Community Property – Chapter 4

Community Property

by mizvoy

Part 4.1 The Search

Feb. 15, 2380–Three days later (Seventeen days after Redmon’s disappearance)
Trebus Transport ship

“Did you read the full report on Starfleet’s raid, Chakotay?” Mike Ayala lounged in the cockpit of one of the transport company’s shuttles studying the data that Admiral Paris had sent them by way of Seven of Nine. “They took out three Restaii fighters with just a handful of those new tactical shuttles of theirs—the ones that incorporated a lot of the Delta Flyer’s upgrades. I’d love to have a chance to fly one of them.” He frowned and paged through the report again. “I thought the smugglers had four fighters.”

“They did have four fighters,” Chakotay replied from beneath a disassembled console. “The missing fighter is why we’re taking the time to upgrade our shields and add a phaser array.”

“As if that will help,” Ayala laughed at the thought of their little ship running up against a Restaii fighter. “You know as well as I do that we wouldn’t have a chance.”

“That’s why I had Marla upgrade the sensors, too. With any luck, we’ll see them coming in plenty of time to get out of the way.”

“And if the sensors don’t work well enough?”

“Then we won’t have anything else to worry about in this life.”

“Good point.”

They worked in silence until Chakotay crawled out from under the console. “Phaser control is online,” he announced as he replaced the console’s access panel and activated the screen for a final diagnostic. “As soon as Marla is happy with the upgraded shields, we’ll get underway.”

“I’ve found something interesting here.” Mike looked up from the report as Chakotay came to have a look. “This is one of the earliest scans Starfleet took, taken just after they detected the buoy’s beacon. See this little blip? That could be what’s left of an ion trail. I’ve seen them look like that after the plasma storms have messed with them.”

“I completely missed that, Mike, but you’re right.” Chakotay took the PADD and sat down, tapping a few commands into the device. “This ion trail wasn’t made by a Starfleet warp engine.”

“It wasn’t? Damn.” He rubbed his face with his hands. “I had my hopes up.”

“Unless–” Chakotay’s voice betrayed his excitement. “If it isn’t Starfleet–.”

“Maybe it was made by the mission Restaii fighter.”

“Yeah. Maybe that’s what happened to the fourth fighter, Mike.”

“They followed the Starfleet ship into warp?” He whistled. “Those guys meant business.”

“Well, that’s just one plausible explanation. Load the coordinates into the computer and we’ll start our search there. Also, try to extrapolate what their vector might have been.” He felt the first tiny spark of hope settle in his heart. “Can you imagine being desperate enough to go to warp in the worst part of the Badlands?”

“Sounds like something a crazy captain I used to know would do,” Ayala said with a grin.

“Doesn’t it, though?” Chakotay slapped Ayala on the shoulder. “The woman is fearless.”

“I can’t believe that Starfleet disregarded the possibility of her going to warp to escape.”

“They don’t know her like we do, Mike.”

It took the better part of a day for the shuttle to travel to the Badlands and thread its way through the storms to the site where Starfleet had discovered the buoy. One quick scan of the area dashed their hopes of finding any evidence through current scans.

Ayala sat back in despair. “Starfleet must’ve used every ship in quadrant looking for them, Chakotay. Between all the ship’s traffic and nearly three weeks of storms, that faint trail I saw in the initial scan is long gone.”

Chakotay was more depressed than Ayala. “Have you had any luck extrapolating the direction they took from the scans?”

“Not really,” Ayala shifted to face him. “I can come up with a general vector from the first Starfleet scan, but if we start at the wrong spot or if we miscalculate, even by a few millimeters, that might not be much help.”

“Because our course might veer too far from theirs over the long haul.” Chakotay frowned, knowing his friend was right, but unwilling to give up. “I’m thinking they’d jettison the beacon and then go to warp right away to keep the smugglers from noticing.”

“Maybe. They also might have jettisoned the buoy and then continued the chase to lead the smugglers away from it. There’s really no way to know.”

“Let’s start with the assumption that the warp trail starts at the buoy’s location.”

“Okay. I don’t mean to be overly pessimistic, but it’s all such a big gamble.”

Chakotay raised a hand to stop him. “I know. And I also know that the storms probably knocked the beacon around in the intervening days, which means that the shuttle wasn’t any where near here when they took off. It’s a long shot, Mike, but it’s the only shot we have. If you have any better ideas, I’m listening.”

“I just think it’s better to stay realistic about how chancy this search is from the first.” He gave his friend a warning look, hoping he knew better than to get his hopes up of ever finding them.

“You’re right, and I’m trying to stay on an even keel. We’ll just follow this course for now and scan out as far as we can, looking for anything that tells us how close we are to the right track.”

“Okay. Maybe we’ll be lucky.”

As the ship went to three-quarter impulse, Chakotay adjusted their sensors and then said, “You know how hard Kathryn would work to find one of us.”

“I know, Chakotay.” Ayala turned to his console to monitor their course. “Believe it or not, this isn’t a bad vector when you look at the pattern of the plasma storms. Heading away from Federation space and into the worst part of the Badlands would certainly have taken the smugglers by surprise.”

“What was it Kathryn used to say when things were looking dicey? ‘Think good thoughts.’”

They knew it could be several hours or even days before they’d find any sign of the Starfleet ship or the fighter that pursued it. Theoretically, it was possible for a warp bubble to exist inside the Badlands for a short period of time, and if Janeway’s shuttle had only managed a minute at low warp, they would have been millions of kilometers when they re-entered normal space. Chakotay wasn’t about to go attempt warp speed, and so they would need much more time to travel the same distance.

As hard as he tried to be patient, Chakotay became more restless with each passing hour. Mike navigated around the plasma storms that flared up along the way, and Marla came up from engineering to recalibrate the sensors, leaving Chakotay with little to do but fret. He would relieve one or the other of them for a few minutes and then feel compelled to get up and check the impulse engines or consult a map of the Badlands. Mike and Marla soon realized that their work went more smoothly when he was out of their hair.

“Why don’t you go get some sleep, Chakotay,” Marla suggested. “Mike and I will be fine for awhile.”

“Okay,” Chakotay agreed, standing up and stretching. “Let me know right away if you pick up anything unusual.”

“Will do.”

Once he disappeared to the lower deck, Mike and Marla slumped in their seats.

“I’m worried about him,” Marla said softly. “I can’t remember seeing him quite so anxious.”

“He knows the odds are stacked against finding them. He’s scared to death we’re going to find a debris field instead of a shuttle.”

“Yeah, but, Mike, even if the shuttle is in one piece, chances are the crew will be dead. It’s been too long—over two weeks.”

“I know.” Mike shifted nervously in his seat. “To tell the truth, I’m not sure which I’d prefer–the debris field or the shuttle in one piece with its grisly cargo.”

“There’s the chance that they found somewhere to land. Janeway and Tuvok are survivors. If anyone can get through something like this, they can.” Marla leaned forward to make a minor adjustment to the sensor settings and then sat back to wait. Two hours passed in absolute boredom, but then the console emitted a series of insistent chirps. “Mike, I’m getting some readings.”

“Send the coordinates to the helm,” he responded as he sat up and plotted the most direct course possible to the location. When the readings grew stronger, he decided it was time to wake up Chakotay. He opened a comm link and said, “Chakotay, you’d better get up here. Long range sensors have picked up some readings that look promising.”

Minutes later, with Chakotay kneeling between the pilot and copilot’s seats, they approached a badly damaged, drifting hulk that used to be a starship. Their disappointment at finding a wrecked ship was reflected in their silence as they watched the hulk drifting through space.

Chakotay looked up from the readout and said, “It’s what’s left of the fourth Restaii fighter.”

“Another mystery solved.” Marla continued scanning the wreckage, reporting what she was seeing as it became clear. “They must’ve ejected their warp core, because I’m not picking up any sign of antimatter. They’ve also lost their atmosphere.” A few tense moments passed before she added, “There are three bodies inside, but I can’t tell anything about them except that they’re all dead.”

“The storms got them.” Ayala positioned their ship so that they could examine the extensive damage on the port side. “They picked a bad time and worse place to drop out of warp.”

“Pure bad luck.” Chakotay stood up and straightened his leather jacket, his face pale with anxiety. “We’ll have to find out if anyone from the Starfleet shuttle was on board before we continue the search.”

“I don’t recommend beaming over there,” Marla said. “I’m not sure it’s safe, and I don’t think we need to bother with wearing environmental suits at this point.”

Chakotay nodded. “Okay. We’ll beam the bodies aboard our ship and keep them inside a force field. If we recognize anyone, we’ll deal with it. If we only find smugglers, we’ll beam them back to their ship for now.”

The cockpit was silent as Ayala followed his orders, setting up a force field in their cargo area and locking onto the bodies. Then he said, “I’ll go down to the cargo hold and make sure things are set up properly. Once I know the force field is in place, you two can beam the bodies in for a quick look.”

“No, you won’t,” Chakotay replied, putting a hand on his shoulder. “I’ll do it.”

Before either Mike or Marla could voice a protest, Chakotay stepped to the hatch and disappeared below.

Marla gave the pilot a long look. “Get us close enough to do this without interference from the storms, and then go down there and be with him. I don’t want him to be alone when I beam those bodies over here, just in case—well, you know why.”

“Yeah, sure. Good idea.”

Chakotay had just finished checking the containment field when Ayala appeared at his side. He gave him a sideways look. “Aren’t you supposed to be piloting the ship?”

“We’re going to be stationary for awhile,” Ayala replied, “and there isn’t a plasma storm close enough to do any damage at the moment. I thought I could be of more use here.”

“All right,” Chakotay answered, his voice betraying his relief. “I have to admit that I’m a little worried about what we’re going to see. Or who we’re going to see.”

“You’re worried that the smugglers might have already taken prisoner?”

“It’s possible.” After one last check of the containment field, Chakotay hit the comm button, “Marla, energize whenever you’re ready.”

“Stand by.”

Moments later, a familiar blue glow filled the room and three humanoid bodies appeared on the floor of the cargo hold, each one frozen in a position of agony caused by a sudden loss of atmosphere. Chakotay found it impossible to move or to take his eyes from the sight.

“What a way to go,” Mike whistled as he flipped open a tricorder and began to study the readout. “No females. One human, two Bajorans. No one as young as the Starfleet pilot.” He snapped the device shut. “I’d say these were all smugglers, Chakotay.”

Chakotay gripped the edge of the console as the tension drained from his body. “I think you’re right, Mike.”

Marla’s voice filled the room. “So, who are they?”

“Three dead bad guys,” Mike answered. “Beam them back to where you found them. When we get back, we’ll tell Starfleet where they to find them.”

The two men watched as the bodies disappeared and then stood staring at the vacant cargo bay in stunned silence.

“Look at it this way, Chakotay. Tuvok knows how to force a pursuer to drop out of warp in a dangerous location. Drop a torpedo with a delayed detonation so that they’re been knocked out of warp and into the storms. Oldest Maquis trick in the book. It means we’re on the right track. Don’t you see?”

“That’s about the only good way to look at it, I guess. I just keep remembering how long they’ve been gone. Too long. I’m afraid we’re going to find debris or a sad mess like this.”

Mike frowned, trying not to give in to the doubts that assailed him. “They could have found a planet nearby.”

“That’s the only good solution that I can see.” Chakotay ran a hand through his hair and sighed. “Before we get back on course, let’s do a really thorough scan for habitable planets in the area and search for any impulse signatures. Maybe we’ll get lucky.”

“Will do.”

After Ayala returned to the bridge, Chakotay busied himself with taking down the force field before he finally slumped against the wall in exhaustion. His heart had almost stopped beating when the bodies had materialized on the cargo bay’s deck, and he’d been unable to move a muscle while Mike had scanned them. He wondered what would’ve happened if Mike hadn’t come down to help him.

Would he have stood there like a statue, unable to move, until Mike or Marla came down to the cargo bay to see if he was still alive? Even now, minutes later, his heart was pounding in his chest. How much worse would it have been if he’d discovered that either Kathryn or Tuvok was among the dead? Would he have fainted? Thrown up? He shook his head in misery. He knew he had to find a way to deal with whatever they found—when they found it.

After checking with the bridge, he returned to his cabin for a few minutes of rest and meditation. Soon, he’d get the call that something else had been detected, another debris field or a marginally habitable planet, and when that moment inevitably came, he had to be ready to live through it.

Part 4.2 A Sign

Feb. 16, 2380–Four hours later (Seventeen days after Redmon’s disappearance)
Trebus transport ship

Chakotay awoke with a start and checked the chronometer, amazed to see that almost four hours had passed since they had left the wrecked Restaii fighter behind. A quick call to the bridge informed him that Mike and Marla had been working steadily on the search, so he spent a few minutes taking a quick shower, changing into clean clothes, and having a bite to eat before he reported to the bridge.

The excitement and anxiety of the wrecked ship had left him exhausted and completely unnerved, but now, after a few hours of sleep, he was able to think clearly again. He’d been surprised by the intensity of his reaction to the debris and the grisly view they’d beamed aboard. He’d seen dead bodies many times, even those of close friends and fellow officers, but this experience had been different, a bigger, more personal crisis, for one simple reason—Kathryn Janeway might have been one of the dead.

He cared too much. He shook his head in amazement. How many years had he obsessed and worried over her well-being without becoming a blithering idiot when she was in danger? Why would he panic about her now, when he had walked away from her without taking the time for a proper farewell? The disparity between his actions and his feelings disturbed him, because he felt certain that it meant that he had been deceiving himself for some time.

All this just increased the pressure he felt, as did the fact that so many of their friends and acquaintances were hoping and praying that he would find her alive. The prospect of telling them that she was dead sent cold chills down his spine. The subspace call he had received from Gretchen Janeway haunted him, coming as it did immediately after Seven had sent him the details of the Starfleet raid and rescue effort.

He’d just finished his first scan of the report and was realizing what a daunting task he faced when his sister had told him that Kathryn’s mother was calling.

“I’ll take it in here,” he replied, replacing the details of the report with his comm access. When Gretchen’s face appeared, he was once again surprised to see how much Kathryn resembled her mother—and how much that similarity affected him. He gave her a confident smile. “Mrs. Janeway! This is a surprise.”

“Hello, Chakotay, and please call me Gretchen. Seven tells me that you should have received the reports she forwarded to you, and I just want to make sure that it was complete and that it arrived in good condition.”

“I just finished scanning it, and it looked like it must all be here. I have lots of information to go on.”

“Good. Owen and I had to pull quite a few strings to get those admirals to release the information to a ‘non-Starfleet’ recipient. It took some doing, but didn’t want them to withhold a single byte of data.”

“It’s a very large report. I can’t imagine that they cut many corners.” He gave her a reassuring smile, imagining how those poor admirals had reacted to a Janeway in full “command” mode, whether that was as a mother or a fellow officer. “I promise you that I won’t leave a stone unturned in looking for them.”

“Oh, I know you won’t.” The older woman looked away, and Chakotay took the opportunity to examine her face more carefully. She had obviously lost a great deal of sleep in the last few days. She looked tired and her eyes were puffy, as if she had cried herself to sleep for several nights in a row. However, when she looked at him again, she was calm and unemotional, her mind focused on the possibility of finding and rescuing her daughter. He admired her for having such self-control; he could see where Kathryn had gotten that strength. “Kathryn obviously trusted you with her life, Chakotay, and she had great faith in your ability. That and your location make you the best person to be looking for her and the others, because time is of the essence. You won’t give up until you know for sure what’s happened, will you?”

“No, I won’t give up. If there is any way to discover what happened to them, Gretchen, I’ll find it. And if she’s still alive, which I believe is a distinct possibility, I’ll find her and bring her home.”

Gretchen’s eyes filled with tears as her self-control slipped. “We just can’t lose her again, Chakotay. It would be too cruel.”

“If any two officers are capable of surviving a situation like this, it’s Kathryn and Tuvok. They’re well trained and resourceful, and they’ve faced many similar predicaments.”

“It’s so ironic that you’re looking for them this time, the way she was looking for you and Tuvok on Voyager so many years ago.”

“More than ironic,” he agreed.

“When you find her, please make her talk to you. She told me that she wanted to apologize to you for how she treated you during your divorce.”

“She doesn’t owe me an apology.”

“She thinks she does.” Gretchen wiped her eyes with a tissue before she continued. “She’s told me more than once that you helped her keep her sanity on Voyager when things looked bleak. She never meant to hurt you.”

“I know that. I really do. I should have been more open with her before I left.” He wished he could reach across the light years that separated them to give her a hug.

“How long will your search take, do you think?”

“It’s difficult to tell, but I know we have to move fast. I’d say no more than a week. Maybe two.”

She nodded, tears brimming in her eyes once again. “They say that their emergency rations would be running out soon.”

“I know. That’s why I’m trying to get underway as soon as possible.”

“Then don’t let me keep you.” She gave him a brave smile. “And thank you so much for finding the answers, no matter whether they’re good or bad. It means everything to me.”

“Don’t give up hope, not yet.”

“I’m trying not to, but it’s difficult.”

“Kathryn never gave up hope, in all the years we were on the other side of the galaxy, so we can’t give up hope, either.”

Gretchen nodded and said goodbye, but the shadow of her courageous blue eyes had haunted him ever since.

He finished his meal slowly, trying not to let himself become discouraged, and then he climbed up to the bridge where he found Mike Ayala alone at the helm.

“Where’s Marla?”

“She went below a couple of hours ago for some sleep.”

“Good. You should have called me to come help you.”

“I would have if I’d needed help.”

“Fill me in on the search, and then you can go below and get some rest, too.”

“Yeah.” Mike stifled a yawn. “We started by following the same vector as before, but decided, after an hour, that they might have changed course when they fell out of warp. So we went back to square one and started a classic search pattern.”

“I see that.”

“I’ve expanded the search parameters and dropped to one-quarter impulse, but I can’t help but think we’ve missed something.”

“You should’ve come and gotten me,” Chakotay replied, taking a seat at navigation. He pulled up the charts and studied their course. “We don’t have time to waste.”

“Have you ever been this deep in the Badlands, Chakotay?”

“Once or twice.”

“Not me. I realized a few minutes ago how far we’ve come, and I got a strange feeling. We are actually close to some fingers of normal space on the far side of the anomaly.”

“Normal space.” Chakotay looked up at him. “You know, you may have hit on something.” He studied the chart, his mind going over a dozen possibilities for what might have happened to the Starfleet ship, none of which was to his liking. “Obviously, the shuttle wasn’t destroyed by whatever it was that got the Restaii fighter, but that doesn’t mean that they escaped unharmed. If they were damaged but still able to control their course, they might have headed for clear space.”

“Not back toward the Hankeel?”

“Not if they were severely damaged.”

“I guess that’s possible,” Mike nodded. “Let me start from where we found the Restaii fighter and plot out the shortest route out of the storms.”

“They were probably damaged during the battle before they went to warp,” Chakotay said, thinking out loud. “How much longer could they have kept things together?”

“You’re thinking they might have had to crash land somewhere?”

“Maybe. When we get closer to the border, we’ll start scanning for the nearest planet that would have been a likely place to land the shuttle. In the meantime, you need to get some sleep, too.”

“All right. But call me if you find anything.”

“Will do.”

Several hours later, Mike and Marla returned to the bridge to find the ship emerging from the Badlands into clear space.

“Any luck so far?” Marla asked.

“There’s no decent M-class planet, but there is one L-class planet that might have looked decent enough in a pinch,” Chakotay pointed to the location on the star chart.
Marla and Mike glanced at each other and shook their heads. L-class planets weren’t all that hospitable and were considered “barely habitable.” While they had breathable atmospheres, they did not usually support any sort of animal or vegetable life. The Starfleet crew would be reduced to their own emergency supplies and, if they were lucky, water on the planet itself.

“The planet is awfully close to the plasma storms,” Mike observed. “It might still be brushed by remnants of the storms, too.”

Marla agreed. “I’d say the climate would be pretty tough to endure.”

“I guess it would be better than nothing,” Chakotay sighed, “and it’s the only place close enough.”

“It’s worth a look. I’ll lay in a course.” Mike took over the helm and put in the new course.

Marla couldn’t help but worry. “If that’s where they landed, wouldn’t we have picked up their emergency beacon by now?”

“If it’s still functional,” Chakotay replied. “Although there is a beacon in the emergency pod, it could be damaged, and so could the one on the ship itself. If we find evidence that the ship is there, we might have to find them with our sensors.”

“Good thing we upgraded them,” Marla said, giving his shoulder a squeeze.

The cockpit was quiet as Mike guided the ship carefully through the last tendrils of plasma flares. He glanced at Chakotay and said, “I hope they had a decent pilot. This is tough going.”

“He was supposed to be the Hankeel’s best.”

The next ten minutes passed in tense silence as their ship wound its way through the last vestiges of the storm, finally emerging into relatively clear space.

“Bingo,” Marla cried, barely restraining her excitement as she pulled up the most recent scan on the screen. “See the ion trail?”

Chakotay’s heart was in his throat. “I see it, but it looks nasty. Really nasty.”

“We didn’t expect it to look good, did we?” Mike asked, making a few adjustments to their course. “I mean, they’ve been pounded by those fighters, gone to warp in the worst of the Badlands, endured the buffeting of the storms, and then tossed into normal space at a time and place that was not of their choosing.”

Chakotay agreed. “I imagine that that L-class planet looked like heaven itself to them.”

They followed the ion trail until it curved into the planet’s gravity well at a deep angle.

“Their approach vector is too steep. I think this pilot had marginal control, and the ion trail indicates impending complete engine failure.”

“Yeah, look here,” Marla pointed out an area of space that still roiled from an antimatter explosion. “They ejected the core.”

Chakotay sat back and shook his head. “It would take a miracle for them to survive a crash at this speed and trajectory.”

Even though he agreed, Mike didn’t want his boss to give up hope. “They might have had enough power to manage an emergency beam out. Let’s get into orbit and find out before we write them off.”

Twenty minutes later, Marla let loose a string of Klingon phrases that she could only have learned from B’Elanna Torres. “The ship went down here,” she reported, narrowing the scan of the planet to a region that looked like an orange blur. “The trail ends in this desert region, but it’s completely obscured by a sandstorm. I can’t tell if they landed in one piece or if the ship broke up in that sandstorm.”

“That’s one hell of a storm,” Chakotay agreed, his voice somber. “It looks like it extends nearly five miles into the atmosphere and has surface winds blowing at over 130 miles per hour at the surface.”

“It would feel like you’d been caught in a sand blaster,” Mike murmured. “Let’s hope the ship is together enough to protect them from this environment.”

“Or that they found some safe place to wait for help,” Marla said. “From what I can tell, the desert is surrounded by low hills that might have caves and canyons with protection from the elements. There are even signs of water.”

“We can’t do anything more until this storm eases up.” Chakotay rested his head in his hand.

“What if it doesn’t ease up, Chakotay?” Mike wondered. “Can this ship survive going to the surface?”

“I don’t think so, Mike. I’m going to monitor these conditions for a while and try to see if there is a chance for the storm to ease up. Why don’t you two go below and find some food? We’re going to be here until that sandstorm lets up and we can scan for survivors.”

“We’ll bring you a sandwich,” Marla said as she and Mike headed to the galley.

Alone in the cockpit, Chakotay focused the sensors on the most likely crash location and forced himself to relax.

“Whatever happened has already happened,” he said to himself. “Worrying now is just a waste of time.”

He worried anyway.

A/N: Please note that events in this chapter occur three days prior to the preceding chapter (Chakotay was still on Trebus at this time)

Part 4.3 Final Respects

Feb. 13, 2083–Three days earlier (Fourteen days after Redmon’s disappearance)
Surface of the L Class planet

Kathryn Janeway stood at the foot of a low bluff, the gathering winds of the desert heat ruffling her hair. From Tuvok’s position slightly above and behind her, she was a dark silhouette against the slanted golden light of the late afternoon sun. He could barely hear her voice as she concluded the simple Starfleet memorial ceremony, using the same familiar words she had always used on such occasions.

“We are here today to pay our final respects to our honored dead, Lieutenant Ryan Grey. He was a fine Starfleet officer and a good friend. Without the benefit of his level head and excellent piloting skills, we would never have arrived safely on this planet. His sense of humor, self-sacrifice, and positive outlook will be sorely missed. As we commit his body to this planet, we will keep him in our hearts and in our memories.”

Tuvok watched as Janeway placed a final rock on the grave, noticing that she caught her breath and nearly tipped over as she put weight on her left hip. Her injury was bothering her much more than she’d let on, and the ordeal of helping carry and bury the lieutenant’s body had taken its toll. He made a mental note to confront her about the pain at the earliest possibility. She seemed small and vulnerable as she stared at the mounded rocks in silence, no doubt sending up prayers to whatever god she believed in. She was stronger than she looked, both physically and emotionally, but their continued bad luck was undermining her spirit and weakening her hope for a rescue.

He cleared his throat to gain her attention, nodding toward the swirling sand in the flatlands behind her. “Admiral, I’m afraid this burial has taken longer than we anticipated. We must leave at once if we hope to get safely inside the cave before the night winds begin.”

“Very well,” she replied, glancing toward the sunset that was already growing rosy red with blown sand. She turned and took the arm he offered her as they began the walk into the canyon where a deep cave had served as their refuge for the last ten days. “It’s just that I don’t want to give him up. He was so young.”

“Too young to die,” Tuvok agreed.

“He reminded me of Tom Paris, a natural pilot, with the wisdom to toss aside safety constraints when the situation called for it.”

The first blast of the fierce night winds battered them with a brutal spray of sand, stinging their faces and bringing tears to their eyes. They stopped and pulled the hoods of their survival jackets over their heads before they resumed their journey at a faster pace, their faces tucked down into their chests to minimize their exposure to the elements. Janeway seemed unstable, even with her hand on his arm, and so Tuvok stayed close beside her, giving her his body to lean against whenever she needed to do so. He glanced down at her face, catching a brief grimace of pain.

“Your hip is not improving.”

“No, it isn’t.” She sighed, and shook her head. “I thought it was better until I started gathering the rocks for Ryan’s grave. I should have let you do that, but I knew we needed to hurry.”

Tuvok paused to look up at the sky, drawing on their brief experience to guess at the storm’s severity. “If the weather pattern continues as it has before, we should have one decent day after today. If tomorrow is calm, I will walk to the crash site while you rest in the cave. Perhaps I’ll locate the rest of the emergency supplies or find a cache of rations.”

“I don’t think that’s such a good idea.”

“We cannot hope to repair the damaged emergency beacon with the supplies that we have found in the debris field, Admiral. A journey away from the bluffs and toward the main crash site is our best option.”

“I’ll keep my fingers crossed, but I’d be surprised if you find anything of use.”

“Then let’s hope you are surprised.”

She said nothing in reply as she continued to struggle through the shifting soil that filled the bottom of the canyon. She knew it was a miracle that any of them had survived their desperate escape maneuver, but as time passed with diminishing hope for rescue that miracle was looking more and more like a curse.

The Redmon slowed after it passed the plasma storm and struggled to create a warp field in the Badlands’ hostile environment. Their jump to light speed a few moments later was uncharacteristically rough, and three officers clung to their stations as the ship hunched beneath them.

“Warp one!” Ryan announced, hanging onto the helm with one hand and making frantic adjustments with the other. “We can’t keep this up for long, though.”

The tension on the bridge deepened when Tuvok announced that one of the larger Restaii fighters had also gone to warp speed.

“They really want to make sure we don’t talk,” Janeway commented.

“The smugglers are at warp one on a parallel course,” Tuvok reported. “We should prepare to raise shields.”

“Damn. That’s going to affect our speed.” Janeway continued to fiddle with the engineering console, coaxing the warp field toward stability. “What are our options?”

The Vulcan’s voice was deadly calm as he made some calculations. “I’ve always understood that the best defense is often a strong offense.”

Janeway nodded, anticipating his suggestion. “A full spread of torpedoes—before they think of the same idea.”

“Indeed. The explosion will likely throw both of us back into normal space.” He looked up at the admiral. “But, unlike the smugglers, we’ll be prepared for it.”

“Very well, Tuvok, let’s do it,” she nodded. “Lieutenant, prepare to deal with an explosive reentry into normal space.”

“Ha. Normal space? In the Badlands?” He had managed to regain his seat, “Is it too much to hope that we might aim for something other than the middle of a plasma storm?”

“Probably.” Janeway grinned. “I’ll put you in charge of that.”

“I should have known.” He turned back to the helm.

“The smugglers are powering their phasers,” Tuvok warned. “Torpedoes armed and ready.”

“Raise aft shields as soon as the torpedoes are away, Tuvok.” Janeway took one last look at their wavering warp field, hoping for the best. “Fire.”

“Firing torpedoes, full spread,” Tuvok replied. “Shields up.”

With any luck at all, the force of the blast would hit their shields and push them away from the smugglers’ ship, providing a cushion against whatever happened next. However, the blast could just as easily bring on their own destruction. Janeway held her breath as the seconds passed.

“Brace for impact,” she cried, gripping the edge of the console.

“Three, two, one,” Tuvok counted off.

The explosion was the worst Janeway had ever experienced, augmented as it was by their volatile environment. By some miracle, Redmon’s shields did not buckle, allowing them to momentarily hit warp two before their warp field began to destabilize.

“Our pursuers have sustained catastrophic damage and have dropped out of warp,” the Vulcan reported. “I believe they are attempting to eject their core.”

“That’s one problem solved, anyway,” Janeway observed as she turned her attention to the direction the ship was taking. “Ryan, how much longer can we maintain our warp field?”

“Ten seconds. Maybe twelve. I’m looking for a good place to exit, but it isn’t going to be pretty.”

Tuvok said, “Sending you suggested course correction.”

“Thanks, Commander.”

Seconds later, the Redmon emerged from warp speed and tumbled into a spiral. Ryan struggled to regain control of the ship, but the damage was too great. It became clear that they would have to abandon ship.

“We can’t use escape pods amidst these plasma storms. We need to find a planet,” Janeway warned, “and something close.”

“Scanning,” Tuvok reported.

“I have marginal control,” Ryan stated as the ship leveled. “However, the warp core is going critical.”

“I’m ejecting the core,” Janeway assured him.

“Scanning,” Tuvok replied. “We will have to conserve power in case we need to transport to the planet’s surface.”

“Noted. Assuming we find a planet.” Janeway took comfort in the fact that Captain O’Dell had made sure the Redmon carried three emergency pods with enough supplies to keep them alive and well for six weeks. While Janeway had thought it was a waste of time, she was going to have to thank O’Dell when and if she saw her again. Given their remote location, they’d need that and more if they hoped to survive until Starfleet found them.

The ship lurched and seemed to shudder.

“Hold on!” Ryan shouted. “Attempting to regain lateral control!”

The next hour of their lives had been harrowing. They’d managed to direct their dying ship toward the edge of the Badlands, locating a Class L planet that promised to provide adequate life support until they were rescued.

Tuvok warned, “This vessel will not survive in one piece to the planet’s surface, Admiral.”

“I know,” Janeway replied. “I’m setting up an emergency beam out. We’ll stay aboard as long as possible and then beam ourselves and the three pods out.”

“Don’t cut it too close,” Ryan warned. “The transporters won’t work if the ship is out of control.”

“Noted,” Janeway replied.

The ship bounced twice against the planet’s atmosphere and then began to come apart at the seams.

“Too soon!” Tuvok called out. “Our speed and altitude are not optimal for a beam out.”

Janeway gritted her teeth. “We’re going to have to hope for the best.”

They could actually see the Redmon breaking up around them as the transporters locked onto their patterns, automatically calculating the vector of the crash and depositing them out of range of shuttle debris.

They rematerialized on the flat surface of a butte while overhead they watched the fragments of their ship glow and fall through the atmosphere like a strange fireworks display. The winds were punishing, forcing them to put their arms over their eyes.

“We made it!” Ryan cried, glancing around at his fellow officers. “I don’t believe it.”

Janeway simply nodded. “I only see one emergency pod.”

Perhaps because of the damage the Redmon’s computer had sustained or a lack of sufficient power, only two of the three pods had been sent to the surface. While all three of the crew and one pod had arrived on solid ground, the other pod arrived on the unsteady soil near the edge of the bluff. That pod had pludmmeted down the bluff, breaking open and exposing half of their remaining supplies to the elements before it slammed into a boulder and disintegrated. In a matter of minutes, their six week supply was reduced by two thirds.

In the distance, what was left of the shuttle crashed into the ground with a deafening roar.

There was nothing to do but try to find a way to survive. They discovered that the bluff hid a honeycomb of caves that provided them with a good place to escape from the area’s hostile winds and wildly fluctuating temperatures. They had spent what was left of that day carrying supplies down a crumbling path and into a cave that had a small spring deep within it, the fresh water being the only real piece of luck they’d experienced since they’d discovered the smugglers’ base.

They managed to get the single intact pod unloaded before nightfall, but then the night gale picked up and made any further outside work impossible. The next day, they salvaged what they could from the shattered pod on the valley floor, but it was clear that they needed to supplement what they had, either from the crash site or from the planet’s meager plant life, if they hoped to survive for long.

“I can’t believe that they didn’t put an emergency beacon in all three pods,” Janeway sighed. She held in her hands the fragments of a beacon that had been smashed to bits on the rocks. “We’re going to have to try to build one from scratch and from whatever components we can find.”

“A daunting task,” Tuvok stated.

They dutifully set up a good camp inside the cave, working to organize it while the sandstorms kept them inside. When the winds moderated, they were able to emerge and search for pieces of Starfleet equipment that might be used to build their beacon. They used up precious energy scanning the debris and searching for the location of the main crash site. After a week of this routine, they detected a sizable area of wreckage in a lakebed several kilometers from their location.

It might as well have been on the moon.

The trails they followed through the hills were treacherous. What had been a trustworthy path two days earlier might have been undermined by the sandstorm that had hit the area overnight. With power becoming an issue, they couldn’t afford to use their tricorders to check the path, depending instead on visual clues.

It was during one of these foraging missions that she and Ryan had ventured into a path that had crumbled without warning beneath their feet.

What had happened next was burned into Janeway’s memory. She was behind the young man, and they were talking about his training and hopes for piloting a Galaxy class ship when Ryan’s arms had flown up as the ground gave way. He pitched forward and tumbled down the side of the canyon, the path they were on turning to dust. She had managed to catch hold of an outcropping of rock, slamming her left hip against the canyon wall in the process, but managing to avoid following him down. She struggled backwards, hanging from a tiny fissure in the rock until she reached solid ground. Once she knew she was safe, she looked into the valley, spying Ryan’s body smashed against the side of a huge boulder.

They soon discovered that he had suffered a fractured skull and severe internal injuries. Tuvok had managed to carry his body back to the cave, but he had never regained consciousness, passing away two days later.

They decided to bury him at the mouth of the canyon.

“Ryan might still be alive if we’d managed to beam out all of the emergency medical supplies that were on the Redmon. When we get back to Starfleet,” Janeway muttered through gritted teeth, “I’m going to demand that they perfect the emergency beam-out program and put a beacon in every pod.”

“An excellent idea,” Tuvok replied, ignoring the anger and frustration in her voice. “In the meantime, on the next calm day, I will make the journey to the main crash site.”

Janeway glanced up at him, imagining how long it would take him to walk that distance. “What if you get stuck there overnight? The winds on the flatlands are even worse than they are here, and, anyway, what can you really hope to find after all this time?”

“Some material might have been buried in the crash and protected from the storms.”

“Tuvok, the shuttle broke up on entry and is probably strewn over a wide area. It’s also been in a nearly-continuous sand storm for ten days.”

“I also wonder if the third emergency pod might have been beamed to a location somewhere between here and the crash site. If so, finding it could be quite helpful.”

She shook her head; she didn’t put much faith in the theory. “I admire your optimism, but I despair of your finding usable debris.”

“It’s our only option.”

“I should go with you in case you need help carrying any of the equipment back.”

“Your hip injury would slow me down too much.” He saw the look of frustration on her face and squeezed her arm in sympathy. “It would be best if you continued to work on constructing the emergency beacon while I’m gone.”

“Oh, I’ll work on it, but I can’t help but wonder whether Starfleet is still listening.”

Without warning, Tuvok stepped in front of her, pushing her back into a recessed part of the canyon wall to protect her from a vicious spray of sand, taking the brunt of it across his back. Janeway pressed her shoulders against the rocks to share with him as much of the wall’s protection as possible. When the wind lessened some, he helped her hurry down the path, at times almost carrying her, and so her pessimistic comment was forgotten in their frantic run to escape from the storm.

They had spent very little time since the crash dwelling on the odds against their rescue, aware of the fact that their frantic use of their warp engines had sent them many light years beyond the scope of Starfleet’s normal search pattern. Their survival depended on somehow constructing a beacon that could alert Starfleet of their location, a challenge roughly equivalent to using tin cans and a string to construct a subspace transceiver.

“I’m afraid another three-day sandstorm might be approaching, Admiral.” They paused to look back toward the desert where the sand from the shifting dunes had turned blood red in the light of the setting sun. “The desert has had that same red hue every time the storms became more severe.”

“Maybe these severe storms are the norm, not the exception.” Janeway swallowed hard, refusing to give in to the tears that burned in her eyes. They’d just spent two agonizing days in the cave watching Ryan die and then had used the last good day since his death attending to his burial. She didn’t know if she could bear another three days in the dark cold cave, especially now that her hip was burning like fire. “You’ll have to delay the trip to the shuttle until the storm abates.”


When they arrived at their camp, they folded away the solar panels that recharged their battery packs and set up the force field inside the cave opening to keep out the wind. They stood on a small platform that looked out over a three foot drop off to the floor. She would have to make a sharp right and follow a narrow ledge that made a ramp along the outer wall in order to reach their campsite.

“Wait a moment,” Tuvok said as he stepped past her, jumped to the floor, and then raised a hand to help her down the narrow ledge. “I don’t want you to loose your balance and do more damage your hip.”

“Thank you, Tuvok, but I don’t deserve your thoughtfulness,” she replied. She gripped his hand as she slowly descended to the floor, furious with herself for everything that had befallen them. She should have been more careful when they found the base, should have anticipated the possibility of a ship detecting them. She should have had a better escape plan in place, should have had reinforcements hidden in the Badlands, should have anticipated the need for the emergency beam-out while they were still at warp.

“But you do deserve my help,” he assured her.

Overwhelmed by guilt and too touched to speak, she gave his hand a grateful squeeze.

They had set up a four-person tent inside the cave to provide them with some protection from the cold and damp by keeping the heat they generated from dissipating into the cave. During the day, they rolled up their sleeping pads so that they could work and eat inside the tent, using a pile of rocks heated by their phasers to keep them relatively warm. At night, they crawled into sleeping bags and shivered.

Tuvok and Ryan had devised a way to dam the stream and create a pool of fresh water for their use. Further downstream, they had placed their latrine. However, moving around in the cave required that they use some of their precious battery power for light, and so they moved around as little as possible.

“Sit down and rest while I warm some water,” Tuvok ordered. Unwilling to argue, Janeway lowered herself onto a pile of sleeping pads to wait.

While the water was warming, they ventured to the latrine. Once the water was warm, they took turns washing their faces and hands before they settled down on their pallets, drinking deeply from canteens and sharing a small block of emergency rations from their dwindling store of food. They were caught up in their own thoughts, having little left to discuss, and so they gradually relaxed and prepared for some much-needed rest.

Although the pain in her hip lessened once she was off her feet, Janeway could not find a comfortable position for sleep. She was aware of the cold rocks beneath the sleeping pad creating just enough discomfort to keep her awake. She listened while Tuvok went through his nightly meditations and, when he dimmed the light and left them in total darkness, she heard him fall asleep quickly, his slow regular breathing a torment to her restless soul.

She pulled out a PADD and a book light so she could reread her final written communiqué from Seven of Nine. She was gratified with the woman’s confident tone and the positive outlook in voice, and she was relieved to know that Seven would be well cared for by Dr. Zimmerman, the EMH, and Reginald Barclay. She imagined her mother and sister’s grief at her disappearance; they didn’t deserve to go through all this anguish a second time. She wondered what the crew would think of her bad luck, half smiling at the irony of her second calamity in the Badlands.

Then she thought about Chakotay. She should have found a way to talk with him and apologize for the role she’d played in his disastrous marriage and divorce. If she knew that he’d forgiven her, she could finally put her guilt aside. But then, maybe it was better this way, for she couldn’t bear it if he refused to pardon her for her behavior.

She finally closed her eyes, her last waking thoughts focused on how she could talk Tuvok out of making the trip to the crash site. The beacon would be useless unless Starfleet followed her mad dash through the Badlands, and she doubted very much that they would do so. If he was injured or lost out in the flatlands, she’d be alone, and that would be the worst possible situation.

She was weak with hunger, freezing cold, sick with pain, and filled with despair. Overwhelmed with the futility of their situation, she gave up and cried softly into her pillow until sleep finally arrived.

Outside, the sandstorm increased in ferocity.

A/N: Please note that the events in this chapter occur soon after the rescuers find the Class L planet.

Part 4.4 Despair

Feb. 17, 2380–Four days later (Eighteen days after Redmon’s disappearance)
Surface of Class L Planet

Wrapped up in blankets and sleeping bags on the cave’s freezing floor, Kathryn Janeway drifted into and out of consciousness, sometimes unmindful of her hopeless predicament, other times deeply cognizant of it. In her more lucid moments, she was not surprised to be meeting her death in the line of duty. In fact, although it might seem morbid to some, she’d often speculated about the circumstances and timing of her death.

She’d thought of dying in a huge antimatter explosion during battle, in an alien ambush during a botched first contact, from a virulent unknown fever or disease contracted during an away mission, through an accident or equipment failure on a starship, and, in the unlikely avoidance of those and other occupational hazards, she occasionally hoped that she might die of old age at her home in Indiana. However, she had never once considered the possibility of expiring on a blighted planet in the Badlands from a combination of starvation, exposure, and an increasingly high fever caused by alien bacteria.

Their supplies were depleted. She had one ration cube remaining. The anti-bacterial additive for the water supply was gone, bringing on the infection and fever that raged inside her body. The weak sunlight failed to recharge their batteries fully, and the constant battering of the solar panels by the sandstorms had quickly reduced their effectiveness. And then, of course, was their lack of an emergency beacon. For once in her life, Kathryn Janeway was out of options.

The meager daylight that slanted through the cave opening was fading, and she could hear the increasing sound of the nightly sand storm as it shimmered against the force field. Otherwise, the cave was quiet. She didn’t bother with the lantern, preferring to brood over her troubles in the gloom that came from the powered down Sims beacon.

Tuvok was somewhere in the whirlwind. He’d left the previous morning to hike to the crash site, but, just as she’d feared, he had failed to return. She wondered if he was still alive, perhaps cowering in what was left of the shuttle or folded into a narrow crevice in a canyon wall as the maelstrom swirled around him. Although she preferred to repress the thought, she knew that he might already be dead, and that thought brought tears of guilt and remorse to her eyes.

“Please don’t go,” she’d pleaded when he’d stocked his backpack with water, a couple of ration cubes, and a partially charged tricorder. “I’m afraid you’ll get lost, and there is nothing I could do to help you.”

“I must go if we hope to survive. What is the human saying about the darkest hour?”

“’The darkest hour is just before the dawn,’” she answered with a weak smile. “But I always wondered about that saying. We can’t know it was the darkest hour until the light returns.”

“Hope is, by nature, illogical, isn’t it?” He gave her an intense look. “But, even a Vulcan knows that hope is a necessity of life, especially when the future looks bleak.”

“It’s my fault for stranding you here like this.”

“I have no regrets over what has happened, Admiral, and neither should you.”

“I’m responsible for this disaster.”

“Don’t be hard on yourself. I have reviewed every step we took during the reconnaissance mission, and I find no fault with the choices we made. I hold no feelings of resentment toward you, and neither would Lieutenant Grey. Every mission has an element of risk that Starfleet officers accept as part of the job.” In an unusual gesture of physical comfort, he’d placed a hand on her shoulder. “This should be a time of reconciliation and peace, not a time of blame and regret.”

As Janeway lay back down on the pallet, struggling to find a comfortable position, she marveled at the last days that she and Tuvok had spent together. There had been no hysterics, no censure, and no bemoaning their fate. He truly used the time to make peace with his life and prepare himself for death, speaking only when she initiated a conversation and never burdening her with his private thoughts. His was an admirable approach to the inevitability of death, but she wasn’t sure that she could follow his example.

She looked around the cave, taking in the little things they had accomplished to make the camp less austere–the neatly built dam that helped keep them supplied with water, the stack of rocks that radiated heat, the neatly swept rock floor, the organized interior of the tent. She shook her head. They had done nothing more than rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic. There was nothing that they could do to solve their dilemma, and so, here she was, facing death alone. As was Tuvok, somewhere in the wind.

Three more deaths were on her hands, including her own, and she didn’t even know if their sacrifice had been in vain. Had Starfleet found the message buoy she’d left behind in the Badlands? Had they managed to attack the smuggler’s base and bring the illegal activity to an end? She couldn’t even take comfort from the fact that their deaths had counted for something.

The lack of food, the cold, and her spiking fever were taking their toll on her mental health, as well. Her teeth chattered in spite of the blankets, and a feeling of malaise overwhelmed her. She would break out in a drenching sweat, and then feel colder than ever despite the heated stones. Twice, she managed to get on all fours and crawl to their latrine to take care of her physical needs, but soon dehydration set in and made such trips unnecessary. She was glad to stay as still as possible, because any movement intensified the shooting pains in her back and hip. She realized, when the time came, that death would be a welcome relief.

Between periods of fitful sleep, she sipped water from her canteen and, when she was lucid enough to do so, made the final official log entry of their blighted mission on the only tricorder that still held a charge. She had already recorded tearful notes to her mother and sister, a farewell to Voyager’s crew and senior staff, and a few personal messages to special friends and colleagues. She wondered if they would ever hear them, suspecting that her bones would turn to dust in this cave, her tomb undiscovered for eons, perhaps to be found in the far future, a curious anomaly—a single human female? Here?

There was one last message that she wanted to make—to Chakotay. She struggled to think of what to say, how to say it, even though she despaired of his hearing it. As death approached, she could think only of him and the misunderstanding that had come between them. She wanted so much to make peace with him, to ask for his forgiveness so that she could leave this life with everything settled and at peace. He had been her partner in the adventure of a lifetime, brilliant, faithful, challenging, funny, and kind. Each time she activated the recorder and imagined his face, she gave in to regret and sorrow as the words simply wouldn’t come. She wasn’t ready to tell him goodbye, couldn’t go quietly to her death until this issue that separated them had been resolved.

Giving up on a coherent message, she placed the tricorder on auto-record, set to activate at the sound of her voice, and tried to take some time to gather her thoughts. Her strength flagging, she would approach the task a few sentences at a time, during those moments of coherent thought. Exhausted, she stared into the darkness, letting her mind go back over their many years together as Voyager’s command team. She was surprised that her memories of their exile were happy ones, especially those memories of Chakotay. She’d made good friends among the crew, some as close as any family tie she’d ever known, and she missed that feeling of belonging, the camaraderie of being on a team. She missed Chakotay most of all.

She closed her eyes and drifted into delirium, her confused mind taking her back to her final walk through Voyager’s passageways soon after their spectacular return to the Alpha Quadrant.

In accordance with Starfleet custom, the crew lined the passageway walls to show their support and respect for their departing captain. She strolled slowly through the ship, speaking to each member of the crew along the way, Chakotay at her side. She knew their names, their strengths and weaknesses, their preferred shifts and duty assignments, their planets of origin, their family situation, even their favorite foods and hobbies. Many of them hugged her and promised to keep in touch. Most of them were struggling to control their emotions. She could feel her first officer’s calm presence, even the warmth of his body, as he echoed her words and actions.

In her delirium, as she approached the door to the transporter room, she was shocked to discover that that the passageway was lined with many other people not part of her crew, people alive and dead, officers she’d known from other ships and the Academy, her school friends and family, her mother and father, even aliens she’d met in the line of duty in the Alpha and Delta Quadrants. She wanted to speak to them, but before she could say a word, the doors to the transporter room slid open, and she was propelled forward by an unseen hand.

The transporter room was a dark and frigid cave. Tuvok stood at the far side of the chamber, barely visible in the shadows, his disembodied voice echoing in the vast chamber. “Vulcans prefer to face death alone, but if you wish, I will stay with you to the end.”

“No,” she whispered. “I’m not afraid to die alone.”

“Then I will return to the crash site. Live long and prosper.”

“If only Voyager were here, we could have hope. Chakotay wouldn’t give up until he found us.” She gasped at the thought of her first officer, realizing that he was no longer beside her, and then she found herself inside Voyager’s transporter room, ready to beam down to Earth. She looked around in confusion. “Where are Chakotay and Tuvok? I thought we were beaming down together.”

When no one answered, she stepped slowly onto the platform, turning to find herself in a dark, frigid ready room on deck one. The door slid open, the bright light from the bridge nearly blinding her. Holding her hand in front of her face, she recognized the familiar silhouette that filled the doorway.


Her eyes flew open when she spoke his name, but the darkness inside the cave was so complete that only a flash of lightning outside briefly illuminated the cave. She remembered where she was and that she was alone. That she was dying.

The tricorder’s red standby light blinked slowly on and off, reminding her of the unfinished message. She wondered how she would ever find the strength to tell him everything that she wanted to say, everything that had remained unspoken for so many years. If she started now, she could talk for hours and never find a way to stop, but then she reminded herself that there was only one thing that she really needed to tell him, only one sin to confess. Her vision blurred as she fell back into her blankets, caught up once again in her hallucination.

“Chakotay?” she whispered. The silhouette walked into the ready room, but once the door closed, she found it impossible to see the expression on his face. “Is that you?”

The form said nothing, but leaned over her, the familiar aroma of Chakotay’s cologne filling her with peace.

“I knew you’d come.” She relaxed into her sofa as he reached for her. “You promised I wouldn’t be alone.” She felt herself being lifted upward, out of her body and toward his warmth. “With you beside me, Chakotay, I’m not afraid to die.”

A bright light blinded her, but she simply closed her eyes and relished the warm strength of his body, the pain and anguish that wracked her body fading away.

“I never told you that I love you.” She melted into his embrace, relieved to tell him, at last, the truth that she’d kept hidden in her heart. “Forgive me.”

The cave was totally dark. Only the dim light of the tricorder continued to blink in silent readiness, waiting for her voice.