CUP – Chapter 16

Cruel and Unusual Punishment

By mizvoy

Part 16: Reprieve

(Immediately after Part 15)

“Tuvok! You scared me half to death.” Chakotay glanced around and was relieved to see that no one else was lurking in the shadows. “What are you doing here?”

“I was observing the admiral and waiting for you.”

“You were waiting for me?” He watched as the Vulcan circled around the foot of the biobed and then faced him from the opposite side.

“I felt certain that you would check on her condition, that is, if you managed to survive the transport.”

“I wasn’t scratched.” He looked down at the woman who separated them, who had, for so many years, bridged the gap between them. “So you’ve been waiting here? To arrest me?”

“Arrest you for what?” Tuvok arched an eyebrow in surprise. “You were invited to the dedication ceremony, even if you chose to watch it from an unauthorized location.

“Not for that. For this.” He cupped his hand over Janeway’s unevenly shorn hair, nearly overcome with remorse. “Isn’t it against the law to assault a Starfleet admiral?”

“I have no evidence to use against you. The engineers decided that the explosion was caused by a malfunction in the console triggered by a hasty transport.”

“What about the tricorder?”

“The fragments we found showed a program designed to erase the transport coordinates, not trigger an explosion.”

“Even so . . . .”

“Plus, there is no proof that you were there.”

“But Kathryn saw me.”

“Perhaps she did. Short term memory is often damaged by trauma like hers.”

Chakotay looked back down, stroking his hand over her hair. “She said my name, and I’ve heard her voice echoing inside my head ever since.”

“It doesn’t matter. Even if she remembers seeing you, she’ll never press charges.”

“How can you know that? Has she been awake?”

“No, I haven’t spoken to her. Even so, I know she will not press charges against you.”

“She’ll lie?”

“She’ll do nothing so transparent. She’ll say she didn’t have a clear view of the person on the transporter pad or that she ‘hoped’ it was you. She’ll claim that what she does remember has been clouded by the injuries she suffered in the next few seconds.”

Chakotay blushed, ashamed of the loyalty she always extended to him. Tuvok was correct; she would never accuse him, even if she remembered everything perfectly.

“I deserve to be charged,” he whispered, “if, for nothing else, being a coward these last two years.”

Tuvok repressed the urge to agree and studied his former crewmate intently, gratified to see anguish in Chakotay’s eyes. The man had paid a high price for his self-imposed exile. His lean, weathered body was evidence of the hard work he’d experienced, and his awkwardness revealed just how lonely he had been. Janeway would forgive him for his flight after Seven’s death, and so the Vulcan forgave him, as well.

“A coward punishes himself,” Tuvok observed, “often more severely than he might have been punished by others. You deprived yourself of your home, your friends, even your identity for the last two years. And for what reason? Because you fell asleep with your best friend in your arms?”

Chakotay’s head snapped up. “If only it had been that simple.”

“The truth is usually simple.”

“This truth isn’t. I didn’t leave because I was caught sleeping with Kathryn on the sofa.”

“Then perhaps you can explain.”

He sighed, gently running his thumb over the new skin on Janeway’s face. “When I was informed of my wife’s death, I was more concerned about what her death would do to my relationship with Kathryn than anything else. Can you believe that? Seven was dead, yet all I could think about was that my friendship with Kathryn was probably over.”

“What you’re saying is that you loved the admiral more than you did your wife.”

“That’s what I’m saying.”

“And so, because you felt guilty, you left rather than staying beside her through the storm.”

He was quiet, holding stock still, and the only sound in the room was that of the arch as it supplied oxygen to Janeway’s body.

“I’m not trying to apologize, Tuvok, or offer any excuses for my behavior,” he whispered. “There’s nothing I can say that would justify my leaving her alone the way I did.”

“And yet, without a second thought, she forgives you.”

Chakotay wilted, leaning heavily against the biobed as he buried his face in his hands, fighting back the tears that burned in his eyes. The Vulcan looked away, unwilling to witness such deep emotion in such close proximity. He remembered discussing the situation with the admiral two years earlier, following her failed attempt to find Chakotay and bring him back with her.

“Did you find him?” Tuvok stood in front of Admiral Janeway’s desk, his hands held loosely behind his back. Janeway gave him an impatient look, for she had never admitted to him the real reason behind her recent trip to the fringes of the Federation.

“Yes, I did, for all the good it accomplished.” She absently watched her finger as she traced the rim of her coffee cup, but he could see the sadness in her eyes and in the muscles that worked in her jaw. “He wouldn’t listen.”

“And so you let him go.”

“What else could I do, Tuvok?” She picked up the mug and drained it before getting up for a refill at the replicator. Her back to him, she said, “He feels guilty about what’s happened, and being confronted with it every day by the press, by our friends would only make him more miserable.”

“And you? Aren’t you in the same situation?”

“I’m much better at controlling my emotions than he is.” She turned toward him as she took the first sip of hot coffee, and he realized that she was right. Her “captain’s mask” was firmly in place, and there was no indication of the anguish she felt at losing her best friend. “I asked so much of him on Voyager, and hurt him so deeply in the process, that this is one thing I can do to try to make things up to him.”

“I can’t imagine what you did to hurt him,” Tuvok replied, a frown on his face. “I detected nothing abusive in your treatment of him.”

“Oh, it was insidious, I assure you, and done with a subtlety I perfected over seven long years.” She shook her head and returned to her desk, sitting down and swiveling her chair to gaze out the window. She raised her chin in a typical show of courage, and yet Tuvok was sure her lip trembled for a moment. “Especially after everything that happened on New Earth, when I felt so conflicted by my feelings, my responsibilities, my guilt, I had to make sure he believed me. I did everything I could to convince him that I didn’t love him.”

“Hmmm.” Tuvok raised an eyebrow. “I always sensed that you shared an intimate friendship with him, but nothing more.”

She laughed and gave him a fond look. “I fooled you, too, I suppose. I should be an actress.”

“You’re saying that you were in love with him?”

“I was in love with him,” she agreed, turning back to the window. “I am in love with him. I will always be in love with him.”

“And you told him this when you found him?”

“I tried to, but he wasn’t ready to listen.”

“And so you let him go.”

“Yes, I did. What else could I do?” She sipped her coffee and then heaved a sigh. “I’m responsible for this disaster, can’t you see that? I concealed my real feelings from him and even encouraged him to marry someone else on the rebound. I betrayed them both, Tuvok, and now it’s time to pay the piper. At least he’s alive.” She looked up at him with tortured eyes. “At least he didn’t take his own life the way Seven did.”

“You blame yourself for her death?”

“Of course, I do.” She turned and put down the empty mug on the desk with a resounding thud. “I was so busy hiding my feelings that I was blind to her need for help and her dissatisfaction with her marriage. I should have realized how frustrated and depressed she was about her remaining implants.”

“You aren’t a counselor.”

“No, I’m not, but her counselor missed it, too, and that’s a problem. We have to do a better job of helping former drones like Seven, and I intend to do just that.”

“As a form of atonement?”

She closed her eyes briefly, blinking back tears. “I can never atone for failing her. I can only try to help others who are struggling with the same problems.”

“And Chakotay?”

“I have no right to ask him for anything, Tuvok. I understand why he has to leave, and I wish him the best in everything.” She rubbed her temples with trembling fingers. “I can only hope that someday, somehow, he’ll find it in his heart to forgive me.”

“But he’s left you with all of the fallout of her death.”

“I don’t blame him for that.” She dismissed his words with a wave of her hand. “He’s as much a victim in this as Seven is.”

The conversation ran through Tuvok’s mind as Chakotay struggled to regain his composure. As if reminding himself, Tuvok repeated, “She forgives you.”

“I don’t deserve forgiveness. You should arrest me.”

“I have no evidence that can justify filing charges against you. And although it is wrong, there is no law against failing to stand beside a friend.”

“Then I’ll confess, dammit!” Chakotay’s voice echoed in the room, and Janeway reacted with a groan. He immediately comforted her, tears filling his eyes as he ran the back of his fingers over her cheek, his voice soft and reassuring. “Oh, Kathryn, I’m sorry. Just rest and get better. Everything’s all right.”

Tuvok watched him with no visible sign of sympathy, even though his heart went out to the man.

“I would rather face your fury than the admiral’s,” Tuvok said, when Chakotay finally looked up at him. “There will be no charges filed.”

Chakotay looked back down, resigned. “Is she going to be all right?”

“The doctor says her recovery will be complete.”

“She’s not breathing on her own.”

“Because of smoke inhalation damage. Her face suffered minor burns, but her hands were seriously injured, third degree burns. She’s sedated because deep tissue regeneration is especially painful.”

“I didn’t mean to hurt anyone, Tuvok, least of all Kathryn. I was just trying to cover my tracks so that no one could follow me.”

“Your actions perplex me. Why return to the Federation if not to attend the dedication? Why not take the opportunity to contact your friends and crewmates?”

Chakotay was silent for a long time before he took a deep breath and said, “This was her triumph, not mine. Only Kathryn could survive such a scandal and turn it into a blessing. This new facility is going to do a lot of good for other drones like Seven, but she did it, not me. I wanted to see the facility, but I had no right to take credit for what she and the doctor accomplished.”

“She wanted to see you again.” Tuvok waited for his friend to reply, but he was met with only silence and an almost oppressive sadness. “Chakotay?”

“You’ll tell her that I didn’t mean to hurt her?” he whispered.

“Tell her yourself. She’ll be awake in a few hours.”

He shook his head. “I’ll be gone by then.”

“I should hope not. You broke her heart when you left two years ago. If you leave now, after all that’s happened, you’ll break her spirit, as well.”

Janeway moaned again and moved her head slightly; immediately, Voyager’s EMH shimmered into existence.

“Her lungs have healed sufficiently enough for her to begin breathing on her own,” the doctor stated, moving toward intensive care arch and making some adjustments. “I’ll administer another sedative to help her cope with the procedure, and then I’ll disconnect the oxygen infuser.”

The arch that covered her body slid away, revealing the heavy bandages that covered her hands and wrists like thick mittens. The doctor busied himself with his patient and then turned to look at Janeway’s newest visitor.

“If it isn’t the galactic traveler come home at long last. We’ve missed you, Commander.”

“I’m glad to see you, too, Doctor, but it’s just Chakotay these days.”

“The admiral was hoping to see you at today’s ceremony.”

“I know.” Chakotay glanced at Tuvok, who shook his head slightly. “She’s going to be all right?”

“Physically, yes. I’d say her emotional well-being is up to you.” At Chakotay’s confused look the doctor explained, “She misses you very much.”

“I miss her, too.”

“So you say.”

Chakotay stepped to Janeway’s side and gently placed a hand on her shoulder. “We all pay for our actions in our own ways.”

“And you pay for yours by running away?”

“I’ve been alone all this time. It hasn’t been easy.”

“It hasn’t been easy here, either,” the doctor replied, his voice betraying his anger. “We were all reeling from what happened, trying to figure out why Seven would be so careless with her life, but you didn’t stay long enough to pay your respects, much less find out her motives.”

“Her motives?”

Tuvok interrupted the doctor. “The admiral didn’t include a copy of Seven’s personal logs in the packet she sent the commander. She was afraid they might fall into the wrong hands and hoped to have the opportunity to discuss them with him personally.”

Chakotay disagreed. “I don’t need to read them to know how depressed Seven was.”

“The situation was more complex that you realize,” the doctor insisted. “Reading Seven’s logs will help you understand her motives and deal with your guilt.”

“I deserve to feel guilty, Doc. I can’t imagine that Seven’s log will lessen my guilt.”

“I realize that both you and the admiral were devastated by Seven’s demise, but no one felt worse than I did,” the EMH argued. “Not only did she violate my rights by disabling my ethical subroutine, she literally turned me into the instrument of her death. In the furor following her demise, there were times when I thought I should simply give up and decompile my program.

“That changed after I read her logs and finally realized how poorly we understood her. She was a quick study and learned to adapt, but her compliance was never more than skin deep. She was a Borg to the very end, Commander, and while the rest of us overlooked her implants, to her, they were a sinister reminder that her goal of becoming fully human was doomed to failure.”

Chakotay nodded. “The regeneration chamber reminded her of that, too.”

“Yes, and it severely limited her freedom.” The doctor shook his head and walked away, studying the wall panel behind the biobed as he continued. “On Voyager, her lack of mobility wasn’t a problem; none of us was able to leave the ship for long. But here, on Earth, she saw her dependency in stark relief. She isn’t alone. When the admiral and I talked to other former Borg about their frustrations, we learned that they, too, are depressed and hopeless. The admiral realized that we needed to do something to help them.”

“And so she worked toward the new Hansen wing.” Chakotay nodded. “Kathryn referred to it as her ‘penance’ in the package she sent to me on Sanctus V.”

Tuvok interrupted once again. “She believed that it was time for you to come home for good, Chakotay. She hoped that listening to Seven’s logs would help you find peace.”

“Peace.” Chakotay struggled with his decision, dreading the prospect of hearing Seven’s voice. “Where can I get a copy?” he asked at last.

“I have a one,” the EMH replied. “You can access it here, if you want.”

“I might as well get it over with.”

The EMH downloaded the file into the computer that was in the small observation alcove at the far end of the room. Chakotay sat down in front of the screen, but spent the first few moments gazing into the room and watching the doctor continue his work. At last, once he’d steeled himself for the experience, he activated the screen.

The initial shock of seeing his late wife’s face and hearing her voice nearly overwhelmed him. He closed his eyes for a moment and then realized that he needed to restart the playback because he’d been too shocked to absorb her words.

He finally focused on her words and found himself drawn into her emotions as she spoke of her life. He was amazed to hear her true feelings about her life and marriage and astounded at how poorly he’d understood her. Time and again, he stopped the replay to listen a second or third time to a particular entry because her words took him by surprise. He was learning that his assumptions about her attitude and her desires were completely wrong, and he knew that he should have talked things through with her and helped her deal with her depression.

Her final entry hit him the hardest. She had recorded it just a few hours after her fateful visit to Lake George and just moments before she’d altered the EMH’s program so that he could perform the dangerous and ultimately fatal procedure. It was literally a deathbed confession.

/I don’t love Chakotay the way a wife should. I’ve tried several times to explain to him that I was unprepared for marriage and that I want a divorce, but he refuses to believe that we can’t overcome our problems. He seems to think that admitting failure is worse than continuing to live a lie.

/When I saw him this morning, asleep with the admiral in his arms, I knew that I had inadvertently come between two people who truly loved each other. When I saw them, I had a flashback to my childhood when I saw my parents sleeping together on our ship. I realized that my affection for them was the same kind of love I once felt for my parents. It was a moment of clarity that brought everything else into stark relief.

/When the transporter clerk said something about “shacking up,” I didn’t know what he meant. Now I understand that he saw their togetherness as some sort of offense against me because I am Chakotay’s wife. But he was wrong. I know that they did nothing wrong. They were taking refuge in a cold building and needed each other’s warmth to survive. It’s the proper thing to do in such extreme circumstances, and so, naturally, that is what they did.

/I know that they would never do anything that they believed would hurt me., and that is why my marriage happened. However, it’s unfair to let them feel responsible for my happiness any longer. My continuing Borg deficiencies have not only hampered my development but have made them pity me. They have put me ahead of their own wishes, and I can no longer tolerate that kind of sacrifice. I will make the attempt to remove these final implants. If I succeed, they will let me go because I will no longer be at a disadvantage on Earth. And if I fail, my misery will be over. Either way, we will all move ahead, and they can be together, as they should be.

/I have heard people say that who we love and how much we love them is beyond human control. While both Chakotay and Admiral Janeway love me, they will always love each other more. If I had understood this fact on Voyager, I would never have pursued a relationship with Chakotay in the first place.

/My only real concern is what I will do to the EMH. I promised him that I would protect his program from being hijacked again, and yet here I am, about to force him to take actions he would find objectionable. I ask his forgiveness in advance and absolve him of any responsibility for whatever happens because of the procedure.

There was no farewell. In typical stoic fashion, Seven simply closed the log and went on. Chakotay listened to that final log entry three times before he slumped back in his chair in complete amazement.

He shut down the PADD and glanced into the treatment area. Tuvok was alone, still standing vigil over Janeway’s unmoving body, when the EMH rematerialized.

“Her hands are sufficiently healed,” the doctor said to Tuvok as he gently unfastened the bandages that had been rebuilding the muscles, tendons, and ligaments of her hands. The delicate new skin was bright pink and fragile, too frail to endure the normal abuse human hands receive. The EMH retrieved a skin cream from the counter that would help toughen the new skin, a normal final step to the treatment of serious burns.

Chakotay stood up and met him at the biobed.

“I can do that, doctor,” he said, taking the flat container of cream from the doctor’s hands. “It’s the least I can do.”

“You’ve read Seven’s logs?” the doctor asked, giving him a measured stare. “You understand what happened and why?”

“I think so. Seven still suffered from emotional issues about her assimilation and recovery, but she seemed, on the surface, to be adapting well.” He nodded in the direction of the Hansen Wing. “That’s why you and Kathryn have worked so hard to get this new initiative underway—to help others like Seven who are trying to return to ‘normal.'”

“You can imagine how relieved I was to hear her ‘forgive’ me for what I did when I performed the procedure. It’s been my hope, and the admiral’s, that you would feel equally relieved by her words.”

“They help a great deal,” Chakotay admitted.

“All that remains is for you and the admiral to come to terms with each other’s actions in this matter,” Tuvok added, joining the two of them beside the biobed. “I hope that you’ll take advantage of this opportunity to talk to her and find peace.”

“Peace.” Chakotay nodded and then glanced at Janeway. “I’d like to be at peace again.”

“I’m allowing the admiral to awaken gradually from the sedative,” the doctor replied. “She’ll be in pain when she regains consciousness unless this medication is applied in the next few minutes.”

“I’ll apply it now.” Chakotay moved to Janeway’s side while Tuvok and the EMH retreated to the alcove to observe him from a discreet distance.

The EMH sighed as he sat down at the computer monitor to make some notes on Janeway’s condition. “Let’s hope this is the beginning of the end.”

“Indeed,” the Vulcan replied, watching as Chakotay prepared to treat Janeway’s burns. “They both need to find closure before they can move on with their lives.”