CUP – Chapter 12

Cruel and Unusual Punishment

By mizvoy

Part 12: Flight

May 2379 (two months later)

Chakotay sat alone at the bar of the BQT Company’s assignment center sipping a tepid beer and listening to the argument going on at the pool table behind him. BQT was the largest transport company in the Federation, occupying an entire level of the Crossroads Space Station situated on the boundary of the Alpha and Beta Quadrants, right in the heart of Federation space.

Since the Dominion War had ended, the demand for qualified pilots and engineers had been so high that BQT hired anyone who was qualified, doing no more than a cursory background check and even allowing applicants to use aliases, if they so desired. Their policies appealed to a man like Chakotay, who wanted nothing more than to remain outside of the mainstream of the Federation.

“Everybody knows that the Dominion War was the best thing that ever happened to the transport fleet,” a garrulous engineer shouted, pausing to chalk his cue after sinking the fourth striped ball in a row. “These days are almost as wide open as the boom times of the early Federation.”

“Hell of a note, cashing in on a war that killed billions of people,” his opponent, a younger engineer, argued. “It just doesn’t seem right to me.”

“I never said it was right the war happened, laddie. I just said it was damned good for business.”

“You sound like a Ferengi.”

“That’s almost a compliment,” the older man answered, calling and sinking the eight ball with a style that Tom Paris would have been proud of.

Chakotay smiled at the banter and turned his attention to the Fednews report scrolling across the large video screen behind the bar. Apparently, some new piece of Voyager’s technology had been successfully integrated into a Starfleet ship. The reporter went on and on about the upgrade, but Chakotay was only mildly interested until Admiral Kathryn Janeway appeared on the screen. Surprised to see her, he sat up to pay closer attention, wishing the sound was loud enough for him to hear her voice.

“She hasn’t changed much, has she?”

Chakotay glanced over his shoulder to see Noah Lessing approach the bar and then sit on the stool beside him. Ignoring the reference to their former captain, he cut right to the chase, his voice gruff. “It’s about time you showed up. What did you find out?”

“BQT needs experienced pilots, all right. I thought the personnel director would have kittens when I showed him your qualifications, but I’m warning you that there’s nothing as boring as piloting a supply ship in this region of space.” He handed Chakotay the chip that carried his “real” personal data.

“I’m not worried about being bored. When do I start?”

“They said to show up first thing in the morning. There’s a transport heading out to Starbase 315 that needs one more pilot. You applied just in time.”

“Let me buy you a beer.”

Lessing was quiet as the bartender delivered the brew and deleted the credits from Chakotay’s account. He took a long drink from the mug and set it down with a resounding thud. “There’s nothing like a cold beer to quench a thirst.”

“I really appreciate your help in landing this job, Noah.”

“Hey, it’s the least I can do. I owe you my life, after all.”

Chakotay scowled, remembering with obvious distaste the life-and-death struggle Voyager had waged against the Equinox and it’s “fallen” captain. Janeway had tried to force Lessing into cooperating with her by threatening to let the nucleogenic beings attack him, but Chakotay had intervened before Lessing could be injured. Because he’d short-circuited her plans, Chakotay preferred to think that he hadn’t saved the man’s life and that Janeway would have backed down.

“Whatever the reason for your help, Noah, I appreciate it.”

They sat in silence for a few moments. Chakotay glanced at Lessing out of the corner of his eye, perfectly aware of the unasked question that hovered between them. Lessing wanted to know why he was here, looking for work so far from Starfleet and the rest of Voyager’s crew. He counted on the unspoken pact between “drop outs” to keep the man from asking him the question.

Finally, Lessing took a long pull on his beer. “I heard about Seven of Nine’s death and I want you to know that I’m really sorry.”

Chakotay closed his eyes and struggled to keep from smiling at Lessing’s discomfort. He knew quite well that his disappearance must be a mystery that most of the crew was struggling to solve. He decided to be polite and accept the man’s condolences. “Thanks, Noah, but I’d rather not talk about it.”

“No problem. Most of us who work for BQT have a few topics we’d just as soon ignore. I just wanted to let you know I was sorry she died.”

“Yeah.” Chakotay nodded and drained his beer, spending a long minute staring at the empty mug before he shoved it away and stood up. “First thing in the morning?”

“Be there no later than 0600. Report to the assignment desk and ask for Marlowe Jamieson.”

He put a hand on Lessing’s shoulder. “Keep this favor quiet, and we’ll call it even between us, okay?”

“Sure, you bet. I told Marlowe to expect a man named Ramon Caldera.”

“That’s me.” Chakotay smiled, thanked him again, and left the building, heading for the hostel where he’d secured a tiny, inexpensive room until he found work.

Starbase 315 was deep in the Beta Quadrant, a long journey on a lumbering transport ship. He had only committed to a one-way trip, planning to leave BQT at SB315 and look for a new assignment that would take him even farther from Earth. Farther from her.

It was late, so he hastily packed the few items he had with him, showered, and then lay down on the narrow bunk, staring up at the ceiling until he finally gave up on sleeping, crawled back out of bed, and turned on the Fednews digest. It didn’t take him long to find the news article about the Voyager upgrades. He played Janeway’s interview through three times, taking in every word she uttered, every gesture and expression, until he was sure the five-minute clip was burned into his memory. Then, he crawled back into bed, his heart heavy.

Seeing and hearing her voice and Noah’s words of sympathy words had reopened a festering sore and reminded him of his failure to live up to his responsibilities. A better man would have made the arrangements for Seven’s memorial service, he knew that now, but he had been overwhelmed by a blind, suffocating guilt that still dogged his every breath—but not the obvious guilt.

He was sorry, but not overly burdened by Seven’s early death. No, his guilt was for something that Janeway had simply refused to understand or even accept as possible.

He’d tried to explain, but she had still been in denial, had still been focused on proving their innocence instead of mapping out the extent of their culpability. He was unwilling to lie to himself any longer. He’d seen the truth, and nothing in the universe could erase that truth from his mind. His grief was not over losing his wife, but over losing Kathryn.

As he had stood beside Kathryn on that fateful day in the cabin, clad in a robe and slippers, he had known at once that their friendly collaboration was at an end. Seven’s death had torn Kathryn from him, and he had taken his rage out on the reporter’s camera because it was the first thing within reach. He could still hear the irrepressible click of the reporter’s camera and the scornful look on the transporter clerk’s face.

There was a scandal taking place, all right, but for Chakotay, it had nothing to do with having committed adultery. It was that he had lost Kathryn forever. With instant clarity, he saw that the whispers that surrounded this innocent event would eventually destroy the intimacy of the bond he shared with her. They would never again be as close as they had been in the past without bringing condemnation and judgment down on their heads. Their intimate friendship would not continue; or, more accurately, Kathryn could not continue to be his friend.

Her first words to him in private had proven it to him. The Starfleet officers, having done their duty, left them in the cabin to pick up the pieces of their lives.

Kathryn had turned to him at once, already thinking past the initial shock of Seven’s death.

“We shouldn’t be seen together, Chakotay, and we especially shouldn’t be seen alone together. We should do everything we can to convince the public that we are and always have been nothing more than friends.”

Even now, he could hear the panic and anxiety in her voice as she took the first step toward ending their friendship. She didn’t see it as the end as yet, but Chakotay understood exactly what was happening.

How could he tell Kathryn the monstrous truth? How could he admit that he grieved more over losing her friendship than he could ever grieve over his wife’s death? How could he be so cold, so insensitive, so dishonorable and indecent to love another woman more than he did his wife?

The thought of continuing his life without Kathryn as a significant part of it was impossible to imagine. He couldn’t be constantly reminded of her, as he knew he would be, and not be part of her life. It would be torture to see her at reunions and celebrations, to hear about her life from mutual friends, to watch reports about her career, or to run into her at Starfleet Headquarters and not be her friend. He would live in constant agony at what he had lost.

As hard as it was to leave, he had to start a new life as far away from her as he could go. When she was hundreds of light years away, he would be forced to live without her, to make a new life. He had no other choice.

His refusal to give her up when Voyager returned had led to his disastrous marriage and eventually to his wife’s death. As penance for the damage his selfishness had wrought, he would give her up now. He would walk away and never see her again.

He looked out the filthy window of the hostel and wondered how long it would be before Kathryn tracked him down. He wondered if he would have the courage to send her away.

Time would tell.

“That’s the ship, Admiral,” Captain Powak said as the boxy looking transport vessel came into focus on the view screen. “Not much to look at, is it?”

“Form follows function,” Kathryn Janeway answered, frowning at the vessel’s ugliness even though she appreciated its structure. “Those boxy cargo units are easily moved from one ship to another.”

“They play hell with a warp field, though,” Powak answered, heaving a sigh. “Can you imagine taking six months to get to Starbase 315?”

Everyone on the bridge groaned at the prospect of such a lumbering journey, but Janeway’s thoughts were no longer focused on the conversation as she stared at the ship, imagining Chakotay somewhere inside.

She had pulled every string and called in every debt owed in order to be given the use of a Starfleet vessel for what could only be described as a personal mission. The crew accepting this as a training exercise, but Powak knew better. He had enough experience in diplomacy to turn a blind eye to Janeway’s ulterior motive. She owed him for that, and she was in the debt of any number of others, as well.

“Let me know when the inspection team is ready to board the transport,” she said, walking across the bridge toward the turbo lift. “I intend to go along with them.”

“Aye, Admiral,” Powak replied as several members of the bridge crew looked at each other in surprise.

Janeway escaped to her tiny office on deck two as Captain Powak opened communications and ordered the transport to a stop for a surprise cargo inspection. She didn’t know whether Chakotay might be on the bridge, and she wanted to see the surprise on his face when she confronted him.

It had been a long two months since Seven’s funeral, and Janeway had spent the last month of it on the Sargasso Sea. Their mission, transport control, was a thinly veiled search for contraband (namely Chakotay).

She stood at her viewport, watching the BQT vessel as the Sargasso Sea steadily approached it, grateful that her diligence had paid off and that Starfleet had let her use the ship for her personal project. Soon, she would be beaming aboard that ugly ship. Soon, she would see Chakotay.

With her heart pounding, she tried to imagine what she would say to him, how she would confront him about what he had done and failed to do. She continued to pace, wiping her clammy palms on her trousers, as she imagined one greeting after another.

She muttered several options under her breath, “‘Do you have any idea how much trouble you’ve caused?'; ‘Did you really think you could hide from me?'; ‘Where the hell have you been?'”

She stopped in her tracks and listened in as Captain Powak worked out the procedure they would follow in performing the surprise inspection for contraband. She could hear the irritation in the transport captain’s voice when he replied, for it took a great deal of energy to get that huge cargo ship moving and even more to bring it to a quick stop. A few moments later, Powak informed her that the inspection team would assemble in transporter room one in ten minutes.

Janeway walked into the transporter room right on time. The team’s banter came to a stop and the away-team leader stared at her in disbelief. “Admiral?”

“You’re in charge, Lieutenant,” she reassured him. “I have business to attend to elsewhere on the BQT ship.”

Now all business, the team took their places on the pads without another word.

They beamed into a huge, tightly-packed cargo bay. Captain Jamieson had been ready to plow into the team for their needless interruption of his journey when he spied an admiral and thought better of it.

“Welcome to BQT Ship Number 810, Admiral,” he said smoothly. “I’m Marlowe Jamieson, master of the ship.”

“Captain Jamieson,” she said, shaking his hand. “I’m Kathryn Janeway, and this is Lieutenant Conners, who is in charge of the inspection team.”

“Lieutenant,” Jamieson said, turning to greet him, “this is George L’Nard, who is my chief of cargo. He will assist you in your inspection.” He watched them exchange preliminary information and then turned to Janeway. “Are you here to monitor the inspection, Admiral?”

“Actually, no. I was hoping to speak to one of your pilots-Ramon Caldera.” She watched the captain’s eyes darken and imagined a black mark appearing by Chakotay’s name on the crew manifest.

“Caldera?” He glanced at a young worker who was standing nearby, waiting to be given something to do. “Is he on duty?”

“No, sir. Halstead is at the helm this shift.”

“Then find out where Caldera is and take the admiral to him.”

“Yes, sir.” He scurried over to a console.

Jamieson turned back to Janeway. “If you need any other assistance, please let me know.”

Janeway thanked him and then followed the crewman out of the cargo bay and up a long series of ladders.

“The cargo holds are external to the drive section,” the young man explained. “Once we’re in the primary hull, we can use the turbo lift to get to the officers’ quarters.”

“That’s fine,” she answered, trying to hide how out of breath she was. “I’ll just skip my physical training today.”

Janeway didn’t often tour non-Starfleet ships, and so she kept her eyes open as they wound through the passageways. It was well-maintained, but space and weight were carefully controlled. The passageways were narrower, the overheads lower, and the lighting darker than what she was used to. She was curious to see how small the officer’s quarters would be.

“This is the pilot’s suite.” He stopped in front of a narrow door.

“Suite?” she said, surprised. “They share?”

“Only the captain and first mate have private quarters, ma’am.”

“I see.”

“Will there be anything else, ma’am?”

She sent him on his way and reached for the entry chime, pulling back when the door opened and a human male very nearly knocked her down as he rushed into the passageway.

“Pardon me,” he said, grabbing her by the shoulders to keep her from falling backward. “I didn’t know you were here.”

She looked up into friendly blue eyes and smiled. “No damage done.”

“If you’re looking for Ramon, I think he’s asleep in his bunk. He just got off a twelve-hour shift.”

“Is it all right if I just go in?”

“Sure. His alcove is the one on the right.”

“Thanks.” She watched the man trot down the passageway and then peered into the suite.

The door revealed a narrow hallway. On one side of it, there was a single door, slightly ajar, that opened onto the shared bath facilities, while on the other side there were three doors, each labeled with a name—closets or storage, no doubt. She walked through the hallway into a shared lounge area that included a replicator, a table and chairs, a couple of recliners with a video screen, and a fairly large desk. The whole common area was less than half the size of her dining room on Voyager.

Along the far wall were three sleeping alcoves, each with a tiny viewport. Her eyes studied the alcove to the right. Beside the door and stretching to the far wall was a bunk, with a tiny chair at the far end. Beneath the bunk was storage area, really a low dresser with four deep drawers. A curtain could be pulled across the doorway for a modicum of privacy.

“My closet is bigger,” she muttered, stepping all the way into the lounge and making a mental promise never to sign onto a BQT transport.

Although the curtain on the far right alcove was partially closed, Janeway could see that someone was stretched out on the bunk.

For a moment, she simply stared at the figure, her heart pounding. She’d missed him terribly over the last eight weeks, especially as she dealt with Seven’s death and the constant torment of public opinion and the press. She’d worked so hard to find him that she hadn’t stopped to think what it was she wanted to say to him.

At first, she’d been furious with him for disappearing, but that had soon turned into confusion. Why would he do such a thing? There had to be something else going on that she was unaware of, something that negated his sense of responsibility, and she was determined to find out what it was. She would here to convince him to come back with her, but suddenly, she was afraid.

What if he refused to speak with her? What if he sent her away without a word of explanation? What if she never saw him again? How would she carry on if he rejected her?

Still unsure of what she would say, Janeway walked through the lounge and paused at the entrance to the sleeping alcove.


Although she said his name only once, the man on the bunk rolled over and looked up at her in surprise.