Disclaimer: Star Trek Voyager belongs to someone else. I’m just playing with the characters a little.
Summary: Set just after the episode “Extreme Risk.” Janeway thinks about the continuing repercussions caused by the letters from home they had received a few months earlier. Written as part of VAMB’s Secret Summer exchange.
“Something’s missing here.” Kathryn Janeway dropped the PADD she had been reading onto her lap and gazed out the window at the stars that streamed by. After four years as her first officer, Chakotay knew how to write a report that suited his captain, yet this report on B’Elanna’s unreported injuries was too brief, too vague, and left her with more questions than answers. Why so much ambiguity? Why so many generalities? Was he trying to hide something from her?
A day had passed since their latest brush with the Malon, the aliens who dumped antimatter waste in space rather than learning how to recycle it. She had labeled them as lazy, careless people, always looking for an easy answer instead of finding a true solution their problems. She hadn’t been surprised then they had tried to steal a Borg-enhanced probe that Voyager had been testing, snaring it with a tractor beam so that they could learn the secrets of its unusual shielding. Voyager’s crew had managed to wrest the probe away and then embed it in the atmosphere of a class six gas giant, but the Malon weren’t going to give up easily.
Voyager couldn’t survive inside the planet’s atmosphere long enough to recover the probe not could they use transporters, and so they decided to build a smaller ship with stronger shields to go in and recover the probe. The vessel was an idea that they had been toying with for some time. The plans were already well developed, and so she put a team to work building the Delta Flyer, hoping that they could anticipate and prepare for the harsh environment of the gas giant.
Meanwhile, the Malon remained in a nearby position. Janeway assumed that they would allow Voyager to pull the probe free and then try to snatch it from them before they could safely stow it in their cargo hold. Then Seven of Nine spied on the Malon ship and discovered that not only were the Malon constructing a vessel to send after the probe, they were going to finish building their ship first.
The race was on. The Delta Flyer’s team worked around the clock, launching shortly after the Malon launched their ship, both of them struggling to survive in the planet’s harsh atmosphere. When the Malon vessel fired on the Flyer, Janeway’s crew had responded with photonic missiles that damaged the alien ship and left it stuck in the atmosphere. They had proceeded without further interference and had retrieved the probe, but on their return experienced micro fractures that would lead to a hull breach and destruction. All would have been lost, and four key crew members would have died, except that B’Elanna Torres cobbled together a force field that shored up the breach and allowed the ship to return to Voyager. The last they knew, the Malon remained in orbit where they continued to struggle to pull their ship to safety while Voyager resumed her journey for home.
The thought of their success still brought a smile to the captain’s face. She was proud of the team and had given each member a commendation for a job well done. She was also glad to have the Flyer built and functional. It had been a good day except for one thing-B’Elanna had been discovered unconscious in a holodeck because she had lowered the safeties while testing the Flyer’s hull integrity. The doctor soon reported that the young engineer had multiple poorly treated, probably from a series of dangerous holodeck scenarios. The implication was that she was suffering from an emotional problem that could potentially impact her performance of duty.
Chakotay had volunteered to counsel B’Elanna about the injuries, and Janeway agreed to let him. She assumed that his friendship with her and their years of working together would give him leverage. She had received notification that Chakotay had temporarily removed B’Elanna from the construction team, but then learned that he had rescinded it and had allowed her to go on the mission, after all. Janeway had expected his report to explain his decisions, but he had skipped over that detail. She wondered why Chakotay had relieved her from the team in the first place, but he had ended his report by saying that he and the Doctor would monitor her progress.
That just wasn’t good enough. Janeway could ill afford to wonder whether her chief engineer was having a good day when they were facing down a crisis. B’Elanna had managed to work a miracle on the Flyer, but what about the next emergency? What if she were incapacitated when the ship needed her most?
“What exactly are these emotional problems about?” She wondered as she set the PADD aside and stood up to put on her jacket. “And why weren’t we aware of this condition before now?”
She left her quarters and headed for Sickbay. One nice thing about having a holographic doctor was that she didn’t have to worry about disturbing his sleep when she questioned him in the middle of the night. He would be as full of energy at 0030 as he would be at the beginning of alpha shift.
“I’m afraid I can’t discuss the personal issues that were troubling Lt. Torres,” the Doctor told her with a tone of arrogance in his voice. “I can tell you that she is dealing with the problem and that there has been no evidence of work deficiencies.”
“I see.” Janeway narrowed her eyes, struggling to hang on to her temper. “We both know that in recent months she’s been taking unnecessary risks on the holodeck and suffering injuries that she failed to report to you. This hints at something that could potentially affect her work, don’t you think? And that makes it my business. I have to know that she is going to do her work to the best of her ability.”
“If you reread the report, Captain, the commander says that her condition threatened to affect her work.”
“In either case, I have to know more, patient confidentiality or not. I have to know that she can perform her duties.”
“Both Chakotay and I believe she can.”
“So you say, but this is my decision to make, Doctor, not yours and not Chakotay’s. I’m ultimately responsible for the safety of the ship and crew, and I’m B’Elanna’s superior officer. She reports directly to me.”
The Doctor made a face and sighed. “Very well. I can tell you that the lieutenant has been struggling with a depression that started soon after we received the messages from home a few months ago.”
For a moment, Janeway absorbed the news. “Those damned messages?” She pinched the bridge of her nose, remembering that she, too, had experienced emotional challenges in recent months. “Those messages were a mixed blessing.”
“I agree. Many members of the crew have struggled to come to terms with the news they received. Some have retreated from social contact, while others have sought excessive work schedules to keep their minds off of their troubles. In B’Elanna’s case, she escaped from reality by running holodeck programs.”
“And by lowering the safeties of those programs.” The captain gazed into the empty sickbay, remembering many other friends and coworkers who had used the holodeck in a similar fashion. Janeway had wrestled with her feelings through those months by burying herself in work, as was her habit, and there had been several crises that had kept her mind off of her losses.
First, there had been the HIrogen. Starfleet’s messages had overloaded and destroyed the ancient long-range communication network, and the Hirogen had been relentless in exacting revenge. They hunted Voyager down, and despite her crew’s valiant efforts to escape capture, had taken over the ship, using the crew as prey in a variety of brutal holodeck scenarios. Eventually, Janeway had reclaimed the ship and had brought the conflict to a draw, but their truce had required her to share holodeck technology with the Hirogen, something she feared would come back to haunt her.
The next menace appeared in the form of an alien named Arturis. At first, Arturis’s ability to “decode” and fill in the blanks in the damaged Starfleet message had brought her hope, and when he led them to a Starfleet ship, Dauntless, she had dared to believe that her ordeal might be coming to an end. But the ship had been a fake, and Arturis had very nearly subjected her and her crew to Borg assimilation. His betrayal had left her horrified at her own naiveté and disappointed at another failed shortcut for home. She had surrendered to despair and retreated from the bridge, her mood as black as the starless region of space outside her windows. Chakotay had defended her and had run the ship while she brooded in her quarters for two months until she had returned to active duty when her ship was once again in danger from their first brush with the Malon.
Since that incident, she had managed to report for work and resume her duties, but she struggled. She wondered if her fiancé’s letter been the first step on her downward spiral into depression? If so, how could she stand in judgment of Torres for her escape into the holodeck for the same reason? She took a deep breath and turned to the doctor. “What’s the plan for B’Elanna’s treatment?”
“It’s my understanding that Commander Chakotay will meet with the lieutenant on a daily basis for the next few weeks. We’ll also have her attend a therapy group that is compatible with her problem and her position on the ship.”
“That’s a good idea, as long as I’m kept apprised of her progress.” She thought a moment. “What I don’t understand is how the letters that brought on these problems. To my knowledge, she didn’t receive a message from home.”
“Perhaps that’s the problem, Captain. Perhaps she expected to hear from someone.” He shrugged. “In any event, the issue is being addressed, and I’ll let you know if there are any difficulties that would interfere with her ability to do her duty.”
“Very well, Doctor.”
Janeway made her way back to her quarters deep in thought. Although it was a hunch, she suspected that the Doctor was just as much in the dark about what it was that had upset B’Elanna Torres as she was. Chakotay knew and was working with B’Elanna to resolve it, but the captain was still unsettled. Should she respect the engineer’s privacy and trust that her first officer had the situation under control? Or should she continue to probe into the specifics?
“Those damned messages,” she muttered. Everyone had assumed that getting news from home would increase morale and help the crew feel better about their long period of exile, but it turned out that the opposite was true. For most of the crew, the letters had reopened old wounds or created new ones.
She boarded the turbo lift for the short ride to deck three and thought back to the gathering that Neelix had hosted just after the Hirogen network had been destroyed. He had expected the party would be joyous because so many had renewed their connection with loved ones. He had planned for a celebration, but had gotten something closer to a wake. Their means of communication had disappeared. There would be no continuing dialogue, no chance to reply, no clarification of news. They were just as alone as they had been before.
She had left her ready room for the party that day with a smile on her face, but with sorrow in her heart. As they walked, she and Chakotay had speculated about how the Hirogen might react to the destruction of their communications network, never imagining how horrific it would be. They had arrived at the party to find upbeat music blaring and a table full of snack food, but the dance floor was empty and every table was occupied by Starfleet crew members in deep conversation.
“Where are the Maquis?” she’d whispered to her first officer as she’d scanned the room. “You’re the only one here!”
“They volunteered to take duty so the others could come to the party. Only two of us received a message, after all.”
“Why is that?”
“Most of my crew had very limited contact with the Federation. I doubt that Starfleet had time to track down their relatives and friends to get messages from them.”
“I hadn’t thought about that. It must be tough to see others hearing from home when you don’t.”
“I’m sure that’s part of it.”
She turned to face him. “You said that you received a letter, right?”
“Yes, from the woman who recruited me into the Maquis. She’s serving a prison sentence on Earth.”
Janeway nodded, aware of a grave oversight on her part. “I haven’t asked you about your letter. Was it good news or bad?”
“It wasn’t good. Sveta told me that the Maquis are gone.”
“Gone?” She laid a comforting hand on his shoulder, but before she could say another word, Neelix appeared in front of them with a look of panic on his face.
“Captain, Commander,” the Talaxian whispered, “everyone seems unhappy. They say there’s a terrible war at home with widespread destruction and high casualties. Even those who had good news act like it was actually bad news. I don’t know what to do.”
“Maybe we should turn off the music and just let people talk with each other,” Janeway suggested, looking to Chakotay for support.
“I agree. We might even set up some discussion groups as people deal with the news they’ve received.”
“In the meantime, you and I need to circulate and listen to their troubles,” Janeway decided, wishing that they had a qualified counselor on board. And so they had split up and spent the rest of the evening listening to the crew, commiserating over their bad news, and comforting them as much as possible.
Now, months later, she realized that she had never followed up on the contents of Chakotay’s letter. What did he mean when he said that the Maquis were “gone”? She assumed he meant that they had disbanded, scattering in the face of the Dominion War, but could it mean something more ominous? Something tragic that might have brought on B’Elanna’s depression and dangerous behavior?
She arrived in her quarters and picked up Chakotay’s report again. His behavior in the months since those messages had arrived had been normal. He had been supportive of her and had taken care of his duties without a moment’s disruption. When she had retreated to her quarters for two months, he had run the ship well and without hesitation. If the Maquis news had been bad enough to send B’Elanna into depression, wouldn’t he would have shown some sort of strain, as well?
Perhaps she had missed the signs. She might have been so caught up in her own sorrows that she’d been oblivious to his. He wasn’t one to wear his heart on his sleeve or to burden someone with his own troubles when they were struggling with their own. A breakup with a fiancé wasn’t nearly as serious as a death or the destruction of a home or the loss of a loved one in war. Mark might have moved on, but he was alive and happy. She would likely see him again.
She had used Mark as a safety net whenever she felt lonely or worried that life was passing her by. The fact that she had someone waiting for her helped her believe that she had a happy life to resume at the end of the journey. Thanks to Mark, she didn’t need to look for someone else for intimacy and could tolerate the pressure and isolation that Voyager demanded of her.
Once he was no longer part of her life, she had been compelled to face the facts that she’d avoided. Even if she wanted to become involved with someone on the ship, she couldn’t do so without putting her command in jeopardy. She had lied to herself. She was alone because she had no other choice. Mark or no Mark, she was on her own, and she would be for the foreseeable future. The anguish of that fact had forced her to focus on her work and had blinded her to her crew’s struggles with similar issues. Only now was this becoming clear to her.
Some crew members received good news—the birth of a grandchild, as in Tuvok’s case, or the success of a friend or relative in work or school. But, even good news could be depressing when it made them realize that they couldn’t participate in the event or even respond with a letter of congratulations. Questions that still burned in their hearts could not be asked and might not be answered for years. In some ways, not knowing about these events had been a blessing.
The same was true for those who received bad news, whether it was a death of a family member, the destruction of a home in the war, or the remarriage of a spouse. Before, ignorance had protected them from reality, but now that the crew was aware of these events, good and bad, they suffered from guilt and sorrow that had no real outlet.
No, the letters had been a mixed blessing. While it was a relief to have news, sometimes not knowing about what one was missing was a better way to live.
Janeway checked the time, realizing that sleep was not coming any time soon, and tried to think of something she could do to take her mind off of her sorrows. She imagined the Delta Flyer sitting in the shuttle bay, still awaiting repairs after its mission into the gas giant. This was the perfect time to take a look at the damage in person, while the crew rested overnight. With a sigh, she reached for her jacket once again.
The cavernous shuttle bay was dark and empty as she walked through it to the repair facility where the Flyer had been parked. To her surprise, the Flyer’s hatch was open and its red emergency lights spilled onto the floor. She wondered if someone had left without making sure the lights were turned off.
“Hello?” she called as she walked up the gangplank. “Anybody here?”
“Kathryn?” Chakotay replied from inside the Flyer.
“What are you doing here?” She stepped into the ship and found him sitting at the navigation station.
“I’m on duty, actually.” He gave her a sheepish grin. “But the bridge is quiet and there is no sign of the Malon. I thought I’d come down and look at the damage.”
“Great minds think alike.” She sat down at the engineering console at the rear of the command module. “It was a close call.”
“An incredibly close call.”
“B’Elanna was a genius to come up with the force field the way she did.”
“She’s an amazing engineer.”
Janeway studied his profile in the red glow, taking in the circles under his eyes. “You’re exhausted, Chakotay. Everything is quiet, so why not turn the shift over to someone who’s more rested and go to bed?”
“I probably wouldn’t sleep. You apparently can’t sleep, either.”
“I was trying to wind down by reading the reports.”
“I bet you weren’t happy with my report on B’Elanna.” He rubbed his face with his hands.
She couldn’t help but smile at him for anticipating her displeasure. “No, I wasn’t I spoke to the Doctor about her condition, and he stonewalled me about the specifics.”
“I suppose he claimed patient confidentiality.”
“Yes, but I couldn’t help but wonder whether he knew why B’Elanna was depressed.”
Chakotay leaned over and picked up the section of the hull that had given way, holding it up to show her the damage. “If you’re thinking B’Elanna should have anticipated and avoided this failure, then think again. She was totally engaged in the build of the ship, Kathryn. The conditions were unusual and specific to the planet, and she didn’t have time to anticipate how the atmosphere would affect the hull.”
“You’re changing the subject.” She reached for the panel and turned it over in her hands. “The Doctor suggested that her depression might have stemmed from the letters we got seven months ago.”
Chakotay said nothing for a long time, but then replied, “A lot of us are still reeling from what we learned in those letters.”
She set the damaged panel aside and looked at him, picking up on his tense mood. “I realized tonight that we never discussed the details of the letter you received from your friend. You said that the Maquis were gone, but I never asked you to explain to me what that meant.”
He passed a hand over his eyes and shook his head. “I don’t want to talk about it here.”
“Maybe we should wait until tomorrow, when we aren’t so tired.”
“No, I want to tell you now. I need to tell you and get it off of my chest.” He contacted the bridge and turned over command to Ayala. Then he checked to see if a holodeck was available, reserving one for the next hour. “I want to show you something, and then we’ll talk.”
Curious, Janeway shut down the Flyer’s lights and walked with him in silence through the passageways and onto the lift. She could feel the tension radiating from him and suspected that what she was about to see would be disturbing.
The program was a cave, or what had been a cave before its ceiling had been blasted open by orbital phaser fire. Light poured in through huge gashes in the rock and revealed bodies strewn in every direction. Some had been crushed by falling rock. Others had been burned almost beyond recognition by vicious weaponry. A few had been blown to bits, leaving little behind that could be recognized as a human being. And this one room wasn’t all she could see. Down adjoining passageways and in connecting rooms, she could see more bodies and more destruction. The horror of the view was bad enough, but the smell of decaying bodies and tang of recent phaser fire made it even worse.
“What the hell is this!” she demanded, putting her forearm over her nose and mouth. “Is this what happened to the Maquis?”
“It’s B’Elanna’s idea of what happened. Computer, end program.”
Janeway swallowed bile and looked at him with tears in her eyes. “You could have warned me.”
“I suppose I should have. I apologize.” He stared at his boots and then looked her in the eye. “The Maquis are gone because the Cardassians found and destroyed the base in the Badlands. All of them were killed, except for those held in prison, like my friend who wrote the letter. When I told B’Elanna about the massacre, she was angry at herself because she wasn’t there and guilty because she was still alive. She created this program to force herself to see how it might have happened.”
“For her, it wasn’t enough to know that they’d been killed. She wanted to see it even smell it, in all of its horror, and once she did, she was haunted by it. She turned her guilt and anger on herself, taking more and more risks on the holodeck because she wanted to ‘feel something,’ she told me.” He took a calming breath. “While she never let it affect her work, from what I could tell, there was no way it wouldn’t eventually bring her to her knees.”
“And that is what happened during the building of the Flyer.” Janeway paced around the room, remembering the bodies she’d seen and repressing a shiver. “She made it as ghastly as possible.”
“She did. And that’s not all. The dead that you saw just now? They were our friends we left behind. People we knew. I keep seeing them when I close my eyes.”
“Oh, Chakotay!” She turned to him and put a hand on his shoulder. When she saw the anguish in his eyes, she said, “Computer, activate Janeway program Night Owl.” They were in a small private room that had a fireplace with a comfortable overstuffed sectional sofa in front of it. She led Chakotay to the sofa and pulled him down beside her. “Why didn’t you tell me about the massacre months ago?”
“I tried not to think about it, to tell you the truth. I just put it aside.” He sat back on the sofa and rested his head on the cushion so he could stare at the ceiling. “Everyone else was struggling with what they’d learned, and I needed to stay focused while they worked through their problems.”
Janeway was hit by a wave of guilt. “Including me.”
He shifted on the sofa to face her. “I know the kind of pressure you’re under, Kathryn. Something like a Dear John letter is a serious blow to your well-being. I wanted to be there for you, to step in and give you the time you needed to recover.”
“That’s why you were so patient with me when while we were in that dark area of space.”
He shrugged. “I was worried about you, I admit, but I also thought you might as well take the time you needed to rest and work through some problems while we were relatively safe. When we needed you, when the Malon showed up, you came out of it, just as I knew you would.”
“But, Chakotay, what about you? What about your losses?” She took his hand in hers. “Your letter was more devastating than mine, in every way. Mark is no longer my fiancé, and I was devastated by that, but I know he’s happy and that he’s still a friend. I might see him again, but your friends are gone forever.”
He slumped forward at her words, and she pulled him into an embrace, allowing him to rest his head on her shoulder as he cried silent tears.
“I feel guilty to be alive when almost all of them died.”
She rubbed his shoulder. “Survivor guilt is a common reaction to disasters like this.”
“I wondered if I might have been able to avert the disaster, if I had been there.”
“There is no way to know. Chances are that you would have perished with them.”
He pulled back and gave her a weary smile. “I’ve struggled with these questions for months.”
“All of us have done that, Chakotay, whether we received good news or bad. We’ve tried to imagine the ‘might have beens.’ I have, too. You’re looking at the queen of guilt and regret.”
His eyes were warm. “I should have known you would understand.”
“We didn’t realize how difficult it would be to hear from home, did we?”
“No, we didn’t.”
She leaned against him, grateful for his presence. “I wonder if there are other people on the crew that need help the way B’Elanna did.”
“Good question. I’ll find out.”
“In the meantime, why don’t you tell me about some of these Maquis you worked with?”
“I’ve been curious about them over the years and, well, I think it might help to remember them when they were alive and well. Recall their good qualities and focus on the good times.”
“All right.” He began to talk, telling her of some of the men and women he’d found fascinating among the Maquis, relating stories that had her laughing until she was in tears, describing their bravery and dedication to what they believed was right. After an hour, they were both feeling better.
“Thank you for sharing your memories with me, Chakotay,” she said as they shut down the holodeck and headed for their quarters. “The Maquis had some facinating people in their ranks.”
“It’s done me a lot of good to remember them—and maybe that’s the point. I think B’Elanna and I need to replace that horrible death scene with happier times. I could gather some of my former crew and reminisce with them, have a sort of memorial service for those who died.”
“And it might help to delete that grisly scene from the computer once and for all.”
“I’ll ask B’Elanna to do that.” They walked a bit in silence.
“I knew some of the Maquis, some who might have died that day,” Janeway said at last. “You weren’t the only Starfleet officer to resign and join their ranks. A lot of us could understand your motivation, to tell the truth.”
“It’s all behind us now. Well, until we get home, I suppose.”
“Let’s hope you’re welcomed home with open arms.”
“In the meantime, I’ll talk to B’Elanna and see if she knows of any others in the crew who would like to talk about the messages we received, Maquis and Starfleet.”
“Do whatever you think will help, Chakotay, and take some time for yourself.” They arrived at her door. “The important thing is that we face these sorrows together. We have to share the good times and the bad if we hope to survive out here.”
“You’re right,” Chakotay replied, stifling a yawn. “Lucky for you, Tuvok has the early shift. It’s almost four in the morning.”
“The time flew by.” She gave his hand a squeeze. “We need to talk like this more often.”
“We’ll make a point of it. Do you need me to rewrite my report on B’Elanna’s troubles?”
“That won’t be necessary. We’ve left a few previous reports rather ambiguous, and I doubt that this will be the last one.”
After saying goodnight, Janeway toed off her boots, shed her jacket, and stepped out of her slacks before she collapsed on the bed and pulled the spread over her legs. She slept well, waking six hours later feeling rested and ready to face the day. She took a hot shower, dressed, and replicated coffee before checking her computer for routine reports and messages. At the top of the list, with a notice of high importance, was a note from her first officer.
“Kathryn, every morning I have the computer give me a quote of the day, something that makes me contemplate a ‘higher’ purpose in life than finding deuterium and solving the usual roommate or scheduling conflicts. When I saw today’s quote, I knew I had to share it with you: ‘When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.’ I want to thank you for sharing my pain and helping me to close the wound that losing my fellow Maquis created. Your friendship means a lot to me.”
Tears rose unbidden to her eyes as she remembered the patience Chakotay had shown her over the last few months. While he was grieving over the murder of his friends, he had put her needs first and allowed her the time she needed to come to terms with her heartbreak.
She sat back and cradled her coffee cup in her hands. Chakotay was an excellent first officer, but he was an even better friend. He was a perfect match to her personality and command habits, creating, for her, another mixed blessing. If she could look to her crew for someone special, someone to replace her fiancé, she wouldn’t have to look far.
If only she could.