Part 6.1 Aunt Martha Has the Last Word
May 2380—Three months later
The Janeway farm in Indiana
Kathryn Janeway sat on her mother’s screened-in porch on a late spring morning, sipping coffee and trying to ignore her Aunt Martha’s running commentary. The weather was mild, almost perfect, and the two women lapsed into silence. They watched the birds and squirrels as they visited the bird feeder, drank from the birdbath, and enjoyed the trees and bushes that shaded the yard. Since her near-death experience in the Badlands a couple of months earlier, Kathryn had found herself enjoying the simple joys of living more than ever before. Even Aunt Martha seemed captivated by the frolicking of the wildlife.
A pair of birds flew up from the feeder, their route intricately intertwined as if it were a complex and preplanned dance. They swooped past the porch, and then their flight dipped and spiraled upward until they disappeared into the leaves. Four squirrels darted and dashed around the tree trunks in an impromptu game of tag, the air filled with the sound of their claws on the bark and their constant chatter. In the meantime, a pair of cardinals perched on the tree branches and began to chirp, as if delighted with their surroundings. The sights and sounds brought a sense of satisfaction to Kathryn’s heart.
“Isn’t it marvelous how the animals interact with each other?” Kathryn said, giving her aunt a brilliant smile. “It’s as if they’re as conscious of this perfect morning as we are.”
“They are as conscious of it,” Martha answered with a sniff. “And why wouldn’t they be? The air, the earth, the plants and trees, even the sun are all part of them.”
Kathryn’s grin faded a bit. “I beg your pardon?”
“Darling, when you go into space, don’t you take all this with you? Air? Water? Sunlight?”
“Take it with me? Are you talking about the ship’s environmental controls?”
“I’m talking about you!” The older woman shook her head and launched into a more detailed explanation. “The world is you, Kathryn! Your body can’t exist without it and has to be surrounded by,” she gestured at the world outdoors, “well, by the ‘environmental controls,’ as you call it.”
Kathryn made a face, but graciously conceded. “You have a point.”
“So, you see, if you need these things to exist, if you must take all this with you wherever you go, then they are part of you.” She laughed at her niece’s scowl. “It’s only normal that you should rejoice in nature, Kathryn, just as these simple animals rejoice in it every day.”
“I am rejoicing in it, Aunt Martha. I’ve never enjoyed being on my home planet more.” She paused to watch three squirrels as they carefully hopped toward the bird feeder. One scaled the pole that held the feeder, perched above it, and then lowered himself onto the feeder’s closed top, securing his back legs on the edge and hanging down to snatch seeds from the tray, his head hanging upside down as he ate. On the ground, the other two squirrels scavenged the seeds that he dislodged, sitting up to hold the food in their paws as they nibbled and pouncing on whatever fell near them. Kathryn laughed aloud at their antics. “They seem to be working together to get the food, don’t they?”
“I’ve never yet seen a ‘squirrel-proof feeder’ that works,” she agreed with a smile. “I don’t understand why someone would want to keep them from eating, anyway—they’re so entertaining to watch.”
“It all fits together perfectly,” Kathryn said quietly as she took in the view. “So harmonious. So perfectly balanced.”
“That’s the way it is when one finds home, isn’t it? When kindred souls are together, what else do they create but contentment and pleasure?”
Kathryn’s eyes widened as she considered her aunt’s words, and was about to make a comment when the birds’ melody gave way to the sound of joyous barking. A young female Labrador retriever came bounding out of the field behind the house and dashed into the yard, scattering the squirrels and forcing the birds to take refuge in the highest branches of the trees.
Kathryn laughed and gave her aunt a wink, “Sometimes, creatures can create chaos, too.” She put down her empty mug and went out into the yard, beckoning to the dog and kneeling down to confront her. “Cleo, come here. Can’t you see that you’re causing trouble in paradise? Hmm?”
The dog sat down obediently and held her head up for some ear scratching, her long pink tongue lolling out of her mouth. She was hot because of her bouncing run from the nearby creek. Her feet and legs were muddy and her short hair was glistening with droplets of water, but she was nearly as joyous in her disorder as the wild animals had been in their harmony.
A shadow fell over them and a familiar voice said, “Cleo is better at excitement than she is at complacency, I think.”
“Chakotay.” Kathryn stood up and smiled, reaching to slide her arm around his waist. “How was your morning meditation?”
He pulled her close and nuzzled her hair, ignoring the dog that took off with another round of barking, forcing a dawdling squirrel to scurry up a tree and reclaiming her back yard domain until such time as she went into the house for her usual late-morning nap. “You can just imagine how peaceful and quiet it was with Cleo splashing around in the creek, dropping a wet stick in my lap for me to throw, licking my face and ears every chance she got.”
“She’s just a pup.” Kathryn laughed, her eyes shining. “Did you manage to meditate?”
“Not really. It’s a beautiful morning, but I didn’t really find my ‘center’ until I saw you scolding Cleo just now.”
Her smile widened. “That’s an awfully nice thing to say. If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were trying to get into my good graces.”
“I think I ‘got into your good graces’ earlier this morning, didn’t I?” He breathed into her ear, purposefully tickling her so that she would squirm in his arms. “And it was good, all right.”
“Chakotay!” She lowered her voice even as she molded her body against his. “What will Aunt Martha think of us carrying on like this in broad daylight?”
He glanced toward the screened porch and then back at her, a wicked grin on his face. “Kathryn, of all the women in your family, I think your Aunt Martha is the one who would most enjoy watching any kind of ‘wild life.’”
Gretchen Janeway stepped onto the porch in time to hear her daughter laugh and throw her arms around Chakotay in a fierce hug. She gave her sister-in-law a questioning look. “Are they at it again?”
“You have it wrong, Gretchen. The question is, ‘Haven’t they come up for air yet?’”
“I’m glad for her. I’d say we should go into the house and give them their privacy, but, they’re right out in the open.”
“Oh, relax, darling. They’ll make it upstairs to Kathryn’s bedroom before the neighbors call the police.”
“Cleo, no!” Chakotay shouted, interrupting their conversation. “Down! Get down!”
The puppy was jumping on the couple, her large muddy paws leaving long dark smears on their clothing. When Chakotay scolded her, Cleo bounded away to the birdbath and put her front paws on the edge of the bowl to get a quick drink of water.
“They’re going to have to get out of those clothes,” Martha predicted with a waggle of her eyebrows. “I knew Kathryn got that dog for a good reason.”
“Shhhhh!” Gretchen scolded. “They’re coming in.” She opened the door and ushered the couple onto the porch, clucking her tongue at the damage the dog had done to their clothing. “What a mess. I think you’re going to have to teach that dog some manners.”
“No kidding,” Chakotay replied, swiping at his pants leg. “Kathryn keeps promising that she’ll get some sense as she grows older, but I’m wondering if she’s going to live that long.”
“She’s just a goofball, like all pups,” Kathryn replied as she examined the muddied sleeve of her jacket. “And, anyway, it’s just mud.”
“We’re leaving for Phoebe’s in an hour,” Martha replied, reminding them of their lunch date in Indianapolis. “I think you’d better use the time to clean up.”
“I need to get my hands on Cleo and wash her feet first,” Kathryn said, scouring the backyard for the puppy. “If I don’t, she’ll just continue to make a mess.”
“I’m not going with you to Phoebe’s, so leave the puppy to me.” Gretchen left the porch and called the dog. “Come on, Cleo. Let’s splash in a nice bucket of clean water.”
“You two go ahead and get out of those clothes.” Martha stood up, shooing the younger people toward the door. “I’ll help your mother if she needs it.”
“Thanks, Aunt Martha.” Kathryn snagged Chakotay’s hand and led him toward the door. “Give us a ten minute warning before it’s time to leave, okay?”
“Sure, sweetie, as long as that will give you enough time.” Kathryn came to a complete stop and turned to give her aunt an exasperated stare. Martha, completely ignoring her niece’s discomfort, continued, “I could contact Phoebe and tell her we’ll be a half-hour late.”
“Don’t bother. I’m sure we’ll be ready, Aunt Martha.” Boiling mad, Kathryn let the door slam behind her, and Martha could hear Chakotay talking to her, trying to get her to laugh the whole thing off. “But, Chakotay, she’s impossible!”
“Can’t you see that she enjoys watching your temper get the best of you?”
Martha smiled with satisfaction and turned to find her sister-in-law standing at the porch door, Cleo’s collar firmly in hand.
“Martha, hand me that towel on the glider so I can dry her feet.”
“Of course,” Martha replied, fetching the towel and handing it through the door. “Do you need me to hold her for you?”
“No, I think she’s out of energy and ready for a nap. At least, I hope so.”
Gretchen joined Martha at the patio table while Cleo circled around her dog bed three times and collapsed for a nap. Since the dog had withdrawn from the field of battle, the squirrels and birds resumed their foraging and playfulness, much to the entertainment of their observers.
“Why do you purposefully stir Kathryn up, Martha?” Gretchen asked, at long last. “Is it some kind of game?”
“I stir her up?”
“You know you do! You stir up all of us with your blunt and confrontational remarks.”
Martha shook her head. “I prefer to think of my conduct as honest and forthright.”
“It may seem that way from your perspective, but to us, you’re just causing trouble.”
“Fiddlesticks. The Janeways have always been too ‘by the book,’ and Kathryn has always been too uptight and fastidious for her own good. Life is short, and she needs to relax and enjoy it while she can.”
“How else should a Starfleet admiral behave?”
“My point, exactly. She doesn’t have anything left to prove. She should tell all those stuffed shirts in the admiralty to take a flying leap. Didn’t she just almost lose her life on some God-forsaken mission? Didn’t she spend seven of the best years of her life on the other side of the galaxy?” Laughter floated down from the Kathryn’s open bedroom window on the second floor, and Martha gave her sister-in-law a knowing look. “That’s more like it—and I don’t want them to hurry just because of lunch our lunch date, either.”
To Gretchen’s horror, Martha stepped into the yard and positioned herself under Kathryn’s open bedroom window, cupping her hands around her mouth as she shouted, “You two have fun. I’ll call and tell Phoebe that we’ll be an hour late.”
The only response was a very loud closing of the window, which made Martha laugh aloud.
“See what I mean?” Gretchen said as her sister-in-law returned to the porch. “You’ve embarrassed them.”
“I doubt that.” She sat down on the glider and picked up her mug of coffee. “They were loud enough to wake the dead this morning.”
“Oh, Martha, you’re too much.”
“I just love it when kindred souls do what nature intended them to do, don’t you?” She made a sweeping gesture at the back yard and glanced up at Kathryn’s bedroom window. “I love it when kindred souls find contentment and pleasure together—like these squirrels and birds do while performing their dances of joy.”
Gretchen sighed, wondering what in the world her sister-in-law was talking about. However, she just clucked her tongue and let the matter drop. She’d learned years earlier that Martha always had to have the last word, whether anyone understood it or not.
And just to make sure she’d summed things up adequately, Martha sighed, “Dances of joy.”