Part 5.1 Amidst the Debris
Feb. 17 and 18, 2380–Same day (Eighteen and nineteen days after Redmon’s disappearance)
Trebus Transport ship
“Is he going to make it?” Chakotay stood beside Tuvok’s battered body in the Trebus transport ship’s tiny sickbay. They’d sent a probe into the upper atmosphere soon after their arrival in orbit and had picked up his commbadge signal. A few hours later, when there had been a break in the sand storm, they’d beamed him to their ship. He’d been alone and unconscious, nearly buried in sand and rubble in the middle of a desert, far from the protection of the hills. There was no sign of any other survivor.
“His condition was poor before he was trapped in the storm,” Marla answered as she took a final scan of the Vulcan’s body. “I’m pretty sure he was out in the open for hours, maybe even days. He was severely dehydrated and his body was literally filled with bacteria. I’ve given him a dose of strong antibiotics, cleaned up his wounds, and replaced his fluids, but Vulcans are unique in the way they heal themselves.”
“So he’s in a coma? You can’t wake him up?”
“Not really a coma as much as a healing trance. I shouldn’t even try to bring him out of it as long as his injuries are life-threatening.” She looked up at Chakotay, her eyes mirroring his frustration. “Since they weren’t together, I’m betting that the admiral and the pilot are somewhere in those bluffs. The composition of the rocks and ions from the sandstorms are preventing us from picking up their commbadges.”
“Maybe. I can’t imagine that Tuvok would leave them if they’re still alive.”
Marla put a comforting hand on his shoulder. “Maybe he went to search for supplies. He was near the largest concentration of the ship’s wreckage, and his backpack was filled with pieces of equipment. I’m thinking he might have gone to get more supplies and been caught in the storm.”
“I hope you’re right.” Chakotay began to pace. His spirits had soared when they’d detected Tuvok’s commbadge, but then his hopes had been dashed when further scans of the area had turned up a large debris field and no sign of the other two officers. “If we could just ask him, Tuvok could tell us where to find them.”
“It’s a shame that he can’t talk.” She stepped away from the bed and snapped the tricorder shut with a click. “But, he was in bad shape. It’s lucky we found him when we did, because he didn’t have much time left.”
“Kathryn and the pilot couldn’t be in much better shape.” He took a deep breath and then made up his mind. “We can’t waste any more time waiting for conditions to improve enough for us to use our orbital sensors to find them. As soon as the weather clears enough, Mike and I will beam down and do a physical search along the foothills. Our tricorders will work better at close range.”
“There must be half a dozen canyons along those hills.”
“That’s why we need start as soon as possible.”
Chakotay returned to the bridge where he and Mike studied the probe’s scans of the crash area, amazed at how widespread the debris was. Each time they were able to peer through the soupy sandstorm, their sensors lit up with thousands of pieces of the Starfleet ship spread for miles over a series of ridges and into the valley.
“They couldn’t have ridden out the crash in the ship,” Mike said. “Nobody could have survived a crash that violent. They must have beamed out.”
Chakotay nodded in agreement. “But where?”
“Close enough for Tuvok to scavenge for supplies.” Ayala pointed to a series of finger-like ridges that reached from the foothills of the mountains that formed the edge of the desert. “The debris pattern suggests that the ship came over these ridges and then crashed. I’m thinking they would have beamed down in this plain to avoid the rough terrain. Or maybe on the top of a bluff.”
“The bluff. It’s high enough to protect them from the crashing ship. If so, they would have looked for a cave in one of these ridges,” Chakotay added, pointing to the canyons. “The prevailing wind comes over these high bluffs, so I’d think they would have headed this way, just to avoid walking into the blowing sand.”
Mike nodded, imagining them looking for a likely beam out spot as their ship tumbled into the atmosphere. “If we start here and work our way along these canyons, we should be able to search the entire region before the night winds start again.”
“Of course, the winds will have covered up their tracks.”
“Yeah. We’ll have to look for visual cues. Maybe once we’re close enough, we’ll detect their commbadges.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Chakotay agreed. “And while we’re doing a surface search, Marla can continue to scan from the ship.”
“Maybe Tuvok will wake up soon enough to help us track her down.”
“I’m not counting on that, Mike.”
After a few last scans, they adjourned to their quarters for some sleep, but Chakotay found himself too upset and nervous to get much rest. He got out of bed and made a list of the special supplies that they should take along with them—antibiotics, in case the two humans were also suffering from Tuvok’s infection, extra fluids and rations, even some clean clothing and a portable sonic shower device.
Whenever he closed his eyes, Kathryn’s face appeared, reminding him of her desperate situation. He wanted to be doing something instead of waiting for the weather to clear or Tuvok to wake up. The Vulcan had been in critical condition when they’d beamed him aboard, and Chakotay felt certain that Kathryn and the pilot must be in as bad shape or worse. This delay might mean that they arrive too late to help them.
Finally, he managed to fall asleep, but his dreams were troubled by memories of Voyager’s captain in a variety of life-and-death situations. He woke up the next day just as tired as he’d been the night before, but glad to finally start doing something.
The two men were packed and ready to go, stopping long enough to talk to Marla one last time.
“Is Tuvok awake yet?” Chakotay asked, hoping for good news.
“Not yet, but he’s showing signs of coming around. I’ll call you as soon as I have any news.”
“Okay. We’re beaming down now.”
Each man carried a heavy backpack filled with food, water, emergency supplies, and an assortment of medications that Marla thought might be needed to treat the survivors. They beamed into the canyon closest to the crash site and began their search.
“Wow,” Mike commented. “There are pieces of that ship all over the place.”
“Yeah, it broke up at a high altitude.” Chakotay looked around and then nodded toward the canyon. “We might as well get started.”
Chakotay led the way, scanning one side of the canyon wall while Ayala scanned the other. They moved quickly toward the closed end, meeting each other with bad news—they’d found no cave large enough to shelter two or three people. Determined to move ahead, they trudged toward the opening of the canyon together and hiked to the next one.
The walk was uneventful, and the men needed something to keep them from contemplating the many bad outcomes their search might uncover, so Chakotay asked some questions about Mike’s love life.
“You and Marla seem to be getting along quite well.”
“Yeah,” Mike blushed and shrugged his shoulders. “It surprised us both. We decided to take things slow. The counselors told us to wait at least a year before we made any important decisions.” When Ayala realized what he’d said and to whom, he stopped in his tracks. “I’m sorry, Chakotay, I can’t believe I said that to you, of all people.”
“Because Seven and I didn’t wait?” Chakotay took a deep breath and shook his head as he studied the settings on his tricorder. “Don’t feel bad that you two have more common sense than we did, although I don’t know that waiting would have done us any good.”
“Who knows? Rumor has it you two married in the admiral’s timeline, too.”
“That’s what Kathryn tells me, and I guess the admiral was telling the truth, but everything changed once Voyager returned.”
They reached the mouth of the next canyon where they resumed their search, working steadily, checking in now and then with Marla, and pausing every half hour or so for a break. Three hours later, they were nearly halfway through the series of canyons when Marla interrupted them.
“I’ll give you the bad news first,” she said, her words muffled by static. “There’s another plasma storm moving in from the Badlands, and it’s bigger than any we’ve seen so far. I think we can safely say that the conditions in your area are going to get much worse, and fast.”
“How long do we have?” Chakotay wondered.
“Maybe thirty minutes. And I need help up here. Having to monitor both Tuvok and this storm is too much for one person. I’m pretty sure I’m going to have to leave orbit when the storm arrives.”
“Understood,” Chakotay answered, glancing toward the five canyons they had yet to scan. “What’s the good news?”
“The good news is that Tuvok woke up briefly from his healing trance. I think he is so worried about the admiral that he forced himself to regain consciousness.”
Chakotay nearly collapsed with relief. “So she’s alive?”
“She was when he left her over twenty-four hours ago.”
“Did he tell you where she is?”
“In the last canyon—we started at the wrong end. They beamed out a lot farther from the crash site than we thought.”
“He left her behind?” Mike asked, pulling out his tricorder and picking up evidence of the fast-approaching storm. “I thought they’d stick together.”
“She was injured in a fall and had trouble walking,” Marla explained, “so he left her behind while he went to the crash site to look for supplies.”
Chakotay replied, “We haven’t seen much in the way of food or water down here.”
“I don’t have coordinates of the cave, but he says it’s on the right wall as you walk into the canyon, two-thirds of the way down and up a ledge-like ramp.”
Chakotay nodded. “Is the pilot with her?”
“Tuvok says he died four days ago. He’s buried at the opening of the canyon where Janeway is located.”
“Acknowledged. Stand by.” Chakotay peered into the horizon that was already turning red with blown sand, measuring how far he would have to hike to reach the burial site. “It sounds like you need to beam back up there and help her, Mike.”
“I don’t want to leave you down here by yourself.”
“What else can we do? Marla needs help, but we can’t leave Kathryn down here until the storm blows over. If she’s as sick as Tuvok was, she’d never make it that long.”
“You’re probably right.”
Chakotay was suddenly anxious to get started. “Chakotay to Marla. Can you beam Mike up from here?”
“Negative. You’re too close to the bluffs.”
“Okay, stand by.” Chakotay reached for Mike’s pack. “I have to get going, and you need to hike out into the desert for Marla to get a lock on you.”
“Are you sure about this?” Mike helped him load the second pack onto his shoulders just as a gust of wind came over the top of the bluffs and hit them with a biting spray of sand. “No telling what you’re going to find in that cave.”
“We can’t quit now.” Chakotay peered toward the canyon, unable to look his friend in the eye. By the time he hiked to the last canyon and found the cave, the weather would probably have deteriorated even further. If he was lucky, he’d find Janeway still alive. He didn’t want to think about what he’d find if he was unlucky. “I’ll be waiting for your call when the storms let you resume orbit.”
“Sounds like it could be awhile.”
Mike put his hand on Chakotay’s shoulder. “For what it’s worth, we’ll be thinking of you and hoping for the best.”
“She’ll be alive. She’s a survivor.”
Chakotay nodded, pulled his hood up over his head, and started walking. “Get going, Mike.”
“Yeah.” Mike started out into the desert. “Marla, let me know when you get a lock.”
Chakotay trudged on, not even bothering to look back when Mike transported to the ship. He was glad to have some time alone to prepare himself emotionally for whatever trial he was about to experience.
The extra weight he carried and the strong winds made his trip exhausting. By the time he arrived at the canyon and found the pile of rocks that was the pilot’s grave, he was nearly exhausted and needed to catch his breath. He opened his tricorder and scanned it, finding human DNA.
“Sorry we were too late to help you,” he said as he knelt down and picked up a rock to add to the mound. He was reminded by a sudden gust of wind that he had more territory to cover before walking became impossible, so he stood up, shifted the packs on his back, and started trudging down right wall of the canyon.
What would he do if Kathryn was dead? As much as he wanted to believe that she would be alive, he knew that finding her sooner rather than later would improve her chances. And he needed to find the cave soon, before his tricorder was useless against the interference of the storm, before he was forced to find a different place of refuge and wait out the weather.
“Think good thoughts,” he said to himself. He recalibrated the tricorder and resumed his search.
He would find her, or he’d die trying.
Part 5.2 The Cave
February 18, 2380—Later the same day (Nineteen days after Redmon’s disappearance)
Surface of Class L planet
Chakotay took refuge in a crevice and watched the blistering sand whirl past him from the closed end of the canyon. Sliding his now useless tricorder into its holder, he was amazed at how quickly the storm had intensified. He estimated that he was about halfway down the canyon, but he had yet to find any sign of a cave or the ledge that Tuvok said lead up to the cave’s opening. He was unable to see more than a couple of feet ahead, even with the added protection of his Starfleet goggles, and he despaired of spying the ledge unless there was a break in the wind. There was nothing he could do except feel for it with his hands and feet as he crept along the canyon wall.
He readjusted the heavy packs, settled the goggles on his nose, and steeled himself for the blast that would hit him as soon as he stepped into the open. He could kick himself for not getting a better description of the cave’s location while he was talking to Marla. She had told him that it was two-thirds of the way down the canyon on the right side, and it had a narrow ledge that led up to its opening. But that was hardly enough information when he couldn’t see five feet in front of his nose.
Did the ledge begin at ground level or few feet above that along the wall? Was it a foot deep? Two feet deep? Did it begin on the main wall or in one of the narrow fissures that pocketed the side of the canyon? In normal weather, he had a decent chance of finding the opening with the information she’d provided, but not in a gale like this.
Continuing his search was putting his life on the line, but there was too much at stake for him to stop now. He couldn’t quit when he knew that he could be just a few paces away from finding Kathryn, and the price of failure—her life—was too high a price to pay.
He spent a moment finding his bearings and then inched backward out of his alcove, plastering himself against the wall and gripping the rock with his gloved hands. The wind caught the heavy backpacks and pushed him sideways, nearly pushing him to the ground before he managed to regain his balance. He scooted his left foot forward along the base of the wall and slid his body to the left without allowing the wind to push him away from the wall, using his hands to search for anything that might be a ledge.
If anything, the storm had intensified since he taken refuge in the crevice five minutes earlier. The wind originated somewhere behind the closed end of the canyon, poured over the precipice like a waterfall, and sped up as it funneled out into the desert. Although his survival gear protected him from serious injury, he knew that the small rocks and pebbles that pummeled him would leave his body covered with bruises. He imagined that the wind would scour an unprotected body to the bone within minutes.
Chakotay kept moving, at times struggling to stay on his feet, at times praying that the straps on his backpacks would not fail, at times longing to find another crevice where he could escape the wind and wait out the storm. He had no idea how long he had been sliding along the wall or how far he’d come when he suddenly stepped into an oasis of calm.
He’d come to the blind end of the canyon that was just under the cliff’s rim, the wind rushing above him, a visible stream of air. The direction of the storm meant that this small area was quiet, except for an occasional swirl of sand, and he finally had a chance to see at least part of the canyon wall clearly. In addition, for the first time in hours, he could stand without leaning against the force of the gale. He studied the wind that poured over the top of the canyon overhead and down the valley, amazed at its howling speed and brutal power.
“But where is the ledge to the cave?” he muttered to himself, a sick feeling in his stomach. “And where is the cave opening?”
He’d missed it, obviously, and would have to retrace his path in order to find it. He studied that part of the canyon wall that was visible from his perspective and slumped against the rock wall in despair, only to discover that he had sat down on a flat surface. He stood up, turned around, and nearly danced with joy. The ledge started behind him, at the back of the canyon, and angled steeply upward, reaching nearly shoulder level before it was caught in the wind. He walked up the ledge and back into the canyon, clinging to the rock as the winds hit him once again. He figured that moving at a steady pace, he would reach the cave opening in about fifteen minutes.
Time crawled as slowly as he did, but, at long last, he spied at the farthest reach of vision a dull flash of low-level light.
“That can’t be naturally occurring,” he thought to himself. “It has to be a force field over the cave opening.”
The wind was even more brutal at the higher elevation, but whenever he felt tired, he simply turned his head and waited for the glow of light to remind him of his destination.
He was flooded with relief. It took a tremendous effort to stay upright as the currents swirled within the closed walls of the canyon and, while he only had to cover a few hundred yards, the many miles he’d hiked during the day and his struggle to stay vertical against the wind left him trembling with exhaustion.
His progress was slow, but Chakotay pressed on, imagining what the storm must be like for Janeway. He pictured here huddled alone and afraid in a frigid cave with dwindling supplies and fading hope of a rescue. She was probably worrying about Tuvok and feeling guilty about the pilot’s death instead of thinking about on her own situation. Unless she had already perished.
He pushed the thought away. She had to be alive; he wouldn’t let himself think for a moment that she might not be alive.
After what seemed like an eternity, Chakotay’s right hand slid along the canyon wall and recoiled from a mild tingling shock that traveled up his arm. He pulled the hand back and smiled, grateful to know that his journey was almost over. He tightened his grip on the rock wall and inched closer to the opening until he was standing beside it, the right side of his body reacting to power generated by the force field.
He decided that the best thing to do would be to simply leap through the force field and into the cave, briefly shorting out the power source in the process. If he found the force field needed to be reactivated, he could take care of it later. He would experience a brief, fairly mild shock to his system, but nothing that approached the power of the mildest phaser setting. At most, he would be dizzy and nauseous; at worst, he might lose consciousness for a few minutes.
Chakotay had no way of knowing how weak the field had become in the hours since Tuvok’s departure, and he failed to take into consideration the extra weight he was carrying in the two backpacks. When he gathered his resolve and launched himself through the cave opening, he did so with more force than was needed. The force field gave way with little resistance, allowing his momentum to carry him forward too fast to allow for the narrow platform that extended only about two feet into the room before it dropped off steeply to the floor.
Unable to stop, he barreled over the edge of the platform and into the cavern, falling four feet to the rock floor where he landed face down, the weight of both his body and the backpacks smashing him into the floor. He immediately lost unconsciousness and lay unmoving on the rocks as blood soaked into the hood of his headgear and pooled beneath his face.
Inside the cave, there was silence. Outside, the sand storm continued.
* * * * *
“Do you think he’s found the cave by now?” Marla asked as she rejoined Mike on the shuttle’s bridge. She’d left Tuvok in a renewed healing trance in sickbay and was readt to help get the ship to a safe location until the plasma storm ended.
“I hope so, because the worst of the sand storm was heading right toward him when we left orbit.”
“I saw the size of the low pressure system, Mike. The storm is going to get a lot worse before it gets better.”
“I’d say it’ll last a couple of days. Maybe three.” He looked up from his console as she sat down beside him. “How’s Tuvok?”
“Once I told him that Chakotay was taking care of the admiral, he went right back into his trance.”
“That bad, huh?” He shook his head.
“I’d say he would have been dead if we’d found him even an hour later.”
“Wow. I wonder if the admiral is in better shape.”
“I doubt it, don’t you?”
“Yeah. I’d say that if Chakotay doesn’t find her soon, it will be too late.” She shuddered, thinking of the conditions they’d endured. “Did you experience much of the storm?”
“Enough to know it was not good for my health. I was never happier to get back to a ship in my life.”
“I’ve been in some pretty bad climates in my day, but this one is special. There is no sign of water, and the atmosphere is so dry that my sinuses may never recover. No evidence of plant or animal life. Just sand and rocks in profusion.”
“There are signs of a few underground streams.”
“That would be essential to survival down there.” Mike pulled up the most recent scan of the Badland storms. “The storms aren’t stationary. Probably, at some point the past, they didn’t come close to this planet, but now they’re responsible for most of the weather.” He pointed at the scan. “You can see how this tendril of plasma is heading for our position. It changed the climate here and probably plays havoc with the sun, too.”
“To be safe, we’ll need to let this subside. I’d say it will be at least forty-eight hours before we can resume our orbit over the desert.”
“In the meantime, Chakotay is trying to survive on the surface.”
“He knew what he was in for when he sent me ahead. He knew he’d be down there for the duration of the storm, whether he finds Janeway or not.”
“Let’s just hope he survives. And that he finds the admiral.”
“At this point, I’d settle for his survival.”
“So would I.”
“Okay, we’re far enough away to avoid any complications from the plasma storm. Now we can just take care of Tuvok and wait for a chance to get back and rescue Chakotay.”
“Sometimes, I think waiting is the hardest part.”
Mike shook his head. “Not this time, Marla. This time, we’re getting off easy.”
Part 5.3 Rescue
Feb. 18, 2380—a short time later
Surface of Class L planet
Chakotay awoke with his face pressed into a pool of coagulated blood and his head and shoulders weighed down by the two heavy packs of supplies. The cave was dark, lit only by the infrequent flashes of lightning, but his vision was limited, anyway. The hood of his protective gear covered his face, and the remains of the shattered protective goggles blocked his vision.
His head hurt so much that he hesitated to move, taking a few moments to steel himself for the ordeal. When he finally tried to lift his head, he discovered that his face was glued to the floor by dried blood and that he had to peel his head off of the floor. The effort was almost too much for him. He was fighting nausea as he pushed the packs off his shoulders and pulled the hood of his cloak back from his face. For a panicked moment, he thought he might throw up.
“Great. Just great. The last thing I need is a concussion.” He pulled off his gloves, gingerly removed what was left of his goggles, and explored the damage to his face with gentle fingers. The frame of the goggles had driven into his right eyebrow, leaving a deep gash that had bled profusely. The nosepiece had broken his nose, but at least it hadn’t hemorrhaged. He was disgusted to discover that blood had dried into the eyelashes of his right eye and sealed it shut.
He’d need the medkit and some quick first aid before he started his search for Kathryn, but, just in case she was nearby and had somehow missed the noise of his fall, he decided to call out her name.
“Kathryn?” he shouted, immediately regretting the pain that the effort cost him. Holding his head in his hands, he listened as her name echoed back to him from deep inside the cavern.
There was no reply.
He stared at the cave opening above him and pressed the palm of his hand against the side of his head, moaning as he felt the slickness of coagulated blood that was matted in his hair. When the next flash of lightning revealed the location of his pack, he reached for it and pulled out a SIMs beacon and a medkit.
It was a challenge to perform first aid on oneself, even in the best of circumstances, with enough light and a good mirror. Here, it would be hit and miss. He arranged the beacon to create a ring of light around him and arranged the medical supplies so that they were in easy reach in front of him. First, he methodically removed the blood from his eye, face, and the side of his head. It took him a while longer to do a quick dermal repair to his eyebrow and to take a painkiller to fight the nausea that still haunted him. The broken nose was an uncomplicated fracture that could wait for medical attention as long as he was careful not to bump it. The black eye would heal on its own. Satisfied that his injuries were patched up adequately, he repacked the medkit, stowed it in his backpack, and picked up the beacon.
Standing up was another adventure in dizziness and nausea, and he was saved from throwing up only because the painkiller had taken effect. He strapped the beacon to his wrist and aimed it around the cavern, picking up signs of recent habitation in the neatly stacked pile of used supplies and the faint odor of the chemicals Starfleet provided for makeshift latrines. He was not surprised that there was moisture in the air, a sure sign that there was a stream deeper in the cave; without water, none of them could have survived this long.
“Kathryn? Do you hear me? Are you here?”
He wasn’t surprised when there was no answer. If she hadn’t heard and responded to the racket caused by his fall or his first shouting of her name, she probably wouldn’t respond now. He shivered in the damp cold, listening for any sound, no matter how slight, but heard only the storm raging outside and the soft buzz of sand spraying against the shield that had reset itself.
“Time to do some spelunking,” he said as he left one pack on the floor and pulled his tricorder out of the other. Slinging the second pack over his back and armed with his tricorder and the beacon, he slowly moved forward and began a systematic scan of the chamber. To his relief, he soon picked up a weak human life sign and made his way toward it.
His flashlight revealed that beside a small stream a camp site had been set up that conformed perfectly to the dictates of the Starfleet survival manual. Near a pile of containers that they had brought from the survival pod, he spied the unmistakable form of a Starfleet survival tent. Walking quickly, he peered inside and detected the form of a sleeping human.
He’d found Kathryn. He was so relieved that he nearly sank to his knees, but then he noticed how still she was and that there was no visible sign of respiration. A different kind of nausea hit him, one caused by fear, and he paused a moment before he found the courage to approach her.
She was lying on her side on a sleeping pad with her back turned toward him. Beside her lay a phaser, two canteens, a hypospray, a few empty ration wrappers, and a tricorder with the flashing light of standby mode. He cleared his throat so he could speak louder.
He knelt down and shook her shoulder gently. When she still didn’t respond, he carefully rolled her onto her back, his heart pounding as he gazed at her for the first time in months. She was deathly pale, emaciated, and barely breathing, and when he brushed her hair out of her face, he could tell that she was running a high fever. Her uniform was filthy with sand and her hair was a dirty, tangled mess, but to Chakotay’s eyes, she was a beautiful sight.
“I’m so sorry,” he whispered, letting his hand linger against her cheek. “I should have helped you with this mission.” He took a shuddering breath. “It was selfish and cowardly of me, and I beg your forgiveness.”
Having gotten that apology off of his chest, he reached inside his pack for the medical kit, his eyes never leaving her face.
“Dehydrated,” he muttered, glancing at the medical tricorder. “She has a bacterial infection similar to Tuvok’s.”
Without delay, he went to work, calling up the treatment plan that the Trebus ship’s more sophisticated first aid program had outlined for Tuvok on the ship. First he pulled out a laser cutter and slit the sleeve of her uniform to the elbow. Washing the skin on her forearm with a sterile cloth, he carefully wrapped a hydration cuff around it and attached a large packet of saline solution that would be rapidly infused into her bloodstream and relieve the problems of dehydration. He had three other packets in this case, just in case one wasn’t enough.
Then he administered a hypospray of the wide spectrum antibiotic that Marla had used on Tuvok, sending up a silent prayer that it would work on her infection as well as it had on the Vulcan’s. He knew that certain elements had been modified for her iron-based blood and worried that the change would make it less effective.
Finally, he loaded an analgesic into the hypospray to bring down her fever and reduce the stress her body was experiencing from the illness. It wasn’t unusual for patients to respond immediately to such medications, but Kathryn lay so still and looked so pale that Chakotay could almost believe she was dead.
Unable to sit idle and watch her breathe, he used the moist towelette to wipe the dirt from her face and hands. If she didn’t regain consciousness soon, he’d be forced to remove her clothing so he could take proper care of her; he had brought along a supply of gowns for that purpose. He took a moment to scan her body for any other injury, pausing with concern when he came to her injured thigh and hip.
“What’s this?” he said to himself as he made a few adjustments to the tricorder. He pulled out the wand for a more detailed scan and frowned as it picked up a fractured pelvis and inflamed hip socket. “No wonder you stayed behind in the cave while Tuvok looked for supplies.”
He sat back on his heels to think what, if anything, he could do to alleviate the pain caused by this hip injury with the first aid equipment he’d brought with him. Shaking his head, he knew that it was beyond him. She needed a real sickbay and probably a trained physician to take care of her injuries; all he could do was try to make her comfortable. He carefully arranged her body so that the damaged hip was protected and not bearing any extra weight, and then he shook out her blankets and tucked them around her to keep her warm. He used a phaser to heat the pile of rocks in the middle of the tent before he returned to the upper level of the cave to retrieve Mike’s pack.
He spent the next hour cleaning up the campsite and breaking out the rest of his supplies. After a quick trip to the makeshift latrine, he explored the layout of the camp, including the nearby unused parts of the cave. Once he was satisfied that the camp was in order, he set up a mirror and examined his injuries more carefully. As a boxer, he’d learned to take care of broken noses and facial cuts, although few had been as extensive as these. He watched as the bruises disappeared from his eyes and face, and then checked on his patient.
Kathryn hadn’t moved, but her breathing was deeper and less labored, and her color looked better already. He replaced the empty saline solution bag on her forearm with one that contained nutrients that would provide some of the vitamins and minerals that she’d lost, but there was nothing he else could do. To his dismay, her fever was still elevated, and so he administered a second dose of the analgesic and then, exhausted from his long, emotional day of searching, lay down on a nearby pallet to keep watch over her.
He had barely gotten comfortable when he noticed the tricorder that was on the floor between them had been pushed under her sleeping pad. He realized that she probably used it to make notes to herself and that it also recorded everything he’d said to her and to himself since he’d found her. Embarrassed to have those words preserved for posterity, he decided to erase everything that had been recorded since his arrival at the cave.
He did a quick search and then listened to the playback of one of her last comments.
“Chakotay? Is that you?”
He stopped and glanced over at Kathryn, amazed that her comments were addressed to him. Clearly, she’d said his name hours earlier while she was still conscious or at least partially awake. Her voice sounded odd—as if she were almost delirious or hallucinating about him. Even though he was infringing on her privacy, he was too curious to put the recording aside.
“I knew you’d come.”
His throat nearly closed with emotion as he realized that she’d never doubted his loyalty; when he wasn’t there, she’d conjured his presence out of thin air.
“You promised I wouldn’t be alone. With you beside me, Chakotay, I’m not afraid to die.”
Holding the PADD in one hand, he reached out and held her hand with the other, deeply grieved to think that she had given up hope.
“I never told you that I love you. Forgive me.”
He was so shocked by her words that he simply stared at her until the recorded clatter of his violent entry into the cave brought him back to reality. He erased everything from that point to the end and then placed the tricorder in his pack.
He leaned closer to her, picking up her hand again, and marveled at her confession. She loved him. He’d always wondered if she cared for him, often hoped that she did, but had never known for sure. Now, she had left him a deathbed confession. Her last coherent thoughts had been of him, and he rationalized away his guilt of eavesdropping by reminding himself that she actually thought she was talking to him when the recording was made.
At that moment, she stirred for the first time, wincing slightly as she moved her leg. He moved closer to her to do another quick scan, relieved to see that that her fever had broken, at last.
“I’m here, Kathryn,” he told her, cradling her cheek in his hand. “You’re going to be all right.”
She sighed deeply and turned slightly toward him, but she didn’t wake up, and so he turned off the beacon, relying on the softer light of the small lantern, and stretched out beside her. Within minutes, he was fast asleep.
Part 5.4 Confessions
Feb. 18, 2380—a few hours later
Surface of Class L planet
Chakotay opened his eyes hours later to find that he was in near-total darkness. He’d programmed the lantern to conserve energy by gradually dimming to a glow during periods of inactivity, so the campsite was not just cold, but dark, as well. An occasional flash of lightning filled the room with light, and the wind continued to whistle past the cavern opening. The only other sound was Kathryn’s regular breathing, and he took much comfort from that.
The sleeping pad had done little to soften the cold hard rock of the cave floor, and he found that he was shivering and stiff from inactivity. With an audible groan, he stretched out his limbs twisted his body to get the blood flowing again. He heard a surprised gasp and rolled over to find his patient staring at him.
“Kathryn?” he whispered as sat up and reached for the lantern. “Can you see me?”
“Chakotay?” Her voice cracked with disuse and her eyes fluttered as she tried to focus on his face in the sudden light.
He knelt beside her, lifting her by the shoulders to help her swallow some purified water from his canteen.
“Just a little for now,” he warned her as she nearly choked. “Just wet your mouth and swallow once or twice.”
“Thank you,” she stared at him, her eyes fluttering. “My throat was so dry.”
“You’re welcome.” He lowered her gently to the sleeping pad and took a swig of water, as well. Her eyes remained fixed on him, as if he were an apparition that would disappear if she blinked. “Kathryn, are you all right?”
“Is that–,” she stopped to rub her eyes with her fingertips and then started over. “Are you really you?”
“I’m really me,” he responded with a smile, resisting the urge to pull her into a hug to prove that he was, indeed, flesh and blood. When he saw her shiver, he grabbed the phaser and heated the rocks to take the chill from the air. “If I’m aching from the cold, you must be in agony.”
“I hurt all over.” She winced as she shifted slightly, pressing her hand into her hip. “But pain means I’m alive, so I’m not complaining.”
He nodded as he picked up the medical tricorder and did a quick scan. “The antibiotic seems to be knocking down the infection, and the fever is lower, but the meds aren’t working as well on you as they did on Tuvok. It’s probably because of his Vulcan physiology, or maybe it’s a slightly-mutated bacteria. We’ll have the medical diagnostic program fix that on the ship.”
“The ship.” She shook her head in confusion and then looked at the infuser on her arm in surprise. “You don’t mean Voyager.”
“No. Not Voyager.” He smiled at her as he closed the tricorder. “We can take the hydration cuff off of your arm.”
“That’s where all this came from?” She lifted her arm and stared at the cuff. “From your ship?”
“From my ship—and me.” Chakotay chuckled and pulled out another dose of the medications from the medkit, reminding himself that she was groggy and doubting her own eyes, which was perfectly understandable considering her weakened condition. “I really am here, Kathryn. You aren’t dreaming.”
“I dreamed you were here before,” she said, her eyes troubled. “I even talked to you.”
“Maybe you were hallucinating. You haven’t said a word since I got here.”
She sighed and lay back on the pad. “It’s just so unlikely for you to appear on this god-forsaken planet.”
“We’ve always beaten the odds, Kathryn.” He gave her a wink as he slipped the tubule into the hypospray and calibrated it to the proper dose.
“You mentioned Tuvok.” She sat up suddenly, gasping with pain, but pinning him with panicked eyes as she leaned on an elbow. “Tuvok was here with me, but he left. He’s out there somewhere, all alone.”
“Not any more. We found him out in the desert by the shuttle wreckage.” He took her by the shoulders and lowered her onto the pad. “He had the same problems you do—dehydration and a nasty bacterial infection. That’s how I knew to bring these antibiotics with me.” He held up the hypospray.
“So he’s alive.” She relaxed with a groan. “I’m so relieved to hear that.”
“He’s in a healing trance.”
“Where? Where did you put him?” She looked around the cavern as if expecting to find the Vulcan close by.
“He’s on my ship, Kathryn.”
“Your ship. Of course.” She frowned and closed her eyes, as if she were trying to imagine the possibility of a ship. “He went to the crash site to scavenge for equipment and food. The emergency beam-out procedure left so much of what we needed behind or scattered it across the desert. We were never able to fabricate a new emergency beacon, and then Ryan was injured, and we ran out of supplies.” Tears filled her eyes.
“Shhh. Shhh. I understand.” He knelt beside her and took her hand, trying to calm her. “The way those fighters were attacking your shuttle, you’re lucky the beam-out worked at all.” He reached for a hypospray, and she willingly tilted her head to give him access to her neck. He was gratified to see her relax further as the pain lessened. “You’re lucky you survived that stunt at all, you know.”
“I know. I didn’t want to do it.” She looked around again, taking in the campsite. “I wonder if you’d help me use the latrine.”
“I could. Or you could use the bedpan, if your hip hurts too much.”
“It will hurt to walk, but it also might help to move around.”
“All right.” He stood up and helped her to her feet, taking most of her weight as she wavered. “If you want, I can also bring you some clean clothing and toiletries.”
“I’d like that.” She cried out with pain as she put weight on her damaged hip and leaned heavily on Chakotay. “Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.”
“Sit back down.”
“No, I’m up now. I want to clean up. I must look like hell.”
“I don’t care what you look like, Kathryn. You’re a sight for sore eyes, as far as I’m concerned.”
He put an arm under her shoulders and took most of her weight as they went down the passageway to the area that had been made into a latrine. While she took care of her needs, he went back to his backpack and returned with the supplies she would need to clean up, soap, shampoo, toothbrush, and towels, leaving her alone until she let him know she was finished.
“I may still look awful, but I’m sure I smell better,” she quipped as they slowly made their way back to the tent. She lay down on the pallet and struggled to find a comfortable position.
“Maybe food will help.” He grinned at her and broke out a ration pack. “I brought your favorite—chicken with noodles. I thought it might be easier to digest than some of the other choices.”
“I’m too tired to eat.”
“But, you need to eat something to regain your strength. I’ll help you.” He opened the ration pack and warmed the food before he scooped some onto a spoon and held it out to her. She opened her mouth and let him spoon the noodles into her mouth. “There. Just try to eat a few bites for now.”
By the fourth bite, her eyes were drooping. “No more.”
“Sleep, Kathryn. I’ll be here when you wake up.”
He opened a ration pack for himself as he watched her sleep, so relieved to find her alive and breathing that he couldn’t take his eyes off of her. He had no doubt but that she had been near death when he’d arrived. Even now, after nearly a full day of treatment, she was not thinking clearly, still ran a fever, and could barely stand because of her injury. He’d been amazed that she hadn’t asked him how he’d found her or why he was there alone, but attributed it to the fact that she was still confused.
But they would have time to talk through all of that later, once they were safely on his ship. In the meantime, the storm raged on. They’d have to remain in the cave for a while longer, probably a minimum of twenty-four hours, and then he’d have to figure out how to carry her far enough away from the hills to be beamed to the ship. Bored and tired, he soon settled down on his pallet and drifted off to sleep. Once again, the lantern’s light waned to the power of a single candle and the rocks cooled.
His eyes opened a sometime later to almost complete darkness, and he wondered what had awakened him. The he heard a whisper from Kathryn.
“Chakotay? Are you really there?”
“I’m really here.” He sat up at once and scooted to her side, dragging the lantern with him so they could see each other’s faces. “What’s the matter? Are you in pain?”
“I thought you were a dream.” Her voice was choked with emotion. “I thought you were part of my hallucinations.”
He nodded. “You’ve been through a lot. It’s only normal that you’re confused.”
“How did you get here?”
“I came looking for you, of course.”
“You came looking for me.”
“You did. What about Starfleet?”
“They looked for awhile, but declared your ship lost. When they stopped their search, Seven and your mother contacted me and asked me to take over the search.”
“They gave up?”
“They were thorough,” he assured her. “They did an extensive scan of the Badlands, had dozens of ship searching for any trace of your shuttle, but when they didn’t find any sign of you . . . well, they stopped looking.”
“We went to warp.”
“Yes, I know you did,” he frowned at the way she repeated herself. She didn’t seem to remember their discussion of this situation just a short while earlier. “I know you had to, but they didn’t think you’d make such a reckless move. By the time the beacon you left activated and they recovered it, their actions and the plasma storms simply ‘ate up’ your ion trail.”
“You knew I had to?” She blinked at him and squinted her eyes a little. “You knew that I had to go to warp?”
“Just a lucky guess.” He chuckled, his dimples on full display. “Maybe, after all those years together on Voyager, we think alike. I just put myself in your position and imagined what I would have done in the same circumstances.”
“But, if our warp trail was lost, how did you know where to look?”
“Mike Ayala and I studied the earliest scans of the area, and he found a faint ion trail in their earliest scan of the area. It was easy to miss unless you’d had a lot of experience in the Badlands.”
“Mike’s with you?”
“Mike and Marla, yeah.”
“And you followed that course.”
“It seemed like the best possibility.”
“I’m so glad.” A tear fell from the corner of her eye. “I thought I’d run out of luck.”
“Not yet.” He smoothed her hair away from her cheek, brushing the tear aside. “Do you need anything? Are you in pain?”
“I’m so cold,” she whispered, pulling her blanket closer. “I’m cold all the way through to my bones.”
“Let me help.” He reheated the stones and brought her a hot drink. “This is broth; it’s too soon for coffee.”
She nodded her assent and let him help her sit up. She drank the soup gratefully, but her lips were almost blue with cold and her teeth chattered. “Still so cold.”
“I could hold you,” he suggested. “Maybe shared body heat will help.”
He slid his sleeping pad closer to hers and lay down, pulling her close before he spread a blanket over them. She buried her face in his neck and tangled her legs with his.
“You are cold, Kathryn. I feel like I’m holding an ice cube.”
She laughed and snuggled closer. “I bet you’re glad I smell better now.”
“You’re right.” He chuckled and forced himself to relax. Then, he felt her shaking in his arms. “Kathryn?”
“I’m sorry,” she sobbed, burying her face in the hollow of his neck, “but I’m just so relieved that you found us.”
“I’m relieved, too.” He rubbed her back to comfort her, glad that she was getting rid of her pent up emotions. “It’s good to get this out of your system, you know. The stress must have been awful, trying to escape from the smugglers, risking your lives, losing a member of your crew.”
“I’d given up hope, Chakotay. I thought my life was over, and then, out of nowhere, you appear, like a knight in shining armor.”
“I like that,” he whispered, pulling her closer. “I like being the knight who saves the desperate princess from the dungeon and carries her away on my charger.”
“That sounds nice,” she muttered, her voice thick with sleep as their shared warmth helped her relax. “So does living happily ever after.”
“We’ll talk about that later, when you’re feeling better,” he joked, closing his eyes as she grew drowsy and warm in the security of his embrace.
“I can’t wait,” she sighed, giving him a kiss on the shoulder before she fell fast asleep.
Nearly forty-eight hours passed, and yet Chakotay could see no real improvement in Janeway’s condition. Her fever had returned after the first day, and she was having trouble keeping anything on her stomach, whether it was liquid or solid.
“I don’t think this antibiotic is working,” he told her after she threw up another small meal. “We need to get you to the ship and get a stronger medication that will take care of this infection.”
“The storm is too bad, Chakotay.”
“I wish I could contact Mike and tell him to get here now.”
“They can’t beam down into this kind of storm. You know that.” She lay back on the pallet, her face as white as a sheet. “I’ll be all right.”
He nodded in agreement, wanting to encourage her, but he also knew that she was becoming dehydrated again. He’d used all but one of his hydration packets and worried that she would need more than that to survive.
“You could have chosen a planet with a little bit nicer climate, you know.”
“Oh, I know.” She started to laugh, but was taken by a bout of coughing, her chest rattling with phlegm and leaving her gasping for breath.
“What’s that? You’re getting congested?” Chakotay grabbed his tricorder and confirmed his suspicions. She was getting steadily worse instead of better. “I have some triox compound to help you breath better.”
She nodded and let him apply the hypospray to her neck. “I’m so glad you came, Chakotay, because we need to talk.”
“Right now you should rest.”
“No, I can’t rest until we’ve talked through the dispute between us, once and for all.” Despite her efforts to appear healthy, she felt herself trembling with cold, her teeth chattering.
“Here.” Chakotay sat down behind her and pulled her into his lap, cradling her in his arms and wrapping a blanket around them. “What if I told you that, as far as I’m concerned, there is no ‘dispute’ between us?”
“About the divorce?” she asked, relaxing in the warmth of his body. “About my taking Seven’s side?”
“I know you really didn’t take either side—thanks to some time and emotional distance. I can see now that you were just providing her with the help she needed—as you always have. I was jealous, and I let that jealousy influence my actions.”
Her voice was thick with sleep. “I should have been more careful about your feelings.”
“You did nothing wrong. I’m the one who should apologize. I let my pride get in the way of helping you with this reconnaissance mission. I should have been with you; I could have helped you avoid detection or at least get away in one piece.” When she didn’t reply, he looked down to find that she was fast asleep.
She didn’t regain consciousness. Early the next morning, her temperature spiked higher than ever and brought on convulsions that scared Chakotay half to death. Chakotay did all he knew to do, but her condition deteriorated in spite of his best efforts. He was about to take drastic action, trying to decide whether to carry her on his back into the desert or leave her behind and hike out alone to call for help, when there was an odd sound at the cave opening.
“Anybody home?” Mike Ayala shouted as he and a pale, gaunt Tuvok walked into the cave, their protective suits gritty with sand.
“Thank God you’re here!” Chakotay said, waving them toward the tent. “She’s in bad shape and getting worse.”
“The medication isn’t working?” Mike wondered as he shook the sand out of his jacket before approaching the campsite.
“It worked at first, but now she’s worse than ever,” he answered. “We have to get her to the ship.”
Tuvok nodded. “Marla feared that the formula she used on me would be too weak for a human, or that the admiral might have contracted a different infection. It would seem she was right to be worried.”
Chakotay was not interested in hearing speculations about why Janeway was growing worse, preferring to take action first and find out the causes later. “How can we get her out of here?”
“We brought a litter with us,” Mike answered, taking a pack off of his back and pulling out the supplies. “This is basically a sealed hammock that will protect her from the sandstorm. We will carry the hammock suspended between these two long poles. I figured that you and I could manage her weight, even in the wind.”
Chakotay said nothing, but began to help him join the poles together as Tuvok unrolled the hammock inside the tent and began to wrap the admiral’s body for carrying.
“Tuvok looks like hell,” Chakotay whispered, nodding toward the tent. “And I can’t believe you came back while the storm was still so strong.”
Mike glanced up and shook his head. “That damned Vulcan insisted we come back now. I honestly think he might have taken the ship by force if we hadn’t complied.”
“Well, you aren’t a minute too soon.”
Part 5.5 Reconciliation
Feb. 21, 2380–Three days later
Trebus Transport ship
Chakotay’s quarters were dark and warm, and Kathryn Janeway snuggled happily into the softness of his bed. It was her first morning out of sickbay, the first time in weeks that she felt safe, secure, and healthy, and she owed all of it to the devotion and persistence of her former first officer. The irony of that fact brought a smile to her face.
She had given her first loyalty to Starfleet, an organization that had written her off as dead. Chakotay, on the other hand, had always gotten second best from her, and yet he had not given up, had used his head to find her, and deserved an adequate reward for that dedication.
Her smiled widened at the thought of it.
“Are you finally awake?” Chakotay asked from the bedroom door. He had spent the night on his sofa where he could be handy if she needed something. When she slept so long, he’d decided to stay in the main room and do some work so he could be there when she awakened.
“How long have I been sleeping?”
“That explains why I have to use the bathroom right now!” she exclaimed as she hopped out of bed and disappeared into the toilet.
“Are you hungry?” he asked, raising his voice to be heard. “I can make an omelet.”
“That sounds heavenly.” There was a pause, and then a cry of joy. “You have a BATHTUB!”
“The only one on the ship,” he chuckled. “Go ahead and take a bath. We have a few hours before we arrive at Trebus, and I can fix your omelet when you’re finished.”
Kathryn took advantage of the offer and dawdled. She spent a few minutes examining her gaunt body before slipping into a luxurious bubble bath. She would have to be careful to regain the weight properly and not all at once, but that would come with time. For now, the heated water brought on relaxation, and soon she was yawning in spite of her “long winter’s nap.”
Her eyes drifted closed, and she remembered her last hours on the planet, the dusky cold of the cave floor, the hopelessness that had crushed her spirit, the hunger and pain of her illness. Chakotay’s arrival had been the miracle she’d prayed for—and yet she still had trouble accepting the fact that he’d come for her as he did, like a knight in shining armor. “And with a newly healed broken nose,” she thought with a smile, remembering his account of his inelegant fall into the cavern.
“If you aren’t careful,” Chakotay said, his voice bringing her eyes open, “you might fall asleep and drown in there.”
She grinned at him as he peeked into the room. “You’d probably save me . . . again.”
“I have everything ready for the omelet, when you’re ready.” He leaned against the door jamb and looked at her, hair caught up in a towel, bubbles covering the water. “I’m not about to cut short the first bath you have had in weeks.”
“Brave and smart. I like that.”
“Now that we’re out of the Badlands, you can call home. Your mother is anxious to hear that you survived, and Starfleet . . . well, they deserve to be chastised for not finding you.”
Janeway looked at the bubbles that obscured her body from his view and wondered what he would do if she simply stood up, deciding it would be better to wait until her hip and leg felt better. “He would probably find a towel and toss it to me,” she thought.
“In due time,” she said. “I want the doctors at Trebus to declare me alive and well before I talk to Mom, not that I don’t trust the sickbay program that pulled me through all of this. How is it that your company has such a great sickbay?”
“We decided to invest in a ship that could transport critically ill patients, and asked Voyager’s EMH to recommend a sickbay pod and program that would work. I’m thinking we owe him a debt of gratitude for this one, don’t you?”
“I may never get finished saying ‘thank you,’” she admitted. “The program did very well.”
“It’s going to save lives out here.”
At that moment, her stomach growled.
“I’m thinking it’s time to eat,” she giggled.
“You dry off.” He put a couple of towels within easy reach. “I have an omelet to prepare.”
Fifteen minutes later, Janeway sipped coffee as Chakotay finished the first omelet, slipped it onto a plate, and placed it in front of her. “Cheese, mushrooms, and tomatoes—as ordered.”
“I might just make do with coffee,” she sighed, inhaling the bitter aroma with a dreamy expression on her face. “I’m thinking it has healing properties that have remained untapped for too long.”
“Well, drink it slowly then. The medical program says one cup a day.”
“What?” Her eyes widened with surprise. “That doctor had way too much to do with the diagnostic program, I’m thinking.”
He laughed and started the next omelet, filling her in on the whereabouts of the rest of the crew that had accompanied him to the region and asking about the ones who had remained in Starfleet. They ate slowly, enjoying each other’s company. When every bite had been consumed, Janeway felt her eyes drooping.
“I can’t believe I’m sleepy again. Didn’t I just wake up a few minutes ago?”
“Your body is going to need a lot of rest to fully recover, Kathryn.”
“How long before we arrive at Trebus?”
“Let me check.” Chakotay contacted the bridge and had a brief conversation with Marla, who was piloting the ship. He reported back, “Six hours, max.”
“And the plan when we arrive?”
“You and Tuvok are going to the planetary hospital where a real doctor is going to check you out and decide whether you need any further treatment.” He gave her a frown. “How is your hip? Really?”
“It still hurts,” she admitted, “but I’m not complaining.”
“The ship’s program says you fractured your pelvis and that the fracture is completely healed. If you’re still in pain, the doctors will probably have to do some further work on it.”
“Okay.” She yawned. “Are you sure I can’t have another cup of coffee?”
She studied his face from across the table, thinking about all of their talks over the last several days, first in the cave and then in the small sickbay. It seemed to her that he had been there every minute, but then she also recalled Marla and Mike tending to her now and then. Even Tuvok had taken a few shifts. But it was Chakotay’s voice she listened for, his touch that brought the most comfort.
She thought back to all the other talks they’d had over seven years of exile in the Delta Quadrant and nearly a year afterward. How often had she looked for his face, listened for his voice in the midst of impending disaster?
“I don’t think I know anyone in the universe better than I know you,” she admitted. “I know you by heart, and yet, I’m not tired of talking to you.”
“Amazing, isn’t it?” he grinned.
“Amazing,” she repeated, taking in his smiling brown eyes. Moments later, she was stifling another yawn.
“I think you need to take a nap, if you hope to stay awake through the doctor’s exam.” He stood up and held out a hand. “I’ll tuck you in, if you like.”
“Maybe I should get my own quarters,” she said as she stood up, wincing a bit as her hip took her weight. “I feel bad that you had to sleep on the sofa.”
“If you had been assigned your own quarters, I would have slept on that sofa, so there’s no real difference. Besides, I thought you’d appreciate the bathtub.”
“Oh, the bubble bath was heavenly.”
Once she had made a few bedtime preparations and had crawled under the covers, he fussed over her, fluffing pillows and smoothing blankets until she caught his wrist and pulled him down onto the mattress. “You must be tired, too.”
“I slept fine on the sofa.”
“What is the ship’s time?”
“A little after midnight.”
“So you need sleep, too.”
“Once you’re settled.” He brushed a lock of her hair away from her eyes. “Once I know you’re okay.”
“Actually, there is something you could do for me.”
She slid over and patted the bed. “Hold me?”
He hesitated a moment, but then lay down on top of the covers, wrapping his arms around her and pulling her close.
“That’s better,” she sighed, snuggling into his embrace. “We underestimate our need for human contact—or I do.”
He wanted to disagree, to remind her of all the times that she had placed a hand on his shoulder or arm, all the moments that she had leaned into him as he’d stood beside her, or had scooted close to him as they reviewed a PADD, but he decided to simply enjoy the closeness of the moment and let those memories pass. The last days had been a time of healing for them, and he was content to let the hurts and pains of the distant past simply fade away.
“A penny for your thoughts,” she whispered.
“I’m regretting the fact that you have a sore hip and a doctor’s exam in about six hours,” he chuckled, nestling his nose in her clean hair.
“I regret it, too,” she laughed, pulling away from him so that she could look into his eyes. “But I’m thinking I’m going to need time to really recover. I was thinking I might just stay on Trebus for the near future, if I wouldn’t be too much trouble.”
He could hardly breathe. “I’d like that.”
“I know you so well, in so many ways, and yet there are vast areas of experience that we have yet to share.”
“Vast areas that I look forward to sharing, time and again.”
“That sounds wonderful, but in the meantime,” her head drooped against his chest, “I’m just so tired.”
“Sleep, then.” He shifted so that she was able to put her hip in a better position. “I’m going to hold you a little while longer.”
“Please, do.” She relaxed against him with a sigh. “I want to be close to you.”
Chakotay waited as she slipped into sleep and then murmured some words in his native language into her hair.
“What was that?” she mumbled, stirring against him. “What did that mean?”
“I said my name,” he answered, “in my native language, and then I said, ‘Do you see that I love thee? Have I shown you enough of my heart?’ These are the opening lines of a love song.”
“Will you sing it to me someday?”
“Every day, Kathryn, if you want.”
“Every day, then,” she agreed, closing her eyes again.
Part 5.6 Recovery
Feb. 22, 2380—The Next Day
“You’re on Trebus?” Admiral Hayes was dumbfounded by the news and shocked to see the face that appeared on his view screen. “Everyone thought you were killed in the Badlands.”
“The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” Kathryn Janeway gave him a wide grin. “I’ve always wanted to say that.”
“But . . . how? Who?” Hayes shook his head as if to clear out the cobwebs before he rubbed his forehead with his fingers. “I mean, how did you survive? Who found you?”
“It’s all in the report I’m transmitting to you in a few minutes, sir. I’m just calling to let you know to expect it and to ask for a few weeks of leave so that I can recover my strength here before traveling back to Earth.”
The man blinked, his face ruddy with embarrassment. “Take all the time you need, Kathryn.”
“Thank you. Commander Tuvok is being taken to Deep Space 9 and will either rejoin the Hankeel or head back to Earth as soon as he can make arrangements to do so.”
“He’s being taken there? What happened to the shuttle?”
“I’m afraid the shuttle was a complete loss, sir. Tuvok is a passenger on a transport ship that’s owned by the people who found us.”
“Amazing.” Hayes sat back and shook his head. “I wish I could say that your survival is unprecedented, Kathryn, but you have a way of staying alive when others would perish.”
“It isn’t all good news, sir.” She took a calming breath. “Our pilot, Lieutenant Ryan Grey, died in the line of duty. I’ve included a letter for his family with my report, and I’d appreciate it if you’d forward it to them.”
“Of course.” He narrowed her eyes and studied her face. “You look pale and tired, Kathryn. It must have been a close call.”
“The escape and crash were harrowing experiences, sir. I’m going to take a few weeks to regain my strength.”
“Frankly, Kathryn, seeing you like this . . . I’m mortified that Starfleet gave up on finding you when you were still alive. Obviously, we ended the search too quickly. We shouldn’t have underestimated you, especially after what you accomplished with Voyager.”
She smiled and gave him a sympathetic look. “I think that Starfleet’s search was adequate under the circumstances, sir. The important thing is that Starfleet neutralized the smugglers and the threat to the region and that the complaints from Cardassia have been resolved.”
“Yes, thanks to your emergency beacon, we had the details we needed. When you get back, we’ll take some time to talk about how we can put your special talents to better use. Clearly, keeping you at headquarters is a waste of your abilities.”
“That sounds good to me, sir.”
“I’ll be interested in reading your report. And, Admiral, this news has just made my day. I’m relieved and proud that you managed to survive your run-in with the smugglers.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Do I need to let your family know that you’re all right?”
“No, I’m afraid I placed a call to my mother before I called you, Admiral.” She gave him a sheepish grin. “As far as she’s concerned, she outranks you.”
He laughed. “I can’t say that I disagree with her. The fact that mothers outrank admirals is something we all have to remember.”
“I’ll send the report in the next day or two and will plan to return to Earth in a few weeks, sir.”
“That’s fine, Kathryn.” He smiled and shook his head again. “If you were a cat, I’d say you have about seven lives left.”
“I don’t think I have that many lives left, sir, to tell the truth. I’m going to be a little more careful in the future.”
“Let me know if you need anything. When you’re ready to return to Sector 001, call me. I’ll send a vessel to fetch you. In the meantime, get some rest.” He smiled and shook his head. “And, again, seeing you alive and well has made my day.”
When the connection ended, Kathryn closed her eyes and leaned back in the desk chair, suddenly exhausted by the conversation.
“Are you okay?” Chakotay asked, kneeling beside her. “I know that it’s been a long morning.”
“Talking to Admiral Hayes was easier than talking to Mom and Phoebe. I probably should have called the admiral first.”
“Let’s get you into a better position.” He offered her his arm and led her to a sofa in the next room. “Is the hip feeling better?”
“It feels better already,” she assured him, giving his arm a squeeze. “I’m so glad we came here instead of returning to DS9. Your sister is wonderful, and I’m thrilled to have time to visit with you and the crew members who settled out here.”
He sat down beside her on the sofa. “They came out here because they were looking for a job, but I was running away.”
“You were in a no-win situation.”
“That I handled poorly.”
“None of us handled it well, Chakotay. The important thing is that we’ve all survived. Seven is independent and happily working with the doctor on Jupiter Station, which means that we’re free to be together.”
“At last.” He slipped an arm around her shoulders. “Nothing would make me happier.”
“I just wish I could have told you how I feel in person the first time you heard it.”
“I needed to hear it when I did,” he replied with a chuckle, remembering how shocked he’d been to listen to her confession of love on the tricorder. “It gave me the confidence to take care of you properly without worrying about how you’d react.”
“You saved my life, Chakotay. Again.” She laid her head on his shoulder.
“It was my pleasure.”
“You’re willing to come back to Earth with me?”
“You realize that Seven will be in the picture.”
“I can handle that. She’ll only come between us if we let her.”
Kathryn nodded and then yawned. “And we won’t let her.”
“You need some rest. Why not stretch out here and take a nap. I’ll check on you later.”
“Good idea.” She fell over onto the throw pillows and closed her eyes. “Don’t be gone long.”
“I’ll be close enough to hear you if you need me.”
He stood at the doorway and watched her as she relaxed into sleep.
The discussion he’d overheard between Kathryn and her mother was something that still had him reeling. He hadn’t meant to eavesdrop, but he lived in a small house, and he figured that she if she knew he was in the next room with the door wide open, able to hear every word, that she would be careful about what he would hear.
After the initial excitement of their greeting, Gretchen sat staring at her daughter’s face in disbelief. “When we got word of your ship’s disappearance,” Gretchen said, still wiping tears of relief from her eyes as a celebration started among the others who had been waiting with her at the Janeway farm, “everyone said that Chakotay was the person to contact, that he would find you. It just seemed like such a long shot.”
“It was a long shot,” Kathryn daubed at her eyes and nodded. “He’s the best, a miracle worker. He knows the Badlands, and he knows me.”
“They said there was no sign of your ship, nothing to go on, and yet he must have found something. How did he do it?”
“He, Mike, and Marla found the barest trace of a sign, Mom, and they thought outside the box, just as we always had to do on Voyager. When your back is against the wall, when the only chance to survive is to simply jump without looking and hope for the best, you’ll do whatever it takes. Chakotay knew that. He knew I’d take a big gamble. I had to.”
“But you’re not well.” Her mother reached toward the screen. “You’re so thin, so pale.”
“I’m getting better every day. No permanent damage, the doctors say.”
“I want to thank him, in person, Katie. You bring him home with you, and the others, too, because we want to have a big party and thank them in person.”
“I’ll insist that he come along.”
“And in the meantime, Kathryn, you must remember what I told you about him. He deserves to know the truth, to know how you feel. Don’t let this chance to tell him slip away.”
“He knows, Mom, I’ve told him. I owe him my life, and not just for this amazing rescue. He was my anchor and my right arm on Voyager, but, really, so much more. We are a matched pair, I think. He’s wise and brilliant, yet unassuming and gentle. He had the courage to face me when I was at my bossiest, Mom, and you know how hard that can be. He brought our two crews together so quickly that Tuvok wondered if he had ulterior motives.” She laughed. “He knows how much I love him, Mom, but I need to start telling him every day, several times a day, until he’s sure I mean it.”
Chakotay had heard every word and was blushing with embarrassment. He decided to check on things in his garden rather than listen any longer. It was just too overwhelming to hear her speak openly about her love for him when it was all so new and precious.
After she ended the link, Kathryn came looking for him before she called Starfleet. She found him in his shop, building a table for a friend’s kitchen.
“You left,” she perched on a stool and watched him turn a table leg on the lathe. “I hope I didn’t say anything to embarrass you.”
“Not at all.” He stopped the lathe and looked at her. “I just thought you needed some privacy, that’s all.”
“You left when you heard me tell my mother that I love you, right? I don’t think I’ve actually come out and said ‘I love you, Chakotay.’”
“Unless you count that deathbed confession.”
“It would stand up in court,” she quipped. But when she saw the pained expression on his face, she went to his side and slipped an arm around his waist, looking up into his eyes with a serious expression. “I love you, Chakotay. I have loved you for a long time.”
He pressed his cheek into her hair. “I always hoped so.”
“I’m going to tell you that I love you every day for the rest of my life, just to make it up to you.” She looked up at him, tears in her eyes. “While we were on our way here from the Badlands, I was always afraid that Mike and Marla were nearby or I was half asleep from pain medication. I wanted to tell you when we were alone and when you knew I had my wits about me.”
“You don’t have to explain, Kathryn. I love you, too, and I think we should look to the future, and forget about the past. My people have a saying: ‘Don’t let yesterday use up too much of today.’” He put his arms around her and gave her a kiss, amazed at the way his heart rate sky-rocketed at her touch.
When the kiss ended, she sighed and snuggled into his chest, letting him provide her with the balance she needed. “Looking into the immediate future, I think I need to call Starfleet before I collapse.”
“Sure,” he smiled down at her. “We have plenty of time.”
Together, they walked to the house and called Admiral Hayes.
Hours after she had curled up on the sofa, Kathryn joined Chakotay in the kitchen, gratefully taking the coffee he offered her and sitting down with him at the table.
“Feel better?” he asked as she took a long drink. “You slept most of the afternoon away.”
“I’m not sure I’ll ever get enough sleep,” she chuckled. “I was thinking about how surprised Admiral Hayes was when my face appeared on the screen.”
“It was like seeing someone come back from the dead. I thought he took it well.”
“Well, he didn’t have a heart attack or tell me that I look like death warmed over.”
“You look beautiful, Kathryn.”
“I think you might be a little biased.” She gave him a wink. “I can’t believe he apologized to me about the search. Admirals never apologize.”
“Not even an admiral can defend the fact that Starfleet gave up the search so soon.”
“They don’t realize how reckless I can be when faced with hopeless odds, do they?” She gave him a wink.
He leaned his chair back against the wall and crossed his arms over his chest. “What if Hayes had ordered you to return to headquarters right away?”
“He would have been disappointed,” she answered quickly. “I need some time before I return to duty, time to work through some issues, and this is where I need to be to do that.” He took her hand and started to speak when their romantic moment was interrupted by Kathryn’s rumbling stomach. Chakotay laughed.
“What’s for dinner?” she wondered, peering around the kitchen. “I hope I’m not expected to cook.”
“Heaven forbid. Liana’s having everyone come to the community center for a party, remember? All of the Voyager crew and many of our friends are anxious to see you.” He studied her face. “Do you have the stamina for a party?”
“Thanks to the nap, I should be able to last a couple of hours. I like your sister, you know. She has spunk.”
“And a big mouth,” he grinned. “She likes you, too. We’d better head over to the center or she’ll come looking for us.”
They were walking through the village, enjoying the late summer breezes, when Kathryn stopped and faced him. “You saved my life. If I remember correctly, that means that my life belongs to you, right?”
“If you’re referring to what Tom Paris said after he rescued me on Ocampa, I’ll tell you the same thing I told him—wrong tribe.” He took her hand and brought it to his lips. “The fact is, Kathryn, my life has belonged to you for a long, long time.”
“Maybe it would be more accurate to say that we belong to each other.” Her eyes brimmed with tears. “I think it’s about time we admit it, don’t you?”
“We almost left it too late.”
“Better late than never.”