Community Property – Chapter 3

Community Property

by mizvoy

Part 3.1 Desperate Measures

Jan. 30, 2380–Two weeks after leaving DS9
Hankeel’s tactical shuttle, Redmon

Kathryn Janeway was pleased with the mission’s early success. After just two weeks of work, Hankeel’s small fleet had apprehended a dozen smugglers and had filled an entire cargo bay with contraband. The trade lanes were already safer, and the transport companies were increasing their deliveries on a daily basis. However, Janeway was never one to rest on her laurels and was anxious to turn her attention to the rest of the problem—the discovery and elimination of the smugglers’ Badlands base.

Each captured vessel had been impounded and its computer carefully studied for any evidence of having traveled through the Badlands. Computer cores were hacked and the ships’ hulls put under a microscope, but none had turned up any evidence of having traveled in the Badlands’ environment.

“Perhaps those smugglers are busy ferrying drugs into Cardassian space,” Tuvok suggested, “and all we’ve apprehended are from smaller operations.”

Janeway admitted that he might have a point. The Badlands’ smugglers might focus on Cardassian space and travel in Federation space on an intermittent basis. They were discussing their next move when Captain O’Dell brought them good news.

“We confiscated a ship last night that had recently traveled inside the Badlands,” she announced. “We’re accessing its navigational history to see if we can find the base’s coordinates.”

Unfortunately, no coordinates were found, but extrapolating their recent point of egress from the Badlands brought them close to the Ketracel White region from the scans taken during the Dominion War. All they needed to do was confirm the base’s location and get an idea of the level of defense they had erected around it. Janeway was determined to do that reconnaissance herself.

Captain O’Dell had not been excited about sending the admiral into the Badlands, but she had grudgingly given in after a series of escalating skirmishes. The discussion had been heated, but Janeway was convinced that she and Tuvok were best suited for the task. In spite of her reservations, Captain O’Dell had finally surrendered and let the admiral have her way. Janeway not only outranked her, she had a good point.

The Redmon spent three days carefully approaching the base’s suspected location, using plasma storms to shield their presence from the smugglers. Their pilot, Lieutenant Ryan Grey, proved to be a careful yet brilliant pilot in the same class as Tom Paris. When they located evidence of the Dominion’s security net, they found a convenient hiding spot and located the base right where they thought they might find it—on a planet in a pocket of calm space. It was protected by the weak sensor net; the smugglers obviously believed the Badlands were enough protection and hadn’t bothered to upgrade their defenses.

Redmon kept a respectful distance and scanned the area as quickly as possible. However, their luck was not going to hold. Janeway was elated that their mission was successful and was already looking forward to returning and capturing the base.

Just as they were finishing their primary scan, Tuvok picked up a deadly Restaii fighter approaching from the distance, apparently returning to base from a delivery in Cardassian space. When the fighter changed course to intercept them, they knew they were in trouble. To make matters worse, Tuvok reported that a second fighter was powering up on the planet’s surface.

Janeway’s sense of triumph turned to alarm.

“We’d better get the hell out of here,” she ordered, nodding toward a particularly active plasma storm on the view screen. “I’d say we’d be better off to go through that storm than around it.”

“I agree,” Ryan said as he turned to the helm. “Laying in a direct course and engaging at full impulse.”

“Activate shields when you feel we need to do so, Tuvok,” Janeway added as she settled into the engineering station and began monitoring the warp drive and inertial dampeners. “And, I suppose you have a full set of evasive maneuvers at the ready, Lieutenant?”

“Yes, ma’am.” In the next few minutes, Ryan pulled every trick he knew in his effort to escape, but they soon realized that their pursuers were not going to be satisfied with simply chasing them away from the base; those fighters were hell-bent to destroy Redmon, and unless the admiral came up with a miracle, their lives hung in the balance.

“We knew from the first that we’d have to come into the Badlands to find the smugglers’ main base,” Kathryn Janeway shouted as the Flyer wove its way through the dangerous, swirling storms of the Badlands and dodged volleys of phaser fire from the deadly Restaii fighters that were pursuing them. “But I didn’t imagine that we’d end up fighting for our lives.”

Tuvok was too busy firing volleys at their pursuers to reply, and Ryan was completely focused on executing a series of evasive maneuvers at the helm. Janeway sat at the engineering console, struggling to keep the engines working and the shields powered. It was becoming obvious that they were not going to survive.

Tuvok said, “They do not intend to let us report their location.”

“You may be right,” Janeway replied through gritted teeth, “but I’ll be damned if we don’t complete our mission.”

Ryan’s face showed the strain of his constant effort to evade their pursuers. “Any suggestions?”

“I’m working on it,” she answered, taking precious time away from her engineering duties to scan the region for a likely place to leave behind a message buoy.

“Initiating evasive maneuver delta-four,” the lieutenant warned as the blue flash of phaser fire barely missed the hull and filled the cabin with blinding light. The ship strained to follow the helm, and, for a moment, Janeway feared that they might lose a nacelle in the process. When the shuttle righted itself, Ryan said, “They lost some ground that time.”

“Why didn’t we know the location of this abandoned facility?” Janeway wondered out loud as she worked. “Didn’t Starfleet search the Badlands in case there was a Ketracel White plant in operation?”

“In hindsight, the location does seem obvious,” agreed Tuvok, who was busy watching the fluctuating strength of the shields and returning fire whenever the fighters came into range. “But this is the worst part of an already dangerous region, Admiral, and the Dominion is in the Gamma Qaudrant.”

“The facility wasn’t operational,” Ryan pointed out. “The Dominion started building it pretty late in the war, I’d think, and somebody would have had to come in here to find it—there is no other way—and that is a dangerous proposition.”

Janeway sighed, thinking back to her first visit to this volatile hellhole, the trip that had resulting in Voyager’s being stranded in the Delta Quadrant. She smiled to think that her second visit was an even bigger disaster than the first had been. She took cold comfort in knowing that she probably wouldn’t have to worry about what would happen to her on a third visit.

“No wonder the smugglers use small powerful ships,” she said as their shuttle brushed a stray tendril of a plasma storm and lurched heavily to port. “These Restaii fighters are able to weave their way through these storms like a spider crossing its web.”

Tuvok nodded. “They can, and the Redmon is also able to navigate here, but the Hankeel is much too large and slow. If we intend to neutralize their base, we’ll have to modify our tactics and utilize several smaller, more maneuverable ships, perhaps Defiant-class vessels.”

“That would work,” she agreed, pausing to imagine the best way to approach the problem. “I’d say we should do just that when the time comes.”

“You mean if we ever get out of here in one piece,” the pilot replied in frustration, his face drenched in sweat. “Hold on. I’m looping back over that last storm so I can get us a little more maneuvering room.”

Janeway felt her stomach heave as the inertial dampeners lagged behind the radical moves of the pilot’s unpredictable course. His reckless backward loop gave them a few precious moments of quiet flight, during which time all three officers checked their panels and made adjustments against the moment that their pursuers reacted to their new vector and had them in their sites once again.

She thought back with satisfaction on how much work they’d accomplished in the two short weeks since she’d arrived in the area. The informant’s data had been flawless and had tipped them off to the most destabilizing element in the region. Now, if they stayed in one piece long enough to pass on the coordinates, Starfleet could neutralize the threat in a matter of days. Her only regret was that she probably wouldn’t be alive to see it happen.

“I’m preparing a message beacon that has the base’s coordinates and a few suggestions for how to attack it,” she decided, rapidly downloading the information and encrypting it into an inactive beacon that would power up in forty-eight hours. The Hankeel should realize, by then, that the Redmon had run into trouble as it would be twelve hours late in returning to the ship. “I’m going to eject the beacon with several large chunks of debris.”

“Good idea,” Tuvok agreed. “I suggest dropping it near the storm just ahead.” He turned to the pilot, “If you get just a bit too close to the plasma, they may think the buoy is part of the ship that has been blown free.”

“If you say so, sir.” Ryan plotted a course and hoped they survived the maneuver.

Janeway programmed the beacon’s delayed start. “Give me three minutes.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Ryan replied, using the short range sensors to find a storm with long tendrils of plasma that would serve their purpose.

“Ready,” Janeway announced. The ship shuddered, the power fluctuating as the plasma wrapped itself around the port nacelle, and then it leveled out, reeling from the storm’s power. Janeway jettisoned the beacon and debris just as Ryan steered the ship away from the storm at full impulse.

“They do not seem to have picked up the presence of the beacon,” Tuvok announced a few moments later. “I would say that our effort was a success.”

“Well, that’s good to know, although it means the ships are still after us.” Janeway clung to a shred of hope. “Let’s hope that some of Hankeel’s people will be in here searching for us when the beacon activates.”

Tuvok sat up straight at his console. “I’m picking up another fighter, Admiral, rapidly approaching from the direction of the smugglers’ base.”

“Damn. As if two weren’t enough to do the job,” the pilot muttered as he increased speed and then let out a long string of curses as the shuttle bucked beneath their feet from a direct hit. “Admiral, unless you can perform miracles, I don’t how we’re going to get out of this situation in one piece.”

“There has to be a way.” Janeway narrowed her eyes and gave Tuvok a look that he had learned to dread over the years. “What if we find a calm spot, somewhere that we can generate a warp field?”

Ryan turned to stare at her. “Go to warp in the midst of a plasma storm field? Is that even possible?”

“It’s our only chance.” Janeway was already light years ahead of him. “We need to pick a vector, go to warp, and hope we live to tell about it.” She turned to Tuvok. “Toward or away from Federation space?”

The Vulcan simply stared at her. “Does it really matter?”

“They would expect us to go toward home,” she continued, barely hearing him. “Let’s head deeper into the Badlands, instead.”

“You think we can punch our way through?” Tuvok’s eyebrow shot up. “These are the most ferocious storms I’ve ever experienced. Chances are high that the storms will knock us out of warp and right into a storm.”

“We can only bring them trouble if they let us live, Tuvok. They aren’t going to let us sneak away and tell our friends about that facility. They won’t take us prisoner, and they won’t quit chasing us until we’re dead.” She gave him a determined look. “It’s all or nothing, and, honestly, I’d just as soon die with my boots on than be tortured to death by smugglers.”

“I’m with you on that one,” Ryan answered.

The Vulcan shook his head slightly and turned to his sensors. It was clear that the steadily increasing phaser fire would destroy their shields, and there was no way that even the best pilot could evade three fighters. Every phaser hit and brush with the storms weakened their shields, and, once the shields failed, one well-placed phaser strike would reduce the shuttle to dust.

“There might be a clear spot along this vector,” Tuvok said at last, giving in to the admiral’s suggestion. “If we can swing around behind this storm, we can slow down long enough on the far side to generate a warp field before the fighters can catch up with us. Lieutenant, I’m forwarding a new heading to the helm.”

“I have it,” Ryan replied, tapping it in. “This vector will take us away from the rendezvous point with the Hankeel.”

“And right through the densest part of the storms,” Janeway agreed, looking up at the Vulcan for confirmation.

“It is the least likely vector for us to use in our attempted escape, giving us the added element of surprise. If we survive, we can hope that the Hankeel will pick up evidence of our escape and find us before the smugglers do.”

“How will they do that?” the lieutenant wondered. “We didn’t tell them our plans on the beacon, did we?”

“We should leave a distinctive plasma trail,” replied Janeway, her decision made. “Let’s do it.” She glanced at the pilot. “I can give you warp one for about thirty seconds, maybe a few seconds more. We can hope that it takes us out of the Badlands and into clear space on the far side.”

“Here we go.” Ryan’s voice was a whisper. The ship lurched around the plasma storm and spiraled toward a small area of calm space.

Tuvok gripped the console as two powerful volleys from the fighters brushed their shields and sent a shower of sparks from a console to his left. “Our maneuver has surprised the fighters. It will take them a couple of minutes to catch up with us.”

“Perfect. Dropping shields and using all available power to power up the warp drive,” Janeway reported.

“Course laid in, Admiral. Ready to engage at warp one.”

Janeway brought the warp drive online, struggling to keep it from redlining. She looked up, her eyes narrowed with determination. “All right, Lieutenant. Do it.”

“Here goes nothing,” Ryan muttered as he engaged the warp engine.

The Redmon flashed into the distance, leaving its shocked pursuers staring at empty space.

Then one of the fighters powered up its warp drive.

Part 3.2 Bad News
Feb. 9, 2380–Ten days later
The Janeway Farm, Indiana

“Go away!” Gretchen Janeway was locked up in her home and didn’t want company. She’d shut down the chime of the communication unit and had put a pillow over her head hours earlier. Now her visitor had resorted to pounding a fist on the door. “Go away and leave me alone!”
Earlier that day, and for the third time in her adult life, Gretchen had opened the front door to find a Starfleet admiral and chaplain waiting to speak with her, their eyes filled with sadness. She’d been tempted to kick them off of her property without stopping for an apology, but her solid upbringing had kicked in. She couldn’t be rude, but she could block the door and refuse to let them into her house.
“What’s happened?” she demanded, gripping the doorjamb for all she was worth. “Has she been killed?”
“If we could come inside,” the admiral replied, starting toward the door, only to come to a stop when he realized she wasn’t budging. He stepped back a bit and glanced at the neighboring houses. “We have a private message for you.”
“You can just tell me right here and now,” she replied, narrowing her eyes. “I assume everyone else will know what’s happened soon enough, once you finish informing the ‘next of kin.'”
At those words, the chaplain took charge, his voice soft with sympathy as he handed her a small chip. “You might want to hear this sitting down, Mrs. Janeway.”
“Frankly, I don’t want to hear anything you have to say, whether I’m sitting or standing. What I want to do is slam this door in your face, Commander, and go on with my life.” They just stared at her. “Let’s get this over with. Please.”
Through the rushing of blood through her ears, she heard “Badlands” and “disappeared without a trace” and shook her head in disbelief, as if she were experiencing “déjà vu all over again,” to quote Phoebe. One of the men handed her an isolinear chip that she took without thinking, but then she cut them off.
“Stop! Stop!” She held up a hand. “This can’t happen to Kathryn twice, gentlemen. You’re a decade late with old news.”
“Mrs. Janeway,” the chaplain said, reaching toward her, his eyes sorrowful. “I know it’s hard to accept, especially after Voyager’s disappearance in the same region a few years back, but—”
“I’ve listened to what you have to say.” She pulled back from his touch, closing the door until she was looking at them through a narrow slit. “Please leave.”
“Is there anything we can do?” the admiral wondered, shifting to see her eye through the tiny crack in the door. “Is there anyone else that we should contact? Is there someone, a friend, a relative, that you would like to have here with you?”
“Her sister, I suppose, though she won’t believe you, either.” The door clicked shut, and Gretchen sagged against it. “Who would believe it?”
She stood there for a while, trying to gather her thoughts, and then she had dragged herself up the stairs to her bedroom where she collapsed on the bed and stared at the ceiling, too shocked to think, or feel, or cry.
Now, she had no idea how much time later, she made her way toward the cacophony at the door, amazed to see that it had grown dark outside. According to the clock in the foyer, nearly six hours had passed since the admiral and chaplain had retreated. She was glad that she’d left the dog in the back yard and realized that he must be cold and hungry. The fact that he wasn’t barking told her that her visitor must be someone he was familiar with.
“Gretchen!” The pounding paused and a face peered through the window beside the door. “Let me in! Gretchen!”
“Martha?” When Gretchen pulled open the door, she was assaulted by her sister-in-law and a very happy, hungry dog. “Zeus! Down!”
“Oh, darling, isn’t it awful?” Martha cried, throwing her arms around her. “I came as soon as I heard about it on the Fednews.”
“Zeus! Down!” Gretchen pulled the dog away from the older woman, using his collar to walk him toward the back of the house. “He won’t settle down until he’s had his supper.”
Martha trailed along behind, talking non-stop. “When I heard the news about Katie, I thought it must be an anniversary story about Voyager. I mean, honestly, Gretchen, what are the chances of this happening twice? In the same area of space?
“I was at the club playing bridge with the girls and was just about to score a slam on Marcella and Regina, when Henry Markus came bursting in. You remember Henry, don’t you? He was the captain of the Sarasota back when Eddie was the operations officer, and I swear he was sweet on me, although I never gave him the time of day.
“Well, anyway, Henry comes in and says, ‘Damned, if that Janeway woman hasn’t gone and done it again. Why in God’s name did Starfleet let her near the Badlands after what happened before?’ At that, we all laid down our cards and listened to the news, and that’s when I knew I realized that I just had to come, darling, and be with you at this time of crisis. What’s a slam when your family needs you?”
“Martha, please.” Gretchen had put Zeus at “sit” and was busily fixing his dinner. “If you’d just be quiet for a moment and let me feed this poor animal, we can talk this over without the barking.”
“What have you heard, Gretchen? What did they tell you?” She perched on a kitchen chair, anxious for the details.
“Just that she had gone missing.” She put the dish of dog food on the floor and watched the lab begin to eat with his usual gusto. “I’m afraid I didn’t ask for any details.”
“Well, that’s perfectly understandable. After such a shock, you could hardly think straight, much less ask cogent questions. I can’t believe they left you here alone. Where’s Phoebe? Have you called her?”
Gretchen wrung her hands, suddenly sick at her stomach as the first tears of the day filled her eyes. “No, I haven’t called her. Oh, Martha, what if she heard about this on the Fednews? How could I not call her right away?”
“They probably found her before it was released, honey. Come on. We’ll call her now.” Martha was instantly at her side, taking her sister-in-law’s weight on her shoulders as they walked toward the study. “I just heard the news an hour ago, so we might not be too late. Maybe she hasn’t heard anything yet. Is she at home?”
“I think she’s visiting friends who live on one of the lunar colonies, but I can’t remember their names or which colony, either.”
“It doesn’t matter, darling, because we can use her mobile device.” Martha settled her at the desk and pulled up a chair to sit beside her. “I assume her number is in the communications memory.”
Gretchen stared at the blank screen, trying to imagine what she would say and how she would react when she saw Phoebe’s face. She was trembling when she took Martha’s hand. “Wait, Martha, give me a minute to collect my thoughts. I can’t tell her when I’m in this state, not over the comm. I haven’t even come to terms with it myself.”
“Do you want me to do it for you? I will, you know, if it’s too much.”
Through her tears, Gretchen took in her sister-in-law’s sympathetic face and realized that Martha had always been there when the family needed her, with her irritating habits on full display, of course, but she was there. Martha had been the first person to comfort her when her husband and Kathryn’s fiancé had been killed, and she’d been a tireless cheerleader when Voyager had gone missing, exhorting her to keep the faith until they knew for sure that Kathryn was really gone. She’d done all this and more, in spite of her own grief and with a running dialogue of inanity that filled the silence with much-needed distraction.
“Oh, Martha, what am I going to do?”
“Let’s not panic yet.” She pulled the sobbing woman into her arms and let her cry while she gently patted her back. “I was raised in a Starfleet family, remember? And we were always told not to give up as long as there was one shred of hope. The report said the she was lost. To me, that just means that they have no conclusive proof of what happened to her, and that means she might still be in one piece somewhere, just like she was on Voyager.”
“But it sounds like they have given up, Martha. It sounds like they’ve stopped looking for her.”
“Did they tell you they’ve given up?” Martha stared at her. “Did they? Think!”
“No.” Gretchen shook her head. “They didn’t say they’d given up, but, then, I didn’t really give them a chance to say anything.”
“If they didn’t say it, then maybe they haven’t. They usually give people some preliminary information about the situation. Did they give you a report?”
“A report?” Gretchen pulled back to think, confused. “About what happened?”
“Maybe on an isolinear chip?”
“Oh!” She reached into her pocket and pulled out a thin data storage device. “They gave me this.”
“Let’s look at it.”
“Oh, I don’t know if I can.”
At her sister-in-law’s hesitation, Martha wilted a bit, realizing that the report might include difficult details that would be hard to face just yet. “If you can’t bear it, I can watch it alone and give you the highlights later.”
“No,” Gretchen took a deep breath. “I’ll watch with you. I can handle it if you’re here with me.”
“Good for you.” The older woman slipped the chip into the reader while she kept up a constant flow of chatter. “Don’t be surprised if it’s so sanitized that they say something like ‘we looked and looked for her ship to no avail.’ When Uncle Ian was lost in the Klingon War, all they told Aunt Elsie was that he was somewhere in the woods on Hallon V. They added a few scans that looked like a drunk spider’s web and a couple of poor sods who reported that ‘he was there one minute, gone the next.’
“Aunt Elsie was just about ready to rip two layers of skin off of the idiot who sent her that report, let me tell you, but then Uncle Ian walked out of those woods on Hallon V and did it for her.” The familiar blue Starfleet screen came up. She reached over and took Gretchen’s hand. “Here we go.”
They listened as Captain O’Dell of a starship called Hankeel reported that they had found a message buoy when Kathryn’s shuttle had failed to check in as required. Kathryn had reported that her shuttle was under attack and suggested the best method for neutralizing the smuggler’s operation. She indicated that several powerful Restaii fighters were pursuing them. Hankeel had followed through on her suggestion and had subdued the smugglers with minimal fuss. During and after the operation, numerous ships had scoured the area for any sign of Kathryn’s shuttle, but found no evidence of its destruction or its location. Since the ship was out-numbered and in a deadly region of space, Starfleet was considering the shuttle “lost in action.”
O’Dell concluded, “In light of the volatility of the Badlands region and the relatively small size of the Redmon, we think any remaining debris was probably obliterated in the plasma storms that plague the region.”
“That’ll do,” Martha huffed, shutting off the playback. “They’re giving up on the search too soon, the idiots.”
“How long is long enough?”
“They looked during and after the raid, she said. But the raid was more important to them than finding Kathryn’s shuttle, don’t doubt that. The time spent actually looking had to relatively short.” She sat back in the chair, her blue eyes narrowed. “Where should we start?”
“Start with what, Martha? Are you thinking of borrowing a Starfleet vessel and taking over the search yourself?”
With a wicked smile, she answered, “More or less. I was actually thinking about getting a few cold, hard facts, and I think Owen Paris is the person most likely to help us. Katie was his protégée years ago, and she brought his son home in one piece. He owes us one.”
Gretchen sat perfectly still, too surprised by Martha’s words to move, but then she nodded, recognizing in her husband’s sister the same fearless tenacity that had made her daughter, and all Janeways, such formidable Starfleet officers.
“I have Owen’s contact information in my address book,” she replied, pulling up the appropriate page. But before the information appeared, they heard Zeus erupt in his usual “welcome home” jubilation at the front door.
“Mom! Mom, where are you?”
“Phoebe. We forgot to call her,” Gretchen breathed, tears filling her eyes. “How will I tell her about Kathryn?”
Martha patted her hand. “She’s here because she already knows. Trust me.”
Zeus bounded into the room just before Phoebe appeared. Behind her hovered a tall, fair-haired young man.
“Mom, I’m here about Katie.” At the sound of Gretchen’s half-sob, Phoebe quickly circled the desk and put her arms around her mother, letting her cry on her shoulder. She looked up and said, “Hi, Aunt Martha. You remember Tom Paris.”
Martha’s face lit up. “That’s who you are! Owen’s son!” She approached him to shake his hand. “I’m Martha Janeway O’Reilly. I first met your parents decades ago.” She looked up at him and took his chin in her hand, moving his head to the right and left as she examined his face. “Thank God you got your mother’s looks.”
“Thanks, I think.” Tom laughed. “Nice to meet you, too.”
“We were just about to call your father and complain about this so-called ‘search’ for Katie’s ship.”
“Great minds think alike, I guess,” Phoebe smiled, pulling away from her mom, but leaving an arm around her shoulders. “You must’ve just read that same pitiful excuse of a report they gave me.”
“What a joke,” Tom interrupted. He’d knelt down to pet Zeus, who was now on his back enjoying a tummy scratch.
“I just happened to be visiting a Tom’s sister, Amy, when the ‘dynamic duo’ from Starfleet showed up,” Phoebe explained. “Amy had me call Tom.”
“And I called my dad.” Tom stood up. “He’s just as unhappy as we are with the brevity of the search. He says Starfleet is ‘satisfied with the findings,’ but he isn’t, and he wants to use some non-Starfleet personnel to continue the search.”
“Who would that be?” Gretchen asked.
“Some of Voyager’s crew who live in the region.”
“They’d help us?”
“Yes, ma’am, they’d do anything for Admiral Janeway. Dad’s going to get copies of the reports and scans from the search, and then we’ll send the data to our friends in the region so they can pick up the search where Starfleet left off. He said he should have the information in a couple of days.”
Martha nodded. “Who, exactly, are we talking about out there?”
“The former Maquis who served with Katie, of course,” Phoebe answered.
Gretchen took Tom’s arm and looked up at him with hope in her eyes. “Do you think there is a chance that she’s still alive?”
“I think there is more than just a chance.”
Martha interrupted. “And who, specifically, are you sending to look for her?”
“I thought maybe Chakotay. He works in that area and would be willing to search for them, I’m sure,” Tom answered.
“Chakotay? That adorable first officer from Voyager?” Martha’s eyes lit up with excitement. “How romantic!”
“You read too many romance novels,” Gretchen said, rolling her eyes.
“Novels have nothing to do with it,” the older woman insisted, giving Phoebe a quick wink. “It’s just that I recognize a good story when I hear one.”
Part 3.3 Determination

Feb. 11, 2380–Two days later (Twelve days after Redmon’s disappearance)

The Fednews had been covering Starfleet’s successful Badland’s raid on the maraji crystal processing lab for the last three days, showing pictures of the smoking remains of the facility and the mug shots of over a dozen smugglers who had been captured in the process. Fednews was known to edit their coverage depending on the area of space that was receiving the news, and Chakotay heard a great deal about the success of the mission and the elimination of the threat to navigation and very little about Starfleet vessels or personnel who had been involved in the mission. There was a brief mention that Admiral Kathryn Janeway had discovered the location of the lab and then had gone missing, but nothing more definite about her status was forthcoming.

Chakotay didn’t think much of that omission until Hankeel’s Captain O’Dell was interviewed as the ranking officer instead of Admiral Janeway. He worried about what they weren’t saying—what had happened to the admiral in charge, and the reporters’ vague references to minimal Starfleet casualties made his blood run cold. Chakotay thought he might learn more specific information if he contacted someone on Earth. He decided that at first light, he would contact someone still in Starfleet and ask a few discreet questions.

His alarm had just gone off when he heard the distinctive chime of a priority message arriving on his computer. He threw on a robe and sat down at the computer, shocked to see that the message was from Seven of Nine. They hadn’t spoken to each other in over a year, and when her face appeared on the screen, he found it impossible to form a proper greeting. Not only was he surprised that she had contacted him, his heart was gripped by an ice-cold fist of fear.

This couldn’t be good news.

“Chakotay?” she asked, alarmed at the look of shock on his face. “I realize that it’s early morning on Trebus, but I felt it was important that we talk as soon as possible.”

“When you want to talk, it’s important.” Chakotay swallowed hard as a familiar flare of anger raced through him. “A year ago, when I wanted to talk to you, you wouldn’t give me the time of day.”

She blushed and looked away. “I need to apologize for my behavior. When I terminated our relationship, I was unable to find a way to explain to you how I felt. I can see now that I acted in a very selfish and immature fashion. I should have tried to make you understand instead of hiding from you like a child. I hope that we can someday regain some fraction of our friendship.”

He was about to tell her that they had never been friends and that they probably never would be, but he suddenly found that it didn’t really matter. Except for his anger at the way she’d left him, he felt no real emotion at seeing her again. Instead, he said, “Maybe someday we can.”

“However, this is not the reason I’ve contacted you.”

“No, you wouldn’t call me just to apologize, not at this hour. Something has happened to the admiral, hasn’t it?”

“I’m afraid so. I asked the others to let me inform you personally, before you heard the details over the news channels. The three of us have been friends for a long time.” She looked away again, took a deep breath, and then cleared her throat. “You have heard the reports of the recent mission in the Badlands?”

“It’s all anyone is talking about around here.”

“Then you have heard that Admiral Janeway is missing. She and two other officers, Tuvok and a pilot by the name of Ryan Gray, did not return from a reconnaissance mission that was done prior to the capture of the processing station.”

“Missing?” He repeated the word in amazement. He tried to imagine how an admiral could have gone missing before the facility was raided. “They’re missing?”

“That’s what Starfleet is telling the family. They disappeared somewhere near the most volatile area of the Badlands.”

“Is it possible that the smugglers kidnapped them?”

“We don’t think so. When the admiral’s ship located the smugglers’ base, they were attacked by several Restaii fighters and were caught in a running battle with at least two other ships.”

“Let me guess. They were in a shuttle. In the Badlands.” He shook his head in amazement.

“They were in the Hankeel’s version of the Delta Flyer, a tactical vessel called the Redmon. We don’t know why the smugglers discovered them, but we know that they came after them aggressively.”

“Of course, they did. There weren’t about to let a Starfleet vessel return and report on their location.”

“At some point during the battle, the Redmon disappeared and is presumed lost.” She told him about the beacon that had contained the smugglers’ coordinates, jettisoned with a delayed activation program. “That is all the debris they found.”

He felt slightly dizzy and cradled his head in his hand. “Just that much? They haven’t found evidence of the ship’s destruction? No larger field of debris?”

“No debris so far.”

“That’s why they’re listed as missing and not killed?”

“Yes. Starfleet hasn’t been able to confirm or deny that the shuttle was destroyed, but it’s been nearly two weeks since they were last heard from–.” Seven looked miserable.

“Two weeks.” Chakotay sat back in his desk chair and let the facts sink in. Voyager’s top officers had been through so many close calls in their years together and had survived so many along the way that he’d stopped believing that any of them could be the victim of a disaster. “They searched the region around the message buoy’s location?”

“Yes, they did a scan when they recovered it, but the smugglers were already mounting a defense.”

“So they did a quick scan and found nothing.”

“Correct. They claim that any debris would have been obliterated by the severe storms and the battles that occurred in that region of the Badlands.”

“I guess that’s possible, but not really,” he chuckled, shaking his head. “The Maquis pilots used to call that area the ‘Worstlands.’ But, even so, I’d think there would be some sign of the ship, Seven. They just have to know what to look for.”

“I was hoping you’d say that.” She paused, obviously working up the courage to ask her next question. “Would it be possible for you to look for them?”

“I don’t know why you think I could find them if Starfleet couldn’t.”

“Because you know the Badlands better than they do,” Seven insisted. “And because you won’t give up until you find out what happened.”

He turned and looked out the window of his cabin with a sigh, knowing that Seven was probably right. He knew that Kathryn would never give up this quickly if a member of her crew had gone missing. In fact, she’d been adamant about searching for any missing member of the crew in the Delta Quadrant, refusing to leave a single person behind. “I guess I’ve probably earned some time off.”

“Is that a yes?” Seven asked, her face full of hope. “I can’t tell you how much this would mean to her family, Chakotay. They don’t want to believe that they’ve lost her again.”

“That’s a yes. I owe her and Tuvok that much and more.”

“Good! Later today, Starfleet will announce that they are officially listed as missing in action and presumed dead, but we’re hoping that you can find some definitive answers.”

“I just hope I find good news and not just debris.”

“Either way, we want to know for sure.” She looked away, her blue eyes glistening with tears. “If anyone could find a way to survive, it’s the admiral.”

“I agree.” He hoped she couldn’t see the tears that were burning in his eyes, as well. “You said that Admiral Paris was compiling information from the mission?”

“Yes. He’s obtaining as much information as he can.”

“Be sure he sends me those initial scans, the ones they took when they first found the message beacon. I’m guessing the jettisoned it at the last minute, and whatever happened next has to have happened nearby.”

“I will inform him of your request.”

Chakotay grew thoughtful. “I have some contacts in the region. Maybe someone picked up an anomalous reading that could give me some idea of where to look for the shuttle.”

“I should be forwarding the data in the next few hours. It will be a large amount of data.”

“I let the transport office know that it’s coming. We’ll be ready.”

“We’ll be waiting to hear from you, Chakotay. All of us will be. We still think of her as our captain, and we don’t want to lose her.”

“Yeah, I know the feeling.”

She paused, unsure of how to continue. “I know that at one time, you and the admiral were very close. I want you to know that she tried hard to convince me that I should communicate with you about our relationship. She never had anything but good things to say about you and was very upset when you left the way you did.”

He nodded, not trusting his voice enough to voice a reply.

“I’ll send the information right away.”

“Thanks, Seven. I promise to do my best to find the shuttle.”

“That’s always been good enough. I wish you the best of luck in your search.”

“I can’t promise any miracles.”

“Just find out what happened. That’s all we ask.”

Once Seven signed off, Chakotay tried to come to terms with what he’d learned. He tried to imagine what might have happened to the shuttle as it sped through the Badlands’ most treacherous region. Every possible outcome was bad, and so he decided to do something constructive. He decided, instead, to listen again to the messages that Janeway had sent him over the last year.

He had been disappointed to discover that the messages she’d sent to the Trebus Transport Company had been deleted from their system. The good news was that the three that she’d sent to him through his sister were still intact. In the first two, she talked to him about Voyager’s crew, informing him of their assignments and activities since his abrupt departure; she speculated about what he might be doing and quietly asked him to write her, ending each message with an apology for neglecting him during his brief marriage and divorce.

The last message was longer and had been sent just before she’d taken on the Badlands assignment. Her tone had been resigned, as if she despaired of his ever listening to message, and he felt sad because he’d been so obstinate about refusing to hear what she had to say.

“I know you’re angry with me,” she said, in the familiar deep tones he knew so well, “and I don’t blame you for that. It must’ve seemed to you that I took Seven’s side no matter what she did, no matter who was at fault, when the truth was that I was torn in two. I felt bad that she treated you with careless disregard, and I did everything I could to make her stand up and face you.

“I guess, after all we’d been through together, I didn’t believe the lines of communication would ever close between us, and I want you to know that I’m paying dearly for that mistake. I miss you, Chakotay, and I want to make amends for what I’ve done.” She took a deep breath, and then changed the subject.

“In the meantime, it seems I’m heading out toward your part of the galaxy. I know that transport ships are hardly able to face down drug smugglers and that you can’t afford to help us track down the ‘bad guys,’ but I could really use your insight into the region, especially in contacting individuals who might have some inside information–not to mention the danger zones I should avoid. I’ll let you contact me if you feel comfortable with that. If not, I’d still like to see you and catch up on what’s new in your life.

“I haven’t been the friend that you deserve, but I want to change that. I hope to hear from you soon, or better yet, I hope to see you while I’m in the area.”

When the message ended, Chakotay sat in front of the blank screen for a long time, thinking about what he could have done to help her survive her trip into the Badlands. There were some tricks that might have enabled her to find the facility while escaping detection, tricks that Tuvok hadn’t learned in his six months with the Maquis. He certainly could have given her some advice about avoiding that particular region of the Badlands.

He’d let her down.

Feeling morose, he replicated a large mug of coffee and went out onto his patio to watch the sunrise. He’d been a fool to ignore to her messages when they arrived. His refusal had been a petty and childish reaction to Janeway’s typically maternal approach to Seven’s adjustment problems. He should have expected her to react the way she did, should have shrugged it off and waited for their lives to return to normal. Instead, he’d thrown a fit and wandered off to pout like a spoiled child.

He shook his head, refusing to lie to himself any longer. His problem wasn’t with Seven. It was with Kathryn Janeway, and it always had been. He’d become involved with Seven in the first place because he was angry with Janeway, angry at her continued refusal to consider having a relationship with him while they were in the Delta Quadrant. He’d resented the time she’d invested in helping Seven of Nine adjust to her new life, and he’d deliberately decided to replace her as Seven’s champion and advisor, especially once they’d returned to the Alpha Quadrant.

When his life had come apart in his hands, when Seven had walked out on their marriage and left him in the lurch, he should have known that she would turn to Janeway for help. After all, Janeway had been responsible for freeing her from the Collective and had been her primary mentor for the previous four years. Where else would she turn? Who else would she depend upon? Only a fool would blame Janeway for what had happened, for thinking she’d come between him and his wife, when he and Seven had placed her squarely between them through their own actions. The way she’d reacted had been totally consistent with her previous behavior.

“I should have been the one who met with her on Deep Space Nine,” he chided himself. “I should have helped her plan that reconnaissance mission. I should have been with them on the Redmon.” He forced back the wave of guilt that threatened to overwhelm him and glanced up in the general direction of the Badlands. “If you’re out there, Kathryn, don’t give up. I’ll find you.”

Part 3.4 Plans

Feb. 13, 2380–Two days later (Fourteen days after Redmon’s disappearance)

Chakotay looked up from his computer console to see his sister standing at the doorway holding a large gift wrapped in sparkling pink paper and topped with a huge polka dot bow.

“Liana? What’s going on?” Mindful of the Starfleet sensor data on his screen, he quickly minimized it and gave her a smile. “This is a surprise.”

“Well, it shouldn’t be a surprise. I reminded you earlier this week that I’d be coming to Trebus to attend the naming ceremony for Trista’s baby.”

“I’m sorry. I’m so preoccupied that I don’t even remember your telling me about it.”

“That’s okay. I put your name and mine on this present, just in case it slipped your mind.” She crossed the room to his desk, where she put the gift on one chair and sat down on the other. “You’ve been obsessed with the news of the raid that broke up the
Badlands drug ring, right?”

“Right. I’ve been reading everything I can about it.”

She studied his face, sensing that he was in tight control of his emotions, trying to hide his pain from her. She forged ahead. “You heard that Admiral Janeway and Tuvok are among the Starfleet personnel declared missing?”

“I heard.” He found that he couldn’t sit still any longer, so he stood up and began to pace.

“The reports this morning say,” she paused, worried about how his reaction, “that they are–.”

“I know what they say. That they’re presumed dead,” he snapped, and then turned to her. “I’m sorry, Liana. I shouldn’t take this out on you.”

“Don’t worry. I understand.”

“I’m not giving up hope yet.”

“You think they might be alive?”

“God, I hope so.” His eyes were tortured. “If they’ve been killed, Liana, I’ll never forgive myself.”

“I don’t see why you should blame yourself for their predicament.” She watched his face turn red with embarrassment, and her eyes widened in surprise. “Or maybe you do feel responsible for some reason.”

“In the last letter she sent to you, she asked me for advice about this mission to the Badlands. Of course, I didn’t read it in time to be of any help to her.”

“Helping her would have put everyone here in danger. I thought that was why you were trying to keep from being identified as the informant.” She put her hand over her mouth when she realized what she’d said.

He shook his head. “Don’t worry about it. You were right when you accused me of sending my sensor scans to Starfleet. Somebody had to do something to stop the smugglers.”

“I suspected as much.” She watched him as he resumed his pacing. “But, what more could you have done besides send the scans to Starfleet? You couldn’t be expected to help plan the raid, so you shouldn’t feel guilty if things went wrong.”

“You don’t understand, Liana. I should have helped with planning the raid. I had experience and knowledge about the Badlands that might have kept her and Tuvok safe. Everyone knew that was where the smugglers had their base, and the scans confirmed it. I knew her mission would take her into those plasma storms, some of the worst I’ve ever seen. I could have helped her find a way to do the reconnaissance without getting caught in such a dangerous area.”

“But then the smugglers might have attacked Trebus and Dorvan.”

“I don’t think so, not really. I could have simply gone to see her as a friend, and no one would have suspected that I was doing anything more than catching up with her. After the years we were together on Voyager, it would have been perfectly natural.”

“You aren’t the only person who’s navigated the Badlands, Chakotay. I’m sure she had access to all the records from the Maquis and from the Dominion War, too.”

“Scans aren’t the same thing as actual experience. I could’ve helped. I should have helped.”

“You aren’t in Starfleet anymore.”

“Kathryn wasn’t asking her first officer or even a fellow officer for input. She was asking her friend.” He turned away, gazing out the window toward the sky. “I didn’t even bother to listen to her messages until it was too late, Liana. If I hadn’t been behaving like a spoiled child, I might have been able to prevent–.” He put his forearm on the window frame and rested his forehead on it. “They might not have been lost.”

Liana moved to his side and placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. “So, because you are so obsessed with this, I assume you’re going to do something about it?”

He sighed and shook his head, giving her a bashful smile. “Is it that obvious?”

“That’s what you were working on when I came in, wasn’t it?” She walked over to the computer and swiveled the screen to face him, tapping a key that brought the Federation shield back onto the display. “You’ve pulled strings and managed to get some information about their disappearance.”

He shrugged, embarrassed at being caught and yet relieved that he didn’t have to hide it from her. “I owe Kathryn and Tuvok my life, ten times over.”

“And they owe their lives to you, too. You shouldn’t feel obligated to go to their rescue every time they get into a scrape.”

“It’s not just that. I have to know what happened, Liana. I can’t live my life wondering whether I might have been able to help them survive.”

She slumped into his desk chair and drummed her fingers on the desktop. “Some of the smugglers might still be out there, you know. They might be biding their time, waiting to exact their revenge on whoever happens along.”

“I think that’s highly unlikely. Starfleet’s raid was pretty thorough, and there hasn’t been any sign of any other smugglers from their ring for nearly two weeks.”

“This time the Badlands might finally get you.”

“I’ll be careful.”

“Starfleet has better ships with stronger shields and sensors. Why not just leave the search up to them?”

Chakotay perched on the edge of the desk and crossed his arms. “They’ve been looking for days without any luck and have already ended the search. But, they don’t know the Badlands the way I do, especially not this particular region.”

“Chakotay, the ship was lost days ago! How long can they survive out there?”

“Starfleet ships carry emergency rations and battery power to last about ten days to two weeks.”

Liana clucked her tongue. “Why risk your life when the odds are against their being alive?”

“Look, sis,” he said, understanding her concern for his safety. “I have to do this. I owe it to them to try to find them. And, nothing is going to happen to me. I’m going to be fine, and I promise that I won’t disappear for another seven years.”

“Why can’t you just say they were lost in the Badlands and leave it at that?”

“Because I can’t. There are M-class planets in and around the Badlands where they might have taken refuge. They might survive on one of those planets for weeks. Even months.”

She buried her face in her hands, knowing he would not be dissuaded from his quest until he found the ship or its debris field. His loyalty to Voyager’s crew, and particularly to its captain, was something she’d come to respect over the last year. She looked up at him, hoping he couldn’t see how close she was to tears. “Just tell me you aren’t going alone.”

“Mike and Marla volunteered to help me.” He grabbed a chair, sat down beside her, and activated the view screen, bringing up a complex scan of space that looked like an abstract puzzle to Liana. “The buoy that they left behind was found here. I figure a good pilot could keep the shuttle in one piece until about this spot before their shields started failing.” He created a sphere around the buoy’s location.

“Uh-huh,” she answered, wondering whether she should remind him of how rudimentary her knowledge was when reading these kinds of scans.

He pointed at some squiggly lines. “I thought, at first, that Kathryn might have been at the helm, but now I’m not so sure. Whoever the pilot was, he’s almost as good as Tom Paris, and that’s saying something. But, he got himself into a fix when he headed into these particular storms and was clearly in trouble. The storms are just too thick, and they were boxed in. They couldn’t keep away from these fighters much longer, which means that their choices were really limited.”

“Hasn’t Starfleet searched in the area where the buoy was found?”

“Oh, yeah. They have, but, you see, Kathryn left it and then headed away, taking the smugglers with them to keep them from destroying it.”

“I thought you said they’d run out of choices.”

“They ran out of the choices that a sensible person would opt for, but this situation called for thinking outside the box, something that Kathryn is very good at doing.”

Liana frowned. “Which means what?”

“Staying put was a guaranteed death and so was continuing the battle, so their only hope would have been to find a relatively clear vector and go to warp.”

Liana’s mouth fell open. “Go to warp in that part of the Badlands? Even I know that’s practically suicide.”

“Yeah, it is,” he agreed, giving her a sad smile. “But they had no choice with those Restaii fighters closing in on them. They would have been okay as long as the warp field wasn’t compromised by the storms. It came down to a choice of certain death if they were captured or a slim chance of survival by going to warp.”

The two of them stared at the screen in silence. At long last, Liana said, “Can you tell what direction they might have taken?”

“I was working on it when you arrived. There were a couple of possibilities. I want to look at the storms once I get out there and try to imagine which vector would have been more appealing.”

“Doesn’t a ship leave some kind of trail you can pick up on sensors?”

“In normal space, yeah, but the plasma storms in the Badlands quickly destroy them. Add to that the number of ships that have crisscrossed the region during the raid and then the search afterwards? Well, it’s going to take luck to find anything after all this time.”

“Too bad you don’t have access to the first scans they made of the region.”

“You’re good, Liana.” He grinned at her. “My friends have sent me those scan. There might be some clue they’ve missed, and if there are, we’ll find them.”

“I’m surprised that Starfleet hasn’t looked at this angle.”

He chuckled. “They probably thought trying to use the warp drive was too risky.”

“Isn’t it?”

“Yes. Unless you’re Kathryn Janeway and running out of options.”

“So why wouldn’t Starfleet look into that more closely?”

“I was told that Starfleet dismissed the possibility of going to warp because, and I quote, ‘Admiral Janeway would never risk her ship or the lives of her crew by going to warp in the Badlands.'”

“But you think she would?”

“You bet she would. It was their only chance.” He shook his head and chuckled softly. “Voyager would never have made it back to the Alpha Quadrant if Kathryn hadn’t taken a few death-defying gambles along the way. In this case, when it was a choice between certain death at the hands of the smugglers or a slim chance for survival by going to warp, she would’ve rolled the dice with gusto.”

“And if her luck ran out?”

“That’s the question that remains to be answered. I won’t quit, Liana, until I know for sure what the answer is.”

“Well, okay then.” She stood up and retrieved her package from the chair. “I take it that this means that you aren’t attending the naming ceremony?”

“Not this time.” He sat back down at the desk and opened the data file. “With any luck, we’ll have the company’s shuttle equipped for the Badlands by the end of the day.”

“If I don’t see you before you leave, big brother, be careful. Come back in one piece.”

“Yes, ma’am.” He looked up at her, surprised to see tears in her eyes. He got up and circled the desk to give her a hug. “I’ll be back, Liana. I promise.”

“I can’t lose you again, Chakotay. You’re too important to me.”

“You won’t lose me.” He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and dried the tears that spilled onto her cheeks. “Don’t worry. I’ll keep in touch.”

“You’d better.” She gave him a final hug and then left the room.

Chakotay stood motionless for a few moments, and then said to his absent sister, “You see, Liana, I know how you feel. I lost Kathryn once, and I can’t lose her again. She’s too important to me.”

And with that, he returned to his plans.