Double Dealing, The conclusion: No place like home

DOUBLE DEALING – CONCLUSION: NO PLACE LIKE HOME

BY MALCOLM REEVE

It had been ten days since her crew had been detained. Since then, Janeway
had allowed no more Maquis to leave the ship, but still fifteen of her crew
were in detention. And the rest had been confined to quarters aboard Voyager,
on the order of Admiral Cabot.

Two days earlier a strip-down crew had beamed aboard, under the authority of
Commander William Lees. He was a tall, handsome man, in his early forties,
who clearly thought better of himself than of those around him. Under his
command a crew of engineers swarmed through the ship, invading every
crevice, taking notes and measurements, striping everything down and
investigating it in detail. What they were searching for, Lees wouldn’t say.
But he strode the corridors of Voyager with a proprietorial air, and Starfleet
protocol did nothing to disguise the note of suspicion in his voice when he
addressed the Captain. THIS IS MY SHIP NOW, said the tone, if not the
words.

Janeway glared at her reflection in the window of her ready-room; uniform
straight, hair tidy, face determined. “We’ll see who’s ship this is, Commander,”
she told herself quietly. Within twenty minutes her debriefing would start, and
she planned to use every moment of it to her advantage. Distance herself from
the Maquis? Never. For the past three years she had defended her crew with
every breath, and she’d brought them safely home. Janeway smiled at the
irony; now they were here, she was facing her biggest fight yet. But she’d
beaten the odds so far, and she intended to carry on beating them.

With one last glance around the familiar ready-room, Kathryn Janeway picked
up a PADD from her desk and strode onto the bridge. It was all but deserted,
manned only by Tuvok and Kim, and the unnatural silence made her footfalls
sound too loud. It felt wrong without Chakotay’s steadfast presence, Paris’s
humour, and Torres’ bright intensity; only ten days since their detention, but
she missed them terribly. This whole situation had turned into a nightmare,
and she was seriously beginning to wish they had never returned. But they
had, and there was no going back.

“Lieutenant Tuvok,” she began formally. “On the order of Starfleet command,
I have handed over Voyager’s command codes to Commander William Lees.”

Tuvok inclined his head. “Aye Captain,” he replied, as serious as ever.

“The Commander will no doubt require your co-operation,” Janeway told him
with a small smile. “Give it to him. And try to find out exactly what it is he’s
looking for. It might be crucial.”

“I shall have a full report on your desk when you return, Captain.”

She nodded. They both knew that she may never return. Cabot had made his
threat very clear; abandon the Maquis, or face the consequences. She
suspected that she was about to find out exactly what those consequences
were.

“And now,” she said, dropping the formality and stepping closer, “I am going
to make a confession.”

Tuvok raised an eyebrow, but remained silent. Janeway continued: “I assume
that you are familiar with the concept of a Double-Alpha command code?”

“It is an override code, embedded deep in low-level programming.” He
frowned, “It is usually secret, and Starfleet strictly forbids their use.”

Janeway inclined her head in agreement. “To coin a phrase,” she said, “it’s an
old Maquis trick. One that Commander Chakotay suggested, and one to which
I agreed.”

“I see,” Tuvok replied. “As Chief of Security, I must register my protest at not
having been informed of this decision.”

“Noted,” Janeway replied, handing Tuvok the PADD she was holding. “I have
transferred the Double-Alpha command code to you, Lieutenant. It is on here;
memorise it, and then destroy this PADD.”

With obvious doubt, Tuvok took the PADD from her hand. “You are asking
me to violate Starfleet regulations, Captain,” he pointed out.

“No,” she said, stepping closer. “I will not ask you to do that. Your judgement
must be your guide; this is an extreme measure – use it only if you think the
situation warrants it. It will be your choice, Tuvok. Voyager is yours now;
take care of her.”

“I will, to the best of my ability, Captain,” Tuvok replied.

“Very well.” She turned to face Kim, who was watching her with thinly
disguised dismay.

“I can’t believe this is happening, Captain,” he blurted out, before she could
speak.

“I know Harry,” she replied. “But I’m going to do my best to make it right –
we’ll get them all back.”

“But, Captain, I don’t understand why they’re doing this to us. It’s just…” he
struggled to find the right word, “…it’s wrong.”

“Harry,” she stepped towards him. “We need to find out what it is they’re
looking for on board the ship. Once we know that, we might be able to defend
ourselves more effectively against their suspicions.”

Kim nodded, still unhappy. “I’ll find out Captain.”

“You will Ensign,” she told him. “That’s an order.” Straightening her
shoulders, Janeway took a deep breath. “Well, Gentlemen, I’ll see you both
when I return.”

“Aye Captain,” Tuvok replied, standing to attention.

Janeway nodded once, and walked determinedly towards the turbolift. But as
the door hissed shut behind her, she couldn’t shake the feeling that she was
speeding towards her own execution.

***

The tiny radio receiver lay snug in the palm of his hand. His fingers, loosely
curled, held it in place as he ambled towards Chakotay’s cell. To all
appearances, Tom Paris looked as bored as his fellow inmates, but in his chest
his heart was pumping so hard he felt sure the whole prison could hear it’s
racing beat.

Tom had developed certain skills during his life that most Starfleet officers did
not possess. Theft was one of them. It wasn’t something he was proud of, but
life had been hard for a while, and you did what was necessary to survive.
And sometimes it paid off. The lumpy, bearded prisoner hadn’t even twitched
when Paris had lifted the receiver out of his pocket. Tom smiled; it had been
too easy.

The plan was a simple one, and it had been his idea. Well, sort of. He
remembered the conversation he had held only that morning, as they all
assembled for breakfast.

“I’ve been watching the guards,” he had told Chakotay. “Each time they go in
or out of the barracks, that little badge on their arm flashes. I think it’s some
kind of key device.”

“It opens the door for them?” Chakotay had asked, chewing a mouthful of
food.

“If we could just get hold of one…” Tom had suggested.

“Impossible,” Eddings had interrupted. “You get within two meters of those
guys and they open fire. I’ve seen it. They’re real jittery.”

“There has to be a way,” Tom had objected.

“What if we could make one of our own?” Chakotay had asked suddenly.

“Make one…?” Tom’s incredulity had only lasted a moment. “Of course! The
ankle tags!”

Eddings had frowned. “I don’t get it.”

“The electronic tags they’ve given us,” Tom had explained. “They work on the
same principle, but emit a different signal. All we need to do is figure out the
signal emitted by the guards’ tags, and then we can reconfigure ours to match.”

“Oh, is THAT all,” Eddings had responded, clearly unimpressed.

“Well, it won’t be easy,” Tom had admitted.

“We’ll need a receiver of some sort,” Chakotay had told them, still
concentrating on breakfast. “Something to pick up their signal.”

“That’ll be the hard part,” Tom had agreed.

“Not necessarily,” Eddings had started to brighten. “Not all the guards are
honest; some contraband makes its way in here. I could ask around.”

“We don’t have anything to trade,” Chakotay had pointed out.

Tom had smiled, flexing his fingers. “Who said anything about trading?”

And so it was done, more easily that any of them had anticipated. Now all
they had to do was figure out the guards’ transmission signal, and clone it onto
one of their ankle tags. That was where B’Elanna came in. Tom would tell her
the plan tonight, and if Chakotay had already figured out the signal frequency,
she could reconfigure his ankle tag there and then. He smiled when he thought
of her, until a sudden pang of longing drove his smile away. Ruthlessly, he
repressed the emotion. There was no time; the situation was desperate – they
would only have one chance at this. He remembered the iron-faced Governor
Irving, and knew without doubt that a failed escape attempt would mean death.

Chakotay looked up, face impassive, as Tom climbed the ladder into his cell.
“Success?” the commander asked, feigning indifference.

“Of course,” Tom replied, unable to resist a grin. But he kept his voice low:
too many people were listening to risk saying more. He sat down on
Chakotay’s narrow cot, surreptitiously sliding the receiver under the thin prison
blanket. “It’s up to you now.”

Chakotay nodded. “I’ll let you know” was all he said. Paris returned his nod,
and left without further conversation.

***

“Please sit down Captain,” Admiral Cabot offered, waving his podgy hand
towards the lonely seat that faced the board of inquiry. Janeway obliged him
and sat down, maintaining her dignity and her silence.

She faced a panel of five men and women. Cabot and Admiral Paris were
there, the others she did not recognise. They sat before a huge picture window
that looked out across the San Francisco bay. The early morning sunlight cast
the scene in vivid summer colours, crowning the ancient heights of the Golden
Gate Bridge. The sight calmed her. That bridge had stood for centuries,
despite war and chaos, and it stood yet, proud against the morning sky. Some
things endured, in spite of the turmoil that surrounded them. The bridge and
her duty; two constants that would never be shaken.

“Captain,” Cabot addressed her, “you are aware of the purpose of this session?”

“I am aware of MY purpose, Admiral. What yours is I cannot say.”

She saw Paris scowl at that. Good.

“Our objects must be the same Captain. To find the truth.”

“I know the truth,” she told him calmly. “My object is to persuade you of it.”

Admiral Paris leaned towards her. His eyes were as blue as his son’s, but there
the resemblance ended. There was no warmth or humour in the Admiral’s
eyes. “And what IS your truth, Captain Janeway?”

“That I have a good and honest crew who deserve better than the treatment
they have received at the hands of Starfleet.” Her anger, born of days of
frustration, threatened to break loose, but she kept a firm hand on it for now.
This might be her last battle for her crew, and she was determined to make it
count.

“Then you stand by the Maquis terrorists?” Paris persisted, his eyes like chips
of ice.

“I will stand by my crew until I can stand no longer, Admiral,” she replied,
pleased at the defiance in her tone. But the cold smile that crept across the
Admiral’s face turned her guts to water. Suddenly she understood the stakes;
she was playing for more than her freedom, for more than the freedom of her
crew; she was playing for their lives.

***

It seemed strange, walking into engineering and not seeing B’Elanna hard at
work. Although, Kim reflected, it was probably best that she was absent; the
place was a mess. Access hatches were open everywhere, circuits pulled, gel
packs all over the floor, people, strangers, poking and prying into every corner.
B’Elanna would have gone mad. He sighed, and looked around him. Spying
the object of his mission, Kim walked determinedly forward.

“Commander Lees?” he asked. “Lieutenant Tuvok requested that I offer my
assistance to you, Sir.”

Lees turned his dark eyes towards Harry, a thin smile touching his handsome
face. “Thank you, Ensign, but that will not be necessary.”

“Lieutenant Tuvok thought that you may have some questions regarding the
engineering set-up.” He smiled in a friendly way, “We had to improvise a lot,
so some things might seem…unusual.”

“I said, that will not be…” The commander was suddenly interrupted by the
arrival of a thin, over-exited young ensign.

“Commander, I’ve found some!” she exclaimed. Lees turned on her swiftly,
anger flushing his face, and she retreated a step in the face of his fury.

“Later, Ensign Reiner” he barked, before turning back to Kim. “Return to your
post, Ensign…?”

“Kim, Sir.”

Lees nodded. “I don’t want to see you down here again Ensign Kim. That’s an
order.”

“Aye Sir,” Harry replied, risking a swift glance at Reiner. She stood, head
bowed, fidgeting with something in her hands. It looked like…

“Dismissed, Ensign,” Lees snapped, glaring at him until Kim turned and left.
Harry waited until he was in the turbo-lift before he smiled. So THAT’S what
they were after…But why?

***

“Are you sure, Ensign?” Tuvok asked.

“Absolutely. It was part of the old di-lithium matrix.”

“It seems an unlikely object for their search.”

“I’m just telling you what I saw,” Kim insisted. “Lees did NOT want me to see
it. I swear.”

“Curious,” Tuvok admitted.

“Very.”

Kim watched in silence for a moment, as Tuvok lapsed into thought. At length
he spoke. “Logically, we must test your hypothesis.”

“How?”

Tuvok raised an eyebrow. “If they have torn Voyager apart for a fragment of
the old di-lithium matrix, we must assume that there is a reason for it. In order
to determine that reason, it would be logical to obtain a piece of the matrix
ourselves.”

Kim smiled. “Sounds logical,” he agreed.

“I cannot countermand Commander Lees order that you should not re-enter
engineering,” Tuvok continued.

“No,” Harry agreed. “But the Captain DID order me was to find out what
they’re looking for,” he pointed out. “So, I think I have a duty to…do what’s
necessary to follow the Captain’s orders.”

“Agreed,” Tuvok replied.

Kim smiled. “Then meet me in sickbay at 06.00 tommor…” Suddenly
realising to whom he was giving orders, Harry faltered.

“06.00 hours,” Tuvok repeated seriously. “I’ll be there, Ensign.”

***

Crouched near the cold iron Gate, B’Elanna struggled to see into the blackness
beyond. WAS HE THERE? She knew he was still alive, because she’d seen
him that morning, lurking close to the gate, but not close enough to attract
attention. He’d been there, and so had Chakotay. Her heart had sunk when she
saw the commander; somehow, the idea that he was still free had allowed her
to dream of rescue. But it was a futile dream, and she knew it. Voyager wasn’t
up there waiting for them this time. It probably had a new crew by now, a new
Chief Engineer. The thought mixed anger and jealousy bitterly in her heart.
She hadn’t realised how much she had relied on them all – her crew, her family.
And now they were gone.

A flash in the darkness yanked her back to the present, her heart in her mouth.
There is was again. A small red flash. It took her a moment to realise what it
was – then she groaned silently…THE IDIOT! Cautiously she rose to her feet,
the flash came closer this time, just centimetres from the floor.

“Tom?” she hissed.

“B’Elanna!” there was relief in his voice. “You made it!” His hands reached
through the bars and touched hers, warm and reassuring. For a moment the
warmth of his touch smothered her anger, but not for long.

“What the hell are you doing?” she breathed, struggling to restrain her anger to
a whisper. “You’re still wearing your ankle tag! They’ll track you!”

“Shh,” he warned her, sinking to his knees. She followed suit, struggling to
hear his whispered words. “I had to take the risk. We’ve got a plan.”

She listened to his explanation in silence. “So let me get this straight,” she
whispered, once he had finished speaking. “All I have to do is clone the
guard’s transmission signal onto your ankle tag, in about five minutes, in the
dark, with no tools…?”

“B’Elanna, if any one can, you can.” She couldn’t see his grin, but she could
hear it in his voice, and it made her smile despite herself.

“Which lunatic came up with this plan anyway?” she asked, as she reached
through the Gate towards his flashing ankle tag. “You, I suppose?”

“You got a better one?” he retorted.

She ignored that; of course she didn’t. “Give me the transceiver,” she muttered
instead.

Taking her hand in his, he pressed the receiver into her palm. As he did so, he
raised her fingers to his lips, and kissed them lightly. “For luck,” he breathed,
in a voice slightly choked.

“Just sit still,” she murmured in reply, trying to ignore the way her heart was
leaping about in her chest. “And stop distracting me, Lieutenant Paris.”

He said nothing more, but she could feel the warmth of his smile in the
darkness, and she grinned in return.

***

“Please state the nature of the medical emergency,” the doctor requested
politely. “Oh, it’s you.”

“Morning Doc,” Kim replied. “No emergency. I just need to access your
station.”

“May I ask why?”

“You can ask,” Kim told him, concentrating on his work.

The doctor’s retort went unuttered as the sickbay doors swished open to admit
Lieutenant Tuvok. Harry turned towards him with a grin.

“I assume you were successful,” Tuvok commented.

“Of course,” Kim turned back to the terminal. “I’ve been thinking about this
all night, and I have an idea.”

Tuvok moved to stand behind Kim, watching him work.

“Starfleet have arrested the Maquis crew because they think we might have
something to do with the war with the Klingons, right?”

“That is correct,” Tuvok agreed.

“So, they’re looking for evidence that we weren’t in the Delta quadrant all those
years.”

Again Tuvok nodded.

“So, the question is, why do they need the old di-lithium matrix?”

“Ensign,” Tuvok interrupted, “what is your point?”

“I’m getting to that,” Kim replied. “Di-lithium has an integral resonance; the
resonance is unique to the location of its formation. The anomaly is so small
that it makes no practical difference, but it should show up on a high
resolution scan,” Harry tapped the controls of the doctor’s consul, and moved
towards the science station. “Di-lithium from the Delta quadrant will resonate
on a frequency 0.04 percent different from di-lithium in the Alpha Quadrant.”

Tuvok inclined his head, a gesture of admiration. “Then this could serve as
evidence to prove our claims.”

Harry grinned again, excitement bubbling to the surface. “I’ve set up two
experiments. One with a sample of the matrix we refuelled back in the Delta
quadrant, and a sample of the new matrix Lees’ engineers have installed. The
other one is a control. I’ve used a residue of the old di-lithium we brought with
us from the Alpha Quadrant, and a further sample of the new di-lithium.
Those two should resonate on exactly the same frequency.” He moved back to
the terminal. “Once I activate the scan, we should be able to see the different
frequencies quite easily.”

Kim added the final equations to his calculations, but his finger hesitated
before he started the experiment. If it didn’t work…? He had pinned all his
hopes on this; if he couldn’t save his friends from this injustice it would be the
end, he knew. The end of his career in Starfleet. How could he serve an
organisation that had imprisoned his best friends so unjustly?

“Ensign?” Tuvok prompted.

“Right,” he replied, determination returning. “Here goes.”

The screen ran through a rapid set of calculations, too fast for his eye to see,
before it displayed the results on the screen. There was the Alpha Quadrant
matrix, its resonance displayed as a rapidly moving sine-wave. And there
below was the Delta Quadrant matrix, its sine-wave marginally different.

“Yes!” Harry whooped, grinning from ear to ear. “That proves it! We have to
get this to the Captain!”

Tuvok leaned closer, inspecting the results for himself. “It appears that you are
correct, it is…”

Just then the doctor interrupted. “Before you get too excited, you might want
to look at your control sample,” he pointed out. “They’re not the same.”

“What?” Harry asked his brief jubilation instantly extinguished. “That’s
impossible.” He turned back to the science station, where the doctor was
observing the experiment.

“Clearly not,” the doctor replied. “The frequencies ARE different.”

“With respect,” Harry replied, gazing at the display. “They are exactly the
same.”

With an elaborate sigh, the doctor sat down. “Well, to your optically
challenged vision, they may appear so, but I can assure you that they are not.
Check the numerical value of the frequency.”

“It’s the same,” he objected.

“Really?” the doctor seemed to be enjoying himself, and Harry was sorely
tempted to deactivate him. “To how many decimal places?”

“Ten.”

“Try twenty.”

Muttering through gritted teeth, he did so. His angry muttering stopped
instantly. “Well, I’ll be…” he breathed. “They ARE different, but so slightly it
barely counts.” He paused, his brow furrowed in thought. “It’s almost as if the
resonance is the same, but that it’s somehow out of synchronisation.”

“It’s out of phase,” Tuvok concluded, eyebrow raised.

“Out of phase?” Harry repeated. “But that means that they couldn’t have come
from the same…” He suddenly felt sick to his stomach, and couldn’t finish the
sentence.

“It appears,” Tuvok pointed out calmly, “that although we are in AN Alpha
Quadrant, we are not in the correct one.”

Harry said nothing. He could only think of one thing: Libby.

***

“We’ll only have one chance at this,” Chakotay said, his voice low.

“Aye, sir” Eddings agreed, his eyes bright with anticipation.

“Paris will go first, and open the door. Without weapons, we’ll have to rely on
numbers to overwhelm them. Once we get inside, we’ll open up the access to
the Klingon side and let Torres in, and then hope she can rig the transporter in
time. We won’t have long.”

“I’ll tell the others,” Eddings told him, “we’ll be ready.”

“Good luck Ensign,” Chakotay told him.

“Thanks sir, you too. Both of you,” he turned his glance on Paris as he spoke.
Tom would be the first in, the first target, and they all knew it.

“See you inside,” Paris replied with a grin. Chakotay had to admire him for
that.

“Will B’Elanna be ready?” he asked Tom, once Eddings had left them.

Paris nodded. “I told her to stay close to the door all day. She’ll be ready.”

“Good. So now we wait. They change shift in three hours.” Both men lapsed
into silence. Within the next four hours they’d either be free or dead. What
was there to say? But as Chakotay watched Paris sitting, shuffling his feet, he
knew there was something.

“What’s on your mind?” he said at last, wondering if Paris would open up to
him. They’d never really been friends.

“Nothing,” Paris replied immediately, but then hesitated. “Well, something. I
guess.” He glanced up, his usual cock-sure confidence absent. “I want to ask
you…that is, well it’s about B’Elanna.”

Chakotay nodded, but held his tongue. He’d found it best to stay silent if you
wanted someone else to talk.

“We…I…that is,” Paris stumbled to a halt, took a deep breath and started again.
“Leading an unarmed charge into a room full of armed men is pretty suicidal.”

“True.”

“Would you tell her something later. If I can’t?”

“Sure. Tell her what?”

Paris frowned. “You know. Tell her how I feel.”

“I’m not psychic,” Chakotay pointed out. “How do I know how you feel?”

Paris glared at him, and stood up to leave. “Forget it, then” he muttered.

“Is it so hard to say?” Chakotay asked.

Paris stared at him in silence for a long moment, until his scowl dissolved into
an embarrassed smile. “Okay,” he cleared his throat. “Tell her that…that
loving her has been the best thing I’ve ever done, that I would rather die now,
loving her, than live a thousand years without having known her.” He looked
away, embarrassment mingling with other emotions on his face. “Good
enough?”

“You’re a poet,” Chakotay told him dryly, his lips twitching into a smile. “It’s a
shame you hide it most of the time. I don’t know any two people as shy of
expressing their feelings as you and Torres.”

“Don’t you?” Paris asked, turning to face him with a meaningful expression. “I
do.” With that, he turned and left, leaving Chakotay to ponder his words. It
didn’t take him long to understand their meaning.

***

“The Bridge,” Tuvok ordered as they entered the turbo-lift.

“But everything seems so RIGHT,” Kim blurted out, thinking of Libby. She
had been perfect, just as he remembered her.

“The differences are subtle indeed. Yet they are there. We do not belong here,
and we must leave.”

Kim did not reply. Tuvok was right, of course. The detention of his friends
was not right; that at least gave him a sense of relief. The Starfleet he knew
would never act like that. At least, so he hoped.

“It will not be long before the authorities come to the same conclusion we
have reached, and their reaction is difficult to predict. We must be ready.”

“For what?”

“We must be able to defend Voyager if necessary.”

Kim nodded in understanding. “Can we get back?” he asked suddenly.

Tuvok turned to face him. “If there are traces of the spatial rift still in
existence, it may be possible to reopen it from this side. But, I believe that the
odds of success are limited.”

“We need B’Elanna here,” Harry observed, as the turbo lift slowed to a halt.

“Indeed we do,” Tuvok agreed and stepped out onto the empty bridge. Striding
towards his station, he turned back to Harry. “We do not have much time.
Please alert me if anyone is approaching the bridge.”

Harry returned to his own post at ops, and started a low key internal sensor
sweep. “Aye, sir,” he replied, his spirits beginning to lift. The Voyager crew
were back in business, and doing what they did best: wriggling out of
impossible situations.

***

Tom leaned nonchalantly against the cold stone wall, watching the heavy
metal door snap shut. It had seemed easy enough. The guard had simply
walked towards it and it had opened, just like an ordinary door. He glanced up
and saw Eddings and the others scattered around the area, all close enough to
reach the door in a few seconds. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Chakotay,
he could feel the commander’s dark eyes staring at him. It was time.

Adrenaline coursed through his veins as he moved away from the wall and
headed for the door. He thought of home, of his friends, his parents, and, of
course, B’Elanna. Time seemed to slow down, to stretch out behind and before
him as he started that long walk towards the door. Dimly he was aware of
others following him, their shapes bulky and indistinct in the corner of his eye.
The door, steel-grey and hard filled his vision, growing huge as he approached.
IT’S NOT GOING TO OPEN, his mind suddenly screeched at him, and his feet
almost faltered, but he forced them to carry on. Closer, closer, nothing but
cold steel ahead, and memories behind. And then it happened. With a sharp
hiss, the doors slid open. He had a brief glimpse of a guard’s bored face
turning scarlet with shock and fear, before chaos erupted.

Time shrank into seconds, each one an eternity. He launched himself at the
first guard before the man had a chance to reach for the rifle at his side. Tom
managed to land one fist on the side of the guard’s head, as they both fell
struggling to the floor. But desperation made him faster, and it was Tom’s
hand that reached the phaser-rifle first. He rolled towards it, firing as soon as
his fingers reached the trigger. The guard fell on top of him, the stench of
charred flesh making him sick. Around him, Paris could hear the noise of
battle; phaser blasts ricocheted against the walls, voices shouted and screamed,
alarms wailed, and fists flew. Dimly, in the distance, he heard the door hiss
shut, and the sounds of fighting became cramped in the small room. Tom
kicked at the corpse that lay on top of him, struggling to stand. He got to his
knees, gasping for breath, rifle ready, just in time to see the last guard slide to
the floor at Chakotay’s feet. An angry gash dripped blood from the
commander’s left arm, and he held a phaser rifle in the other hand. Turning,
he noticed Paris climbing to his feet. “You okay?” Chakotay asked.

Nodding his head, Tom gasped for air. “Did we…?” he asked, stepping over
the body at his feet with grim determination. It wasn’t the first man he’d killed,
but that didn’t make it any easier.

“So far so good,” Chakotay told him, nodding towards the steel door at the
opposite end of the room. “Go get B’Elanna.”

Tom picked his way through the bodies that lay scattered on the floor, trying
not to look too hard. He didn’t want to see a face he recognised. He prayed
that his tag would open the door to the Klingon side of the prison. It didn’t.
DAMN IT!

“What’s the hold up, Paris?” Chakotay called from the other side of the room,
where he was struggling with the security lock-out on the transporter. “Damn.
We need B’Elanna NOW.”

“There has to be a manual release,” Paris told himself, searching the door. He
wouldn’t leave without her, even if he could. Which he doubted. B’Elanna
was the only one who stood a chance of by-passing the security lock-out.

“Hurry,” Chakotay called, “We only have a few minutes.”

The door was smooth and featureless. He looked on the walls to either side.
Nothing. No, wait, there was something. A small glass panel. Picking up a
phaser rifle that lay nearby, Tom smashed the glass with the butt of the rifle.
There was a handle, so he pulled it. For a moment nothing happened, and then
the door slid silently open. A dozen startled Klingons blinked at him from a
distance, and then out of the crowd burst one small figure, tearing towards the
door. It only took a few moments for the rest of the prisoners to understand,
and they were soon in hot pursuit. But B’Elanna was lighter and faster than
any of them. She barrelled into the room, crashing into Chakotay where he
stood by the console, and nearly knocking him flying. Tom slammed the lever
home, and the doors slid shut in the face of a large, and very angry looking
Klingon.

“What took you?” B’Elanna asked turning to Tom and breathing heavily.

He just ginned at her, speechless with relief.

“We’ve got five minutes,” Chakotay warned them.

“Right,” B’Elanna tore her eyes away from Tom with obvious difficulty, but
turned to her job with instant professionalism. “Now let’s see,” she muttered,
studying the controls carefully. “Totally locked out. Okay.” She paused,
thinking. “Right, I’ll need the power cells from three of those rifles.”

“Three?” Chakotay repeated, clearly unhappy about losing so many weapons.

“You want to stay here?” she asked him bluntly.

“Four minutes,” Tom told them. “They’ve got reinforcements on the way.”

***

“But, what I don’t understand Captain,” Admiral Cabot repeated, “is why you
broke the Prime Directive and deliberately stranded your ship in the Delta
Quadrant?”

“As I told you,” Janeway answered, struggling to retain her focus after over
twenty-four hours of questioning, “I felt that the Prime Directive did not apply,
because we were brought there against our will…”

“But the Kazon would have recovered the array, if you had not been there.
Wouldn’t they?”

“No, because…”

“I think the pertinent point here,” Admiral Paris interjected, “is that you expect
us to believe that your crew would accept this decision. And not only your
crew, but the crew of a disaffected terrorist group too! Frankly, it’s
preposterous.”

“It’s the truth,” Janeway replied, exhausted with repeating herself.

“Captain,” Paris pressed. “What would you say if I told you that I had sworn
testimony from your officers that what you are telling us are lies? That you
did in fact spend the last three years in Dominion territory, and that you have
been sent here to spy for them?”

“I would not believe you.”

The Admiral picked up a PADD, and waved it before her. “I have a list here of
members of your crew who have sworn to that effect. They have admitted the
truth. Why don’t you?”

“Show me the list,” Janeway replied, outrage banishing her exhaustion
momentarily.

“No.” Paris refused her. “You must admit the truth first. You are a Dominion
spy!”

“No!” she retorted.

“Liar,” Paris snarled. “Admit it. You are a spy for them, sent here to betray
us.”

“I am not.”

“We do understand, Captain,” Admiral Cabot asked her in a more friendly
tone. “Perhaps you had no choice in the matter? Perhaps you were coerced?”
He smiled sympathetically. “If you confess your own guilt, and name others
who share it, you will be acquitted. So, come now, do you know of any
Dominion agents among your crew?”

“No.” She replied again. “I do not.”

“Just one? Just one name?” Cabot suddenly looked concerned. “But perhaps
you would like some time to think about it?” he offered. “We could arrange a
meal, a bed…give you some time alone?”

A bed. A meal. How she longed to quiet the pains of hunger in her belly, to
close her eyes for just one moment. But it was impossible. She would never
give them the lies they demanded. She looked out beyond them, her eyes once
more resting on the ancient bridge, touched with gold in the afternoon
sunlight. It was still as immovable as her duty. She drew breath and carried
on: “Neither I, nor any of my crew are, or have ever been, spies for the
Dominion,” she declared. “That answer will never change. Never.”

***

“Got it!” B’Elanna cried. “It’ll get us to the surface, but no further.”

“Good work,” Chakotay told her. “Now let’s hope the shift-change shuttle is
still up there.”

“Well, if not, this is going to be the shortest ever escape,” Torres warned him.

Chakotay smiled grimly. “Let’s go.”

“Okay, two at time,” Torres said. “There’s not enough power for more.”

She saw Chakotay and Paris exchange a look. Tom nodded his understanding:
“I’ll go first,” he said. “Someone needs to get the ship fired up.”

“I’ll go with him, sir,” Eddings volunteered.

Chakotay put a hand on the young ensign’s shoulder. “Good luck,” was all he
said: they all understood the danger.

B’Elanna hardly dared look up from the console, but she forced herself. She
gave Tom a weak smile, and he winked at her. “Let’s go,” he said, looking
away. “Their reinforcements will be here in less than two minutes.”

“You’ll have to hold them off,” she told him, starting to make the final
adjustments to the make-shift power supply. “This will need to recharge for
thirty seconds between beam-outs. There’s eleven of us left…it’ll take three
minutes to get us all out.”

“Understood,” Chakotay replied.

Tom and Eddings stood, rifles at the ready. Tom gave her a brief nod, and she
hit the controls. He was still watching her as he shimmered out of existence.
He was gone, but forcing him out of her mind was not so easy; she could still
see his smile as she turned her attention back to the transporter. “Okay, next
two,” she ordered, “Get ready.”

***

The familiar star-fall of the transporter was replaced by the unfamiliar feel of
rain. Tom dropped to a crouch immediately, phaser-rifle raised, and scanned
the area.

“All clear this side,” Eddings reported, his back to Paris.

“Not for long,” Tom replied. They stood on a shuttle pad that flattened a hill
top, wide and desolate. Low cloud obscured the view, but Tom could taste salt
in the air. They were close to the sea. The rain was heavy, and he was soon
soaked to the skin. Wiping water from his eyes, he peered through the murky
weather, barely daring to breath as he searched for sign of a ship. Dimly
through the rain he saw the slow blink of landing lights. There was something
on the pad, and whatever it was, it would have to do.

“Come on,” he urged Eddings. “This way.”

They crept cautiously towards the small shuttle, ears straining for any sign of
danger. The rain continued unabated, and Tom could feel it running through
his hair, crawling coldly down the back of his neck.

“Is it empty?” Eddings asked in a nervous whisper.

Paris motioned him to silence. STAY HERE, he mouthed at the ensign. There
was no shelter on the huge shuttle pad, so Eddings merely crouched low, his
rifle aimed at the shuttle’s open door, as Paris crept closer.

Something alerted him. He never worked out what it was, but for some reason
he was already dropping to the floor when the phaser blast shot out of the
shuttle’s doorway. He felt its heat streak above his head, and heard it explode
behind him. Rolling swiftly to his feet he returned fire blindly and dashed for
the shuttle, pressing himself flat against the side of the ship. It was only then
that he saw Eddings, sprawled on the ground, his chest charred with phaser
burns. He was thankful then for his Starfleet training; ruthlessly he put the
grief aside to deal with later, and used the rage for his own purposes. Enough
was enough. It was time for someone to pay.

With a roar of anger, he burst into the shuttle. The first man didn’t even have
time to shout, the second only managed to squeeze one shot out of his rifle.
Fury ran in his veins in place of blood, as he pushed further into the small ship,
eager for another enemy, someone else to punish. There was no one, but didn’t
matter. The anger was focusing his mind, he knew what he had to do.
Without letting go of his rifle, Paris dropped into the pilot’s seat and started the
ignition sequence. He felt a rush of fierce pleasure as the engines roared to
life around him.

Nerves taut, a soft sound behind him warned of danger. Without thinking, he
was out of his seat and dropping to the floor, rifle aimed and ready to fire. His
finger trembled on the trigger – and froze. He stopped and took a deep
steadying breath: it was Chakotay.

“I saw Eddings,” was all the commander said.

“They were in here,” Paris replied by way of explanation. “I killed them.”

The noise of the shuttle’s engines were suddenly drowned by a horribly
familiar sound coming from outside. Tom leaped to the window and looked
out. “It’s a troop-transport,” he told the commander. “We’re in trouble.”

***

“Damn it!” B’Elanna swore as the power pack dimmed again. “There’s some
kind of power drain…” She explored the circuits for the hundredth time, made
a slight alteration and the power hummed back into life. “Okay,” she called,
“Gilman, Bellamy – you’re next.”

As the transporter beamed the two Maquis out of the room, an alarm on the
console started bleeping. She glanced over and saw that it was a proximity
alert. There was a ship approaching the landing pad above, and by the look of
the specs it was large and well armed. Picking up the last phaser rifle she
threw it to O’Neil, one of the two remaining Maquis.

“Looks like you’ll need this,” she told him. “Reinforcements have just
arrived.”

“What about you, Lieutenant?” he asked.

“Take care of yourself and Kessler,” she replied, returning her attention to the
transporter. “You’re going to have a warm welcome.”

“We’ll be ready for them,” he replied, giving her a grin that did little to mask
his fear. She couldn’t blame him. For all any of them knew, Paris, Chakotay
and the others were already dead. “Ready?” she asked, as the power cells
struggled to re-charge.

“Ready Lieutenant,” O’Neil said, Kessler echoing his friend’s reply.

The power level indicator winked dimly at her; she hoped there’d be enough to
get these last two to the surface. After that? She’d have to wait and see.
B’Elanna’s fingers hovered over the controls. “O’Neil,” she said, considering
her words carefully. “Tell Commander Chakotay not to wait more than two
minutes for me. Tell him,” she swallowed, her mouth suddenly dry, “tell him –
and tell Paris – that if I’m not out in two minutes, I’m not getting out.”

“What do you mean?” O’Neil asked in real concern.

“There may not be enough power,” she told him shortly.

“Then I should stay, you’re more…”

“That’s not an option, Ensign,” she told him. “Go. Both of you. That’s an
order.”

“But…”

“Get ready,” she said giving them only a few seconds to prepare themselves
before she sent them out into the unknown. They disappeared in the familiar
shimmer, protests still on their lips, and left her alone.

“Good luck,” she whispered after them, her voice quiet against the insistent
beeping of the proximity alarm. After a few moments she roused herself, and
glanced down at the power indicator; her heart sank. The power cells were
dark and lifeless. Holding her breath, she watched, hoping against hope, for
the glimmer of light that would give her a chance at life. Or at least a chance
at a meaningful death.

***

“We have to get her in the air,” Paris yelled to Chakotay, punching the
controls. “Hang on!”

The shuttle lurched upwards, safety alarms blaring: “Warning: Port hatch is not
secured. Warning: Port hatch is not secured.”

“What are you doing?” Chakotay shouted, hauling himself into the co-pilot’s
seat.

“They’ll crucify us if we stay on the ground,” Paris told him, watching the huge
transport ship easing down towards the shuttle pad. “We have to be able to
manoeuvre.”

“What about the others?”

“Don’t worry,” Paris told him, giving Chakotay a quick sidelong glance. “I’m
not leaving without them.” DOES HE STILL THINK I’M SUCH A
COWARD? AFTER ALL THESE YEARS? But there was little time for such
thoughts, the battle was about to be joined. “I can give them more cover from
here,” he explained. “I’m not going far.”

Keeping the shuttle hovering precariously close to the ground, Tom turned his
ship to face the transport. Before it had finished its landing sequence, the bay
doors opened and he could see the faces of well armed troops poised to spill
out. A streak of red phaser-fire shot from the doorway. Without hesitating,
Paris returned fire, his first shot hitting home and raising plumes of smoke, but
the second dissolved uselessly against their swiftly raised shields.

“At least their troops can’t get past the shields either,” Tom muttered to
himself. If he could force them to keep their shields raised, they might just
stand a chance. Peering through the clearing smoke, Tom began to make out
two indistinct figures between the ships, one of them lay sprawled on the floor.
“It’s Kessler and O’Neil,” he called. “Looks like Kessler’s down. They need
help.”

“I’ve got them,” Chakotay replied, leaving his seat. “Cover me.” Pushing past
the rest of the escapees, he reached the open port hatch and jumped cautiously
to the surface.

“O’Neil, Kessler,” Paris heard the commander yell from somewhere under the
hovering shuttle. “This way.”

Kessler was badly injured, and as O’Neil struggled to lift him, another volley
of phaser fire from the transport sent them both scrambling to the ground.
Tom watched as Chakotay dashed out from the cover of the ship, blasting
blindly at the smoke obscured Transport. Paris joined in, sending the shuttle’s
phaser fire blazing over the heads of his friends, and trapping the troops inside
their ship. Between them, Chakotay and O’Neil managed to lift their injured
friend and trot back towards the shuttle, passing under the ship and out of
Tom’s sight.

“We’ve got them,” a voice called from behind him, and Paris slapped on the
shields with relief. Turning in his seat, he watched Chakotay ease Kessler to
the ground. The man was in pain, but alive. That was something, at least.

“You two okay?” Tom asked.

“Never better, Lieutenant,” Kessler told him, grimacing as he moved his
injured leg.

“We’ll get you out of here in no time,” Tom told him with a grin. “Just as soon
as Torres gets herself out, we can…”

“She’s not out yet?” O’Neil asked immediately.

“No,” involuntarily Tom glanced out at the shuttle pad. It was still empty.

“How long’s it been?” O’Neil turned to Chakotay. “How long since we beamed
out?”

“Two or three minutes,” the commander replied, clearly worried. “Why?”

O’Neil and Kessler exchanged a look that turned Tom’s guts to ice. “What’s
happened?” he asked in a voice brittle with fear.

“She told us…” O’Neil swallowed nervously, while Kessler just leaned his head
against the wall and closed his eyes. O’Neil continued, his face full of anguish,
“…she told us to tell you and the commander to wait for two minutes. She
said…she said if she wasn’t out by then, she wouldn’t be coming. There wasn’t
much power left…”

Tom didn’t hear the rest of his words. Black despair tunnelled his vision,
constricted his chest; she was trapped in there. She would die. Alone. Dimly
he became aware of pain in his left hand. Looking down he saw blood; his fist
was balled so tightly that his own finger nails had bitten into the palm of his
hand. He stared at it, unmoving, the world turning grey and heavy around him.
She was gone. He might have sat there in horror-struck silence forever, had a
phaser shot not blasted them at that moment.

The shields held, but the impact sent the small shuttle careening backwards.
Instinct more than training saved them. Tom grabbed the controls and
wrestled the ship back under control with sheer force of will. O’Neil, Kessler,
Chakotay and the others went flying as the ship spun away from the troop
transport; there was a bloody gash on the commander’s forehead when he
hauled himself back into the co-pilot’s chair.

“That was close,” he commented to Paris, examining the controls.

“Sorry, Commander,” Tom replied. “I was distracted.”

Chakotay didn’t reply at first. “Their shields are down,” he said after a
moment. “Fire phasers.”

Tom fired, watching the phaser blast into the armoured hull of the transport.
With his eyes still focused on their enemy, he spoke: “I won’t leave her
behind.”

He expected Chakotay to argue, but instead the commander was silent for a
moment. When he did speak, all he said was: “If you go back they’ll kill you.”

“I know,” Tom replied, astounded at how little he cared. If B’Elanna was gone,
it simply didn’t matter. Another blast from the transport set their little shuttle
rocking: “Warning: shields failing,” the computer announced.

“If we don’t get out of here soon, we’ll all be killed,” Chakotay commented.
There was no fear or anger in his voice, it was simply a statement of fact. But
the words stopped Tom dead: they were true, and he knew it. His despair was
not so complete that it blinded him to his duty; the lives of nine men and
women lay in his hands, and try as he might he could not ignore that fact.

Paris looked up, his eyes locking with the commander’s. “How can I just leave
her?” he whispered, the pain in his chest ready to burst. It was a pain he saw
reflected in Chakotay’s face; mirrored in appearance but not equalled in depth.

“Don’t let her death be for nothing,” the commander said quietly. “Let her life
buy ours.”

A pain, sharp and cold, twisted the life from his heart, crawled into his throat
and strangled his words. Tom couldn’t speak. He knew that the effort would
release the hot, dry tears that burned behind his eyes, and that once released,
they would never stop. With hands that trembled from the effort, he turned to
the controls and began to set a course for orbit.

***

B’Elanna licked lips gone dry with tension, as she concentrated on the delicate
task. At her feet, discarded, lay the lifeless power cells, while behind her one
of the communications consoles spilled its contents halfway across the floor.
Torres did not take defeat easily. The power cells had failed her, but there was
always another option, and she was determined to find it. As she made the last
connection, she glanced at the chronometer – four minutes since she had sent
O’Neil and Kessler to the surface. If her friends were still alive, they should
have left by now. She quailed from the loneliness of that thought, but alone or
not, she was damned if she would let them kill her down here, in this stone
tomb. No, she would make it to the surface, even if she was to die there.

“Okay Torres,” she told herself. “Get ready.”

She’d hot-wired the transporter into the power circuits of the environmental
control system. The energy grids were totally incompatible, and the raw
energy surge would blow out the sensitive circuits of the transporter system
within seconds. If it worked it would transport her to the surface before it
blew. If it didn’t….well, there’d be no second chance.

Picking up a dead phaser rifle, she moved to the transporter controls. The rifle
would be useless, but she felt better for having it in her hands – she could use it
as a club at least. That thought brought Tom painfully to mind; she suddenly
remembered him charging to her rescue when the wolves had attacked. She
had never thanked him, she realised sadly. She’d never thanked him for saving
her life, she’d never apologised for her hurtful words during their terrible
argument, and she’d never told him that she still loved him. That she always
had. For a moment she almost gave in to the overwhelming wave of
guilt-stained grief; tears welled in her eyes, and her fiery determination to
escape fled from her blood. But the moment passed. She was still alive, and
while she lived there was hope. Perhaps she really would escape, perhaps by
some miracle she would one day be able to tell him everything herself.

“Not if you hang around here much longer,” she muttered to herself, and
without further pause for doubt or regret, she hit the controls and activated the
transporter. She had programmed a three second delay, and then rushing into
position, B’Elanna readied herself for whatever was to come; life or death.

She held her breath as the transporter beam shimmered around her, then, just
as she began to feel the familiar tingling sensation, there was a blinding white
flash….

***

“Lieutenant, wait!” O’Neil yelled from the rear of the shuttle. “Over there,
look!”

“What?” Tom shouted back, not taking his eyes off the controls.

“There’s someone there,” O’Neil replied, struggling up into the cockpit.

Paris saw Chakotay leap to the window, but he dared not move himself: it was
taking all his concentration to keep the transport grounded. Once that thing
got airborne, they’d be in trouble.

“There,” O’Neil was pointing. “See?”

Chakotay was silent for a moment. Tom held his breath. He dared not even
hope that it was…

“B’Elanna,” Chakotay confirmed.

Tom felt life surging back into his soul, and in an instant the world turned
from grey to vivid technicolor. Hope, mixed in equal measure with dread fear,
thundered in his heart: “We have to go get her,” he said urgently. “She won’t
last long out there.”

“Open the hatch,” Chakotay replied without hesitation.

Tom hit the controls, and the hatch hissed open, then he lowered the shuttle
closer to the ground, not risking a landing. Rain hammered down on the
shuttle roof, running in rivulets down the windows, and making it hard to see.
Peering through the rain, Tom’s eyes strained to see in the gloom, when
suddenly…

“There she is!” His heart flipped over in his chest at the sight of her small
rain-drenched frame, standing, a phaser rifle cradled in one arm, staring up at
the descending shuttle. SHE’S ALIVE! SHE’S MADE IT! The thought raced
through his head, leaving room for little else. So, he didn’t notice that the
transport had dropped its shields until a barrage of phaser fire pummelled the
shuttle and the landing pad beneath them. The shuttle rocked dangerously
close to the ground as its alarms wailed, warning them of imminent collision.

“Firing phasers,” Chakotay was yelling, as Tom took desperate evasive action.
When he had time to look up, his heart turned cold. The shuttle pad was a
mess, a phaser blast had hit close by, spraying rubble and dust high into the air.
But through the debris, Tom could see one small figure lying motionless on the
ground.

“No!” he heard himself yell, instinctively jumping to his feet to go to her. But
Chakotay’s hand on his shoulder was heavy and strong.

“Fly the ship, Lieutenant,” the commander ordered. “We’ll get her.”

Cursing silently, Tom sat down. LET HER LIVE! PLEASE LET HER BE
ALIVE! He moved the ship as close to B’Elanna as he could, dropping what
was left of the shields to allow Chakotay to leave. To his left Tom saw the
transport doors open, spilling their heavily armed contents onto the landing
pad. To his right, he saw Chakotay and O’Neil running towards the inert figure
of B’Elanna. Only the shuttle separated his friends from the advancing troops.
Tom turned the phasers towards their enemy, and opened fire. Four men fell,
but the rest continued their relentless advance.

Glancing back towards Chakotay, he saw the commander lift B’Elanna’s limp
body in his arms. Then, with O’Neil leading the way, the two men started
running back towards the shuttle. Tom turned away hurriedly. He couldn’t
bare to see the way her head lolled, the lifeless way in which her arms and legs
dangled. PLEASE LET HER LIVE!

The troops were closer now, and Tom turned the shuttle to face them, risking
dropping even closer to the surface. It seemed like an eternity, waiting for
Chakotay to reach the ship. The soldiers were so close now, he could see their
faces. Cold hard faces dressed in the familiar Starfleet uniform. It was
strange and unnatural. He fired again, and saw more of them fall. This time
one man fired back. The phaser-rifle couldn’t do much damage to the shuttle,
but with the shields down they were vulnerable. Briefly, Tom wondered why
the transport didn’t just fire and finish the job. THEY WANT US ALIVE, he
realised suddenly. The thought brought a dark smile to his lips. That gave
them an advantage. An advantage so slim it would be hard to use, but an
advantage nonetheless.

“We’ve got them!” the shout came at last, and Tom released the breath he
hadn’t realised he was holding.

“Every one hang on,” he yelled. “It’s going to be rough.” With that he fired the
engines and threw the ship upwards until the engines were screaming.

***

“Lieutenant,” Kim said, double checking the data before him. “There’s some
kind of disturbance within the planet’s atmosphere.”

“What kind of disturbance, Ensign?” Tuvok replied with his usual cool
curiosity.

“Atmospheric phaser-fire Captain,” Kim told him with growing excitement.
“It’s a dog-fight.”

Tuvok raised an eyebrow at the expression. “Location?” he asked.

“Confirming…” Kim looked up, his excitement barely restrained. “It’s right
above the New Zealand Penal Settlement.”

“Interesting,” Tuvok admitted. “Can you determine if any of Voyager’s crew
are among the combatants?”

Harry frowned as he turned back to the scanners. “No,” he replied after a
moment. “There’s some kind of electromagnetic dampening field around the
whole installation. The scanners can’t penetrate it.”

“A security shield,” Tuvok guessed. “Designed to prevent transportation from
the settlement.”

“Then what shall we do?” Kim asked. “It has to be them!”

“It does not. We do not know where our crew are being held,” Tuvok told him.
“Until we have more evidence, we will do nothing.”

“Nothing!” Kim objected. “They could die down there.”

“If it is not them, and we reveal our hand too soon, we will have destroyed our
only hope of escape,” Tuvok warned him. “We must be ready to act, but we
must be patient.”

Kim scowled, turning back to the display before him. The two flashing icons
were mere images, but in his heart he knew what they represented. They were
his friends, and they were in trouble. He scanned, and watched, and waited,
and hoped.

***

“Warning: shield failure in thirty seconds. Warning: shield failure…”

“Mute audible warning,” Tom snapped, as another blast from the transport ship
rocked their little shuttle. “Hang on!” he yelled, throwing the ship into yet
another stomach turning manoeuvre.

“We’re still not out of range of the prison’s dampening field,” Chakotay told
him, hanging onto the controls as the ship twisted and turned.

“We’ve lost shields,” O’Neil called from behind them. Tom glanced at
Chakotay: it would only take one more hit.

“We have to use the transporters,” the commander decided. “Paris, we need to
get above this dampening field.”

Tom shook his head, as he scanned the controls. With one engine already
damaged, and the transport on their tail, it wouldn’t be easy. “O’Neil,” he
called. “Lock on the transporter, and stand by. We won’t have much time.”

“Aye, sir,” the ensign replied, struggling towards the transporter station.

“Every one, brace yourselves,” Tom warned. “We’ve lost the inertial
dampers…” He tapped the controls, readying the shuttle for it’s sheer, perilous
climb out of the dampening field’s range.

“Wait…” Chakotay yelled, as a streak of phaser fire clipped them slightly,
shaking the shuttle to her bones.

“What are you doing?” Tom asked, struggling to keep the shuttle on course.

“Sending a distress signal,” Chakotay replied. He shrugged at Tom’s dubious
expression, “you never know who’s listening.”

“No one friendly,” Tom predicted. “all right. Brace now!” With that he hit
the controls, and sent the little shuttle into an impossibly steep climb. The
engines screamed with the effort, the ship shuddered and rattled, and the
g-forces pinned them to their seats.

“Almost there,” Chakotay said, watching the display.

“O’Neil, stand by,” Paris called, the effort of maintaining the near-vertical
climb knotting his shoulders with tension.

A violent blow suddenly pummelled the little shuttle, smashing her off course.
Phaser fire streaked past the window as the ship rolled over and over.
Disorientated, it took Tom an instant to grasp what was happening.

“Warning: hull breach,” the computer told them. Tom ignored it. That was
the least of their problems. Through the view screen he could see the ground
spiralling towards them. Instinct told him it was much too fast.

“Pull up!” Chakotay yelled.

“Helm’s not responding!” Tom replied, thumping the console in frustration.
Nothing. This was it! This was how it would end!

“Impact in forty-three seconds” the computer told them.

“Transport!” Chakotay shouted, bracing himself against the controls.

“Nothing commander,” O’Neil replied in panic. “We’re still under the
dampening field!”

In desperation, Tom threw the engines into full-reverse. At this speed, he
knew, they would probably melt-down. They certainly protested, and the ship
started shaking so hard, Tom could hardly see. But he could see enough. The
ground was still rushing towards them; then, for a moment, it slowed. The
engines shrieked at him, his teeth, his eyes, even his bones seemed to be
rattling as the shuttle threatened to tear itself apart. And then it stopped.
There was an instant of absolute silence, absolute stillness; the engines had
cut-out. And then they dropped like a stone. They were in free-fall, and there
was nothing he could do about it. This time, there was no way out.

***

“Lieutenant!” Kim called urgently. “One of the ships is sending out an
automated distress signal.”

“Analysis?” Tuvok asked immediately.

“It’s coded, Lieutenant,” Kim replied, concentrating. He looked up sharply.
“It’s a Voyager code!”

“Are they within transporter range?”

“Negative,” Kim replied. “They’re still beneath the dampening field.”

Tuvok nodded. For an instant he remained motionless, until his decision was
made. “Stand-by, Ensign,” he said at last, moving towards the captain’s chair.
“Computer, recognise Tuvok Double-Alpha-three-nine-seven.”

“Recognised,” the computer replied.

“Execute Tuvok Double-Alpha One.”

The computer hummed to itself. “Tuvok Double-Alpha One complete. All
non-Voyager personnel have been transported to McKinnley station.”

“Ensign,” Tuvok turned to Kim. “Take the con.”

“Aye sir,” Kim replied, striding across the bridge.

“Computer, disengage landing clamps and engage impulse engines.”

“Unable to comply; that order violates space-dock safety protocols.”

“Over ride protocols and comply,” Tuvok continued calmly.

“Clamps are disengaging,” Kim reported. “Engines on-line.”

“Very well, Mr Kim. Take us down.”

Kim took a deep breath. Tom should be doing this, not him. He was no pilot!
Still, there was no one else. With great trepidation, he set course for the
distress signal, raised the shields against the heat of re-entry, and tipped
Voyager’s nose towards the planet below. “We’re getting some atmospheric
turbulence, Lieutenant.”

“I will attempt to compensate, Ensign.”

The view was spectacular as Voyager skimmed beneath the atmosphere,
flitting through clouds, in and out of brilliant sunshine.

“Approaching the co-ordinates,” Kim reported, as the ship entered a wall of
thick cloud. He reduced speed, and dropped closer to the surface. “Phaser fire
is still continuing.”

The clouds parted, and Kim could see the scene below him. A large, ugly
looking ship of military design was firing on a small shuttle. As he watched, a
blast caught the little ship on the port nacelle, sending her tumbling towards
the ground.

“They’re hit!” he yelled.

Tuvok raced to ops. “The transporters won’t work within this dampening
field,” he said.

Harry watched the shuttle start plummeting towards the surface, his heart
sinking as fast as the little ship.

“Get us in tractor range,” Tuvok ordered.

Large though the transport was, it was dwarfed by Voyager, and scrambled
quickly out of the way of the rapidly descending starship. Kim followed the
shuttle down. “In range, sir,” he reported urgently. It was only a matter of
seconds before the shuttle smashed into the ground.

“Engaging tractor beam now,” said Tuvok, working the controls rapidly. “We
have them.”

***

The shuttle lurched to a sudden stop, only meters from the ground. The impact
of the halt sent them all flying. Picking himself up, Tom dashed to the
controls.

“Something’s got us,” he yelled. “Tractor-beam.” DAMN IT! He wouldn’t go
without a fight. His fingers were flying across the weapons controls, when he
felt Chakotay’s hand on his shoulder.

“Paris,” the commander said, his voice surprisingly jubilant. “Look.”

Tom raised his eyes, irritated words on his lips. But the words died there. As
he followed Chakotay’s pointing finger, he saw the most wonderful sight of his
entire life: Voyager floated above them, powerful and beautiful.

It took a moment for them all to understand: they were alive! Voyager had
saved them! After that moment’s silence, Tom reckoned the whoops of joy
that echoed through the ship could probably be heard in the depths of the
prison below.

His own joy was short lived however, as he hurried towards B’Elanna. She lay
unmoving on the floor, her head cradled by Kessler, who’s own happiness was
muted by his obvious pain.

“She’s alive, sir,” Kessler told Tom immediately. Those words hit him with a
wave of relief so strong that it drove him to his knees by her side. Not trusting
himself to speak straight away, Tom nodded to Kessler, touching the man’s
arm in a gesture of thanks. Then he turned to B’Elanna; her face was pale, and
her breathing shallow. Her hand felt small and cold in his own, and he
squeezed it gently before laying it on her chest.

“We need to get you both to sick-bay,” he told Kessler, getting to his feet.
“Then we’ll show them just what Voyager can do!”

***

With B’Elanna and Kessler safely moved to sick-bay, Tom headed for the
bridge. As he stepped out of the turbo-lift, Tom couldn’t help feeling he was
coming home. Looking around, he saw Kim grinning from ear to ear.

“Good to see you Tom,” Harry said.

“You too,” he replied. “And thanks Harry. We all owe you.”

Kim shrugged. “I just wish we’d figured it out sooner.”

Tom opened his mouth to reply, but he was distracted by Chakotay. “Not
aboard?” the commander was asking Tuvok, alarm evident in his voice.

“She was summoned to a de-briefing session two days ago,” Tuvok replied.
“And has not returned. We hoped that the Captain was on board your ship.”

“We don’t know where she is,” Chakotay told Tuvok. Tom recognised the
controlled panic he saw in the commander’s eyes; he’d felt the same when
B’Elanna had been missing.

“We can’t leave her behind,” Chakotay continued. As he spoke, he caught
Tom’s eye, and despite the grim situation, he gave a self-deprecating smile.

“No, we can’t,” Tom agreed. “So, we should go find her.”

“Where?” Kim asked.

“Paris,” Chakotay said, taking the captain’s seat. “We need to get to San
Francisco fast – but keep us low, we don’t want to run into their orbital
defences.”

“Yes sir,” Tom replied, sliding into the pilot’s seat with alacrity. He smiled; it
was just like coming home. “Setting speed to 20,000kph; altitude 50 metres.”

“Fifty metres,” Kim breathed, as he saw the planet’s surface start speeding
below them, “we’re practically in the ocean!”

“Relax,” Tom replied with a grin. “I know what I’m doing.”

***

It was difficult to concentrate. She had to keep blinking, just to keep her eyes
open. The Starfleet officers before her consulted each other in tones too low
to hear. They had all questioned her, individually and together, over the
past…how many days? She could no longer tell. A lesser person would have
broken, she knew. A lesser person would have given them the lies they
wanted. But Kathryn Janeway was strong. Her body may weaken, but her
spirit would never fail. As the officers whispered together, she looked out
beyond them. The sun was setting, painting the sky in brilliant shades of
orange and purple, its golden globe sinking to the ocean. For a moment she
though she saw something flash silver in the evening sun; something tiny and
far away. Narrowing her gaze, she stared at it until…

“Kathryn Janeway,” Admiral Paris addressed her; she looked away from the
sunset, and into the cold face of her enemy. “You have an unhappy choice
before you: if you persist in your story of the Delta Quadrant, you will be
convicted of a most serious violation of the Prime Directive,” he glared at her,
but she did not quail. “You will be convicted of gross incompetence, of
endangering the life of your crew and the safety of the Federation Starship
Voyager.”

He paused to let that fact sink in. Janeway steeled herself for the next assault.

“However, if you admit that you have, in reality, spent the last three years in
the Gamma Quadrant, you will be convicted of High Treason.”

Still she remained silent.

“The penalty,” Admiral Cabot interjected smoothly, “for both these offences, is
death.”

Janeway looked at him. “Then it appears I am to die,” she replied, knowing
that her calm manner irritated them. It cheered her a little.

“There is an alternative,” Cabot told her. She stared at him until he looked
away. She smiled; another little victory. Very little. She knew full well what
his alternative was: “Repent your treason,” Cabot urged her. “And give us the
names of those Dominion agents in your crew. That will save you.”

Her attention was suddenly caught once more by a silver flash over the bay.
Closer this time. She stared, not quite sure if her eyes were deceiving her.
Could it be…? Her heart started pounding in sudden and unexpected hope.
Could it really be…? Turning back to the tribunal panel, she rose to her feet.
She had a better view from there, and she wanted hold their full attention: she
dared not risk them looking backward.

“I will not buy my life with a lie,” she told them. “I have told you the truth,
and that will never change. This,” she gestured around her, “kangaroo-court is
a sham. It is a mockery of justice, and I do not recognise its jurisdiction over
me or any of my crew.”

“You are determined to die then?” Cabot asked smoothly. “A martyr to what
cause…?”

Janeway ignored him. She was transfixed. Low, skimming close to the waves
came a ship. A ship so familiar that she wanted to shout with joy; Voyager
was coming for her.

It slowed as it approached the shore, growing larger and larger in the picture
window. A commotion at the back of the room suddenly attracted everyone’s
attention. Two young soldiers burst in, phasers in hand.

“What is the meaning of this?” Admiral Paris spluttered in outrage.

“Admiral,” one of the soldiers pointed his hand towards the window. “It’s
Voyager.”

The Admiral turned, and stumbled backward into the table at the unexpected
sight of the huge Starship hovering outside. “Get her out of here!” he ordered,
turning back to the Captain. “Take her to…”

Janeway never learned where she was to be taken, for at that moment, she felt
a familiar tingling sensation and saw the tribunal room dissolve before her
eyes. When her vision cleared she felt like crying for joy. She was on the
bridge of Voyager; she was home.

“Paris,” she heard Chakotay order, almost before she had materialised, “get us
out of here.” She felt the thrust of the engines as Voyager launched herself
towards the stars, and then Chakotay took her arm. “Are you all right,
Kathryn?” he asked, doing nothing to mask the warmth in his voice.

“I am now,” she told him with a smile. Looking around her, she saw that they
were all there; Chakotay and Tom looked a little the worse for wear, but
despite their grey prison garb, they were still smiling.

“Is everyone on board?” she asked. “Where’s B’Elanna?”

“Sick-bay,” Paris told her. She could see concern in his face, which made her
worry.

“There were three fatalities,” Tuvok informed her as she sat down. “But
everyone else is accounted for.”

“Who?” she asked immediately. Her heart sank when she heard the names, all
Maquis. She looked up at Chakotay: “I’m sorry,” she said. “They were all
good people.”

“Captain,” Kim interrupted from ops, “We’re being hailed.”

“On screen,” she ordered, standing up, hands on hips, chin raised defiantly.

“Janeway,” Cabot’s face filled the screen. “So this is how you choose to die?
Very well. You know you will never return to your Dominion friends.”

“For once, Admiral, you are correct,” she said. “I will not.” At her slight
slashing gesture, Kim ended the communication.

“Commander, what’s our situation?” she asked Chakotay.

“It appears, Captain,” he replied, all cool professionalism once more. “That
this is not the Alpha Quadrant we were expecting. Sisperia has double-crossed
us.”

Janeway smiled. She had suspected, no, she had hoped as much. “You don’t
know how happy that makes me,” she replied.

“I think I can imagine,” Tom observed.

“Can we get back?” Janeway continued.

“There is a slim chance,” Tuvok interjected. “If the effects of the spatial
displacement are still in evidence.”

“It sounds like we need B’Elanna,” she commented, tapping her comm badge.
“Janeway to sickbay. Doctor, respond please.”

“Ah, Captain,” the doctor replied. “Am I glad to see you. You would not
believe the trouble I’ve been having with this strip-down crew. They wanted
to…”

“Not now, doctor,” Janeway interrupted. “I need you to tell me how Lieutenant
Torres is doing.”

“Humph,” the doctor sniffed. “How should I know?”

Tom turned around in his seat, “What do you mean?” he asked quickly.

“I mean that she’s not here. Wouldn’t even let me run a scan before she…”

“Doctor,” Janeway interrupted again. “Where is she?”

“Engineering,” he told her, clearly disgruntled. “Where else?”

Tom shook his head, torn between a smile and a frown.

“Janeway to Torres.”

“Torres here,” B’Elanna said, sounding distracted. “Glad to have you back,
Captain.”

“Lieutenant, we need a way to get back through the rift,” Janeway started
explaining.

“I know Captain,” she replied, “I’m working on it.”

Janeway smiled. “Of course. Keep me posted.”

A dull thud rocked the ship. “Report,” Janeway ordered, taking her seat.

“We’re under fire, Captain,” Kim told her. “It’s a galaxy class star-ship. The
Defiant.”

“Go to red alert,” she ordered. “Tom, take evasive action; Tuvok, fire at will.
We have to give B’Elanna long enough to come up with a way home.”

***

Engineering was a mess. B’Elanna swore silently as she tripped over another
pile of circuitry, lying discarded on the floor. The warp engines were cold,
and a cursory glance told her that it would take days to get them back on-line.
If her head hadn’t thudded so badly, she would have been really mad. But she
didn’t have the energy right now. Getting Voyager back through the rift was
her first priority.

“Lieutenant Carey,” she called, “run a sub-space scan of the area. I need to
know if there are any traces of spatial displacement.”

“I’m reading a spatial displacement at point-oh-oh-six light years, bearing 297
mark 64.”

“Right where we left it,” Torres muttered.

***

Somewhere, a corner of his mind was still Neelix. He watched himself as if
from behind a glass wall, saw his hands move, heard words come from his
lips; but they were not his hands, not his words.

He watched himself now, sitting at the feet of his Lady. She was strong, her
mind clearer in his head than it had ever been. The small corner that was
Neelix would soon be gone, and he would be like the other one, like
Belkazem. As if summoned by his thoughts, Sisperia’s midnight-clad servant
made his appearance. He bowed low at her feet, his black robes rustling softly
against the icy floor.

“My Lady,” he murmured in sibilant tones, “I come in warning.”

“Warning?” her voice was as clear and light as ice. “Of what, my pet?”

“There is a disturbance – someone is attempting to re-enter the spatial rift,
from the other side.”

In his mind, Neelix felt her anger burn suddenly bright, and recoiled from it.

“Voyager!” she hissed.

The word rang like a clarion call. VOYAGER! He knew that name, it meant
something to him…the vestiges of his awareness struggled to remember.

“They are using a harmonic resonance field to re-open the rift,” Belkazem
added. “Given time, it will work.”

“Display!” Sisperia commanded.

Leaping to obey, Belkazem moved to the small console behind her throne.
Instantly, the wall of ice before them shimmered into a view screen; it showed
a starfield, the heart of which was twisting in on itself. Neelix watched. He
recognised it. He’d watched something disappear into that twisting hole
before, something terribly dear to him…his mind ached with the effort of
remembering. What was it…? In the distance, he heard Sisperia laugh.

“Poor little Captain – how she must be suffering in that place!” Her hand
moved to rest on the control that lay always in her lap. “I wonder how many of
her precious crew they killed?”

“My Lady,” Belkazem whispered. “If they return, they will be angry.”

Sisperia’s frail head whipped around to face him, “I am angry,” she hissed
back. “Do you think they are a match for me?”

“No, My Lady,” Belkazem conceded, bowing low. “My Lady’s power is
unequalled.”

“Indeed it is,” she agreed, returning her attention to the screen. “However, the
array is not yet repaired. It will be easier to keep Janeway and her friends in
their new HOME than to kill them here. It amuses me to think of their despair
in that place: so nearly home, but so very different.” She laughed, a sound as
cold as breaking ice.

Neelix sat up straight. Janeway. That was a name he knew. Janeway. A
friend? No, more than that. A leader. Someone he trusted, respected,
loved…Janeway. Captain Janeway. Captain Janeway of the Federation
Starship Voyager. The memories crashed in so fast it took his breath away.
He sat motionless, struggling to process them in the small corner of his mind
that was still his. Sisperia flashed a glance in his direction, a frown flickering
across her face, but she spared him little attention; he was no threat, and she
had more important concerns.

“They are clever, I will grant them that much,” she admitted. “How long until
they open the rift?”

Belkazem returned to the console, “Two minutes and nineteen seconds, My
Lady,” he replied.

“Very well,” her fingers hovered over the controls in her lap. “Let them think
they have escaped; in two minutes I will close the rift forever.”

Neelix looked about him. He was aware now, aware as he had not been since
Sisperia first invaded his mind. She was still there, but she paid him little
attention; she was blind to his awareness. He felt her bitter anger, as her
fingers hovered over the control that would seal his friends forever in the
little-hell to which she had sent them. He tasted her triumph, but he also
tasted her fear. She was not strong. Her recovery was far from complete; if
Voyager returned, she knew, and so did he, that his friends could destroy her.
Just as he knew her fear, so he knew how she would prevent their return. The
controls in her hands were the heart of her power. She trusted no one else with
them, not even Belkazem. If those controls were destroyed, or even
damaged…

Neelix forced his body to move. Very slowly he inched closer to her.
Sisperia’s attention was focused on the screen, her mind fixed on final revenge.
She did not notice the corner of his mind that was Neelix. She had no idea of
her danger.

***

Tom swore under his breath as another blast shook the ship.

“Shields at thirty-seven percent,” Kim reported.

“Torres,” Janeway hit her comm badge. “How much longer?”

“Another thirty seconds, Captain,” B’Elanna replied. “The harmonic resonance
field has almost re-opened the rift.”

“Captain,” Kim called. “We’re being hailed by the Defiant.”

“On screen,” Janeway ordered. Tom looked up as a man’s face appeared on the
screen; it was hard, his dark eyes as shadowy as a winter’s night.

“Captain Janeway,” he said in a strangely inexpressive voice, “I am surprised
to meet you under these circumstances.”

“Captain Sisko,” she replied. “You’re a long way from home.”

He smiled coldly. “I have a certain interest in you and your mission, Captain.
I’m sure you and your Dominion masters understand the strategic importance
of Deep Space Nine.”

“I have no interest in your space station,” Janeway told him. “We just want to
leave this place.”

“To return to your friends in the Dominion?” Sisko asked. “I don’t think I can
allow you to do that, Captain.”

“I don’t think you can stop us,” she retorted.

“I would rather not destroy your ship,” Sisko told her calmly, “but I will, if I
have to. I’m giving you a final chance. Your life, I’m afraid, is already forfeit,
but surrender now and your crew will be spared. If you don’t, you WILL be
destroyed.”

Tom glanced over his shoulder at the captain. Her chin lifted in defiance as she
spoke: “It may be bottom of the ninth with two outs for us, Captain, but don’t
expect me to make a sacrifice bunt.” She turned to Kim, “End transmission.”

“Captain,” Tom heard excitement in B’Elanna’s voice, “The rift’s starting to
open.”

“Good work,” Janeway told her. “Mr Paris, take us in.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” Paris replied, turning Voyager sharply and heading straight for
the spatial distortion that was beginning to register on his sensors.

“The Defiant is in pursuit,” Kim reported from ops.

“Engines at full impulse,” Tom replied. “Without the warp engines, this is all
we’ve got.”

A barrage of phaser fire buffeted the ship, but the shields held. “Stay on
course, Mr Paris,” Janeway told him calmly.

“Ten seconds to entry,” Paris said, watching the spatial distortion grow larger
in the view screen.

“Captain,” Kim yelled. “They’re attempting to lock on a tractor beam.”

“On a ship this large?” Janeway asked, surprised.

“We’re slowing, Captain,” Paris told her. “But they can’t hold us.”

“Tuvok, fire photon-torpedoes,” Janeway ordered. “Target their tractor beam.”

“Aye, Captain,” he replied. “Firing torpedoes.”

“Tractor beam off-line,” Kim reported with satisfaction.

“Four seconds to entry, Captain,” Paris reported.

“Torres to the bridge.” B’Elanna was alarmed, “The rift is changing Captain!
I’m trying to compensate, but it’s not responding.”

“Is it collapsing?” Janeway asked urgently.

“Worse,” Torres replied. “It’s completely disintegrating.”

“Captain, shall I take us in?” Tom asked, as the first of the spatial
displacement waves battered at the nose of the ship.

“If we don’t go now, we’ll be stranded here forever,” B’Elanna warned from
engineering. “But if it disintegrates while we’re inside…” She left the
conclusion unspoken.

Janeway only hesitated for an instant.

“Take us in, Mr Paris.”

***

“Goodbye, Captain,” Sisperia whispered, her hand poised over the control that
would destroy the rift forever.

Her bony finger descended towards the button, just as Neelix launched himself
towards her. With a fury born of desperation, he wrenched the control panel
from her scrawny fingers, heedless of her shrieks of anger. He felt her panic,
he knew her fear; in his mind her thoughts were chaos. He used that moment
to drive them from his consciousness forever.

“No!” she wailed, as he sent the controls clattering down the stairs of her dais.

“They are my friends,” he hissed at her, his fingers itching for her throat in a
murderous rage. “If you have harmed them, I will…”

Then Belkazem was on him. The man was strong, and one sweep of his arm
sent Neelix flying from the dais, crashing into the icy cavern wall. He lay on
the floor for a moment, in dazed confusion.

“I will kill them all!” Sisperia screamed, struggling to stand.

“My Lady,” Belkazem’s voice was urgent, no longer a whisper. “It’s too late.
We must leave now. Before they have time to…”

“Leave?” she shrieked. “Never!”

“My Lady!” Belkazem grasped her by the shoulders. “We cannot win this
fight – your powers are still weak. There will be other battles, My Lady. We
must choose one we can win. And we WILL win, in the end.”

For a moment she stared at him with such hatred, that Neelix thought the man
was already dead. But the moment passed.

“Bring me the control,” she said instead, her icy arrogance cracked and shaken.

Belkazem retrieved the control that Neelix had knocked from her hands, and
returned it to his Lady. “Help me to stand,” she hissed, and as she rose shakily
to her feet, she turned her pale eyes on Neelix. Her mouth twisted into a cruel
smile as she pointed a crooked finger at him: “And now,” she said quietly, “you
will die.”

***

“It’s stabilising again,” B’Elanna told them, astonishment tingeing her voice.

Ahead of them, the bright stars of the Delta Quadrant steadied. To Tom’s eyes,
they looked like beacons welcoming them home.

“Ahead full impulse,” he reported, gunning the controls. Another
displacement wave buffeted them, but it was weaker now. The rift was
unstable as it drifted in and out of phase.

“Total disintegration of the rift will occur in eight seconds,” Tuvok told them.

SEVEN, SIX, FIVE,…Tom counted the seconds, as the Delta Quadrant drew
closer, and the ship began to creak under the immense pressure of the
collapsing rift.

“It’s losing coherence again,” B’Elanna warned from engineering. “Diverting
all power to the impulse engines.”

FOUR, THREE, TWO, “almost there…” Tom struggled for control.

“The rift is disintegrating,” Tuvok’s voice was calm.

ONE…”We’re through!” Tom whooped.

“The rift has ceased to exist,” Tuvok confirmed.

“All stop,” Janeway ordered. “Kim, verify location.”

“It’s the Kheljar system,” he replied. “We’re back in the Delta Quadrant.”

Janeway nodded. “Now,” she said grimly, “I think we should pay a visit to
Sisperia.”

“Captain,” Tom interrupted, looking at his sensors, “a ship has just left the
atmosphere of Kheljar V.”

“Analysis, Mr Kim.”

“I’m picking up sporosistic life-signs.” Kim looked up, “It’s Sisperia.”

“Lay in a pursuit course,” Janeway barked. “We can’t let her go to warp!”

“Aye Captain,” Tom replied, fingers flying over the controls.

“Captain!” Kim said suddenly, “I’m picking up a distress call from the planet’s
surface.”

Janeway frowned, watching Sisperia’s ship speeding further from them: “On
screen.”

“Audio only,” Kim replied.

“Voyager…” the words were forced through wracking gasps for air,
“Help…me…”

“It’s Neelix!” Kim exclaimed in astonishment.

“Are we in transporter range?”

“No, Captain,” Kim told her.

“Tom,” she said immediately. “Change course for Kheljar V. Kim, lock on
and beam Neelix straight to sickbay as soon as we’re in range.”

“Aye, Captain,” Kim replied as Tom changed course. “There’s something
else,” Kim added. “The planet has changed.”

“Changed?”

“It’s no longer an M-Class plant. It has a nitrogen based atmosphere, and
temperatures around 200 degrees Kelvin.”

“Sisperia,” Tuvok surmised. “It is possible that she created the entire
environment we experienced. When she left, she returned the planet to its
original state.”

“And left Neelix in it!” Janeway replied angrily.

“In range,” Tom told them.

“Locking on…” Kim said, consulting the controls. “We have him.”

“Captain,” Tuvok reported, “Sisperia’s ship has just gone to warp.”

“Janeway to Torres,” she asked. “How long until we have the warp engines
back on-line?”

“It’ll take days, Captain,” came the weary reply. ” I’m sorry. Engineering has
been stripped to the bone by those people.”

Janeway sighed, and lowered her head for a moment. “We’ll have to deal with
Sisperia some other time,” she said at last. “Good work, B’Elanna. Mr Paris,
put us in orbit around the planet. I think we all need some time to get
ourselves, and the ship, back together.”

***

Although it wasn’t Earth they now orbited, the rosy glow of the planet below
somehow seemed more welcoming than Earth’s cold blue. Curling up in her
chair, cradling one of Neelix’s brews, Janeway allowed herself to relax for the
first time since their return. As she stared out of the window, she collected her
thoughts.

“Personal log,” she began at last. “We’ve been in orbit of Kheljar V for two
days, while the crew, and the ship, have been recuperating from their ordeal.
Neelix has made a good recovery, and despite his sympathy for our
disappointment, he seems really very glad to see us, and I think we’re all glad
to see him too.” She broke off for a moment, remembering her last
conversation with the little Talaxian: he had been very excited, and kept
dropping hints about a surprise for them all. She shook her head and smiled,
until her thoughts took a darker turn.

“Yesterday, we held a memorial service for the Maquis crew who died
escaping from prison. I can’t help but feel a personal sense of responsibility
for their deaths; if I’d acted sooner, if I’d realised from the start that we were
still far from home….” She sighed. “Chakotay made a very moving speech.
And so did Tom, which surprised me; perhaps this experience will help
overcome his history with the Maquis – I think it’s always distanced him from
them. From most of them, that is.” She smiled again. “Although, his
relationship with B’Elanna right now is difficult to judge; they seem to spend
most of their time circling around each other, casting secret, longing glances
when they think no one is watching, but not daring to talk to each other!” She
laughed. “Chakotay thinks they’re both too stubborn for their own good, but
I’m sure they’ll work it out, given time. Time is something we all need. Time
to absorb what has happened.”

She sighed, examining her own heart. “If I’ve learned one thing from this
experience, it’s that I shouldn’t take the friendships I’ve developed on board
Voyager for granted. Although none of us chose to be here, our friends have
become very important, more important than, perhaps, we realised until we
thought they were lost to us….” She paused, immersed in thought for a
moment. Then she took a sip of Neelix’s “coffee”, and grimaced, setting it
down.

“Well, we’ll be on our way soon,” she continued. “B’Elanna only spent one
night in sick-bay, and has been working flat-out on the warp engines ever
since. We should have them back on-line within thirty-six hours, and then….
Then we head for home once more. And if we encounter Sisperia on the
way…? Well, she’ll have the lives of three of my crew to account for, and I
WILL hold her to that account.”

The bleep of someone at her door interrupted her thoughts. “Come,” she
called. The door swished open, and Chakotay entered.

“Am I disturbing you?” he asked.

“Not at all,” she smiled at him. “What can I do for you?”

“Well, it’s a social call, actually,” he confessed, sitting down next to her.

“Oh?”

“I’m here to invite you to a party.”

“Ah,” she said, smiling, “Neelix’s surprise?”

“Probably the worst kept surprise party in the history of the Delta Quadrant,”
Chakotay agreed. “But you know Neelix, he takes his position as Morale
Officer very seriously: and he thinks we could all do with cheering up.”

“Is he right?” Janeway asked, suddenly serious. “How are the crew taking this?
It must be a terrible disappointment to many of them.”

Chakotay nodded. “Feelings are mixed,” he told her. “But no one was happy
to see the Federation at war, and I think,” he looked slightly surprised, “I think
many of the Starfleet crew were more shocked by the treatment of the Maquis
than we were.”

“Why does that surprise you?” Janeway asked quickly.

He shrugged. “I guess we’d always thought that when we got home, things
would return to normal. We’d be the outlaws again.”

“And now?”

He smiled. “And now we know that our Captain will still be our Captain when
we do get home, and that she’ll fight for us there as stubbornly as she does in
the Delta Quadrant.”

“You can rely on it,” she told him with a smile.

Chakotay nodded, but was silent for a moment before he stood up. “It’s good
to have you back, Kathryn,” he said seriously.

“It’s good to be back,” she admitted. “And Chakotay, thank you. Thank you
for coming after me.”

He gave her a disingenuous look. “I had no choice,” he told her. “Voyager just
wouldn’t be Voyager without Captain Janeway at her helm.”

“Or Neelix in the kitchen?” she asked.

Chakotay cracked a grin. “Or Neelix, of course. Talking of which, we’re
already late – he’ll be getting impatient.”

Janeway uncurled her legs, and rose to her feet. “Then lead the way,” she said
with a smile.

***

Tom only really heard one in every half dozen of Harry’s words, as his friend
talked earnestly with Tuvok. Leaving Libby for the second time had been hard
on Harry, and although he wanted to help, Tom just couldn’t focus his
attention.

“I mean, I know it wasn’t really Libby,” Harry repeated. “But it seemed so
real.”

“It was real,” Tuvok told him coolly. “But it was the wrong reality.”

“I know, but…”

“These regrets serve little purpose, Ensign,” Tuvok continued. “She was not
the woman you left behind, just as the woman I met was not my wife. The
Libby you know is still in ignorance of your fate. You should…”

Tom lost the thread again when the object of his distracted thoughts walked
into the room; B’Elanna. She had been working ceaselessly on the warp
engines since their return, and he’d hardly had time to talk to her. Time or
courage, he confessed to himself. She was avoiding him, it was obvious, and
he dreaded finding out why. He watched her as she stood by the door, until her
eyes fell on him. She instantly looked away, and his heart sank. But then a
moment later her eyes found his again, and she gave him a small, uncertain
smile. He grinned in return and…

“…don’t you think, Tom?” Harry asked.

“What?” Tom replied, glancing at Kim in irritation. “I mean…sorry, what was
the question?”

Harry frowned. “You’re not even listening,” he accused.

“I was…” he looked back towards the door, but B’Elanna was gone. “I was
just…,” glancing quickly about him, he saw her talking to Lieutenant Carey.
Discussing warp engines, Tom had no doubt.

“Tom!” Harry exclaimed.

Wrenching his attention away, Tom turned back to his friend. “Sorry, Harry,”
he said. “Libby. Right. I’m listening.”

Kim rolled his eyes. “Why don’t you just go talk to her?”

“To Libby?” Tom asked. “Well, she’s on the other side of the galaxy for a start.
And besides, what would I say?”

Harry gave him a very flat stare. “You know who I mean.”

“Oh,” Tom said, glancing back towards B’Elanna. “Her.” He shrugged, “I don’t
think she wants to talk to me.”

“I fail to understand why you would make such an assumption, Lieutenant,”
Tuvok observed, “when it is clear to the rest of the crew that quite the opposite
is true.”

Tom stared at him. “Clear to the rest of the crew?” he asked after a moment.

Tuvok raised an eyebrow at Tom’s evident surprise. “The romantic attraction
between yourself and Lieutenant Torres is obvious. Why you are both
choosing to ignore that fact is inexplicable.”

“It’s a question of…” he paused, considering.

“Stubborn pride?” Harry finished dryly. Tom just glared at him.

“I will never comprehend the human emotional response,” Tuvok observed,
with a small shake of his head.

“You should try understanding Klingons,” Paris muttered, as he glanced
towards B’Elanna once more. She was still in earnest discussion with Carey,
but as he looked, her eyes flicked towards him. When she saw him watching
her, she quickly withdrew her gaze, and took a long gulp of the drink she was
holding. His eyes lingered on her face, so familiar, so lovely. He sighed.

“Tuvok,” he said, turning to face him, “you’re right. This is stupid. So, if
you’ll both excuse me…?” Squaring his shoulders, he turned and made his way
purposefully through the milling crowd towards B’Elanna.

***

“…so I thought, if we could reverse the plasma coils, just as a temporary fix,
we could…” B’Elanna noticed Carey’s eyes begin to glaze over. She was
boring him; but she couldn’t help it. She had to keep talking. Tom was
watching her, she could feel his gaze burning into the back of her head.
Through the noise of the crowd, she thought she could hear the rise and fall of
his voice, the sound of his laughter. She was so acutely aware of his presence,
that the only way to distract herself was to keep talking. And so she did,
heedless of Carey’s obvious boredom.

Since their rescue from the planet she had hardly exchanged two words with
Tom. She’d been busy, of course. Engineering was a mess, and everything had
been so chaotic the last few days – well, that was her excuse. But if she
admitted the truth, she was postponing the inevitable. Despite their fleeting
contact in the light-less prison night, it was her words during their terrible fight
that blazed brightest in her memory. YOU’VE BETRAYED EVERYONE
ELSE IN YOUR LIFE, WHY NOT US? She owed him an apology for that,
her sense of honour demanded it. Yet she shrank from the task. She had
treated him appallingly, and this time, surely, not even Tom could find it in his
heart to forgive her. She certainly could not forgive herself. Her own feelings
of shame and remorse were so strong that she could only imagine how he must
feel; she had hurt him terribly, and he must despise her for it. So she stayed
away from him, just as he stayed away from her. Each of them avoiding the
hurt they knew the other must bring them.

“Hello, B’Elanna.” The familiar voice, close by her side, startled her; it was
him!

“Tom,” she said, feeling the blood rushing to her face, her recent thoughts only
adding to her confusion. “I was going to…” she trailed to a halt, not quite sure
what she was going to do.

“Lieutenant!” There was a tone of relief in Carey’s voice that made B’Elanna
wince. “Let me go get you a drink,” Carey offered, heading into the crowd
before Tom had time to reply.

“What’s up with him?” Tom asked her, watching Carey beat a hasty retreat.

She grimaced. “I think I was boring him,” she confessed.

“I can’t believe that,” Tom replied, giving her a tight smile. She returned it
nervously, unable to meet his eyes. This was it. This was the moment. She
had rehearsed the words a hundred times, used a hundred different phrases, but
none of them would come to her now; her mind was as slippery as ice, and no
words would stick there. It was Tom who eventually broke the awkward
silence that had fallen between them.

“So, how are you?” he asked. “You look well.”

“I’m fine,” she replied, tension making her voice sharp. She tried to soften her
tone: “How are you?”

“Good,” he nodded, sounding miserable.

“Good,” she agreed, still not looking at him. Nervously, she sipped at the
drink she cradled in her hand, trying to force her mind into action, struggling
to utter the words her honour demanded. I’M SORRY. That was enough.
JUST SAY IT! But she was too slow.

“You’ve been avoiding me,” Tom suddenly blurted, “Why?”

“I have not!” Her defences sprang up instantly. “I’ve been working double
shifts! If I don’t get the engines on-line soon, the….”

“B’Elanna!” He knew her too well.

Looking up for the first time, she challenged his serious stare for a moment,
but his eyes were so clear, so honest, that her defiance did not last. She hung
her head. “I guess I have,” she confessed.

“Why?” he asked again, quietly, not sounding like he really wanted to know.

She was silent for a moment. “Because YOU’VE been avoiding ME,” she said
at last. It was A truth, but not THE truth.

Tom shook his head, looking uncomfortable. “I didn’t think you really wanted
to see me,” he told her. “After that argument we had….”

“I know,” she interrupted him shortly. “I don’t blame you for….” She stopped,
taking a deep breath; the moment was here, and there was no avoiding it. “I
didn’t mean what I said that day,” she told him, staring at the floor, “but I said
it because I knew it would hurt you, and I know you must hate me for that.”
She looked up then, forcing herself to meet his eyes. “I’m sorry,” she said
quietly.

He gazed at her, astonishment painted across every feature. “I’m the one who
should be apologising,” he said in confusion.

“You?” she asked, “What for?”

“What for?” Tom smiled incredulously. “Are you joking?”

B’Elanna shook her head. “What are you talking about?” she asked.

“About that argument?” he replied. “You remember? The one when I,” he
winced as he recounted it, “when I said that a career in Starfleet was more
important to me than you…?” He stopped and shook his head. “I was an idiot,”
he told her.

B’Elanna paused. “I guess you did say that,” she agreed slowly. “I’d forgotten.”

“Forgotten?!” he was staring at her in disbelief.

She looked up into his clear blue eyes, and smiled for the first time. “I
understand, Tom,” she told him honestly. “I know how important Starfleet is
to you, to your identity, your self-respect; I would never expect you to sacrifice
it for me. Never.”

“Then why were you ignoring me…?”

“Because I was ashamed,” she replied, looking past him and out into the stars
beyond. “Ashamed of hurting you with the same lies your father uses against
you, ashamed of not having the grace to thank you for saving my life on
Kheljar V, and ashamed of being so self-absorbed that I didn’t even notice you
were injured….”

“It was dark,” he protested. But she shook her head.

“I didn’t even ask,” she reminded him. “You could have died, and it would
have been my fault.”

“No,” he said softly, taking her hand in his. “You’re too hard on yourself.”

“Too hard?” she asked, pulling her hand away. “I treated you appallingly
Tom.”

“You were hurt,” he replied, still gentle. “I hurt you, and you were hitting
back. I deserved it.”

She stared at him, refusing to understand.

“B’Elanna,” he said, stepping closer to her. “I threatened to leave you. Just
like your father left you. I hit you where you were already bruised. I’m not
surprised you were angry.”

She stared at him for a moment, astonished at the understanding she saw in his
eyes; he was absolutely right, he knew her better than she knew herself. She
smiled grimly, and shook her head. “I guess we both know how to hurt each
other,” she said.

Tom reached out and took both her hands in his. “It’s because we understand
each other so well,” he told her, meeting her eyes with a serious expression:
“Because we love each other so much.”

“Is that it?” she asked, smiling up at him, a heady mixture of astonishment,
love, joy and desire, sending her spirits soaring. “Or perhaps its just because
we drive each other nuts?” she suggested.

Tom grinned. “That too,” he agreed. “Although, I don’t know if nuts is quite
the right word – how about crazy?”

“Are you saying I drive you crazy?” B’Elanna asked, slipping her arms around
his waist.

“Every time I look at you,” he replied, with a truly wicked grin.

“So,” she inquired archly, “is this where we kiss and make up?”

Tom’s eyes sparkled with mischief: “Oh, I think we can do better than that,” he
murmured.

“I can’t wait,” she replied, revelling in the delight that shone in his face.

“Neither can I,” he murmured, pulling her into his arms and closing the gap
between them with a gentle kiss. B’Elanna felt the room, and its bubble of
conversation, melt away for a timeless moment, until a discreet cough brought
her back to reality, snapping the room around her sharply into focus.
Lieutenant Carey stood to one side, a grin spread across his face, offering them
both a glass: “I think the Captain’s about to make a toast.”

Looking about her, B’Elanna realised that everyone else had fallen silent,
waiting for the Captain to begin talking. She felt herself flush, and glanced up
at Tom in embarrassment. But he just winked at her, accepting the drink from
Carey with cool aplomb, and holding her close, one arm looped firmly about
her waist.

“Neelix tells me that this is a welcome home party,” the Captain began. “And
so it is. As much as that other Alpha Quadrant seemed like home, it was not;
as much as those we met there seemed like our loved ones, they were not. And
I, for one, am glad of it. The differences were small, but profound; suspicion
replaced trust, fear replaced faith, prejudice replaced tolerance – it was not a
place I could have lived in. Not a place any of us could have ever called
home.” B’Elanna, along with many others, nodded her agreement.

“But it has made me think hard about home,” the Captain continued. “About
what home means to us all. Our journey, of course, will continue. With
information provided by Neelix,” the little Talaxian puffed-up with pride as
she spoke his name, “Lieutenant Tuvok is already analysing the technology
Sisperia used to create the spatial displacement rift, in the hope that we will be
able to use it to a create a passage to our own Alpha Quadrant.

“But despite this exciting possibility,” the Captain continued, “my thoughts of
home have been changed by our experience.” Janeway paused, looking at the
assembled crew with a warm smile. “When I returned to Voyager, and saw all
your familiar faces, I understood, for the first time, an old truth. Home is not a
place, not a set of co-ordinates on a star-chart; in the words of the ancient
adage, ‘home is where the heart is’, and my heart is here, with you, on board
Voyager.” Janeway raised her glass: “Welcome home, everybody,” she said.

The sound of clinking glasses chimed around the room, with a chorus of
voices echoing her words: “Welcome home!”

The End

Phew! Did you read it all? Wow! I hope you liked it, but even if you didn’t,
please e-mail me with your comments: 106625.3210@compuserve.com

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