CUP – Chapter 15

Cruel and Unusual Punishment

By mizvoy

Part 15: Damage

2381 (two weeks after part 14)

“Where the hell is Chakotay?” Kathryn Janeway peered through a doorway at the people assembling for the dedication ceremony of the newly renamed Annika Hansen Cybernetic Research Wing of Starfleet’s Medical Center in San Antonio. She let the door shut quietly and turned to Tuvok, who stood placidly beside her. “Why would he bother to return to the Federation after all these years unless he intended to attend?”

“We assumed that he returned to attend the dedication, but we never knew for certain,” the Vulcan pointed out. “He told the immigration clerk that he was visiting friends.”

“What friends? It’s been two weeks, and no one has seen him.”

“Perhaps he has friends that we aren’t aware of.”

“Well, we would already know if he hadn’t managed to evaporate into thin air.” Janeway shook her head and rubbed a hand across her forehead. “I should have had you set up the surveillance of him. Maybe then he wouldn’t have disappeared as soon as he left DS3.”

“I have reviewed the surveillance plan that was in place and assure you that it was adequate.”

“For a person who doesn’t mind being followed, it might have worked, but not for someone as wary as Chakotay.”

Tuvok raised an eyebrow at her characterization of him. “Paranoid?”

“Perhaps he is.” She walked slowly toward group of officials who were participating in the dedication-a couple of admirals from Starfleet, Voyager’s EMH, and one of Seven’s relatives from Sweden. They all looked at her expectantly.

“Any sign of Mr. Chakotay?” Admiral Hayes asked.

“No, sir,” she replied, hiding her consternation. “We know that he reentered Federation space two weeks ago, but where he is now is anybody’s guess. We have no idea whether he intends to be here today.”

“Then we’ll have to go with Plan B,” Hayes decided, turning to the holographic doctor. “I assume you’re ready?”

“Yes, sir. I’m honored to give the keynote address.”

Janeway was glad for him. The doctor had been so distraught over the part he’d played in Seven’s death that Janeway had initially wondered if he would ever recover. He had thrown himself into task of bringing the Hansen wing into existence, starting with the assets that Chakotay had left in Janeway’s care and campaigning for other donations.

They had both benefitted from this project. The cybernetic wing of the medical center that had been the location of Seven’s death was now dedicated to the treatment of the psychological and social struggles former drones faced as they returned to their previous lives. They were determined to prevent other drones from succumbing to the desperation Seven of Nine had felt when she underwent her ill-fated surgery.

“You’ll do a great job, Doctor.” Janeway smiled at him and then glanced into the foyer where most of the guests had already taken their seats. “We might as well get started.”

She followed the rest of the dignitaries onto the stage and took a seat facing the crowd, scanning each face for a familiar tattoo. The ceremony was taking place in the wing’s entryway, a three-stories-high, breathtaking expanse with one glass wall that allowed the sunlight to stream into the building. The late afternoon sun slanted across the room and fell on a mosaic representation of a Borg cube interior set into floor-to-ceiling wall across from the windows.

Her mind wandered as the first two admirals made their remarks. She remembered the first time she’d met Seven of Nine, during her controversial pact with the Collective to defeat Species 8472. Seven had been arrogant and dismissive from the first, and the two of them had disagreed about ethics, values, and personal actions time and again in the next five years. Never in all that time, never once, had there been the slightest suggestion of a spark between Seven and Chakotay. Why had she so readily accepted their marriage after the admiral’s visit?

Chakotay had surprised her. Once he’d shown up at DS3, she’d expected him to come directly to Sector 001 and take part in this dedication which honored the life and the loss of Seven of Nine. Why else would he have returned? What else could he be doing?

The time came, at last, for Janeway to take the stage and introduce Voyager’s EMH, the individual who had initially rescued Seven from her Borg bondage and had ultimately brought on her untimely death. She spoke eloquently of Seven’s desire to restore herself to her purely human state and recalled her despair when faced with one roadblock after another when seeking a solution.

“She was a victim of the Borg to the very end,” Janeway finished. “She needed more psychological and emotional help than any of us realized, and this wing, dedicated to her memory, will help other drones find hope as they dream of a better future.”

When the EMH took the lectern and her part of the ceremony ended, Janeway returned to her seat and let her eyes follow the graceful lines of the arches that soared three stories upward in a web-like frame. She could see the blue sky and puffy white clouds in the afternoon sky against which the support beams and catwalks were put into stark relief.

A slight movement caught her eyes, something in the uppermost region of the western wall that looked like the shadow of a man. She kept focused on the location, trying to remember if a security officer had been stationed there to monitor the meeting from above.

“Why have someone watching from way up there?” Janeway thought as she lifted a hand to block the light. He was wearing black clothing, but without the familiar cut of a Starfleet uniform. Perhaps because he noticed her steady regard, he came to attention and began to move toward the access door at the far side of the catwalk.

“He isn’t supposed to be there,” she thought to herself. She stood up and moved quietly toward the wings as the doctor continued his speech. She watched the observer with her peripheral vision and waited until she was out of sight of the audience before she reached for her commbadge.

“Janeway to Tuvok.”

“Tuvok here.”

“Someone was watching the ceremony from the catwalk overhead. When her realized I was watching him, he left through the west side access door.”

“Acknowledged,” Tuvok replied. “I’m heading toward the west exit now.”

“Why wouldn’t he just beam out?”

“There is a dampener in effect that prevents transport from anywhere except the authorized transport rooms.”

“Of course. I forgot about that.” Janeway paused to think, imagining the layout of the building. “The nearest transporter room is right off of the foyer, but he’d never use that during the ceremony.”

“I agree.” Tuvok’s voice changed a bit as he exited the building. “I’m scanning the west access to the roof, but I am picking up no life sign.”

Janeway nodded. “Could he be wearing a biodampener?”

“He might be. He might also take a circuitous route to a nearby transporter room.”

“The closest one would be in the main building,” she guessed, stepping over to a window and studying the huge hospital complex to the north. “He could be anywhere in there.”

“Not really,” Tuvok disagreed. “There are a limited number of transporter rooms available this late on a Saturday afternoon.”

“Excellent point. I’d think he would head for the heavy duty transporters in supply and maintenance.” She trotted down the hallway to the door that exited into the quadrangle, the most direct route to the hospital. “Meet me there, in the basement level.”

“Acknowledged,” came the reply.

Janeway trotted across the grassy quadrangle, the ceremony long forgotten, breaking into a sweat because of the hot sun and the high humidity. As she approached the building, she wondered if the observer might have been Chakotay. Sneaking into the ceremony would be consistent with his behavior since Seven’s death—a consistent refusal to appear publicly or acknowledge in any way the part he might have played in Seven’s untimely death.

She arrived at the hospital complex drenched in sweat and out of breath, only to discover to her frustration that the door was locked. It took just a few seconds for her to override the lock with her access code and step into cool and quiet interior.

As Tuvok had predicted, the building was deserted on a late weekend afternoon. She searched the hallway for the stairs that led to the subterranean level, raced down them, and then stopped to study the floor plan posted on the wall in order to locate the nearest transporter room. She arrived at the transporter room’s doors just as the hum of the equipment being brought online filled the hallway.

“Stop!” she shouted, beating on the door when it failed to open. “Identify yourself!”

She could hear someone working inside the room, but the door refused to open, and she realized that it had probably been jammed by the intruder. She opened the emergency panel for the override lever, muttering a few favorite Klingon curses under her breath, until the door finally slid partially open and revealed man as he stepped onto the transporter pad .

“Stop!” Janeway repeated, using her hands and her hip to pry the doors open wide enough to squeeze through. “Please, stop!”

The man turned to face her, his face still hidden in the room’s deep shadow. “Kathryn?”

“Chakotay? Is that you?” she replied, her heart swelling in her chest as she dashed to the console to try to abort the transport.

“Kathryn, nooooo! Don’t-.” His words were lost as the blue sparkling light of the transporter beam took him away.

Janeway quickly circled the console and found an open tricorder in the middle of the console. An unusual series of warning lights scrolled across the work screen, and the, a split second later, blue tongues of intense heat enveloped her hands, licked up her arms, circled around her head, and then smashed into the room’s ceiling with a deafening roar and a blinding flash of light and heat. Broken ceiling tiles showered the room, wall panels burst open, and portions of the console melted, leaving the room full of smoking debris.

When Tuvok and his security team arrived moments later, they found Kathryn Janeway unconscious amidst the sparking wreckage, her face and hands covered with angry blisters.

Six hours later, Tuvok stood in the hospital room where Kathryn Janeway lay on a biobed recovering from her injuries. Suffering from severe smoke inhalation, her lungs were augmented by an intensive care arch with an oxygen infuser. Hidden from view were the deep tissue regeneration “mittens” on her hands and arms that were rebuilding the tissue destroyed by third degree burns. The damage to her face had been less serious, and he could see newly generated pink skin where the blisters had been. The singed ends of her hair had been cut away in a haphazard manner, exposing more of her neck and ears than Tuvok had seen in several years. Even so, he was relieved that her injuries were not life-threatening.

Her recklessness was legend among those who served with her. He wondered how often he’d watched over her as she recovered from her brushes with death, how many times he’d chastised her for her brashness. She should have waited for him to join her before entering the transporter room, but it was not in her nature to slow down or take precautions that might result in losing track of the intruder.

This explosion had been an accident. In their brief, initial investigation, the security team found remnants of a tricorder that had been programmed to erase the coordinates of the beam out, not to destroy the console. Several hours later, Starfleet engineers discovered that a previously undetected malfunction in the transporter’s power relay had brought on the overload. If the console had gone through the normal warm up and pre-transport check, if a qualified operator had been on duty to monitor the readings, there would have had sufficient time to abort the beam out and shut down the system before the relays became critical.

Tuvok’s prompt arrival had saved Janeway’s life, according to the EMH, yet his presence was no longer needed. The biobed continuously monitored her condition and was set to activate Voyager’s EMH at the slightest change in any of her readings. He was there because she would ask for him when she regained consciousness and because he hoped to be able to answer her questions on the identity and the location of the unknown observer.

It must have been Chakotay. They had both suspected as much from the first, although neither of them had voiced their thoughts to the other. Who else could have infiltrated a Starfleet facility? Who but a Maquis would use an old tricorder trick to cover his tracks? There was only one question remaining, and that was whether he had survived the transport—something that B’Elanna Torres estimated at 50/50. Tuvok was sure of one thing: if he had survived, he would come to check on Janeway’s condition.

The Vulcan closed his eyes as he repressed the fury that threatened to break his stoic reserve. The long and convoluted relationship between Voyager’s command team had bothered him for many years and had reminded him of the conflicted nature of human beings. Swayed by emotions that they could barely control, they managed to find equilibrium through a friendship that denied definition and yet had sustained them until the ship returned.

The real problems began once they arrived in the Alpha Quadrant, beginning with the strange marriage between Chakotay and Seven of Nine. But nothing had prepared him for the two years since Seven’s death. Chakotay had acted poorly. His refusal to accept his role in his wife’s death had burdened Janeway with a nearly impossible weight of guilt, one that she had carried with her usual fierce determination. His decision to observe the dedication from a distance might have been consistent with his recent behavior, but it was also unforgiveable. Janeway deserved better.

He opened his eyes and gazed at the small woman on the biobed. She had been his commander for many years and would always be his friend, but he was unable to protect her from her own flaws. At least she was no longer suffering. She rested comfortably, the heavy sedation shielding her from the excruciating pain of deep tissue regeneration, the arch infusing her blood with oxygen that her injured lungs could not, as yet, supply.

He heard a slight sound and stepped farther into the shadows. The door opened, admitting a man clad totally in black who, with a quick glimpse at his surroundings, moved silently to Janeway’s side. He was so focused on her condition that he failed to notice the Vulcan who stepped out of the shadows to stand directly behind him.

The visitor leaned over the biobed, gently tracing the tender, pink skin on Janeway’s forehead.

“Dear God, Kathryn,” he whispered, his voice betraying his sorrow. “Am I doomed to destroy everything I love?”

“Apparently so,” Tuvok answered, stepping back as Chakotay swung around to face him.