Author’s note: I always wondered why Janeway didn’t use cloaks in the DQ. The treaty with the Romulans surely didn’t apply when she was on the other side of the galaxy, and it definitely didn’t apply to Neelix’s Talaxian ship—at least it doesn’t in this story!
Gezegend – Chapter 6
The ashram, or religious retreat, was located high in the mountains near the planet’s magnetic north pole, so remote and so sacred that its existence was protected by all parties of the battle that raged in the lower latitudes. The thought of approaching the ashram with any attitude other than reverence was impossible for the Broden to imagine.
Voyager had been allowed to approach the planet and take up a position outside the asteroid belt that separated the Broden home world from the outer planets of their solar system. Chakotay had come through that belt alone in the same shuttle that Tom had used when rescuing the away team, although B’Elanna had made a few essential modifications in the meantime. He landed on the opposite side of a glacier-filled valley, but within view of the ashram.
He was dressed in a white woolen robe with long, full sleeves and a hood that shadowed his face. Beneath the robe was a Starfleet-issue polar survival suit to protect him from the cold. He carried no weapon and no communication device, as the Broden insisted, but he did have a small backpack that contained the “religious” elements he would need for the captain’s death ritual.
He stepped out of the shuttle and was greeted by a priest dressed in bright red robes and standing before a fragile flitter that looked to be about a hundred years old. Chakotay turned to seal the door of the shuttle, hoping that his escort didn’t notice that the minimal power still running, supposedly to protect the delicate equipment from the frigid temperatures, actually powered the forward shields and the transporter system. He was relieved when the priest remained by his flitter rather than inspecting his ship.
Without a word spoken, Chakotay took his place in the flitter’s “sidecar” and sent up a silent prayer that the vehicle could safely carry both of them across the glacier-filled valley.
As they flitter landed near the ashram, Chakotay was amazed by its glowing white tiles that glittered like ice crystals in the weak midday sun. The walls were high, nearly thirty meters, and the arctic winds whipped around them and bit into his face and hands. He pulled the heavy white robes closer and strode toward the gate with his face hidden in the folds of the hood and his arms deep inside his sleeves.
“Come thee to serve the spirits?” came the ritual challenge from the tower that dominated the front of the facility.
“I come with empty hands and a peaceful heart.” Chakotay kept his head bowed and studied the toes of his boots, but he was fairly sure that these religious men would not realize that he was Voyager’s first officer. He wanted them to believe that he was his ship’s priest, there to perform the most holy of all rites. He glanced up to see several priests looking down at him from above the gate; as he hoped, there was an area large enough for a group of people to stand within sight of the shuttle. He filed that information away for later use.
The gate swung open just enough for him to squeeze through. As it clicked shut behind him, another red-robed Broden priest stepped out of the guard house.
“Do you offer a name?” he asked.
Chakotay kept his head down. “Only the spirits know my true name. Call me shaman.”
“Greetings, Shaman, and come into the warmth.”
They walked across a small open space and into a sparse room that was only marginally warmer than the outdoors, even though a fire burned brightly in the central fire pit. The priest led him through the room and into an alcove on the far side where he pointed at a chair and said, “Wait here,” before he disappeared into an adjoining office.
Chakotay remained standing. In his backpack, he carried a white robe elaborately embroidered with silver and gold threads, a booklet of prayers, simple perfumed bath salts, and a small case with a dozen narrow plastic tubes of holy water. To the naked eye, every article was made of simple, natural materials. When the priests examined them, as they would do before he would be allowed to bring them into the presence of the gezegend, they would find nothing suspicious there. At least, he hoped they wouldn’t.
The priest returned and led him into the presence of an ancient priest dressed in a shimmering blood red robe, no doubt the senior priest in charge of the ashram. As he left the room, he took Chakotay’s backpack with him for a closer look.
The interview was exactly what Chakotay expected it to be.
Yes, there are special rites that the captain’s people perform at their deaths, a last rite that cleanses them of their life’s concerns and readies them for their entry into the spirit world. It is only proper that she be given these rights.
Yes, the tears of the gods would have to be dripped into the wound and into her eyes and mouth, but nothing more would be done to the injury.
Yes, the gezegend would have to be bathed in perfume and dressed in a special gown which he had brought with him for her presentation to their gods.
Yes, prayers would be read and chants sung over the gezegend’s body.
“There is one last step,” Chakotay concluded, “and this is the most important of all. I must take her body into the sunlight one last time, so that her spirit can find its way to heaven.”
“All of this is acceptable, as long as it does not interfere with her upward spiral,” the priest declared, motioning for him to rise. The first priest opened the door and consulted with the older man. When they were finished, he turned to Chakotay and said, “We share in your reverence at this holy time.”
He’d passed inspection.
The ashram was small, just an administration building with a long perpendicular wing that extended to the back and all of it encircled by a high wall. The first building housed the offices and, Chakotay suspected, the priests’ and servants’ quarters. They walked through a short covered walkway and emerged in a second low building made up of a long hallway with six private rooms, a building that was a cross between a dormitory and a hospital, designed to house the gezegend, he supposed.
“It is our honor to assist the first alien gezegend,” the priest explained as he led Chakotay to the first doorway on the right and activated a control panel. “Please remove your shoes as you enter.”
Chakotay could barely contain his anxiety as he was let into a typical hospital room with white walls. Two narrow windows were placed at the top of the far wall, and they provided the only light in the room. To the right was a small bathroom, just a toilet and sink. The main part of the room was blocked from view by a white curtain. A young female servant stepped through the curtain, her head bowed.
“Has the gezegend been blessed?” the priest demanded.
“It is as you have requested,” she replied. Without looking up, she asked, “Do you need help in performing your rites, Shaman?”
“No,” he whispered, his heart hammering in his chest. “I must do this alone.”
The priest handed Chakotay his backpack. “Let us know when you are ready to take her body into the sunlight.”
Soundlessly, the two left, locking the door behind them. Chakotay found it nearly impossible to move. He glanced at the cameras that were placed in the upper corners and focused on the room, confirming his suspicion that his actions would be carefully monitored. He felt apprehensive about misleading these people and worried about what might happen to both of them and Voyager if his deception was discovered too soon. But, he had no choice. He sent up a silent prayer for guidance and strength, and then he stepped through the curtain.
Kathryn lay on a narrow bed covered by a white wool blanket. Her skin was alabaster white, and the freckles that she worked so hard to hide in her professional life stood out in stark relief across her nose, cheeks, and shoulders. He stepped to the side of the bed and looked down at her, tears falling from his eyes onto her shoulder as he realized just how close to death she hovered.
He had seen her like this before, nearly dead, and he fought against the panic and grief that threatened to immobilize him. She barely breathed, yet she had a strange peaceful look on her face. Her eyes were slightly open, fixed, and clouded, probably a side effect of the elixir that the priests administered against the pain. She looked like she was already dead or, at least, too far gone to retrieve.
“Kathryn, I’m here,” he whispered, laying a hand on her icy shoulder. “I’m going to help you.”
He forced himself to turn away. The basin of warm water he had requested steamed on a rolling tray behind him, so he busied himself with preparing the bath, opening the salts and pouring them into the water. A welcoming aroma of lilac filled the room, a favorite scent that Kathryn had used for years. This time, however, the doctor had infused the salts with both the antidote and antibiotics, undetectable until it was activated by the water.
Turning back to the captain, Chakotay pulled back the blanket that covered her body, finding her naked except for a cloth that was wrapped around her hips. In spite of himself, he paused for long moments to gaze at her, drinking in the beauty of her breasts, her flat stomach, her narrow waist. His fascination was disrupted by an odd sickly-sweet smell that overwhelmed the perfume. He pulled the blanket down farther to reveal her legs. His stomach churned at the sight of the untreated wound that festered beneath her right knee.
Black putrefied flesh oozed white pus into a brace that had been placed around the joint, and angry red streaks of infection burned up her thigh and into her groin, feverish and angry.
“Oh, my god, Kathryn,” he whispered, reaching for the towels that were stacked beside the basin. Singing a song that his mother had taught him, he washed the right leg first, dipping the towel into the antiseptic water and wringing it into the wound before gently wiping out the pus and drainage. Gradually a pile of soiled towels appeared under the bed. At first, he’d worried about hurting her or about upsetting the priests, but then he realized that she was totally unaware of his ministrations, drugged into oblivion, and the priests watching him believed that she was too far gone for them to worry about his treatment of her wound. He prayed that they were mistaken.
Once the injured leg was clean, he bathed the other leg, her torso, her arms, and her neck. Her hair had been recently washed and was spread out on the pillow like an auburn fan, framing her pale face. Through it all, she didn’t move or respond to his touch. Chakotay was reminded of the times he had watched his mother prepare a corpse for burial, and he shivered in fear.
“Hang on, Kathryn,” he begged her. “Don’t give in.”
Once the bath ended and her body was dry, he began to chant as he shook out the white shimmering robe that felt like pure silk in his hands. Although it looked to be made of natural material, it had been infused with a thread that reacted to the Broden sun. The robe slipped onto her arms and tied in the back, so he gently turned her on her side and tucked the robe beneath her. Then he rolled her to the other side so that the robe could be secured. In spite of what must have been excruciating pain, Kathryn didn’t react. Chakotay smoothed the robe over her body and then reached for the prayer book and the narrow tubes of holy water—all of them carrying an inert and concentrated dose of the poison’s antibody that would be activated by exposure to the Broden atmosphere.
Putting the tubes of water on her chest, he read from the missal, blessing the water for its cleansing of her soul, reading the words that Tuvok had quickly assembled from his Vulcan poetry. Solemnly chanting a repeated blessing, he picked up a tube, broke it open, and allowed the water to drip into her right eye. Then he picked up another tube for the left eye, for each nostril, and for each ear. The last tube was emptied into her mouth.
He leaned forward, improvising, and kissed her on the mouth, closing his eyes and praying to the spirits that he was not too late, that she would survive this ordeal and be returned to health. Then he straightened up and spoke aloud. “It is now time to take her body to the sunlight and allow her spirit to seek the heavens.”
The priest and the nurse immediately unlocked and opened the door, bringing with them an antigravity gurney. Chakotay shook his head, tears in his eye, “I can’t use that. I must carry her in my arms.”
The nurse nodded. “Let me immobilize the knee first,” she requested. When that was done, Chakotay slipped his arms under the captain’s shoulders and legs and picked her up, cradling her against his body so that her head was resting on his shoulder.
“I’d like to take her to the battlement above the gate. It is the highest part of the ashram with the most direct sunlight at this hour.”
“Follow me,” the priest replied.
The three of them walked solemnly through the hallway, the covered corridor, and the administration building, tears coursing down Chakotay’s cheeks. Kathryn was so completely unresponsive, so oblivious, that he felt he had already lost her forever.
“We will accompany you to the top of the wall,” the priest announced.
“Very well,” Chakotay replied with a dip of his head.
The priest unlocked a door and led him up a steep stairway, pausing to open the door to the battlement for him.
“You may observe from the door,” Chakotay stopped him. “I must do this alone. I’m sorry, but it is our most sacred rite.”
The cold took his breath away, and the sun was behind a cloud; more clouds were rolling over the mountain. Trying not to panic, he held Kathryn closer, nestling her face into his neck to wait for a sunbeam. He told them, “Just a few moments more, until the sun breaks through.” And then he began to sing his mother’s song again, a lullaby that had been burned into his memory.
As if conjured by his voice, the sun broke through the clouds, and Chakotay turned to face it, holding Kathryn’s body in the light and sending up a prayer that Tom Paris was where he was supposed to be. Kathryn’s robes caught the light and glowed with an unnaturally bright glow that was almost as bright as a beacon, and was certainly bright enough to be picked up by the sensors of a nearby shuttlecraft.
The priest watching them from the doorway cried out in alarm as Chakotay and Kathryn dissolved in the shimmering blue light of a transporter beam.