Disclaimer: Star Trek Voyager and its characters belong to CBS/Paramount. I’m just borrowing them for a bit. No infringement intended.
Summary: A “Nightingale” episode addition. Chakotay is reminded that being a ship’s captain is not all that much fun.
Chakotay finished reading Harry Kim’s report on his brief command of the alien ship he’d named “Nightingale” and tapped his commbadge. “Chakotay to Janeway.”
“Go ahead, Commander,” Kathryn replied, sounding a little distracted. From the background noise, he could tell that she was speaking to him from the bridge.
“I wonder if I could meet with you privately.”
After a brief pause, she said, “Report to my ready room in ten minutes.”
The commlink broken, Chakotay studied his reflection in the smooth surface of the PADD and contemplated the dilemma that the Nightingale incident had created for Voyager’s captain. The incident had been a disaster on several fronts, and he wondered how, or if, they could have avoided it.
Just over nine minutes later, he stepped onto the bridge and surveyed the scene. The captain had retreated to the ready room, leaving Tuvok in the center seat in control of the usual gamma shift personnel. He nodded at the Vulcan and walked to the ready room door.
Kathryn Janeway sat on the sofa staring out the view port as she sipped a cup of coffee. She turned toward him as he entered, putting her feet on the coffee table and extending a hand. “Let me guess. You’ve brought me Harry’s report.”
He smiled as he climbed to the upper level of the room and handed the PADD to her, sitting down in a chair to her right. He noticed that the tray held a coffee pot and an extra cup. “Share your coffee?”
“I thought you might like some. Help yourself.” She was quickly absorbed with reading Harry’s report and oblivious to his presence in the room.
He watched her, amazed, as always, by her ability to concentrate on her work so completely. When she truly focused on a report or a problem, it took a photon torpedo to draw her attention away from it. He had nearly finished his cup of coffee when she lowered the PADD and looked up at him. “Poor Harry. The first real taste of command is always bittersweet.”
“Or just bitter,” he agreed, chuckling. “I’m afraid he’s lost some of his self-confidence.”
“Oh, well, that’s probably normal.” Kathryn tossed the PADD onto the table and shifted on the sofa, putting her elbow on the back cushion and resting her head in her hand. “You never doubt yourself?”
“Kathryn, you’re looking at a man who had two spies on his ship without a clue that either one was there. I’ve never stopped doubting myself.”
She smiled. “You just trust too quickly. Not necessarily a bad quality, but a dangerous one out here.” She turned back around to face him squarely. “I trusted the Kraylor, too. I believed their story about the vaccine, or I never would have let Harry pilot their ship.”
“Shame on them for lying,” he noted. “But I agree that the price we paid for trusting them was too high.”
Kathryn pushed her hand through her hair and sighed. “You’re telling me. We needed that dilithium and the injectors. How long will it take us to find another planet of friendly aliens who have the supplies we need?”
“Let’s not think about that.”
“All because we didn’t follow that basic rule of looking before we leap.”
Chakotay hesitated, and then said, “Not to mention the Prime Directive.”
“Did you have to bring that up?” She closed her eyes. “I can just hear the admirals at the review board now.”
“We can argue that the trade we contemplated making with the Annari might have affected the war just as much as the helping the Kraylor did.”
“Are you implying that a few tons of zeolitic ore would have as much impact on the war as a cloaking device?” Kathryn looked at him in disbelief. “’We’ can argue that?”
“I think we can.”
“I’m the captain here.”
“I know that, Kathryn. I’m just imagining your defense for what happened.”
“What defense?” She stood up and began to pace. “It’s a catch 22. How else can I get this crew home, Chakotay, except by breaking the rules now and then? I need supplies, equipment, and technology, and I have to pay for all of it. With what? Not every alien race is going to need raw materials or medical supplies. ‘Just don’t give them our more advanced technology,’ they say. For some races, nothing has sufficient value except our technology.”
“You’re preaching to the choir.”
“Well, I have to find a way to make them understand.” She stopped in front of him, her hands on her hips. “I’ve been struggling with my own report on this Nightingale disaster for just that reason. I don’t know what to say that doesn’t sound like rationalizing.”
Chakotay set his empty mug on the table and rubbed his face with his hand. Finally, he said, “The truth is always the best angle, whether it sounds like rationalizing or not.”
“The truth?” She laughed as she returned to the sofa and sat down heavily. “The truth is that we stumbled across two different alien species and dealt with both of them, only to discover that they are in the middle of a bitter war with each other. We make a tentative trade agreement of a few tons of ore with the Annari while we assist the Kraylor in delivering a prototype cloaking device to their home world.”
“It sounds bad when you put it that way.”
“It sure does. But that’s what happened.”
“You didn’t know about the cloak. You just say we assisted the other side in delivering medical supplies to their planet. They lied to us about the real mission.”
“True.” She relaxed a little, growing thoughtful. “Shame on them for lying. Shame on me for not checking out their story better than I did.”
“Even if we had searched their ship, we might have missed the cloaking device.”
“Small comfort. I should have done more than I did.”
“And remember that we didn’t actually give them the cloak.”
“No, we just helped them sneak it past the Annari blockade so they could put them on their ships in the future.”
Chakotay winced. “Harry was so sure they were helpless victims.”
“Well, I’m not going to blame an ensign for a mistake that is clearly my fault.”
“You could tell the review board that by the time Harry figured out what the Kraylor were really doing, he was committed and had no choice but to go through with the mission if he hoped to survive.”
“And in doing so, he upset the balance of power and irrevocably changed the future outcome of the conflict.”
“Maybe. Maybe not.”
“Oh, please. I’m not about to put forward the argument that cloaked ships won’t change the outcome of the war.” She threw her hands up in despair. “It’s an impossible situation to defend, Chakotay. We broke the Prime Directive.”
She looked at him in surprise. “So? You have the nerve to sit there and say ‘so’?”
“It’s just that this isn’t the first time we’ve broken it, and it won’t be the last. What else can we do when it’s a matter of survival?”
“That’s what Ransom said to justify his crimes, and I’m not going there.”
“Oh, come now, Kathryn. We didn’t do anything as terrible as deliberately murder sentient beings to fuel our engines.”
“The review board won’t care.” She was determined to see things in the worst possible light, so he backed off as she slumped forward and buried her face in her hands. When she spoke, her voice was muffled. “I’ll be doing hard time for some of my decisions out here. I’ll probably be behind bars for more years than it will take us to get home.”
Touched by her attitude of despair, he moved to sit beside her on the sofa and rub her shoulders with his left hand. After she’d wallowed in self-pity for a few minutes, he appealed to her sense of humor. “If that happens, I promise that I’ll come see you in prison every visiting day.”
She froze a moment, and then looked at him out of the corner of her eye, laughing in spite of herself. “And I thought I was facing this problem all alone!” She leaned back on the sofa with a sigh while Chakotay stretched his arm along the cushion behind her head. “I guess I wouldn’t change my decision if I turned back the clock, not unless I knew more than I did at the time.”
“We didn’t know that they had a prototype cloaking device.”
“They had it well hidden.”
“So, let the chips fall where they may.”
She rested her head on his arm and closed her eyes, putting her feet on the coffee table and taking a deep, cleansing breath. He knew that, for the most part, the agonizing was over and that she had come to some sort of acceptance of what had transpired. He enjoyed their moment of quiet resolution, letting her take all the time she wanted to relax and draw strength from his close proximity.
At long last, she said, “What should we do about poor Harry?”
“I wouldn’t worry much about him. Like most junior officers, he doesn’t have a clear perception of how much pressure a captain experiences. You make it look too easy.”
She laughed and pried open one eye. “Chakotay, you, of all people, know how hard this job is.”
“I know, but most of the crew doesn’t. I didn’t say it was easy for you, I just said you make it look easy to them.”
“Kathryn Janeway, Starfleet captain and actress extraordinaire.”
He grinned and gave her shoulders a squeeze, providing her with a much-needed moment of reassurance.
“Captains do play a part, you know,” he offered. “They act unafraid when the ship is falling apart around them; they keep trying to find a solution when they can count the seconds until their demise; they don’t even blink when they lose dear friends, keeping the grief inside until later, when they are alone and the crisis is over. They exude confidence when they don’t have a clue what is going to happen next. You do it so well, Kathryn, that the crew probably believes your pajamas are crimson and black.”
“Not to mention my underwear.”
He laughed aloud. “I wish I knew.”
She sat up and turned to face him, shaking her head but looking and sounding more like her normal self. “All you’re saying is that I trick them into believing I know what I’m doing when I’m just as confused and afraid as they are.”
“You have to keep their trust. Would they follow you if they knew that you were just as unsure as they are?”
She gave him a slight punch in the bicep. “Is that supposed to be a compliment?”
“Yes,” he laughed, rubbing his hand over the “injured” arm. “It’s high praise.”
“I’m not so sure.”
“Well, I’m sure, and I bet Harry is beginning to figure it out, too, thanks to this little calamity.”
“Being a captain means being infallible?”
“You have to exude self-confidence.”
“Whether I feel self-confident or not.” She frowned. “I know I’m flawed, and I often feel inadequate, but they don’t have to know that about me.”
“Is it possible that you expect too much of yourself?”
“Maybe.” She picked up Harry’s report and held it in her hands for a moment, deep in thought. “We’ll just have to help Harry see that a captain does the best he can, forgives himself for falling short, and then moves on.”
“Oh, really?” He shook his head in disbelief. “So, when is it that you’ll be ‘moving on,’ Kathryn?”
“Who, me?” She laughed and stood up, moving around the table and toward her desk as she finally returned to work. “I’ll move on tomorrow. Or maybe next week.”
“Right after you learn to forgive yourself, I guess.”
She arrived behind her desk and crossed her arms, pretending to be angry over his impertinent remark. “You, Commander, are dismissed.”
“Aye, Captain.” He walked toward the exit, pausing for a moment just before his presence triggered the door. “For what it’s worth, I think you did the only thing you could do, based on the facts you had at the time. I know that isn’t enough for you to forgive yourself, but . . . for what it’s worth.”
“It’s worth a lot.” She sat down with a sigh. “Thank you, Chakotay. But please remember to bake a big file into that cake you bring me on visiting day.”
“Coffee cake, I assume?”
“What else?” Her mouth quirked into a crooked grin, and she gestured for him to leave with a wave of a hand.
As he walked toward the turbolift, glad to have improved the captain’s mood, Chakotay noticed that Harry Kim was back at his ops station, happily working away as a mere bridge officer. He paused at the top of the ramp and let his eyes linger briefly on the young ensign.
Harry had learned an important lesson on the Nightingale, had discovered that being a ship’s captain wasn’t as much about having power and ordering the crew around as it was about using that power responsibly and with discretion. He also learned that captains carried an onerous obligation to explain to a higher authority how and why events transpired as they did, a burden that no one else on the ship could take from their shoulders.
Every bridge officer who takes command for the first time is unprepared for the dilemmas and the paradoxes a captain handles on a daily basis. In fact, in Chakotay’s experience, the first day in a ship’s center seat was a humbling and intimidating test of an officer’s intestinal fortitude.
When Harry glanced up and noticed his first officer’s gaze, he blushed slightly and started to speak.
“Carry on,” Chakotay said, cutting him off and moving toward the turbolift. He made a mental note to invite Harry to join him for a beer in the mess hall when his shift ended. Maybe he’d feel better about his dubious performance on the Nightingale if Chakotay told him how disastrous his own first mission as a captain had been.
“It couldn’t hurt,” he thought as he stepped into the turbolift and glanced at the ready room doors. “After all, misery loves company.”