Raisins and Almonds

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From: pegeel@aol.com
Newsgroups: alt.startrek.creative
Subject: REPOST: Raisins and Almonds, VOY, J&C, G
Date: 13 Nov 1996 19:26:46 GMT
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Voyager and her characters belong to Paramount. I just hack around
writing about ’em. No profit, unless you count the fun and practice.

Summary: With Kes in coma, Kathryn Janeway has to deal with an alien
culture to gain medical assistance for her. In the process, she and
Chakotay continue to work out the intricacies of their professional and
social relationship, ande Kathryn works on her adjust ment to the changes
forced on her by the Delta Quadrant.

“Raisins and Almonds”
by
Peg Robinson
c.1996

Given the nature of the Delta Quadrant I suppose it was about par for
the course, though I still have trouble dealing with that sort of
extravagance. Our trip to the World of Veils ended with pirates,
epiphanies, and renaissances; and began, like all good quests, with
uncertainty and hope. In between there was grief and conflict; a few
rather seductive holy men, if your taste runs to such things; and, most of
all, births. And like all births, there were the requisite labor pains;
and newborns, both literal and figurative; and, of course, lullabies.
Which is as good a place as any to start.

The room was dim to keep the glare from the baby’s eyes, and quiet,
barring the soft bip and ping of the monitors. Kes’ baby stirred on my
chest, restless. She was happy enough, but hadn’t dropped off yet. I
settled back in the big armchair B’Elanna’s maintenance people had dragged
in, and started the lullaby again, wrapping my voice around the vaguely
middle-eastern melody.

“To my baby’s cradle at night
Comes a sweet little goat, all snowy white;
The goat shall run to the market,
While mother her watch will keep,
To bring back raisins and almonds:
Sleep, my little one, sleep”

“Nice. Old?”
I nodded, not needing to look up. After two years I know Chakotay’s
voice. “Mmm. I think so. My grandmother used to sing it.”
“How’s she doing?”
“Kes or the baby?”
“Either. Both.”
“The baby’s going to be all right. The baby-holding seems to be
working, there haven’t been any more problems, and we have plenty of
volunteers to snuggle her, so she should be fine. It’s a good thing Kou
noticed she only had the attacks when she wasn’t being held. As for
Kes… not so good. Situation stable, if you define stable as ‘getting
worse at a steady rate’. ”
“Damn.”
Which said it all pretty succinctly. I patted the baby’s back, glad
she didn’t know the tragedy shaping up around her. “You here to take a
shift with the baby?”
“No. Tuvok’s handing over the bridge to Chin when second shift
starts, and wanted to tell whoever was doing cuddle detail that he’d be
down to relieve them soon. I guess that means you’re off-duty as soon as
he gets here.”
“He could have just opened a link and told me over the com system.”
“I guess he didn’t want to wake the baby with that beep the link
opens with.”
“I suppose. Hold her a minute, will you? I think she needs a new
diaper, and I used the last one earlier, when I came in.”
“Tell me where they are, and I’ll get one.”
Chakotay’d been hovering around sickbay ever since Neelix had crashed
the party at Sandrine’s a week before, but had never come so close to the
baby, so far as I knew. He was shy as a deer about it; memories of Seska’s
death, and the loss of ‘his’ baby pressing in too heavily, ghosts at what
was looking more and more like a deathwatch. I wasn’t the only one who’d
ached for him. He has come to be cherished on Voyager, and not by the
Maquis alone. But he has his silences. I suspect I wasn’t the only one
with no idea how to give him any comfort. I handed the baby over, ready
to save them both if he froze, hoping he wouldn’t.
“Easier if you hold her.”
I’ll say one thing for him — he knew what he was doing. He
supported her neck without having to be told, settled her in the turn of
his arm like an old pro. I slipped into the next room, rummaging in
cupboards for spare diapers, leaving him alone with her, and came back to
find him gently running a finger over the funny, fuzzy, roached hair-ridge
that makes her look like a little, palomino-dappled foal. He looked up,
and grinned, and shook his head. “I can’t decide if she’s the silliest
looking thing I ever saw, or the prettiest. Where do you want her?”
I nodded my head towards the rolling supply table we were using as a
changing stand. I was relieved to see the smile. I’d missed it.
He let her hang on to his finger while I unwrapped her; blew softly
across her mane, and grinned as she squirmed and blinked. She gurgled,
and wriggled like a little pollywog, gazing up at him in clear delight.
They made a pretty picture, the two of them: the baby with her
dapples and blue eyes, Chakotay dark-eyed and olive-skinned, with the
bridge of his nose peeling from the burn he’d picked up on Egypt. I had
to hide a smile watching the two flirt with each other. He seemed to have
decided that, whatever else he felt, he liked little ‘Kes jr.’.
It only took a minute to swap the soaked pad for a dry one. Chakotay
collected the wet one, and had it down the disposer before I’d finished
sealing the new diaper. I picked the little one up and was about to
settle her back on my shoulder when Tuvok arrived.
He’s too Vulcan to admit it, but he loves babies. He reached out for
our little pony-child with a determined certainty. He rested her on his
chest, head nestled in the turn of his neck, and murmured to her in
Vulcan. It sounded like a camel clearing its throat, but I followed just
enough of it to know he was telling her she was all right now — Tuvok was
there to save her from all the crazy humans. It reminded me of how he’d
been when T’Pel gave birth to their last…
He finally looked up from her to us. “How is she?”
“Fine. The doctor says that unless something else goes wrong she
seems to be over the worst of it. The holding seems to be triggering the
hormonal and chemical responses she should be having, so it’s working as a
substitute for being a pouch-baby. She took 80 ml of replicated milk, we
just changed her, and she ought to settle down and sleep soon.”
Tuvok arched an eyebrow at Chakotay. “We?”
Chakotay gave a sour grin. “Don’t look at me… Mama Janeway had
that well in hand. All I did was watch.”
“I am relieved. The child has suffered sufficient trauma already,
without exposing her to further stress.”
Chakotay snorted. “At least with me she won’t think she’s landed in
the wrong starship. I smile, once in a while.”
“Precisely my point, commander. How is Kes?”
I tried to find a way to give the bad news. I was spared the
necessity.
“She’s dying.” The holodoctor had materialized like the bad fairy,
his face tense and anguished. “I’ve done everything I can think of. None
of it works. She’s dying.”
The better our medical technology is the harder it seems to be to
accept the implacability of death.
Chakotay crossed the room to look into the main bay. “How long?”
The doctor looked hungrily towards the room beyond, as though he
could see through walls to his patient beyond. “I can’t say for certain.
I’ve succeeded in slowing the progress of the systemic collapse, and the
hormonal surrogates and synthesized antigens I prescribed are performing
some of the correct functions to stand in for her own, but there’s no sign
that her body is going to start producing the substances again naturally.
Her immune system is still fluctuating wildly: sometimes she appears to
have no resistance at all — other times too much. Her body is
self-destructing. Nothing I’ve done has done more than delay the
inevitable.”
“Guess.”
I reached out, put my hand on Chakotay’s arm, feeling the tension
bunching his muscles into burls. “Commander… he doesn’t know.”
He relaxed slightly, nodding, and looked back to the doctor.
“Sorry.”
The doctor nodded bleakly. “Apology accepted, Commander Chakotay. I
understand. If I could answer your question I would.”
Tuvok shifted the baby in his arms. “Perhaps it is better that you
cannot. It has been my observation that the only thing undisciplined
minds find more perturbing than imminent death is the certainty of when it
will occur. Have you told Mr. Neelix?”
The holodoctor’s mouth tightened, bitterly. “Mr. Neelix isn’t
answering my calls on the com system, and hasn’t chosen to enter the
sickbay since she went into coma three days ago. At the time he called me
a charlatan, a quack, and a murderer.” He lowered his head. “It is
unfortunate that he appears to have been correct.”
I stepped away from Chakotay, approaching the doctor. “Don’t.
You’ve done all you could. You’re a doctor, not a miracle worker.”
“I would prefer to be a miracle worker. I might be of some use
then.”
Sometimes it seems cruel to me that we create beings in our own
image, and spare them so few of our own pains. Children, androids —
Emergency Medical Holograms. I suppose it goes along with the better
gifts we give. If he weren’t able to love Kes so, he wouldn’t grieve at
losing her. But his pain was almost too clear.
Chakotay spoke again. “There’s nothing more to do?”
The doctor shook his head. “I may be able to extend her life to a
limited degree. But I’ve taken every action open to me, given the
knowledge compiled in my memory banks. There is simply too little
information available to me regarding Ocampan medicine to hold out any
hope that I will be able to find a solution to her problems before they
become terminal.”
“If you put her in stasis? Maybe then you could buy the time to cure
her…” Chakotay was clutching at straws, but at least they were logical
straws. His face fell when the doctor shook his head, though.
“I don’t know what would happen. She’s responded atypically to
several actions on my part already, and given the peculiarities of her
metabolism, and her psychic abilities, and the speed of her aging cycles
I’m not sure what the effect of placing her in a stasis field would be.
It would be easier if she were already dead… at least then I wouldn’t
have to worry about how her energy fields would interact with the stasis
bed.”
Tuvok cleared his throat, rocking the child slightly, his eyes locked
to her face. “In that case perhaps it would be in the best interests of
all concerned if you were to hasten her demise, rather than delay it.”
“What?!”
Chakotay’s outburst was no more than the doctor and I would have said
if he hadn’t beaten us to it.
Tuvok looked up from the child, brows up in cool reproval. “You
misunderstand. Stasis technology is imperfect; but if I understand
correctly, the revival rate for individuals who die of simple injuries and
who are promptly placed in stasis is high. If the doctor were to kill Kes
at this time, and place her in a stasis field, we would in that way
acquire time to search for a cure for her physical ailments, and would
have a better chance of reviving her than we would if we allowed her
condition to deteriorate to the point at which she would die naturally.”
Chakotay looked like he’d taken a hard blow to the head — totally
dazed. The doctor was merely blank. I don’t know what I looked like, but
as the shock wore off I could feel the idea beginning to stir around;
dangerous, but tempting. I looked at the doctor. “Can you estimate the
probability that you’ll find a cure for Kes before she dies?”
“Less than 12.37%”
“And the odds of your being able to revive her if you were to kill
her in a simply repairable way, and place her in stasis?”
“Difficult to compute with absolute accuracy, for many of the same
reasons that I am unable to cure her at this time. However, there are
certain techniques used in the old cryogenic sciences that bring a body to
an approximate condition of death. If I were to use those before
attempting to place Kes in stasis… that might work where the extreme
answer of literal death and revival might not. I would be able to bring
her to a state mimicking death under controlled conditions before
attempting to place her in stasis, avoiding the problem of the interaction
between her metabolism and the stasis system.”
“And if you had the time she was in stasis to look for an answer…
do you think you could find a treatment for her?”
He shrugged. “Revival rates improve the briefer the time spent in
stasis, and under the circumstances I’d want to leave her under for the
briefest possible time. If one were to assume an optimal period of three
months in stasis, I would estimate the odds of my finding a treatment at
better than 23%”
“That’s all?”
“That’s assuming I’m unable to acquire new information concerning
Ocampan physiology and medical practice. Were we to find a source of
information regarding Ocampan medicine the odds would increase
substantially. Given the right information, I might even be able to
declare it a practical certainty. That is a large condition, however: it
is quite possible that we would find no such source, or that any source we
found would merely confirm that her condition is beyond treatment, or that
it is so novel that even those familiar with Ocampan physiology would be
at a loss to treat it
“You’re really thinking of going through with this…” Chakotay was
deeply unhappy. I had to admit it was a big risk, and one that, after
Egypt and his distress over the death of Jorland, was sure to be setting
off unhappy associations for him.
Tuvok gazed calmly at him over the baby’s head. “It is logical,
commander.”
My two senior officers locked gazes; something unresolved and
possibly unresolvable passing between them. The intricacies of the
relationship between those two have always been convoluted. They’re even
more so since the Great Maquis Strike, and Egypt. Chakotay swung his gaze
to me unhappily. I gave him an opening:
“Commander, do you see any better options?”
He shook his head, mute. I nodded. I honestly hadn’t expected more.
The situation was too far into disaster to allow for many choices. I
turned to the holodoctor, extending the question to him. “Doctor?”
“While the proposed course is radical, it has hope in its favor. I’d
like to run some tests to try to determine Kes’ probable response to
stasis, and make a final evaluation of the current situation as it affects
my chances of reviving her. But, unless I discover something unsuspected
in her physiological makeup, this appears the best answer to an otherwise
hopeless situation.”
“How long to run the tests, and make your evaluation?”
“Perhaps three hours. Possibly more, depending on whether I can test
Kes directly, or I’m forced to design a computer model to safely evaluate
her responses without placing her at further risk.”
I nodded. “Good. You do that, and I’ll see what I can find out from
our data banks about possible sources of medical information in this area
of the Delta Quadrant. It shoots dinner, but that’s standard around here.
Commander, join me? I could use a systems-crawler on my team right about
now.” He nodded, and I turned back to Tuvok and the doctor. “In that
case, gentlemen, I think we’ll be on our way. Doctor, contact me as soon
as you’ve finished your evaluation. Tuvok, have fun with the baby.”
Tuvok sent me a thoroughly disgusted look. I’ve never been sure
whether he admits to himself just how much he enjoys children or not —
but I am sure he’s not about to admit it in front of others. “I will
endeavor to provide sufficient care and nurture to the infant, and will do
what I can to ensure her continued well being. I will not have ‘fun’.”
I grinned, and collected Chakotay with a glance. As we left the
room, I called back, in my clumsy conversational Vulcan: “Just don’t let
her mix with the crazy humans ‘Uncle Tuvok’ — we’re a bad influence”.
Chakotay turned to me as we headed down the hall. “I didn’t know
you spoke Vulcan.”
I shook my head. “I don’t. Not really. I can handle a simple
conversation in a pinch, and I’ve got a great science vocabulary, at least
as a reader. Vulcan is the language you have to know these days, if you
want to keep up with scientific developments. I couldn’t get through the
more important professional journals without some proficiency. But I’m at
my best with their logic symbology. Actual speech patterns are nearly
beyond me.”
We stepped into the turbolift, I ordered it to the bridge, and it
started up with that smooth, stomach shifting slide. He looked over at
me, with a speculative, curious expression. After a moment he risked a
probe. “Tuvok says he knew you when you were a kid.”
The turbolift stopped, and we moved out onto the bridge. Before Chin
could scramble out of the seat I waved him back. The second shift crew
watched as we came through, heading for Chakotay’s office.
“You didn’t know that?”
He looked at me from the corner of his eye. “No one ever told me.”
I thought about it. “I assumed you’d read my records. You have
access to everything but the really private material, and the restricted
files. It never occurred to me you hadn’t read them.”
He shook his head, and started collecting his desk terminal. ” I
didn’t have the option in the Maquis.” He folded the terminal shut, picked
it up, and headed for the door. “And I figured you’d take my head off if
you found out I’d been messing around in your files for anything less than
an emergency. Seems like an invasion of privacy, somehow. ”
We didn’t say any more as we crossed through the bridge to my ready
room. Once there Chakotay linked up the terminal so that it sat on the
outer side of my desk, pulled up a chair, and keyed the computer on,
slipping out the manual command pad.
“So — how did you and Tuvok hook up? When his wife was dancing in
New Delhi?”
“You really have been getting better acquainted with Tuvok. No, that
was before my time. If I remember the year correctly, I was at conception
minus a few decades then. That was after Tuvok’s first hitch, with Sulu.
When I was 13 my father got an invitation to lecture at the Vulcan Science
Academy for five years. Mother arranged to transfer over to the Vulcan
branch of the Terran Diplomatic Corps, and we all ended up in ShiKhar,
living in the diplomatic compound. Tuvok had been assigned to diplomatic
branch and was doing guard detail for the Embassy. It let him stay on
Vulcan with his family for awhile, but it was a slow job. Those of us
living there had diplomatic immunity, so he was really there more to
protect us from wild alien militants, and the rare Vulcan with a loose
enough interpretation of Surakian philosophy to allow for a bit of
political terrorism. I think he found a bored, miserable kid a bit of a
relief from his own boredom. And I fit in the gap between his second
child and the one T’Pel was carrying at the time. So he more or less
adopted me. Coffee?”
He shook his head, his attention beginning to drift as he pulled up
files on the screen. “No. I haven’t been sleeping too well the last few
days. If I start on the caffeine this late, I might as well not even hope
to get my eyes shut.”
“Firelios strain?” I asked, naming a gene-tailored varietal that
didn’t have the caffeine.
He made a face. “No. Maybe a cup of jago?” That one was a sour
brew from Altair III.
I got cups of coffee and jago from the replicator, reminded myself I
had to check the status of my replicator account soon, and sat down,
keying on my own terminal.
Chakotay took a sip, and looked at me. “Are you really going to let
the doctor do it?”
“The other choice is to let her die.”
He ducked his head over the cup. “Logical.”
“Yes.”
“No wonder you and Tuvok work so well together. ‘Great minds think
alike’. He trained you well.”
“You don’t sound like you entirely approve.”
He shrugged. “Just not the way I tend to think about things. I
don’t think I could have made that choice.”
Egypt again, and maybe Seska haunting him. But I’ve seen his
records, both those from when he was in Starfleet, and those bits
Intelligence had picked up from his years in the Maquis, and he was
underestimating himself — badly.
“Yes, you could have. You’ve made harder calls.”
“Not lately.”
Which was true enough, but not his fault. The situation hadn’t left
a lot of room for him to make the kinds of calls he’d made as captain of
Crazy Horse. The calls he’d made out here? There’d been some bad ones;
but there’d been some good ones too, and he’d done better than I could
have expected. It wasn’t an easy situation for him.
“Different circumstances.”
He shrugged again, attention lost in the jago cup.
I started setting up my screen, opening directories and files. “How
do you want to divide it up?”
“You’re asking me?”
“You are the web monkey. Might as well get some use out of that.”
“I was a web monkey. It usually got me in trouble of one kind or
another.” There was an edge of unhappiness, and bitter anger in the quiet
line.
“It got you into the Academy.”
“I know.”
I let it pass. ‘Command unity’ was proving a pain, in some ways —
we weren’t quite close enough for me to feel safe asking nosy, probing
questions that might let him tell me where it hurt. I returned to my
original question. “So, what end of the search do you want to take?”
“General files, I think. Can you take the stuff Stellar
Cartography’s compiled?”
I nodded, and soon we were both too deep in our work to talk further.

Back home in the Federation a search was a relatively simple thing.
Not easy. Mastering any information system is an art, and the more
complex the system the more mastery you need. But in the Federation there
were entire battalions of folks sorting, evaluating, and cross-referencing
materials.
Out here we’re getting in over our heads. We’re undermanned,
over-worked, with too few people on board with archival science training.
‘Memory Alpha’ we aren’t. Chakotay and I had a hell of a job on our
hands. For awhile all you could hear was the patter of our fingers on the
control pads, the occasional creak of a chair, the odd sigh or grumble of
frustration as a promising lead turned out to be a dead end.
About an hour and a half into the search I’d completed a first cruise
through the material in Stellar’s files. I had a few hopefuls, and I
needed to try again from another angle; but my eyes were tired and I
needed a few minutes to let my brain cool off before diving back in. I
stretched, picked up a cup of coffee that was cold as stone, and leaned
back in my chair, looking over to see how Chakotay was coming.
He was still going strong, focused tight on his work. He’d taken the
larger, and more miserable job: the general files that hadn’t even had the
sort and evaluation that most of the material in Stellar had been through.
Fair enough. I was a good science officer once, but I know my limits. A
good web monkey can climb places in a computer I can’t, and make it cough
up information in ways a more linear mind might not. Chakotay was playing
the terminal like a master playing a Strad. Watching, I found myself
caught.

He’s a beautiful man.
‘Shibui’ : it’s a Japanese term for the kind of beauty that’s as
much a matter of unstated silences and subtle textures as anything. The
word can mean a lot of different things: astringent; understated; bitter;
endowed with the beauty of age. Simple beauty with depth, and evocation;
beauty which has survived its way into grace. Weathered wood gates, river
polished stones, bonsai trees, ancient raku tea services. That’s
Chakotay. His skin is looser than in holos of him as a young man; the
crow’s feet and wrinkles are beginning, the line of his jaw isn’t as
clean-cut and hard. He doesn’t have the lithe resiliency that shows in
the film records of him in sporting events back when he was in the
Academy. But it’s balanced by a grace he didn’t have then, a sense that
he’s more at ease, less worried about who’s watching. And I’ve found as I
grow older myself that there’s an odd tenderness I feel for faces that
look like they’ve actually seen a few things. And beautiful eyes, and a
smile to die for if you can get him laughing. He sends me into red alert
if I let myself notice.
The last two years it’s seemed wiser not to notice — or try hard not
to let it show when nature flags me down in spite of my caution. Reality
has never allowed for more than flirt and dream, though, and there’s
always been the needs of the work or the next crisis to come around the
bend to burn away any romantic haze before it’s done more than start to
develop. But in the quiet of the office, with him locked hard into his
work, it seemed safe enough to let myself feel the little shudder of
“nice… very nice” that I don’t allow myself normally. A small
indulgence: to let myself admire a man I’d come to admire in more ways
than one. And it’s not as though he hasn’t paid me the same compliment a
time or two. So I looked, and enjoyed — and worried.
He looked too tired.
I sighed, finished the cold coffee, rubbed my eyes, and returned to
the terminal. I’d try to deal with it later. For the time being there
was enough on my plate with the question of Kes. I pushed it to the back
of my mind; another problem to be dealt with on the day the Delta Quadrant
gave me the time and stability to take it on.

End section 1

Raisins and Almonds.
Peg Robinson, c. 1996

It was probably about an hour later, as I was trying to sort through
a pile of cryptic comments regarding ‘Ocampanoid races’, that he slapped
the table, and grinned evilly at his screen.
“Gotcha, sucker.”
“Pay dirt?”
“I think so. Close, high tech, Ocampan-type race, though they don’t
seem to have the difficulty with lifespan that Kes’ people do.”
“Let me see.”
Before I could ‘twin’ his screen on my own, he’d spun the terminal so
we could both see it. I leaned in towards the center of the desk, he did
too, and for a brief second I felt that annoying, jittering feeling I
remember from my teens and early twenties, when ‘too close’ was a
perpetual problem. I shoved the attraction to one side, no longer feeling
free to indulge it, and locked my mind to the screen.
The evaluation looked good. It was from a collection of material
we’d gotten from a passing Talaxian merchant caravan that traded regularly
along the route we were taking home. We’d had the information for about
six months. It had lain in a file that long, waiting to be incorporated
into the databases, and probably wouldn’t have been touched for another
month or more if this hadn’t come up.
“The Talaxians call it ‘The Walled Market’, but according to this the
natives’ name for it is Abbyzh-dira: means The World of Veils. Apparently
a comment on the rings.” He shook his head. “Not many habitable worlds
with rings: it appears to be a peculiarity of the system. Dust particles,
with a lot of reflectivity. Must be pretty.”
I nodded, and reached out to run my finger down the column of specs.
“Pretty is nice, but this is better — they’ve been in contact with
space-faring races for nearly a thousand years. Beats us by about six
hundred. That gets us past the first of the Prime Directive questions.
Trade-based economy; they don’t leave their own planet often, but they do
business with races that do. Their specialty — this is looking good,
Chakotay: herbs, spices, medicinals… and trained experts in a variety
of fields; though how you ‘trade’ experts is worrying.”
“Slavers?”
“See if you can find out.”
His fingers flew over the command pad, the screen flickering in
response. “Can’t tell for sure. They definitely refer to it as ‘trade’,
and there seem to be indications of exchange of funds. But if the
Talaxian records are correct, the ‘experts’ traded not only don’t need to
be confined, but they’re expected to be treated as first class passengers
on any trade ships that carry them. And there seem to be a hellacious lot
of contractual obligations listed in the files concerning the rights and
liberties permitted them. Maybe somewhere between contract labor,
serfdom, and sworn men? There doesn’t seem to be much on it.”
I shrugged. “Unless you can screw more information out of that
machine, we may just have to wait until we get there to find out for sure.
What else?”
“The Talaxians seem to think they’re — tricky — to deal with.
Nothing specific. Damn.” He spun through more screens, looking for
who-knows-what. At last he shook his head. “No. There’s more, but not
much more to the point. They look like the best option I’ve found so far,
though. Want me to keep looking?”
“Maybe later. I think you’re probably right. This looks like our
best shot, right now. If you have time tomorrow see if you can dig more
up, either on this world or any other possibilities, or assign Harry the
job if you’re too busy. In the meantime we run with what we’ve got.”
He nodded, and sighed, saving the file to his own account and turning
the terminal off. I called the bridge, gave Chin orders to compute and
set a course for the coordinates we had on Abbyzh-dira, then called the
holodoctor.
“Doctor, have you finished your evaluation?”
“You’re early, captain. It will be another hour before the final
tests are in and the evaluation finished.”
“Are you far enough along to give me some idea of whether we’re
looking at a good risk, or an impossibility? We’ve found a potential
source of medical information, and possibly even assistance, and I’d like
to be able to take the matter up with Neelix now. That would be easier if
I knew more about what we’re looking at.”
“Indeed. In that case, captain, I would recommend that you advise
Mr. Neelix that at this time the results, while inconclusive, are
promising.”
“Very good, doctor. Practicing your bedside manner again?”
“Yes, captain. I found the phrase under the heading ‘Null-terms:
optimistic.’ Did I use it appropriately?”
I hid a smile. “Perfectly, doctor. I’ll pass it on to Mr. Neelix.
I’ll also tell him we won’t make any final decision until the results are
in and we’ve conferred with both of you.”
“Very good. Captain, if I may ask… how much hope should I place in
this possibility?”
“‘The results, while inconclusive, are promising.’ Seriously, we’ve
only found the one planet so far, and until we get there…”
“I understand. ‘Insufficient evidence.’ A common condition at the
moment. Will that be all?”
I nodded. “Yes. You can go back to your tests now. Janeway out.”
Chakotay was rolling his jago cup, watching the sediment swirl in the
bottom. He looked up once I was done, then back down into the cup.
“Sorry.”
“What?”
“I’m usually better than that. Sorry I couldn’t offer you more than
the one world.”
It brought me up cold. “Commander, under the circumstances one world
is a miracle.” I shook my head. “I wasn’t sure we’d find any.”
“We have the entire Delta Quadrant on file in there somewhere.
Enough information to have Kilpatrick drooling. One world seems like
small potatoes.”
“One may be all we need.”
He just gave a twisted grimace.
I put a hand on his, waited for him to meet my eyes. “Commander, you
can’t find what isn’t there — and you can’t make what is there jump
through hoops when no-one has had the time to sort and compile it.
Certainly not in under three hours. Even in a well organized archive a
thorough search can take weeks.”
His eyes drifted away from me to a corner of the room. He drew his
hand away smoothly enough that I wasn’t sure if he was trying to escape
the contact, or just needed to rub the back of his neck. In either case
he was pulling away into himself, curling up where I couldn’t reach him.
Not as shaken as he’d been after Egypt; but still, something was wrong.
“Damn.”
He turned back to me, startled. “What?”
“I could ask the same. Chakotay, or Peshewa, or Joseph, or whatever
the hell would make you feel like I give more than a regulation damn, you
are worrying me. You’ve just done a hard job well, and you’re acting like
you failed a major mission. Could you kindly tell me what’s going on?”
His face went stubborn and set, and I knew I wasn’t getting any
answers. “I’m just tired.”
“Chakotay, I know that the baby, and Kes… You never really said
anything after Seska died. If you need someone to talk to…”
His mouth set hard. “It happened. It’s over. I dealt with it then.
Now I’m just …” He met my eyes, tense and frustrated. “Leave it. All
right? I just need a bit of rest.”
That was about as convincing as Tom claiming he didn’t have designs
on B’Elanna, or that he hated pool. I felt like snarling, but pushed it
down. The last thing I needed was to set him off further: not when we
were still trying to work out the dynamics of the ‘New Command Order’. I
slapped the coffee cup down on the desk, glad it was empty.
“In that case, schedule yourself some down-time. Spend a day or two
running something pleasant on the holodeck, go to the story circle —
*something* relaxing. And get some sleep. And consider that a direct
order. The holodoctor has enough to worry about without you pushing
yourself into exhaustion.”
The room was silent as Chakotay closed and disconnected his terminal,
and I logged off and closed down for the night. I collected our cups in
silence, I disposed of them in silence. I wished I could shake him in
silence. Dignity, Kathryn. Remember your dignity. Remember his dignity.
I do Yankee Lady very well. A good blend of old New England blood and
Lace-curtain Irish, with a nice, inarticulate mid-western overlay. Good
hygiene, a stiff spine, and an inquiring mind. Unfortunately that sort of
thing isn’t much good when you’re trying to find your way through someone
else’s feelings blind, without smashing into something. It’s even less
use when you’re in a mood to navigate with a bit of an eye to smashing
into everything in sight. I’m told B’Elanna throws things. It sounds
good sometimes.
He didn’t look at me as he finished the last of the close-down.
“Anything else?”
“No. You can consider yourself off-duty, not that officially you
weren’t hours ago. I’m afraid *I* have to go talk to Neelix.”
He gathered up the terminal, tucked it under his arm, and stood there
a moment, staring at the surface of the desk. Then he sighed. “Want
backup?”
Hell, yes, I wanted backup. I’d have given my pips for backup,
though I’ve got to admit, under the circumstances, given the Delta
Quadrant, I’d think the less of anyone crazy enough to *take* my pips.
But Chakotay was already ragged.
“You’re certainly welcome, commander. But Neelix at his best isn’t
exactly your favorite person on board ship.”
“I’ll live.”
Part of me wanted to jump at his offer. Part of me wanted to wrap
him up and ship him off to his bed like he was six — lord knows, I felt
like someone ought to be looking after him. Finally I just nodded. “So
long as you know we’re going to be getting a preview of purgatory. ”

My evaluation of the situation was, if anything, overly optimistic.
Purgatory looked good after that interview. When we got there and rang
the doorchime there was no answer at first. I identified us, and got an
answer back.
“Go away.”
Chakotay and I exchanged glances. I tried again.
“Mr. Neelix, we’ve come to discuss Kes with you. Would you let us
in?”
“She’s dead, isn’t she? Don’t spare me. I can take it. You don’t
have to soften the blow.”
“Mr. Neelix, she isn’t dead. We do need to have a talk with you, and
I think we’d all be happier if we don’t have to have it shouting in over a
com link. Could you *please* let us in?”
He didn’t answer for a moment, and I found myself wondering if I was
going to have to run a command override on his security lock. Just about
the time I was ready to start ‘punching my way through’, the door opened,
and we were met by the less than decorative sight of a Talaxian in full,
all-out breakdown.
“So tell me the worst. That electronic monster’s killed my beautiful
Kes, hasn’t he? Oh, I *knew* she should never have trusted him! I *knew*
it. I told her and I told her: ‘You just can’t trust him to know what’s
*best* for you, my dumpling.’ First it was tests, and then it was
hormones and then it was suppressing this and suppressing that. What I
say is it’s all well and good to have a hologram as your doctor, but when
it comes right down to it you want to see someone who knows what it is to
feel sick *without* having to run a special program to get the idea.”
He went on, chattering in that vein, nervously pacing around the
room, and it would have been as annoying as his monologues usually are if
it hadn’t been so clear that he was terrified of what we’d come to tell
him, and barely an inch away from tears. I glanced at Chakotay, who
looked almost as ill as Neelix, cleared my throat, and began.

I’ve spent worse evenings in my life. Most of them out here in the
Delta Quadrant, now I think of it. But this one rated close to absolute
zero on the scale from ‘awful’ to ‘worth committing suicide before
experiencing’. It took over half an hour just to make it clear to him
that we weren’t planning on murdering her outright. Once he had it down
he went into hysterics over the possible risks, and only slowly accepted
that there were almost no risks greater than just letting things run as
they were. I was just getting ready to take up the issue of Abbyzh-dira,
when the dam finally broke. He’d been shaking his head, and muttering
over the incompetence of a doctor who made a mess of a simple thing like
pregnancy, when the tears began: first a drizzle, then sick, gasping
sobs.
I looked frantically at Chakotay, but he’d gone tighter than a fiddle
string. For a moment he just looked at Neelix, then closed his eyes.
When he opened them again he spun, and paced to the back of the room
where the viewscreen was, locked his hands behind his back like a Vulcan
in full formal withdrawal, and stared out at the star field. All I could
see was the edge of his profile, lit by the stars beyond. Some backup
he’d turned out to be. I looked back at Neelix.
It’s too easy to see his feelings for Kes as a bad joke: a mismatch
between a beautiful young princess and an aging Frog Prince who never
managed more than half the conversion back from frog to prince. It’s a
mistake to see it that way, though. He loves her with a conviction and a
dedication that’s overcome age, culture, jealousies, and, perhaps most
impressively, his knowledge that he has very few years with her… and
that about half of those will be spent with her physically older than him.
It takes courage, like living with the terminally ill. That’s a hell of
a lot of love. More than I’ve managed so far in my life.
I reached out, and the next thing I knew I had a sobbing, scruffy,
and drooling Talaxian plastered to my front.
Like I said, I’ve spent worse evenings.
A few.
Not damned many.

After about fifteen minutes I had to send Chakotay to the restroom to
round up some tissues. Things were getting entirely too damp and slimy
for endurance. He came back with his hands full, handed Neelix a few, the
rest to me for safe-keeping, and rather guiltily sat down on the sofa on
the other side of Neelix, putting a hand on his shoulder as the little man
sniffled, and snorked, and mopped his eyes, and his face. I drew the line
when he started trying to wipe off the front of my uniform. There are
limits. Neelix settled back in the sofa after a moment, patted Chakotay
and I on our respective knees, and drew in a long breath.
“I’m sorry. I’m sure this has come as a great shock to you; I know
most people think of me as a very reserved person, close with my feelings
and so on. As good as Mr. Vulcan, I am. But this has all been too much
for me.” He sighed, missing the looks of disbelief Chakotay and I
exchanged. “I’m done now. I’m sure I can cope… I just needed a moment
to contemplate this tragedy quietly. It won’t happen again. Now you
wanted to tell me about something else? Where we were going?”
I nodded. “Mr. Neelix, do you know anything about a planet called
Abbyzh-dira?”
Neelix blinked, and shook his head. I was about to start when
Chakotay cut in.
“‘Toggul farri moh’ — the Walled Market?”
Neelix blinked. “You *aren’t* serious, are you? I mean, oh,
*really*. The Walled Market? ” He blinked at us, and shook his head.
“You *are* serious! Now that *is* something.”
Chakotay looked grim. “There’s a problem?”
Neelix shook his head. “Not a *problem*.” He groped for words “The
Walled Market… it just…” He waved his hands in the air, seeming to
paint pictures of grand vistas only to wipe them away in dissatisfaction.
“It’s…it’s.. Do you have any place in your part of the galaxy that’s,
well, mysterious, and dangerous, and beautiful, and oh, I don’t know…”
He frowned. “Perilous. That’s the word. Perilous.”
Chakotay and I looked at each other, thinking. Chakotay ventured
one. “Shangri-la?”
“Mythical. The Medusan’s planet?”
He nodded, frowning. “Maybe. The Nexus?”
“Mmmm. That’s pretty perilous.” I looked at Neelix. “Just how
perilous is perilous? I want to do everything I can for Kes, but you have
to understand I can’t take Voyager into a situation that’s likely to get
us all killed.”
Neelix shook his head. “Oh, no. Nothing like *that*. Or not
really. Sometimes, maybe. There *are* stories, though I don’t give them
much credit. I mean after all, some things are just more than a person
can believe. Ships that just disappear? Whole worlds destroyed? Beings
who can destroy you with a thought? Space ghosts? It’s beyond
reasonable.”
Chakotay looked at me, and I could see some of the same thoughts
moving through his eyes that I was thinking. Borg ships, cloaking
devices; the Q. Some things that are beyond reasonable are dangerously
real.
I caught Neelix’s eye. “Maybe you’d better tell us all you can.
Under the circumstances we need your expertise, Mr. Neelix.”
The next hour was — interesting. It become clear that Abbyzh-dira
was this part of the Delta Quadrant’s ‘wonder planet’: a blend of Tir Nan
Og, the city of Prester John, Xanadu, Mecca, The Forbidden City, Solomon’s
Mines, El Dorado. There was no question that it was real, or that it did
in fact trade with the rest of the Quadrant; but trade was done only at
one point on the planet’s surface, and anything beyond the bazaar was off
limits, and very mysterious. And the reception of those traders who
accepted the limitations was variable. As for the nature of the planet,
or the market, or the natives: the tales Neelix told varied so widely
that there was no telling *what* we’d be facing when we arrived. Neelix
seemed to feel that the general attitude of those who had dealt with the
Kithtri, the natives of Abbyzh-dira, was that as often as not they would
demand something that the traders would have chosen never to part with,
with an instinct for the most valued thing in any instance. But the whole
narrative was so wild, and so obviously as much a matter of legend as
truth, that we couldn’t decide what to believe.
I looked over at Chakotay. “Well, what do you think? Do we risk
it?”
He turned it over, then shook his head. “Your call. We’re going in
blind. We could run into anything.”
“That’s normal, out here. This…”
“Like I said, your call. Your ship, your crew.”
He was hedging. He was right, though. It was my decision, in the
final call.
Kes and Neelix have become valuable members of Voyager’s crew. Since
Kes had finished her medical training she was almost invaluable: our only
mobile doctor. And as variable as Neelix’ information could be, he was
still one of our best sources, and our best contact with Deltan natives.
We owe them a huge debt for all they’ve done for us. They are
‘Voyageurs’; no less than any of us from the Alpha Quadrant.
“We’ll risk it.”

Within an hour we’d been to sick bay, and seen Kes taken from coma to
such deep immobility that the med tricorders needed to be reset to even
register her as a life form, rather than an inanimate object. The doctor
and his med techs gently transferred her to a stasis couch, the field went
up, and she lay there, Sleeping Beauty on her bed, Snow White waiting for
a kiss from her prince to wake up and spit out the bite of poisoned apple.
Her prince….
Neelix was a wonder. I’d expected more hysteria. Instead, the
realities of the situation seemed to steady him. He’d gently run one hand
over her face, and murmured something in her ear just before the stasis
field went up, then nodded once, turned to the doctor, and, to my
surprise, simply wrapped himself around the ‘man’. The doctor looked the
most addled mix of confusion, grief, and comfort. He gingerly put his own
arms around Neelix, and they stood there a moment, mourning the woman they
both cherished. Then Neelix straightened, and looked the doctor in the
eye.
“I believe I have a daughter. Can I see her?”
The holodoctor looked at him, amazed, then nodded. “If you’ll follow
me….”
After they left, I looked at Chakotay. “I’ll be… I didn’t expect
that.”
He just shook his head. I don’t know what he was thinking. He
didn’t say. After looking at his face, I didn’t ask. I’d already been
brushed-off once that evening, and once was enough.

The three week trip was uneventful: a fact that I came to regret.
It’s bad news when you start thinking wistfully of Kazon left light years
behind, or even the odd Vidi’ian or two. But quiet times on a ship can go
from being a welcome relief to a misery in next to no time; cabin fever
seeming to take everyone on board, leaving the crew restless, irritable,
and bored silly. The trip to Abbyzh-dira was like that.
Everyone was in half-mourning for Kes. Neelix was spending most of
his free time in the nursery with the baby, though he’d returned to the
living once the decision to put Kes in stasis was made. The times he
wasn’t on baby-duty he cooked, and served meals; but his usual cheerful
chatter was absent. Paris was knee-deep in the process of trying to
organize a ship-wide poker tournament, without much success; Harry Kim was
in the middle of one of his periodic bouts of homesickness.
Tuvok had settled into a quiet, contemplative mode, and when I
approached him about it indicated in that dry, impenetrable Vulcan manner
that he needed time for meditation and solitude. He didn’t come right out
and say that my presence would be a nuisance and a distraction from
whatever philosophical truth he was hunting , but the message was clear in
the subtext. If Chakotay had come back from Egypt hurting, Tuvok had been
struggling with his own complexities since the time of the Strike, and
Egypt seemed to have brought some of that to a head. When he’d given me
his briefing afterwards he’d only gingerly alluded to his comments to
Chakotay regarding his ‘holiness’; a reference so oblique as to be a
give-away to anyone who knew him that it was a trouble spot. I suspected
that the issues of ‘holiness’ and ‘command unity’, and his own discomfort
with my Maquis XO, and our mutual need to allow Chakotay into our command,
were things he had to struggle with alone for awhile before taking them up
with me, or Chakotay.
I left him to his incense and his orchids.
Chakotay had walled himself up in his office, rearranging his duty
shifts to leave himself free to ransack the computer, trying to compile
more information about our destination — and in the process attempting to
single-handedly wrench the cluttered chaos of our datafiles into something
resembling order. When I pointed out that the archival work might better
be left in the hands of someone like Magda, who, though no expert at
computers as such, had a better than average grasp of how to assemble a
working information retrieval system, he just shrugged and said he might
as well do it himself, since he was doing the research anyway. I didn’t
point out that that was a lot like saying that as long as you were mining
dilithium anyway you might as well take the time to construct a few extra
star ships to use it.
I was more disturbed that he’d stopped going to the story telling
circle. I asked around and discovered, to my relief, that the swing shift
circle was holding together, ‘mothered’ by Megan Delaney; but Chakotay’s
circle was looking lean and sorry. I didn’t know which aspect of the
whole situation was more disturbing to me.
I knew that the circle needed Chakotay. I also suspected Chakotay
needed the circle. Holed up the way he was, and hurting, I suspected he
needed it badly. But short of making attendance a direct order, there
wasn’t a hell of a lot I could do. Compelling a grown man to behave
sensibly isn’t the easiest thing to manage, when he’s dead set on behaving
contrary to all reason. And Chakotay is one of the few people I know who
can match me stubborn for stubborn.
It was very annoying.
About the only thing that was working at that point was a project
B’Elanna and I had had in hand for months.

“Pass me the micro spanner.”
“Five mic or six?”
“Five.”
“Here you go. Do you have the phase-gauge?”
“Mmm-mmm. Look in the tool kit.”
“Did.”
“Damn. What about over by the projection unit? That’s the last
place I remember us using it.”
“Bingo.”
B’Elanna and Harry’d been trying to come up with a free-standing
hologenerator; a spin-off from the work they’d done to try to get the
doctor freed from sickbay and the holodeck. They’d only been half
successful at that project: it had turned out to be too costly in terms
of power and computational capacity for it to be practical to turn the
entire ship into a holodeck; and the focused projectors hadn’t ever really
panned out. So they’d started hacking around with the idea of little,
portable generators that could pick up on the main computer by remote, and
then using the ship’s internal sensor web to allow the doctor to see,
hear, and speak. The problem was in giving him more than a light-based
illusion for a body. In the sickbay, and on the holodeck, he got his body
from replicated matter and stabilized force fields. So far they’d been
able to design a portable unit that picked up the image-generation
information computed by the main computer through a remote link; but it
couldn’t generate more matter than about the mass of a cat, and the image
didn’t have more than a couple of yards of movement to either side of a
holo-unit. Not really useful in terms of providing Voyager with ship-wide
health care. For that it appeared we’d have to count on Kes, if she
recovered, or send people to sickbay. But it had occurred to me that a
series of units spread around the ship would allow the doctor to at least
make preliminary evaluations, and to experience some kind of social life.
Anything that improved his social skills seemed likely to be a benefit.
B’Elanna isn’t the only one who takes out her aggressions on
inanimate objects. There’s a certain satisfaction to swearing over a gel
pack, or cussing when you find you’ve misprogrammed the replicator and
generated an entire set of mis-routed circuitry. At least you’re furious
for a concrete reason, and there’s no one to be hurt if you decide to
smash the things to oblivion when they just don’t work. B’Elanna and I
both seemed to be venting a lot lately. The results were unprecedentedly
good progress — and a lot of odds and ends of former machine to dump in
the disposal units. Harry’d put up with us as well as he could, but the
last month or so he’d more or less ceded us the project, and stayed out of
the way of the angry women.

“SON of a GODDAMN, whirling, integrated, negative-feedback
BASTARD!!!!!!!! Shit.”
“Trouble, Be?”
“No. Of course not. It’s not like this damned project has *ever*
given us any trouble, now is it?”
“Not even once. So what isn’t giving you trouble?”
“Fuckin’ phase synchronizer.”
“Software or hardware?”
“Yes. Also squishyware. Damned gel packs. If we ever get back home
can I kill the bright boy who came up with that idea?”
“‘Bright girl.’ T’Pring of Vulcan. Brilliant mind, if you don’t
mind that half her stuff takes thirty years to work the bugs out, and
she’s never the one to do the clean up — it’s always some poor sucker
like us who gets stuck holding the dirty end of the stick. Sure, kill her
if you like. Give me a call before you go after her, and I’ll give you a
hand. The woman always seemed to have an attitude back when my father
worked with her at the V.S.A.. She seemed to think humans were a
particularly revolting new insect form.”
“This is new? I thought *all* Vulcans felt that way. Tuvok sure
seems to.”
I blinked. “Tuvok? He’s had his problems integrating,but I’d say
he’s about as tolerant as they come.”
“Kahless on crutches with a limp bat’tleh. If that’s ‘tolerant’,
spare me the real hostiles.”
“Hmmm? He wouldn’t have come back to Starfleet if he were one of the
isolationist faction.”
B’Elanna glowered for a second, then dropped her eyes. I wish she’d
quit that. I know it’s leftover hero worship, but it drives me crazy. I
understand some of it, given the life she’s led, but still… It usually
comes out either when she knows she’s running against my own norms — or
when Chakotay’s involved. Or both. This time it turned out to be both.
“He treats the Maquis like we smell. And he’d push Chakotay out the
airlock in a second, if he thought he could get away with it.”
“Wrong.” She didn’t say anything, but she slammed the spanner down
on the table hard enough I was afraid we’d have to recalibrate it before
we could use it again. “B’Elanna, he’s *Vulcan*, and straight line Fleet,
and a Security Chief. You can’t expect him to stop being that. As for
Chakotay… I don’t know if you’ll believe this, but I think Tuvok’s
gotten to be as close to him as he is to anyone else on the ship, except
Kes and me.”
“Yeah, right. He just loves seeing Chakotay in the second chair.”
I put my own spanner down and sighed. “No. But he understands why
Chakotay’s XO, and he’s beginning to try to work it out. We all are.”
B’Elanna prodded the holo-unit in front of her listlessly. “What did
Tuvok do to Chakotay on Egypt?”

End section 2.

Raisins and Almonds.
Peg Robinson, c.1996

“What? He didn’t do anything. What makes you think he did?”
“Chakotay’s been… unhappy… since they came back, and he’s not
talking to any of us. Something Jorland said before he died made some of
us think. — I don’t know. That maybe things were worse between you all
than we’d thought.”
Damn Jorland. Even dead he was trouble. First I had Chakotay eating
his heart out over his death, now this.
“Just what did Jorland say?”
B’Elanna avoided my eyes. “Nothing much.”
“Right.”
“Really, just the occasional comment. Something he said that last
night just stuck in my mind.”
“Mmmm?”
“It wasn’t important.”
“Damn it B’Elanna, don’t leave it hanging like that.”
“Just that Chakotay should have been in charge of the mission.” She
suddenly blazed up. “It’s *true*. He *should* have been in charge. I
thought maybe Tuvok had… I don’t know. He’s a proud man. I thought
maybe Tuvok had hurt him, somehow.”
I used to accept the idea of “Chakotay, the Proud Man”. Seemed
appropriate for a Maquis Warrior. Tall, dark, handsome; silent, proud,
introverted. Classic romantic type. It took me a while to see it for
what it was — B’Elanna’s fantasy. Not that Chakotay doesn’t have his
pride, or his privacies. We all do, and Chakotay may even have a few more
than most. But he isn’t by any means the ‘Tragic Hero’ B’Elanna seems to
see him as. I think he *refuses* that role — too much of a sense of
humor and too much commitment to making the best of things to languish and
brood appropriately, as a general rule. Over time I’ve come to see him as
less like Byron than like an old cat T’Pel had when I was a girl.
Vulcans and cats have taken to each other like summer and ice cream:
a match made in heaven. The two species seem to have been designed for
each other. T’Pel had been given this one as a kitten by a visiting
Terran choreographer as a thank-you present for her help in researching
traditional Vulcan dance modes, and he thought he owned Tuvok’s home
compound. He was a massive Siamese tom who swaggered around the courtyard
in ShiKhar, ‘protecting’ the family and guests from skittering leaves and
scuttling ghokrikah: little, biting, lizardoid creatures that can’t really
do much harm, but which leave a nasty rash if they chomp into you. The
first few times I met Jundri I thought he was classic — fierce, and
aloof, and desperately dignified. Then I found out that he chased toes,
that he thought my hair was catnip, that he’d run around the courtyard
playing ‘wild cat’ for no more excuse than the pure fun of it, and that if
you rubbed his stomach he rolled on his back, waved his feet in the air,
and drooled. Literally. Silliest damned thing I ever saw. He was the
most social animal I ever met, even more than most dogs, and an absolute
clown.
All you had to remember was he didn’t mind if you laughed with him;
but if you laughed at him, or if he pulled a dumb stunt and embarrassed
himself, he’d sulk, grumble, and slink into the breezeway under the house
and have to be lured out with plates of replicated cream and lots of pats
and cuddles. Only after you’d convinced him you thought he was a
beautiful, wonderful cat, the best cat on Vulcan, would he creep out and
curl up in your lap, all covered with dust and insect wings, still feeling
sorry for himself but ready to be pampered and tickled back into a good
mood.
Which gave me an idea or two about how to deal with Chakotay and his
funk, but still left me with the problem of B’Elanna.
“Be, I won’t deny we’ve had our problems working out the command
team. And before you start to bristle, for God’s sake give a moment’s
thought to just how hard a challenge that is. Tuvok and I have made some
mistakes — and so has Chakotay. But we’re trying to work that out. As
for the Egypt mission: that wasn’t a mistake, and Chakotay knew damned
well why we did things the way we did. Tuvok had the dessert experience;
Chakotay didn’t. It was also… politic.” I sighed, and thought.
Jorland was dead… there was no harm in letting B’Elanna know some of
what he’d been up to; and letting her know might make her a bit more alert
if Kilpatrick, or anyone else tried playing similar games. With Jorland’s
death we’d won a bit of breathing space, but if Ididn’t use it to our
advantage we could still be in trouble.
“B’Elanna, you want to take anything Jorland said with a grain of
salt. I’d rather you didn’t pass this around, but we set up the Egypt
mission the way we did was because Jorland was trying to trigger a mutiny.
We first got wind of it during the ‘Strike’, and we’ve been trying to
settle out the trouble he was stirring up ever since. One of the things
Egypt was supposed to accomplish was to give Jorland a chance to see Tuvok
and Chakotay splitting power comfortably — and let some of you who have
ties to Chakotay see that he stepped aside willingly because it was
expedient, rather than because Tuvok and I were forcing him to. Jorland
could have built a marvelous power base just from Chakotay’s own friends,
without Chakotay lifting a finger to call for your support. We had to
head that off, somehow.”
B’Elanna looked at me blankly, then began to swear. “Son of a —
that *bastard*. The fucker was *playing* with us. I could…” She
slammed her hand on the table, making the tools and holo-unit parts jump
and rattle. Then she looked up at me, shocked. “That isn’t why Tuvok and
Chakotay…..”
“No. They did what they did as a mercy, and because there wasn’t any
other choice. Or at least, Tuvok did. As a mercy to Jorland; and to
Chakotay: the sonofabitch was going to go back and get himself killed
trying to save Jorland.”
I was as shocked as B’Elanna at the sudden fury in my voice. I
pulled out from the table, and paced across the room, trying to collect my
wits. I was angry and shivery and suddenly feeling vulnerable.
B’Elanna spoke behind me, her voice pleading. “He’s a *good* man.
He wouldn’t have wanted Jorland to….”
“Damn it, B’Elanna, enough! I *know* he’s a good man. If he weren’t
I’d have found a way to get him out of that chair a long time ago.” I was
hanging on to my own arms, trying to rein in the frusration and anger that
had ambushed me. I hadn’t realized just how insecure the idiot’s heroics
made me feel. “The man plays dodge ’em with Kazon ships, tries to take
out Seska single-handed, damn near lets that Kazon boy kill him on the off
chance the doctor can bring him back, tries to pull Jorland out of a
hopeless situation… One of these days he’s going to get himself *dead*.
Is it so hard for you to believe I don’t want the bastard to get himself
killed confusing ‘noble’ with ‘suicidal’? ”
Behind me B’Elanna stirred restlessly. After awhile I heard the
rattle of tools. I took a breath, forced myself to relax, turned, and
returned to the table, picking up the segment of the hologenerator I’d
been working on.
B’Elanna glanced at me, then back to her work. “I didn’t know you…
I mean…”
“Like you said, he’s a good man.”
“Stupid, sometimes.”
“Aren’t they all?”
She laughed. It was a bit shaky, but it wasn’t a bad try. “Most of
’em. Is that why the two of you have been hanging around together
lately?” She tried to pass it off as an innocent question. It wasn’t
really convincing.
“With Jorland plotting it seemed like a good idea to make sure
everyone knew we were working out the command problems. And it’s not like
it was torture to spend the time with him — or it wouldn’t be if he
weren’t in a funk.”
“He’s like that, sometimes. He used to be a pain in the ass during
down-time, after a bad mission.”
“What did it take to snap him out of it?”
She shrugged, and looked unhappy. “Seska used to cheer him up a lot.
Magda could sometimes pull him out of it. For a while, after Seska cut
out, I thought *I* was getting the hang of it. Then he went off and tried
to get himself killed after she stole the transporter tech. I used to
think it was my fault, somehow — that if I’d said the right thing he
wouldn’t have gone off like that.”
“Stupid. I mean him, not you. Well, you too, for blaming yourself.
It wasn’t your fault. Sometimes he’s impossible.”
“Proud.”
“Proud is stupid if you use it to get yourself caught on a Kazon ship
without a snowball’s chance of pulling your mission off. Hell, it was
months after that before I could look at him and not wonder just what the
hell he’d been thinking of. I still wonder sometimes. Tuvok was
half-convinced he actually intended to rendezvous with her, and it had
gone wrong.”
“Told you Tuvok didn’t like him.”
“Tuvok’s a Vulcan Security Chief.”
“Like I said. Same difference.”
“Not really.”
She grinned wryly. “I’ll take your word for it. Where’s the six mic
spanner?”
“Here. How long do you need it for? I was about to adjust the
secondary stream.”
“Just for a second. You know, this thing still isn’t what it should
be, but we’re up to the point where we could use it to let the doctor out
of the ‘dungeon’ now.”
“Mmm-hmm. I don’t know if we’re *ever* going to solve the problem of
how to give him a real body, instead of just a ghost, though.”
“Someday. I’m not giving up yet. Maybe if he doesn’t mind being the
size of a cat?”
“Fat chance. His ego’d never fit.”
She laughed, then smiled shyly at me. “Captain… If you can pull
Chakotay out of it… I mean…. Hell.”
I tried to smile back. Not easy when you feel like sinking through
the floor. I had a bad feeling she was reading-in a lot more than the
flirt and spark that seemed to be the limit of our connection, and was
hanging a lot of hope on a relationship that had staggered along more
often distant than close for most of the last two years. “I’ll see what I
can do, B’Elanna, but if his old friends can’t bring him around, I
wouldn’t count on my being able to. I’m only his captain.” Before she
could say anything else I hurried on. “By the way — now that we have the
prototype looking good, what would it take to run up a few more of these?”
“How many?”
I did a quick calculation in my head. “About ten. Maybe twelve.”
She whistled. “‘A few’, you say.” She grinned. “Well, give me a
few days to figure out the load on the replicators, and I’ll see what I
can do for you. What do you want them for?”
I shook my head and smiled. “Let’s just say I have a little pet
project in mind.”

The voyage wore on. Chakotay was still spending most of his time in
his office working on the archives, so the bridge chatter was at a minimum
and what there was seemed to center around Paris — which made for racy
talk and sly innuendo, but not much else. When I wasn’t on bridge I was
in my ready room, looking through all the information the holodoctor had
compiled on Kes’ condition. I didn’t expect to find much. My training
was more in physics and astronomy than in any of the biological sciences.
But you don’t make it to science officer without a solid grounding in all
the fields, and I figured that a new set of eyes might see something in a
different light, come at the problem from a different angle, and give us
some kind of clue the doctor had missed. So far I hadn’t had much luck,
but I’d increased my knowledge of Ocampan physiology immeasurably, and
polished up my biology vocabulary in the bargain. But even with the new
studies I was feeling slow, and stodgy, and as stir-crazy as the rest of
the crew. One afternoon, midway through the second week, I finally
realized I’d had enough. I slapped the computer off, and opened a com
link to Chakotay’s office.
“Commander, what are your plans for this evening?”
His reply was a bit tired, but good-natured. “Well, let’s see: I
*had* thought I might spend the evening on Risa, at Strutter’s, but
circumstances prevent me from attending. Why? Are you looking for
another ‘command unity’ event?”
“I suppose you could call it that. How about a quiet, candle-lit
dinner at Chez Neelix, and a few hours on the holodeck? I’m going stale,
and if I don’t do something I’m going to climb right out of my skin.”
“Mmmm. Not the most enticing prospect. I’ve always preferred my
captains with their skin on — they roast up better that way. Sure. What
kind of holo-adventure?”
“No adventure. Just bring a pair of swim trunks. Damn. You do
swim, don’t you?”
“Captain — the only folks they let out of the Academy who don’t know
how to swim…”
“Right. Stupid. I forgot. The only ones who don’t swim literally
can’t swim. Do you like to swim?”
“Now she asks. Sure. Swim like an otter.”
“Then is it a date?”
There was silence for a second. Then he answered, an amused note to
his voice. “I don’t know, captain. *Is* it a date?”
I shook my head, a smile catching me off-guard. “Captains don’t
date. It’s beneath us. We escort, or are escorted, to an engagement.”
“OK. But be warned — I don’t believe in long engagements.”
“In that case I’ll have you home by ten, commander.”
“Damn… just when I thought I’d finally found a way to ruin my
reputation.”
“You’re a terrible man, commander.”
“I try, captain. That all?”
“Mmm-hmm. It’ll take me about an hour to clean up and shake the
kinks out. I’ll drop by your quarters in, say, an hour and a half?”
“Fine. See you then.”
“Janeway out.”
The com link blipped off, and I smiled. Why kill two birds with one
stone, when you can kill three, or even four? I was promoting command
unity, shaking the boredom that was eating me alive, getting in the laps
I’d been meaning to work in all week, and cheering up my listless XO. Not
bad for one com call.

When I dropped by his quarters he met me at the door, still in
uniform. I looked him over, and sighed.
“I declare uniforms non-obligatory, and you decide you’re going to
live in yours. Let me guess: your trunks are black and red too.”
He nodded in amused confirmation. “Complete with pips. You never
know when you’re going to have to pull rank on a holocharacter.”
“No holocharacters. No adventure. Just water. I don’t suppose you
expected the scrub pines to come to attention for you?”
“Scrub pines?”
“You’ll see. Any idea what Neelix is serving tonight?”
“Would you recognize it if I did?”
“Probably not. It’s usually better that way. The ones that stand
out enough to remember are usually memorable for reasons of indigestion.”
We ambled our way to Neelix’, ate a dinner that was better than his
worst, and worse than his rare best, nodded to all and sundry, put up with
some terrible teasing from Magda for our recent lack of sociability, and
retreated as soon as we could, heading for the holodeck. Once we were
there I slid the holochip into the slot, and uploaded the program. The
gray walls faded out; replaced with black sky, stars, low shrubs and
knobby, lumpy pines, and the scent of water and pine and bayberry, and the
creak of frogs. The cottage sat behind us, the front room lit by a single
lamp. The lake lay ahead, reflecting the sheen of stars and moon. The
raft and dock were pale ghosts floating on the black water.
I heard Chakotay draw in his breath. “Nice.”
“Mmm-hmmm. Let’s go in and change. Last one in’s…”
“A rotten egg…” He was already scooting across the porch, and into
the room beyond. By the time I got in he’d found the front bedroom, and
closed the door. I cut through the kitchen to the back bedroom, and
slipped into my suit, hurrying out to the lake again as soon as I was
changed.
He was standing at the edge of the water, just looking out. He
looked back as he heard my feet scrutch through the sand.
“Where is it?”
“Massachusetts, near Plymouth. It’s all pine barren along the coast,
with a lot of little lakes. My grandmother’s people have had this place
for ages. I used to spend summers out here.”
“I always figured you for a city girl.”
I shrugged, then remembered he probably couldn’t see me in the dark,
with his eyes not yet adjusted from the light in the cottage. “City,
country… it doesn’t make much difference these days, with transporters
and shuttles putting everything in ten minutes reach of everything else.
This area’s been thin of residents since before the Eugenics wars, after
the old industries moved out; and after the wars … It’s almost like a
Yankee secret. Locals know about it; but non-natives go for the Cape, or
Nantucket and the Vineyard, and leave the little stuff for those of us who
love it. So, are we going in?”
“How cold is it?”
“Fair to middling. It’s spring fed, so it’s not exactly toasty, but
I took the readings for this in mid-summer, and the water’d warmed up a
bit. If you ever feel like freezing, I have another I took in late May.”
“I’ll pass, for now. ‘Fair to middling” sounds more my speed
tonight.”
We padded down the dock.
“Dive shallow, not deep. The bottom’s only about seven feet down
here, and you’ll whack your head if you cut in too steep.”
“Gotcha.”
I drew a breath, heard him do the same, and we knifed into the water
only seconds apart. We came up sputtering and gasping.
“Jeezus, woman! ‘Fair to middling?’ You’re *nuts*.”
“It could be worse. Did you ever swim in the Pacific when you were
in the Academy?”
“Yeah. But after the first time I wore a wet suit. A man could
freeze his nuts off.”
“I wouldn’t know.”
He chuckled, the sound clear across open water. “Right. So, what’s
the plan now?”
“I need to get in some laps, or the equivalent. I was thinking of
cutting across the lake and back, but it takes about forty-five minutes
round trip. Game?”
“Game. Crawl or breast stroke?”
“If I said butterfly?”
“I’d die. I’m not in that kind of shape anymore.”
“Me neither — and I’m feeling lazy tonight. Breast stroke.”
We struck out, and in a few minutes had matched our paces. Soon the
only sounds were the blow and puff of our breath, the occasional splash
and splat of kick and stroke, cricket song, and the bragging and brekking
of the bullfrogs in the frog pond behind the cottage and along the shores
of the lake.
It took the full forty-five minutes, and more. We were in no rush.
There was something desperately comforting about the sounds, the movement
of water currents stirred up by his strokes, the glimmer of reflected
light on the water. And the lake was heart-home to me. By the time we
neared the cottage shore again I was half way to heaven, and in no hurry
to leave. I aimed for the raft instead of the dock or the shore, grabbed
the edge, kicked and pulled at the same time, and shot up onto the
polyboard planking.
The air hit like arctic hell. Through chattering teeth I called up
two heavy terry robes, which arrived just in time for me to hand one to
Chakotay as he pulled himself up beside me. He whuffed, chattered his own
teeth, and wrapped himself in the robe in a rush. The two of us sat
huddled in the thick cotton for a few minutes, letting the chill wear off
and the heat build up. Then I slid down, lying on my back and looking up
at the stars. After a few minutes Chakotay eased himself down too, a few
feet away, his head near mine, his feet trailing in the water off the side
of the raft. He was close enough I could hear his breath, still a bit
deep from the swim. I imagined I could even feel the heat of him next to
me. His hand crossed into my field of vision, as he pointed up to the sky
simulated above us.
“There’s Corona. And Aquila.”
“Taurus, Gemini, Cassiopeia. It took me ages to get this program
right.”
“You love this place.”
“Mmm-hmmm. My house is near here. About five minutes away by
aircar. Over in Carver. Colonial revival. I wanted to be near enough to
just come on over any time it hit me, with no worry about transporter
schedules, or rush-hour overloads. Mark and I used to come out for the
weekend, and walk Molly around the lake, or over past the cranberry bogs.”
He was silent for a while. When he did speak, he had on his
‘sympathy’ voice. “You miss him, don’t you?”
I smiled, a bit wistfully, knowing only the stars saw. “No.”
“I understa… What?”
“No. I don’t really. I did at first. Very badly. It was a long
time before I realized that what I missed had stopped being Mark and
become the things he stood for. Home. Certainty. Knowing there was
someone to go back to, waiting for me. When I did see it, it took me a
long time to get over feeling guilty about *not* missing him. He was a
dear man. He deserved to be missed.”
I’ve noticed that happening more and more often lately, with all of
the crew. People talking about the ones left behind as though they were
dead, though we’re the ones who passed away through the wave. I suppose
it’s all a matter of perspective, but it seems to make the mourning easier
if you see yourself as the survivors, though there’s a guilt associated
with that too: the guilt of letting go.
Chakotay lay silent, apparently not willing or able to comment on my
lack of grief for the man I’d hoped wouldn’t ‘give me up for dead.’ It’s
not the sort of thing folks know how to deal with.
After awhile I sat up and leaned my back against the diving tower,
still looking up at the night sky. “How’s the research going? Find out
anything more about Abbyzh-dira?”
He sighed, and rolled over on his stomach, resting his head on his
arms. “Not much. Bits and pieces. I’ve put what I’ve got together in a
report. I thought I’d give it to you tomorrow morning, so you could look
it over during the day and get back to me. You might have a few ideas I
haven’t. I’m about run dry.” He lay there a moment, then continued.
“Neelix has been a lot of help. He pointed me at some good leads. The
bad news is he also pointed out something we should have seen. It’s a
heavily used trade route. The Kithtri may not travel much, but every
merchant in the region and some from a lot farther away come to
Abbyzh-dira to trade. The result is that there are a lot of freebooters,
too. And the system is located in a fluky area of space. There are some
weird stretches, a lot like the Badlands, and a lot of anomolous
‘weather’. Abbyzh-dira’s sun seems to generate an unusually high number
of flares, and it stirs up a lot of ion storms to screw up sensor
readings. Therre are a lot of bolt holes for a ship to hide, a lot of
good spots for an ambush. Neelix thinks we should be prepared to be
attacked. Apparently most of the ships form caravans, for all the old
reasons. Safety in numbers. A lone ship will look like a tethered goat
to the predators.”
“I suppose we should have expected it. I still haven’t really made
the transition to this place. It’s like landing in something like the
Odyssey, or the Arabian Nights, with Sinbad. Beautiful, frightening.
Dangerous. Unpredictable. We turn around and find gods. Or devils.
Crazy place.” I pulled the robe closer around my shoulders, sealing out
the cool air. “I’m glad you’re working well with Neelix. It’s easy to
forget him, but he’s still the best resource we have, and at least *his*
expectations are based on what’s really here, instead of Alpha Quadrant
assumptions.”
“Mmm. Captain…”
“Kathryn.”
“Kathryn.” He chuckled; a soft, dry sound. “You won’t faint?”
“It is my name.”
“I was beginning to think it was a secret weapon. You nearly keeled
over that night.”
“So sue me. I wasn’t expecting it.” I sighed. “You get used to the
rank. I don’t know. What would you do if I suddenly started calling you
‘Peshewa’?”
He didn’t answer for a moment; then gave a half-sigh, half-laugh.
“Look to see if my father or one of the other elders had materialized next
to me. It’s not like ‘first name, last name.’ More a matter of context.
‘Chakotay’ is what my mother gave me when I was born. ‘Peshewa’… if the
old traditions still held that’s what I would have become after I went on
vision quest. It’s the name my father gave me in his role as elder and
the tribe’s meda. My adult name. But even in the tribe on Dorvan the old
traditions were patchwork, and I was ‘Chakotay’ as often as not. Even my
father usually called me that, unless there was a ritual reason not to.
‘Joseph’ — you know why I have that one.”
I smiled in the dark. “And ‘Minou’?”
“Oh, God. You looked it up.”
” Magda told me.”
“Hell.”
I laughed. “Don’t feel too bad. The fact that you put up with it…
Let’s just say it’s good to know you can put up with having your tail
twisted. She’s a real character.”
“She didn’t stick you with ‘minou’.”
“Nope. *I* got ‘minette’.”
He propped himself on his elbows, and peered at me, his face pale in
the moonlight. “You’re kidding…”
“No.”
“Why’d she…”
“*You* figure it out. If you think you know, get back to me and I’ll
tell you if you’re right. What were you going to say when we detoured?”
“Hmmm? I forgot. Oh. Damn. Right. What are we going to trade
when we get there?”
I didn’t answer.

End section 3

Raisins and Almonds
Peg Robins9on, c.1996
.
It’s a growing problem. In the Federation, if we needed something we
requisitioned it from Starfleet. If it went over budget we got into
arguments with the PTB — and either went without, or got our way. Trade
was an issue the civilians worried about, and politicians. Starfleet took
care of its own, and the member planets took care of Starfleet. Out here
it’s a whole different ballgame. I’m beginning to see why politicians and
traders seem so unreliable to Fleet officers. They don’t have the luxury
of pretending they don’t have to compromise. I’ve been having to
compromise a lot lately though, and it’s left me feeling dirty.
I finally sighed, and responded. “I don’t know. I was hoping they’d
respond to it as an emergency. Most cultures seem to have some kind of
‘good Samaritan’ clause. Altruism is a civilized virtue.”
“Depends on how you define ‘civilized’. I know some ‘savage’
cultures that make the Federation at it’s best look like a pack of thugs.
And some civilized ones, like the Cardassians, that make the worst we can
offer look like sweetness and light.”
“Determined to make me think, aren’t you?”
“Is that a problem?” His voice held a trace of challenge. I tried
not to be annoyed.
“Sometimes. I suppose you’d better keep it up, though. ‘The bright
light of inquiry.’ You keep me on my toes.”
“So, what *do* we trade?”
“How’s the replicator load these days? Maybe we can come up with
gold, frankincense and myrrh.”
“Could be. The botanicals have a better chance of selling than
semiprecious metals, though. Gold is everywhere: Frankincense is a bit
more exotic. What about seeds and cuttings? Kes and the doctor have come
up with a lot of things by cloning plant samples from the bio-files.
Tomatoes, potatoes, corn, peppers. All of those would be rare
commodities.”
“Breach of Prime Directive. I know it’s strange to think of plants
as ‘technology’, but agriculture is one of the oldest technologies we
have. You can change a world with a few seeds.”
“I know.” He rolled to sit cross-legged, less relaxed than he had
been a few minutes before. He was still, but it was the stillness of
containment, not of true ease.
“I suppose you would.” I tried to smooth his feathers.
He wasn’t soothable. “So, seeds are out. Cultural artifacts?
Literature, music, film, that sort of thing?” The frustration was still
there, just under the surface.
“If they’ll take them, I suppose. Even that makes me nervous. You
can change a world with a book, or a piece of music, too.”
“I *know*. Capt — *Kathryn*. We don’t have many choices. We can
trade labor, information, cultural relics like artwork, or technology.
Labor is the only one that has much chance of sliding in under a really
strict interpretation of Prime Directive rules; and we don’t have the time
or the manpower to offer that one very often. But dammit, there are
looser interpretations; ones that leave us a bit more room to maneuver.”
“And there are worlds that have paid the price for looser
interpretations. If we get this wrong we could rip the hell out of this
entire quadrant.”
He stood, and paced restlessly to the side of the raft, the water
rising as his weight tipped the balance of the floats. “If you’re going
to keep that attitude we might as well quit now. We can’t help changing
things just by existing out here. The only way we’re coming out of this
without changing anything more than we already have is to do what you
threatened: blow the ship up, and us with it. That’s the only way to
keep from interacting with the world — withdraw from it. Other than
that, you take your best shot, and deal with whatever comes of it.”
“*That’s* a responsible attitude to take.”
He spun, and glared. I glared back, wondering why the hell an
evening that had been delightful so far was suddenly escalating into a
war. When he replied his voice was that tense, controlled growl he gets,
complete with stubborn overtones.
“Yes, goddamn it, it is. More responsible than sitting in a corner
pretending you can just go on acting like nothing has changed, and we’ll
manage to wish ourselves home any day now. The way you want to do it, we
still change things – but it’s all by accident, and we can’t even try to
pick and choose what we’ll deal with.”
“At least if it’s an accident, our hands are clean.”
“Bull. If it’s an accident it’s still our job to try to clean up
after it; and if it happened because we closed our eyes and tried to
pretend we could just slip by without making a ripple then we still made a
choice, and it’s not an accident. Damn it, you’re the one who said
sometimes you have to ‘punch’ your way through.”
“And you’re the one who damned near got himself killed trying to
reclaim Federation technology before it shifted politics in the quadrant
forever”, I snapped back, angry he was pushing.
“That’s because it wouldn’t have been there if it hadn’t been for my
mistake.”
“Seska’s mistake. She’s the one who wanted to break the Prime
Directive.”
“And I’m the sonofabitch who brought her along. I clean up my own
messes.”
“She made her own choices. You don’t get to take the blame for them,
dammit. You didn’t invent her from scratch, and you weren’t her captain
when she went rogue.”
“She didn’t ‘go rogue’, she *was* rogue — and I missed it.” His
voice was sharp and juniper-bitter in the darkness.
“So did I. So did Tuvok. Do you think you’re supposed to be able to
control everything in your life?”
“No, that’s *your* neurosis.” He prowled across the decking and back
again, the water sloshing dangerously near the edges of the raft,
threatening to swamp us. “I just think I’m supposed to manage a competent
job of work. Instead I ended up with two spies and a traitor on my ship,
took one of them as my lover, let her get away, got fooled into thinking
she was carrying my child, screwed up dealing with that so badly I needed
my ass saved, I nearly lost us Voyager, and thanks to her the Kazon have
more information than they know what to do with about Federation
technology.”
“Oh, bullshit. The only part of that that was your fault was you
took her to bed, and unless you’re a lot worse than I thought you were she
had something to say about that too. The rest was her own damned idea —
except that jackass ‘knight errant’ stunt you pulled. And every one gets
a shot at stupid once in a while.”
“Look, can we get back to the Prime Directive, and leave my past
alone? At least there’s some chance we can solve that one.”
I nodded, furious, but not entirely sure why I was, or how the
conversation had taken the turn it had. What had started as a
professional disagreement had become dangerously personal. I pulled back
to the question of trade. “There’s nothing to solve. We stick to the
rules. No argument.”
“Wonderful. And if there’s no other choice?”
“Then there isn’t. I’m not going to destroy a world just to save one
person.”
“Logic, again. You use it like it was the answer to everything, and
forget that all it takes is a change in premise, or a different set of
assumptions and you can come up with a different answer. There are a lot
of different truths, depending on where you stand. You’ll give up any
chance Kes has, to save a world; but what if the Kithtri are grown up
enough to make their own decisions? You don’t have the right to take away
their choices just because you want to stay lily-white, and you do owe Kes
and your crew your care. That’s what a captain is, it’s what you do.
Your obligation is to them first.”
“My obligation is to the Federation first, and to what it stood for.”
He turned where he stood, midway across the raft, fists balled, old
anger burning in his eyes as he slammed his words into the last connection
I had with my old reality — my belief in the value of the Federation.
“Oh, to abandoned obligations? Or are you sticking to a law that makes
colonists criminals for fighting for homes the Federation sold out from
under them? How about our insistence that we’re a peaceful people — and
all the while we’re fighting the Cardassians, and half an inch away from
war with the Klingons and the Romulans? Or the idea that we’re all equal,
that all our worlds have something to offer — but look around Star Fleet
and you see what equal is worth? What about self-righteous judgments
about who’s ‘ready’ to join the Federation and who’s too ‘savage’ to join
our elect ranks? Ever looked at the way it works out, Kathryn? We’ve
turned our backs on species that had every qualification for membership
that we did when Vulcan and Earth formed the first alliance two hundred
years ago — in fact we’ve turned down species that made us look like
monsters. But we’ve accepted or allied with races that are barbarians.
Ever wonder why?”
My temper snapped. I scrambled up to meet his anger with rage of my
own, and we faced off in a way we haven’t since the first few minutes he
was ever on Voyager, when we glowered ourselves into a truce we needed.
This time we had less peaceable desires.
“More Maquis philosophy, or is this another historical metaphor? I’d
watch out, your last one was less than perfect.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“Just that if you’re going to climb up on a soap box, you might want
to make sure you have the sermon worked out a bit better ahead of time —
and give a little thought to the possible results. You’re damned good at
telling me to throw away the principals of the Federation, commander, and
I’ll grant you they aren’t perfect. But I suspect your Chief Joseph would
have been glad to trade the U.S. Supreme Court for a Federation Prime
Directive review board any day of the week.”
He was still, smoldering, his temper gone beyond the flash point.
Unfortunately I was blazing hot and furious myself, my control singe-ing
away like torched tinder. His anger and mine together were incendiary.
“Low blow, ‘Kate’.”
“Why, because that’s ‘yours’?”
“No.”
“Because you’d prefer to believe in your nice little metaphor, that
makes the Federation synonymous with ‘the bad whites’ in the past, and
lets you play ‘Chief Joseph’ to your heart’s content?”
I once said he seemed like a ‘bear person’. I’ve come to see that
that was a pretty stupid comment to make under the circumstances. A smug
assumption that I knew things about the nature of his beliefs that I
didn’t know at all; a joke I shouldn’t have made. But he *does* make me
think of a bear, or a bull, and never more than when he’s angry.
Something large, and dark, and ember-eyed. Anger granted mass and
velocity. As he shifted his weight and leaned into the argument I knew I
had a bear on the raft with me. An angry bear.
“It was *wrong*. So was the fucking Cardassian treaty.”
“It was wrong, but it was the best they could come up with. The
Treaty… it was the best *we* knew how to manage. And unlike the Wallowa
decision, there was some effort put into making reparations. We do better
these days, commander. And the Prime Directive has a lot to do with
that.”
“Right. So I can go back to my chair and keep quiet now. Kathryn
Janeway has summed up the past, present and future in one simple lesson.
No more radical ideas, no more anger, and most of all no more loud-mouthed
sermons from the Maquis XO. I’ll tell you a few humorous anecdotes about
my sordid past screw-ups, I’ll trot out the ‘mysteries’ of my culture and
religion, you’ll marvel at what a profound fellow I am, and forget me as
soon as there’s a command decision on the line. A good little apple,
Maquis in a red uniform.”
“You can’t blame me for that, commander. I didn’t force you into the
uniform, and I didn’t tell you to ‘shut up and sit down’. You’re the one
who decided to wear the uniform. You decided the first time, you decided
the second time, and you’ve decided again. Ever think maybe you liked it,
commander? Or does that threaten your self-image too much?”
“The hell you didn’t force me into the uniform. It was part of the
deal — or did I miss something? As I recall, you’re the one who insisted
it would be a ‘Starfleet’ ship.”
“And now? I no sooner give you the choice of shucking the damned
thing than you weld yourself into it so tight I was beginning to think
it’d put down roots in your skin and you’d have to have it surgically
removed to take a shower.”
“I’m damned if I’m going to go out in civvies just because you and
Magda cut a deal. I’ve been trying for two goddamned years to get you to
the point where you could stand to see just one Maquis as something other
than shit; I’ve been playing good little apple so long you could make
cider out of me, and when I finally screw up in spades, and start a
mutiny, *then* you suddenly decide to make best friends with Magda, grant
the Maquis civilian status, and bless me with the magnanimity of getting
‘integrated’ into the holy command team. You know something? I’d hoped I
could earn your trust; it used to drive me crazy that no matter how hard I
tried all you saw any time I raised my head was ‘wild Maquis’. But I’m
not sure I want your trust as a fucking consolation prize; the reward for
being so big a screw-up I can’t try to tell you about who I am and who my
crew is without nearly getting us all killed.”
Right then, for the first time since he’d come aboard, I felt as
though he hated me. As though he was *enjoying* hating me. It hurt more
than I wanted to know. I pulled back, fighting the hurt with anger.
“Damn.”
“What?”
“That’s what this is about? I hurt your damned feelings by finally
getting some sense? That’s wonderful, Chakotay. It would have been
*fine* if you could have shown me the error of my ways, like Moses coming
down from the mountain. But I finally figure out that I’ve been screwing
up for two years, and try to do something about it, and you go into a sulk
for weeks because you didn’t get the star role. ‘Mr. Wisdom’ didn’t get
to illuminate the pig-headed, straight-line, tight-assed Starfleet
officer. So you turn it around, take a mutiny that I started by leaving
explosives lying around in spite of all common sense, and find a way to
blame yourself for lighting a match in a dark room.”
“That’s not it.”
“No?”
“No, dammit. I should have known better. I knew how much I hated
feeling like second class citizen; I should have thought how much the rest
of the Maquis would hate it. Me, I loved being Fleet again, and it still
hurt dealing with you and Tuvok, and everyone seeing me as a threat if I
so much as looked sideways.”
“Chakotay, we never meant you to think that.”
“Bullshit! You and Tuvok went a long way out of your way to make
sure I knew just how far the pips would carry me. Are you really going to
try to tell me you two didn’t do everything you could to keep me
‘contained’?”
I closed my eyes. “Sometimes. Chakotay, why the hell are we having
this fight? I’ve messed up. You’ve messed up too. But overall we’ve
held things together, and lately we seemed to be making some progress. Do
we really need to tear each other apart just when things are looking up?”
“Shit. Computer, terminate holoprogram.”
The lake disappeared, along with our robes. Chakotay stalked over to
where his uniform lay in a pile on the floor of the holodeck. I was
blinking, trying to adjust my eyes to the glare of the lights after the
dark of the lake.
“Chakotay, what….”
“Commander.”
“What?”
“Commander. It was easier that way. Me commander, you captain.
Nice, simple, no fights. Let’s stick to basics. I’ll come to attention,
keep to the background, let myself get shanghaied into the occasional
propaganda appearance at Sandrine’s, and never make any more dangerous
suggestions. That should keep you content until the next time Tuvok comes
up with some reason to worry about my loyalties.”
I damned near warped across the space between us and grabbed his
elbow, spinning him. He swung with the pull, and we stood glaring at each
other.
“What the hell is going on with you? You’ve been miserable for
weeks, you’re jumpy as a cat, I can’t get two words out of you half the
time without twisting your arm first, you’re letting the circle die for
lack of a bit of attention, B’Elanna’s worried about you, Magda’s worried
about you, *I’m* worried about you, you’re locking yourself away from
everyone. Now we’ve gone from getting along to firing photon torpedoes in
under half an hour, and I don’t understand it. I don’t understand *you*.”
“No. You don’t.”
“Then help, dammit. I’m not a Betazoid. I don’t read minds.”
“Just as well. Sorry, I think I feel safer not handing you the
inside of my head. You might add that to the security files, along with
everything else.”
“When the hell have I ever used that against you, commander?”
He blinked, closed his eyes. “You haven’t.”
And suddenly the dynamic was gone; whatever had driven the fight
dematerializing in seconds. The anger wasn’t gone, but the ability to
carry the war on drained away from us, and we stood there, two frightened,
middle-aged officers; looking stupid, standing in swim suits in the middle
of a gray room.
After a moment, he started pulling on his uniform again. I wanted to
hit him, and didn’t know why; I wanted to say “I’m sorry”, and didn’t know
what for. I wanted to run to some-one and scream “He started it”, but I
wasn’t sure he had. I wasn’t sure who had.
And who was I going to run to, anyway? I was the goddamned captain.

I started putting on my own uniform, glad that the water in my suit
had disappeared with the lake and the robes. Wet swim suit shows when it
soaks through black uniforms.
We left the holodeck together. I invented an excuse to go to
sickbay, he invented a reason to go check out the status of the trip, and
we avoided the embarrassment of riding the same turbolift up to our
quarters together. It didn’t stop me from lying in bed wondering how it
had all gone sour so fast, how we were going to handle it the next day, or
whether he was having as little luck sleeping as I was — and it didn’t
stop it from hurting.

Chakotay and I sat bridge watch together the next morning. There
weren’t any problems. For all the fight hovered between us, we seemed to
be in synch, and the difficulty was more a persistent hesitance, something
blind and baffled between us that wanted resolution, but not armed
warfare. But we managed to split our duties, run maneuvers, and keep up a
steady dialogue as well as usual, with no noticeable difference besides a
subdued quiet, like the hush after a storm in August. That afternoon I
left Chakotay in charge of bridge routine, and retreated to the ready room
to review the report he’d handed me when I came back from my lunch break.
It was as thorough as you could expect under the circumstances. He’d
done a magnificent job. I could see why he’d been worried the previous
evening. Taken as a whole our situation didn’t look good. We’d have to
get to Abbyzh-dira intact, manage a trade under what looked like uncertain
circumstances, and get out again without being attacked by an array of
possible enemies that we couldn’t evaluate precisely, but which looked
like a potential disaster in the making. And he was right, we had to
decide what, if anything, we had to offer in return for medical
assistance. The one thing that was clear was that all reports indicated
the Kithtri would never give us that without a return.
When Chakotay came in for our usual end-of-day review I was spooling
through the report again, wondering what the hell we were going to do.
He came in warily. We’d been burned, as surely as Chakotay’d been
burned on Egypt, and I think we were both afraid that away from the eyes
of the bridge team the anger that had flared up the night before would
spark again. But fights were fights, Voyager was Voyager; we had jobs to
do, and that was, in the final reckoning, the only concern. And, unstated
but there, neither of us wanted to return to the days when all we had to
share was a uniform and a duty. We were both isolated from the rest of
the crew for a variety of reasons, and even if we’d hated each other on
sight some kind of friendship would have been preferable to the kind of
solitude that had prevailed before we’d begun to find our way to whatever
‘command unity’ had granted us. The evenings since the Strike had been
sweet, and more than I’d ever really hoped to have as long as I held the
captaincy, or he the position of XO. A new dispensation. I looked across
the desk, meeting his eyes, and smiled; tentatively, but as sincerely as I
could. “How about coffee? Or are you still avoiding caffeine?”
His eyes were wary, gun shy, but he returned a smile as fragile and
hesitant as my own. “Coffee’s fine, today. Later this evening, no. But
it’s early enough for it to wear off, and I could use the jolt.” I was
about to get up and get it when he shook his head. “Let me. It’s not
like your replicator is any different from mine, and I owe you a cup or
two on my own credits. The usual?”
“Black and lethal.”
“Right. The usual.”
He fetched the cups, handed me mine, and pulled up his chair.
“So. Did you have time to review it?”
“Mm-hmmm. You’re right. It’s going to be dangerous, and the risks
may not pay off. And we should be thinking about what we have to offer.”
I took a deep sip of the coffee, enjoying the near scorching heat, and the
bite of the brew, then looked at him over the brim. “You did a damned
fine job, you know. I’ve gotten worse reports on a situation from trained
archivists, with every resource they could dream of at their finger tips.
You’ve pulled information out where anyone else would have given up and
left it in the hands of the gods.”
He shrugged, but looked pleased. “Like you said, you might as well
get some use out of my being a web monkey.”
“It takes more than just a web monkey to make the connections you
did. Chakotay, I’m not happy about this, but you’re right, we do have to
make some kind of decision about what we’re willing to trade. I was
wondering; would you be willing to try to assemble some kind of report, or
evaluation of what we have to put on the bargaining table? Not just a
‘lily-white’ version, but anything, and everything. I’m not saying I’ll
approve all of it, or even any of it. But you seem to have some sense of
what you think we could do, and I’d just as soon have the project in your
hands. I trust your good sense not to give away anything we really can’t
afford to give up, or let out of our sight.”
“Is this another consolation prize?” His eyes were dark. A bit
angry. A bit insecure.
I felt my shoulders tighten, and made a conscious effort to relax.
“I mean just what I said. I want to look at what you put together — and
I’m not making any promises. You’ve won some ground, commander. Take
what you’ve won, and save the next assault on my ethics for another day.”
“I thought you said I should keep making you think.”
“I did. I didn’t say I’d like it.”
“It’s my job.”
“Sometimes I think it’s your vocation. A mission from God.”
He was impassive, watching me; then he gave an frustrated sigh.
“Truce. I’ll have the list to you by day after tomorrow. I’ve got some
of the preliminary work done already. But if I’m going to take the time
I’d as soon know you really will look at it.”
“I will. What’s next on our list?”
We spent the next half hour going over day to day ship routine.
Neelix was on half duty, and we’d had to assign him extra assistants in
the messhall to fill in for both him and Kes, though in the last month or
two of her pregnancy she’d already been down to doing little more than
chopping vegetables and stirring the odd pot of mystery stew. Energy
output ratings, reports from Life Support, a run down on who was in
trouble for what, and a few guesses as to why. The usual. A bit of this,
a bit of that, and we were done for the day. Chakotay left, and I
silently congratulated the two of us. One close call, but no real fights.
Working out a new team balance was hell.
Two days later he gave me the list. I was glad I hadn’t promised
anything. Just spooling over some of his suggestions made me feel like a
traitor to every ideal I’d ever had. I couldn’t imagine how I’d feel if
the day ever came when I found myself approving them. It felt like
another assault… like a little of me died every time I had to bend the
rules I’d believed in. At least he’d stayed well away from weapons
technology, and the ever-questionable transporter and replicator tech.
Apparently there were some things he couldn’t stomach himself, even on an
“anything goes” list; either that or his sense of survival had cut in, and
he’d decided not to find out just how tolerant I was. I hoped it was the
first. If it was the second, command unity was farther away than I’d
dreamed, and his ethics were further from mine than I’d believed.

The approach to Abbyzh-dira was amazing.
There were no ion storms in the vicinity at the time, which left us
with full access to our sensor readings, and the view was incredible.
Chakotay’s report had been accurate: the planetary system was ringed with
band after band of the sorts of wild energy fluxes you find in the
Badlands. Funnels, whirlpools — Scylla and Charibdis in lethal
incarnations. Careening chunks of stony fragments catapulting in wild
trajectories. The route we had to take was tortuous. I found myself
feeling that the Kithtri couldn’t have been better protected from easy
invasion if they’d planned their defenses. Then, thinking of the rumors
about the race, I couldn’t help wondering if they had. Whether created,
or merely conveniently placed, the energies formed a shifting maze with
Abbyzh-dira’s sun and system nested securely the center, the mystery in
the heart of the enigma. Voyager had to proceed at a slow crawl, dropping
to sublight speed for the last few days of our approach. We were on
constant alert for freebooters, but got no clear indication of their
presence. A few ghosts, a few echoes of readings that might have been
predators lurking in hiding… or might not have. More certain were the
bunched clusters of trade ships picking their way to the system from all
directions. It was all just enough to keep us nervous.
As if the maze hadn’t been enough to do that already.
Paris and Chakotay were both in something approaching heaven and hell
combined. The complexity of navigation, and the nervous search for
attackers had them both wound tight… as did the fact that there was
enough going on that we’d decided to twin the controls, with Chakotay
“assisting” Paris, doing a first round of course projections, so that
Paris could fine tune them with minimal fuss as he came to the crucial
moments of decision. The two couldn’t seem to decide if they were at
odds, with Paris muttering under his breath about backseat drivers, and
Chakotay bitching about jackass hot-shots who thought they could fly
blindfolded; or whether they were somehow joined in a shared amazement at
the wonderful weirdness of the place, and the chance to show off their
‘fancy flying’, competing half-amiably to see which could come up with the
most elegant and showy solutions to the navigational problems presented.
B’Elanna, who’d come up from engineering to run the bridge console, Harry,
Samantha Wildman and I were having giggling fits listening to them, and
they both seemed to be getting a charge out of it, their insults and
mutters getting more theatrical and overblown each round. Tuvok looked
long suffering, but I could tell even he was relieved at the good humor
that seemed to be taking the bridge after the weeks of lethargy. Vulcans
may not know what to make of emotional, undisciplined races, but even they
prefer laughter to sour misery if they have to be exposed to emotionalism
in the first place.
Then we passed the last barrier, our trajectory bringing us around a
whirling tunnel of coruscating energy…

“Sonofabitch….” Tom’s voice was a near whisper. The view must
have gotten the better of him.
Chakotay nodded, his eyes glued to the screen. “Yeah….”

End section 4.

Standard disclaimers.

Raisins and Almonds.
Peg Robinson, c. 1996

It was beautiful. A scintillating sun; a yellow dwarf, but with a
magnitude at the top of the limits. A blazing mantle of minor flares
stirred and flickered over the surface like windblown breakers. Eight
planets spun in stately orbit. Second out was Abbyzh-dira, its rings a
majesty around it. Beyond the rings was a glittering swarm of ships like
a necklace of gems, with more coming in or leaving even as we watched.
Paris whistled softly under his breath. Harry stood transfixed behind his
ops console.

“I’ve never seen anything like that.”
“Harry, I don’t think *anyone’s* seen anything like that. If that’s
not one of a kind I’ll give you Ricki’s program, and give up women and
drinking.”
I smiled, staring as hard as anyone else on the bridge. “I think
Ricki’s safe — and the women and wine had better look out when you come
in. If there’s anything else like that in the universe it’s time to look
up God and have a little word with her about divine excess. Harry, what
do your readings indicate about that place?”
Harry jumped, and got a flustered ‘oh, yeah’ look. He hurried to
sort out the information pouring into his station. While he ran through
the input the rest of us continued to admire the system arrayed before us,
and the wonder that was Abbyzh-dira.

It was stunning. Calling the display around the planet “rings” was a
bit like calling a supernova a light display: understatement carried to
extremes. The Kithtri name for the planet was perfect. The World of
Veils. There were tier after tier of rings; swirling, tattered,
opalescent, radiant, joined by trailing streamers of dust that seemed to
flutter; though that was more illusion than fact, an illusion fostered by
the dazzle of light off of millions of reflective particles, and by the
rotation of the mass of rings offset by the slightly different rotation of
the planet just barely visible through the open gaps. The ships that
clustered around shifted slowly, jockeying for position as ships left, as
more entered the crowded space around the planet below. Some held orbit
at the lower levels, some hovered in stationary positions above, with
freight shuttles weaving courses gracefully between. The effect was like
a Risan Kambri dancer; a provocative whirl of light and shimmer, with
occasional glimpses of the lush, inviting planet hidden inside the
surrounding glory.

“It isn’t natural.”
Paris moaned like a man in love for the first time; an irony coming
from our resident Casanova. “Harry, Harry, Harry — of *course* it’s not
natural. Supernatural, radiant, divine — pure magic! Not natural.”
Harry gave a disgruntled huff. “No. I mean *it’s not natural*. I
mean, it’s artificial. Whatever is going on, the rings are being held in
place by a generated force field. And it’s putting off an ionic charge
you wouldn’t believe. Perfect to break up sensor readings, perfect to
deflect and diffuse most of the radiation from the sun. It’s probably the
only thing that makes the world below habitable. But it *isn’t natural*.
As in NFIN: ‘Not Found In Nature’.”
Tuvok raised an eyebrow. “One might wonder whether to categorize the
result as art or technology.”
“Both. I like the way these people think — practical, beautiful,
and showy as hell. If you’re going to do something, do it up brown and
leave the competition gasping.” Chakotay gazed with delighted wonder at
the view in the screen.
B’Elanna shook her head admiringly. “What competition? If you can
do that the rest of the universe might as well just pack their bags and go
home, except maybe the Q, or the Organians.”
The bridge fell silent for a moment as we contemplated that less than
reassuring thought. Then Harry spoke up.
“We’re being hailed from the planet’s surface, captain.”
“Put them on screen, Mr. Kim.”
Abbyzh-dira dissolved, replaced by as provocative a mystery.
The first impression was of eyes. Beautiful, elegant eyes, ringed
with what might easily have been kohl, if it hadn’t had a shimmer to it
that kohl never had. Bluer than blue, long lashed, lids and brows
sculpted by a master. Only eyes.
There was nothing else to tell me anything about my caller.
Everything else was hidden by a cascade of glimmering beads, streamers of
tinsel, silken threads in a hundred colors, all shifting and sliding
across the face and body hidden beneath, but never parting at any point to
reveal the person hidden inside. All I could see was eyes, and that
swirling veil.
“We are the Kithtri; the body and the soul. Who are you, who come to
the market?”
The voice was in that range that could have been low alto, or high
tenor. No gender identification easily possible. I responded.
“I am Captain Kathryn Janeway, and my vessel is the Federation
starship Voyager.”
The eyes sparkled, lighting up, seeming to laugh. “You are rumored,
captain. Word of you has reached us from the far lands, and our souls
have sung of you. Do you come to trade?”
“Perhaps. We are considering the possibility. But while we’re
considering, we would appreciate help with a more immediate problem. A
member of my crew is ill, a woman of a race related to your own. Kes is an
Ocampan; perhaps you have heard of them?”
“We have heard of them. What of them?”
“Nothing, though it is good to know you have heard of them. It
increases the chances of your being able to help us. We were hoping you
could determine what is making Kes ill, and help us cure her.”
The eyes blinked and laughed; the veils shivered as the body beneath
shrugged. “That is a matter for trade, captain. Come to the market, and
we will talk. In the meantime, thou art welcome in our space. Thy ship
in our haven, thy bodies in our home, thy souls in our tabernacle. Be
welcome.”
The screen shimmered, and returned to the image of Abbyzh-dira.
Paris shook his head. “Well, *that* was certainly different.”
“On the contrary, Lieutenant Paris. It would appear to me only too
consistent with the pattern of first contacts in this Quadrant.
Uninformative, unhelpful, and unintelligible.” Tuvok sounded as though
he’d been sucking lemons.
Chakotay snorted. “C’mon, Tuvok. In comparison with some of the
greetings we’ve received, that was sweetness and light. No weapons, no
threats, and no bad rep. Let’s give it a little time, and see how it
shapes up. At least they’re willing to let us stay, they’re giving us
their blessings, and they seem to want to trade. They could have sent us
packing.”
“I do not find their blessings reassuring, commander. They are
playing with us. That they feel they can afford to do so would indicate
that they are either unaware of the potential of Voyager — or are
sufficiently strong that they need have no concerns. If we must deal with
these beings, it would be preferable to do so from a position of strength.
Can you say we shall be doing so?”
Chakotay looked out the screen at the shimmering veils of
Abbyzh-dira. He shook his head. “No. Maybe we’ll have to make do with
good will, instead of strength. Sometimes that’s enough.”
“Sometimes. However statistics would indicate that power is more
often successful than good will or philosophy, when dealing with political
entities.”
Chakotay looked at my security officer, a wry smile twisting his
mouth. “You’re one hell of a fascinating Vulcan, Tuvok. From what I know
of Surak’s philosophy I’d expect you to be the first on the ship to argue
for the potential for peace.”
Tuvok arched a brow, his gaze meeting Chakotay’s without turning
away. “And given the history of your people, and your commitment to the
Maquis, I would expect you to be the first to point out the dangers of
contact between differing cultures, and the potential for violence in such
encounters: yet you have repeatedly chosen to take extreme risks in the
name of peace. By the standards of my people you would be much respected,
while I can only aspire to one day reach complete accord with the way of
peace, and labor to achieve a full understanding of the principal of the
IDIC. I still seek a wisdom that you appear to come to naturally.”
Chakotay flinched. “Not wisdom. Just optimism, and the belief that
the only way we can have peace is if we take some risks to give it a
chance. Nothing more, Tuvok. I’m not completely lost to realism.”
Tuvok looked at him, expressionless. “Nor was Surak, commander. He
chose to die for the same principal you have just stated — though I will
admit, he stated it far more eloquently. His final speech is renowned,
and changed my world. You might wish to read it sometime. I believe you
would find his comments…enlightening.”
Chakotay looked away, uneasy. Tuvok looked ready to carry the
discussion further, but I cut him off. Chakotay’d been too clearly
disturbed by the question of his role as a ‘holy man’ after his return
from Egypt for me to want the issue carried further; at least not on my
bridge, and not in the middle of an on-going first contact situation.
“Enough. Planning time. Paris, you have the com. Chakotay, Tuvok,
B’Elanna, to the briefing room. Harry, contact Mr. Neelix and have him
meet us there. We have an away mission to work out.”

The meeting went quickly. It was clear that the best and possibly
the only way to deal with the Kithtri was to attempt trade. I assigned
the away team to Chakotay this time, as he had more experience in
diplomatic contact than Tuvok, but I kept both of them on the team. They
may not always get along, but their skills and approaches balance each
other well, and I knew I wanted Tuvok’s level head involved in this.
Sending a legend-minded hero to a land of legend was tempting fate. The
final cut was Chakotay, Tuvok, Neelix, Paris to pilot the shuttle through
Abbyzh-dira’s veils, Ensign Klaus to swell Tuvok’s security team, and
B’Elanna to try to make an on-the-spot assessment of the technological
capabilities and needs of the Kithtri. I handed Chakotay a memory chip as
the meeting came to an end.
“It’s a list of trade items I picked from the report you put
together. The first tier you can use as opening offers. I’m not too
worried about trading them. Second tier use only to hint at more to come
— and try not to give away too much. I’m less happy with them, but could
manage to justify the risk.”
“And the third tier?”
“There is no third tier. If you don’t even get a nibble, come back.
I’m not going any further than this. Certainly not without further
discussion here on Voyager.”
He looked grim, but nodded, pocketing the chip. Then he left to
rendezvous with the rest of the team at the shuttle bay.

We lost contact with the shuttle twenty minutes after launch, as they
entered Abbyzh-dira’s veils, but that had been expected. However the
Kithtri were boosting their com signals, the shuttle and the com badges
didn’t have enough kick to send a signal reliably through the disrupting
influence of the ionically charged barrier. Communication was going to be
dicey if the Kithtri didn’t cooperate, and transporters would have been
not only useless, but lethal. Voyager settled in to wait. I could almost
feel my crew holding its breath, waiting to see what would happen to Kes;
to see what would come of the contact with the beautiful, mysterious
planet hovering in our screens. It was pacing time. The shuttle would
take over three hours to get down and about the same back, depending on
our orbital postion when they left. Then add in however long it took to
deal with the Kithtri. Plenty of time to twiddle our thumbs.
Chin didn’t notify me of their approach until after twenty-three
hundred, ship’s time. By then I’d settled down for the evening, and had
to rush like crazy to get back in uniform to go meet them.
It took me longer than I expected to reach the shuttle, and when I
did get there I thought for a moment I’d missed them. The bay was dark,
the shuttle settled in its parking space. Not even the usual maintenance
crews — or I thought so until I saw one of B’Elanna’s ensigns slipping
quietly past. I was about to ask what was going on when she shook her
head, and gestured silently to the bay beyond. I looked, saw nothing, and
continued in.
As I came around the side of the shuttle I found Chakotay. He sat in
the open hatch, propped against the frame, his back to me. He sighed, and
ran his hands over his face, yawned, and then shifted, preparing to rise.
“Might as well stay where you are. You can brief me here as well as
anywhere.”
He jumped a little, and gave a tired smile. “Just as glad to be
spared the trip to the ready room. I’m beat.”
“I can tell. You look like you’ve been through the wars. Where’s
the rest of the team?”
“I sent them on to bed. They’re as beat as me, and there wasn’t any
reason to keep them up. Their observations can wait until we have a
briefing meeting tomorrow. It’s not like we came back with good news, or
anything you’d need to make a fast decision on. Even Tuvok looked tired,
for a change. Must have been sensory overload. That’s one hell of a
place.”
I settled myself on the floor of the shuttle, bracing my own back on
the opposite side of the hatch.
You can usually tell when someone’s back from an away team. It’s not
just the dirt, or that they’re usually tired, and scratched up, and
sunburned. They move differently, trying to make the adjustment between
differing gravity levels. They *smell* different. Sometimes it’s mud,
and swamp. Sometimes green grass smells. Sometimes the smoke of
campfires, sometimes dust and sand, or salt seas; alien but familiar in
their iodine tang. Chakotay smelled like faint traces of sweat, overlaid
by a heavy perfume of spices and flowers and fruit, with accents of
incense smoke and roasted meat. And his face was pink. Starfleet has
spent a fortune developing long-lasting sunscreens, and away teams always
forget to wear the stuff.
“You’ve got a sunburn again. Let me get the shuttle med kit. At
least then you’ll only lose the top layer.”
“Leave it. What’s done is done. I might as well let it sit. Maybe
that way I’ll remember to cover up next time.”
“Not a chance. Me, I cover up: red head’s complexion, even if I
don’t have the hair to go with it. I burn and freckle. You think you’re
indestructible. A bit of a burn isn’t going to change that.”
He shook his head. “Not indestructible. Just stupid. I don’t think
first.” He closed his eyes for a moment, as though to rest them.
“You’re a tactician, not a strategist. I bet you’re good at finding
shade, even if you forget the sunscreen. So, tell me about it.”
He leaned back, and opened his eyes again, looking into a remembered
world. He described what he saw with an odd, detached awe; weary and
wondering.
“It’s incredible. I kept expecting to see Sinbad, or Ali Baba. A
bazaar out of an Arabian fairy tale. We landed at the edge of the trade
zone, and had to walk through the place to make our rendezvous. You
wouldn’t believe it, Kathryn. Animals, dancers, food stalls, music, trade
goods like you’ve never seen in your life, even on Risa; and everything
shaded by flowers on trellises; and beds and drifts of them between every
stall; and tents, and pavilions. There were at least five or six dozen
races represented there, just on the way in and out. And fountains! You
should see it. Fountains with fish swimming around in them, all the
colors of the rainbow. And bright? You don’t realize it at first — the
rings break up the light enough that you don’t really *see* it, until you
realize that there’s light everywhere. I felt like I was in a fantasy.
Then we got to the Bargaining Hall. No fantasy.”
“Mmm?”
He sighed, and ran a hand over his face again. He looked across at
me, his eyes sad and hurting. “I might as well not have wasted my time
being angry with you this morning. It wouldn’t have mattered if you’d
cleared everything on the list, including the stuff I *didn’t* like. Three
tiers, four, five. It wouldn’t have mattered. Straight deal: they’ll
trade us a med expert. Outright trade, we get him entirely, no
replacements, no returns. In exchange they want one of ours. A med
expert for a med expert. No dickering, no debate. Neelix tried, Tuvok
tried, I tried. Even B’Elanna tried, and if you’ve never seen B’Elanna
trying to be diplomatic you’ve missed something special. No go. They
aren’t moving.”
“Shit.”
“You said it.”
“So they are slavers.”
He shrugged. “Hard call. It’s not slaving in the way we think of
it. They had their ‘expert’ there. He was helping with the deal. Didn’t
seem to mind in the least. If anything he seemed delighted at the thought
of going along with us, and offended that we wouldn’t deal. I’ve heard of
slaves who bought into the system, but this seemed to go beyond anything I
ever imagined. Like being traded away to complete strangers was an
adventure, or a picnic, not exile and bondage. I kept wondering if he
would have felt the same way if we’d been Kazon, or Cardassians. The
scary thing is, I think he would have. An adventure, nothing more. In any
case, we screwed it up. Not a hope. Neelix cried on the way back. Just
once it would have been nice to get it right.”
“Stop it.”
His head snapped up, eyes startled. “What?”
“I said *stop it*. I’ve had it. You want to blame yourself for
something stick to the things you have some control over. Jorland, Seska,
how many planets you find in the archives — you don’t have any control
over those things. Damn it, you’re the best XO I’ve ever worked with.
You’re ten times better than I had any right to ask for. Stop acting like
a Ferengi bankrupt. The self-pity is getting thick enough to slice, and
it isn’t pretty.”
He just sat for a few minutes, arms draped across his knees. He
shook his head. “I take responsibility for what I do — and for what I do
wrong.”
“Then at least get them straight. The Kithtri being slavers isn’t
your fault, and I’m not going to put up with you acting like it is.”
“And the Strike?”
I sighed. “We split, maybe? You should have thought it out a bit
better first. I should have dealt with the Maquis from the beginning. I
think that I get to claim ‘ultimate cause’, though. I was captain — and
the only reason I didn’t deal with it was because the whole situation
scared me green. I still think all you did was blunder into it.”
“I should have made you look at the question when I came on board.
Instead I settled for the ‘safe’ route. It was too easy to pretend it
wasn’t really a problem, and settle for keeping my mouth shut, and blaming
you and Tuvok.”
“It’s not like Tuvok or I went out of our way to encourage you.”
He nodded. We sat a while longer. Then he laughed. “Best XO you’ve
ever worked with?”
“Mmm-hmm. You’re certainly better than I was, when I had the spot.
I think Miethaf-akki had me promoted just to get me out of his hair.” I
grinned. “You don’t know how lucky you are, Chakotay. The situation
*could* have been reversed. You’d have hated me as first officer. There
wouldn’t have been room on Crazy Horse for the two of us. I’m a pushy
broad.”
He snorted. “I hadn’t noticed.”
“That’s what I love about you: you’re so diplomatic. Seriously,
you’re good at the job. Not perfect, but neither am I. We’ll work it
out. You notice details I don’t, and as much as I hate it, you make me
look at things I’d rather pretend weren’t there. Keep it up. And quit
torturing yourself. If you don’t, I’ll have to send you to the nearest
thing we have to a counselor. Do you want to spend the rest of the trip
in therapy with the holodoctor?”
He howled, sliding slowly down the door frame. “I surrender! I’m
wonderful, marvelous, magnificent… you should be down on your knees
thanking me for working with you. Is that good enough, or do I have to
get even more egotistical?”
I chuckled. “I’ll think about it.”
“Get back to me when you figure it out — I have to turn in, or I
won’t make tomorrow’s briefing. I set it up for oh-nine hundred.”
“Ouch. Coffee time.”
He scrambled up, and reached down to give me a hand. I grabbed his
wrist, he grabbed mine, we both heaved, and I was up in one clean sweep.
We stood there a moment, then he looked away. I reached out, and brushed
the burn on his cheekbone.
“Get that looked at on your way up, Chakotay. I won’t have you
torturing yourself. Not even for forgetting to wear sunscreen.”
He sighed, and grinned, looking at me from the corner of his eye as
he started for the door. “Yes, Mama Janeway.”
“Watch it, ‘Abba Chakotay’. Two can play that game.”
“Where’d you hear that?”
“Your loving crew. Anielewicz, to be exact. He was telling me in
precise detail why you had a right to worry about Cherel, and I didn’t.
I’m pretty sure she’s all right by the way.”
He looked relieved, as though that was one more thing that had been
weighing on him. “Good. I wasn’t sure…”
“I’m not myself. But Anielewicz seems to think she took Sa`ad down
before he did what he intended. And I checked with Magda and she agrees,
and thinks Cherel has what it takes to cope with any fear or confusion
that’s left. And she’s just as sure that your old crew can handle it if
there is any lashback. They’re a loyal lot, you know. And they think the
world of you — ‘Abba’.”
He moaned. “Can’t trust ’em. Next thing they’ll be telling you
about the time the Cardassians hit while I was in the shower-tube.”
“Oh *really*? Tell on, commander. I’m fascinated.”
He grinned. “Let’s just say the Cardassians were very impressed.”
“Terrible man!”
I shook my head, listening to his retreating footsteps and his
laughter. A terrible man… but I rather liked him.

The meeting the next morning was grim. Coffee in front of every
chair, or whatever the person in question preferred to coffee. I’d hauled
in the lot of them. We even had the doctor on line, so he could take
part. Chakotay’d apparently stayed up at least a bit later the night
before pulling together a quick survey of the mission. We went over that,
and then everyone who’d been down added their own impressions. It took
forever, and didn’t really add anything vital to the tale Chakotay’d told
me the night before. When we were finished with the briefing I looked
around the table.
“Well, people. That’s the current state of things. They want a med
officer we don’t have, and couldn’t spare if we did, and wouldn’t trade
even if we could spare him. In return we’d find ourselves the proud
owners of a sentient life form, but with no guarantee they could do a
thing for Kes. From here things don’t look too promising. Does anyone
have any bright ideas? I’ll admit, I’m dry.”
My officers looked around, all apparently hoping the person next to
them had an inspiration or two.
Nada.
B’Elanna sighed. “I wish they’d accepted my idea that we give them
our med files. We could have done that. They said the files wouldn’t be
any use without an experienced doctor to interpret them.”
“Absolutely correct. A perceptive race, if difficult to negotiate
with. That is the reason for my existence. Information without context
is useless, or worse. It’s a shame there’s no way to duplicate me and
send me to the planet. Under those circumstances we’d have a bargaining
point.” The doctor’s voice was tart and persimmony, and smug in his
belief in his own worth.
B’Elanna listened to him, then an idea bloomed somewhere in that
sharp brain. Her eyes met mine.
I could almost see where she was going. Sci-psi, maybe — a
specialized talent. I shook my head. “No. I couldn’t allow it. All our
medical information — you have no idea how that could be misused. And
the technology to do the thing… Do we really want to deal with that?
Not to mention the question of the ethics of trading one sentient life
form for another.”
“But captain, we could *do* it. It’s not like we’d be giving them
replicator technology. If he were real, I mean *human*, and wanted to do
it, would you stop him?”
We’ve considered allowing people to leave ship before. It’s a hard
call: every person on Voyager is a potential vector for Federation
technology and ideas to seep through the Quadrant. It worried me. But my
decision had always been that I couldn’t constrain individuals to stay
with us if they chose to leave. I wasn’t sure I’d survive that ruling if
it ever came to be tried back home, but I wasn’t going to turn Voyager
into a space-going prison if I could help it.
“I’d probably allow it. But this isn’t exactly a parallel case. We
wouldn’t be sending *him*. We’d be sending a clone, a copy. I’m not sure
we have the right to choose for the clone — and I know we don’t have the
right to terminate that clone if it doesn’t choose to go.”
“Why wouldn’t he? If the original would choose to go, the clone
would, yes?”
Chakotay waved a hand gently between our faces. “Chakotay, hailing
the techno-continuum. Excuse me, but you two have lost the rest of us.
*What* clone?”
We exchanged glances, B’Elanna looking slightly guilty. We’d
intended the hologenerators as a surprise, for both the doctor and
Chakotay. I shrugged, and nodded, and B’Elanna waded in.
“We’ve been working on free-standing hologenerators so the doctor can
leave the sickbay. We haven’t been able to give the generators the
ability to create a full-size body yet — he’d be a ghost. But if we
replicated enough memory we could copy all the doctor’s files down to a
portable computer, hook it up to the generator, and then we’d have a clone
of the doctor to take down and trade.”
The ring of officers around the table was silent as everyone there
contemplated the idea. Harry spoke first, his face worried.
“It’s still slaving. And the Prime Directive…”
I nodded. “I know, Ensign Kim. My own objections exactly. But it’s
still worth considering. Lieutenant Torres’ arguments are sound.”
Paris picked up his stylus, doodling randomly on his padd. “It’s an
idea. But would they buy it? If he’s just a ghost there’s not much he
could do in the way of actual practice.”
“Excuse me, but you underestimate my abilities radically,
Lieutenant.” The holodoctor practically radiated affront. “While my
physical abilities are crucial onboard Voyager, it is my expertise that
defines my value. In a community of trained physicians my lack of a
physical presence would matter very little compared to the range of
information I could offer. My programming incorporates not only the
factual information accumulated throughout the history of the
civilizations of the Federation and of outlying worlds and political
units, but the life experience of over one hundred medical professionals.
That is valuable beyond the mere ability to perform the mechanical
functions of practice.”
Neelix looked at him, longingly. “Would you do it? I shouldn’t ask,
I *know* I shouldn’t ask, but would you do it for Kes?” His eyes were
filling, his mane quivering as hope shook him.
The holodoctor nodded. “Of course, Mr. Neelix; I am programmed for
self-sacrifice. I would do it for any member of the crew. It is the
least I can do to ensure the well-being of the individuals under my care.
And it would be a novel experience. Just think — an entirely new body of
information made available to me, and the certainty that my own expertise
was as new to a culture as theirs is to me. It would be a great
adventure.”

End section 5.

Raisins and Almonds.
Peg Robinson, c. 1996

It was a brave speech, but I could see more than a hint of fear in
his eyes. “Before you commit yourself, doctor, Lieutenant Torres will
have to make an evaluation of what’s involved. Our technology is
impressive, but not all-powerful. If it’s possible, there are still
ethical questions to be considered, and, in the final reckoning, the
question of whether the Kithtri would accept such an exchange. And I’m
not at all sure I could permit it: even with your acceptance, we’d still
be taking part in an exchange of sentient beings. Slaving.”
Tuvok steepled his fingers. “The position of the doctor gives us a
point to ponder, captain. My impression of the Kithtri expert is that it
was as interested in effecting the exchange as its fellows. If it is
permissible to accept the doctor’s decision to be traded, is it not
logical that we accept the Kithtri doctor’s similar willingness?”
I closed my eyes. No Vulcan would endorse slavery as such, but
Vulcan logic can encompass some very unexpected things when it’s forced to
function across differing cultures. Of course, so can any other logic, or
ethic. That very diversity is desirable — and terrifying. I looked at
my security officer, knowing he wanted Kes to live, knowing that ‘logical’
for him often meant ‘desirable for Voyager’. The line between expedience
and ethics is hard to gauge.
“Tuvok, do you want to be the one to explain to a court martial
review board that we decided to accept slaving because the slaves were so
brainwashed or desperate that they’d willingly abandon everything they
know just to close a deal? Do you want to explain it to yourself?”
Tuvok looked grim. Harry was white.
Paris shook his head. “That’s not the problem, captain. We *know*
how we’ll behave. If we go through with it, there’s always manumission.
With a little luck that would get us past a review board — and past our
own consciences. It’s the holodoctor I’m worried about. He could be
walking into anything.”
The doctor looked wonderingly at Paris. “Thank you for your concern,
Lieutenant. I see Kes’ faith in the goodness of your heart wasn’t
unfounded. However, if I choose to take the risk, I see no need for you
to be unduly concerned with the results of my decision.”
“But it *wouldn’t* be you.” B’Elanna scowled, working through the
implications. “The captain’s right. It would be a clone, but not *you*.
I’m not sure you have the right to make the choice for another person,
even if he is a copy of you. I’m not even sure a copy would be an
identical person.”
Tuvok raised an eyebrow. “This would appear to be pointless
metaphysics, Lieutenant Torres. A difference which is no difference…”
Chakotay met Tuvok’s gaze, steady as a rock, cutting him off before
he could complete the clich . “…Can make all the difference in the
world to the one who goes to Abbyzh-dira, Tuvok. Metaphysics would seem
appropriate under the circumstances.”
Tuvok nodded. “I bow to your superior wisdom, commander.”
I could see a good solid “Shit” hovering in Chakotay’s mind, half an
inch from expression; but he was good, and held his peace.
I stood, collecting them all with a look. “I think we’ve gone as far
as is practical for today. Before we go any further we have to allow
B’Elanna to test the practicality of the cloning procedure, and I have to
make a decision on whether I’d allow it to go through if it is possible.
After that we’ll have to find out if the Kithtri would even accept the
offer. So let’s leave it for now. Dismissed.”
They left, all but Chakotay. He stood behind his seat, padd in hand,
searching for words. When he did speak, it was a simple statement. “It’s
a good idea.”
“I know.”
“If it works, it’s an answer.”
“I know.”
He nodded. “If you need to talk it through…”
“I know. ‘Abba Chakotay’: ready and willing to listen to a
captain’s woes. Thanks, but I think I need to think it out for myself for
a while. Are you going to the circle tonight?”
He made a face. “I think I need to think that out for a while.”
“The circle’s falling apart without you.”
“It’ll hold up. And if it doesn’t, maybe it’s time to let it go.”
“The ship needs it. The bridge — that’s the head of the ship. Your
circle is the heart. You’re making a community there in a way I can’t.
I’ve known that ever since you started it.”
“Kathryn, the ship will be fine, even without the circle. There’s
more than one way to make a community. The other evening at Sandrine’s
should prove that.”
“The other evening at Sandrine’s wouldn’t have happened without the
circle.”
He ducked his head. “I’ll think about it. Meantime, I think I’d
better go make sure we’re all safe and pirate-free. Later…” He slid
from the room.
I got the not-so-subtle impression he was glad to escape.

I stewed over the problem of the potential trade all day, dropping by
the sickbay after shift was over to talk to the doctor and make sure he
knew what he was facing: he or, I suppose more accurately, his clone.
“I assure you, captain, I’m well aware of the ramifications. I have
requested a complete report from Lieutenant Torres, and she has given me
all the information at her disposal. And I was present for the briefing,
as I’m sure you recall. May I ask, by the way, why I wasn’t informed of
your plans to ‘free’ me? It would have been nice to know that such
efforts were being made on my behalf. I realize that I am easily
forgotten, and I find those signs that I’m not *entirely* overlooked to
be… reassuring.”
I watched as he measured out a vial of blood for a test series.
Tuvok’s as it happened. Not much green blood on Voyager that isn’t
Tuvok’s. The doctor was as precise as a machine could be — and as
insecure as any biological. I smiled at him, aiming for reassurance. “I
think that’s why we didn’t want to tell you. If it worked — well, then
we got to surprise you. If it didn’t you wouldn’t be let down.”
He shot me a dour and reproving glance, even as his hands completed
the measurement and inserted the sample into the waiting receptacle of a
med-analysis tricorder. “I also wouldn’t have known I was held in
sufficient esteem to warrant such efforts. I realize that this may be
difficult for your biological circuits to encompass, but it is — pleasant
— to receive direct evidence of one’s value in the eyes of others. It is
one of the most delightful things about Kes. She never leaves me in any
doubt that she holds me in high esteem. I can only be grateful Lieutenant
Torres finally recovered those memory files for me. I would be poorer
without my memories of Kes.” His expression was wistful, and I found
myself reaching out to take his hand.
“Doctor, you *are* held in high esteem. Without you we’d be in a
hell of a spot. I’m afraid we sometimes forget to tell you; and I’m
afraid as long as you’re restricted to sickbay you mainly see us at our
worst. But we do value you.”
He blushed. Another refinement of his programming. I wondered, if
his clone went to the planet below, whether anyone would marvel over the
intricacy and subtlety our culture had created, and delight in the ‘man’
we had given birth to.
“Yes. Well. As I said, it’s nice to know. But you can rest
assured, unless my ‘clone’ differs substantially from my own programming I
— or ‘he’ — will be quite ready to volunteer for this exchange.” He
smiled, presenting a doleful image of false optimism; as cheering as
synthahol at a good Irish wake — which is to say ‘not very’. “Even if
worst comes to worst, and the Kithtri are unwelcoming hosts, I will have
the reassurance that at least one of us will remain on Voyager.
Immortality, of a sort. And if it brings us aid in treating Kes, it will
have been worth it.”
I nodded. He might be frightened, but he was adamant. He’d held his
position in the face of all my questions. “Very well, doctor. I’ll keep
that in mind when I make my decision. Thank you for talking to me, and
for your courage. Not everyone would be so willing to make that kind of
sacrifice.” I stood. “Well, if you don’t mind, I think I’ll be on my
way. I want to get to dinner early, before the circle meets, and I was
hoping to collect Commander Chakotay on the way.”
“You can save yourself a search, captain. He’s in the nursery.”
That was a surprise. I’d thought he was still slinking around the
outskirts, particularly since we’d put Kes in stasis.
“Really?”
“You seem surprised, captain. He’s been in frequently. At first he
came in with Mr. Neelix, but lately he’s been in on his own, also. I
would have thought you’d be aware of it.”
I shook my head. “His time’s his own, and I try not to pry. It’s a
small ship, and privacy’s at a premium.”
“Indeed? My impression is that most of your crew would prefer
community to privacy, captain. But perhaps I’m biased. I’m well
aquainted with solitude. It is possible I’m projecting my own desires
onto others.”
“Perhaps. If you don’t mind, I’ll just look in on the nursery.”
“By all means, captain. Kiss the baby for me, and tell her I’ll be
in to hold her soon. It worries me that so many untrained personnel are
involved in her care. Some things should be left to experts.”
I smiled and left, thinking that he and Tuvok sounded very much the
same: sure that no one knew how to juggle a baby but them.
The nursery was dim, as usual. Chakotay was sitting in the
armchair, half asleep; the baby drowsing, sprawled over his chest and
stomach. One hand held her secure, the other cradled her shoulder. She
had his pinkie locked in a rock-solid grip, and his thumb was gently
stroking her cheek.
Some things should be made illegal. Men with babies is one of them.
Chakotay with a baby? It should be a hanging offense, and I don’t even
believe in capital punishment. When I think of what Seska put him through,
and the kind of courage it had to take to allow himself to care about
another baby…
I went out, took a minute to gather my wits, and came back in again,
walking heavily. I wanted him awake. If he hadn’t been I don’t know if I
could have stood it.
He looked up as I came in, his eyes still heavy. ” H’llo. You here
to baby-sit?”
“No. Just checking in. The doctor said you were here, and I thought
I’d ask if you wanted to go to dinner, before the circle.”.
“You’re pushing.”
“Yes.”
He grinned, but there was a touch of sardonic amusement at my
admission. He shook his head. “I think I’ll pass. Thanks anyway.”
I sighed, but left it. All said and done it seemed like one act of
heroism in a day was as much as the man ought to have to deal with, and
the baby was plenty. I squatted down beside the chair, resting a hand on
the arm of the thing for balance. She looked at me, blue eyes not fully
focused.
“The doctor says I’m supposed to give you a kiss from him, and tell
you he’s coming to see you soon.”
She blinked, but otherwise looked unimpressed. Babies aren’t the
most receptive audience in the universe.
Chakotay chuckled. “Now there’s enthusiasm for you. I suppose it’ll
be a while before she decides that kisses from strange men are a good
idea.”
“I hope not too strange. We have enough strange men on this ship
without her importing more for recreational purposes.”
“Strange men? Here? Never.”
“Looked in the mirror lately?”
“I think I’ve just been insulted.”
“Just warned: Kes and the doctor did what they could to adjust her
aging cycle, but there’s still a chance that in a year or so you’ll want
to put on your running shoes, or she’s going to catch ‘Uncle Chakotay’,
and see just how strange he is.”
“No way. Crushes make me nervous.”
I glanced at him, and watched as a slow blush spread over his face.
I smiled. “Poor B’Elanna. You want to do something about that, you
know.”
He shot me a sour look. “Why does it feel like ‘command unity’
translates into you deciding to ‘fix’ my life? The circle, how I deal
with my friends — I grew up a long time ago, Kathryn. I don’t need
another mother. Save it for Paris and Harry.”
I met his eyes, felt myself flushing, and sighed. “Fair call. But
I’m afraid you’re stuck. I don’t back off easily. Not when I think I’m
right.”
“Tell me about it. ‘Mother hen’. You’d micro-manage God.”
“Only if she needed it.”
He shook his head. “Just leave me off your list.”

That night I entered the circle for the first time as both Kathryn
and captain, and found a place in it I hadn’t been sure waited for me. It
felt like being born, or adopted at least. Magic, and rebirth, and the
music the most magical thing of all, though it didn’t start there.

***** “May the circle be unbroken,
By and by lord by and by;
There’s a better world a-waiting
In the sky, lord, in the sky…”

The voices in the circle rolled out like the infinity that
surrounded Voyager: deep, and lonely, long and dark. Sweet as the years
behind, charged with hope as the years ahead. I’d hoped for this for
months, and now I had it: the song from my childhood passing around the
circle. Like many fulfilled hopes it was certainly different than I’d
dreamed.

“When the roll is called up yonder,
On that far and distant shore,
We shall find our lost ones there, Lord,
Gathered home forevermore.”

Tom turned out to have a fine, if reedy, tenor that carried well
against Cherel’s soprano. Those two took the words and melody I’d taught
them, blended themselves with the melancholy, keening drone of Chaim’s
harmonica, and transformed a shabby, well-worn old gospel piece, that had
been put to who knew how many uses over the centuries, into something
magical. I ploughed along carrying the tune to hold the rest of the
singers steady as the three wove fancy descants over our solid anchorline.
It brought back such warm memories it hurt. Hands held; a cast and crew
bonded together in one heart. I didn’t cry. I didn’t need to. The
making of the music was as powerful as tears. ***********

It hadn’t started with the singing. It had started with cold silence
and nerves.
I went to the messhall early, just as the first shift diners were
thinning out; partly to get the room ready the way Chakotay had before,
partly just from jitters. I knew that someone had to hold the circle
until Chakotay came back. I didn’t really think it should be me. But
it’s not the sort of thing one can delegate. So I tidied up a bit, moving
aside the game boards left out from after-dinner games, dimming the
lights. Then I sat at the head of one of the tables in the dim of the
room, with the stars passing in a steady stream behind me, and waited,
feeling the flutter of tension sending butterflies into loop-de-loops and
Immelmans around my stomach.
They trickled in: the loyal, stubborn few.
Chaim and Cherel arrived first. The looked at me coolly and warily
as they approached, but nodded, and settled soundlessly at the foot of the
table. Then Tom, bless his heart, with a smile that thawed the chill of
the previous reception. Then Harry, chattering a blue streak and helping
Samantha Wildman with her little girl, whose spines and silver-gray
dandelion-clock hair have earned her the draconic nickname ‘Puff.’
Neelix, with his own daughter in a tummy-pack; still unnamed, but
well-loved, and the pride of her father’s eyes.
Each one that came in did the same thing. First an uncertain look at
me, there at the head of the table. Then a glance around, looking for
someone they didn’t find. Only Tuvok, the last in, gliding cat-footed
across the floor, his hems sighing, looked only at me. But I knew enough
about his training and how he worked to know he’d covered the room with
one sweeping glance before we even noticed him, and needed no more than
that to know who was there — and who wasn’t.
At last it was apparent that no more of us were coming. Everyone who
was going to come had come.
It was a bad situation, the kind of thing my mother’s theater friends
dreaded. Too few people to fill the room, to take the echo off the walls.
The kind of group my mother used to say made itself too nervous to laugh
at a punch line or cry at a death.
I watched as they stirred, and shifted, and made small talk, all the
while trying to find a graceful excuse that would take them away now that
it was clear that the circle wasn’t likely to come to life that evening.
If I didn’t make a move the circle would collapse in on itself, like a
star imploding and leaving only the gravity of a black hole.
If angels really fly by taking themselves lightly then a black hole
is the perfect metaphor for hell, where all things are taken with absolute
gravity, where no one meets in friendship, and nothing rises above the
mundane. Chakotay’s circle had given Voyager laughter, and connection,
and a perspective that allowed my crew to look at the world seriously, but
never with undue gravity. I wasn’t going to let that end. Sometimes I
could believe Voyager was a kind of purgatory, but I wouldn’t let it
become hell without putting up a fight.

“I suppose you’re all wondering why I called you here today.”
The eyes locked onto me, widening. For a moment I though I was
doomed. Then, thank God, Tom got it, and began to snigger. “I can save
you some time, captain. The butler did it, in the turbo lift, with the
bat’tleh.”
“Kathryn. If I’m going to do this, I’m going to do it right. And
you’re wrong. It was the parlor maid, in Engineering, with the phaser.”
Neelix and Cherel looked completely lost, but Chaim and Harry and
Wildman were at least chuckling. Cherel nudged Chaim in the ribs. “Is it
a joke? Or am I missing something?”
I grinned down the length of the table at her. “It’s a mildy amusing
cultural referent. You’ve run into murder mysteries in your reading, or
in holo-adventures?”
“I’m not sure I understand them, though. Why in the name of the
prophets do humans want to pretend about something like murder? Love I
understand. Murder? You’re all crazy.” She shook her head, a frown
raising brackets of furrows that accentuated her Bajoran frontal crest.
Her clan earring swung, and I noticed with interest that at least one of
the “Les Voyageur” pendants had been added to the traditional Bajoran
ones.
Chaim laughed delightedly, quirking a smile at his wife. “My
sensible Bajoran. ‘Murder isn’t something you play at — it’s something
you commit!'” He turned his attention to me, dark eyes sharp in the
shadows of the room. “Captain, is Chakotay coming?”
I shrugged. “Kathryn. And I don’t think so.”
Cherel sighed, and began to get up. “Well, that’s it for this
evening, I guess. C’mon, boychik, we might as well call it a night.”
“Hold it right there.”
They all looked at me, waiting. Cherel, classic Bajoran woman that
she was, sat again, spun in her chair, and crossed her feet over the back
of the adjoining seat, her dark face lit with curiosity and challenge.
Chaim was the darker of the two in mood, eyes veiled and face still as he
waited to see what I had to say. ‘My’ crew members were less openly
doubting; but even Tuvok looked as though he were withholding judgment
until further data came in.
I sighed, exasperated. “One of these days that man is *going* to
come back out of his cave. When he does I’d like there to be a circle for
him to come back to. But there won’t be if everyone just gives up and
quits.”
“That’s that old Academy spirit. ‘Keep it going for old Chako’. So,
are you going to tell us a fairy tale…’Katie’?” Tom’s voice was
sardonic, and amused, but not disapproving. He has an admiration for
Chakotay, even if it is well hidden beneath the mutual challenge and
torment they seemed to feel the need to inflict on each other. I’m afraid
that’s how it is with Tom: no friendship without a tease and a sting;
even the easy ones, like the one with Harry — and no friendship between
he and Chakotay will ever be easy. Too much hidden hero worship on the one
side, too much annoyance on the other. And Tom can’t pass up an
opening… as the “Katie” proved.
I ‘tsked’ him. “‘Kathryn’, yes. ‘K.J.’ if you want to raise some
hell — and don’t mind taking the risk I’ll get back at you on bridge the
next day. ‘Katie’ is right out — ‘Tommy’. As for fairy tales: I’m not a
story teller. Anielewicz — sorry, ‘Chaim’ — I know you’re a story
teller.”
Chaim raised an eyebrow. “You *know* this? You should pardon my
asking, but *how* do you know this?”
“Just because I didn’t join the circle till a few weeks ago doesn’t
mean I didn’t know about it, or listen in once in a while. And Chakotay’s
told some fine tales about the circle in my ready room. Let’s see: he
specializes in Coyote stories, and trickster tales in general, you
specialize in Russian folktales, and old Yiddish wonder tales, and the two
of you overlap somewhere around the point where the Mississippi meets the
Volga — Mark Twain country, with tall tales, right?”
His eyes were laughing, but he tried to pull a sober face. “Tall
tales, Katrinka? Us? I promise you, I haven’t seen a jumping frog since
I left Calveras county.”
“So tell about the frog.” My delivery was somewhere equidistant
between an invitation, a challenge, and a command. My eyes, I suspect,
made it a plea.

End section 6

Raisins and Almonds.
Peg Robinson, c. 1996

***** It’s an old song. Hundreds of years, I think, at least. A
gospel piece, with roots that go back a long, long way. I had to teach
them my version because, like many folk pieces, there are a lot of
versions, and the only one that Chaim and Cherel had heard wasn’t the one
I knew, or wanted to hear. I wanted the one I’d grown up with: words of
hope, and better times to come, and reunion, and the strength of a circle.
That’s what I got. There weren’t many of us, but the few there were made
that old, river-worn song into a blessing, and a prayer.

“Shall we gather at the river,
All our tired and weary band,
There to wash in Jordan’s waters
Enter into the promised land.”

Such a sweet sound, voices in harmony. Sweet as water and shade,
and dates and almonds, and rest after weary travel in a wasteland where
nothing welcomes you, and you have no pleasure that isn’t won hard, and
held dear. **********

The singing started with “Raisins and Almonds”.
Chaim had tried. He’d told the story of the Jumping Frog so well I
think Twain was blushing for shame in the halls of writer’s heaven . Tom
had taken a shot at a shaggy dog, Harry had trotted out a story about his
time in the Academy. But the momentum faltered, and then the death knell
rang.
The babies began to crank.
You have to know the sound — you hear it on public shuttles, in
theaters, in auditoriums, in the middle of shops, and restaurants. That
whinging, whining, hiccupy fuss that announces that some mother or father
is going to go slowly crazy over the next half hour or so, and take
everyone around along with them for the ride. In this case it was a
mother *and* a father: Samantha and Neelix both desperately,
apologetically rocking and shushing the two little ones, and doing all
they could to convince themselves that, *really*, it would be over in just
a minute. I felt a bit frantic. I think it all would have been lost, if
it weren’t for Harry.
Someday I have to ask him where he learned to handle kids the way he
does, though I suspect the explanation for his witchcraft is something
simple and wholesome like an Eagle Scout badge for parenting skills, or
baby-sitting to earn some spare transporter credits to visit his mother
during time-off from the Academy. But that night I would have been
perfectly willing to ascribe it to vodun, or Jimardi tigath, or even a fey
relationship to the Q.
Frowning soberly he turned to Samantha and Neelix, and started down a
checklist, with the same businesslike air he gives to his work at his ops
station.
“Are they wet?
Two frenzied parents shook their heads.
“Their clothes aren’t pinching?” No. “Too hot?” No. “Too cold?”
No. “Hungry?” Maybe. Two bottles were replicated faster than warp ten,
and two babies began to think that *maybe* life was worth living after
all. Maybe. They still weren’t convinced. The grilling began again.
“Too excited?’ Who could tell with all the fuss? “Maybe if we give
them a chance to settle.” And Harry — sweet, innocent Harry — took
Puff, and Tom, of all people, retrieved little no-name from a jittering
Neelix, and I , not to be outdone by my junior command crewmen, began to
sing “Raisins and Almonds”, knowing that at least Kes’ little girl would
have a chance of recognizing it. No one else did. But Cherel has an ear,
and Tom was quick to follow suit, and by the time the babies had settled
we were having as much fun as we’d had that one night at Sandrine’s, if of
a quieter nature.
So Tuvok got his lyrette, and Harry got his clarinet, and Cherel
fetched the b’eta, and the harmonica, and while she was at it corralled
Soames and his keyboard, and Wildman took Puff off to bed and came back
with a guitar, and soon we were trading songs and having a whirl. Which
is how I came to teach them my version of “May the Circle”, though that
was far from the only thing we jammed together that evening. We sang
Bajoran Rage, and Antarean blues, which are as deep blue as you can get,
and Andorian blues, which are nothing of the sort — but someone with a
perverse sense of humor couldn’t resist the joke. Harry turned out to be
a mediocre classic clarinetist, but just passable at jazz improvisations.
Soames was wicked good on that keyboard, milking sounds out of it that
shouldn’t have been possible in real time. And when we got to “May the
Circle”…
I don’t know. Maybe we were all just ready to pray, if you can pray,
and laugh, and sing at the same time. Tom, wicked as ever, had leaned
into me, one arm around me like a singer in a barbershop quartet — hokey,
and just a bit flirtatious. Chaim and Cherel each were playing their
instruments, but they brushed against each other, as married in their
music as if they’d made love in front of us all. Tuvok was a well of
personal silence, but his lyrette spoke for him with a passion he himself
would never admit. I remembered nights on Vulcan, visiting at Tuvok and
T’Pel’s compound, with her as big as a house waiting for the birth of
their third, when Tuvok would take out the lyrette. Sopek and T’Ikal and
I would drift away soon after, knowing our presence was an intrusion on
something larger than anything but the music could contain.

The third verse sailed out of us, full-bellied and leaping for
heaven like a kite in a spring wind.

“Shall we gather, shall we gather
Safe at last, no more to roam;
Wade across great Jordan’s waters
Enter into our promised home?”

And then we rounded the final turn of the piece, sliding into the
last repetition of the chorus. The harmonies were twining in and out like
ivy. Tom and Cherel were going wild, doing the campy harmonic ascent of
climactic Gospel, boosting into orbit, notes stretching and spiraling
higher and higher, twisting around each other…

“May the circle be unbroken
By and by, Lord, by and by…..”

“Akkk.”
We all looked to see what had shot Tom down from his high-tenor
rhapsodies.

Chakotay was in the door of the mess hall. He was dressed in
civvies, and a stricken look. At that, he was over-dressed: he could
have done without the stricken look. My mind scrambled, desperate for
some way to ease him in, when everything about him seemed to be screaming
‘obsolete.’ Finally, I stole a page from his own book — with a variation
or two of my own, just to keep from outright plagiarism.
“Welcome to the circle, Peshewa. We’ve been waiting for you.”
His mouth twisted into a crooked smile. “Pushing it, *Kate*. You
were doing fine without me.”
Chaim made an exasperated noise, and seemed about to rise, but Cherel
elbowed him in the ribs, *hard*, and he sank back in his chair with a
pained huff. No one else made a move, or a sound.
Chakotay and I stayed as we were, locked in each other’s attention.
I was going to get that man back in the circle if it was the last thing I
did — and given the look on his face I had the feeling that he was as
determined to stay out.
I smiled. “No, we weren’t. Tom’s a good tenor, and Phil sings a
hell of a bass line, but we still need a good baritone.”
“I don’t sing.”
Cherel blew a raspberry. “The hell you don’t. Who was it bellowing
‘Ninety-nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall” at Cherokee Station, back in the
CDMZ?”
“Must have been Kurt. I only do ‘Ten Green Bottles’.” He looked
away from us all, face closed and private, embarrassment the only
definable emotion. Everything else he was feeling was cloaked and running
silent. “Look, I only came to raid the stasis cupboards. Late night, and
my replicator budget’s low. Thought I’d see if there were any leftovers
from dinner still around.”
I nodded, as sincerely as I could manage, trying to remember the
exact, cocksure sympathy he’d given me the night he came to tease me back
into the circle. I was going to have to trick the trickster, and I needed
the irony of the reversal to help set the hook. “Gotcha. We wouldn’t
want to keep you from your snack, and I know you have work to do. I’ll
tell you what: next time you’re here you can hear me tell my first story
in the circle.”
He rolled his eyes. “It’s been done, Kathryn.”
I nodded. “I know. It’s an old gambit, Peshewa. *Very* old. Once
in a while it works, too. Or it does if the person it’s played on isn’t
too stubborn for his own good.”
He studied me, then ducked his head. “I’ll keep it in mind. I think
I’ll turn in now. ‘Night, all.”
None of us missed the fact that he didn’t collect anything from the
stasis cupboards. Chaim started cursing in what I think was Yiddish.
Whatever it was, it managed to sound as vitriolic as Klingon battle
insults. He rose from his seat. “Idiot. You all stay here. I’ll go
talk some sense into him if it takes all night.”
I stood, hurrying down the table to cut him off. “No. Leave it.
Let him think about it for a while.”
Cherel moaned, half-humorous, half-frustrated. Chaim fixed me with
an incredulous gaze, challenging me to match his knowledge of his former
captain. “That’s not so good an idea. It’s when he takes his time and
*thinks* that he gets in a pilpul with himself. He’s good at fast choices
— but slow ones spook him. He sees too far, too many choices. Keep him
moving, and he’s fine. Put on the pressure, let him stew about something,
and he freezes up — or rushes out and does something just to feel like
he’s *doing* something. Like that time with Seska.”
“I don’t think you have to worry. I’m pretty sure I managed to set
the hook. He’ll be back.”
“For an obvious play like that? ‘If you come, I’ll tell you a
story’? Tcheh. He’s not so stupid.”
Tuvok ran his fingers over his lyrette, producing a run that a human
could only hear as laughter, though Tuvok would most certainly have
insisted it was merely a practice exercise. “Neither is the captain
stupid, yet that is the device Commander Chakotay used to bring her back
the second time.”
I snorted. “It damned near backfired, too. But he’s not going to
stay away after using it on me.”
Chaim started to laugh, relaxing back into his seat. “The Old Man
thinks he’s a tsaddik. If he ever got over his addiction to short cuts,
he’d make a good one, too. He didn’t *really* try that on you, did he?”
I nodded, and Chaim snorted in delight and disgust. “Yeah, he’ll be back.
He’d worry you’d never let him live it down otherwise.” He passed a hand
over his eyes, and leaned back in the chair.
Cherel leaned forward, catching my gaze and talking to ‘Kathryn’ for
the first time since she’d come to serve on Voyager. “We worry about him.
Chaim and I, we nearly had to *carry* him here the first time. Everyone
needs family, Chakotay more than most. But here he doesn’t see us for
fear the Fleet officers think he’s too Maquis, and he doesn’t visit with
the Fleet officers for fear the Maquis think he’s too Fleet — and that’s
not counting the ones on both sides who think he’s a traitor no matter
*what* he does. At least here we thought we’d found a place for him where
the politics wouldn’t matter.”
“You did. He was *born* for this.”
Chaim nodded mournfully. “Mmmm. But what good is it, if he stays
away? Before Kurt died he had *one* friend who’d pull him out of it once
in a while. Since then…”
“Chaim, he’ll be back. I promise. If he’s too stubborn to come on
his own I’ll stun him and have him dragged here — but I *will* get him
back. Not just for him, for the whole ship. I’m *not* letting this
circle die, and I’m *not* letting Chakotay crawl into a hole and quit.”
“I’ll hold you to it — Katrinka. The Old Man matters to us. I told
you: we look out for our own. He’s *ours*.”
I smiled. “He’s *Voyager’s* — and we all look after our own. He’s
all of ours: and heaven help us all.”

The circle pretty much broke up after that. I let it, listening as
folks drifted into the halls humming snatches of “May the Circle”, or
drowsing off to their quarters and their beds with “Raisins and Almonds”
rolling them to dreamland. It was time. We’d held the circle, and could
hold it again if we needed to. I didn’t have to worry about that for
awhile. Instead, I was trying to think what to do about Chakotay if he
didn’t rise to the bait.
Chaim was right; he was too isolated on Voyager. Worse than I was,
though a few months before I wouldn’t have said so, back when he was in
the heart of the circle and I was hovering on the outskirts in a bell jar
of ‘Command Isolation.’ I did have the idea I’d come up with while I was
working with B’Elanna. It wouldn’t get him out of his cabin, but it might
at least provide him with a little company. Healthy, amusing, irritating
company to keep him from crawling into his own navel and never coming out
again. I flagged down Tom before he left, and invited him to my quarters
to confer.
After he’d looked the place over, whistled at ‘Captain’s privilege’,
been served a cup of New Orleans blend, sharp with chicory, and sprawled
himself comfortably in my sofa, he finally asked the question that
obviously had him half crazy.
“So, what can I do for you that has you calling me to your quarters
during off-duty time? Need a ‘personal favor’?” He waggled his eyebrows,
and gave a campy leer.
I arched my brows. “Don’t even think it, Lieutenant. Isn’t it
enough that you’re chasing B’Elanna around, without adding ‘The Old Woman’
to your list? Or is it Jenny Delaney this week? Or Megan?”
“Megan. B’Elanna’s living in Engineering, and says I won’t let her
think, and Jenny’s after fresh game. Anyway, I can always dream, can’t I?
Seriously, what did you want to see me about?”
“I have a programming problem I need some advice on.”
“Advice? From me? B’Elanna’s the wizard, and the way you two get on
I’d have thought you’d go to her.”
“If it were a general programming problem, I would have. But when
you have a specialized problem, you go to a specialist. I need to program
a holocharacter, and you’re the best holoprogrammer on Voyager.”
He blinked. “You need to — captain, I’m not sure I can help you
much. Err, no offense, but a holocharacter’s a *personal* sort of thing,
and I’m not sure I’d feel comfortable…” He trailed off, blushing
furiously.
I found myself laughing. “Calm down, lieutenant. First, it isn’t
*that* sort of holocharacter — nothing risqu about it. Second, it isn’t
precisely for me. Third, I’ll be doing the actual programming, but I’ve
never done a holoprogram on this scale, or used any of the resident
character design tools, and I need someone to show me the ropes before I
try anything this ambitious.”
“‘Ambitious’, eh? Well if it’s not ‘that kind’ of a character, just
what did you have in mind?”
So I started to explain, telling him the kinds of databases I wanted
to pull in, the kinds of behaviors I was looking for. It took about an
hour, and at the end I’d covered a small stack of paper with notes and
scribbles, and Tom had begged a padd off of me so he could try to pull it
all together. As I finished, he looked over the information we’d piled
up, and grinned. “Well I’ll be damned. It’s a Fantoccini. You’re making
someone an Electric Grandmother.”
“A what?”
“An Electric Grandmother. It’s from an old story written back in the
twentieth century, by a writer named Bradbury. Did you have Chandrasekar
back in the Academy?”
“The AI specialist? Yes, but he was busy writing a paper on that
Soong-model android when I was there, and wasn’t doing a lot of class-work
at the time.”
“Yeah, that’s Chandra, all right. He thought Data was the best thing
to come along since warp drive. But he was really fascinated by all the
AI applications, and the whole history of the idea of AI in different
cultures, as well. When I got involved in holoprogramming my second year
he started throwing me all this old literature about artificial
intelligences. Frankenstein’s monster, the Asimov stuff, you name it.
But his favorite, and mine, was that Bradbury piece, and a few others the
man wrote that were like it. A Fantoccini… it was the absolute opposite
of Frankenstein’s monster. Even the opposite of something like Ricki.
Not nightmares, or wish fulfillment, but *need* fulfillment.
Loving-kindness in a package: a tool to help us be good at being human.
An electronic grandmother, to love you and help you get your shit
together.”
I shook my head, laughing a bit. I had an image of Chakotay and a
sweet little gray-haired grandmama. He’d be gentle, and courtly, and
amuse the dear — and it wouldn’t do him much good at all. He liked his
women with kick, if Magda, and Cherel, and Seska, and B’Elanna, and Kes
were any indication. And I wanted to give him a friend.
“I’m not sure a ‘grandmother’ is precisely what I had in mind. What
I was thinking of was more along the lines of a Cheshire Cat with an
attitude, a psych degree, and a cuddle function, if you want to know the
truth.”
Paris looked like he was going to burst trying to not laugh. “That’s
just because you’re designing it for someone who needs a tail-twister more
than a granny. That was the great thing about the Fantoccini: they were
designed to fit the needs of the people they went to.” He grinned, a
little sadly. ” ‘We shadow forth…’ I always liked that line. Shadow
puppets cast by the light of your own dreams, to run ahead, and show you
the path to being the best you could hope to be. We could all use
something like that.” He sighed. “If whoever you have it in mind for
doesn’t like it, let me know. I could use a bit of a Fantoccini myself.”
I shook my head. “If it isn’t wanted, I’m taking it myself. Even
captains could use the occasional Fantoccini.”
“Captain, are we going to make the trade?”
“Where did that come from?”
He shrugged. “Fantoccini, I guess. I’ve always felt like Kes was a
Fantoccini. Good for what ailed me. But the trade scares me. I’m not
sure she’d thank us for going through with it, if it hurt any version of
the Doctor.”
“I’m not sure, either. It’s a ‘Delta decision’.”
“A what?”
I sighed. “A ‘Delta Decision’. No easy answers, no clear good or
evil, and no rule book to tell me how to resolve the impossible.”
“Have you talked to Chakotay?” I just looked at him, not sure what
to say. He shrugged apologetically. “OK, so he’s not the easiest man in
the world to talk to. But you told me to trust him once, and you were
right. And even captains need friends.”
“You’re pushing, Paris.”
He looked at me speculatively, then nodded. “I suppose I am. Now,
let’s see what we can do about getting you up to speed on Fantoccini
generation.”
It took the rest of the evening to review the available material, and
Tom made a few suggestions that surprised me mightily, but by the time we
were done I was feeling pretty optimistic. It looked like my pet project
had a better than average chance of happening.
When we were done Tom helped me gather up the notes, asked if he
could copy the material from the padd I’d loaned him to a chip for his own
use sometime, and got ready to go. He was obviously tired. It had been a
long evening with a lot of brain work involved; but he seemed pleased. He
stood a moment, chip in hand, and suddenly smiled at me. “It’s for
Chakotay, isn’t it?”
“One of the advantages of being captain…”
“I know… ‘you can keep some things to yourself’. I’ve heard it
before. That’s all right. It’s a good idea. I hope it works out. He’s
been blue lately.” He grimaced, looking embarrassed. It’s one thing to
guess your captain’s secrets — another to let on you’ve done so. Then he
grinned again. “He may be a self-righteous jerk sometimes, and way too
damned convinced he can be the next St. George — but I guess he’s *our*
self-righteous jerk. And he kind of grows on you. If ever anyone needed
an Electric Chessie he’s it, too. Oh, a suggestion, captain, since you’re
a dog-person and may not know: when you design its ‘appear’ mode, it
should materialize a foot above Chakotay — and land in his crotch.” He
made a graphic plummeting gesture with one hand, *thump*. “The damned
things have an instinct for that sort of thing.”
I was dissolving. It was the best laugh I’d had in weeks; since
Magda had told me about “minou”, in fact. But this was potential trouble.
“Paris, if you say a word about this….”
He shook his head, turned an imaginary key at his mouth, and threw it
away. “Not a word… promise.”
I blinked. “You mean it, don’t you?”
“Yep.”
“I…”
“Don’t say it, captain. Some things you don’t say ‘thank you’ for:
you just take what you’re offered, and know it was given freely.”
I nodded, got up from the sofa, and walked him to the door. Just
before he could leave I turned to him, and, surprising both of us, I
reached out and touched his shoulder. “You’re turning into a hell of a
fine man, Tom Paris. It’s been a pleasure to have you on my crew.”
He blushed the color of a tomato, but he was tickled to death. He
covered, camping dreadfully. “Aw, shucks, ma’am. ‘Twaren’t nuthin’. All
in a day’s work for us hero-types. Now lemme go.. I gotta kiss my horse,
before she starts gettin’ jealous.”
“Heaven forfend, Mistah Paris, suh… Ah’d never come between a man
and his horse. Paris, where the hell does a man keep a horse on this
ship?”
“In a stablized f’horse field — where else?”
I was still sniggering five minutes after he left. It wasn’t that it
was good, but then it’s never the good jokes that send you over the edge:
it’s the bad jokes that show up right when you need them.

End section 7

Raisins and Almonds
Peg Robinson, c. 1996

The project kept me busy for the next three days, and I was glad of
it. Bridge duty was getting to be a nerve-wracking blend of monotonous
and tense. There was still no sign of freebooters, but we were scanning
continuously, searching for them. My sixth sense insisted that they were
out there, somewhere, waiting, possibly holing up in the twisting energy
fields that surrounded the system, waiting for some sign we’d completed a
trade with the Kithtri. It was a clever move. It would lull many into a
false sense of security, and would allow the raiders to collect not only
our ship, but any choice treasure we might acquire from our trade.
Abbyzh-diran booty without the danger of having to sell their souls to
gain possession of it.
Finally B’Elanna had her work done. She’d pulled a rabbit out of her
hat, and managed to create a small, portable computer with a versatile
power source, one the Kithtri could keep running even if it wasn’t fully
compatible with their own technology. It was time to return to the
bargaining table.
This time I intended to be the one bargaining. If I was going to
face the possibility of selling our honor for Kes’ life, I wanted to have
first hand information to help me make my decision. Some things you don’t
delegate.

Chakotay was not pleased.

He wasn’t pleased when I announced it to the briefing team. He
didn’t say anything at the time, but I could see him glowering. He
continued to be not-pleased as I set up the away team. He still didn’t
say anything. Finally, he was very definitely not-pleased as I gave him
my final orders in my ready room, and prepared to rendezvous with the team
at the shuttle bay. This time the walls of silence fell.
“I’d like to register a complaint.”
I looked up. “Yes, Chakotay?”
“It’s standard practice for the first officer to head away missions.”
“Standard, yes. Required, no. There’s a lot of latitude. Captain’s
discretion.”
He shook his head. “Sorry. It won’t wash. I don’t expect to lead
them all, but when it’s between me or you… Do you have any idea how
many times you’ve left me up here while you’ve made use of ‘captain’s
discretion’? And taken Tuvok with you damned-near every time. I know it
isn’t your ‘job’ to make my job easier. But every time you go, you’re
telling the crew you don’t trust me to do the work I’m supposed to be able
to do, and that you’d rather lean on Tuvok than on me if you *do* have to
go down yourself.”
I nodded, digging through my pack to see if I’d included the
sunscreen, determined not to rise to his anger. “Mmm. I see your point,
Chakotay. It’s a problem. You see, I’m telling them a few other things
too: things I think are more important. Every time I go down, I tell
them I trust you to hold Voyager for me. And every time I risk an away
mission, and leave you with the com and take Tuvok along, I tell everyone
on this ship just who my choice of successor is if I get my ass shot off.
‘The captain’s dead. Long live the captain.’ ”
Lord, the silence was thick. Chakotay just stood there, white as a
sheet. At last he shifted. “I hadn’t thought of it quite like that.”
“I know. I assure you, quite a few of our officers have. I’ve
fielded more than one complaint before yours. Not for a while, though.
By and large I’d say they’ve accepted my judgment.”
“Either that, or they’re planning on dealing with me themselves if it
ever becomes an issue.”
“Maybe. I couldn’t say. But I’d rather they knew just how much
trust I place in you now than leave it open to question. I can die on
ship as easily as on an away team, Chakotay. At least if I die this way,
you have clear claim to the command.”
“I see.”
“Good. I’ve got to go now. Paris will be having a cow if I don’t
get down there soon.”
I started for the door, but before I got past him, he put a hand on
my shoulder. He looked at me a moment, then away. “She’s a beautiful
ship. I won’t say she isn’t. I’ve wondered what it would be like to have
her for my own more than once. But I don’t want her here. I don’t want
to try to hold her with a mixed crew, and the Starfleet officers
outnumbering me four to one. And I don’t want her over your dead body.”
I found my hand stealing up to cover his, nearly pulled back, and
changed my mind. In for a penny. His fingers were warm. “I know. Keep
her safe for me, Chakotay. And I’ll try to keep alive to take her back..”
I could still feel him there behind me in my ready room, all the way
down to the shuttle bay.

The trip down was dull. I worked on the master program for my pet
project, Paris and Tuvok piloted us through the veils, and picked their
way cautiously through the constant bustle of shipping traffic. B’Elanna
slept. She’d been working double and triple shifts on the cloning
project, and I suspect was exhausted. Finally we were into the atmosphere
and making our approach to the crowded landing site outside the bazaar. I
looked out through the viewpanels at the planet streaming by below us.
It was beautiful, and lush. The rings which shielded the planet from
the blaze of its sun also dispersed the light that did get through,
scattering it across the planet more evenly than would have been the case
in a normal atmosphere. The result was that the planet had a near uniform
climate, somewhere between tropical and subtropical over the majority of
the globe. Chakotay’d been right about the light; the defraction sent it
bouncing and reflecting off of every turn and twist of the veils, making
not one light source, but thousands. There was almost no sense of sun
over head, but instead a shifting, radiant lace of light and shadow; each
dark, opalescent strand of veil edged and blazing with silver and gold,
and all of it accented with delicate pennons of cloud. It was more
breathtaking than the most Baroque sunset I’d ever seen in my life. Below
the light-show the land was swathed in green, and purple, and crimson, and
gold, with vivid fields of flowers and grain, and dense, heavy-leafed
forests and jungles. If Monet and Dali had decided to team up with
Rousseau to paint the Garden of Eden, Abbyzh-dira might have been the
result of the collaboration: a drunken excess of saturated color and
light, set off by pristine precision of detail, and that surrealistic sky.
I almost failed to notice when the shuttle eased itself down. When I
did, I had to go scrambling madly through my pack for the sun screen, only
to remember that, in the tension of the ready room, I’d looked for it but
failed to find it — and apparently had failed to pack it.
“Anyone want to loan me their sunscreen?”
They all looked at me blankly, then Paris made a face. “Shit. I
forgot… I’m going to be red as a lobster.”
Tuvok and B’Elanna shook their heads.
“Vulcans are adapted to desert conditions, captain. Also, I put mine
on before leaving Voyager.”
B’Elanna shrugged. “I just forgot. So I get a bit of a sunburn…
so what? The doctor can fix it when I get back.”
Tom and I rolled our eyes, and went to rummage through the med kit
together, relieved when we found a tube of the stuff. Fair skin can put
you at a real disadvantage sometimes. Dark complexions still burn… but
slower than those of us who were silly enough to pick near-albino
ancestors. It was one of those things I’d made a note to remember if I
died and found out that reincarnation was an option.
Chakotay had called the bazaar ‘incredible’. He’d been conservative
in his commentary. As we walked down from the landing field the first
thing to hit was the sight: pavilionned, fountained, tented, trellissed,
decked with banners and flags, and even bright kites flying high above the
stalls and courtyards. In the center was a building that looked as though
it had been poured of molten glass. It was stunning: as graceful as the
Taj Mahal, or the Halls of Silence in ShiKhar — turreted, minaretted,
domed, and all a deep green with streaks of blues and golds.
Tuvok canted his head towards it. “The Bargaining Hall.”
Then, as we passed through the gates in the ‘walls’ of the market,
shoulder high, made of intricate, filigreed latticework in more of the
glassy material the Hall was made of, I was swallowed up by the sounds:
music and bells, reedy woodwinds, pattering, thudding drums, a constant
chatter of tradesmen calling their wares. As we entered into the throng I
was overwhelmed by it.
Animals: there were animals like I’d never seen before. Dappled
felines as big as wolfhounds, with lazy, heavy-footed prowls, that rambled
free among the crowd, shoulders rolling and light glowing in their deep
green fur. Chattering, chicken-sized animals I couldn’t identify as to
any general type at all: a blend of reptile, mammal, and, of all things,
plant, with what appeared to be a pelt of tender leaves in a rainbow of
colors. They creaked and chittered, and ran across the dry earth and
tiled paths, stirring up dust-devils behind them. A lizard with ‘wings’
like a flying squirrel launched itself over my head, startling me into
drawing my phaser, but the rest of the team ignored it.
B’Elanna grinned. “Scared me too, the first time down. Treat them
like pigeons — they don’t seem to do anything but rush around and eat up
scraps on the road.”
There weren’t many scraps. It struck me, as I looked around. For
all the bustling rush of traders, and dancers, and food vendors; for all
the animals running free, and the paths that were as often beaten earth as
tile, the place was spotless. Litter free, garbage free. As though
someone had taken all the most evocative, exotic, fantastic elements of
markets, and created a kind of ur-market, a dream-market without any dirt
that wasn’t needed as set dressing: without illness, or grime, or refuse.
A fantasy. A rapture. Light, flowers, dancers, music. A wild, shifting
tapestry of color, and sound and movement, but nothing bleak or dark, or
ugly. There was something almost ceremonial about the place. Not
natural. Beyond natural: supernatural.
We passed though courtyards and alleys, along arched mezzanines, past
dozens of fountains, just like Chakotay had described. They leapt high,
light glittering in their spray; the music of them and the coolness of the
air around them seductive. I peered into the pool of one, and smiled as
the rainbow fish he’d told me about swirled just beneath the surface of
the water like a cloud of palm-sized confetti. There were food stalls, and
with them the smell of roasting meats, and fruits, and mysterious amalgams
of ingredients that were ladled out and served in earthenware cups. There
were stalls dealing in pungent dried herbs, and others that seemed to be
selling extracts, essences and perfumes. There were entire blocks of
tents given over to fabrics and clothing so soft and supple and vivid my
hands wanted to reach out to smooth and touch. ‘Sensory overload’, he’d
said about this place. I could see why. I was drowning in the fervor of
it all.
Everywhere there were people: races I’d seen since I came to the
Delta quadrant, dozens more I’d never seen before, and mingled with them
were the Kithtri; veiled, mysterious, as spangled and colorful as their
world, and as enigmatic. Black-eyed, blue-eyed, plum-eyed and green-eyed,
sliding through the crowds; high priests of a subtle cult of hidden
sensuality. Their bodies danced beneath the veils; shrouded hands
fluttered in expressive gestures — only the fingers showing, peeking out
from under the edges of shifting hems. Eyes flashed and laughed.
Then we came to the Bargaining Hall, climbed the stairs to the
central arch and entered in, and the Market fell away. The sounds were
reduced to a muted murmur, the glare of light was transformed into a deep,
rich, aquatic blue-green shade; the heat became welcoming coolness; the
vivid, overwhelming complexity transformed into pure, simple line and
curve and vaulting ceiling. My away team, which had been leading the way
so far, fell in place behind and beside me; even Tuvok falling just far
enough back to leave me the clear leader. We advanced down a hall like a
cathedral nave into a great, round room. In the center, on a delicate,
sleek-lined wooden stand, stood a massive glass bowl of a rich, deep
golden color. Beside it sat a padded mallet.
Tuvok dipped his head towards it. “The ‘doorbell’.”
I stepped forward, picked up the mallet, and gently struck the bowl,
half afraid the piece would shatter beneath the blow. Instead a rich,
complex note blossomed; seeming to fill the room, flowing out to the edges
of space and rolling around the high, airy dome above us. As the sound
died away it was replaced by the pat and shush of bare feet on deep-blue
tile floors, and the rustle of veils.
From another hall on the other side of the room came a procession of
Kithtri. They seemed to pour across the space between us, liquid and
sensual, but restrained. There were five of them: one dressed in golden
veils at the front of the line, three more in blue, and one in iridescent
white in the rear. They came and stood before me, bowing their heads
slightly.
The golden leader spoke, in a rumbling bass. “Thou art welcome, body
and soul. I am the La-eis, the Bargainer; these my assistants, Jod, Mek,
and Retti. The shining one is the offered trade, Anyas. You are the
captain of the ship Voyager?” I nodded, and introduced the rest of the
team. The La-eis bowed to us, the rest of the Kithtri except Anyas
following suit. When he rose, he spoke again. “Do you wish to bargain
with us, or will you leave without your desire?”
“I believe we may have come up with an offer that would interest
you.”
The golden one’s eyes lit. “You have found someone to stand in the
trade?”
B’Elanna and I exchanged glances. She cleared her throat. “I don’t
know — I mean, *we* think we have. I told you when I was here last that
our doctor was a computer simulation… that he couldn’t leave the ship.
I’ve been working on an idea since then, and I believe I have a way to
bring him here. At least, I could bring a copy.”
Anyas, the one in white, the offered trade, stepped forward, eyes
sharp and bright. “You were told before: we want no ‘files’ or ‘texts’.
For a lesser trade, perhaps we might accept such, but not for *me*.”
B’Elanna flushed. I put a hand on her elbow, and addressed Anyas.
“We intend no insult. What we offer is a person, though not a flesh and
blood person the way you are. However, we would not risk offending your
traditions.. if you find him less than sufficient in return for yourself,
perhaps you would find some of his information sufficient in return for
just one example of *your* expertise.”
The expression of the golden-brown eyes framed by the luminous white
veil was sardonic. An eyebrow lifted and arched. “That has been tried
before, captain: by the man who lead the previous trade group, by this
woman and these men. They were informed that such would not be
acceptable. This ‘person’ who is willing to stand the bargain; tell me of
him.”
B’Elanna spoke up again. “I told you, he’s a computer simulation,
but he has self will; he’s self aware. He’s a *person*. We’ve figured
out a way to load everything he is down into a portable computer. You’d
be getting *him*.”
Anyas looked at her, then back to the Bargainer. “It is a place to
start. That they think it is real is sufficient for first proof.”
The Bargainer nodded, then addressed me. “Good. I feared the rumors
we had heard were less than accurate. It was said you would risk much for
life and honor, but after your people came to deal, I feared it wasn’t so.
Shall we go to the bargaining rooms?”
Tuvok, Paris, and B’Elanna shifted. Tom’s eyes were excited.
Chakotay’s team hadn’t been invited beyond the central room. I nodded,
and we fell in behind the line of Kithtri.
They led the way down cool halls, until we came to a small room. The
walls and dome were clear glass crowded with blazing flowers in bright,
intense colors. The effect was like entering a millefiore paperweight. The
floors, faces, and veils around me were dappled with the colored light.
Anyas in particular, with his pale drapes, burned with the color.
In the center of the room was a raised platform, perhaps hip high,
with shallow steps leading up. The platform was draped with what looked
like heavy silk cloth, white with more flowers, like the dome above. In
the center of the platform was a low, beautifully crafted table, very
simple and plain, but elegant. Laid out on the table were a bowl full of
a gently steaming liquid, a pile of folded white cloths, a flagon, several
dishes of prepared food and a collection of small cups and plates. I could
feel Tuvok shift beside me, and acted to relieve his concern. I nodded
towards the table.
“Would it be permitted that my security officer examine the
offerings? It is not intended as a sign of distrust, but we’ve found in
our travels that foods that can be safely eaten by one race often are
damaging to others.”
The golden one nodded. “Of course. This is the market — we are
used to such caution. It is expected.”
Tuvok stepped forward, ran his tricorder over the table, and stepped
back again. “There is no problem, captain. Nothing there will do you any
harm.” He looked at the golden leader. “It is not the custom of my people
to eat meat. Would it cause offense were I to abstain from those dishes?
I would not wish to offend your customs, but wish also to hold to the ways
of my own beliefs.”
The leader nodded. We seated ourselves, and followed the lead of the
Kithtri, washing our hands with the cloths after dipping them in the
steaming bowl. The water was scented with a sharp, clean lemon -floral
perfume that clung to my skin after the water had dried. A cool herbal
tea was poured into our cups, tiny servings of the food were passed
around, and the bargaining began.
It was a long process. They seemed to want to know every detail of
the trade being considered. I was reminded of Ferengi traders I’d seen in
action, passionately dickering over exact weights and measures. B’Elanna
was the busiest of us. She was the one attempting to describe the
technology. I wished we could have brought a true demonstration of what
we had in mind, but to do so we would have had to actually complete the
cloning process, and created the doctor’s ‘brother.’ I wanted to avoid
that until it became clear that it was a necessary act.
I occasionally chimed in with a bit of technical translation when
B’Elanna ran into a sticky part of the explanation. I studied the
mysterious faces around me, I ate the tiny servings of food. It was
simple fare, though elegantly served, and I was intrigued, as the
offerings in the market outside had been diverse, exotic, and in many
cases very elaborate — or at least dramatic. There was a bowl of grain,
with toasted seeds scattered through it. A simple dish of bitter greens,
drenched in what tasted rather like vinegar, or a very sour fruit juice.
There were tiny, fresh berries. A plate of meat slivers, unseasoned but
cooked to a near crisp was handed around and around, no one taking more
than a sliver or two at a time. The Kithtri ate delicately, right hands
carrying tiny morsels from the plates and slipping beneath masking veils,
reappearing later to collect tiny cups of herb tea.
After B’Elanna had finished, the next step began, with careful debate
about the exact nature of the transaction. It looked simple: We would get
Anyas, outright. They would, in return, get the doctor’s clone. But I
quickly realized that the deal was more precise than that. The list of
clauses and conditions regarding our acquisition of Anyas were long, and
specific. Anyas was deeply involved, adamant that he had final say, were
we to trade him away; adamant that he have a place of his own to work and
study in. He seemed to have no concern at all how he was used, however,
dismissing that with a wave of a shimmering arm, while we struggled to
gain guarantees that the doctor’s clone would be well treated — though we
found “well treated” hard to define where a computer simulation was
concerned. At last the details of the potential agreement seemed to have
gone as far was we could take them. Certainly as far as I was willing to
go without time for serious thought. The La-eis glanced at his
assistants, who quietly cleared the table and returned with fresh cloths
and more steaming water, and with a bowl filled with a mixture of dried,
salted fruit and nuts and a bottle of iced water. Everyone decorously
washed hands again, then Anyas stepped forward, took the bottle and poured
for us, then took the bowl of fruits and nuts.
“We have come to the end of bargaining. Come again, and we shall
close the trade. Until then, water to ease your way, food to hold you in
hard times.” He poured a small portion of the blend into our hands.
Beside me I heard Paris mutter “Thanks for the ritual trail mix.”
Before I could reprove him, Anyas placed his hand over Tom’s, keeping
him from eating the food. “Salt, water, fruit to sweeten life, nuts to
fill you full. That is all you need to live in times of trouble. It will
hold body and soul. With that you can travel far.”
Tom looked abashed, but didn’t back down. “Live? Survive, maybe.
To live, I think I’d like a bit more variety.”
“Paris!”
He looked at me, but before he could apologize, the La-eis laughed.
“Of course — but that is what trade is for! How else would you find all
the universe spread before you? Now, drink, eat, return to your ship in
safety, and when you come again, may you come ready to close our bargain.”
The trip back through the Market was, if anything, more intense than
the trip in. I was more tired, more uncomfortable. The music and dancers
seemed to press in on me, and I understood some of why Chakotay had been
so weary. It was evening by then, and Abbyzh-dira’s version of twilight
was as intense as its noon had been, the rings so luminous against the
purpling sky that it was like looking up into the heart of a perfect black
opal. We made our way to the shuttle silently. Paris and Tuvok got
clearance to lift off, and piloted their way through the airlanes, past
incoming trade ships. B’Elanna and I sat quietly in our seats until we’d
achieved sufficient altitude, and were far enough from the bustle of the
sky over the market for our comments not to break the concentration of our
pilots.
B’Elanna was the first to speak, wide eyed and edgy. “Are we really
going to do it?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. I’ll have to think.”
Tuvok turned back, free for a time as Tom chose a route through the
rings pulling ever closer. “It is a logical response to the situation.
They are willing to make concessions regarding the treatment of the clone.
Their expert is willing to take part in the transaction.” His face was
controlled, the look of a Vulcan contemplating an unsavory necessity.
“Willing? He’s pawing the ground to come.” Tom cut in.
B’Elanna nodded. “I keep wondering what it must be like down there,
that Anyas is so willing to come. Like wondering what it must be like in
the Q continuum, that (Q2) wanted so much to die. Part of me keeps
feeling like we’d be rescuing the poor thing.”
“Which makes you wonder what we’d be sending the clone into.” Tom
scowled at the control board in front of him.
B’Elanna nodded. “I know.”
Tuvok tried to put an optimistic face on it. “The doctor is willing
to consider the transaction. And there is, after all, little one could do
to harm a holographic simulation.”
“You can do anything to a holographic simulation, if you can get at
its program. Program it to feel constant pain, do what you like with its
emotions, convince it it’s dead, abandoned. There’s nothing more
vulnerable than a computer in the hands of a decent programmer.”
Tuvok looked at B’Elanna, uncomfortable at the passion in her voice.
Then he ducked his head.
“I will remember that. Thank you for your instruction, lieutenant.”

The rest of the trip was made silently, all of us cringing at the
possibilities B’Elanna’s comments had made clear.

End section 8

Raisins and Almonds.
Peg Robinson, c. 1996

Chakotay was there to meet us at the shuttle bay. I dismissed Tuvok,
Paris, and B’Elanna, telling them I’d let them know when the next briefing
would be when I’d had time to think it over. They left quietly. Chakotay
and I stood a moment in the shuttle bay.
“What next?”
I shrugged. ” For me: my quarters, and sleep, I think. You’re right.
That’s one hell of a place. I feel like I’ve been in a sensory
hurricane.”
He nodded, and fell in step with me. It’s a strange feeling when he
does that sometimes. Unsettlingly comfortable, unsettlingly intrusive.
“So what happened?”
“They’re willing to trade. They’ll pass final judgment after we
bring the clone down.”
“Will we?”
“I don’t know. I think of Kes, and Neelix, and the baby, and I want
to say yes. I think of the clone, and the Prime Directive, and the idea
of taking part in a slave trade, and I want to say no, set course for as
far away from Abbyzh-dira as there is, and pull out of here at top warp.”
The turbo lift opened, and we stepped in.
“What did the deal turn out like?”
“Complicated. Simple. I don’t know how to describe it. Anyas is so
*willing*. It makes it too tempting. Maybe if I talk to the doctor
again, tell him about just how big the risks are….”
“You want to talk him out of it?”
I sighed. “I suppose I do. If he isn’t volunteering, there’s no
question of making the trade.”
“And no chance of saving Kes… at least not now. And who knows when
we’ll find another lead? The three month optimum isn’t very long.”
“I know.”
“You owe her. You owe Neelix.”
“I know, damn it. Chakotay, just let me think, *please*.”
The Turbo lift stopped, the door opening on our “home” corridor. We
stepped out, Chakotay tense. He was angry again, head lowered, eyes hot.
I was too tired to feel much sympathy. Tired enough to mainly feel angry
in response. We reached the doors of my quarters. I stopped. He stopped.
“Good night, commander.”
He nodded, curtly. I was about to go in when he spoke again, his
voice low and controlled, but intense.
“You can’t have it both ways, dammit. You can’t trust me enough to
leave me with Voyager if you die, but not enough to let me in on the
decisions while you’re alive. And you can’t have ‘command unity’ on the
surface, but pen me in the corner when there’s real work to be done.”
I stood with my eyes locked on my door. “There can only be *one*
captain, Chakotay. I’m it.”
“And I’m the first officer… or I’m trying to be. How long is it
going to take for you to treat me like a member of the team, not a
half-trained dog; cute and amusing when I don’t show my teeth, needing a
swat when I do?”
“Do we have to take this up tonight?”
His face was set, stubborn. “I’d rather fight it out now than wait
another two years.”
“Then you’d better come in. It won’t do us any good to have this
discussion out in the corridor.”
We went into my quarters. I called the lights up. We stood there a
moment, unsure where to start. The change in beat had thrown the fight
off-track. I ran my fingers into my hair. After a day up, my bun felt
welded into place; hot and tight. I sighed. “At the risk of giving you
the wrong impression, why don’t you get yourself something from the
replicator while I change into something a bit more comfortable? This
uniform feels like hell.”
He nodded. “You want anything?”
“Cold. Something cold, and wet. Other than that, I don’t give a
damn. Maybe a lot of sugar. Lunch was token.”
I went into my bedroom, kicked off my boots, let down my hair and
twisted it into a loose braid, and pulled on a light, loose jersey and a
pair of exercise pants. I looked in the mirror. At least he wouldn’t
mistake this for a seduction. It’s damned hard to look seductive when
you’re tired, and dressed like a fashion refugee. When I went back out
he’d settled into my sofa with a glass of juice. Another sat on the
coffee table. I picked up the glass, and tried to decide where I was
going to sit. The arm chair turned this into a confrontation, me against
him across the space between. The sofa… I wasn’t really comfortable with
that either. Too close. But it was better than the two armed camps the
armchair would make it. I settled myself at the far end, back braced
against the arm. He shifted to face me.
The silence was thin and brittle. At last I began. My quarters, my
command…my lead.
“What are we fighting about, Chakotay? Whether to make the trade
with the Kithtri? About how to run this team? About being Maquis and
Fleet?”
He made a face. “All of them, I suppose.”
“Which first?”
“The team. That’s the real problem.”
I nodded. “Agreed. Chakotay, I can’t give way. We need to work
something out, but not if it means I have to give way every time you think
I’m going in a direction you wouldn’t. And I’m damned if I’m going to
have you sitting there second-guessing every choice I make, or keeping up
a running commentary on how I choose to make them.”
“That’s not what I’m asking for.”
“That’s what it feels like.”
“You aren’t paying much attention, then.”
“Bull. The last month I’ve been paying so much attention it hurts.
What I see is a pissed-off, sulky, self-pitying SOB who turns every damn
thing that comes up into either a sign of personal failure.. or a sign
that he’s being rejected. What really pisses me off is that you decided
to shift after I decided to bring you in. Now is one hell of a time to
start whimpering.”
He’s not a yeller. Neither of us are. But, lord, he can do intense.
He leaned forward, eyes locked to mine, and his voice was like the
promise of storm. Quiet, but powerful.
“Dammit, what do you want out of me? I went two years trying to
please you and Tuvok, and you treated me like I was either the local
idiot, or a cute toy, or a wild animal you couldn’t trust. Then I screwed
up and started the Strike, and we found out about Kilpatrick and Jorland,
and *pow*, it’s command unity time. ‘Fix it’. You think we can work out
two years of not talking about anything but energy expenditures and
amusing anecdotes with ‘fix it’?”
It hurt. Too close to true, too far from what I’d ever really
wanted. And no acceptance that *I’d* been trying, too; that my job wasn’t
a waltz through the park. I’d gotten used to his steady, uncomplaining
support. Having it jerked away stung. “That’s not how it’s been.”
“No?”
I put the glass down, rose, and paced across the room. I heard his
own glass click hard onto the table, and the couch creak as he stood too.
“Great. Just great. You know what really pisses *me* off? You’ve
spent the last few weeks chasing me around, pushing me when I needed some
time to think. But the minute we have a hard call, the minute you feel
like *your* ethics are on the line, the minute I let you know what *I*
feel, you loose your temper, go into withdrawal, and slam the doors behind
you. How the hell am I supposed to trust you when you don’t even trust me
enough to let me into the choices ahead, or enough to let me see you’re
frightened?”

Too close. Too damned close to everything I’d been taught to guard.
Never let them see you sweat. Fear exists to be defeated. It felt like
assault. Like a blow with all his weight behind it. I wheeled to face
him, kept my head up, my back straight. A lady and a captain.

“I’m not frightened.”
“The hell you aren’t.”
“Chakotay, I don’t have the latitude to let fear take over.”
“Take over? No. But it’s there.”
“I deal with it.”
“Like I dealt with Seska? And the baby?”
I wasn’t expecting that, felt fury that he’d shifted so far into the
personal. I snapped, not knowing how to hold him at bay. “You didn’t.”
“Exactly.”
The pain and the ache were there in his eyes, in the suddenly
vulnerable set of his shoulders. It wasn’t fair. I wanted to ease
that… I would have tried to ease it if he’d given it to me as trust,
instead of a weapon turned against me. But it was still a gift, more than
he’d shown me of that since the events had occurred.
The man was tearing me in two. I hurt with it, caught between anger
and compassion, between a desire to hold him at a distance, safe where he
belonged, and a desire to let him closer, so I could help him, so he could
help me. Training took over, and pride.
“I don’t have the luxury of giving in to fear. It’s not one of the
options.”
He pressed on, not letting himself fall back. He must have known that
he had me shaken, even though I’d tried to set it aside. “It may not be an
option to give way to it… that doesn’t mean you don’t still feel it.”
“Fine. Tell me: how the hell would you be feeling if it was your
decision? I’ve made enough mistakes out here to last me a lifetime.
Every damned time I have to make a choice it feels like I’m selling my
soul. And it doesn’t seem to matter *which* way I choose, I lose a bit of
what I thought I was. I blew the damned array, and changed everything. I
tried to make us one ship and screwed that up. Tried to make an alliance
and I nearly set off a mass political assassination. Damn it, I’ve had to
execute an innocent man, whose only crime was he existed where two other
men once were. I don’t know what the hell to do out here that won’t set
off something that’ll burn my conscience for the rest of my life. And now
it looks like the best damned option open to me is to sell a sentient
being to a civilization I know next to nothing about, give away enough
medical information to change the entire quadrant, and become the owner of
a masochistic medical expert who doesn’t seem to give a damn if he’s
killed, tortured, sold down the river, or used as a sex toy so long as he
has a room of his own and a place to study. Tell me, how would you feel?”
I’m afraid I expected the classic denials, the flight from feelings
and weakness. Instead he met me with a deep calm, as still and centered
as he’d been in weeks.
“Terrified.”

Something gave way inside me. Some wall broken, some door unlocked.
Some loneliness answered. No one else on the ship who could say
that, and *know* it. Not even Tuvok, for all he’s held the chair himself
a time to two, when necessary. But Chakotay *knows* what that strain is
like. Knows what it is to try to combine human fallibility with the
inhuman shield of command demeanor, in situations where there’s too much
losing to be done.
It’s been a long two years.
I began to shake in reaction. I closed my eyes, feeling tears begin
to well up, fought them back, crossed my arms over my chest, hanging onto
my upper arms. I heard him cross the room, felt his hand on my shoulder.
I stepped away.
“Don’t. Give me a minute….”
Just saying it seemed to help. I drew a breath and opened my eyes,
looking at him, trying to *see*. He hovered; close, but politely
separate, as unsettling and comforting as he is when he paces me. Too
close. Too far.
There wasn’t any victory in his face, his stance. Not a battle won,
then; not in the sense of something I’d have to fight out with him, not a
defeat I’d somehow have to win back. Just the compassion of someone who’d
faced the same kinds of heartless, no-win choices. I nodded quietly,
meeting his eyes. “Sorry.”
“You don’t need to be sorry.”
“I’m captain. I don’t get to fall apart just because I’m scared.”
“Yeah you do.”
“Did you?”
He grinned, ruefully. “Sometimes. I usually took it out in angry
though. Sound familiar?”
A laugh whuffed out of me, weak and airy, but real. “Vaguely.”
He stepped closer, the mass of him steady and comforting; a still,
considering look in his eyes. “You do deal with it, you know. Maybe too
well. You rein it in hard… and forget you’re reining in life at the
same time.”
I shrugged. “I have a job. It’s a job I love. And even if I
didn’t, I have obligations. And I don’t have any choices out here.”
“Or the choices you do have scare the shit out of you?” The delivery
was wry. A trade secret, a sad joke shared by those who knew. Dark eyes
looked at me, eyes that had seen a few too many fears themselves. I
grinned sadly in return, nodding.
“That too. ‘Delta decisions’. No easy answers. Never any easy
answers. Sometimes I get tired of that.”
“Yeah. Me too. C’mon and finish your juice. If you haven’t eaten
you can use the calories.”
We both moved back to the sofa, drifting like a pair of deer across a
meadow at twilight; that same easeful caution, that same unity. We sat
where we’d started. I picked up my glass, took a long sip. “What is it,
by the way? I’ve never tasted it before.”
“Githa. It’s Bajoran.”
“Good.”
“Mmm-hmm.”
We were quiet for awhile then. After a time, Chakotay snorted.
“What?”
“Just thinking. I told Tuvok misery loves company, once. I was just
thinking that it was nice knowing I’m not the only one blaming myself for
things I can’t control.”
I looked over at him, raised a brow, unable to claim he was wrong,
much though I’d have liked to. “I suppose.”
He leaned his elbows on his knees, head down, thinking, then crooked
his neck to look at me. “Kathryn, why is it so hard to trust me? I’ve
done everything I know how to *be* trustworthy. Being Maquis makes it
tough, but I was Fleet a long time before that, and I’m not stupid. This
isn’t the place to play out old feuds.”
I shook my head, closed my eyes. “You aren’t hard to trust. If
anything you’re too damned easy to trust.”
“Come again?”
I sighed; rolled my head along the sofa-back to look across the space
between us. He looked as weary and baffled as I felt. “I was expecting a
rough ride when you came on. Instead I got a perfect, polite, likable
enigma. You’d answer any question.. if I thought to ask it. You’d do
anything that needed doing, and then some. I figured out a long time ago
that you’d never do anything to hurt Voyager if you could help it. You’ve
never seriously challenged my position as captain, not even when you went
after Seska. But you never volunteered anything if I didn’t ask, the few
times you did make a suggestion I could count on it to be a shocker, and I
never have been sure what was hiding behind the ‘perfect officer’. You’re
nearly opaque, sometimes. And even when you’re doing your damnedest to
live up to the job, you’re unpredictable. I never know when you’re going
to decide an away team doesn’t *really* need their phasers, or go off to
practice a religious ritual, and end up offering to let some kid kill you
just so he can complete his adulthood ceremonies. Or suggest that we
should start running the ship along more Maquis principals. Out here
that’s scary as hell. I’d like to feel like I had some idea what the man
in the seat next to me was going to do. But my gut keeps telling me to
trust you. It’s like finding I’ve developed a sudden attraction to
Russian roulette. Makes me nervous as hell.”
“Yeah. I guess it would at that.” He leaned back into the sofa
cushions himself, the underpinnings of the thing shifting under his
weight. He closed his eyes, brow furrowing under the tattoo, as though he
was handling pain. “But damn it, it cuts both ways. Every time I tried to
do the job the way it should be done you and Tuvok went off the deep end.
No win. If I didn’t tell you what I thought, I ran the risk that we’d end
up in trouble. If I did try… the walls would come up, and I’d see
‘Maquis’ in your eyes, and the next thing I’d know I was out in the cold
and out on a limb. It was like the one sure way to threaten you two was
to disagree with you… even a little. ‘How to go from being a respected
Starfleet officer to outlaw scum in ten seconds flat.’ Kathryn, twenty
four years in the Academy and Starfleet, and three more years in the
Maquis has to be worth *something*, and it’s a first officer’s job to
cover the gaps… make the suggestions that won’t be made otherwise, play
devil’s advocate, fill in the weak points. That’s a hell of a job to do
with most of the crew looking to see if I’m a traitor, and a captain with
a security officer who’s all the first officer she wants and a wall around
her a mile high.”
I nodded. “I see. Vicious circle. You make us nervous, so we try
to control you, so you hold back to try to keep us happy, and don’t make a
move unless you’re crawling the walls, which makes us nervous because it
seems to come out of nowhere, so we try to control you more. And the
whole thing starts over. Ugly.”
“So. What do we do?”
I shrugged. “We need to be a team. Not just because Kilpatrick is
still out there. With Jorland dead I think she’s contained for the time
being. But it’s something we need to do just for the sake of the ship.
And I’d honestly rather find some way to make it work. We have the
potential to make a hell of a team. Better than either of us would be
alone. So I guess we just keep trying.”
We looked at each other. A glimmer of a grin started in his eyes.
He chuckled quietly. “No easy answers?”
“We should be so lucky.”
He snorted, and nodded, then held out his hand. I grinned, took it,
and we shook, holding the grip for a moment.
“Partners?”
“Looks like it, commander.”
There was a moment of comfortable unity, followed by ten seconds of
attraction that left me with my hair on end, my breath stuck in my throat
and my heart doing hand stands. It was no comfort that Chakotay’s eyes
went from normal adjustment to the room’s lighting to solid black at the
same moment; dark irises swallowed up by pupils the size of dinner plates.
And it wasn’t a moment either of us could pretend hadn’t happened. We
gingerly let go of each other’s hands, shifting back as far as we could
without humiliating ourselves.
Chakotay rolled his eyes. “Mmm. Yeah. One of these days we’re
going to have to figure out what the hell we’re going to do about that,
too.” His voice had a bit of a breathy shake to it.
I empathized. I felt like I’d raced the wind: breathless and very
hot. But, damn, it would have been easier if he’d stuck to the ‘old
ways.’ ‘That’ had been there for a long time. We’d brushed up against it
before. With as much on the line as there was… well, it hadn’t seemed
possible to combine the jobs, and the hope of more. I offered the old
answer. “Sublimate?”
It sounded weak even to me. His smile, directed as much to himself
as to me, was wry and sympathetic. “Worth a try for now. No bets on long
term. So, what *are* we going to do about the Kithtri?”
Back to business, and thank God for small favors. I don’t know which
of us was more relieved. Command unity was one thing — trying to work
out a relationship that went beyond that was another. I couldn’t help but
feel that the fear, confusion and ethical ambiguity levels were quite high
enough as things stood that evening without trying to take on the question
of ‘sex and the single command officer’.
I thought about his question. Thought about him, and the team we
were trying to form. I turned to him, and smiled. “Well, commander, what
do *you* suggest? As first officer I should think you’d have an opinion.”
He shook his head and sighed. “*Now* she asks.”
“Well?”
He met my eyes, and this time biology stayed out of the connection.
He held the look, evaluating, thinking. He nodded. “Talk to the doctor.
Make sure he really does know what the risks are. Then, if he still wants
to go through with it, have B’Elanna program every fail-safe and tamper
prevention technique she can into the clone’s routines, have her write a
suicide function for him to use if it gets too bad… and go with it.”
I looked away. It was about what I’d expected. It was the best I’d
been able to come up with myself. I still didn’t like hearing it.
“Commander, do you ever wonder what the hell they’re going to do to
us when we get back? At this point all I can see is half of my life spent
in court martial hearings, and the other half in prison.”
“The truth? The way I see it if we get back the Maquis and I are
probably slapped in prison, unless we manage to slip out before we’re far
enough into Federation territory for Starfleet to pick us up. And if we
really do manage to unite the crew I’d have a hard time getting anyone but
the hard-core mercenaries to abandon Voyager until we’d seen you safely
home. As for the rest of you — it depends. If the Federation council is
in need of heroes when we come in, you’re home free. They’ll treat
anything you did as justifiable so long as it’s clear you were doing the
best you could to hold a reasonable line between survival and ethics. In
that case they may even let me and the rest of my crew off the hook. If
they need villains though, we’re already shot. Enough has gone wrong out
here that nothing we can say can get us out of it if they feel like
pinning us to the wall.”
It was a perceptive answer, a way of looking at the question that
came at it from the outside. I’d been looking at it as a straight
question of regulation, not politics. The answer fretted at me. Politics
is a chancy, amoral thing.
“So it doesn’t matter what we do? Anything goes?”
“As far as what happens when we get home… well I wouldn’t recommend
blowing up any suns, or exterminating life on an inhabited planet, but
yeah, I suppose so. As far as our own ethics are concerned, we keep doing
the best we can. Which is all we could have done anyway.”
I nodded. He reached over and put his hand on my shoulder, and this
time I didn’t pull back.
“Kathryn, it’s all you can *ever* do.”
“I know. Chakotay, I’m all in. Have we covered what needed
covering?”
He chuckled. “Let me see: one fight, a long round of mutual
critique, and a fast run through the current situation. Yeah. I guess
that’ll see us through till tomorrow morning. You turn in. I’ll see
myself out.”
“No, I’ll walk you. Chakotay, one of these days I want turnabout.
I’ll stop pushing, for now, but if you ever get to where you can talk
about whatever’s bothering you…”
His mouth tightened, and I thought he was going to turn me down. Then
he sighed. “If I ever get to the point where *I* know all the bits, and
if it’s not something I can work out alone, you have a deal.”
“You don’t have to wait till then. I’m prepared to hear the
half-baked, mixed-up stuff too.”
He gave me a smile; gentle, as tired as my own. Still withdrawn,
still strained.. but better than it had been for a while. We’d made
progress of a sort.
“I’ll remember. Goodnight, Kathryn.”
“Night, Chakotay.”
The shiver that passed between us was controllable, that time. It
gave me hope. Maybe if we could find our way to friendship, the
attraction would fade. It would be so much safer, so much easier if it
did.
It hadn’t in two years.
I saw him out the door, changed for bed, and was asleep before my
head hit the pillow. I suspect that it was more than exhaustion. I
didn’t want to think, that night. Didn’t want to feel. There was too
much *to* feel.

I spent the next morning in sickbay with the doctor and B’Elanna,
making sure he really understood what he was facing, and discussing the
kinds of protections B’Elanna could create for him. She insisted that
there was no such thing as a completely foolproof program… that if
someone was determined enough to break in, it could be done. But between
us we came up with some ideas that would make it difficult for anyone
unfamiliar with Federation computers to do anything to the clone against
his will. When we’d done all we could I dismissed B’Elanna to go start
her work, called up to the bridge to check with Chakotay that everything
was clear, and then took off for the holodeck, having given myself the
rest of the day off. I needed the time, and I felt reasonably free taking
it while B’Elanna worked on the program. I wanted some time to play with
something *fun* — and I’d finished the program for my ‘pet project’ and
wanted to test it out. I got to the holodeck, loaded the chip that would
activate the “Chessie” programs stored in the main computer banks, and
gave the order to run.

End section 9.

Raisins and Almonds.
Peg Robinson, c. 1996

He was lovely. He faded in slowly, starting with a puff-whiskered
feline grin and ending with a huge, plumy tail. I’d patterned him on the
biggest domestic cat I could come up with, and the result was a monster:
about 23 pounds of Maine coon cat, with a streak of Persian thrown in for
good measure — or that was what the databases had claimed. I can
recognize Siamese, but that’s about it. In any case he was enormous. In
a burst of last minute inspiration drawn from the dapple cats prowling the
market the day before I’d spent a few minutes that morning shifting his
color scheme, and the results were — exciting. Green, with deep orange
tabby stripes, and a pink tucker and boots. Blue eyes.
A very vivid animal.
He stretched, prowled across the floor towards my chair, then leapt
into my lap, slamming his head up under my chin and purring like thunder.
“Mama!!”
I’d decided against trying to make his mouth move. Instead I’d gone
for a voice “projected” from the general vicinity of his geographic
location. The result was almost as strange as “hearing” a telepath. No
physical sign of speech… but the richest voice you ever heard, with a
touch of cat yowl added in. At first I’d thought I’d make him a her, but
a quick review of Chakotay’s circle of friends made it clear that the man
was already swimming in female connections: me, Magda, B’Elanna, Kes,
Cherel, even the sour ghost of Seska. But Tuvok and Chaim were as close
as I knew to male friends since the death of Kurt Bendara. Sometimes it’s
nice to bitch with your own gender. So Chessie was a tomcat. I reached
out and rubbed him behind the ears, and was rewarded with an increase in
the volume of the purr.
“Oh, mama, that’s ni-i-i-i-i-i-ce! Oh, yeah…. right there. Ooooh,
I’m gonna tell that man just what he’s missing. O-o-o-o-o-o-oh!!!!”
I pulled my hand away. “What?!”
Blue eyes blinked up at me disingenuously. “Well, I *am* for
Chakotay…yes?”
“How the hell do you know that?”
The return look was pure disgust. “What, you think I can’t read my
own programming? Loyalty: Chakotay. Personal files for Chakotay. Psych
profiles for Chakotay. Adjust my sense of humor for Chakotay. Only
appear when Chakotay is present in room. I’m a veritable cat-alogue of
‘minou-tia’.”
I groaned. I’d set him up with access to all the humor algorithms,
but that one was a stinker. I considered deleting the pun algorithm, and
decided against it. A bad pun hurts.. but it can get your mind off your
troubles at least long enough to throw a sofa cushion at whoever generated
it. If the cat ran true to this initial sample, Chakotay might be so busy
flinging cushions he wouldn’t have time to be depressed for the rest of
the trip home.
“Point taken. What else can you deduce from your program?”
“Rub me under my chin and maybe I’ll tell you.”
“Tell me, and maybe I’ll rub you under your chin.”
“Jeez, you’re chinchy. No wonder you’re not in bed with him yet.”
My breath caught. Dangerous… this thing was dangerous. “Chakotay,
bed, and I have nothing to do with each other.”
“Didn’t I just *say* that?”
I shook my head to clear it. “You implied it was an option.”
His voice went mock-pontifical. “Bed is always an option for
humanoid species. None discovered to date who don’t sleep — or screw
around.”
“Stop that!”
“Stop what?” He blinked innocently.
I didn’t have any idea what to say… finally I just shook my head.
“Tell me what you think your job is.”
He shot me a cold look, and evacuated my lap, his tail fluttering
irritatedly. “Cats don’t *have* jobs. Dogs, maybe. Not cats.”
I sighed. I’d been aiming for a contrary enough personality to stand
up to Chakotay in the worst or silliest mood he could generate.. but this
was ridiculous.
“What is your purpose in life?”
“I’m not alive. I’m a program. What, you hadn’t noticed?”
I blinked. “Now *that’s* interesting. I know I programmed you…
but there’s something convincing about you. You don’t feel like a
holocharacter.”
“You copy-cat the learning and decision-making algorithms from that
stupid holodoctor, and you wonder why I’m self-willed? Surprise! I’m
AI!” He leapt in the air, scrambled around the room like a mad thing, and
bounded into my lap again, touching his nose to mine till I ended up
looking cross-eyed into infinite blue. “I’m supposed to cheer him up,
help him out, keep him laughing, and take care of him. Also advise,
comfort , cherish, cuddle, and torment, as seems indicated. I’m a
holographic, seraphic, felinoid answer to the lack of a ship’s
counselor… and unlike your usual Starfleet counselor, I’m great company
and I’m even good in bed, in a kind of platonic way…. if you don’t mind
my pouncing on toes once in a while. I don’t even shed or spit up
hairballs. You must love him a lot to give him me.”
I pulled my face away. “Considering how you turned out, maybe I hate
him..”
Chessie dropped and rolled, showing what seemed like miles of pale
pink stomach fur. “Not a chance. I checked your personality index. And I
turned out so good you ought to call me the Magnifi-cat. Want to rub my
stomach?”
“Not really. How did you get into my psych files?”
“Are you *sure* you won’t rub my stomach? I’ll purr for you.”
I sighed and began tickling the soft fur on his belly. “There. Now
about my psych profiles….”
He wriggled, and purred, and wrapped his front paws around my wrist;
mashing his face against my hand. He could barely speak for bliss.
“Part of my counselor’s programming… don’t you remember? Oh,
yes-s-s-s-s-s. Right there. Mmmmmmm. You gave me access to the first
level of material, so I’d know how to advise the poor sucker if he had
trouble with folks on the ship.”
I nodded. “So I did. Maybe I’d better put some limits on that.”
“Nah…You loaded me down with so many versions of the laws of
robotics I couldn’t misuse the stuff if I wanted.” He tried to sound
disgusted, but the purr he was generating ruined the effect. “I’m safe as
houses. I can’t even tell him you’re crazy about him… at least not
directly.”
“I’m not.”
“Yeah, right. How about a bit to the right? God, woman, for a dog
lover you’ve got real *technique*. Tell me, what’s an Irish setter got
that I ain’t got, anyway?”
“Manners.”
“Well so long as it’s only that, I don’t mind. Manners and dogs are
made for each other. I was afraid you were going to say something
important, like ‘charm’ or ‘brains’ or ‘beauty’.”
“Those too.”
“Too late. I already know you love me.”
“You’ve got love on your brain.”
Blue eyes peered up at me. The voice, when it came, was purr and
peace.
“Of course. That’s what you made me for. Did you think it wouldn’t
affect how I think?”
“Computer, close program.”
He faded out, and the holodeck felt empty. It also felt a whole lot
safer than it had. I was afraid of the damned thing. It was everything
I’d designed it to be, and a whole lot more. Some weird synergy between
the personality templates, the algorithms I’d copied from the doctor’s
programs at Paris’s suggestion, the feline profile I’d used as the basic
prototype, and the range of information I’d given the thing access to in
the hope it could entertain Chakotay, and still make good choices about
his well being. It was obviously a *person*; which created an ethical
problem, as I wanted to alter the program some, and felt like I’d be
committing the kind of rape we feared would happen to the clone on the
planet below. I finally rationalized it as a protective act: in the
cat’s best interests. If I left him exactly and precisely the way he was,
I was afraid Chakotay would murder him…if I didn’t get to him first.
I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening ironing out the
wrinkles in the program, and getting to know my creation as I tested the
results. The final version was slightly more tactful than the ebullient
original… but not much. And I’d imposed a series of gag orders on it. It
wouldn’t be commenting on its psychiatric functions. Those functions had
been the easiest way Paris and I could come up with to give the thing the
information it needed to settle into its “owner’s” life as seamlessly as
possible, and the best way I could come up with to make sure that the
beast was the “Fantoccini” Paris had called it… good for what ailed you.
But I wanted to give Chakotay a friend, and a pet; and I was afraid he
wouldn’t allow himself to like it if he knew that it was supposed to be
good medicine for a sad heart too. In the end I was still appalled, but
also delighted. It was funny, crazy, outrageous, vain, lovable… and
absolutely targeted on Chakotay. And it was a very good cuddle. With a
bit of luck Chakotay’d love it as much as it loved him…if he didn’t kill
it before it got that far. It was a very nervy animal.

Two days later I was meeting another AI for the first time. It was a
far more problematic event. B’Elanna had completed the programming,
assembled the final version of the necessary hardware, and she and
Chakotay and I had congregated in the doctor’s office in sick bay to take
part in the “birth’ of a new doctor. B’Elanna set up the equipment,
powered it up, tied in a link to the main computer, and looked up
nervously.
“Now?”
I looked at the doctor. He was scared, but I didn’t think waiting
would help him any. I nodded. B’Elanna addressed the main computer.
“Copy EMH program from the medical database to the PMH memory.”
Chakotay looked at her.
“PMH?”
Before B’Elanna could answer the twin of the doctor materialized over
the holoprojector on the floor.
“I am the *portable* medical hologram. Independent identity, if you
can call it that. I’ve come to wonder why you biologicals put so much
effort into creating me, and never had the decency to give me a name.”
The original doctor stared at his twin. “I’ve thought that. Not
you. You’ve never thought anything until now.”
The PMH blinked. “I suppose you’re right. How peculiar. It
certainly *seems* as though I’d thought it.”
B’Elanna looked at her creation wonderingly. “It worked.” The clone
raised his eyebrows. “You doubted it?” She shrugged. “Not exactly. I
just hadn’t really thought about what it would be like.” The clone looked
startled, and then disturbed. When he spoke his voice was suddenly
hesitant. “I suppose I hadn’t either.” The original blinked. “But I
*did*. *Really* I did. It would have been unethical of me not to, and
I’m….”
“Programmed for ethics. I know. But it wasn’t real to you. You
knew you’d still be here. I won’t. I find it makes a subtle but
compelling difference.”
I stepped forward. “You don’t have to go if you don’t want to. We
wouldn’t ask it of you.”
The new being before us pursed his lips as primly as his original
ever had. “That would obviate the need for my existence, captain, and
would do nothing to ensure my patient’s well being. I will proceed as
planned.”
I turned to Chakotay, B’Elanna, and the original holodoctor.
“If you don’t mind I’d like a few minutes to speak with the
*Portable* doctor alone.”
They nodded, the doctor snapping out of existence, the other two
simply leaving quietly. I looked at the new doctor. There was nothing to
differentiate him from his original that I could see. He was terrified. I
could see that. He also appeared determined to offer himself as our trade
to the Kithtri.
“Doctor, I admire your courage, and appreciate the heroism and
dedication behind your choice, but I want to be very sure you’re prepared
for what you’re getting into. We don’t’ know what the Kithtri will do
with you, and we’ve only been able to give you questionable protections.
You don’t have to do this.”
“What about Kes?”
I looked away, unhappily. “If you don’t go Kes is no worse off than
she is now.”
“And if I don’t go she’s no better off either.”
“There’s still no guarantee that she’ll be better off even if you do
go. And I don’t like the mathematics of trading the future of one life on
the hope of saving another. You’re no less valuable than Kes, doctor.”
He gave a fragile, twisted smile. “To you, perhaps, and I thank you
for that. It is… peculiar… finding that *I’m* the one who is going.
No matter how much I thought about it before, I couldn’t imagine *myself*
as the one who would leave. It was always someone else. Now I find *I’m*
someone else. Very disconcerting. But I find that I am willing to take
the gamble. Kes is… very special. As there is nothing I or my ‘twin’
can do to save her ourselves, I’d as soon do what I can to help you
acquire someone who can.”
He was so brave, and so frightened. I reached out to take his hand,
and my own passed through him, as though he were a ghost. We both looked,
startled and shocked, and his face crumpled. I stood there, helpless. I
couldn’t even hand him a tissue. He covered his face with his hands, then
jerked them away, staring angrily at them.
“Oh no. I can’t even *feel*.”
I waited, miserable. It was a long while before he calmed. At last
he did, straightening up mournfully.
“I’m sorry, captain. It’s just… I hadn’t realized. It may not be
*much* of a body, but I hadn’t realized how… attached… I was to it. I
can’t even feel my own hands.” He spread his hands out before him, arms
extended to examine his own fingers… and they disappeared as they passed
beyond the limits we’d set for this first use of the generator. He stared
blankly at the empty space where they should be, then looked at me.
“I understood I’d have several yards movement.” His voice was flat
and expressionless.
“You will. B’Elanna restricted the holofield for this first attempt.
She didn’t want to over-extend the power source if she’d made a mistake.
If there’d been a system failure it might have killed you.”
“How considerate of her.” He didn’t sound convinced. I’m not sure
anything was real to him right then but the overwhelming limits he was
facing.
“Doctor, really: you don’t have to go.”
“I know.” He pulled his arms back, and his hands returned. He turned
them over, inspecting them. “It’s not like I haven’t had that happen
before. It’s just I had so much more room.” His expression changed. “Do
you know…I’ve never been anywhere but the sickbay and the holodeck?
I’ll be seeing more than I ever have before, and all of it real. How
fascinating. Captain, I find I am… curious. Is this why you people go
flying around like this?”
I nodded.
“Fascinating.” He ducked his head. “I’d like to ask a favor. Would
it be too much.. I’d like to leave a message for Kes. So she knows I did
this because I wanted to. I’d hate to think she was unhappy because I’d
done this for her.”
“Of course, doctor.”
He waited a moment, then shifted, uncomfortably. “I’d like to do it
alone, if it isn’t asking too much.”
I flushed. “Of course, doctor.”
I left, hearing his voice behind me start the computer’s message
function. I thought my heart would break. Clich , but there it was. I
didn’t know who I grieved more for; the doctor; Kes when she listened to
whatever message he was leaving her; or for my own lost innocence.
Chakotay had asked after Egypt if I never lay awake wondering about the
life and death choices I’d had to make. I knew I’d be questioning this
one for years to come, no matter how it turned out.
The leave-taking the next day hurt as much. I was leading this away
team too. Chakotay didn’t argue.
He watched me again as I checked my gear one last time, gave him
final instructions. When I’d done I stood, fastening on my belt pack,
avoiding looking at him.
“No objections, Chakotay?”
His voice was calm. “Not this time. You won’t let this one fall on
anyone but you, will you?”
I shook my head. “No. Some things you do yourself, or you don’t do
them at all.”
“I don’t see a better answer, if it helps.”
“I don’t either. If I did I wouldn’t be doing this.”
“I know.”
I looked up and met his eyes.
“You do, don’t you?”
He nodded.
“I’ve made the hard calls myself. Not the same ones. But not so
different.”
“Yes. You have. Thanks.”
“Not a problem. I’d walk you down, but with you, and Tuvok and Paris
and B’Elanna going…”
“No. I’d as soon you were on the bridge. Chin is good. You’re
better. Keep her safe.”
“I’ll try. If you need to talk when you come back….”
“I’ll keep you in mind. Round of pool at Sandrine’s when I get
back?”
“I’d as soon swim.”
“So would I. It’s a date, then.”
He grinned. “I thought captains didn’t date.”
“So I make an exception once in a while. Just don’t show up in that
damned uniform.”
He started to laugh.
“What?”
He shook his head. “We get home I’m reporting you for harassment.
I’ll tell ’em you told me to show up without my uniform.”
“Terrible man.”
We smiled, turned, and left the room together.

We made the trip down in near silence, B’Elanna with the satchel of
equipment tucked against her shins, hand clutching the carry strap as
though she were guarding a treasure. Tom tried cracking a few jokes for
the first half hour or so, but when he got no response beyond the
occasional sour look from Tuvok he gave up and concentrated on his
piloting. I went over the whole situation, reviewing the options over and
over. In the final reckoning I was quite sure that a Starfleet review
board would find me in breech of the PD. I was just as sure that any
other choice would be as wrong. Voyager owed Kes and Neelix for more than
we could ever repay: hospitality, advice, Kes’ uncanny wisdom, Neelix’s
sudden flashes of heroism. They’d saved the ship more than once, helped us
through hard times; all that, added to connections they’d given us freely,
services to the ship, and all with no more motive than delight in our
company, fascination with our people, and good will, left us with a debt I
couldn’t turn my back on. Sometimes the only way to defend your honor is
to give up a little of it.
The market was as wild as the first time. Wilder, maybe. This time
there was no question but that we were noticed. No one approached us, but
eyes peeking from veils followed us as we made out way down the lanes and
trellised streets, and the Kithtri in the crowd made way for us, seeming
to pull back when they saw us coming. Some made a gesture with their
hands. I had no idea what it meant. It could have been a curse, or some
sour insult. If it were, I couldn’t blame them. I had come to trade one
of ours for one of theirs, and I wouldn’t have been at all surprised to
find that they resented it. It was a relief to pass out of the crowds and
into the cool silence of the Bargaining Hall.
We walked down the great nave again, B’Elanna leading the way,
satchel slung over her shoulder; heavy enough to pull her over sideways.
Tom had offered to carry it for her, but she’d refused. Tom and Tuvok
walked behind, alert, silent. I brought up the rear. We were like a
stately funeral procession, B’Elanna carrying the corpse of our honored
dead. It would have been easier if he were dead.
When we reached the central room the three ahead of me stepped to the
side, and let me past. I picked up the mallet, rang the bowl, and waited
as the Kithtri filed into the room. There were more of them this time.
The group had grown to at least twenty. The La-eis, again dressed in
gold, but far more elaborate than the veils he’d worn the last time; the
three assistants, in deep blue embroidered in an intricate filigree of
twining vines and beautifully rendered animal motifs. There was a bevy of
attendants in crimson and gold, five more in sooty gray who set my teeth
on edge with a low, ululating moan as they came towards the central space.
I was beginning to understand that there was something going on here far
beyond what Chakotay and I had understood from the records we’d examined
in our memory banks, or Neelix had been able to tell us in his
half-remembered wonder tales. We were in the middle of something, some
ceremony foreign to us, and I didn’t even dare pull out now, not without
knowing what withdrawing would set into motion.
The assembly of celebrants formed an arching ring behind the bowl.
The La-eis stepped forward, and called out wordlessly, his voice deep and
resonant, the call similar to the cry of a cantor, or a muezzin. Behind
the wall of attendants I heard the chime of hundreds of tiny bells. The
arc of attendants parted, and from the hall on the opposite side of the
room came an explosion of white veils. They swirled and spun, the hems
edged with bells, trimmed with bands of vivid embroidery in all the colors
of the veils of Abbyzh-dira. It was like a whirling dervish, or the
flutter of fabric as T’Pel danced the last sequences of ‘The Dance of The
Sisters’ back on Vulcan. At last the white tempest came to a stop in the
center of the gap that had been left open, and Anyas’ amber eyes looked at
us all, wide and dilated, with a look of drunken victory in them. The
La-eis bowed deeply to him.
“They have come, offered. Shall you examine their bargain?”
Anyas nodded, an arch arrogance to the gesture that set my back up.
He stepped forward, and addressed me, meeting my eyes with an intoxicated
ferocity.
“Show thy wares; the body and the soul. We will take no less than
the finest as the First Offered, in return for the First Offered.”

End section 10

Raisins and Almonds.
Peg Robinson, c. 1996

I stood there, weighing the situation. We were outnumbered, it was a
long way through the market… and Anyas, however much I had suddenly
found I wanted nothing to do with him, was still our best bet for Kes.
After a long, creeping moment I gestured B’Elanna forward. She silently
opened the satchel, and set up the computer, power pack, and
hologenerator. She looked at me, I nodded, and she powered up the clone’s
system. He materialized beside me.
Anyas stepped forward, paced around the doctor, his veils and bells
chiming and hissing as they dragged over the blue tiles. He completed a
full circuit, then came to stand in front of the clone. He studied the
pale, tense face before him. He cocked his head.
“Are you afraid?”
The clone swallowed, licked his lips. His eyes flicked to mine, then
back to Anyas.
“Terrified.”
Anyas seemed to smile, eyes narrowing.
“As well you should be. If you are frightened, why are you here?”
“It’s the only way I know to save a patient. Who *are* you?”
“I am what you are… offered wares. Why do you want to save this
patient?”
The doctor’s clone looked affronted. “I am a *doctor*. It is my job
to save my patients.”
“Ah. So you have no choice.” Anyas’ voice was harsh, and he turned
away abruptly. Before he’d left the center of the room the new doctor
lifted his head, furious.
“I most certainly do, you cretin. I am a Portable Medical Hologram,
and it is my duty to save as many lives as I can that are in my care. But
I am saving Kes because I *choose* to…. and if all you’re going to do is
stand around playing semantic word-games regarding free will, and the
differences between machine based and biologically based programming, I’d
appreciate it if you’d tell me now, because I see no reason to waste my
time if I’m not going to be allowed to do what I came here for.”
I could have cheered… and cried. Anyas turned and prowled back
across the space, then squatted beside the equipment. He reached out
immaculately manicured fingers, brushing the pads across the plastic
surfaces.
“This is your body, yes?”
The doctor arched an eyebrow.
“I suppose if your primitive mind can only encompass the idea of a
sentient life form with a body, then yes, that is my body.”
“And your soul?”
“I’m not in a position to comment on whether I have a soul or not.
However, I don’t see why the patterns created by the hardware and
programming in my equipment and the energy that allows me to function
should not be accepted as a functional analog of a ‘soul’.”
“The medical knowledge of your people is contained here?”
“It is.”
“The *entire* medical knowledge of your people?”
“All the knowledge available on Voyager, certainly. I cannot comment
on what new discoveries have been made in the Federation since our…
departure.”
Anyas nodded, appearing to consider carefully. Then he rose, walked
back to the waiting arch of attendants, and made the same gesture we’d
seen out on the streets. Then he reached out and took the mallet from
where I’d left it beside the bowl, and struck a heavy blow. The sound was
almost deafening in that room, and in moments it was answered by even
greater tones from over head, from all the minarets and towers of the
Bargaining Hall. From out in the market a wail went up, and horns
sounded, drums rolled…
Tuvok stirred restlessly, looking for attackers. B’Elanna and Tom
shifted to stand beside him, forming a triangle backing me. They didn’t
draw their phasers, but their hands hovered close to the butts of their
weapons, ready for action. I held still. The note of the great bowl died
away, though the clangor overhead continued, as did the roar from the
market. They were muted enough by the heavy glass walls to allow speech,
though. The La-eis stepped forward, placing his hands on Anyas’ head and
running them gently down the veils. Then he turned him around, and pushed
him gently towards me.
“The bargain is closed. He is yours, his body yours, his soul yours
for all the days of his body’s life, for so long as you choose to keep
him. In return your offering is ours. You may go, now. Your bodies
shall pass; may your souls return to their own places; enriched and
enriching.”
Anyas started down the corridor without a word from me, and the
attendants hurried forward to collect the doctor’s equipment, their
movements brisk and efficient.
“Wait.”
Eyes turned to me. I allowed my voice to snarl, furious and ready
for them to know it.
“We haven’t agreed. Our ‘offering’ has lived up to your standards.
I’m not so sure yours lives up to ours. Doctor, your call.”
The doctor turned, and looked at Anyas.
“My patient is suffering from extreme fluctuations of her immune
system as a response to an artificially induced and maintained pregnancy.
The fetus was created by splicing genetic material from the woman in
question, an Ocampan, and genetic material from her partner, a Talaxian.
The pregnancy lasted for seven months, far longer than the standard period
of one month common to her race, and there was a strong tendency towards
rejection of the fetal tissue. I suppressed her immune response,
substituting an artificial one based on synthetic antibodies and
additional filtration provided by … well, by a machine I can’t reproduce
for you here. I extended the period of the pregnancy by the application
of synthesized hormonal supplements. The child was born healthy, but the
mother failed to return to her natural condition when the supplements were
withdrawn, and her immune system began to attack her own body. After
three days she went into a comma, and three days after that we were forced
to reduce her metabolic rate and place her in a stasis field in the hopes
of preserving her life until a cure could be found. What would you do to
treat her?”
Anyas looked at him, placid, and amused.
“If I tell you that what is to prevent your companions from returning
to their ship and giving the information to your brother? There would be
no point in the trade.”
“Information without context is useless. You have the context.”
Anyas arched his brows. Then, more gently than I’d see him move
since I first saw him, he walked up to the doctor. He bowed gracefully,
and met his eyes.
“I cannot promise. I don’t know how ill she was when you placed her
in stasis. I don’t know what further harm your stasis techniques may have
done. But unless the situation is other than I believe, or she has been
damaged beyond any ability to repair, I can heal her. My promise, offered
one.”
The doctor looked at him so intently he might have been looking at
death itself. At last he nodded, and looked towards me. “Do it.”
“Are you sure?”
He shrugged. “It’s the best chance she has. Do it.”
I waited, half hoping he’d change his mind. He didn’t. At last I
turned towards the La-eis, avoiding Anyas’ eyes.
“We accept. Your offering for ours. And if I ever hear you’ve
harmed him in any way I’m coming back, and pulling this place down around
your ears.” I stepped up to the holodoctor, and held out my hands, palms
up. He turned his own over mine. They rested, immaterial but potent, in
the space above.
“Take care of yourself, Doctor. Thank you. I want you to know I
think they got the best out of this damned deal. You’re worth ten of that
bastard.”
His eyes filled.
“Thank you, captain. I’ll remember.”
I stepped back, only to be replaced by Tom. He came to full
attention… then obviously struggled. It’s been a long time since
Starfleet used any form of salute. After a desperate period, Tom had an
inspiration: he thumped himself on the chest in the Klingon salute.
Behind me I heard B’Elanna let loose a keen, halfway between laughter and
tears. When Tom dropped back ,she stepped forward. She came to
attention, and gave the salute herself, laughing as her eyes dripped
tears.
“Take care of yourself. If you have trouble with your power packs,
remember to tell them you can be converted to either straight electric
feed, or solar…. I’ve put the instructions on a padd in your bag, with
back-up in hard copy, with illustrations. They won’t be able to read it,
but you will. And remember the fail safes. And don’t forget to have them
change your….”
“Lieutenant…”
“Yes….”
“I’ll remember it all. I believe the appropriate comment for me to
make now would be ‘Thank you… mother.'”
She dissolved at that point, Tom stepping forward to wrap an arm
around her and lead her back. Tuvok stepped forward, came to attention
and gave the Vulcan salute. “Peace and long life.”
The doctor struggled to return the salute, and failed, muttering,
“Idiots. Of all the things to forget to give me. Really….”
Tuvok cleared his throat. “I’ll take it as read, Doctor.”
He nodded. “Yes. Well. Live long and prosper, Mr. Tuvok. Thank
you.” He looked around the group of us gathered around him. “Thank you
all… and I think you’d better go now. I’ve just discovered I hate long
good-byes.”
I nodded. “Good bye, Doctor.”
I gathered my team, shot a cold look at Anyas, and started down the
corridor. Tom, Tuvok and B’Elanna fell in behind. Anyas lingered a
moment, exchanging some words with one of the attendants, then hurried
down the corridor behind me, his feet slapping on the tiles, bells ringing
and chiming. He slipped past the others and touched my elbow.
“You’ll want to let me go first.”
I hurried on, keeping my eyes forward.
“I don’t want to do anything but get back to Voyager, immediately if
not sooner.”
“I’m afraid that won’t be possible.”
I looked over at him.
“It damned well better be, mister. As far as I’m concerned I’ve had
as much to do with Abbyzh-dira as I want.”
“You don’t understand…”
“Then explain.”
Anyas looked at the doorway coming up ahead. There was a deep murmur
from the market beyond, and the sounds of horns, drums, and bells. He
shook his head.
“No time. Just let me go first.”
I nodded, Anyas stepped forward through the great arching doorway,
and a roar went up from the crowd. Tuvok, B’Elanna and Tom drew their
phasers and we proceeded cautiously out the entry behind.
The sight confronting us was wild. The crowds of the market had
gathered in front of the Bargaining Hall; packed tight, faces turned up to
the archway. Anyas stood at the head of the stairs leading up to the
arch, arms spread, veils floating on the breeze like angel wings, the
vivid light of Abbyzh-dira glittering off the metallic threads and the
bells. As he turned the crowd cheered. After a moment silence fell.
Anyas called out, his voice carrying over the multitude.
“The bargain is made. The first offered is taken; the first offered
is given. The Offered are become the Accepted. The gamble is won. My
body will pass: may my soul return with memories!”
Then, as the crowd howled, he reached up under the veils, fumbled for
a second, and, with a grand gesture, threw the entire sweep and flutter of
them aside, and stood unveiled.
“Kahless on crutches…..”
I didn’t blame B’Elanna one bit.
Chakotay is beautiful, but it’s shibui. Anyas? I’d seen the like at
beaches, and on Risa. I’d dreamed a bit of them as a teenager, sighed a
time or two over the Minoan bulldancers painted centuries ago on the walls
of Knossos. So far as I know I’d never stood quite so close to quite so
much perfect, polished, oiled and impressive male pulchritude. He was
lithe, and elegant; broad shouldered and chested, narrow hipped; olive
skin shining in the light, black hair tumbling in curls down his back and
tangling in his eyelashes. Perfect from the tousled top of his head and
the tips of his fluted Ocampan-esque ears to his bangled ankles and the
rouged bottoms of his bare feet. I suppose he was wearing more than
Chakotay had the night we’d gone swimming, even if you only managed to
increase the total garment count by adding in the jewelry spread across
his chest, dancing at his ears, banding his arms and ankles. But the
difference was an order of magnitude… Chakotay’d worn a swim suit.
Anyas wore a boast. The little wrap that covered his groin was patterned
in a geometric that drew attention exactly, precisely *there*. Everything
about him was a shining, flaming brag announcing ‘I am gorgeous’ to anyone
passing.. Some desperate part of my brain insisted that it just wasn’t
fair… I was going to have a hard enough time explaining to anyone why
I’d agreed to acquire a slave, without having him present such an easy and
incorrect answer just by his physical presence.
“It’s not *fair*! No-one looks like that. It isn’t possible…”
I looked back at Tom. His face was a picture, an illustration of a
man mourning the passing of the Delaney sisters from his life.
B’Elanna was trying very hard to look like the presence of a minor
divinity was an every day event – nothing she’d take note of. She was
failing badly. Even Tuvok looked startled. And the crowd was going
insane. They shrieked, and leapt and flung streamers in the air. Dozens
of instruments had taken up a pounding, repeating theme, and people along
the route down into the market had linked arm to arm and started a
serpentine line dance that shuffled and swayed a yard or two in one
direction only to reverse and return as the dancers on the ends let go
hands and twined up and down the length of the line. And everywhere I
looked Kithtri were dropping their veils, leaving them to lie in the
streets, swinging them over their heads, swirling them around like
matadors’ capes. The sheer volume of it all was overwhelming. I leaned
over, grabbed Anyas by the shoulder, and shouted as close to his ear as I
could get: “Get us *out* of here. Now.”
He continued to pose, shaking his head and shouting back “I can’t.
The festival has started.”
“Move, mister.”
I grabbed his arm above the elbow, and started forward. The crowd
surged up, surrounding us, hands reaching out to pat and stroke Anyas and
the rest of us. Before I could move to stop them, a small horde of them
swept us onto their shoulders, and began to carry us like icons through
the streets of the Market. I hated it. I also couldn’t think of a thing
to do to stop it. At least Tuvok and the others hadn’t panicked and
started shooting… the crowd seemed to have no desire to harm us. As
angry as I was, I didn’t want to start shooting unarmed civilians who were
convinced that this was some sort of party.
I’d always had my doubts about the sorts of victory procession
popular after Academy home games. Now I was quite sure they were as bad
as I’d ever thought. We were jostled and shaken as the celebrants beneath
us traded places, staggered when their footing failed, or tried to dance
as they carried us. And they seemed determined to give us a tour of the
entire market. We were carried from street to street, alley to ally, and
everywhere we went we were pelted with handfuls of dried nuts and fruits,
sprinkled with water from the dozens of fountains. Anyas appeared to be
in heaven. He’d lean down to collect a handful of the nut mix, eating it
from the hands of those who offered it, kissing fingers, nibbling wrists
in the process, leaning further to kiss welcoming lips, laughing, grabbing
up goblets of water. Tom tried to get into the spirit of the thing,
willingly accepting more “trail mix” from the hands reaching up, and
beaming at the women who fondled his hands. He may have felt upstaged by
Anyas, but he wasn’t above accepting the man’s leftovers. B’Elanna swore
continuously for the first fifteen minutes or so, finally running down; at
last getting sufficiently into the fun that she’d lean down and trade
kisses with the young men who clustered around her, pleading joyously and
exageratedly for just one, *one* kiss, or they’d die. Tuvok and I merely
endured.
We endured for hours. I’m pretty sure we were toted down every lane
in the bazaar, and through every plaza and courtyard. Finally, when I
thought I was going to have to shoot somebody just to vent some spleen, we
came to the edge of the market, at the gate that lead to the landing
field. We were set down, and the crowd began singing. Anyas waved to all
the gathered throng.
“My body passes!”
A cheer went up.
“My soul returns; wish me a varied life!”
More cheering. I wondered if the good-bye speeches were going to
take as long as the procession. They didn’t. With that said Anyas
turned, passed through the gates, a great cry went up, and my away team as
one rushed behind him, propelled on a wave of sound. The gates closed
behind us, and it was done.

We walked silently up the trail to the landing field and our shuttle,
the sounds of Festival drifting behind us. When we arrived we found that
someone had been there before us. A pile of luggage sat beside the craft.
On top of the pile was a small cage full of little creatures that looked
a bit like chipmunks, or little monkeys the size of newborn kittens. It
was hard to say quite which. The faces were more like monkeys. But the
bodies were more like the chippies that had scooted across the cottage
porch when I was a girl. I looked at Anyas.
“You didn’t say you wanted to bring along pets. No one else has
anything larger than a fish. It’s a small ship.”
“They aren’t pets.. or that isn’t their primary function. They are
medical supplies.”
I had an image of leeches, the nightmare of the dark ages, flash past
my eyes, and wondered just what I’d traded the clone and his knowledge
for. It wasn’t a good time to ask, though,. I was pretty sure I’d loose
my temper if I started in right then. “Off with his head” was looking
very good. I nodded once, curtly, shot the rest of the team a look, gave
the order to collect the bags, and stalked into the shuttle, counting to a
thousand in base eight and trying to keep a hold on my temper. My hair was
falling down, I was hot, and tired, and furious, and all I wanted to do
was get home to Voyager.
The luggage was loaded in record time. My crew has had time to get
used to some things about me. They know when not to try my patience. Tom
and Tuvok took the controls, B’Elanna took a seat, after gingerly helping
Anyas into one, trying not to touch those acres of too, too exquisite
flesh, I settled into my seat, and we took off, leaving the market behind,
a slowly blossoming bouquet of lights as the Festival took over the
evening. For the first half hour no-one said a word. Once we were out of
the atmosphere I turned to Anyas. “What the hell was that?”
He arched elegant eyebrows. “I’m not sure I understand.”
“That…. that *bullshit* back there. We made a business
transaction, and one we damned well didn’t like. We weren’t expecting to
find ourselves in the middle of a Mardi Gras celebration. And we sure as
hell didn’t expect you to toss those veils and step out as the Queen of
the May. I want to know what was going on, I want to know just what your
people have involved us in, and I want to know what’s going to happen to
the clone. Now start talking.”
Anyas blinked, and smiled, lazily. “Ah. Yes, I suppose it would
come as a shock. I’m afraid that was necessary.”
“You’re not explaining. Step it up.”
“This was First Trade. It wouldn’t mean anything if you knew the
rite.”
“Rite?”
“Life of the body is a gamble; a trade. Interaction is the heart of
the trade. One to one, culture to culture. The gamble is where all the
things that are worth having come together. But you can’t have a First
Trade if you remove the gamble, or take away from the unknown. That would
be….” He groped for a word. “Sacrilege?”
I glared at him. “What kind of religion requires you to involve a
group of innocent strangers in your rites, and push them to the limits?”
Anyas frowned. “I’m not sure religion is the word for it, captain.
Philosophy, maybe.”
“I don’t care if it’s a weekend hobby. I resent what you’ve put us
through, I resent being kept in the dark, and I want to know what is going
to happen to my crewmember.”
Anyas’ face closed. “He is First Accepted. He will live the life of
a First. The risk was his to take, and the results are his alone. If he
chooses to tell you one day, that is his choice.”
“We won’t be here to tell. We’re leaving here.”
“Then you will never know. I can’t tell you. It is *his* story.”
“Tell me, if we want him back, can we trade for him again?”
“He is First. The Trade is made. He is body of the Kithtri now.”
I glared at him.
“And you’re ‘body of Voyager’?”
“Yes.”
“Pity.”
I turned away, and spent the rest of the trip trying to remind myself
that there was no point in killing him before he’d at least tried to heal
Kes, and that whether he succeeded or not, we were a civilized culture,
and no longer practiced capital punishment. With Anyas aboard I longed
for the bad old days before that was true.

End section 11

Raisins and Almonds.
Peg Robinson, c. 1996

Once we cleared the rings Tuvok called ahead to let Voyager know why
we were so late. It was nice to hear Chakotay’s voice. Nice to hear
relief, and pleasure there. Someone waiting to see me home. Tuvok
arranged for a security officer to meet us at the shuttle to escort Anyas
to his rooms. I was amused that he chose one of his oldest, and most
decidedly hetero male officers to escort our peacock. Tuvok isn’t as
innocent about human frailties as he often appears. At least half of it
is tact, and another quarter discretion and Machiavelian foresight. It’s
better to appear ignorant of some things.
Chakotay and Bindu, the security officer, met us. I stepped out
first, and met Chakotay’s eyes. Whatever he saw in my face made him arch
his eyebrows, and start to suppress a smile of amusement. Then, before
the grin had come to term, Anyas stepped out, resplendent in all his
shining, underdressed elegance.
Two male jaws dropped, and were hastily retrieved. Credit where
it’s due: Chakotay made a fast recovery, and introduced Bindu, sending
them on their way promptly. Tom and B’Elanna asked limply if they were
dismissed. We nodded. Tuvok made his apologies and requested time to go
fill out his report on the away mission, and we were left alone. I looked
wearily at Chakotay.
“Welcome to the Delta Quadrant. A surprise around every bend.”
“I’ll say. Just what *was* that?” His eyes were full of laughing
amazement.
“That? Just a little something I picked up on Abbyzh-dira. Claims
he’s the ‘body of Voyager’.”
“I didn’t know the ship looked so good. If he’s half the doctor he
is a model, you got a deal.”
“You want him he’s all yours.”
He snorted and grinned amiably, shaking his head. “Not my type.”
“So your first move isn’t going to be to proposition him?”
“Not a chance. First contact is captain’s privilege.”
“Not on your life.” I glowered at him. Teasing was one thing, but
*really*…
“You’re sure? He’s… something. The last time I looked like that,
I didn’t look like that.”
“Feeling inadequate?”
He grinned and shrugged. “A bit. I can deal with getting older, but
that makes me feel like I was *always* second rate.”
“Don’t. You’ve got class. All he’s got is polish.”
“Thanks — I think. C’mon.”
“Chakotay, I’m sorry, but I’m not up to a swim. I’m not up to much
of anything.”
“I figured as much when Tuvok told us what had happened. You have to
eat though.”
“I don’t think I can. Too tired, and too angry.”
“Try. I dug out a container of matar panir. I’ll bring it over to
your quarters. You can eat it, and collapse.”
I understood now why he’d warned me off of ‘mama-ing ‘ him. I felt
uncomfortably cared for, uncomfortably suceptible to the comfort of it.
It made me bristle. “How very nurturing of you. Now who’s being the
‘mother hen’?”
He sent me back an exasperated look. “And now who’s being too damned
stubborn for her own good? Chalk it up to command unity.” We met each
others gazes, both annoyed, both on guard. Chakotay shook his head.
“Dammit, Kathryn, if we’re going to make ‘partners’ work, it has to be
more than a ready room arrangement. There has to be room for friends, or
at least comrades, or it’s just show.”
I nodded, reluctantly, then found myself grinning. “Got some basmati
to go with the matar panir?”
He snorted. “Yeah. I’ll even chuck in some raita and some nan.”
Which was a resolution of sorts.

While he got the food, I slipped into the loosest, plainest
slop-abouts I could find. I don’t have many choices. This time it was
the exercise pants, and a loose sweater that used to be Mark’s. I used to
use it as a security blanket when we first got out here. Now I just use
it as comfort clothing. I was just trying to pick the last of the
hairpins out of my hair when Chakotay showed up, and I let him in. He set
the food on my coffee table and fished in a pocket, pulling out one of the
smaller med wands.
“Stand still.”
“Why?”
“You’ve got a sunburn. Figured I’d take care of it.” He set gentle
fingers under my chin, and ran the med wand over my face. Now that he
mentioned it I could feel the tight, hot flush of the burn.
“Damn. I knew I forgot something. How bad is it? I was too angry
to notice it.”
“If you asked a stranger which of us was red, they wouldn’t say it
was me. Stop wiggling.”
“They wouldn’t anyway. You’re olive.”
“Beige. An attractive shade of beige. There. You’re done. I’ll be
going now. Sleep well.”
“Why don’t you stay — or are you afraid of your own cooking?”
“I thought you’d never ask.”
He settled cross-legged on one side of the coffee table, I settled on
the other, and we dove in. Through mouthfuls of matar panir he asked me
about the trip, and I had the unheard-of luxury of *bitching*. I’d almost
forgotten how good it felt to tell an attentive audience just how badly
life was treating me. Tuvok is a cherished friend, and a good advisor —
but he isn’t a lot of help when you need to vent plasma. It offends his
notions of civilized behavior, and he usually tries to convince you that
you shouldn’t allow little things to trigger emotional responses.
Chakotay listened, moaned, laughed, and commiserated in all the right
places. I began to think we weren’t paying him enough. Of course out
here it’s room, board, uniforms and replicator credits. Hardly a princely
salary.
I finished the epic about the time we cleaned out the last of the
matar panir. “Want something to finish off with? Coffee, jago?”
“Coffee.”
“You’re sleeping better.”
He nodded. “Some. That’s a heck of a story, you know. Go down
expecting Apollonian tragedy, end up with a Dionesian festival. Anyas
was right about the ceremony, from his point of view, you know. It’s hard
to have something serve as a symbol for risk when you take the risk out
of it.”
“I know. That doesn’t mean I have to like it, particularly when one
of my people is the one at risk.” I kept my face towards the replicator,
not wanting the pure annoyance I still felt to come through too clearly.
I suspect it did anyway. His voice was amused and a bit rueful when he
responded.
“The down side of the Prime Directive and the IDIC… People don’t
think alike. So yeah, there’s the occasional rough spot. But you got us
a doctor, and the clone seems likely to be well treated, if they live up
to their bargain.”
“How do I know what they’ll do? They’re like that blasted Coyote you
tell about. Murphy’s step-children. I can’t predict them.”
He accepted the coffee cup, cradled it as he studied me. “That
really bothers you, doesn’t it? You can deal with Quantum Mechanics, or
Chaos Theory. But you get jittery when people don’t follow the patterns
you’re used to.”
I sat down on the floor again, my back braced on the sofa. I leaned
my head back into the cushions, and closed my eyes, wrapping my hands
around the heat of the cup.
Chakotay sighed, and shifted. “Sorry.”
“No. No need. You’re right, in a way. Wrong too. It’s a side
effect of ending up out here. Like the Red Queen. I never liked loosing
control. Never liked failing. Out here it’s all or nothing, no back-ups,
no safety net. And nothing they trained me for really prepared me for
this: trying to hold a mixed crew, in a situation I created, in
completely unpredictable circumstances, with no end in sight, and no idea
of what I should be doing to keep things going in the long term, or how
long the long term’s going to be. I’m afraid I’ve gone from being
normally controlling, for a starship captain, to a bit of a martinet.”
“Not that.”
“No? You’d be the one to know. You’ve taken the brunt of it. I
keep thinking about what you said the other night: about trying to do
your job, and getting ‘Maquis’ thrown in your face. You’re right. But
then I have to ask myself where we’ll end up if I don’t hold the line.”
“What are you afraid of?”
“It isn’t any one thing. Just a sense that if I let the erosion
start, before I know it there won’t be anything left of us but savagery.”
His voice was dry as salt. “Savagery isn’t what you seem to think it
is. There’s a big difference between a lack of ethics and a lack of
technology, or cities. That’s all ‘civilization’ means you know. I
looked it up when I was a kid. It means the culture that evolves in and
around cities.”
“That’s not what I’m talking about. I…. Try this:

‘Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned…'”

” ‘The best lack conviction, while the worst are full of passionate
intensity.’ Yeats, yes?”
“Mmm-hmm. Didn’t know you liked poetry.”
“Some. Words of power. The ones my father would have said were
strong medicine.” He closed his eyes, thought about it, remembered back
to some other time. ” My lit teacher in second year read that one and it
blew me away. I used to think it must be what it was like for the tribes,
when the Europeans took over. ‘Things fall apart, the center cannot
hold.’ We believe in the power and meaning of circles. For the circle to
fall apart… bad. Unthinkable beyond enduring. Then when I was in the
Maquis it came back to me. Sometimes it seemed like that was a better
description of what the world was like than all the texts I ever had to
read.”
“Then you understand.”
He shook his head. “I understand being afraid of that. I’m not sure
I believe absolute control is the answer.”
He was pushing my boundaries again. I pushed back, not so much
annoyed as determined that this time he see the reflection in his own
life, and not just settle for the power of criticizing mine. ‘Partners’
had to mean reciprocity, or I wasn’t going to be able to accept it.
“Chakotay, you’ve been a wreck for weeks because you felt like you’d
failed at something you couldn’t control. Wouldn’t you have preferred to
have that control?”
He thought about it a while, then laughed ruefully. “No. Not
really. That’s too much like thinking I have what it takes to be a god,
when I don’t even come close. The best I want, really, is to know what my
place in things is, what I *am* responsible for and should control, and
know I can let go of the rest. That’s hard enough, without adding in
absolute power. I’ll leave that little arrogance to the Q.”
I looked at him. He was sprawled on his back on the floor, head
turned towards me; a big, lazy cat in the middle of my carpet. Hard not
to like. Hard not to cherish, in his easy willingness to deal with
challenges and change. He might have pride, but he didn’t have hubris.
But he wasn’t perfect by a long shot. I grinned wryly. “You don’t live
like that.”
“No. Maybe I should. Maybe you should too. If you try to take
responsibility for every possible outcome you’ll go around the bend.” The
laugh he gave was bitter-sweet. “Better than sitting around feeling sorry
for ourselves.”
“I am, aren’t I?”
“Yeah. I figured it was turnabout, though.”
“Turnabout would have rated me a swift kick.”
“All in good time.”
“Tactful.”
“I’m working on my XO skills. Diplomacy instead of dramatics.”
I found myself chuckling. “Damn. I didn’t think I was going to
laugh again for a few centuries. Seriously, though, it worries me. I
feel like if I let go too much, this whole ship will fly apart.”
“If you don’t let go sometimes *you’ll* fly apart. Even if you pass
a miracle and stay sane, the ship won’t be better off for over-management.
You’ll never get ‘Les Voyageurs’ if you hold on too hard.”
“I know. It’s just that situations like this kill me. Too many
risks, too many unknowns, and we’ve already lost so much. And I don’t like
the way I find myself feeling out here. Like I’ve lost too much myself.”
“What have you lost?”
I didn’t answer.
“Kathryn? Are you all right?”
“No.”
He waited for me. The seconds ticked away on my grandfather clock.
At last I found my voice again.
“Innocence. It’s not a virtue I ever aspired to, not a ‘command
virtue’. But I *miss* it. ‘The ceremony of innocence is drowned’. I sold
a life today, and I don’t know what that means. Back in the Alpha
Quadrant I would have known, and I would have despised myself. Here, I
don’t know if I’ve made a logical choice, the same way I would have
chosen about Jorland, or if I’ve taken the easy road, because I want to
win this one. I want Kes to live.”
“I thought you didn’t let these things keep you awake.”
“The ones like Jorland, I don’t. Not often. This sort of thing
drives me crazy.”
“Kathryn, he volunteered.”
“How can a man not two days old, who we never even dignified with a
name volunteer? And how can we let him go if he’s so much a person that
he can volunteer? Do you have an answer for that, my bull-dancing
friend?”
“If we hadn’t let him go we’d have been taking something away from
him that’s his. Maybe the only thing he had that was his.”
“I know. ‘No easy answers.’ If that’s going to be Voyager’s motto,
I think I want another one.”
He sputtered, and grinned at me. “At least you can still laugh.”
“At least I have someone to laugh with. Thanks, Chakotay”
“Any time.”

The next day Anyas spent the morning in sickbay, familiarizing
himself with the holodoctor and with Voyager’s resources, and sending the
med techs into twittering hysteria. They were used to patients as
minimally dressed as Anyas… but they weren’t sure what to make of a
doctor in minimalist undress. Chakotay and I spent the morning going over
star charts, and doing more file examination, trying to work out a return
to our voyage back to the Alpha Quadrant. The detour to Abbyzh-dira had
altered our planned course enough to warrant re-assessment. And we were
getting pretty worried about the problem of raiders. It was looking more
and more likely that they’d strike as we left, if they were going to
strike at all. We went over as many plans of action as we could, trying
to second guess where the attack would come from, and what form it would
take, but with virtually no information available we were trying to take
aim in the dark. We ran weapons drills, we went over all the defensive
maneuvers we could think up… and finally had to admit it was ultimately
in the hands of the raiders. Until they showed themselves we were blind
and helpless to go beyond normal caution. I kept wondering how the Kithtri
dealt with the problem. They didn’t leave the planet often, but they
didn’t have to to have trouble with raiders. There are plenty of races
and groups that will take over a planet as rich as Abbyzh-dira at a
moment’s notice. Yet other than the persistent wonder tales there was no
indication that the planetary system was policed or guarded in any way.
The project also killed time and kept us busy, and I know I was
needing the distraction. Without it I’d have been down in sickbay myself,
trying to manage everything. Neelix was in a tizzy. We got a call from
him every half hour or so asking if it was time yet, and whether he
shouldn’t go down to be with Kes. It was almost pleasant dealing with
someone even more anxious than I was. Made me feel very controlled, in
comparison. During lunch break, as Anyas went to the mess hall to eat and
send the susceptible members of the crew into reeling shock, the doctor
called up to give me his assessment of Anyas’ abilities.
“He’s a talented man. He hasn’t told me his plans yet, but his
familiarity with the fundamentals of medicine is sound and appears
complete. One morning isn’t enough time to make a full evaluation, but my
impression is that you were correct in accepting the Kithtri’s offer.”
“I hope your brother would agree with you.”
“If Anyas can save Kes, he would. Even if he’s not able to, I
believe we have acquired a competent new member of my medical staff, and
that can only be an advantage. Particularly if he *isn’t* able to cure
her.” He pursed his lips with that annoyed, prim reproval he affects when
he thinks we’ve been ignoring the obvious necessities of his office. “I
haven’t wanted to complain, but I wasn’t looking forward to trying to
maintain the level of care your crew seems to require on a regular basis
with only a staff of half trained med techs. Anyas will be a welcome
addition under any circumstances.”
“I’m glad you feel that way, doctor. Since you seem to get along
with him, see if you can get him into a bit more clothing. He’s a
distraction as he is.”
It was only turnabout. We’d had to hint *him* into more conventional
behaviors often enough. It seemed delightfully fair to me that he have to
play out the other side for a change. Judging by the twinkle in
Chakotay’s eyes, he was in agreement with me. But then he’d been the one
who’d had to explain the idea of “privacy” to the holodoctor. I’d always
wondered how that conversation had gone… and hadn’t had the nerve to
ask, having been the one who gave him the assignment. But if the glee on
Chakotay’s face was any hint, it had been a hairy proposition at best.
The doctor didn’t catch our amusement, fortunately. He nodded
soberly. “Indeed. The pheromone levels in sickbay when Ensign Kou was
present were quite impressive. When do you want me to have Anyas start?”
“I’ve scheduled myself to go off shift at seventeen hundred.”
“Very good. I’ll start at eighteen hundred.”

At eighteen hundred the wait began. Chakotay, Tuvok and I had all
decided to go; a mix of anticipation, anxiety and frustrated
responsibility; at least it was for me. Tuvok was there in a paternal
role, I think. Kes has come to fill the role of daughter that I can’t
anymore. The loss of his own children leaves an empty void in his life.
Chakotay may just have wanted to be there to hold any hands that needed
holding, but I don’t think so. He’s got a sneaking admiration for our
little Ocampan, and he was as anxious as any of us. Tuvok took a seat by
the door of sickbay; I paced; and Chakotay stood like the Steadfast Tin
Soldier, keeping his watch from a corner of the room. Neelix we nearly
had to sedate. He was wild: chattering up a storm, jouncing around the
room like a hyperactive frog, fiddling with equipment until the holodoctor
was forced to threaten to have him evicted until after the procedure if he
didn’t stay still and keep out of the way. After that he parked himself
on one of the free med-beds, arms wrapped around the baby in her carry
pouch, eyes like saucers. The holodoctor shifted back and forth between
the main bay and his office, where Anyas was preparing for the work to
come.
At last Anyas made his entrance, accompanied by a blushing Ensign
Kou. She was all of a flutter, not that that was a surprise. He was more
dressed than he’d been the day before. It didn’t help. He’d exchanged
his g-string and loin cloth for a pair of skin-tight black and metallic
leggings that left nothing to the imagination, blazoned with vivid blue
concentric circles like an archery target over the crucial portions of his
anatomy, topped by a loose mesh shirt in a matching blue that showed every
move of the muscles beneath. His arms were banded at the wrist and bicep
with broad armlets of what appeared to be amber the color of his eyes; an
amber torc circled his neck, lying in the open neck of his shirt, and a
spray of tiny amber beads swung from chains at each shell-like Ocampan
ear, with more sprays fastened into the cascade of his hair. He smelled
like a Risan pleasure house, his eyes were still ringed with the kohl, and
if his lips weren’t made up then he’d been blessed with coloring most
women would trade a year or two of their lives for. Taken in total I
wasn’t at all sure that he was any less a provocation dressed than he had
been mostly undressed. Certainly if you factored in the lingering,
speculative looks he gave the Ensign, the light touches on her arm and
hand, and the seductive smiles he sent her as she set up the equipment
tray by Kes’ stasis bed, he was an invitation to mayhem. Once the work
area had been set up Kou beat a hasty retreat; going to stand just behind
the holodoctor, and from that safe vantage cast overwhelmed glances at the
gaudy bird that had come to grace our ship.
Anyas leaned over the bed and peered through the transparent shell
over Kes’ face.
“A beautiful woman. How old did you say she is, doctor?”
“Three. She’ll be four in six months.”
“So young? I wouldn’t have thought it. We’ll have to see what we
can do about that, once she’s well. I hadn’t realized the little brothers
had forgotten so much. Are you ready to drop the field and start the
revival process?”
“Certainly. If you’ll allow Ensign Kou and me to access the bed…”
“By all means.”
Anyas stepped aside, watching as the other two set about their task
quietly and efficiently. The field was dropped, and then a series of
shots, coupled with a time on a specially programmed life support rig,
slowly returned her to the condition she’d been in when we decided to take
the gamble on putting her under. She was sallow, and clearly still ill
and in coma, but after weeks under stasis it was good to see breath moving
in and out of her body and a faint flush come to her face. Before, she’d
looked like a well preserved corpse. At last the holodoctor turned to
Anyas.
“The revival has been successful, and my readings would seem to
indicate she’s taken no further damage from the procedure. She’s your
patient now.”
Anyas, nodded.
“If you and Ensign Kou are ready, I’ll begin.”
For those of us watching it was a dreadful blend of fascinating and
dull. Shots were given, substances delivered to Kes’ body by means of the
life support system, medical devices whirred and chittered, regular checks
were made with tricorders, and the monitors attached to the stasis bed
were read regularly. Clearly Anyas and his helpers knew what they were
about, but we who were watching were in the dark, and it had the boring
elements of watching an intense melodrama from a foreign world with the
translator function switched off. We knew that a drama was unfolding, but
hadn’t a hope of following the twists and turns of the epic. All we could
do was hope for a happy ending. Neelix hung on to the baby like his life
depended on it, Tuvok imitated a statue in the Halls of Silence, seated as
rigid as the ancient images of the first followers of Sarek you can see
in that sanctum of logic. Chakotay stirred quietly at his chosen post, and
I paced. And paced. And paced some more. As I passed the bed Neelix
perched on for what must have been the twentieth time, he reached out a
hand and snagged my sleeve.
“How long do you think it will be, captain?” His eyes were
desperate.
I patted his hand where it rested on my arm. “I don’t know, Mr.
Neelix. I suppose we can only wait.”
“I hate waiting. It takes so long. If it could just go *quickly* it
wouldn’t be so bad.”
Chakotay gave a quiet snort. “Agreed. Or if we could *do*
something. I feel useless.”
I nodded. “I do too.”
Tuvok spoke, patient and parental… the perfect advisor.
“We could leave, and come back when they’re done. It is illogical to
remain when our presence is of no benefit, and the experience is merely
stressful.”
Chakotay shook his head. “Not on your life. I don’t want to miss
the end.”
We exchanged smiles. I found myself chuckling. ” ‘Command unity’?”
He grinned. “The command team that frets together gets together.”
“Idiot. You’re a terrible man.”
Tuvok studied us sourly. “I see. As it appears it is a matter of
command policy, I shall withdraw the suggestion. Perhaps someday,
captain, you will explain to me the benefits of enacting ‘Command unity’
in the setting of a functional sick bay, during a medical procedure.”
“Consider it a bonding experience, Tuvok.” Chakotay’s voice was
teasing. Tuvok arched mildly annoyed brows, cocking his head at his
gadfly.
“I would prefer not to, commander. All things considered I believe
‘bonding’ would be an excessive extension of our professional
relationship.”
Chakotay rolled his eyes, but left it. I returned to my pacing.

End section 12.

Raisins and Almonds.
Peg Robinson, c. 1996

After what seemed like forever, Anyas stepped away from the med
table. I looked over.
“You’re done?”
“Nearly, captain. One last step. If you will excuse me a moment.”
He disappeared into the holodoctor’s office, and returned a moment
later, carrying the cage of scurrying animals he’d brought up the day
before. My stomach turned.
“What precisely did you have in mind to do with those creatures?”
Anyas smiled, removing one from the cage and allowing it to scurry up
his arm. He reached into a canister attached to the cage, and took out a
small cluster of the salted trail mix we’d been pelted with the day
before, feeding it to the little chippie perched on his shoulder.
“All in good time, captain. Ensign Kou, if you could turn the
patient I’d appreciate it.”

Kou moved to comply, her face echoing the doubt I felt. Once she had
Kes positioned on her stomach Anyas reached down and released the
fasteners that closed the back of the medical gown she was dressed in,
drawing the fabric aside to reveal the sagging pouch that had carried the
baby for so many months. He gently reached into the opening, exploring
the space inside with small movements. “Good. There shouldn’t be any
trouble.” He reached up and gathered the little animal into one hand.
Before he could make another move, Neelix exploded from the med table on
the other side of the room.
“Just one moment! You don’t mean to tell me you’re going to put that
filthy beast in *Kes*.”
Anyas’ eyes glittered with amusement. “Exactly. That *is* what I
brought them for.”
Neelix was fuming. “That is *disgusting*. I won’t have it, do you
hear? I won’t. You can just turn right around and take that, that thing
right back into the office and come up with some *other* thing to do.”
Anyas looked at him, fascinated. “What would you suggest?”
“I have no idea. *You’re* the expert… do something expert. But no
*rodents*.”
“They aren’t rodents.”
Neelix bridled. “I don’t care if they’re Biorian ferrets, I won’t
have you sticking filthy, horrid *animals* in my beautiful Kes!”
“Do you want her to recover?”
Neelix blinked. “Of course I want her to recover.”
Anyas sighed, and put a gentle hand on Neelix’ arm, leading him over
to the med table he’d been sitting on before. He sat down beside him on
the bed, and started to talk quietly. For the first time I almost found
myself liking the arrogant wretch. He gently ran a hand over the baby in
her pouch.
“She’s a beautiful child. You must be very proud of her, and of your
mate for creating her.”
Neelix didn’t respond, but his face began to shift from affronted
fury to bewilderment. Anyas continued.
“Your Kes carried her for seven months, if your doctor has informed
me correctly.”
“Yes. What does that have to do with anything?”
“If she’d been carrying a child of her own species she would have
carried the child for a month, and when it was born it would have lived in
her pouch for another two weeks, nursing from her oleagenous glands until
it was ready to come out and nurse from her mammaries. And she wouldn’t
have undergone the series of immune suppressants she underwent to carry
this one as long as she did. She interrupted a crucial cycle when she
decided to take the suppressants, and it was further disrupted when the
child was delivered at a point where it was too large to remain in her
pouch and nurse. The oleagenary glands are latent, until nursing after
delivery triggers a hormonal response and causes them to enlarge and
secrete fats, sugars, and a variety of antibodies to feed and protect the
child. It needs an intensely rich energy source to support the kind of
growth that takes place in the first few weeks. The same hormonal
response also would have told her body that her pregnancy was over; that
the child was no longer held in her uterine sack, but was physically
independent, and would have started a reaction that would have returned
her body to its normal immune state. Until that point her metabolism
would have been suppressing her own immune response to avoid a spontaneous
rejection of the fetus.”
“You mean she didn’t have to take all those suppressants?”, Neelix
asked, glaring at the holodoctor.
Anyas shook his head. “The genetic match between you and Kes is too
poor. She would have had to take the suppressants, and she would have had
to carry the child just the way she did, and deliver it at the stage it
was at. There’s too much Talaxian in that infant for it to live as a
pouch child, even for the weeks an Ocampan child would … and I doubt she
has the instinct to nurse from the oleagenary glands the way a child of
Kes’ own race would either. The problem was that the whole thing put more
strain on your mate’s body than it should have had to endure, and the
additional problem of the lack of nursing was simply the last insult to
an already desperately strained system.”
Neelix had calmed down some, but he was still far from happy. “Fine.
I think I understand. But why the rodents?”
“I told you… they aren’t *rodents*. They’re umikki… they’re
related to my own species, if you discount quite a few branches of
evolution. The important thing is that they’re carried and nursed the
same way that my people and Ocampans are when they’re born, and they never
loose their taste for salts, and oils and sugars. It’s to their advantage
not to.. they feed on nuts and fruits. It would be a disadvantage *not*
to like the flavors of the foods that are appropriate to them. That’s
why they’re so fond of laughter-and-tears.” He shot me an amused look. ”
‘Ritual trail mix’ as your crewman so eloquently put it. And they’re
nesters. So long as they’re in Kes pouch they’ll tend to stay, so long as
there’s food. At first they’ll just lick her skin because it’s salty…
but as soon as they do the oleagenary glands will become active, and start
producing ser-ma, and the umikki will nurse.”
“That’s disgusting. Can’t you just… I don’t know… wave one of
those silly wands the holodoctor uses, or give her synthesized hormones?”
Anyas sighed. “If she were my own species I could. But I
wouldn’t…I’d rather a natural function proceeded naturally. As it is I
*couldn’t*, not and be sure I’d be able to generate the correct response.
It took our own researchers several decades to unravel the crucial
hormonal elements involved, and several more to find a way to synthesize
them. Do you want to wait a similar time for me to find the exact
duplicate of Kes’ own hormones? They almost certainly won’t be identical
to those of my own people. She’s more closely related to me than the
umikki are, but that’s not saying much where the specifics of biochemistry
are involved.”
Neelix sighed, mournfully. “No. Do what you have to. But I *still*
think it’s disgusting.”
As Anyas returned to Kes’ stasis table Chakotay spoke up from his
corner.
“What I’d like to know is why Kes didn’t know and tell the
holodoctor.”
Anyas smiled as he gathered up the umikki again. “At what age do the
women of your species reach puberty?”
Chakotay began to see where the answer would land, but played along,
grinning a little. ” Fourteen or so… give or take a few years either
way.”
“Kes came to you as a very young woman.. not yet fully through her
puberty. How many fourteen year olds do you know who not only know *how*
a child is achieved, but know all the intricacies of biochemistry that
occur not only during a pregnancy, but after it?”
Chakotay snorted. “I’m not sure how many adults who’ve had a child
know all that much. Point taken. Kes didn’t know, because she’d never
had to. The basics she had down fine. The finer points were missing. So
she has a set of latent glands that don’t show up until after they’re in
use, and no one’s the wiser that they *should* be in use.”
“Very nearly'” the holodoctor interjected. “We were aware that the
glands existed and that a normal child would nurse from them. We had no
idea that the act of nursing was crucial to the return of her immune
functions.”
Anyas smiled at Chakotay. “Still, it was very well reasoned.”
Chakotay nodded in amused acknowledgment, and Anyas returned to his
work.

Things went smoothly from there on in. Kes’ lifesigns had
stabilized, as much from the supplements she was on as anything, but Anyas
assured us that within a few hours her body should be responding to its
own hormonal secretions. As the little coterie that had lurked in sickbay
during the process prepared to leave, all but Neelix who was going to
remain in the nursery until Kes showed signs of coming to, Anyas slid
towards me, eyes peeking out from under lowered lashes; seductive and
serpentine.
“And are you happy with my work, oh beauteous one?”
“If Kes recovers as you predict, I suppose I’ll be satisfied. And
the correct form of address is ‘captain’.”
” ‘Ma’am’ come crunch time.” Chakotay murmured.
I glared at him. “Where did you hear *that*?”
“Your loving crew. Harry blabbed.”
The man is impossible. He was doing a perfect “Little Mischief”
imitation, too smug to live. I didn’t know whether to demote him a rank
or just enjoy the grin. I sighed. “I suppose it could be worse…
‘Abba’. Or should I say ‘Minou’?”
He put his hands up. “Enough… truce!”
“I’ll think about it.”
Anyas looked at us in amusement. “I see I’m too late. I’ll have to
try Ensign Kou again. Unless you’d consider a third member?”
At forty-two I thought I was beyond blushing. I took a moment to
unclench my teeth and keep my hands from bunching into fists, not daring
to even look at Chakotay.
“I’m afraid you’re operating on a false assumption. I’m the
*captain*.”
Anyas cocked his head. “Fascinating! They require ritual celibacy
of you? Or are they more extreme? A sworn virgin perhaps?”
I didn’t have to look at Chakotay… the hysterical choke of laughter
that was leaking out of him was a dead give away. I gathered all the
dignity I had left to me, stood as straight as my most dour Yankee
ancestors, and ground out “Neither.”
“In that case, I don’t see what prevents…”
“Stow it.”
“Excuse me?”
“I said stow it, mister. My private life isn’t any of your business.
Suffice it to say that captains don’t commonly accept offers from the
lower ranks of the crew. It’s looked on as bad policy.”
Anyas pulled a sorrowful face. “Pity.” He looked speculatively at
Chakotay. “Does the same apply to first officers?”
Before Chakotay could say a word I answered, as sweetly as possible,
“Not at all. The commander is welcome to take any offers that interest
him.”
I can move pretty quickly I want to, without even breaking into a
run. I used that talent that evening, escaping from the sickbay before
Anyas could say another word… or Chakotay could lynch me. As I
approached the turbo lift I heard his lope moving down the corridor behind
me. I pretended to be oblivious as he slid in place beside me. Poker
face. I ordered the lift to the bridge. He glowered.
“Low blow.”
“Command unity. We face the same risks. Anyway, if you get to laugh
as he tries to put the make on me, I don’t see why I shouldn’t get equal
time.”
He pulled a face… and slowly dissolved.
“I had to tell him I was previously committed. If he hadn’t bought
it I would have had to be, too.”
“Be what?”
“Committed.”
I laughed, and found we were in unity again. Damn, but I liked him.
“I suspect you should have been long ago. If ever a man was fruit cake,
you’re it.”
“I knew you loved me for some reason.”
“Oh, stop it. You’re as bad as Anyas.”
“But nowhere near as pretty. What *are* we going to the bridge for?”
“I don’t know about you, but I have a call I want to make.”
The doors opened and let us out. Chin was coming to attention. I
waved him down.
“Sorry to interrupt your shift again, Lieutenant. If Ms. Akk`ad
could try to put through a call to the Kithtri, and route it to my ready
room, I’d appreciate it.”
Contact was made quickly, and Chakotay settled into his usual chair
as I opened the communication link. It was eyes again, the veils that had
been the norm in my first dealing with the Kithtri. Apparently Festival
was over, or didn’t apply to communications techs.
“You call, captain of Voyager?”
“Yes. I’d like to speak with the officer who is now residing with
your people. I have some news for him.”
The painted lids lowered. “I regret that is not possible at this
time, captain. Perhaps if you could tell me the news I could have it
relayed to the First Accepted.”
My mind went on red alert. I flicked a glance to Chakotay, and was
disturbed to see my own suspicions reflected in his face. I returned my
attention to the screen, keeping my voice steady and politely formal.
“I’m sorry; the news I have is personal to the First Accepted. I
wouldn’t feel comfortable giving it to any one but him.”
“I’m sorry, captain. Perhaps if you were to send a coded message?
We would be happy to hold it for him.”
“Impossible. If you could tell me when he’d be available to speak
with me?”
The eyes flickered, uncertain in their framing veils. “I’m afraid I
can’t tell you that, captain. He’s occupied for an indefinite period. I
can leave him a message saying you’ve called, but I don’t know how long
he’ll be occupied, or how long you’re staying. I believe a coded message
would be more likely to reach him.”
I shook my head. “Leave him the message I called. I’ll try again
later. Perhaps he’ll be available before we leave. Good-bye.”
As the link closed I looked over at Chakotay. “Does that make *you*
edgy?”
He nodded, impassive and controlled. “Yes. But it could be
perfectly innocent. Insufficient information.”
“I know. But I don’t feel comfortable about this damned ‘First
Accepted’ business. There was always too much leeway in the deal… and
no guarantees of the clone’s well being.”
“I know. Maybe if you ask Anyas?”
“I will. But I don’t expect much. He was quite insistent yesterday
that whatever happened to the clone was his to tell, or not, as he chose.”
Chakotay turned the problem over, eyes slitting as he considered the
options. He looked at me, leaning forward, offering a route to
information.
“Try asking about the philosophy behind the ceremony, then. That may
give you some leads.”
“I’d rather you did, actually. I’m too angry over the whole
situation, and when it comes down to it, I’m a scientist… not a
philosopher, or priest.”
He shot me a guarded look. “And I am?”
“More than me, in any case. You *have* a religion, and an interest
in others besides your own. For me there’s a fascination, but that isn’t
the same thing.”
He didn’t comment, face closing in, eyes avoiding mine. I watched as
the stress took him..
“That really bothers you, doesn’t it?”
He shrugged unhappily, looking for words to say it without catching
himself up on the emotional barbs and thorns of the thing. “My father was
a meda. Misquonaqueb, who started the movement that lead my father to
Dorvan: *he* was a holy man. It’s an old way, with traditions of its own.
But I haven’t been given the full secrets of the mediwiwin. I’m just a
warrior, trying to find my way back to something I left behind. I don’t
have the training; I haven’t been given a vision.” He leaned over his own
hands, elbows on knees, knuckles showing hard and high where his fingers
crossed, head ducked and a frown on his face. He was in knots over this,
and I regretted that my own distaste for dealing with Anyas, and my
curiosity had pushed him this far. Before I could cut him off, he
shrugged again, and went on. “I’ve been shot by migis, not called to be
the shooter. That is, the manitto have touched me to heal me, not given
me the power to heal others. I’m no shaman. So, yes–it makes me
uncomfortable.”
I thought about it. As far as I was concerned, he was well within
range. Just because Chakotay was an ex-lapsed-whatever-he’d-call-it
didn’t mean he didn’t have the nature, the talent, or, I suspected, the
calling for the role. But my Irish Catholic grandmother would have
understood. She’d never had much patience with the idea of religions whose
priests were free to just proclaim themselves. She seemed to think
seminary was a necessary penance, without which she wasn’t convinced the
Holy Spirit would look twice at a prospective reverend. ‘If they haven’t
spent at least six years saying ‘yes sir’ to some idiot with a cassock and
a Ph.D., they haven’t humbled themselves enough, and that’s all there is
to it.’ I felt like she’d have understood Chakotay’s discomfort
perfectly. I sighed. Like Tuvok I often feel like I have a long way to
go before I understand the ways of the IDIC. Which reminded me…
“Do you want me to have a word with Tuvok? He seems to have
developed a fascination with the idea of your ‘holy’ attributes… rather
against his will, if you want to know the truth.”
He rolled his eyes. “Tell me about it. No. I’ll suffer through it.
Thanks.”
“Not a problem, though I’m just as glad not to have to. He seems to
have been having his own problems lately. I’d just as soon not have to
reprimand him for thinking highly of you.”
“If he’s having trouble, why the hell aren’t you mother-henning *him*
instead of me?”
“Respect for an elder. And Tuvok’s logical, which is more than I can
say for you. If he needs my help, I suspect he’ll come to me. I hope he
will. He’s been stupid in his own way since we came out here. But I have
a feeling I’m at least part of the problem, and I don’t want to push him
before he’s ready.”
“He’s having trouble with you? I wouldn’t have guessed it.”
I shrugged.
“It was hard when he transferred onto the Curie. He really expected
the eighteen year old he waved good-bye to at the transporter terminal in
ShiKhar. He got an adult, with a captaincy. Back on the Curie we had the
patterns of professionalism to fall back on. Here, some of that’s
breaking down. Every so often he has to struggle with the fact that I’ve
pulled a Kes on him, and grown up too fast. He gets over-protective.”
He looked down at his clasped hands. “I always thought that might be
something more.”
I looked at him, wondering how much he knew about Vulcan marriages..
things I wouldn’t have known but for the gossip of the children in the
ShiKhar compound, the Top Secret med file that had crossed my desk along
with Tuvok’s records when he transferred to the Curie, and the briefing my
late Vulcan med officer, T’Avis had given me when she transferred aboard
Voyager. I decided to hold my comments. It’s one of the hard things with
Vulcans. All I said was, “He’s married. Very married. Even out here
that will count for more than it would with most humans.”
He nodded. “Fair enough. So, which of us is talking to Anyas? I’d
as soon it was you. I’ve got an idea I’d like to talk over with
B’Elanna.”
“What is it?”
“It may not be anything, and we may not need it even if it is. But I
need time to talk it through with her.”
“All right. But you owe me. Next sex-starved nymphet we have come
aboard I’m going to have *you* go talk philosophy with.”
He grinned. “Promise?”
“Why certainly. I’ll even tell her you’re available. It’s the least
I can do after telling Anyas the same.”

End section 13

Raisins and Almonds
Peg Robinson, c. 1996

I approached Anyas’ Quarters with more trepidation than I would have
been willing to let on. It felt far too much like I was throwing myself
to the lion. I rang the chime, and was admitted to a stunning
approximation of a Risan massage lounge. Lots of translucent hangings,
lots of incense. Far too much Anyas. He’d apparently decided that the
hints I’d asked the doctor to drop about clothing standards were only
intended for the ship at large.. which I suppose they were, but still… I
hadn’t thought you could wear that little and still count as dressed.
Just about all he had on I would have accounted an accessory, at best. I
kept my eyes locked to his face, trying to avoid the fringe ‘skirt’ he had
on. There wasn’t any more under it than is rumored to be under a
Scotsman’s kilt.. and at least the kilt is solid, opaque wool , which
might be itchy, but which is at least reasonably modest. He greeted me
with open arms, which he tried to fill. I dodged.
“Ah, beauteous one. Have you reconsidered my offer?”
“No, Anyas. I’m sorry, but I would prefer not to accept your
flattering attentions.”
“Later, maybe?”
“No. Never.”
He sighed dolorously. “In that case, I suppose I must ask you what
you have come here for.”
“If you don’t mind I need to ask you about your people’s
‘philosophy’. Our people are explorers, and I had hoped to better
understand the events that led to your presence on Voyager.”
“For explorers you are very circumspect. Pity. However if you wish
to know about the rite of First Offered, I’ll be happy to explain. If you
will sit on this ungainly thing which pretends to be a lounge, I’ll get
you some tava, and some laughter-and-tears, and we can talk.”
“I’ll pass, thank you. I was wondering if you could tell me about
the significance of this ceremony to your people. The exchange of
individuals, the possibility of risk…”
Anyas nodded enthusiastically. “Yes, certainly. It’s all a matter
of body and soul. Long ago my people were like the gods — spirit only.
They found it very dull. Without meaning. So they returned to the life
of the body, and found meaning in the ways of the body. It’s only in the
flesh that any meaning resides. Souls want for nothing, need nothing;
they live forever, or nearly so. In the body there’s fear, and doubt,
needs and needs met, risks, gambles, losses and gains. The ritual of
trade is the greatest symbol of all there is in life, and the First Trade
is the most powerful of symbols. First trade in a person’s life isn’t so
great a thing as the great ceremony of First Trade between peoples. I was
lucky to have been born in a time when we met a new species and were able
to perform the great ritual. Luckier that I had a skill you wanted,
luckier still that I was found suitable as First Offered by the Lan-eisn
in the Bargaining Hall.”
“You consider yourself lucky to have been traded away from your
people?”
Anyas smiled. “How else? I’ll live an interesting life, and a
varied one, even if it proves short. And in the end my soul will return
to my people, if I’m lucky, and enrich the memories of our world.”
“And you aren’t afraid we might treat you badly, or do you some harm?
Maybe even kill you?”
He gave it due consideration, then nodded soberly. “Yes, and the
souls will sing of it. It wouldn’t be a proper trade if I weren’t afraid.
I’d be shaming the gamble.”
“I’m not sure I understand this fixation on the idea that risk is
necessary to the ceremony.”
“Risk is of the body. There’s no point to existence without it. We
celebrate the decision of our ancestors, the souls, and the gift of life
they gave us, and the benefits their gift gives us.”
“And would it be better if we were to harm you, or frighten you on
purpose, to increase that effect?”
He thought again. “You could, if it seemed fitting to you. It’s
been done before. That is why there are no prohibitions against it in the
dealing. Only such laws as allow me a varied life while I live, and the
chance to learn and enrich the homeworld if I return, maybe even be reborn
to go out again. That would be a wonder worth all fear.”
“So your people have no prohibition themselves against harming a
First Accepted?”
He looked at me shrewdly. “You’re trying to find out about the one
you offered. I told you, what happens to him is his own tale. If his
soul returns to you, or if you return to our world while he still lives,
he can tell you himself.”
I frowned. “You’re a difficult man to fool, Anyas. A pity. You
know, I could have you questioned under medication, or have my security
officer force a mind meld on you.”
He shook his head, and smiled. “No, you couldn’t. My soul is
strong. That is why I was the chosen. Of all those who could have served
as First Offered, I was the most strong of spirit. You can kill me, but
you can take nothing from me. We trade, or not, as we choose, we Kithtri;
but we are not robbed. Our souls protect us.”
I’ll tell you the truth. It sounded like mumbo jumbo to me. The
sort of thing that martyrs proclaim just before someone who opposes them
lights the match and starts the pyre ablaze. But I’ve been well trained,
on Vulcan and in Starfleet. Each to his own way, the PD uber alles, and
may the IDIC reign triumphant. And I’ve seen enough strange things and
heard of enough more that his story of divine origins and the
transmigration of souls might even be true. I nodded pleasantly, dodged
another pass, and escaped, returning to my quarters annoyed, and in need
of a shower to rinse the incense smoke out of my hair.
I was just about ready to turn in for the evening when the comlink
chimed, and Chakotay’s voice came through, asking how the interview with
Anyas had gone. I gave him a quick briefing, and finished up with the
depressing news that, insofar as the well being of the clone was
concerned, I hadn’t been able to find out anything reassuring.
“In that case, do you mind if I chase up Tuvok, and come over with
him and B’Elanna? She and I have come up with a plan.”
“A man with a plan. I like it. Come on over. I’ll be waiting.”
I ditched my nightgown and robe, pulled on a tunic and gray trousers,
and was just tying back my hair when the door chimed, and my stalwart crew
descended.

“So, you have a plan. Just what do you have in mind?”
The lot of them were seated in the conversation area in my quarters:
me and B’Elanna on the sofa, Tuvok on an adjacent armchair, Chakotay
opposite me in an armchair that he’d pulled up from the other side of the
room.
B’Elanna glanced at Chakotay. Receiving a firm nod to go ahead, she
started.
“It’s about the clone. Chakotay said you were worried they were
holding him somewhere against his will, or that he might be hurt, or not
want to stay now he’s seen what he’s dealing with. So Chakotay had an
idea to rescue him.”
“My idea, but I couldn’t have worked it out without you. I’m a
hacker at heart.”
She grinned at him. “It’s a hacker’s sort of an idea. Very Maquis
of you.”
He grinned, and cocked his head in acknowledgment, shooting me
another grin with a question behind it. I smiled as complacently as I
could. If I was going to make good on accepting the Maquis as Maquis,
including him, I had to learn to deal with the open display of that
alliance without the tension I still felt at times. Anyway, the two of
them were cute in an ambiguous sort of way. I suppose I find Chakotay and
B’Elanna as puzzling as he finds me and Tuvok. In any case, whether it
was teacher-prot g or father-daughter, or some subtle thing more, they
were sizzling that evening. I nodded as slightly as I could manage, and
returned my attention to B’Elanna
“So, you’re offering me a bit of Maquis mayhem. Enough suspense…
what did you have in mind?”
“It’s the hologenerator. Remember we designed it to work as a
remote, so there’d be no wires and couplings to trip over or shake loose
just when you’d rather they didn’t??”
I nodded. “Mmm. But the clone’s generator was designed to be all of
a piece with his computer attachment.”
She nodded excitedly, firing up as she started to get involved in
presenting the idea. “I know. Since his unit was portable, and since I
didn’t know what kind of environment he’d be going into, or what level of
expertise the Kithtri he’d be working with would have, it seemed safer to
set him up with the hologenerator attached to the computing hardware. But
I didn’t bother to remove the remote elements from the generator, or pull
the controlling software for the pick-up either. I had enough on my hands
jerking the replicator units in the thing without taking the time to pull
out something that couldn’t hurt, and might be useful to him someday.”
I blinked. “Well. Now *that’s* interesting.”
Tuvok leaned forward from his seat. “In that case, perhaps you could
elucidate for me. I find I am at a loss to follow this conversation.”
B’Elanna slipped from the sofa to the floor next to the coffee table,
sitting cross-legged in front of Tuvok, her hands flying as she tried to
get her knowledge across to a man she often barely understands as a
person, and with whom she shares very little background. Tuvok frowned
deeply as he began to see the import of the simplified explanation she was
giving. I caught Chakotay grinning as he watched the two, he caught me
catching him, and we had to fight not to laugh at the vivid, focused, but
incongruous image the two presented; a veritable Voyager odd couple.
“The remote hookup was a straight subspace radio feed. The
information to create the holo-projection was sent from the computer to
the hologenerator. As the information came in it was returned by another
emitter, checked for parity, and in the next round the computer would send
back a confirmation that the information was correct. Actually, there was
a triple parity check, with cross referencing to be sure there wasn’t any
information drift, but that’s irrelevant right now. The whole process was
controlled by the software. That’s the beauty of it. If I can get past
the planet’s rings, and can make subspace radio contact with the clone’s
console, I can send in a new override program, and instead of his
hologenerator sending back just the superficial information about how his
image is being processed, I can have it upload all his memory files. It’ll
take about ten minutes. I’d have to load in the new programming, and then
do the upload, with a few parity checks to make sure I wasn’t scrambling
him. And the portable computer and the shuttle computer aren’t as fast as
Voyager’s. But I can do it.”
“So you would be uploading a copy of the clone. I fail to see that
creating a second clone solves our problem, Lieutenant.”
Listening, I remembered when Tuvok would examine my ideas like that
when I was a girl; forcing me to turn and analyze every aspect,
questioning all the separate elements. I realized with a touch of shock
that it was a long time since Tuvok had seriously questioned many of my
ideas and judgments. It made me nervous, suddenly, wondering what had
changed between us that my opinions were now treated as certainty far more
often than as mere concepts to be examined and discarded if less than
sufficient.
I don’t think B’Elanna has ever had to deal with much of the kind of
criticism Tuvok was forcing on her. She flushed, defending Chakotay’s
idea hotly. “It wouldn’t be a copy. I mean it would, but I’d be
programming it to erase the files as we received them.”
“In other words you’d kill one clone in the process of creating
another. Hardly admirable.”
“No less admirable than ripping ourselves to pieces every time we use
the transporter”, Chakotay cut in, exasperated.
Tuvok raised his brows and contemplated the idea. “Indeed. It would
appear to be a valid parallel…one I had failed to consider. Very well,
I withdraw the objection… though the concept will give me much to
meditate on in future. The philosophical ramifications are fascinating.”
I found myself grinning, and I suspect it was one of my more wolfish
grins. I rose from my chair, and prowled around the coffee table to stand
over them all, arms crossed.
“I’ve had enough and more than enough of philosophy for one night.
Let’s leave it to Anyas. As for the idea… I like it. Can we leave the
Kithtri with the medical library? Anyas has apparently done all we could
ask for Kes. I’d hate to leave them with nothing to show for it.”
B’Elanna nodded, beaming up at me, her arms wrapped around her knees.
All she needed was a toadstool to pass as a cheerful Klingon Leprechaun,
filled with gleeful mischief now the plan looked near to being accepted.
“Easy. I’ll just program it to erase the personality-generating files and
leave the med library intact.”
Chakotay caught my eye, his expression intensely determined. Not
pleading, but promising a fight if I didn’t listen. “One thing. I want
her to program it so that we can *ask* him if he wants to leave, first.
If we have the subspace linkage already it’s easy enough, and it’s his
right to stay if that’s what he wants.”
I nodded, meeting his gaze directly, glad I could grant him his
point.
“Fair enough, commander. If the clone is happy there I’d rather not
take that away from him, either. I may be angry as blazes at the games
the Kithtri have played with us, but I agree with your position. Now, how
do we pull this little heist off? I don’t want to take Voyager in past
the veils if I can help it. We’re too large, too noticeable, and I don’t
know how those energy fields that stabilize the rings would effect ship’s
systems.”
Chakotay grinned, as wolfishly as I had a moment before. “I was
thinking of a little undercover mission. We’re free to trade in the
market. B’Elanna spotted some Talaxians doing business in electronics
gear while she was down there, and I know Neelix has been hoping to bring
on more food goods, and seeds and cuttings to increase the variety we
have, and supplement his stores. Paris is dying to get down and prowl the
stalls, and I wouldn’t mind wandering around myself. I thought if we set
up a shuttle to go down for normal trade then on the way back, as we were
about to clear the rings, B’Elanna could make the subspace link, pull the
job, and we could be away and back to Voyager before anyone knew what had
happened.”
Tuvok nodded. “One would want to mask the subspace signal. But the
plan is workable.”
I smiled, including them all in my approval. Now wasn’t the time to
single out Chakotay for praise, though the idea deserved it. I started
organizing the assignments, shifting us from the planning stages to the
execution as fast as I could.
“Then we do it. Chakotay, this one’s yours. Pick a team, see if you
can work out some harmless trade goods, and set it up for tomorrow.
B’Elanna, I hate to ask it of you, but I’d like you to make the
programming to pull this off a priority. If you need any help, pull in
whoever you need. Harry hasn’t been very busy the last few weeks… see
if you can get him to check your work for you. New eyes are a help.
Tuvok, do a complete check on the shuttle’s defense and security systems,
and work out a masking pattern for the subspace radio link that will still
be readable to the hologenerator’s remote functions, but might be missed
by anyone watching for it. Dismissed. . and thank you all. Chakotay, if
you could stay a moment…”
He nodded, and waited, still seated in the armchair while the others
left to be about their business.
“What is is?”
I studied him a moment. He was downright chipper… happier than I’d
seen him in ages. I didn’t want to see that put at risk. “Chakotay, it’s
a good idea. A very good idea. If it doesn’t work for any reason, I
don’t want you blaming yourself for it.”
He studied me as intently, then grinned a little. “I’ll make an
Abbyzh-diran deal… tit for tat. I won’t blame myself if you don’t blame
yourself.”
“I can’t promise that.”
He pulled himself easily out of the armchair and stood over me; too
tall, as usual. His face was calm and sober. “I know. Neither can I.
Tell you what: you absolve me, I’ll absolve you, and maybe between us
we’ll manage to believe we weren’t supposed to be gods.”
“Fair enough. Thank you again. It’s clever.”
“All in a day’s work for an long time web monkey and Maquis.” Broad,
eagle-wing eyebrows, one nested safe under his tattoo, quirked good
naturedly, and he smiled. I laughed, and put my hand on a shoulder,
feeling the solidity of him, pleased that he seemed as solid in mind and
heart that night.
“Lucky I’ve got you, then. Goodnight.”
“Goodnight, Kathryn.”

They left the next afternoon. The team consisted of Tom Paris,
B’Elanna, Neelix, Harry Kim, Anielewicz, Tuvok and Chakotay. The shuttle
pulled away from Voyager with all my best wishes following along with her.
They were gone for over thirty hours. That was no surprise. They’d had
every intention of spending all the time necessary to make it look like a
normal trade run. I slept restlessly that night, but I did sleep. No
insomnia. I’ve been down that road before, waited for other teams to
check in. The next afternoon, as I sat bridge watch, the shuttle cleared
the rings, and the comlink opened up.
“We’re being hailed by the ….”
“I know, Ensign Wildman. Put them on.”
The screen lit up, and I knew just from Chakotay and B’Elanna’s faces
that they’d failed. I couldn’t guess how badly, but I had a bad feeling
that the mutual absolution pact was going to see a lot of use over the
next few days.
“Shuttle hailing Voyager.”
“We have you, commander.”
“No go. I’m sorry.”
“No need. It was a long shot. What happened?”
He shot a glance at B’Elanna, who looked miserable. “I’ll report
when we get back to the ship. Your ready room?”
“Good enough. I’ll see you then, commander. Remember what I said.”
“You too.”
“I’ll keep it in mind. Janeway out.”

He came into my ready room about an hour later. He looked like
something the cat dragged in; tired, grubby, more or less trashed. He was
carrying a small, woven reed packet under one arm. He put it down on my
desk, shambled across the room, and dropped into the sofa, not even
considering the chair he normally occupied. He moved like he needed a
long soak and a stiff drink. My ready room wasn’t exactly equipped to
provide my own prescription for the miseries, though. I tried my next
favorite panacea.
“Coffee?”
He shook his head. “Juice, again. I don’t want to keep awake.”
“That bad?”
He nodded mutely, and then struggled a moment, apparently looking for
words. At last he sighed. “He’s dead.”
I drew a breath, ran the Tal Shiya calming exercises, then a few of
my mother’s theater relaxation exercises for good measure. I crossed to
the sofa, handed him the juice and sat next to him, close enough that our
shoulders nearly met I let the backs of my knuckles graze the back of
his hand where it lay on the cushion, trying to let him know I was there
without pushing too close. I waited while he took a long draught of the
juice before asking the obvious question.
“How do you know?”
He shrugged, sighed, and began his report.
“We didn’t have any trouble making the link to the computer.
B’Elanna tried to raise the holodoctor, to ask him if he wanted to come.
We didn’t get any response. She tried again, and when she still wasn’t
getting anything began the upload anyway figuring we could always reverse
the process if he wanted to stay, just like beaming him back down. The
files were already wiped. Nothing but the start up program. It’s a
perfectly good computer. But there’s nobody home.”
“I see.”
We were both silent. I was trying to deal with a desperate desire to
call out to the bridge and start an attack in motion. They’d killed him.
Chakotay turned his head, looking directly at me for the first time since
he’d gotten in, at just the time when fury kept me from returning the
gaze. I couldn’t have met his eyes if I’d wanted to. I’d have been
afraid he’d turn to stone. I felt positively Medusan, snake hairdo and
all.
“Kathryn?”
“I told them if they harmed him in any way I’d pull the place down
around their heads. I can’t though, can I? No more than I could strike
against the Vidiians.”
“Not unless you want to tear the hell out of your own standards…
and probably get Voyager destroyed in the process. Even if the Kithtri
don’t have any defenses, it seems likely the trade ships would gun us
down. One ship to a few hundred isn’t good odds.”
“Did you know I have a terrible temper? I always have. I’m almost
tempted to do it anyway.”
“How Maquis of you.”
I sighed. “It is, isn’t it? All or nothing, and the devil take the
hindermost. Are you all right?”
He looked away again, and the withdrawal told me more than the
statement that followed.
“I’ll do. He volunteered. It may not make it all right, but it
makes it acceptable. And Kes is going to live. In one way I envy him…
he bought what he intended. He may have bought it with his life, but a
lot of folks have died for a cause and not gained anything in the
process.” He paused, ran a hand wearily over his face. “B’Elanna’s taking
it pretty hard. You might want to absolve her too, if you have time. I
tried but it got too deep. Maybe you’ll have better luck.”
I nodded, knowing he wasn’t really all right, knowing he wasn’t going
to let me help. Wishing I could . At least I could try to help B’Elanna,
and save him that. “Of course, Chakotay. I’ll be glad to.”
“What now?”
“I don’t know. We could demand reparations, but I doubt it would go
anywhere. We could send Anyas back in protest, but it isn’t his fault.
As much as I hate saying it, I think we go quietly.”
“Like whipped pups.”
“I’m afraid so.”
He sighed. “I suppose it’s the best move. I don’t like it though.”
“Makes two of us.”
“I suppose that’s all till tomorrow, then.”
“Mmm. Commander, I’m sorry.”
“Me too. G’night.”
“Goodnight, Chakotay.”
He rose wearily from the sofa, disposed of the juice glass, picked up
the package from my desk with a wry grin, and left quietly. I wished I
had more to offer him… but I was sure by now that he wouldn’t thank me
for trying. Not yet. I thought of the cat, and hoped B’Elanna had
remembered to make up the hologenerators, and then cursed as it occurred
to me that now wasn’t a good time to ask her about them. Too many unhappy
memories right now. The cat would have to wait. I hoped Chakotay could.

End section 14.

Raisins and Almonds
Peg Robinson, c. 1996

The first item on my agenda the next day was to go see Anyas. He was
in sick bay, wearing a gaudy red leotard in a sort of a paisley pattern
only somewhat covered by an open lab coat. He looked up from the massive
collection of med equipment he’d assembled on a table as I came in.
“Good morning, oh radiant veil of Voyager, glory of an otherwise
negligible ship. Come to see my patient?”
“Not this morning. Later maybe, when she’s feeling more the thing. I
understand she’s come around, and is nursing her own child?”
“Mammary nursing, yes. The umikki still have to take care of the
oleagenary glands.” He laughed. “The child is *far* too large to be a
pouch child.”
“Mmm. I have news. Your counterpart is dead.”
His amber eyes widened, and his face was sad and shocked. It was
something of a relief to see his dismay. I’d feared seeing some sign that
he’d known what was coming. I don’t think I could have tolerated it if he
had.
“How?”
“I don’t know. I thought perhaps you did.”
He shook his head. “His soul hasn’t sung to me. I’m sorry. How did
you hear of it?”
“You don’t need to know. Suffice it to say we found out.”
He lowered his eyes, fingers moving over med tools as automatically
and meaninglessly as a pianist’s hands running practice scales; learning
their way over the equipment. Apparently he had the same incredible
eidetic memory Kes has, and was using it to learn the tools of his trade
here on Voyager. He kept his attention on the equipment in front of him
as he responded to my comment..
“I’m sorry, in any case. It was his gamble, but I’m sorry he lost.”
“Yes. He certainly did.”
He looked out from under the long flutter of his lashes. I sighed,
waiting for the inevitable play.
“And will you be needing comfort in your time of sorrow?”
“No, Anyas. And if I do, I’ll make the arrangements myself. Your
help isn’t needed.”
He sighed. “I am unappreciated. Here you have a First Accepted
picked from hundreds for my talent, intelligence, strength of spirit, and
perfection of form and training, and you turn me aside. And for what?
For…”
“For nothing that’s any of your business, Anyas.”
As I left I found myself thinking that for once I really believed it
would be a good thing if one of my crew was neutered. The man was a
menace.

Later, on the bridge, we prepared to leave Abbyzh-diran space. It
was quiet. No one was very pleased with the outcome. Word of the failure
of the rescue mission had apparently spread, and though few of the crew
were ever acquainted with the clone, they all knew the doctor, and even if
it wasn’t in them to project from that basis, I think most of us found it
hard simply to accept that we’d *lost*. That one of ours was dead after
risking so much to save Kes. We’re the Federation. It’s not that we
never loose…but even when we do, there’s usually something we can do to
make sure the loss is paid for dearly. Two years hasn’t succeeded in
taking away from that reflexive certainty.
Adding to the tension I’d taken us to yellow alert, with Harry and
Tuvok scanning the area for any sign of raiders. We were all jumpy…
under the circumstances the freebooters had the advantage. There was
every chance they knew who we were, where we were, how many of us there
were… within limits they held the cards, and would be calling the shots.
The outlaw’s advantage.
I gave the order to go to impulse, and we set course out of the
system. It was almost as though a sigh passed through the bridge as Tom
moved her out. We moved slowly, watchful for freebooters, for incoming
trade caravans; not needing to pick up much speed in any case, with the
maze ahead of us. It was as complex a route out as it had been in. Harry
was back on ops, pulling in everything he could to make Tom and Chakotay’s
lives easier as they plotted the way.
We’d been underway for about ten minutes and were approaching the
edge of the maze when Harry made a tentative sound.
“Captain… one of the caravans; it isn’t behaving like the rest
have.”
“Put it on screen, Ensign.”
As soon as he did we could see what he was talking about. Where
other groups we’d watched come and go had proceeded directly towards the
maze, the trailing ships of this bevy seemed to drift ever so lightly
towards us as they proceeded; and the clustered web of them was stretching
slowly, each ship moving slightly slower than the one ahead of it. The
effect, if it continued, would stretch the convoy slowly out, changing it
from a vaguely almond-shaped cluster to a thin net of vessels that would
wall us off from the Abbyzh-diran system, and pin us hard up against the
maze. I’d seen natives on many low tech planets fishing with throw-nets
— the bundle tossed out, and spreading wide before it hit the water. The
effect of the caravan as it slowly drifted was very like that. I
suspected that I knew what would follow, but I owed my conscience and the
suspected freebooters the courtesy of a warn-off.
“Harry, hail the lead ship of the caravan.”
The screen filled with the image of a woman of a race I didn’t
recognize, vaguely similar to Green Orion as to type. Another Deltan
coincidence. The Preservers had been busy out here.
“You called, Voyager?”
“You seemed to be having some trouble holding your caravan’s
formation. I was wondering if there was a problem we could assist with.”
She shrugged. “Nothing more than a new group, only assembled here at
the Walled Market. The crews aren’t used to working with each other yet.
Some things take time.”
We signed out. I turned to Tuvok. “I want an evaluation of those
ships.”
“They would appear to be small freighters; approximately similar in
size and capacity to Crazy Horse, before the Maquis converted it to an
assault vessel.”
“Not reassuring. Any sign that *these* have been converted?”
Tuvok shrugged. “They appear to have a heavy weapons compliment,
though in this vicinity that would only be a reasonable precaution. They
are carrying little cargo… again, reasonable, if they’ve exchanged large
items for smaller during this run, though it would be more normal to fill
the hold with relatively low value objects, rather than waste the space.
They have their shields currently adjusted so that forward starboard
shields are at maximum… giving them optimal protection from any defense
we might mount. Do we need further indication?”
“To fire… yes. To run like hell, no. Chakotay, Paris, the back-up
courses you’ve been plotting…. get us into the maze *now*. At least
there we can try to play hide and seek.”
Chakotay nodded… Paris was too busy taking us toward the maze at
the highest speed he could and still hope to navigate the complex passage.
As we began to accelerate the ships in the caravan dropped all pretense
of peaceable intent, and moved in like a pack of wolves, spreading apart
and advancing at a speed that astounded me, firing a barrage of shots at
angles that weren’t so much threatening as clear and ample proof that they
could cover the spaces between ships quite adequately. We wouldn’t be
able to risk trying to make a run between them. Instead we’d have to race
away from them, as helpless before those numbers and that kind of
firepower as if we were a lone goat facing a circling pack of predators.
“Approaching ships powering up weapons systems, captain.”
“We do the same. Maximum power to our port and aft shields. They
represent a lot of firepower taken in total . I want all the protection I
can mount between them and us. Give me a display of the current ship
deployment, Harry.”
The array flashed on my screen. The net was closing in behind us
and to the Abbyzh-diran side; to port. They’d completed their spreading
maneuver by then, and were eating up the space between us at a horrifying
pace, almost seeming to warp across the intervening distance, though I
knew that was impossible… they’d never be able to pull off the kind of
control they’d need to avoid killing themselves in the small compass of
the Abbyzh-diran system and the narrow, twisting spaces of the maze. But
it was impulse like I’d never seen used before; acceleration that should
have destroyed them and their engines.
Chakotay was picking up the same information on his screen.
“Damn… how the hell are they managing to push like that? B’Elanna?
Any guesses?”
B’Elanna’s voice cut in over the com link.
“They’re blowing more power than they could afford for a long run…
I’d say they’re sprinters, not endurance ships. They don’t have to be.
They either catch us here and now, or they might as well quit. Judging by
the readings they seem to be using a matter-antimatter reaction, but
instead of trying to use it economically, for warp, they’re using all the
energy their ships can stand and not shake to bits, and putting the rest
into inertial dampers, weaponry, shields, and waste. They’re leaving a
hell of a particle signature in their wake.”
“Cheetahs” Harry muttered. “Their tactics are wolf, but the speed
is cheetah.”
“B’Elanna, can we match them?” I asked, knowing the answer, but
hoping for a miracle.
“Not a chance, captain. Or not without weeks to remodel our engine
structure. We’re not designed for this. And if we went to warp here we’d
be in trouble. Not enough time to pick a path through the maze. We’d end
up dead.”
“Damn.”
“Captain, we’re approaching the maze. Prepare for a rough ride. If
I’m going to get us through and keep the hunters off our backs I’m going
to be doing some fancy flying.”
Before I could brace myself Tom’s plans were shot down. Like Romulan
Birds of Prey uncloaking, five more ships seemed to materialize from
behind a twisting veil of energy where they’d been waiting in ambush for
the rest of the fleet to herd us past their position. Chakotay was faster
than me.
“Port, Paris! Full power to all shields.”
As fast as he’d been he was too late. A barrage of phaser fire
lanced across the starboard side of the ship, where our shields were
weakest, tearing across our flank aiming for our nacelles, like a wolf
hamstringing prey. B’Elanna’s voice cut in over the com link, tense and
angry.
“Damage to starboard nacelle strut. Captain, I’m going to have to
drop speed. The strut’s been hit bad. It’ll sheer if we keep up this
acceleration.”
“We can’t slow… they’re cutting too close behind us.”
“Then just hold steady. Paris, don’t jostle her… the stress could
pull her apart. Keep it nice and easy if you can.”
“Oh, right. *You* try it, Q.B. Shit, Tuvok, that was close. Photon
torpedo?”
Tuvok grunted. “I intercepted it , lieutenant. Do you have any
complaints?”
A massive volley of phaser fire stabbed behind us from the original
web of ships, all the beams focused on the weakened nacelle. Tuvok was
returning fire, but we were badly enough outnumbered that it wasn’t making
much of a dent in our attackers. The shields were up by then, and held,
but emergency reports went up all around the ship, Harry’s ops station
going into overdrive as he tried to field and deal with the calls. Worse,
the energy strain was causing massive surges in our power grids, and
terminals around the bridge started blowing out like Forth of July
fireworks. A blast from Paris’ station sent my comm officer down
screaming.
“Chakotay, take over navigation. B’Elanna, emergency intership
beam-out to sickbay. Paris is down.”
“Can’t, damn it, Everything I have to spare is tied up in the
shields.”
“Doctor, send up one of your med techs.”
“I can’t, unless you want to pull the ones I have off the casualties
they’re already assigned to… who are all top level priority.”
“Damn.”
Paris was moaning: a high, gut-knotting whine of agony, made worse by
the fact that he was trying desperately to control it. Even from my seat
I could see the burns that covered his arms, chest and part of his face.
I hoped Chakotay was too busy to notice. His friend Kurt had died of
similar wounds. I hoped Paris wouldn’t. “Doctor, there has to be someone
you can send!”
A voice cut in over the link. Anyas.
“I’ll go. You haven’t got me worked into your sickbay routines yet
anyway. I’d only be in the way down here. Give me one of those med kits,
and I’ll take the ones that can’t be moved, starting with the one on
bridge.”
“Captain, with your approval?”
“Do it. Chakotay what’s going down?”
“Tuvok’s taken out two, but that’s it. They’re prepared for this.
If I could take us into the maze I might get us through, but I wouldn’t do
it if I could help it. We’re going to have limited speed and
maneuverability, and it’s their turf. It may be like the badlands, but it
isn’t my own territory — I don’t know enough to gamble if we can help
it..”
“Options?”
“If a space opens up where Tuvok took out the ships, we may be able
to slip through, and try to make a run back to Abbyzh-dira. Don’t know
what good it would do… I don’t see any of the orbiting ships making a
move to help us out here. But if we could get to planetary orbit we might
be safe. They don’t seem to attack anyone who’s actually in the system.
Even if they follow us down, we might be able cut low enough to turtle our
shields… leave our belly open, put all the coverage above, and hope that
we could hold out long enough to deal with them.”
“Tuvok, can you cut us a bigger hole?”
“I cannot guarantee such a possibility, captain. They are well
shielded.”
“What if we sowed our wake with photon mines? They might at least
have to slow to navigate around them, and the way they have their shields
deployed we might get lucky and take one out, if a mine brushes up against
their keel. They’re hardly bothering to cover their bellies.”
“Affirmative. Initiating mining procedure.” On my screen I saw a
full round of mines tumble in a broad swathe behind us, spinning and
zooming erratically, sending out a baffling array of false and marginally
camouflaged readings, making the freebooters work to track them. The
oncoming ships wove and dodged, trying to avoid the new threat. Some
attempted to alter their shield deployment, some merely tried evasive
maneuvers. One was unlucky, ramming belly first into a mine and losing
its life to the explosion that followed, ripping out the unshielded gut of
the thing. I tried not to pay attention to the corpses that tumbled free
of the ship, lost in vacuum.
“Harry, I want a fast estimate on their maneuverability compared to
ours, and the extent of their life support and shielding.”
Chakotay’s glance flickered towards me for a second, his hands still
flying over his console, but a fraction of attention given over to me.
“Planning on going into the maze and trying to lead them through the edge
of onof those energy fluxes?”
“If we can do it.”
“Won’t work. They’ve got too much chance to pick their way… they
can keep far enough behind to evaluate anything like that, and make the
necessary corrections.”
“I know… but I want to see what we have anyway.”
He nodded.
The turbolift opened, and Anyas came on bridge, a vivid blaze of
neon-blue and orange. I nodded towards where Paris lay on the deck, and
he hurried to deal with his injuries.
“Captain, another of the ships in the net has taken a heavy hit from
one of the photon mines, and is falling back. Extent of damage unknown,
but I believe we have a chance to achieve that opening in the web
Commander Chakotay postulated.”, Tuvok said, sounding the first note of
hope so far. I smiled at him, then turned to my XO.
“Chakotay?”
“Not enough room. The way they’re arrayed they have the hole
covered… too many ships in firing range. They’d blow us to pieces. ”
“Tuvok, can we take out any of the ships at the perimeter of the
hole?”
“Unlikely, though I will by all means try. I can however attempt to
force them further from their current courses. Ensign Bintar, I believe
we have a full round of unarmed mines available in the arsenal, not yet
completed?”
“Aye, sir.” Bintar sounded scared as it came to us over the com
link. I felt for him, not caring at the moment that only weeks before
he’d been ready to help destroy my command and take Voyager. Now he was
just a terrified weapons officer trying along with the rest of us to save
our lives. Tuvok continued with his orders, as cool as you’d expect.
“Add the non-functional mines to the others available for launch.”
“But they’re duds…”
“That would appear to be irrelevant at this time, Ensign.”
“Aye, sir.”
Meanwhile I was online to B’Elanna.
“B’Elanna, if Tuvok can manage it we’re going to be making a break
through a hole in their web. We need to do a fast stop, and allow them to
move past us, then turn, and run back towards Abbyzh-dira *fast*…. how
much can you give me?”
“If I play the shields off against braking and acceleration I can
probably give you a good enough kick fast enough to give us a bit of a
lead, if they don’t know what’s coming. The big problem is going to be
that nacelle strut. Even if I throw the strongest tractor fields I can
over it to boost structural integrity, it’s going to be touch and go
whether it will hold through a maneuver like that. Lotta torque, lotta
sheer. Ch’kotay, don’t try to pull the turn till we’ve lost most of our
momentum… less strain on that nacelle.”
“Don’t teach your grampaw how to suck eggs, Be.”
“Always knew you sucked, boss.”
“Later, woman.”
The two prepped as they chattered. Meanwhile Harry was still
fielding incoming calls from all the departments, and monitoring the
outside situation, and Tuvok was keeping up a steady barrage of fire on
the oncoming ships, paying particular attention to the starboard web. The
freebooters had figured out the photon mines were deadly by then, having
lost a ship to one early, and while they also seemed to have realized that
a fair percent of the latest round were duds they were having to pick
their way cautiously. The formation was breaking up as ships skirted the
mines, like a line of knights falling into disarray in the face of
something as simple and effective as caltrops. The net-like formation
broke up further when some smart captain thought to pull the whole fleet
further out, and plot a course for the entire web that would run parallel
to the outside of the scattered minefield. I looked at Chakotay as the
web began to fray and open out, leaving us with not one but a dozen holes,
as the enemy ships regained their speed faster than they were able to
regain their positions. The conditions were as close to ideal as we were
going to get, plenty of space to duck through, and an enemy in disarray,
moving too fast to maneuver.
“Now’s your chance, commander.”
“Done. Tuvok, Harry, we’re going through. Get ready for some
action.”
Anyas had finished stabilizing Tom, and he looked up as we braked as
suddenly as we dared, allowing he majority of the fleet to hurtle past
us, too busy with their own maneuver to be ready for ours. As soon as
we’d cleared the hole in the web, and the last of the pirate ships had
careened past us, Chakotay flipped us like a swimmer turns at the end of a
lap, choosing the direction of spin that placed the least amount of
strain on the damaged portions of the nacelle. Then he and B’Elanna put
out a smooth kick of power that took us near warp, running towards
Abbyzh-dira. Behind us the raider fleet performed a clumsy dance as they
tried to turn and regroup. We had them all behind us now, an advantage in
its own right. We were free for the first time to concentrate all our
available power into our aft shields, as we were now open to only one zone
of attack. And we had the edge on them now. It was the first time we’d
been able to take the lead in the encounter.
Anyas was still kneeling on the floor beside a now sedated Tom Paris.
He studied the screen. “We return to Abbyzh-dira?”
“Yes. Any objections?”
He shook his head. “No. The souls are strong there… tell your man
to pass the veils.”
“Anyas, we don’t know what the force fields that keep the veils in
place will do to the ship.”
“No one ever does… do it anyway. You won’t get another chance.”
He was right. The freebooters had recovered, and were pulling up
behind us, showing the same outrageous acceleration they’d shown earlier.
I kept thinking their inertial dampers had to be worked to the maximum…
either that or their crews were being reduced to pulp as the ships kicked
into high gear. Only our head start kept us ahead of them at all, as
they matched the speed we’d been able to manage with the damaged nacelle
and surpassed it, creeping up across the distances that separated us.
“Chakotay, prepare to bring the ship down on Abbyzh-dira. Harry, get
on the horn and start hollering… I don’t want to take out any ships on
the way in if I can help it. Tuvok, what’s the situation?”
“Not good, captain. They are nearly within firing range, and they
have taken a parabolic formation, to bring maximum phaser power to bear on
our aft shields.”
The no-jargon description was that the pirate ships had spread out
like a shallow cup, or a curved sheet, so that none of them stood in the
way of any other that wanted to shoot the daylights out of us. There were
over thirty ships taking aim at our aft shields. We’d never survive that
kind of barrage if it connected. I looked in the screen and saw the array
of them charging up behind us, a pack of killers moving so fast it still
left me breathless watching them. Chakotay was muttering next to me,
damned near begging the engines to give him a bit more acceleration,
begging the tractor fields that helped maintain structural integrity
during emergencies to hold the damaged nacelle through a bit more stress.
As we approached the system trade-vessels skittered away from our
course like frightened birds fleeing a hawk, bursting away in all
directions to avoid intersecting with us. The rings were pulling closer
and closer, and I prayed they wouldn’t do us any harm. Anyas was settled
on the floor of the bridge, apparently saying his last prayers. It would
have been nice if the rest of us had had time to do the same, but we were
all up to our ears in busy. It was the time when everything seems to be
happening at once, not fast, not slow, just very, very demandingly real.
The raiders had managed to come into range again, and had opened fire,
round after round slamming into our aft shields. They hadn’t started
coordinated rounds of fire, but it was almost certainly only a matter of
time before they consolidated their efforts and took us out with one
well-timed barrage of combined fire. Consoles and terminals were
beginning to sizzle and fry again, as primary systems shorted, and backups
cut in. The bridge was filling with smoke, Tuvok and I had twinned our
consoles, trying to manage to put up some kind of defense against the
advancing hordes, Chakotay and B’Elanna were nursing every bit of speed
and efficiency they could out of a damaged ship…

and then Harry hollered “Shit”.

End section 15

Raisins and Almonds.
Peg Robinson, c. 1996

I switched the main screen from a view of the wolf-pack closing in
behind us to a view of Abbyzh-dira rising ahead. It was incredible.
The veils were unfolding, drawing away from the planet with the sort
of awesome, slow grace of a solar flare. The layers opened, and
blossomed; the energy fields that sustained them shifting from
invisibility to a glowing, dreamy haze of Auroral color. It looked like
some huge tropical flower reaching out towards us.
“Kim, evaluate.”
“Pure energy suspending the ice particles. Not clear what form.
Right now a lot of photons and electrons, but just before it started there
were a lot of energies in subspace radio frequencies, and before that it
was almost entirely magnetic fields. No telling what next.”
“Danger?”
“None as stands.”
Tuvok cut across the investigation of the arcing, burning rings
spreading their petals before us, his voice tension-under-control… the
Vulcan version of near-screaming panic.
“Captain, aft shields are going down. Approaching ships arming and
preparing for a combined volley.”
I looked at Chakotay. Before I could give the command he muttered “I
know, I know. Punch my way through.”
He did just that; he and B’Elanna nursing the last bit of
acceleration they could from engines already pressed near to the point of
self-destruction. The sense of simultaneous action increased, a thousand
impressions wrapping around my brain as the ship plunged through the veils
of Abbyzh-dira: Harry began a countdown on how long the nacelle strut
would hold: the energy fields wrapped us in a fiery embrace; sensors and
consoles and nearly everything that involved energy began to scream and
whine and hiss with static; the ship was shuddering and juddering, with
all of us hanging on to stay where we were; Chakotay was swearing as he
tried to hold control over the ship when it was failing to respond; I
could hear B’Elanna cussing counterpoint down in Engineering, barely
making out a vituperative “Kahless on crutches” over the shushing com
lines; the raider’s armada released their volley…
The energy fields around us flared and blazed, reaching out to
envelop the approaching pirates, veiling hem in the folds of ice dust
until they disappeared from our sensors’ view. All we could see was vivid
bursts of released energy. I looked around my bridge, wondering if it was
going to be for the last time, and was just in time to see Anyas begin to
glow and flicker with light similar to that of the fields beyond.
“No, dammit.”
I launched myself out of my chair, staggering and swaying across the
dais and coming down to the lower level in record time. I squatted beside
Anyas as he glowed more and more fiercely, wishing I had a tricorder. I
was just reaching out to hold my hand in front of Anyas, trying to gauge
whether there was any heat associated with the light, and turning to ask
Harry to scan him, when the fires seemed to leap across the space between
us like a spark arcing off of the point of a probe, and that was it. I
don’t remember any more. At least not for a while.

When I came to I was in sickbay. I’d have known in any case; the
smell and the lighting are a giveaway; but the doctor’s voice was creeling
in the background, as sharp as the whine of a good wineglass when you
stroke the rim. I studied the ceiling. My head hurt, my arm and chest
hurt. I felt like shit.
“So you’re awake.”
I turned my neck, amazed, as I have been before, at how many ways a
body can hurt. The effort left me miserable. Chakotay was sitting on the
next med bed, in his ‘Voyager-gray’ under-jersey; uniform jacket tossed on
the bed next to him. I smiled blearily at him.
“Don’t tell me you got tagged too.”
He grinned, and shook his head. “Just finished a last tour of the
damages with Tuvok, and we thought we’d come see if you’d come around yet.
He got snagged, though. Kes is up, and had the baby with her, and she
kidnapped ‘Uncle Tuvok’ before he could come look sober at your bedside.
He’ll be along soon, though. We’ve got a surprise for you.”
God, his face was a welcome sight; tired eyes, hair that looked like
it had been sat on by an elephant, tattoo and all. And, quivering inside
me, I had the feeling mine was as welcome to him. The look in his eyes
was too close to the feeling in my chest. I closed my eyes a moment,
collecting my wits. I knew what I wanted to ask, if I could only remember
it. Right; the pirate attack, and the trip through the veils.
“What happened back there?”
“The ‘souls’ of the Kithtri. We forgot how much potential Kes and
the rest of the Ocampans have, even without much training. The Kithtri
really do live in two forms… one with a body, one without. Sometimes
the ones without even choose to be ‘born-again’.” He sighed. “I’m
definitely too white. I believe in the manitto… but I wasn’t expecting
the ‘souls’ to turn out to be quite so literal. I think I need to think
about this some more. Thinking too Starfleet-logical leaves me stupid
when I should be smart.”
“Don’t feel so bad. I’ve seen enough weird things in my life to know
better, and I still thought it was all fairly standard ‘God-talk’…
pretty, but not something likely to have an everyday application. Yet
another religion making people act crazy.”
“If I hadn’t been avoiding the question of ‘holy man’….”
“Are you trying to blame yourself again?”
He smiled. “Probably. I’ll try to tone it down.”
“How’s Voyager?”
“Been better. We’re going to have a lot to do to rebuild the nacelle.
And I might as well tell you now, we’ve pretty well trashed the keel
shield systems. We generated a stabilized force field to take up some of
the shock when we landed… it wasn’t any too controlled a maneuver.”
I started to chuckle, feeling light-headed between the damage I’d
taken and the relief that we’d pulled through again.
“A stabilized force field? Tell me, were there any horses in it?”
He looked at me like I was crazy. I suppose I was a bit. I laughed
harder. He shook his head disgustedly, but there was a happy grin on his
face as he listened to me howl. “That’s a *bad* joke. No, no horses. No
cows, or sheep either. Not even any goats.”
“One goat… us. A tethered goat. Tell me, what happened to the
raiders?”
His eyes were grim. He pressed air between his front teeth, creating
the sound of something frying to extinction on a hot wire. “Tssssssstcht.
Lots of ‘souls’, no more raiders.”
” How?”
“Don’t look at me. B’Elanna and Harry are fighting about it. You
can join the hypothetical round table when you’re up again.”
“How long was I out?”
“About five hours, now. The holodoctor said you scanned fine, but
given how you’d come to be among the sleeping he preferred not to fiddle
with you if it wasn’t necessary. Tuvok and I had cleanup in hand, so we
let you sleep it off in your own time.”
“Casualties?”
He sighed, and the weariness that had seemed to lift settled back
over him. I knew watching that there had been at least one death, and
held myself in tight control waiting to hear who had gone. It was one of
the worst things about coming closer to my crew. Each new face that
became a personal friend or even a personal enemy became a private loss
when they died. “Hostages to fortune”. 131 hostages, the posted security
on every choice I make: saved if I’m right, lost if I’m wrong. I waited
for the death-notice. Chakotay’s voice was a quiet doom, slipping
gracefully up to the fated end.
“Tom’s going to be a few days getting completely over a pretty bad
burn on his chest and arms. The holodoctor says it’ll take a few more
days after that to regenerate the nerves in his hands, and he’s left most
of what are left numb until he can start the regrowth. Burns hurt like
hell when they’re healing, even with modern treatment. Soames broke an
arm, but he’s out of here already. He’ll be ready to play that keyboard
of his by tonight. We nearly lost Magda and Samantha…they were in Kes’
hydroponics garden together, trying to clean up and get it ready for Kes
to return when the ship started taking fire on the starboard side, right
before we lost the nacelle. Sam got out fine; Magda tripped and was
pinned under a falling rack. Broke her hip. Says she thought she was
gone for a moment. They’d breached hull integrity, and it was a few
seconds before the fields came up and achieved atmospheric containment.
There’s more… it was a bad run-in, and we took a lot of fire. You can
read my report and the holodoctor’s when you feel like it… and when we
have them written. But there was one fatality. We lost Klaus. Another
console blowout. The med teams couldn’t have made it on time. She was
gone before she was down.”
I closed my eyes, thinking of the young girl flirting so tentatively
with Verrier during the great Strike, and showing up at Sandrine’s after
Egypt, Verrier in tow. It had looked like another “Voyager couple” in the
works.
“How’s Verrier taking it?”
“Badly. I’m afraid he’d bought in to the ‘invulnerable Starfleet’
myth a bit too deeply. He thought she’d live forever, even though he
knows he won’t. Not logical, but there it is. I hope you don’t mind…
I’ve given him mourning leave. They were getting pretty close.”
I shook my head, my throat closing up for a moment. I drew in a
breath, relaxed my shoulders, and let it go. “And Tuvok?”
“Unhappy. Another of his surrogate daughters?”
“I think so. I don’t keep track. Not my business.” I turned
restlessly on the bed, and was rewarded with a full chorus of aches and
pains. “That maneuver you pulled with the shields… Maquis?”
“Mmmm. We didn’t always have time to brake. Our equivalent of a
bootlegger’s turn to come to a stop.”
“I’m glad you did it… but let’s try not to again? And…thanks.”
“All in a day’s work… partner.” He looked up and grinned as a mob
descended down the aisle of the main bay ” And here comes Tuvok to
gladden your heart… and he’s got Kes, and Neelix and the little one with
him. And it looks like Anyas is bringing the surprise to see you, too.”
I looked at the approaching swarm, and wondered if I could pass out
again.
“I’m going to drown. You’ve called up a flood.”
He grinned. ” ‘Apres-moi le deluge’. I’ll try to keep them from
swamping you.”
He shifted around the med-bed, leaving the near side of the bed free
for my other guests. For just a moment our hands met. I brushed my
fingers across the backs of his.
“Thanks again.”
He nodded, and disappeared beyond my line of vision, standing guard
at my shoulder.
Neelix led the way. He was bustling and beaming, and he hit my
personal space like a photon torpedo. I wished he had a volume control.
Behind him, more sedate but no less radiant, was Kes holding the baby, and
Tuvok, his arm gently supporting her as though he expected her to blow
away. I sighed a little. I remembered when I’d been the ‘little girl’.
Not a luxury I can afford any more. Tuvok and I didn’t spend the kind of
time together we had when I was a girl. Things change. I was glad he had
Kes… and I hoped that somehow she’d know how to keep the connection in a
way I hadn’t. I remembered the reproach in his voice when I came to his
rooms once, and he pointed out how rarely I visited him. Kes, I
suspected, would find ways of holding on that seemed to be beyond me.
Beside them came Anyas, still dressed in the blue neon he’d worn on
the bridge earlier. He was radiant. Whatever the events on the bridge had
meant to him he was like a torch, he was so happy. Next to him came a boy
about the equivalent in age of a human child of five. Small, blonde, of
much the same type as Kes. There was something peculiar about the Kithtri
child. He didn’t move right. I couldn’t put my finger on it.
A second later I didn’t have to.
“Well. I see that you’ve finally seen fit to come to. I suppose you
won’t be cluttering up my…I mean *the* sickbay much longer.”
I just looked. I never would have recognized him. Not as a
five-year-old, blond Ocampanoid child. But even though his look and voice
were all wrong, the delivery was unmistakable.
“Doctor…”
“Well, one of them, in any case. I’m afraid my ‘brother’ is busy. I
thought he might be. That’s why I came when Commander Chakotay decided to
belly-flop Voyager on our landing field. I’m not fit to practice yet, but
I give very good advice to the med-techs.”
‘Our’. It seemed he’d made his decision as to where his future
belonged.
“We thought you were dead.”
“So I have been informed. I’m afraid the rumors of my death are
somewhat exaggerated.”
I nodded. “Let me look at you.”
He came up close beside my bed. He was going to be as lovely in his
own way as Anyas.
“How did they…?”
He shrugged, and grinned.
“Not so very different from the rescue I understand your people
attempted…. and thank you for that. It is nice to know you cared so
much. In any case, there was a woman who’d just conceived, and they did
what they do when one of the souls wants to be reborn…they forced the
fetus to twin, and downloaded me into the second fetus, with some help
from the ‘souls’. They had to induce premature growth and maturity…
they apparently decided I wasn’t prepared for the inevitable problems of a
maturing body, and they wanted to make the download in one move, which
would have been complicated if they’d allowed the body to mature normally.
But as you can see, the process was an exceptional success. Though I
must say, learning to make the digits work well is harder than I would
have expected. However I find it hard to complain. It is wonderful to
*have* hands again.” He flexed them in front of him, and I remembered his
shock when we brought him to life, and he found himself without a body.
It made his joy stand out in sharp relief. Watching him I saw what had
bothered me about his movement… he was trying to make a child’s body
function the way an adult body would, with no experience beyond what his
med files would give him. The wonder was that he moved at all.
I brushed my hand across his shoulder.
“You’re a miracle. I’m so glad. Do you like it?”
His eyes were sober as I’d ever seen.
“I have never been so happy.”
“Are you staying with us?”
He shook his head.
“No. I don’t want to break the bargain. I’m First Accepted now.
That gives me certain responsibilities. And I can’t stay anyway.” He
looked down sadly. “Someday my ‘brother’ will stop being so busy, and
he’ll ask me what it’s like… and I’d have to tell him. He shouldn’t
have to live knowing just how much he’s missing.” Then his face lit.
“And I’m going to live a full and varied life. You have no idea! But I
can visit while you’re here.”
Kes reached out and pulled him close, his head butting into her
waist.
“I’m so happy you can. I wanted to cry when you left me that stupid
message. Really. I don’t understand the fascination so many of your
worlds have with martyrdom. Wouldn’t it be better if you all just tried
to be happy, instead of heroic?”
The little boy who had been a hologram looked at her with adult
affront.
“If I weren’t programmed for heroism, you might not be here at this
time. You might at least show some appreciation.”
I suspect he counted the hug she gave him as at least a start on the
payment. From there on in it turned into a regular kaffee-klatch. I’d as
soon have slept. The side effects of playing tag with the eternal were
noticeable. Instead I held court, as befits a wounded hero. I was
gracious, charming, reassuring. I admired the baby, laughed as I watched
her explore Tuvok’s ears, and then soberly compare them with her mother’s.
Tuvok took time to make sure I was well, and to give his own briefing;
glowering slightly at Chakotay when he found I’d already been filled in on
the crucial material. I did what I could to soothe his feelings, but was
more than a bit relieved when he shifted his attention back to Kes and the
child.
I don’t really remember them all leaving. I do remember Chakotay’s
voice saying ‘Let her sleep’.
It’s good to have a partner.

I was grateful for the rest the next day. I was technically on sick
leave for a few more days, while the doctor kept an eye on me, but that
was a fiction. Before the morning even got under way we were knee-deep in
repairs, trades for materials to complete repairs, religious convocations
as the Kithtri petitioned us to talk to Anyas.
I saw a *lot* of the Kithtri, too. Apparently my acceptance of Anyas
as ‘body of Voyager’, and theirs of the doctor made me family to all the
planet and veils were no longer appropriate between us. I was relieved
that they didn’t seem to feel the reaction had to be reciprocal. I
preferred my uniform. I might not have complained even if they’d wanted
me in a tutu, though: they’d agreed to donate a certain amount towards our
repairs out of respect for Anyas, as he was apparently the first
‘Accepted’ to be on record as communing directly with the ‘souls’ resident
in the veils in many centuries.
Through it all the crew was in and out of my ready room. I was
exhausted by the end of the day, what with reports, and get-wells, and the
occasional rave over the beauty of the market. And then there were the
gifts. Dozens of gifts. It seemed like no-one could go down to the
market without buying *something* from the stalls, and having bought it —
well, what better to give the captain? So I got bags of fruit, and
strange carved artworks, and odd, unexplained alien devices with
instruction chips that weren’t compatible with our computing systems, and
shawls, and books in unknown languages, but with lustrous, luscious
illuminations., and sack after bulging paper sack of ‘laughter-and-tears’.
From Kes I got a beautiful outfit she and Magda had picked out for me in
the market, and an invitation. She’d decided she was ready to name the
baby, and was calling a special circle that evening on the hill near the
landing field. I accepted gladly — and was very good and didn’t ask if
she’d remembered to ask Chakotay. He was right: he didn’t need another
mother. And anyway, I was quite sure if she hadn’t by then she would have
by the end of the day.
It was, after all, Kes.
All the presents reminded me to call down to B’Elanna and ask her if
she’d ever completed replicating the hologenerators I’d asked her to make
up for my ‘pet project’. I was happy to hear she had. I told her to drop
them off in my quarters, and keyed the door to let her in when she got
there.
Chakotay stayed busy supervising the repairs. He was mobile. I
still didn’t really feel like I was. Every half hour or so I’d get a
frazzled call to check and see what else I had to add to his list of
things to supervise, but we didn’t even manage to make lunch together. He
was doing a great impression of the irresistible force, I was the
immovable object, and Murphy, with his usual sense of humor, had decided
*not* to test out the age-old proposition and see what would happen if we
were in the same room together.

After work I showered and changed into the ‘dress’ Kes had bought me.
It really was gorgeous — the prettiest thing I think I’ve ever owned,
and practical into the bargain, which is more than I can say for most
dress-up. A black bodysuit of a soft, silky fabric rippled with bands of
dusted stars, spinning galaxies, billowing nebulae. To go over that a
nearly transparent robe like colored glass; as flexible and breathing as
heavy silk — a stained-glass frock-coat with weighty, flaring skirts, all
in deep, deep royal blue spangled with a heaven of stars. I was just
admiring my ‘stellar’ self in the mirror when the door chimed.
“In.”
Chakotay sagged in, looking dead-beat and frayed around the edges.
But he was out of uniform for the first time I’d seen since he tried to
come to the circle and ran. And not only leave-clothes: *new*
leave-clothes. I cocked my head. Whoever had picked them had a sense of
what Chakotay’d wear, and what he’d look good in, too. A black tunic, not
so different from the under robes of our desert gear, though more
attractively colored, with a band collar and yoke embroidered with
geometrics in rich, dark jewl-tones. Belt. Loose black trousers that
wouldn’t turn an eye if they hadn’t been cut by a genius. The sort of
dark-but-decorative that his old Maquis clothes are, but newer, and
dressier.
He also looked well-aware that he looked good in the outfit. He
wasn’t as cocky as Anyas, but he could have given Paris a run for his
money.
He grinned as I looked him over. Like my mother used to say,
“Applause is sweet.” I’m afraid it’s easier to praise Harry, or Tom, or
Kes and B’Elanna… it’s even easier to praise Tuvok than Chakotay. I’m
not sure why. But I decided that maybe I needed to work on that.
Wouldn’t do to have him waste away from lack of appreciation, after all.
I paced around him, playing it up a bit.
“Very nice! From Kes?”
“Mmm-hmm. She and Neelix and Magda went shopping today.” He was
amused by the routine. He also liked it. It wasn’t that hard to tell: he
seemed to stand a bit taller, and to have suddenly acquired a couple hours
sleep he hadn’t had just moments before. The smile helped, I suppose.
“She get yours, too?”
“Yes.”
“She has a good eye.”
I suspect I suddenly looked better rested myself.
We admired each other cheerfully for a moment more, then I picked up
the satchel of hologenerators, and the instruction set I’d copied onto a
chip.
” I have a gift for you, too.”
He stopped cold. A cock-eyed grin started; laughing, bashful, with a
heavy seasoning of delighted. “Really?”
Adding dimples to Chakotay was gilding the lily, if you ask me.
Murphy at work again.
“Mmm.” I tried to make it non-committal, and failed miserably.
“Hope you like it, commander. If you don’t… well, in a sense it’s more
of an introduction than a present anyway. If you don’t get along with it,
I’d as soon you gave it back, and I’ll try to place it with someone else.”
He pulled the case over. “Should I open it now?”
“Save it for sometime when you have at least an hour or so to get
acquainted. Otherwise I can’t guarantee it won’t be insulted.”
The look he gave me was suspicious, but still pleased. He put the
case by his seat, working to find the words for a ‘thank you’ for a
present he hadn’t seen, and might not be able to trust. “You have me
curious, you know. I don’t know that I’ve ever been given a gift I could
insult, before.”
I shrugged, and grinned. “If you skip the circle you can open it
now. I wouldn’t recommend it, though. Kes would have your hide.”
“Oh, I’m going — you owe me a story.”
“I’m afraid it isn’t much of a story.”
He laughed and shrugged, eyes glittering with self-mockery. “I’d
have to go anyway. Kes quivered at me. I never could resist big, blue
eyes looking up and pleading like that.”
“Kes pleaded?”
“Then she threatened to let the holodoctor take me every time I
needed something.”
“Ah. The iron hand in the velvet glove. I’m glad you’re going
back.”
“I never would have guessed.” He shot me an exasperated glance,
softened by a defensive vulnerability. “It’s not like you haven’t done
everything short of have me stunned and tied.”
“Considering you were being stubborn I think it was justified.
Chakotay, the Strike wasn’t your fault. You’re a story teller. My mother
used to do theater, and she said that there was what the artists put into
something — and what the audience took out of it. They aren’t the same
thing, no matter how good you are.”
He ducked his head, elbows resting on knees, hands clasped. “I
know.” He looked up, studying my face, looking for clues I couldn’t guess
at. “I worked hard for a command, you know. Before I left Starfleet. I
don’t know how good I’d have been. What I was in the Maquis wasn’t what I
would have been if I’d made captain in the Fleet; and I doubt what I’d
have gotten in the Fleet would have been quite what I expected either.
But I’m used to taking responsibility. I was brought up to take
responsibility. ‘The old ways’. A man is as good as his word, as good as
his skills. He can do what he can do… or he can’t. No words to take
that away when it falls apart. Sometimes it feels like things have been
falling apart a lot out here. I’m still working on what I think about
that.”
I nodded. ” I understand.”
He smiled. The moment hung there in balance, then he laughed,
setting aside what ever disturbances and hesitancies remained unresolved
and unhealed.
“Let’s get out of here. There’s a stall near the Bargaining Hall I
have to show you. They have great kebabs, and some stuff like flan only
it isn’t. I don’t think I can explain it, though — you have to taste
it.”
Somewhere in there it had become assumed that we were going together.
I didn’t feel like pointing it out, though. He dropped off the
Cat-in-the-Bag on our way past his quarters, and then we plotted a course
past Engineering to pick up a few handfuls of the replicated silver and
gold coins that were serving as trade tokens. I understood they were
being mounted in settings and re-sold as jewelry by the tradesmen in the
market, and were much in demand for the devices from a thousand worlds
stamped on their faces. I rolled a few in my hand, suddenly wondering
when it was that money had ceased being art, and become the mere exchange
of numbers from one account to another. Looking at the delicate
workmanship, feeling the heft and hearing the chime of the coins, I
couldn’t help feeling that perhaps we’d lost something valuable when money
stopped being beautiful, and corporeal: valuable not only as a symbol,
but in it’s own right. There’s a beauty to materiality. The thought
seemed appropriate on the world of Abbyzh-dira, a world that values trade,
and the life of the flesh.

End section 16

Raisins and Almonds
Peg Robinson, c. 1996

We ambled through the ship to the great exit hatch in the belly of
Voyager. The crew was more or less moving in the same direction. We’d
rescheduled the shifts to straight days while we were there, to try to
give the majority of the crew some time on shore leave during the daylight
hours. People can go a bit crazy if they never see the light of day, on a
real planet that isn’t a holo-illusion. Smoke and mirrors, dreams and
fantasies don’t really fill the place left empty by too long a time
without real life, real day, real earth under your feet, fresh air filling
your lungs. Thanks to the schedule shift all but a token skeleton crew
was off-duty, and meandering lazily, decoratively towards the hatch.
Between ‘thank you’s from Kes and Neelix, and their own shopping and
exchanged gifts, we had one hell of a gorgeously dressed crew. As we
stepped out in the soft evening air I thought we looked as colorful and
multi-textured as Abbyzh-dira had the first time I’d flown down to it in
the shuttle.
Lush. We looked lush.
Cherel and Chaim trotted past; Cherel in a kaleidoscope of gauzes
that fluttered and flashed, Chaim in his yarmulke and a blue and orange
caftan that would have passed on Vulcan when it came to cut, but which
would have startled the staid natives of that world with its vivid, bold
pattern. Tom and Harry were loping ahead of us, dressed to the nines in
flashy suits: Harry’s moderate in cut and color, though still delightful
for all it was conservative. Tom, however, had thrown aside restraint and
had come up with a full-sleeved, vested, cling-trousered phantasmagoria
of a pirate ensemble that I suspected would set a few hearts fluttering —
and might even buy him some time that night with B’Elanna, or a delighted
Delaney. Magda was a devil, steaming ahead into the Market in a vivid
crimson shirt and full blue trousers, one arm around B’Elanna, the other
around, of all people, Anyas, who was veiled for the first time since he’d
stepped out onto the stairs of the Bargaining Hall. This time the veils
were worn to shield him from the eyes of strangers other than us, some of
whom, a mere few days before, had been his own people and his own family.
It was strange — I’d almost gotten used to the half-naked nuisance of
him. It was something I was beginning not to think about; or had come to
expect. Invisible in the same sense that I hardly ever notice Chakotay’s
tattoo other than to remember why it’s there occasionally, or to be amused
at the way it balances the flash of gray on his opposite temple, creating
an attractively asymmetrical symmetry. No more or less noticeable than a
signature piece of jewelry, or a habitually worn suit. Anyas was now one
of ours.
Beside them Tuvok drifted like desert sands in a muted, gray-brown
robe made decorative more by the ornate geometric pattern woven into it
and the quality of the fabric than by any blatant attention grabber.
I laughed. Chakotay turned, not stopping his lazy ramble, but paying
attention. “What?”
“I just figured out what ‘Les Voyageurs’ is going to be like.”
“Mmmm?”
“Like that blasted trail mix…laughter-and-tears. We’re going to be
mixed fruits and nuts.”
He sputtered.
We bought our dinners at the stall, and ate them on the edge of one
of the fountains. We fed the crumbs to the fish. We didn’t talk about
much, silent as often as we talked. When we did talk, it seemed to turn
to the day-to-day of the ship’s routine, the plans for repairs, or pure
silliness. Finally, food long-gone, drinks drunk, he stood. “Time for
the circle. Ready to pay up?”
“Mmm. Chakotay, it really isn’t much of a story. I’m no
storyteller.”
“You’re not backing out?”
“No…but maybe I should.”
“Is it going to start a mutiny?”
I chuckled. “I don’t know. It might.”
“That bad?”
“I’m not a story teller. Not my forte. Don’t be looking for ‘Chief
Joseph and the Nee Me Poo’. It’s just a story I heard as a kid.”
“You’ve got stage fright.”
“I don’t. I’ve been speaking in public for years.”
“Right. ‘Report on the Nature of Planetary Systems Associated with
Binary Star Systems, with a Particular View to the Effect on the
Prevalence of Class M Planets’.”
I laughed. “That too. Also the biannual lecture for the newbies on
ship regulations and ‘How Best to Avoid Trouble on Your First Shore
Leave.'”
We came up with sillier and sillier titles for speeches, and were
laughing our heads off as we came back to the ship. We were halfway up
the ramp when Magda and Gerrol came hurtling down.
“Wrong way, mes p’tit chats. On the slope. We have a real
*campfire*, comprends? No stars, helas: the rings, they are too bright.
Mais il y a un place parfait. Alons. Come and see.”
“She’s right, Ch’kotay… captain. It’s wild.” Gerron was nearly
quivering with excitement.
Chakotay shook his head. “I have to fetch something.”
I waited as he collected his pipe and stick, then we left the ship
again, and followed the rambling, murmuring stream of crewmembers;
traveling to the site across the landing field, up through the grasses on
the slope, to where folks were already gathered laughing and chattering in
a dell just behind the crest of the hill. There was a spring, and a pool
which had its own coterie of whatever the Abbyzh-diran equivalent of frogs
was. They sounded almost right, and almost wrong. The gronk was about
what it should be, but the rhythm was a rattling stutter.
I croaked back at them. “Brek-kek-kek-kek, co-ax, co-ax.”
“What the heck?”
“Aristophanes. The frog chorus from ‘The Frogs’. It’s
onomatopoeia.”
“Yeah. I’ve run into onomatopoeia before.” His voice was dry and
laughing. “Aristophanes? Didn’t know you were into ancient Greeks.”
I shook my head, grinning. “My mother. That theater thing. She
worked a production of the play at Harvard, one summer when I was about
six. I used to listen to the frogs in the pond at the cottage at night
and try to hear it. I’m afraid these frogs know their lines better than
the ones back home. Either that or Aristophanes had a tin ear.”
“Try ‘koka.”’
“Koka?”
“Algonquian for ‘frog’. Onomatopoeia.”
“Your ancestors did it better than Aristophanes.”
“Either that or he was imagining Abbyzh-diran frogs.”
Magda and Gerrol were busy starting a bonfire in the center of the
dell. As the flames caught dry wood, my crew began to flock and roost,
spreading blankets on the cool, damp grass, propping themselves up with
pillows brought from their quarters, passing around food and drink that
they’d brought themselves or that had been provided by Neelix.
I was amused. Someone had gotten to our ‘morale officer’, and there
were plates and bags of two ‘traditional Terran delicacies.’ Hot dogs,
and marshmallows — and, of course, the appropriate “works” to go with.
For the hot dogs there were rolls, and condiments. For the marshmallows
there was chocolate, and graham crackers, and a rash of explanations from
North American campfire junkies to all the novices as to just why
‘s’mores’ were ‘s’mores.’ Pretty soon everyone was munching, noshing,
toasting something on a stick, or happily drinking something out of
beakers, goblets, canteen-sacks… The sense of convivial community was
all-embracing.
B’Elanna and Tom and Harry had created an island of blankets, and
without saying anything they seemed to expect Chakotay and me to join the
‘terrible three.’ We sank down cross-legged together. Tuvok, who had
been across the dell with Kes and the baby, ghosted around through the
tattered shadows and came to rest with us, raising B’Elanna and Tom’s
eyebrows, but not unduly disturbing their apparent satisfaction with the
‘family’ forming on their little blanket-commune. With a grin Tom handed
Tuvok a stick already loaded with a marshmallow, and to everyone’s delight
Tuvok shifted forward until he was in reach of the fire and began to toast
his treat.
I could have told them that Tuvok had a terrible sweet tooth.
Soon we had a classic scene. My crew was a circle around the bright
blaze. Stories were being passed up and down the ring, the stick never
needing to go looking for a holder. They were whoppers of stories, too.
Abbyzh-dira seemed to have brought out the tall tales and legends, and we
had Casey Jones, and Coyote, and Baba Yaga sharing the fire with us that
night. Chaim told a tale of a tsaddik and a golem. All the while he was
telling it he was watching the boy-clone sitting next to Kes. The clone’s
eyes were bright with new-born enthusiasm and leaping firelight. He was
shadowed by the restrained excitement of his ‘original,’ who was there in
image for the first time ever, B’Elanna’s and my hologenerator and a
remote broadcast from the ship letting him enter the circle with the rest
of us.
There were more ordinary tales too. Harry told a string of elephant
jokes so ancient that I was tempted to declare them mastodon jokes, in the
interests of accuracy. Paris, lazy and taking outrageous advantage of his
invalid status, had camped out in front of me with his head pillowed on my
crossed shins, and a pitiful expression on his face. From that cozy
vantage he told a real dilly of a tale about a disastrous blind date he’d
been on during his first posting.
About halfway through the evening the stick came back to Chakotay.
He gave me a sidewise glance, grinned, and handed it firmly towards me.
“Pay up.”
I lowered my lashes. “It’s really not much of a story. Really.”
“You *owe* me.”
I sighed. “But it’s not very good.”
“Kathryn…”
“And it isn’t very long.” I could feel Tom’s head shaking against my
shins. The boy knew a set up when he heard one. So did Chaim. From
across the fire where he was curled with Cherel he threw me a ‘thumbs up’
and a mischievous smile.
Chakotay rolled his eyes. “Are you going to tell this story, or
aren’t you?”
I sighed again, and took the stick. “I suppose I *did* promise…”
I leaned forward, stick across my knees. Chakotay shifted slightly,
turning his body so he faced me. I rested my hands across the stick, and
raised my voice so it would carry around the circle. It was odd. I was
used to being the center of attention in command, but I wasn’t so sure I
liked it as a story teller. Performance is more my mother’s line, or
Chakotay’s. Not that I haven’t got any stories I want to tell… but most
of them I’d rather tell to an audience of one, person to person, eyes
meeting eyes. Which was part of why I’d chosen the story I had: that,
and the sense that Chakotay and my crew needed laughter more than tears or
philosophy . I drew a breath, and made my face as sober and still as I
could, aiming for some of the seriousness and gravity I’d seen in other
tellers’ deliveries on other occasions. I wanted to get the ‘set-up’
right.
“This is a story I was told when I was a girl in the Diplomatic
compound in ShiKhar, on Vulcan. It was part of the story-cycle of the
children in the compound, handed down through generation after generation
of Embassy brats, part of the children’s culture of the Diplomatic Corps.
I first heard it during one of Vulcan’s rare rains. There were three of
us hiding under the house, in the breezeway: me, a Betazoid boy named
Makai, and an Andorian girl who I think was called Jujurin…I’m not sure,
though… it’s been many years. The story was Makai’s, and he had been
told it by his brother, who had heard it from a Tellarite, and before that
I don’t know. This is Makai’s story.”
I looked around the ring of faces. They were with me… both those
who saw the trap, like Tom and Chaim, and those who, like Chakotay, were
walking blind into it, betrayed by their own perception of me as the
‘sober, serious career woman’ that I will admit is my more common public
face. I continued, playing it as gravely as I could manage.
“There was once a Batrandi girl who lived in the compound the way we
did. She was older than we were, and it was the time that, back on her
own homeworld, she would have contracted a marriage alliance.
Unfortunately for her, she and her family were the only Batrandi in the
compound, or even on the planet. There were no Vulcans willing or
available to enter into a contract with her, the officers posted to the
compound at the time were none of them interested. Finally the girl’s
father began asking around, and he discovered that among the Trill there
was one young man in the Trill embassy who might be interested in courting
the girl. He very tactfully presented the possibility to the young man,
who, like many of the Trill, was willing to attempt anything once.
“So the young man came over to the girl’s house. She had cleaned and
decorated a courting room, set out her kilata to play if it would
entertain him, dressed in litta robes. She was nervous, but thought she
was ready for anything. However she was surprised in spite of herself
when the young Trill suitor showed up accompanied by a massive Vulcan
seh’lat.
“‘Why have you brought the teddy bear, oh, honored one?’
“I was told that a teddy bear was a classic courting gift among the
Batrandi. I’m afraid this was the best I could do.’
“I believe you are mistaken. Indeed, I am sure you are mistaken.
Perhaps another race, honored one?’
“Perhaps. The humans, maybe. They seem to prefer odd courtship
rituals. In any case, if you want him, he’s yours.’
There were grins around the circle, particularly from the
mixed-culture couples like Chaim and Cherel, and Kes and Neelix, and from
those like Chakotay who had had to navigate the often confusing
assumptions of cross-cultural love. I continued, taking the dubious tones
of the poor, baffled Batrandi girl.
“I think not, honored one. There is no room in the compound.’
“Then I shall keep him to guard my house in ShiKhar.’
“And so he did. The bear accompanied him as he courted the girl,
returning every evening to the house in the town. The three got along
famously. In time they came to be seen everywhere, and the family began
to dream of the day they would be introducing their Trill son-in-law to
their acquaintances on Batra. The sound of laughter was often heard from
the courting rooms, the young people went for long walks through the
gardens of the compound. But mere weeks before the family would have
asked for a signed and formalized contract, the young man was called back
to the Trill homeworld. He left the bear with his sweetheart, he left on
the next ship out, and then, to everyone’s dismay, died suddenly while
enroute.”
Murmurs of sympathy passed among my listeners.
“The girl was heartbroken. She’d lost her intended, she was now old
to enter into an alliance on her own world. Her parents were unable to
deal with the blow, being shamed that their daughter would have to return
to Batra unwed. The only one who was there for her was the bear… and
him she repeatedly turned away. At last her mother approached her, saying
‘We are shamed that we have no comfort to offer you, my daughter, but we
had hoped the bear could help heal your heart. Will you not let him cheer
you in your sorrow?’ The girl shook her head. The mother held her hand.
‘But why, daughter? You have gone everywhere with the bear, you have
played with him, you have many good memories, and he is loyal’. The girl
shook her head again. The mother tried one last time. ‘He is an amusing
animal, and always has been. He’s played with the neighbor’s children,
he’s chased the transporter repairman, he’s danced as you played your
kilata. Won’t you let him cheer you up now?'”
I lowered my head, and looked out from under my lashes, trying to
stall a beat, trying to asses the vulnerability of my victims. They
looked pretty vulnerable to me. I struck, blasting them with a punchline
that had made strong men flinch.
“The girl shook her head, and answered ‘It’s no use, honored mother.
He is a good bear… there is no denying that. He is entertaining. But
there is no hope…….You see: He’s been seh’lat of fun, but the Trill
is gone.'”

Chakotay had been following the story, looking more and more puzzled
and suspicious as the tale ran its course, but he wasn’t prepared. The
punch line hit him solid. He tried…lord, he tried. He bit his lips.
He fought to keep his face straight. Then the snort escaped, and he was
lost. Within seconds he was lying on the ground wailing. And just when
he might have recovered I saw a hand sneak towards his ribs from out of
the dark. Magda… of course. No sooner had she started than a howl went
up; Chakotay scrambling to escape — and the women in the circle picking
up the howl as they realized that he was easy prey. He scrambled up,
whooping, and laughingly took off around the circle — to my amusement not
trying as hard as you might expect to escape. Most of the men, like Tom
and Harry and Chaim, just dodged back and scuttled to safe vantage points,
shouting good advice and teasing comments, but staying clear of the
fracas. But the female denizens of Voyager all seemed to have decided
that it was time and past time for a bit of ritual ‘laying on of hands,’
and the mob of fun-filled maenads was impressive. Soon Cherel, and
Magda, and B’Elanna had him pinned, with Sam Wildman checking to see what
results she’d get from the backs of his knees. Magda and B’Elanna were
cheerfully sharing the ribs, Cherel was seeing about his kidneys, and Kes
had handed off her little one to Neelix, murmuring something about medical
expertise being needed for maximum effectiveness…
Chakotay gave a frantic thrash, twisted, got his feet under him, and
sprinted away from the circle.
Poor man. He should never have plotted his course past me. As he
scrambled past, still giggling, I slid out a foot, hooked his ankle, and
dodged back as he went down. The women piled back on. Cherel nodded to
me as she refastened herself to his sides.
“Nice save. Want a few ribs?”
“Thanks. Don’t mind if I do.”
It turned into a regular tickle orgy, and only ended when Chakotay
managed to pin B’Elanna, Magda, and me in a bear hug that more or less
immobilized us. By then Cherel and Sam and the others had migrated on to
other conquests, leading to the half-hearted flight of the previously
“safe” members of the crew, and the four of us lay on the ground listening
to the wails and snorts of a well tickled crew. Chakotay leaned his head
down near mine.
“You’re right. It’s a bad story.”
“Terrible. It left permanent scars the first time I heard it.
Serious childhood trauma.”
We scrambled up, brushed off, and the circle slowly reformed. The
story telling period seemed over for the night, though. First Kes named
the child: ‘Riaka,’ an Ocampan word for ‘honorable doctor.’ She’d scored
a perfect quadruple hit, managing to name the baby after herself, the
Holodoctor, the clone, and Anyas all in one move. Little Riaka was passed
among her namesakes, Anyas delighted and laughing, the clone wide eyed,
hands shaking so hard I was afraid he’d drop the little one, and the
Holodoctor, the ghost at the feast, floating his hands gently over the
child, mouth crooked with amazement and love. Then the baby was held up,
and introduced to us all. The name was met with general favor, and the
child was passed from one person to another, to be greeted and welcomed to
our community, as the circle slowly settled again.
A time was spent on sadder topics. The memories of home, the death
of Klaus; even a strange, disturbing round of memories of Jorland that
left Chakotay tense, and me wishing I could stand up and shout “He was a
traitor.”
It wasn’t an option. I watched Kilpatrick playing the mourning lover
to the hilt — possibly even truly *being* the mourning lover that night
and in that company — and I did the only thing I could: I let it pass.
Then the songs came out to replace the stories. The sense of family
seemed to coalesce, and take on a sweet, slumberous solidity as the night
blanketed us all in peace, and the dark and glowing skies rolled and
churned overhead.
It was a strange thing to watch. Crewmembers were draping, closing
ranks, the lot of them relaxing and nesting together like a lazy, sleepy
litter of puppies, eyes easeful and happy in the shadows and the glow of
the fire. Soon I could look around the circle and see my crew, sprawled
and tangled in meshed contentment, passing ‘May the Circle’ back and
forth, drowsing together under a spirit-haunted sky. Paris had his head
on my lap; Harry and B’Elanna were using his stomach as a pillow, Magda
had propped her own head on Chakotay’s thigh. Kes, and Neelix, Anyas, the
holodoctor — a remote controlled-ghost –and the clone all clustered
together. It was like a solid ring of bodies. Somehow everyone seemed
joined one to another. Even Tuvok was bonded in, though I knew that,
touch telepath that he was, he would avoid coming too close to the
emotionally charged minds of the people around him. But B’Elanna had
started to shiver, even with the fire bright and leaping, and Tuvok had
gravely, graciously unwound a sweeping length of robe from around his own
shoulders, and draped it wordlessly over her, a second blanket against the
cold. Somehow that dun flourish of fabric seemed to tie him into the
community as surely and securely as the tangled hands and legs and arms of
the more extravagant souls present.
Looking around the circle, seeing the friends and lovers, the
comrades, and even the enemies joined close and woven into one, the space
between Chakotay and me felt like a cold abyss. I felt an icy spot
between my shoulder blades, the part of me that always seems to be most
vulnerable to cold, and loneliness.
I turned to Chakotay, nodding towards Magda sprawled long and lanky
and lazy against my XO’s thigh, young Gerrol leaning against her in turn.
“Do you like being used as furniture?”
“What?”
“Just say ‘yes.'”
He grinned. “You sucker-punched me once already this evening… no,
twice. All right, though — I’ll bite: ‘Yes.'”
I shifted and turned, starting a pitiful whimpering from Tom, who
claimed invalid status, and the right to hibernate undisturbed.
“Deal with it. I’m an invalid too, and my back is cold —
Lieutenant. Or do you want that to be ‘Ensign’?”
I’d rotated far enough. I gingerly leaned back, bracing my back
against Chakotay’s side. He shuffled, and shifted, and for a few minutes
we carefully adjusted our weights and angles until our two masses balanced
each other out. He was quiet. So was I, too aware of Tom’s blue eyes
looking up at me, amused and too understanding; Tuvok’s dark eyes watching
expressionlessly. I held a stubborn and embattled position in my own
mind, winning only as I looked around the ring at all my crew, content and
relaxed. There had to be a place, a latitude that allowed us that too.
Seventy years was too likely to lie ahead of us, too long a time to live
in a self-imposed seclusion.
Humans go mad alone.
I could feel him, tense against me, as uncertain as I was.
After a while the song shifted to ‘Raisins and Almonds.’ He turned
his head so he could speak and not have it carry beyond us.
“More command unity?”
“My back was cold.”
“I see.” At least he sounded amused.
“It’s safe enough. Look around. No decorum to breach.”
“I see.”
“Damn it, Chakotay…”
He gave a quiet, breathy laugh. “All right, all right. Just where
*do* I put my arm, before it falls off?”
I wrapped it around my waist, my own arm lying over his, my hands
clasped over his. Tom’s eyes seemed to glow below, blue and opaline,
smiling. I glared at him, but before I could do more he echoed the time
we’d discussed the cat — silently reaching up, turning an invisible key
at his mouth, and throwing it away. Then he ruined any sobriety the
gesture had had by winking at me.
I felt a slow shiver go through Chakotay. Then he relaxed, settling
close, pulling me slightly closer, his fingers tangling with mine. He
turned his face towards mine, and his breath was warm against my temple.
His voice had a nervous, uncertain sound that echoed the flutter in my
stomach.
“‘Sublimate’, she says. I’ve got news, Kathryn: this is *not* the
way to get me to sublimate.”
He was still edgy, only laughter, and loneliness, and the public
nature of the thing keeping either of us from the nervous retreat that
would have been the easiest move. I sighed, and leaned back into him. “I
know. But it’s safe for tonight. We can figure out what, if anything,
we’ll do about it another time.”
Slowly, slowly we both relaxed, until I felt my eyes trying to slide
shut, lulled by the voices, the songs and the murmuring, the crack and
snap of the fire, the glow of the skies overhead. Chakotay breathed easy
against me. I didn’t really notice when the circle began to break up,
until Tom lifted his head from my shins, scooted around, and asked, very
quietly, “Will you two bring the blankets in with you when you come in?
The red one is B’Elanna’s. The blue one’s mine, the green one’s Harry’s.”
I don’t think I was entirely awake. For a moment all I could do was
blink. Then I gently nudged Chakotay. “Party’s breaking up, Wildcat.
The small fry want their blankets back.”
“Mmmm. Suppose we can comply.”
We staggered blearily up, and watched as all the bric-a-brac and
paraphernalia of the bacchanal was gathered and dragged away. Soon almost
no-one else was left, and we began our own peregrination down the hill to
the ship below, side by side, feet slipping against the slope. Below us
we could see Kes, and Neelix, with Riaka, saying good-bye to the clone.
There were hugs exchanged, our Deltan couple at last turning away, and
heading for the ramp that lead up into the ship, and home. The clone
watched them go, standing small and fragile on the landing field, his
shadow spreading out in a hundred directions under the scattering light of
the veils above. I thought how alone he looked, watching his closest
friends heading away from him. Then suddenly he leapt up — the gawky,
ebullient leap of a young colt, all legs and arms and awkwardness,
spinning and hugging his own ribs. A faint banner of laughter fluttered
up the hill towards us. He almost danced where he was, then spotted us,
silhouetted against Abbyzh-dira’s sky. He waved wildly, and called up to
us “An interesting life, and a varied one!”, then pelted away across the
asphalt of the field, feet slapping , laughter flying and flashing behind
him, in love with his own heartbeat.
I turned to Chakotay. “A Fantoccini. I wonder what I should be
learning about being human from him? Chakotay, how long since you felt
that drunk with life?”
He smiled, but didn’t answer. Instead we stood, the seconds
crawling, the awareness of the possibilities building.
Just as I was about to step forward, and dare my own nerves to stop
me from kissing him, he turned away, moving down the hill like he was
hunted.
“I just remembered. B’Elanna wanted to know if we could replace the
power couplings on deck three while we were here, and I told her I’d let
her know by tomorrow if we should hold off for now. Better go check it
before I crash.”

I do wish he’d chosen his words more carefully. Crash is *precisely*
what he did. He checked the coupling, made a note in B’Elanna’s
engineering records, turned, and missed a rung on the ladder in the
Jeffries tube on deck three. It makes me wonder just how many IQ points a
man loses when he’s having a hormonal rush.

End.

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