I think I got the measurements right.'"

    "I took the lid off and there, folded neatly, lay a Starfleet uniform of red and black. I pulled it out and held it up in front of me."

    "It looks good. Not as good as that leather you're in right now,' she said with a little twist of a smile. 'But it is... you. And here...' She handed me a smaller box and I opened it. There, inside, was a commander's insignia, designed in the style of the Maquis. 'That's so we know that you and I will always know that we can coexist.'"

    "I was overwhelmed. Here was a woman who should be my sworn enemy and I hers. But now, we talked of cooperation, of our crews working and living together. Earlier distrust gave way to the growing knowledge that we would and could work together, and that together we would bring our crews home. 'Why have you done this?' I asked."

    "Because I trust you, Chakotay. And I feel that you trust me, too.' She walked to the front of the desk and took the insignia pin from me and attached it to the collar of the uniform shirt. 'I remember a quote from long ago - I think it was by the early twentieth century engineer and industrialist, Henry Ford. He once said, Coming together is a beginning; keeping it together is progress; and working together is success. I think we can make this arrangement work, Chakotay; I think that we can make a success of it - Commander.'"

        And succeed we did, Kathryn - we got Voyager and most of her crew as well as most of the Val Jean's original group back. The journey wasn't perfect; it wasn't without its ups and downs, its sorrows and disappointments. It took us seven long years to make it back to the Alpha Quadrant, losing some good people along the way. There were several times when we almost lost each other, too. But we always worked together. As I came to accept your intelligence and your wit, your humor and your flaws, I fell in love with you, totally and completely. I fell in love with you from almost that very first moment on Voyager's bridge, when you looked at me, not with hatred for an enemy, but with excitement and fire - with the promise of emotions neither of us knew possible. So here we are, more than twenty years later, and we continue with the same awe of discovering each other anew every day, of having our love grow in ways we never knew existed.

    "It was shortly after all of this happened that your mother, Voyager's captain, asked me for my stick - but that's another story for another time.

    And now... why don't you go along with whatever you were doing before I interrupted? I think your mom and I have a bit of... er... um... some unfinished business to attend to."


    ~ the end ~

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