Circle

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From: pegeel@aol.com (Pegeel)
Newsgroups: alt.startrek.creative
Subject: REPOST: Circle VOY (J) PG
Date: 25 Sep 1996 16:12:25 -0400
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Summary: As Kathryn Janeway tries to adjust to the changes if Voyager
created by the presence of the story telling circle, she also tries to
deal with her own beliefs about the nature of command… and to help Tom
Paris through a rough spot in his own life.

Disclaimers: Voyager and her characters belong to Paqramount. The story
that follows is mine.

CIRCLE

c. 1995
Peg Robinson
(aka Pegeel@aol.com)

Captain’s personal log, stardate 2785.9.
Hell. I hate this log. Back in the old days I never used it at all.
If I needed to talk, I went to a counselor, or a friend, or wrote to
Mark, and avoided the whole diary question altogether. I don’t like the
things anyway, and knowing that all that “personal” material was going to
end up on file in the Star Fleet Intelligence archives somewhere didn’t
exactly thrill me.
Nowadays the only people I can see opening this file and listening to
it are the children my crew may have, and their children: only Wildman’s
born so far, most not even conceived. I imagine them sometimes: grown,
wearing faces that echo the ones I see every day, walking through the ship
as I do. I can imagine them opening this file, and trying to find out by
listening to it how it is that their world came to be just so. Guess
they’ll just have to live with the fact that I’m at least as confused as
them.

It’s him again. Chakotay.
He’s started a story telling circle.
Well, no. It started itself, and dragged him in. But there’s no
real question that it is his.
He told me about it right away. He’s good that way; better than I
ever expected. Better than I would have expected even a straight-line
officer to be. When there’s even a little shift in the dynamic of the
ship he shows up at my desk, or materializes at my shoulder on the
bridge, and the next thing I know he’s handing me some bit of information
that…changes things. A good officer, better than I had any right to
have hoped for.
Why does that shake me? It shouldn’t. It should be a relief, under
the circumstances. It isn’t every day you take on an enemy as your
partner. To find out he’s the best first officer I’ve ever had should be
a relief.
It is. But it’s also…I don’t know…

Things were simpler when this all began. I remember sitting at my desk,
in my ready room, Tuvok on alert, like a good hunting dog on a fall
morning. We were reviewing the Intelligence Reports, the personal files
on the “enemies of the Peace”. I suspect it stings Chakotay, to look at
those reports now and
see just how much we knew. The strength of his ship, the names and faces
and records of his crew. The truth is, Tuvok was going in because we did
know so much about them…we could tailor a cover story perfectly,
fitting it to the specific needs of that one little group. And once in
Tuvok could learn what we didn’t know. The locations of bases, the
overall plans of the Maquis. “The big picture”. But the small
picture…we had those details well in hand, thank you very much.
We gave particular attention to Chakotay, that day. He was the key.
We went over everything. Psych
profiles, biographical history. His resignation from the
Fleet at the death of his father. It made for interesting reading, even
the less intimate stuff. His Academy records: good, but uneven, with
odd quirks and idiosyncrasies. His service records, similar. The final
report from the Captain of the Exeter, placed in Chakotay’s files at the
time of his resignation, was painful to read. Old Kuto Falin had been
grooming him, waiting for the day that his first officer, a
Commander T’Alti, took her first command. Then Chakotay was to move into
her spot, and Kuto had been expecting great things. The regret and the
anger were biting, and directed as much at Star Fleet, and at Federation
policy as at Chakotay himself.
As a Maquis he came into his own. That, of course, was what made him
worth the hunt. He developed too many ties, become the focal point of too
much information. He’d welded a rummage sale crew into a skilled attack
force, and like many other former Fleet officers was helping the Maquis
pull their other ships together, turn them into a true unit, instead of
the independent clusters they had started as. Not yet as deep in Maquis
command as some of the other Fleet renegades, but that made him a better
target. Prominent enough to be useful, obscure enough not to be too well
protected.

“Well, Tuvok…do you think you can manage it?”
One of those human things: asking the question that doesn’t need an
answer. When you’ve been in Star Fleet for a while you get used
to…transposing…from one culture or race to another. If Tuvok had been
a Klingon he’d have been grinning hard enough to give a tiger an
inferiority complex. If he’d been a Ferengi, he’d have been rubbing his
hands and doing that little shuffling jig they all seem to do when they
see a hot prospect ahead. As it is he’s Vulcan, and a Star Fleet officer,
and Tuvok; and if his eyes were a bit brighter than usual, and his stance
a bit more…anticipatory…he wouldn’t have liked having it called to his
attention.
“Undoubtedly, Captain. Given the information at our disposal, I
estimate my chances of success at better than 84.783%. Granted that Mr.
Chakotay displays a certain…unpredictable randomness in his actions.
None the less, I see no reason to be concerned. The final outcome is
nearly assured.”
I grinned. I’ve known Tuvok a long time. The certainty might be
there…but it was that elusive 15.217% that had brought the look of
anticipation to his face.
” A worthy foe, Tuvok? You haven’t had a good hunt in a long time.”

“Captain, you are mistaken in my motives. There is no “hunt”. Only
a job to be done. Criminalsexist, and divisive elements; and I, in my
capacity as a Star Fleet officer, attempt to bring them under control for
the well being of the Federation as a whole. But I take no pleasure in
the pursuit, only satisfaction in a job well done.”
Right.
I’ve known Tuvok a *very* long time. Long enough to know he lies
like a angel: not often, but when he does he never flickers an eye lash.
And like most Vulcans, he lies as much to himself as to anyone else, to
protect that silence he tries to cultivate at his center. It’s one of
those things I think they need and fear humans for. We challenge their
perceptions, and knock at the foundations of their assumptions about
themselves. I believe they’d find us downright unbearable, if we didn’t
have enough compassion not to let our nosiness and challenge-lust go too
far too often. That day I let it ride. There’d be another day to stir up
the hornets in that hive. I dismissed him, with a little promise to
myself that I’d pull his leg a bit the next time I saw him. My Great Aunt
Fannie’s girdle there’s no “hunt”…the man *lives* to hunt. Half the
trouble I’ve had with Tuvok out here has to do with that. It’s hard for
him to accept his prey as his equals, and as full partners.

There was no problem at first. We got back several worthwhile
reports from him, slipped out through override links in the computer
systems of every space station they passed through. Things were going
well, and I was hoping that soon we’d have enough information to call it a
day, and pull Tuvok back in. After that it would be up to Intelligence to
get as much use as they could out of the information, before gathering up
Chakotay and his crew. I don’t enjoy it when my people are out on their
own, particularly when they’re as close to me as Tuvok is. It’s
necessary, and I deal with it. But I’m damned if I like it. It would be
good to bring him back in. I had even planned to embarrass him a bit by
dragging him out to a little Punjabi restaurant I know on Deep Space 9.
It was something that would remind him of T’Pel; something he’d love, not
that he’d ever admit it. I thought of it as a little teaser to sweeten
him up for her.
And then the ship disappeared, dropped out of all report, somewhere
in the badlands; and I spent the next weeks sifting through those
Intelligence Reports with a dilithium lattice filter, looking for some
shred of a clue as to what had happened. The old information; the new
bits that Tuvok had passed on. It’s amazing how your sense of control and
certainty can crash. Before the disappearance I had felt as though
the information we had on that little group and on the general practices
of the Maquis was ample…maybe even over-generous. There wasn’t much
sense of mystery, and I had felt disappointed for Tuvok that the hunt had
been so lackluster. Now I looked at the files again with a new
uncertainty.
It’s been hard times in the Federation lately. The Cardassian Treaty
was…unfortunate. One of those compromises politicians love, and the
rest of us struggle with. So much about Cardassian culture is
unacceptable by our standards. Violent, cruel; and that seems to bring
out the same elements in us.
I kept thinking of the tales of Cardassian torture chambers, the
containment camps of Bajor, the manipulations of the Obsidian order. All
of that violence is rumored to be reflected in the Maquis in new and
frightening ways, as though they have no choice but to mirror it back; to
attempt to return it in kind. I still don’t know how much of the rumor is
true, and how much just an extension of the fear and resentment that the
whole issue raises in the rest of the Federation. But true or not I went
over those records a hundred times, looking for some hint as to where the
ship had gone; but looking even more closely for hints of what Tuvok would
be facing if he had been discovered. The idea of him in the hands of
angry Maquis terrified me.
Worst of all was the visit to tell T’Pel. Not that she hadn’t been
informed already, but there is a bond between Tuvok and me that carries
over to T’Pel and the children, and it would have been wrong to have
avoided that visit. I went over the evening before I left Vulcan for
Earth, to meet with Intelligence and pick up Tom Paris. The sun hadn’t
set yet, but the air had already begun to cool off, and the shadows were
long. The youngest child ran in the cool red court yard in the shade of
early evening, herded gently and patiently by Tuvok’s oldest daughter, as
I spoke to their mother. I’m still shaken by look on her face as I
promised to bring him back. That’s one of the hardest things about
dealing with Vulcans. Whatever lies they tell themselves, they won’t
accept the ones you tell them. Not for comfort, not for hope. Her eyes
said she was waiting. Hoping. But not believing. I knew that she had
already started to gather the incense for the Ceremony of Endings. I knew
she was waiting in the night for the moment when she would feel her
marriage bond with Tuvok snap, like a guy line giving way, and know that
he was gone. Nothing I could say would remove the tension from her eyes.
I hoped action would do better than words. If there was no hope, if he
was dead by the time I reached him…I had some very unethical thoughts
right about then. Most of them inspired by Cardassian torture chambers
and rumors of Maquis cruelty.
And so to earth, to pick up Tom Paris. And then to Deep Space 9.
Then to the badlands, and then….

That first conversation by subspace radio was quite an event.
Unique.

My bridge was still God’s own wreck from the sleigh-ride that had
brought us there, and my brain was feeling about as bad. So much had
happened. That blazing trip through, the deaths, the sudden transport to
the array. The old mom and the Banjo man. Seeing the faces of the
Maquis: still as they lay in that morgue of a med area. Tuvok’s face more
still than even his own control could make it.

Then waking on Voyager; Tom announcing Harry Kim’s absence.

And the only possible ally I had for seventy light years was the man
I had tracked into the badlands, and into nowhere.

It was a hell of a situation, and a hell of a choice. For both of
us. I remember calling him by his Fleet rank, and then wondering if I
shouldn’t have granted him his captaincy, even if it was Maquis. I still
don’t know why I didn’t; whether I needed to exert some kind of authority,
or whether I was trying to call up old habits and training, or just the
fact that right then I needed him to be the Fleet officer he had been, not
Maquis, and my enemy. Those first moments of contact that’s what he was,
though. Suspicious. Angry. More than a little scared, caught at the
back of beyond between me and the array. I wasn’t at all sure he’d
consider a truce, much less make alliance.
Well. It worked. I can’t even take any credit for it. It would be
nice to see myself as the mastermind who brought the whole thing together,
but I can’t afford the self-flattery. The whole damned thing would never
have worked if it weren’t for him. Somehow he jumped past the anger, and
the suspicion and the betrayals, past the outrageousness of the situation
and found a way to give me what I needed in spite of it all. And he
carried the rest of them along with him.
It was strange seeing that corroded, beat up, reconditioned excuse
for an assault ship ride shotgun beside Voyager. It felt as though there
was…I don’t know. I do know it helped to look into the view screen and
see her gliding ahead of us, or tracking along side. She wasn’t much of a
thing to lean on; a ratty heap of a former freighter, with reconditioned
everything and an arsenal out of a salvage yard. But damned if I didn’t
feel good as she paced us. I’ve never had the nerve to ask him what it
cost him to ram her to hell the way he did. “Crazy Horse”. The silly ass
called her “Crazy Horse”. She was his first command…
It was a strange time. A strange alliance. It worked then. It works
now. You know what they say: don’t fix it if it ain’t broke.
But God, it’s been rocky. I could have shot him for the laughter in
his eyes when I made the offer to meld crews…and commands. The
sonofabitch has the most cross-grained, scraggy sense of humor. It keeps
cutting through everything I think I know, and rattling my sense of
dignity. But I love it, too. I know the bridge crew thinks we’re
crazy…sometimes things happen, like Neelix on another idiotic morale
mission, and the next thing you know we’re half dying from the strain of
not laughing ourselves senseless.
Why is it that the things that make him the best officer I’ve ever
worked with are the very things that throw me off balance? He does it
every time. I look at a familiar pattern, something I think I understand.
He inserts himself into it, and Whoops! Hey presto! Familiarity goes
out the airlock, and everything starts to look quirky. As though just by
existing he was an agent provocateur for chaos.

He’s started a story telling circle.
There I go again, landing the responsibility on his shoulders. But
it’s true, and I might as well say it, since he’s taken that
responsibility himself. It might have started on its own, but without him
it wouldn’t have been the same.

He told me about it. I think he’d done one or two of them before he
showed up in my ready room to let me know, but only to be sure that it was
going to be a regular thing. I knew something was up just by the way he
moved. He has an amazing range of expression just in his body language.
This time he was drawn in, just a bit cautious, as though he wasn’t quite
sure what kind of response he was going to get. That happens sometimes; I
can see him trying to figure if something is going to turn into a round of
regulation nit-picks or not. As it was I could’ve hugged him when he told
me. They needed something like this, and it wasn’t the sort of thing I
could have simply legislated into existence.
After that it became a constant, and the results have carried over
from the circle into everyday life. It’s a good thing I already had a
sense of the kind of power and status that role would give him, or I
wouldn’t have been ready for the change.
When things are busy on the bridge there isn’t much difference. But
once things slow down, and the chatter begins, the pattern changes. The
jokes begin to slip out, and little references get passed from Tom to
Harry to Chakotay…even Sam Wildman, who’s a quiet little thing, gets in
on it; and even in uniform, with the lights high and no stick in his hand,
Chakotay’s the center of it.
The references to stories have turned into a kind of shared short
hand, and the only thing that allows me to follow some of the
conversations at all is that he makes an extra effort to give me quick
annotations and summaries. Even with that, there are a lot of times I
feel left behind. I comfort myself with the pleasure of seeing the crew
come together, and with regular doses of The Litany of Command Isolation.
“Thou shalt hold thy Power to the Degree thou dost remain Separate.”
That one used to be a joke, back at the Academy. Those of us with dreams
would put on our most pompous, high-professorial faces, and intone it
like it was the text for the day, then fall down in giggling lumps, never
really believing we’d be so cut off if we came to command. It’s only
after you’ve served for a while, and moved up far enough to have had to
lead some, that you begin to see how hard it is to balance personal
relationship against the need to command obedience.
I like it better when the circle stories show up in the ready room;
just the two of us at the end of a day of grunt-level paperwork; or at the
beginning of the day, as we review the work ahead of us, and slog down
coffee. We get the necessary stuff out of the way, then the conversation
begins to wander a bit, and pretty soon he’s telling me about the latest
round.
It’s fun to watch. Relaxing, funny. He’s really a dreadful ham.
One night he was telling me about Harry. The boy had driven B’Elanna near
crazy the night before by telling a shaggy dog of exquisite duration,
chock full of sly sexual word play, all the while keeping his face pure
and innocent as the snow; with B’Elanna catching every joke, but never
sure Harry had any idea what he was saying. Chakotay was spinning the
whole thing out for me: first Harry, then B’Elanna, then telling about his
own little additions, the moments when he’d managed to throw her off the
scent to help Harry string it out. He was playing it for all it was worth
and having a grand time watching me fall apart over it.
“So B’elanna’s beginning to twig…she’s got this look in her eye
like she used to get when the warp drive began to give that funny whine
it’d get before everything went to hell and the power dropped off-line…I
used to think she believed she could intimidate it into cooperating with
her. And just as she’s about to blow, Wildman, of all people, cuts in
like butter wouldn’t melt with a very straight-faced question about the
length of the supporting member, and Harry nods, and I nod and allow as
how that’s a very good question; and B’Elanna’s looking from one of us to
the other, baffled as a baby. Then Harry explains with perfect propriety
that the length makes no difference in that particular application, that
it’s a matter of diameter and nature of the force applied, and I remind
him that angle of intersection has to be taken into account, and torque,
and Harry’s nodding intensely, and commenting that you have to consider
the effect of slow rotation on a highly lubricated surface, and finally
B’Elanna can’t stand it one more minute, and grabs up two coffee cups from
the next table, and empties them over both our heads. Then she takes the
extra time to pour sugar on me, and tells me I’m a rotten influence. At
which point Harry caps it all by looking up at her with the most pitiful,
innocent expression I’ve seen him manage yet, and with coffee dripping off
of his nose says “But B’Ela-a-a-anna…I don’t understa-a-a-nd…What did
I *say*?” So B’Ellana just stands there, trying to decide if she has the
balls to try to give him her interpretation of the whole thing or not,
with him looking as naive as a two year old. I still don’t think she’s
sure she’s been had.”
By then I was howling, with my ribs so sore I thought I’d die. He
was having a ball, stretching it out as much as Harry had, eyes dancing,
everything about him poured into it. All I could do was snigger and gasp.
“Oh, God, I wish I’d been there. It sounds perfect!”
“Why don’t you come next time?”
I shook my head.
“No. Don’t want to wreck it.”
He looked at me. I’ll tell you, not two whole years into this trip
yet, and I already hate that look. It’s the one he gets when he thinks
I’m making a major mistake, but it’s in an area he doesn’t think I’ll let
him comment on. A bit exasperated, a bit amused, but mostly…withdrawn.
It’s the other side of the Command thing. Sometimes you pull away from
your people; sometimes they pull away from you. When they do it to
protect their own privacy it’s bad enough. When they do it because they
know you’ll never let them in, it’s terrible.
“I don’t see the problem. You come, you sit down. What’s to wreck?”
He was skimming close on that one. Sometimes you can say a lot more
by playing dumb than you can by bulling in, and I knew damned well that he
knew what the
problem was.
“No. It’s one of those times command gets in the way. As long as I’m
not there, there’s no problem. Once I am…well from that point on the
Captain’s on the bridge…whether she wants to be or not.”
He shot me a sneaky, sly look, and a grin.
“In that case maybe I’d better stay away too. Wouldn’t want to throw
a monkey wrench into the crew’s off duty time.”
I gave him the best “don’t push it” expression I had.
“You may be First Officer, Chakotay, but there are still things that
you can get away with that I can’t. Besides, you were invited. You
already had a reputation as a story teller. For me to show up..even out
of
niform..would be something else again.”
He let it ride, for which I was heartily grateful. The temptation
was bad enough as it was, and I was half ready to say yes that evening.

Circle.
Peg Robinson
C.1995

Section II

It was one of those tough ones…the ones where everything you’ve learned
tells you to back down…and your gut response is to go for it. I *knew*
there was every chance that if I showed it would ruin at least one evening
for everyone, and possibly break the circle entirely; though that was a
long shot. Most groups with any strength at all can survive one visit
from the superintendent.
I think even more I was worried that I’d weaken Chakotay’s position.
Again, he could have recovered, but I didn’t want to risk even a small
disruption there. Second in command is one of the hardest spots in the
hierarchy. Your power goes just as far as the seat next to you and no
further. The boss is always right there, and unless you get creative, and
find a way to work the reverse side of the system, the informal side the
Captain *can’t* access, it’s too easy to just turn into the captain’s
puppet, which is no use to anybody. Chakotay had come in cold, under the
worst of circumstances, and I’d watched him play it close at first.
He’d been doing remarkably well, all considered, picking up a thread
here, a thread there, with a good instinct for what was going on; but this
was the first time I’d really seen him find his footing with the crew as a
whole, and I didn’t want to do a thing to shake it.
And I have to admit, I was scared of what it would do to my position,
too. The Litany of Command. Separation is Power. Tom Paris’s father
used to talk about that one, back when he was my Captain, and I was a
fresh young officer; and my heart would go out to him. He seemed so
lonely. Now I knew how he felt. But out here, with no back up, I can’t
afford to blow it. Too much is riding on my being able to hold things
together.
I couldn’t see any way to enter that circle…really enter it, not
just pass through, nodding and playing Good Captain…no way that didn’t
mean letting go of the safety that isolation provides.
But he seemed so sure it would work. And I’ve wanted so much to
believe he was right that I’ve had to really fight to compensate for my
own desire. Even from this distance I can feel the warmth and strength of
that circle like you feel the heat coming through the side of a tent on a
bright day.
My mother used to love working shows…just amateur theater, but she
gave it her all when she had any time. I grew up around the groups she
worked in, and I can feel the same kind of heart in his circle that I saw
in the ensembles. I remember one exercise: the room dark, the cast and
director all pulled together, side by side, back to belly, pushed as close
as they could get in a big knot; their eyes closed, holding hands, just
listening to themselves breathe. And then, as the breathing came
together, and even the twitching of individual limbs seemed to come into
synch, they’d sing.
It could be anything…it depended on the night. Sometimes old show
tunes, some going back hundreds of years. Sometimes classical, sometimes
religious. They learned the most gorgeous Kyrie from a Catholic priest
who worked with the group, and Havah Na Gila from a big bear of a Jewish
cantor. There were Italian motets and English madrigals every time the
troupe took on Shakespeare, and Russian folk tunes when they got ballsy
and tried Chekov or some of the funny, mordant stuff by Ivanova. There
was an absolutely obscene version of “The British Grenadier” that seemed
to come out either on nights when nothing went right, or alternatively on
the nights when everything was so good they felt invincible. I remember a
night when the song was Dona Nobis Pacem, sung in round, the voices
passing it back and forth and around, like a braid. But they always liked
to finish up with a real oldie: “May the Circle be Unbroken.” Like it
placed a seal on the bond they’d formed, locked it in like a course that’s
been plotted and set.
Voices, and breathing. Warm hands, laughter. Maybe tears. I
haven’t had that for long time. I wanted accept his invitation, wanted
it to work, like I had wanted my offer to him to work.
If I go down there I give away all the power I hold on the bridge,
and trust him to know how to make it work, how to bring it around, as
surely as he’s trusted me to hold the command. Ultimately it would be in
his hands, and it would work for them and me and all of us as much by his
efforts as by anything I could do. Down there, in that room, he’s the
Captain, and they’re his crew.

He was invited. But thanks to him, I was invited too.
I’ve been over it a million times, trying to find a way to pull it
off.

I wonder if he has any idea of how many times I’ve nearly done it. I
go down the turbo lift to deck two. Walk down the corridor with a padd
clutched in my hand as though I intended to do something with it. So far
I’ve never actually made it in the door. I either skim past, as far from
the door as possible so they won’t notice me and as close as I dare get,
so I can peek in with my head down, an “I am very busy” frown stuck on my
face.
Or I stop short of the door. I’ve heard more stories that way;
leaning against the bulkhead, pretending to be checking something on the
padd. Coyote stories. Jokes and pun-fests. Little tales of love, or
laughter, or tragedy. I was there the night Wildman told about about the
first time her baby smiled. God, the hugs, and tears and laughter after
that…and me out there in the hall, not knowing what to do. I wanted to
go in so much.

Even Tuvok has joined them; has made his way into the circle.
There’s something there; something in that relationship that’s changed,
something I’ve missed. He and Chakotay are still as sharp and sly towards
each other as ever on the bridge…if anything they seem even more so, a
sort of half playful/half serious competition, with me caught in the
middle and not sure of my role. But whatever is going on, they’ve passed
some milestone. Something about the story circle, and that Talking Stick
Chakotay gave Tuvok.
A few months after Tuvok started going, I got up the nerve to ask him
about it. Not so much about he and Chakotay, exactly, but about the story
circle. It seemed so out of character. He gave me one of those
l-o-o-o-ng Vulcan looks, then nodded.
“I have been told by a reliable authority that the telling of stories
tells us “who we are” and that if the stories go untold, we forget who we
are. While I have not been able to test this premise to a sufficient
degree to ascertain it’s truth to a high level of certainty, my experience
would indicate that this is indeed the case. I do not wish to forget,
Captain.”
I looked in his eyes and saw T’Pel, and the children, and the shady
red court yard.
Do you see what I mean? There’s Tuvok; a known quantity. I may know
he loves T’Pel, and misses her like hellfire. He may know I know. But
he’d never risk letting the power of that slip loose for the crew to see.
Until you add Chakotay. Whoops! Hey presto! The next thing you know
Tuvok’s telling tales of Vulcan, and T’Pel burns in his voice as he
describes her dancing of the Tale of the Sisters. Or he’s telling Wildman
about the birth of his children, and behind the control and logic the
passion is there, and the sorrow, and the compassion for a poor ensign,
alone with her baby, without her husband.

Whoops.

Hey presto.

I can’t seem to make it into the circle. Every time I try I hear
Admiral Paris, back when he was just Captain Paris, sitting in his ready
room discoursing on the loneliness of command, and the need for a Captain
to “distance” himself from the crew.

Three weeks ago I nearly did it. I know the nights now, and I’d
thought it through. I’d figured out what to wear. Lord have mercy, I
haven’t put so much thought into an outfit since my first “informal” party
during my first posting, when I still thought my life would rise or fall
based on the color of a blouse or the choice between pants or a skirt.
The whole thing made me feel downright foolish. It’s one thing to dither
over your clothes when you’re twenty-one, and just finding your feet;
another when you’re in your forties, a captain years since, and only going
to an informal story telling session.
So I’d picked out camouflage civvies. You know; dark, no color in
particular? The most boring sweater you can imagine. Slacks only a tad
less formal than Star Fleet issue, but in a hazy gray. And I was blessing
the saints that Chakotay keeps that room dim. I thought, maybe, if I just
slid in, I could make it to the edge of the ring. And as long as I stayed
in the shadows, they might be able to ignore me. I started out early,
trying to time it so I’d get there after the flock began to gather, but
before there were so many there that I’d have to march my way past all of
them to find a spot to sit.

Well, of course, I never made it. Skittered past like runaway
mercury. Before I even had time to talk myself into a second try, I found
myself at the holodeck. Stepped in.

Sandrine’s was up and running. That was a bit of a surprise. Not
that everyone on ship is part of the story circle every time, but somehow
listening to bridge chatter I’d gotten the impression that Paris was going
to be there that night, and Sandrine’s is really Tom’s baby. He loves
that joint; damned if I know why. It’s dark, and grubby, and the holo
patrons are sharks…and Sandrine is a shark raised to the power of n,
where n is a very large number. Oh, a shark with a heart of gold, I’ll
give Paris credit for that much subtlety in the programming; but still and
all a shark.
Tom was there, as civvie-clad as I was, though with a lot more
personality. I think he must have arranged a swap with some of the
Maquis, because where ever the hell those clothes had been, they’d seen
better days. They had the look of rough living on them, and a touch of
…attitude. Tom’s face was perfectly coordinated, too. Sad, and sullen,
and a bit lost, with a “live hard, die young” flame burning in his eyes.
He was at the far end of the table, chalking his cue, a half played out
game already on the table. I froze for a moment, a bit angry at the idea
of having to deal with him, with no way out that didn’t at least include a
hello and a nod, and I was as uncertain I was welcome there as I was about
the story circle. Something told me he might not be in the mood to share
space with anyone as authoritarian as his captain.
“Well, well. Slow night in the ready room?”
“Slow enough.”
He just nodded, and bent over the table, lining up a bank shot. It
was one of those moments. If I went out too soon I embarrassed us both.
If I went in…well, the worst that could happen would be that I’d have to
fend off Sandrine. She’ll chase men by default, but lacking a suitable
male subject she’ll chase anything, and Tom usually has her programmed to
treat him as an unsuitable subject. Leaves him free to chase the real
crew members, while conveniently tangling the competition in Sandrine’s
clutches.
I crossed to the bar, ordered a Kahlua and cream, side-stepped a few
passes from the sharks and Sandrine, and watched Paris play. He wasn’t at
his best. A bit flaky around the edges, like his control was off, or as
though he wasn’t really watching what he was doing. He scratched once,
blew some simple
shots. Finally he managed to clear the table, and started fishing the
balls out to rack up again.
“Play a round, Captain?”
It was his bad-boy voice, not quite aggressive enough to force a
comment, too aggressive to ignore entirely.
” Are you sure, Mr. Paris? You don’t seem to be up to much
competition tonight.”
I threw in the bite that implied that I would definitely be
competition, and he shot me a grin that had a touch of war in it. It’s
one of the things I’ve learned about my Prodigal: if you’re too gentle he
falls apart. If you’re too rough, he crawls away. Hit it just right,
with a note of challenge, and he lights up like a super nova and every
thing comes together. It’s worth it just for the pyrotechnics. But
beyond that, it makes him a relief to be around. After months of treating
everyone in sight with controlled protocol, it’s good to be around someone
who’d go crazy if you were too polite.
He racked the balls with a bit of extra flair, strutting it for me,
cocky as hell. I picked up a cue,chalked it, and with overblown gallantry
he gestured for me to break.
It was a good break. The balls spread out wide, leaving me a lot of
clear shots, and plenty of opportunity to pick fancy shots just for the
fun of it, rather than because there was no other way. And I was in good
form. I cleared the table that first time, with Paris whistling and
laughing, and begging for another chance. By then I was laughing too, and
willing to be suckered, so we racked ’em up again, and this time I let him
have the break. Somehow the fact that I’d already beaten him solid
without him ever having a chance to get in a shot had loosened him up. A
strange response, but there it was. He was moving more easily now, and if
the break wasn’t as pretty as the first one it gave him the excuse to take
his time setting up his shots. He called the five ball, side pocket;
eased the cue back, and shot clean. It dropped like gold, with a
satisfied thunk, and he prowled the table looking for his next shot.
“So, Captain, what brings you here tonight?”
“Like you said. Slow night in the ready room.”
“Bull. Bull-fucking-shit. If you don’t mind my saying so, Captain,
if you shoveled that stuff up and bagged it you could sell it as high
grade fertilizer on the next ag world we come across.”
“You’re pushing it, Paris.”
“Damned straight. It’s not every night I have the chance to give a
four pip a bit of hell, and after that last game you owe me. So let’s try
again. You don’t hang out in your ready room in civvies. If you did,
they wouldn’t be middle-aged mouse clothes. If they were, you wouldn’t
wear them to Sandrine’s. If, by some totally unpredictable chance you
*did* wear them to Sandrine’s you still wouldn’t spend time shooting pool
with a screw-up lieutenant who’s obviously had better days. So tell me,
Captain, what gives?”
“Feeling hostile tonight, Paris? Or are you just stalling while you
set up your next shot?”
“Both. Seven ball in the corner.”
He sank it without a problem, and then the three ball after it, slick
as sin. He cocked his head at me.
“Well? Tell Unca Paris. I’m trustworthy as the day, and twice as
bright. Hadn’t you heard?”
“So what brings *you* to Sandrine’s, Tom? I thought you were going
to the story circle with Harry tonight.”
“Clever. None of your damned business, Captain. I suggest we
withdraw to lick our wounds. I’d say that came out about even.”
He tried for the four, missed, and moved to the bar while I stepped
in. I called the four myself, took it nicely, called the two, and began
to set up a fancy bank shot. Unfortunately, he decided he needed to be
open and honest at the crucial moment, and the shock didn’t just make me
blow the shot, it made me send the ball ricocheting around the table.
“Tonight’s my anniversary.”
I just stood there for a moment, leaned over the table with the cue
at full extension, staring at him and listening to the bumps and clatter.
When things had quieted down I shook my head.
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
He got that sulky I’m-a-devil, you-can’t -mess-with-me look, and
tried to pass it off as a flip joke.
“I mean it. Tonight’s my anniversary. Today marks the day I lost my
innocence.”
My first inclination was to laugh. It’s not that Tom isn’t innocent.
Deep down he’s more innocent than my Good Son, Harry, who I suspect has a
deep and abiding understanding of evil. That boy’s like a Paladin, for
all his open face, and youth and gentleness, and that frightens me a bit
sometimes. But Tom? He’s the ill-made knight, the Prodigal Son… virtue
and ideals hidden like something fragile behind the snarky manners and
openly worn scars. But he works so hard at that image that the contrast
between the bad boy he pretends to be and the naive little virgin his
words implied was outrageous. I think the only thing that kept it in was
the ragged look he wore. I just stood there, with the cue across the
corner of the table, and waited. It felt like the right move.
“Four years is a hell of a long time.”

I knew we were in for another round. Sure and certain. I could have
quoted Tuvok the odds on it, and not been off by a decimal. 100% No
chance of error.

“The accident.”
“Yeah. No. Not really. That was four years and two days ago. No,
today is the anniversary of the day I snuck into the main computer and
altered the records.”
Sometimes I wish he could let it go. The rest of the time I know
that if he ever does entirely I won’t be able to look him in the eye
again, or trust him with so much as a used up phaser battery. But it
wasn’t the first time I’d wished he’d handle it a bit better. As Captain
I don’t get pulled in to his dalliances with despair often, but you can’t
sit on the bridge with him without sensing the self-loathing sometimes.
“So?”
“So.”
“This brings you to Sandrine’s.”
“Yep.”
I thought it through.
“Harry wanted you to go to the story circle and tell it, didn’t he?”
Bitter. A very bitter smile.
“Yeah. The kid thinks it’s time I aired it in public. Thinks the
circle’s the place to do it. He has some crazy idea that once everybody
knows it all, it’s done.”
I doubted very much that Harry had said anything so simple, but it
wasn’t the time for a cross examination of the witness. It was time to
put on the Captain’s hat again.
“Go.”
“No.”
Absolute. It would have taken a full round of photon torpedoes to
budge him. I let it lie, knowing it would simmer around in that stubborn
brain of his. I just glanced at the table.
“Your shot.”
“Not interested. Consider it your game.”
“You’re ahead by two. I’d say it’s yours.”
“So what are you doing in Sandrine’s?”
“One of the advantages of being Captain. You can keep some things to
yourself.”

I still feel guilty over that line. It’s a good line, and I was
right to use it on Paris that night. But the time I hit Chakotay with it?
Well, let’s just say he deserved a better answer. He’d trusted me.
Trusted me enough to work with me, to put his crew in my hands knowing how
hard it would be to mesh them with a pure Star Fleet crew. Trusted me
enough to battle it out with me over Torres…and if you can’t trust
someone enough to fight with them you can’t trust them at all. OK, I’d
tried to live up to the trust. But he deserved to know if it was
returned; if I could have taken the same gamble, and given him the same
trust.

The trouble is the answer then would have been no.

If the circumstances had been reversed, and we were on the Maquis
ship, would I have served under him? All right, he was being a bit of a
hell raiser with the phrasing. I know a double entendre when it rises up
and hits me between the eyes. But the serious question was there,
embedded in the flirting, and he really wanted to know. And I didn’t feel
up to saying no, and explaining why. I didn’t want to see the
look a man gets when he’s put his his life down on the Dabo table… and
lost. By the time I could have pointed out that the situation wasn’t
entirely analogous; that he had served in Star Fleet with Star Fleet
standards, that he knew what he was gambling his people’s safety on; that
I had over four times the people and no real way to evaluate what I’d be
getting them into, it would have been too late.
And it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Because I knew, and he knew
that he hadn’t really gambled on Fleet rules, and Fleet standards, or made
a careful evaluation of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the
situation. All of that was there, and I’m sure he’d run it through, but
it wasn’t what it was really about. What it boiled down to was a few long
moments of confrontation, and a few hours in each other’s company, and
he’d decided to gamble on *me*. In one way he’d won. But he’d lost too,
and I knew it that day. If I can’t match that damned, demanding trust
I’ve wasted his gamble, and everything it could have won.

Circle
Peg Robinson
c.1995

Section III

Tom reached behind the bar, and grabbed a bottle of syntha-absinthe,
with a grumble to Sandrine as she moved to take over. He sloshed a
healthy shot into a glass, poured in water from a nearby pitcher, and
watched the cloudy swirls build in the green. I nursed my Kahlua and
cream. A few of the sharks drifted over to the table, racked up the
balls, and started a slow, desultory game, murmuring, cracking canned
jokes. Tom and I sat at the bar, facing out, neither of us looking at
much but the holo patrons. Not ready to leave. Not really comfortable
staying.
I began to wonder if there was a way out at all, or if we’d stay
there ’till Tuvok sent the search parties out for us. Hell of a fate:
stuck in Sandrine’s with Tom Paris, both of us in black moods, trapped
’till the end of time.
“You ever get scared, Captain? I mean really scared? Stupid, panic,
acting on adrenaline scared?”
“Of course. Who doesn’t? Well, maybe Vulcans, though I doubt it.
And Klingons wouldn’t admit it if they did. But on the whole I’d say it’s
the breaks of the game; something we’re all stuck with.”
He nodded, and sipped the absinthe, his face smoothing out a little.
“That’s what it was, you know. I kept thinking of what
Dad’s reaction would be when he found out what had happened. The
sonofabitch already thought I was the biggest screw-up this side of the
Neutral Zone.”
I shook my head.
“He was proud of you. I remember a picture he kept on the desk. I used
to look at it during briefings, and think how much it meant to him, to be
able to look at you and your mother all the time, no matter how long we
were out. I admired that; envied it a bit, that kind of loyalty.”
“Bull-fucking-shit.”
He glared at me.
“I know the picture you mean. My aunt took the damned thing during a
vacation Dad backed out on, so that he could attend a conference on new
Warp drive developments. He wouldn’t have even had it, except that Aunt
Lil had it framed and gave it to him as a going away present the next trip
out. If she hadn’t handed it to him at the transporter terminal, I don’t
think it would have made it to the ship. Once it was on board it just got
packed, along with everything else he owned, every time he changed
commands. He never got a new one, never updated it. I was twenty and he
still had this damned picture of me at seven, sitting on the desk at Star
Fleet Headquarters in San Francisco. I used to visit on free days, trot
on over from the Academy to try a bit of father-son bonding, and we’d sit
there, with him grilling me on spatial rotations, and I’d wonder if he
even saw the difference. Sometimes I even wondered if he knew the boy in
the picture was the same person as the guy sitting in front of him.”
I rolled my glass between my hands. There wasn’t much left in it,
just enough to coat the surface with a film of coffee liqueur and cream.
His father; Admiral Thomas W. Paris. My Captain; Captain Tom Paris.
I couldn’t bring the two images into alignment.
“You were in love with him, weren’t you?”
I wasn’t offended. It’s hard to be offended sometimes, even when all
the rules say you should be. I just shook my head.
“A bit of a crush, maybe. Nothing more. Nothing earthshaking. He
never did anything to encourage it, and I never thought to try for more.
He was a man of honor.”
He shook his head.
“Never did anything to encourage it. I find that hard to believe.
Let me see. Yeah, here it is.”
He settled back with his back braced against the bar, raised his
glass, and began to declaim, his voice dropping from his own tenor to a
deeper baritone.
“It’s a lonely thing, command. The distance, the isolation. The
separation necessary to all who would chose with a clear eye and a
dispassionate mind. The Vulcans may not have it all right. A man needs
more than empty logic. But when it comes to command, they’re right on the
mark. And if the cost is high, well, so are the rewards. To serve; to
help others to serve. To give one’s life to a cause. A noble thing, a
worthy thing. But lonely. Only the greatest discipline will help one
hold the line, and few are able to stand the solitude without breaking.
Remember that Kathryn, when you come to command…and you will. Remember
the loneliness, and feel compassion for those who have made the same
choice before you.'”
The look on my face must have been something else. As he rolled the
words out, the years rolled back with them, and Captain Tom Paris seemed
to hover for a moment on that stool beside me. My Tom, young Tom, looked
me in the eye, and began to laugh.
“I’ve heard that speech a million times. Sometimes I was there for
it. Usually I heard it from one of his officers, well chewed and spewed
out at the slightest excuse. I think all of the favored ones got that
line. It was perfect for my father. He liked his officers giving him a
little bit extra when they came to attention, and he particularly liked to
see a touch of hero worship in the young women. I think he took it a bit
further once in a while, but really, I think what he loved best was to see
himself reflected in a kinder, gentler mirror than the one in his
stateroom. So long as he had you all, he never needed to doubt himself.
And so long as he kept you at a distance he never had to give anything at
all to get that comfort. Comfort should cost something.”
All I could do was shake my head, and feel ill.
“Hey, don’t worry about it, Captain. Just remember, you’re a
thousand times better than he ever was, than he ever could be. All he
managed to be was a set of rules, and a sharp uniform, and a picture on
his desk to say he was a faithful family man. If he’d been out here we
wouldn’t have made it this far. It takes more than a speech or two to
keep a crew together when it all falls apart.”
‘A thousand times better.’ I didn’t feel like it. A snappy uniform,
a list of regulations; a photograph on
my table and a speech for every occassion. A smile for all the nice young
officers…and a wall the size of a mountain range to keep them out. So
was I a paragon of Command…or something a hell of a lot darker?
I looked towards the ceiling, where the audio pick-ups were hidden
behind the holograms.
“Computer, what time is it?”
“The time is twenty-one hours and thirty-five minutes.”
Nine-thirty. The circle would still be there. The voices, rising
and falling in the dark. I turned to Tom.
“You said comfort should cost something. I say you should pay what
it costs, and get the comfort while you can. Go to the circle, Tom.”
“No.”
I waited him out, eyes locked to his.
“Dammit, I’m scared. I know what they say. I know what they think.
And I’m not going to stand there, and try to tell it, with them hating my
guts, knowing that from there on in it’s open season.”
“You choose. You decide to gamble your trust, win or lose, or you
don’t gamble…and never win.”
“Right. Who the hell am I supposed to trust? The Fleet officers who
hate my guts for the accident, and the cover-up? The Maquis? They still
want to stick a knife in me. Harry’s already made his choice, but he
can’t hold it together for me alone. I can’t win in there alone, and
there’s nobody there to catch me.”
“Chakotay will catch you. You won’t fall.”
“Bull.”
“He will. He’s held that group together through worse. He’s kept
your skin intact, even in the face of the Maquis. Trust him.”
“Come with me.”
I shook my head.
“I can’t. Not tonight. Not for this. If I go, I change things. As
long as I stay out of it, it’s his call…and they’ve already made the
choice to trust his calls. If I go, I shake the balance, and make it look
like I don’t trust you, or him, or them to get it right. Not tonight,
Tom. Trust him. He’ll bring it around somehow. ”
He seemed to shrink in a bit. It wasn’t despair, just a sort of
relaxation, and I knew I’d won. He sat there, tired from the fight…and
then began to grin.
“Well, it’s not like he doesn’t owe me. Or may be I owe him.”
His chuckle was odd. Almost tender. Not really anything I’d
expected.
“What?”
“Just remembering. Looking back to the start. I’ll say one thing
for the bastard. When he decides to throw in with you, he doesn’t hold
back. When he was stuck on that stairwell, back on the Ocampa home world,
I thought I was going to lose him to pure, piss-proud stubborn. For a few
minutes there I was sure he’d rather go down than let me save his sorry
ass. Then…I don’t know. Something shifted, I think something in how he
saw me. And the next thing I know he’s holding on for sweet life, and
cracking jokes over my head. And I never quite saw how it all worked.
All I ever knew was that first he didn’t trust me, would rather die than
trust me; and then he did, and was willing to hang on and leave it to me.”
He drained the glass, stood, straightened his clothes (not that it
made much difference), and came to attention, with a brisk cockiness that
made me proud of him. He’s a brave man, if he only knew it.
“Permission to leave, Captain?”
I nodded, grinning at him, trying to put all my approval in a laugh.
“Permission granted, Lieutenant Paris. Consider yourself dismissed.”
After he left I played a few solo rounds, and one against the holo
sharks. Nothing great. Nothing to write home about. But it felt good.

He did it. I knew he would, but I never had the chance to doubt it.
Chakotay was there in my ready room the next morning, lit up like a
Christmas tree, and grinning his head off, and I had the basics cold
before first shift ever started. I told you he was good. Not a shift in
dynamics but I don’t hear about it: if not the details, out of respect for
confidences, then enough to let me know something’s in the air. This time
I had a blow by blow description. The entrance. The telling. The
gathering in and the letting out. I could see it all in his words; he
spins a fine tale. The joy and accomplishment in Chakotay’s voice, the
thought and the careful consideration, were something to witness.
Afterwards, coffee in hand, we went out to our posts, and were there to
greet Tom as he scooted in off the turbo lift.
It was a good moment. I’ll keep this one in mind for a long time to
come. A sense of family, of knots working themselves free. A sense of
energy passing in a circle, round and round the three of us; like the old
theater exercises, like a song. Tom’s still going to be a long time
healing, a long time finding his place in the crew. Chakotay and I will
be a long time finding our balance as a team. But that morning was like a
promise to the future.

The circle’s come together twice since then. I’ve stayed away both
times, letting it find its balance again, not wanting to crowd in too
quickly after Tom’s tale. But tonight I’m going, and this time I’m not
skittering away. I’ve even chosen my outfit, this time in less than five
minutes. It’s one of my favorites, a rich green, somewhere between
low-slouch drapey and piratical; and with the jewelry I’ve chosen I’m
gonna be noticeable as hell. But I figure he’s carried off the challenge
of serving under me with some dash, and style, and a solid refusal to hide
what he is; and the least I can do is return the compliment, and try to
bring the thing off with a bit of class and humor. No more mouse outfits.
Just me, with all the stubbornness and command mystique that comes with
me. I wonder if I’ll shake his peace of mind the way he shakes mine? I
kind of hope so: it’d be a shame if that wasn’t reciprocal too. So much
of our lives is already shared. Sometimes I wonder if this is how it’s
going to be between the two of us, from now until the end: passing our
power, our people, our responsibilities, our laughter and our anger back
and forth between us, like shuttles passing from hand to hand across a
loom, weaving a life and a community.

Tuvok, quoting I suspect I know who, said that stories tell us who we
are. I’ve been thinking a lot lately that they also tell us who we can
become, for better or worse. I wonder what becomings we’ll all find in
Chakotay’s circle? Good ones, I hope.

Maybe, if things go well, I can con him into letting us sing a bit
too. I would dearly love to teach them the filthy version of “British
Grenadier.” And we could finish off with “May the Circle…” I’d like
that. That song has been running through my head for weeks now, and it
would be a relief to hear it passing from voice to voice around a circle,
not just spinning through my mind. Not that I think I’ll ever be free of
it entirely.

You see, there are a few things I have found to be just so:
sometimes a story becomes a promise. And sometimes a song is a prayer.

-End-

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