A Fire of Devotion: Part 4 of 4: Hotter Than Hell: Chapter Nine

“Good morning, Mister Carey,” Chakotay said as he passed the engineer in the corridor.
“You seem happier than usual today, sir,” Carey said, stopping and turning around to catch up and match Chakotay’s pace.

“Is it that obvious?” Chakotay asked. “Well, I hear you have reasons of your own to be in a good mood.”
“Word travels fast,” Carey said. “But yeah, my oldest son has qualified for early entry into Starfleet Academy.”
“Congratulations,” Chakotay said.

“All the credit goes to his mother, sir,” Carey said. “I haven’t exactly been able to be there for my boys lately.”

“True enough,” Chakotay said. “But I can’t imagine that finding out their father was not only alive but the assistant chief engineer on the ‘miracle ship’ was anything less than inspiring.”
“Maybe” Carey said. “May I ask what your good news is today sir?”
“I spoke to my sister this morning,” Chakotay said.
“I didn’t even know you had a sister, sir.”
“I don’t talk about her much,” Chakotay admitted. “Or my family in general. There was a lot of tension there for a long time. My Dad’s death, and my joining the Maquis only compounded that. I hadn’t spoken to Sekaya in almost ten years, until today. I really think we might finally get to have the kind of relationship our father wanted us to have.”
“That’s fantastic news, Commander,” Carey said.
“This seems to be the day for it,” Chakotay said. He smiled as he clapped his hand on Carey’s shoulder. “I have to get to the bridge now. Congrats again, Joe. I’m sure your kid will do great.”

“Thank you, sir. Best of luck with your sister.”

Captain Janeway was happy to be speaking with one of her former Academy professors, the now Admiral Hendricks, but even with all the small talk, she got the feeling that there was more to this call than just catching up. Not that she doubted the Admiral was happy to hear her stories about the Delta Quadrant, but he could’ve contacted the ship at any time during the 11 hour window to request a meeting later. This was a request with rank attached to it.
“I have my Admiral hat on today, Kathryn. And I didn’t call just to catch up,” Hendricks said.
“I had a feeling that might be the case,” Janeway said.
“Sharp as ever. Starfleet has a mission for you.”
Janeway smiled. “My first official mission in seven years. I’d actually forgotten how much I missed it.”
“I’m certain not having to answer to anyone above you had it’s perks,” Hendricks said, smiling.
Janeway frowned somewhat. “There have been times,” she admitted, “where it would’ve been nice to have the guidance of those with more experience.”
“Well,” Hendricks said, “there are a handful of members of the Admiralty Board who don’t approve of some of the choices you made out there. They however are in the minority. The rest of us, regardless of our personal feelings, understand full well the extenuating circumstances. If anything, one could argue there were times when perhaps violating Starfleet protocol would’ve been the better choice.

“But, on with the mission details.”

Chakotay listened to the centuries-old recording from Earth’s history with a warm feeling. He glanced at Lieutenant Paris and could tell Tom felt the same way. Tom looked back at him and simply smiled as if to say “No way the captain’s not letting a couple of history buffs like us lead the recovery.”

Friendship I,” Harry said. “I remember having to memorize that greeting in grade school.”
“Same here,” Tom said. “I even built a model of the probe when I was a kid. If I were one to believe in fate…”
“I’m tempted too,” Janeway said, “but fate or not, we have our work cut out for us. This probe was launched in 2067. There’s very little chance it has a power signature we can track. Starfleet has given us a search grid. It’s a little off course, so we’re going to lose several days off our trip home, but if we’re lucky enough to find it, we’ll be recovering a piece of history.”

Chakotay smiled, and looked at the rest of the senior staff. Most of them looked excited. Except of course for Tuvok, but that was to be expected. B’Elanna’s facial expression seemed fairly neutral on the subject, but she was already tapping on a PADD, presumably coming up with ideas for how to narrow the search area down. Seven of Nine, to his surprise, seemed genuinely curious, leaning in to get a better view of the specs for the one-hundred thirty plus-year-old probe on the briefing room monitor.

“We should get started immediately,” Janeway said. “If anyone has any ideas on how to improve our chances, I’m open to suggestions.”
“On it,” B’Elanna said.
“I as well,” Seven said.
“Alright,” Janeway said. “Dismissed.”
Everyone got up to leave, Chakotay and Janeway exiting last.
“So, how does it feel?” Janeway asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, technically, this is the first real order you’ve gotten from Starfleet since you joined the Maquis.”
“I’ve taken your orders,” Chakotay said. “More often than not willingly.”
Janeway chuckled at that.
“In all seriousness though,” Chakotay said, “there are times when I felt like asking you to let the former Maquis crew members have real rank pips instead of the provisional ones.”
Janeway frowned. “Oh my. All this time… You should’ve said something to me sooner. To be honest, after awhile I stopped noticing the difference.”
“I thought that might be the case,” Chakotay said.
“Well, tell you what. Once we find this probe, let’s have a ceremony where we make all the ex-Maquis crew members official.”
“Shouldn’t you clear that with Starfleet command first?”
“What are they gonna do, court martial me?” Janeway said. “Don’t worry about it though. I’ve got friends in high places. And even if I didn’t, something tells me the Federation Council wouldn’t like the bad PR if they mistreated members of the ‘miracle ship’ crew for past infractions. Especially after the Dominion War.”

Chakotay nodded. “I look forward to it. I’d be lying if I said there weren’t moments where I missed my old uniform. Considering the colony I left it behind on was wiped out by the Jem’hadar several years ago, it’s probably burned to a crisp.”

“Nothing in grid 295,” Harry said, sighing.

“Mister Paris…” Tuvok said, sitting in the command chair for this shift.

“Moving on,” Tom said, already entering coordinates to the next grid.
Well, at least one of us still thinks we can find that thing, Harry thought. The past five days have been nothing but blank sensor scans and false positives.

“Harry,” Tom said, “didn’t you tell me you stayed up all night re-extrapolating the probe’s trajectory?”
“I did, but-”

“Lieutenant Kim,” Tuvok said, “Do you believe you have a better idea of where the probe may be?”
“Maybe, sir,” Harry said.
“Where?”
“Grid 310.”
“That is not much further from our present location,” Tuvok said. “A detour would add time to the search, but not a considerable amount. Mister Paris, take us to Grid 310.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to run that by the Captain first?”
“She placed me in command for this shift, Lieutenant,” Tuvok said. “She left no instructions beyond standard shift change duties. I do not believe she would take issue with this decision. And if she does, I will take full responsibility for it.
“Can’t argue with that,” Tom said. “Course plotted.”
“Mister Kim,” Tuvok said, “if you were concerned that your suggestion would not be taken into consideration, perhaps you should take additional courses when we return to the Alpha Quadrant on the subject of command. A good commanding officer does not dismiss their subordinates out of hand. It is why, despite our advancements in technology that would make it possible, Starfleet does not allow individuals to command starships alone.”
“I’ll take that under advisement,” Harry said, feeling somewhat embarrassed that he didn’t make the case sooner.

Several minutes later, an alert noise from his console made Harry smile.
“I’m detecting a titanium signature that matches the probe’s parameters,” he said.
“Location,” Tuvok said.
“A planet, two light years away,” Harry said. “Not exactly where my recalculation put it, but closer than I’d honestly expected.”
“Good job, Harry,” Tom said.

In astrometrics, Seven pulled up the data the long-range sensors had gathered on the planet that was, in all probability, the location of the Friendship I probe.
“The readings Mister Kim found,” she said, manipulating the controls and causing the image of the planet to zoom in, losing some detail, but not so much as to completely obscure the land mass she was focusing on, “are coming from the northern subcontinent.”
“Can you localize them? Janeway said, she and Commander Chakotay staring intently at the screen despite the relative lack of details.
“Unfortunately, no,” Seven admitted. “There is a large amount of antimatter radiation in the atmosphere, scattering the titanium signature. It took some work to narrow down the area of the probe’s landing, or more likely crashing, this much.”

“Good work, Seven,” Chakotay said. “Any lifesigns on the planet?”
“None,” Seven said. “It is doubtful that life could be sustained on this planet given the amount and nature of the radiation.”
“In that case,” Janeway said, “I really hope there wasn’t a civilization here when the probe crashed. It was powered by antimatter. Commander, put together an away team and take the Delta Flyer down for a closer look. Once we have a more accurate location for the probe, or what’s left of it, then we can plan a recovery operation.”
“Aye, Captain,” Chakotay said.
“Have the Doctor prep an inoculation, but take environmental suits anyway. Can never be too careful,” Janeway said. “Looks like Mabor Jetrel’s research is going to aid us once again.”

“Shame he’s not alive to see how much use we’ve gotten out of his work,” Chakotay said.

Chakotay, Neelix, Harry Kim, and Joe Carey all sat in sickbay, patiently waiting for The Doctor and Tom Paris to give them their inoculations.

“I took a look at those atmospheric readings,” Tom said, as he pressed a hypospray to Neelix’s neck, then adjusted it to give a dose to Chakotay. “Thermal eddies, gravimetric shear…”
“Let me guess,” Chakotay said, “you want to pilot the Flyer for this mission?”
“Am I being that obvious?” Tom said.
“About as subtle as the first draft of Photons Be Free,” Chakotay said.
“Ha ha,” The Doctor said dryly, rolling his eyes as he gave Carey his inoculation.
“I don’t see why not,” Chakotay said. “Get yourself inoculated and report to the shuttle bay.”

“I have to ask, Commander,” Neelix said, “why you’re bringing me along.”
“You have experience in salvage operations,” Chakotay said.
“True,” Neelix said, “but then shouldn’t you wait until after you find it?”
“I figure if you’re there,” Chakotay said, “you’ll be able to tell me if what we find is even worth salvaging.”

“Okay,” Neelix said, “I can see that.”
“I’m just lucky B’Elanna didn’t try to break my nose again when I told her Chakotay picked me for the engineer spot on the mission roster,” Carey said.
“She’s certainly jealous,” Tom said, “but even with the inoculation and the suits, she’d rather not risk the baby on just a scouting run. I imagine it’ll be a hell of an argument if it leads to a full-fledged retrieval though.”
“I bet between the two of us we can talk her down,” Chakotay said. “I’m honestly surprised she’s so interested. History was never her favorite subject as I understand it.”
“I guess my history buff ways have rubbed off on her,” Tom said as he readied his own inoculation. “It’s been months since she’s been on an away mission though, and I can tell she’s getting antsy.”

“I guess she doesn’t count the time on Quarra,” Carey said. “I would. I mean, apart from the kidnapping, and the brainwashing, it wasn’t the worst time I’ve spent planetside.”

Tom laughed.

Chakotay looked out through the front viewport of the Delta Flyer as Tom brought it under the clouds, and sighed.

“Looks like our worst fears may have come true,” he said. “There’s definitely sign of a civilization having been here at some point.”

“With this level of radiation there’s nothing alive down there now,” Harry said, his own tone echoing Chakotay’s disappointment. “This level of radiation…”
“They always could’ve gone underground,” Neelix said. “There is precedence for that kind of thing. The Vaadwaur for instance.”

“Or the people we found that time I almost got killed by a simulated evil clown,” Harry muttered.
“Face it, Harry,” Tom said, “that’s not the weirdest thing that’s ever happened to you.”

“Save the gallows humor for later,” Chakotay said.
“I’ve localized the signature to a three-kilometer radius,” Carey said.
“Transfer the coordinates to the helm,” Chakotay said. “Tom, bring us in for a landing.”
“Yes, sir,” Tom said.

“If we find a large enough section of the probe,” Chakotay said. “we can use transporter enhancers. Put them around the debris and beam it to the Flyer’s cargo bay.”
“If we’re lucky,” Neelix said, “we may find enough of the probe we can use the enhancers to send the whole thing to Voyager. We might not even need a full recovery mission.”
“That would be fine with me,” Tom said. “Even with the hull protecting us I don’t like being surrounded by this much radiation.”
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” Chakotay said. “Tom, go ahead and stay with the Flyer. The rest of us will split into two teams of two and use our tricorders to try and find the probe. Carey, you’re with Neelix. Harry, you’re with me.”
“Aye, sir,” Harry said, while Joe Carey and Neelix simply nodded.
The ship shuddered slightly as it landed.
“Suit up,” Chakotay said.

Harry Kim had to constantly wipe snow off the environmental suit’s faceplate in order to see the readings on his tricorder.
Most of the time, he found snow beautiful to look at, but knowing this was the result of a ‘nuclear winter,’ it instead looked ominous to him rather than pretty.
“I’m getting something,” Chakotay said. “Ninety meters, in that direction.”

“I’m surprised we picked it up first,” Harry said. “Aren’t Neelix and Joe in that direction too?”

“Maybe they found the same readings but wanted to confirm before hailing us,” Chakotay said. “Let’s head over there anyway. We can always split up again.”

Harry followed Chakotay, the two eventually reaching a small hill. When they climb up it, Harry gasped at what he saw.
“Are those-?”
“Missile silos?” Chakotay said. “That’s what it looks like. Strong antimatter signatures coming from them.”

“You got the same readings too?” Joe Carey’s voice said over the comm. Harry turned and looked back to see two Starfleet environmental suits coming up behind them; obviously Carey and Neelix.
“It’s definitely the strongest signal in the area,” Harry said. “We saw some missile silos over the hill. Guessing they have antimatter warheads in them. The signature they give off is strong enough, I think it just lessened our chances of finding the probe.”
“Maybe there’s nothing left to find,” Chakotay said. “What if whatever civilization had been here used the antimatter from Friendship I to develop weapons, and they ended up annihilating themselves in some kind of global war?”
“Makes a tragic amount of sense,” Carey said.
“I wonder if there were any survivors,” Neelix said. “We passed some caves with magnesite making up most of the rock. If people got deep enough there it would’ve at least partially shielded them from the radiation.”

“Which is what I was about to say,” Carey said jokingly.
“Didn’t mean to steal your thunder there, Joe,” Neelix said.
“Nah, don’t worry about… Hey, did you see that?”
“See what?” Chakotay said.
Joe Carey aimed his wrist light back in the direction he and Neelix had come from.
“I thought I saw movement,” he said. “Must be a trick of the light or something.”
“Or maybe the survivors of this war went underground after all,” Chakotay said.
Harry looked at his tricorder. “I’m not detecting any lifesigns.”

“Maybe we should go back to those caves,” Chakotay said. “Look deeper.”
Before anyone could either agree or offer a counterpoint, several humanoid shapes, all clad in pitch black clothing with only a thin shiny metal plate where eye level would be on a human rushed at them, all brandishing weapons of some sort.
“Get back to the Flyer!” Chakotay called out. Harry bolted, cursing himself for not thinking to suggest the away team bring phasers. Harry turned when he heard thuds, and saw that the bulk of the attackers had already pinned Neelix and Carey, and two more were on Chakotay’s tail.
“Commander!” Harry called out.
“Go! That’s an order, Lieutenant!” Chakotay yelled out as he himself was tackled, leaving only one armed assailant to try and grab Harry. Harry ran as fast as he could manage with the suit, but he heard the humanoid trailing him start to slow down. He didn’t turn to see why, and just made as direct a line he as he could manage to the Delta Flyer, grateful that he was the only team member without a transport enhancer on his back to weigh him down.
“Kim to Paris!” he yelled into his comm.
“What’s wrong, Harry?” Tom said.
“The away team was attacked,” Harry said. “I’m on my way to you now. Suit up and grab a phaser rifle.”
“On it,” Tom said, cutting off the link.
Harry’s chest hurt, his breathing became more labored, but he forced himself to keep going. Soon he could see the Flyer through the snow and made for the entrance that Tom had thoughtfully opened up for him.

He made his way up several steps before he felt something grip his ankle. He turned and saw his pursuer had managed to catch up without him noticing. He went to kick the humanoid in the face, when a burst of energy struck them in the chest, causing them to let go of Harry as whoever it was slumped to the ground. Harry looked up and saw Tom, wearing an environmental suit and aiming his phaser rifle at the fallen humanoid.
“Bring him aboard,” Tom said. “He might know where the others were taken.”
Harry climbed back down to grab the individual. He was about to tell Tom that they should secure the prisoner, then go back for the others, when the unmistakable sound of weapons fire came from the other side of the Flyer. Tom ducked back inside for a moment. He contacted Harry over the comm.
“Shit, we got incoming. Antimatter based weapons. If I don’t have shields up when they hit we’re dead. Get inside, now. I’m taking off while you secure the prisoner.”

“But Tom-”

“Two people are not enough for a rescue mission,” Tom said. “We need to get back to Voyager.”
“Dammit,” Harry said, knowing full well that Tom was right.

The humanoids took Chakotay and the others to the caves that Neelix and Carey had passed earlier. They stripped the away team of their helmets once inside, though the rocks and the inoculation would only protect them from the radiation omnipresent in the air for so long.
Several of the humanoids began beating on them, Carey trying to fight back only to be struck in the head with the butt of a rifle-like weapon. Chakotay tried to swing at Carey’s attacker only to be struck the back himself by two weapons, nearly knocking him to the ground.
“Leave them alone,” a voice called out. A man wearing the same gear stepped in between the Voyager away team and their attackers, removing his mask. Whatever his species looked like before, it was hard to tell, as Chakotay recognized visible signs of antimatter radiation poisoning on his face. He was amazed the man was able to stand upright, let alone talk clearly if it were as advanced a case as it appeared.

“Who are you? The man said.
“I’m Commander Chakotay. We’re from the Federation starship Voyager. And you are?”
“Verin. What are these?” the man said, picking up Chakotay’s transport enhancer that had fallen to the ground during the struggle. He explained what they were for.
“We planned to use them to retrieve our probe,” he said.
“Probe?”

Chakotay recounted in as much detail as he could remember the history of Friendship I. He felt like there were details he was forgetting, but chalked that up to a blow to the head he’d taken in the initial attack, before ordering Harry to run.

“Too bad you didn’t come for it sooner,” Verin said. “It would’ve saved my people so much suffering.”

Chakotay didn’t say anything. He just looked at the ground.
“You used the technology from the probe to create weapons?” Carey said. “Why would you do that? Friendship I was on a mission of peace!”
“So you say,” Verin said, sounding skeptical at best, believing that Carey was lying at worst. “Secure the prisoners. Find me a way to contact their ship. What is the name of your commanding officer?”
“Captain Kathryn Janeway,” Chakotay said. “I’m sure working together the two of you can find a peaceful solution to this.”
“We’ll see,” Verin said.
The other men, and all the attackers turned out to be men as they removed their masks, took the other transporter enhancers, as well as their tricorders, and moved them over to a nearby table that looked like it had been set up as a makeshift research lab. Two men with rifles stood between the table and Chakotay, though he doubted he’d be able to avoid getting shot if he went for the table anyway.

And even if I did, he thought, nothing they took from us can be used as a weapon.

“Verin,” someone Chakotay couldn’t see shouted. “I’ve found their ship in orbit. I can establish communication with them.”

“Do it,” Verin said.
“This is Captain Kathryn Janeway,” the captain’s voice came over a crackling speaker. “Who am I speaking with?”
“My name is Verin. Your crewmen are my prisoners.”
“Why? We haven’t done anything to harm you,” Janeway said.
“You committed genocide,” Verin said, getting noticeably angrier as he spoke.
“I think there’s been a misunderstanding. We arrived-”
“You’re from Earth?” Verin said.

“Yes,” Janeway said.
“Then you’re going to pay for what your people did to us,” Verin said.
“I’m sorry, I honestly do not know what you’re talking about. We came here looking for a probe we lost contact with over a hundred-”
“We’re not as naive as you seem to think we are, Captain. Not anymore.”
They blame us for what they did to themselves with the antimatter from the probe, Chakotay thought. That kind of poor logic, that much anger, this is going to end badly, I just know it.

“What is it you want?” Janeway said.
“I want you to get us off this planet,” Verin said, now facing Chakotay and the others. “Find us a new home.”
“Release my crew and we can talk about it,” Janeway said.
“No talking. Your people won’t be safe until mine are,” Verin said.
“We’ve only met so you wouldn’t know this about me,” Janeway said, “but I don’t respond well to threats.”

“And I don’t want to kill anyone, but I will if you don’t cooperate! You have three hours to begin evacuating us.”

“Tuvok, begin scanning for any M-class planets within sensor range,” Janeway said. “If we can’t find a way to get our people out of there, we may have to capitulate.”
“Sickbay to the Bridge,” The Doctor’s voice said over the comm. “The Delta Flyer brought back a prisoner. One of the attackers who grabbed the away team, and almost got Mister Kim. He’s awake if you wish to speak with him.”
“I’m on my way,” Janeway said. “Have Harry and Tom wait there.” She quickly headed for the turbolift and made her way to sickbay at a steady clip. She wanted to run, but knew that shaving mere seconds off her interrogation time wouldn’t likely mean anything.
When she arrived, The Doctor was scanning some sort of protective suit.
“It’s the alien’s garment,” he said upon noticing her enter. “It’s lined with magnesite.”

“A makeshift environmental suit?” Tom said. “Pretty clever to throw something like that together out of cloth and rocks.”

“Unfortunately,” The Doctor said, “the protection it offers is limited. His tissues are saturated with antimatter radiation. It explains why we couldn’t detect any lifesigns. His people are virtually indistinguishable from the environment.”

“Now that we know that,” Janeway said, “maybe we can adjust our sensors to detect them. Harry, go work with Seven.” She walked over to the alien, strapped into a bio-bed. He appeared angry, but his body language suggested to Janeway resignation, as if he expected to never get up again.

Don’t assume, Janeway reminded herself. For his people, that could be a gesture of arrogance, or sadness, or anything.

“Why did you attack my people?” Janeway said.
“I did what I had to,” the alien said. “Whatever it takes to undo the damage you caused.”

“If you’re referring to what’s happened to your planet,” Janeway said, “we had nothing to do with it.”

“Your species sent the probe, didn’t it?”
“300 years ago, to make contact with other species.”
“You did more than that,” the alien said. He looked around. “Surprisingly few walls for a prison.”

“This isn’t a prison,” The Doctor said. “The restraints are only because you attacked a member of our crew. This is sickbay. I am treating you for prolonged radiation exposure.”
“You can treat me?”
“I believe I can, once I know more about your people’s biology.”
“In exchange for what?”
“Nothing,” The Doctor said. Janeway had wished he hadn’t said that, but she supposed it was too late to take the ‘bad cop’ route now.
“We might be able to help all your people,” Janeway said, “Mister?”
“Otrin,” the man said. “You may not believe this, but I am a scientist.”
“If your specialty is biology,” The Doctor said, “you are in a better position to help me with your treatment.”
“We’ll help you now, Otrin,” Janeway said, “and I want to share anything we develop here with the rest of your people, but I can’t just give it away while my people are held hostage. What guarantee do I have they won’t be harmed the minute we send you back with medical aid?”

Otrin sighed.
“I can’t give you one,” he said. “That decision lies with Verin, and he is quick to anger.”
“When you said ‘the damage we caused,” Tom Paris chimed in, having been so quiet up to now that Janeway had almost forgotten he was there, “what did you mean by that? Harry said he and the others found missile silos. We certainly didn’t build those.”

“Those silos are still full,” Otrin said. ‘The missiles were only built for defense, they never launched.”

“Then what caused the devastation my people saw?” Janeway said.
“A containment failure in our power grid,” Otrin said.
“You blame us for a failure at one of your power plants?” Janeway said, crossing her arms.
“Before the probe,” Otrin said, sounding defensive, “my people had never conceived of anything like antimatter. Once it was released in the failure, it destroyed everything. We wouldn’t have had it if it weren’t for you. ‘We offer this information freely, with the hope that one day we will stand on your soil and extend our hands in friendship.’”
Janeway recognized the words from the recording that had been sent out on Friendship I. Only Otrin spoke them with bitter sarcasm.

“The recording from the probe,” Tom said.
“Your people sent us technology you knew would destroy us,” Otrin said.
“That doesn’t make any sense,” Janeway said.
“Of course it does,” Otrin said. “We’ve had decades to ponder it, and now it seems so obvious. You send us new technology, encourage us to use it, and then wait for us to obliterate ourselves.”
“Oh, come on,” Tom said. “That’s absurd. You kidnapped our friends based on a conspiracy theory?!”
“Tom, calm down,” Janeway said. She knelt down to look Otrin directly in the eyes. “My helmsman’s outburst aside Otrin, he is right about one thing. You say you’re a scientist. Presumably you value reason and logic. Where’s the logic in contaminating a world we’d seek to conquer if your theory were true?”

“It’s easier than invading us,” Otrin said with such certainty Janeway doubted she’d ever be able to convince him otherwise.
“Today,” Otrin said, “I saw your people standing on our soil, just as the recording promised. And they were wearing protective suits. Suits that blocked the radiation in the atmosphere.”

“We couldn’t even see that there had been civilization on your world when we entered orbit,” Janeway said. “My people wore the suits because all we could see with our sensors was radiation.”
“If you were in my position, Captain, what would you believe?”
Janeway glowered at Otrin, but wasn’t sure what to say. Otrin was wrong of course, but based on his perspective, from where he was standing his conclusion was perfectly logical. She wondered if maybe she would’ve reached the same conclusion in his place.

A visibly pregnant Uxali woman, Uxali being the name of this planet’s people as Chakotay had learned, handed him a crudely made ice pack that he proceeded to place on Joe Carey’s head.

“Thank you,” Chakotay said, appreciating that the woman, Brin, had had to argue with Verin to allow this much interaction with the hostages.
“I think he might have a concussion, Commander,” Neelix said, helping keep Carey upright and awake.
“Sounds about right,” Carey said, groaning as the ice pack was applied.
“I don’t suppose you could convince Verin to let us have the medpack from my suit,” Chakotay said.
Brin shook her head.
“I figured as much,” Chakotay said. “So, when’s your baby due?”
Brin didn’t answer and started to walk away. Chakotay decided to keep trying, Hopefully building a rapport with some of the Uxali, any of them, could help ease the tension of this situation and possibly save their lives.
“A couple of my friends are expecting a little girl in a few months,” Chakotay continued. “She’s got her mother’s forehead ridges and her father’s eyes. If they’ve chosen a name for her though they haven’t told me yet.”
“How do they know it’s a girl?” Brin said.
“We have technology that lets us see the fetus,” Chakotay said. “Tom and B’Elanna, those are my friends, were kind enough to share images with the rest of the crew.”
“Hmm,” Brin said.
“Is this your first?”
“No. Two boys and a girl. They were all stillborn.”
“I’m sorry,” Chakotay said.
“Are you a doctor?” Brin asked.
“No,” Chakotay said. “Just using some basic first aid to help my friend here. To get him proper treatment we’d need to get him to my ship’s doctor. He’s probably the best in the quadrant, maybe he could-”
“I shouldn’t be talking with you now,” Brin said, walking away. It seemed that despite her willingness to help with Carey’s immediate problem, she still held as much bitterness towards them as the others.
“I wish we had more details about what happened,” Neelix said. “If Verin would tell us more about the disaster I bet we could prove that none of this was Earth’s fault.”
“I doubt he’d believe us even if we had anything short of whatever deity or deities he believes in, if any, vouching for us,” Chakotay said. “Some of the worst atrocities committed by humanity before First Contact were caused by people who believed things that were provably false. As late as the Eugenics Wars there were people who were convinced beyond reasoning that the moon landings of the 20th century were fake.”

Tuvok pulled up a star map, and even before he started talking about what the images represented, Captain Janeway knew she wasn’t going to like what she heard.
“This is Voyager’s current location,” Tuvok said, a small yellow triangle on the map appearing in one grid. A line extended from the triangle representing Voyager to another point on the map. When it stopped, a long-range sensor image of a planet appeared. “This is the nearest M-class planet; approximately 132 light years away.”

“At maximum warp,” B’Elanna, standing between Janeway and Tuvok, said, “that’s two months, round trip.”

“How many people are we talking about?” Janeway said.
“If the sensor modifications developed by the Doctor and Mister Kim are accurate,” Tuvok said, “approximately 5500. That would take seventeen trips adding up to at least three years to complete the relocation.”

“We can’t do this,” B’Elanna said. “Logistics aside, there’s no way he’d let our people go until the relocation was done, and I’d rather not have both my oldest friend and my right hand man rotting down there for three years.”
“The use of force may be required,” Tuvok said.
“Not until we’ve exhausted every other option,” Janeway said. “These people believe that we’re violent. I don’t want to do anything to reinforce that idea unless absolutely necessary.”

Seven of Nine entered sickbay, but waited for the Doctor to finish his current task rather than risk interrupting him. She’d heard about the man, Otrin, and his condition, and she was certain she could help.
“Seven,” The Doctor said. “What brings you here today?”
Seven handed the Doctor a small container. “I have extracted a small number of nanoprobes. I believe you can reprogram them to aid in the treatment of this individual.”
“What? Otrin said.
“Is that wise?” The Doctor said. “I mean…”

“It has worked before,” Seven said.
The Doctor stepped closer and leaned in to whisper to Seven.
“Need I remind you that the last time we tried something like this our morale officer ended up almost committing suicide?”
“Nanoprobes?” Otrin said, sounding concerned.
“Microscopic machines,” Seven said, walking past The Doctor to speak with the alien scientist directly. “Hopefully, they will help us repair your damaged tissue.”
“You said you extracted them,” Otrin said. “Are they yours?”
“Yes. They maintain my cybernetic implants. If you are concerned for my health, they self-replicate, so I can extract a number of them safely. Too much would be dangerous, however, I believe the number needed to treat you is small enough that removing them was no inconvenience.”

“Are others on your crew like you?” Otrin said.

“Only myself and my son,” Seven said.
“Isn’t it risky carrying a child with cybernetic implants?”
“He’s adopted, actually. He-”
“Okay, okay, the patient doesn’t need your life story, Seven,” The Doctor said. “I’ll start reprogramming the nanoprobes. I’ll test them on a sample of Otrin’s tissue before I even think about injecting him though.”
“I’m surprised you’re so concerned with my well-being Doctor, given how my people have several of yours hostage.”
“Mister Otrin,” The Doctor said before entering sick-bay’s side lab, “once this is over I’ll be more than happy to teach your people’s physicians about a little thing called the Hippocratic Oath.”
The door to sickbay opened and Captain Janeway walked in. If she was surprised to see Seven there she hid it well.
“I need to speak with Otrin,” she said. Seven nodded.
“The Doctor is in the lab,” she said. “We’ve found a way to accelerate the patient’s treatment.”

“Good,” Janeway said, not even looking at her. To Otrin she said, “Earlier, you told me you’ve been looking for ways to neutralize the radiation in your atmosphere.”
“All my life,” Otrin said.
“Tell me about your work,” Janeway said. Seven raised an eyebrow, thinking she should hear this as well.

Joe Carey groaned, and Neelix knelt by his side to check the bandage on his head.
“It’s not that,” Carey said. “I’m feeling queasy all of a sudden.”
Chakotay sighed. “Our inoculations must be wearing off. Even with the natural shielding these caves provide, they’re no substitute for an environmental suit.”

Neelix couldn’t argue with that.
“Maybe I can try to connect with Verin,” he said after a few moment’s thought.
“What do you mean?” Chakotay said.
“I’m Talaxian,” Neelix said. “I know all too well what it’s like to belong to a species that blames someone else for their failings. I can tell him about the war with the Haakonians, how they never would’ve used the metreon cascade if we hadn’t made them so desperate-”
“It’s an admirable thought, Neelix,” Chakotay said, shaking his head. “But if Verin’s as much as a zealot as I think he is, he either won’t believe you, or he’ll think you’re a traitor for not fighting in your people’s war.”

Neelix wasn’t so sure about that, but he decided he’d defer to the commander. For now at least.
“You,” Verin said. Neelix turned and saw that he, and two armed guards, were pointing at him, directly. “I wish to speak with you.”
“Me?” Neelix said. “Why?”
“You are not human, like them.”
“I’m not human, true,” Neelix said, “but I’m far from the only non-human aboard Voyager. If you bothered to learn anything about us before making threats, you’d realize the Federation is made up of hundred of species. None of them conquered by the way.
“Now, unless you are ordering me to go with you,” he added, putting a hand on Joe Carey’s shoulder. “This man may have an injury to his brain. It’s my responsibility to keep him awake until we can get proper medical care for him.”

“Did they send a probe full of antimatter to your world too?”
“No,” Neelix said. “But this man,” he motioned towards Chakotay, “knows much more about his homeworld’s history than I do.”
“Chakotay, your name is, correct? Brin told me about you. Second-in-command. A very high-value hostage. I imagine your being here is providing great incentive to your captain to help us. If not…”

“Verin, Voyager is attempting to contact us,” another man said.
“Put her through,” Verin replied.
“I assume you are calling us to arrange for the start of relocation, Captain,” Verin said.

“No,” Janeway said. “The nearest suitable planet is simply too far away.”
“I don’t care!” Verin shouted.
“Listen,” Janeway said in a level tone of voice. “We can’t have a successful negotiation if you won’t let me finish a sentence. If you want your people to get the help they need, we both need to keep calm.”
Verin took in a deep breath. Neelix couldn’t see his face though, which worried him. The communication was sound only, which put the Captain at a disadvantage; she couldn’t look for any ‘tells’ that Verin might have.
“Continue,” he said.
“I have a possible alternative. We have one of your people aboard, a Mister Otrin. He has some interesting ideas about counteracting the radiation.”
“Otrin has many ideas,” Verin said. “I only listen to about a third of them.”

“I believe his theories have merit,” Janeway said. “What he’s lacked until now is the means to carry them out. I’ve already granted him access to my ship’s labs. If you release the hostages and come aboard yourself, Ostrin and I can show you. We both are convinced we can undo at least some of the damage done to your environment by the power plant safety failure.”

“This is just a stalling tactic,” Verin said.
“No it isn’t,” another voice said.
“Otrin?” Verin asked.
“Yes. I am alive. And insulted, I might add. A third?”
“The point is,” Janeway said, “it would take three years to get all of your people moved to another planet. My ship is the only Federation vessel within 30,000 light years.”

“So once again, you offer us the ‘benefits’ of your technology,” Verin said, starting to wave his arms around. Neelix got a good look at his face as he moved around and saw that he was agitated, and angry. Nothing Janeway was saying was unreasonable. If Verin had been asking for evidence that would be one thing, but he was beyond skepticism and into full-fledged paranoia.

“I’m offering a realistic alternative,” Janeway said. “I doubt you want my people down there for three years any more than I do.”
“If I release the hostages,” Verin said, “what’s to prevent you from leaving? Or attacking us?”

“I don’t blame you for not trusting us,” Janeway said. “If I were in your place I might reach a similar conclusion, but-”
“You talk about trust,” Verin said, “but you’ve yet to do anything to make me believe I should even consider trusting you.”
“Then how about a small step,” Janeway said. “You return one of the hostages, and I’ll send a supply of food and medicine.”
Verin looked down. Neelix saw that he was looking at the transporter enhancers he’d taken off the away team.
“Which one of you can show me how to use these?” he said.
“I can,” Chakotay said.
“Commander,” Carey said, trying to sit up.
“I appreciate the effort, Joe,” Chakotay said. “But with your head injury you’d probably put them together backwards.” He added a smile. “Don’t worry. I’ll make sure you’re the one sent back so the Doctor can take care of your head.

Neelix had a feeling, a voice in the back of his mind telling him to stand up and go in the commander’s place, but before he could protest, Chakotay had already walked over to stand next to Verin.

“Impressive, Commander,” Verin said as Chakotay locked the last transporter enhancer in place. “Now, get inside the triangle you’ve created.”
Chakotay frowned.
“I have a wounded man,” he said. “He needs-”
“This will give your Captain more incentive to remain true to her word,” Verin said. “And by sending you back, the most valuable member of her crew, she’ll know I am serious about what I say.”
Chakotay didn’t like the tone of Verin’s voice, but with armed men all over the cave there wasn’t much he could do. Only a few of them had their guns out, but that fact wasn’t enough to justify the risk.
He looked back at Neelix and Joe Carey.
“I’m sorry,” he said, “I’ll make sure this is resolved as quick as possible.”
“Commander?” Neelix said.
“He’s sending me back. Not my idea. Make sure Lieutenant Carey doesn’t pass out.”
“I promise,” Neelix said, looking worried. Chakotay stood in the center between the three transporter enhancers.
“Your man is ready to transport, Captain,” Verin said.
“Very good,” Janeway said. “Beam him to sickbay,” she added to someone on the bridge.
“Is there anything you’d like me to tell the Captain?” Chakotay asked. He felt the tingle of a transporter lock, temporarily immobilizing him as it prepared to break down his component atoms for transport.
“You won’t need to say anything,” Verin said, picking up a rifle off a nearby table and pointing it at Chakotay.
“No!” he heard Neelix yell as Verin took aim and-

“Bridge to sickbay, what happened?” Janeway yelled, having heard Neelix shout and the sound of gunfire.
“I- I’m sorry,” The Doctor said, sounding as though he were about to cry; a change he had not yet added to his subroutines though he had considered it in the past. “Commander Chakotay is dead.”

The bridge went silent. Janeway gripped the railing by the auxiliary tactical console where she’d been standing when she gave the order to Harry to activate the transporter. She felt like she was about to fall over. She stole a glance at the console, and saw the button that would launch a barrage of torpedoes and for what felt like years, she seriously contemplated it.

“Why?” Otrin yelled. “Verin, you idiot! Do you honestly believe they will help us after what you’ve just done?”

“Don’t force me to kill anyone else,” Verin said. “We’ve suffered for decades. Three years won’t make that much difference. I will come along with the first wave. Once I see my people settled, we will return here, and you can send a medic to treat your Mister Carey. You have one hour to begin modifying your transporters for large groups.”

“I can’t-” Janeway started to say, but the sound of a comm channel closing cut her off.

“Harry, Tom, Tuvok, my ready room. Now.” Janeway said.

Neelix focused on helping Joe Carey stay awake. He had to, it was the only thing keeping him from either crying or attacking the nearest Uxali in a fit of what he knew would be ultimately impotent rage. Several Voyager crew members had died in the seven years he’d been with the ship. He hadn’t been close to all of them, but that didn’t make the loss he felt any lesser. This though was something different. Of all the deaths, Chakotay was the one he’d been the closest to. The two of them had faced death together. That was the kind of bond between sentients that few ever understood and even fewer had actually experienced.

“Is the Commander alright?” Carey asked weakly, struggling to keep his eyes open.
“I don’t know,” Neelix lied, seeing the image of the top of the Commander’s head exploding in his mind’s eye over and over again. Not even The Doctor, amazing as he was, could bring a crewmember back from that.
“You’re suffering radiation sickness now,” a soft voice said. Neelix only then realized that Brin was in front of him and Carey, handing them each a bowl of some kind of herb or vegetable. “This should help with the symptoms.”
“Why are you helping us?” Neelix said.
Brin didn’t respond. She simply made sure they had their respective bowls, then walked away.
“Probably figures we aren’t good hostages if we’re dead,” Carey said, closing his eyes. “I’m just gonna take a nap now.”
“No, you’re not,” Neelix said, lightly slapping the side of Carey’s face. I’ve lost one friend today already, he thought.

When Janeway walked in to sickbay, the Doctor stood between her and the bio-bed where Chakotay’s body was, his arms crossed. She saw the body was completely covered in a large sheet, so much so that she couldn’t even make out the frame of her friend and first officer.

“I know why you’re here, Captain.”
“Can I see him?”
“I don’t think you should,” The Doctor said.
Janeway glowered at The Doctor. “This is not the time to pull medical rank with me.”

“I’m not telling you this as a doctor,” The Doctor said. “I’m telling you this as your friend. I don’t want you, or anyone for that matter, to see him as he is now. If I could, I’d forget too, but we already know what happens when we try to alter my memories like that.”
Janeway sighed.
“Tell me,” she said, closing her eyes.
“It was a crude weapon. A sort of ugly hybrid between an energy weapon and a solid projectile. The top third of his head, it was just, gone when he beamed in. There was nothing I could’ve done. I just wish there was a nicer way I could’ve put that, but at the same time I think you understand now why I don’t want to let you see the body.”
Janeway flinched somewhat when The Doctor used the word ‘body,’ as if somehow that made this more real than it already was. She heard the door to sickbay open and turned in time to see a very concerned looking Jaffen walk in.
“Kathy, I heard what happened,” he said, He took her in his arms. She made no effort to resist him, but she couldn’t bring herself to hold him back. “Are you holding up okay?”

She considered lying, but the only other people who could hear were the man she loved, and a man bound by confidentiality.
“I’m holding it together for the sake of the crew,” she said. “But I really, really want to hurt someone right now. Federation principle be damned, I want to dig my thumbs into Verin’s throat. He’s lucky he’s not here. And I’m lucky my crew is. They need me to be their rock right now.” She closed her eyes and leaned into Jaffen. “And I need you to be mine.”
“I hate to do this, Captain,” The Doctor said, “but I would prefer if you remained outside while I performed the autopsy.”
The word ‘autopsy’ was when Janeway finally started to cry.
I need to get this out of my system before I go back to the bridge, she thought. The rescue mission-
“Damn,” she said.
“What is it?” Jaffen asked.
“Doctor, in my… grief, I forgot to tell you why I came to see you. We need you, and Mister Otrin’s former clothes, for the rescue mission Mister Tuvok and I devised.”
“What do you need me to do, Captain?”

Neelix looked up when he heard a loud groan. He saw Brin, clutching her stomach as two Uxali women came to help her walk. It didn’t take much more for Neelix to realize that the woman had gone into labor.
“Help them,” Joe Carey said.
“I don’t have a lot of experience with-” Neelix said.

“I can talk you through it,” Joe said. “What I can remember anyway. I was there when my kids were born.”

Neelix shook his head. “I’d be happy to help any way I could, but there’s no way Verin would let me.”
“Can you help?” Neelix heard Verin say, unaware that the man had heard them. He looked at Verin with undisguised anger.
“After what you just did?”
“The baby is too soon,” Verin said, sounding for the first time like something other than full of rage. “She thinks you can help. I still don’t trust you, but there are so few of us left.”
Neelix took in a deep breath.
“Okay,” he said. “Bring her over here. Mister Carey will help me as best he can. I’ll also need one of the medkits you confiscated from us.”
Neelix got to work, trying to remember the few things he picked up about the process from when Samantha Wildman had gone into labor years ago when Naomi was born.
I just hope Uxali births are similar enough to humans, he thought.
Neelix caught an armed Uxali man run up to Verin and whisper something to him. Verin went over to a nearby console and pushed several buttons. “Send a patrol. Double the guards at the entrance,” he said.
Neelix wondered if it was a rescue mission from Voyager.
If so, he thought, I appreciate the effort, but they picked a really bad time.

The Doctor, wearing Otrin’s now discarded makeshift radiation suit, pointed an Uxali rifle at Tuvok.
“I got one of them,” he yelled in a distorted voice, and hoped that none of the several armed Uxali who approached realized he wasn’t one of the other patrol members that the rest of the away team had scattered with a barrage of phaser rifle fire.
“I’ll take him to Verin,” The Doctor said, grabbing Tuvok by the arm of his environmental suit. “Find the others.”
The other Uxali did exactly that, and The Doctor was grateful the deceit was working so far. Once he was sure they were out of sight and earshot, he slid the handphaser he’d been hiding in his disguise out and handed it to Tuvok, who proceeded to hide it again, this time in the place where the suit’s medkit would normally be.
“Lieutenants Kim and Ayala should have the rest of the patrol immobilized shortly,” Tuvok said. “We should make haste to the caves nonetheless.”
“Agreed” The Doctor said.
“You should also keep the rifle in your hands pointed at my back for the sake of appearances, in case we are seen before reaching the entrance.”
The two made their way through the snow. The Doctor had never personally witnessed a nuclear winter before. He found it paradoxically both beautiful and macabre. Once they were inside the entrance of the cave, and past the guards, he walked Tuvok right up to Verin, honestly surprised that no one had questioned his identity thus far.
“Put him with the others,” Verin said, motioning for Tuvok to be moved near Neelix and Carey. The Doctor looked and noticed that the two men were surrounded not by armed Uxali, but by unarmed ones, including a woman cradling an infant. “You should thank whatever Gods you believe in that Janeway sent you down at this moment. Because your friends there saved the life of that newborn boy, I’ll forgo executing any of you for this. But if it happens again, I swear to you-”
“Now,” Tuvok said.
The Doctor had a phaser set on stun in his hand in seconds, dropping Verin quickly while Tuvok took out his own weapon. Within seconds every armed Uxali was unconscious, The rest appeared scared as The Doctor removed the suit’s helmet while Tuvok contacted Voyager to let them know the mission was a success.
“Doctor?” Neelix said.
“When you need to infiltrate a toxic environment,” The Doctor said, “it helps if you’re a hologram. I just wish we’d thought of this sooner.”

“Doctor,” Neelix said, “this baby needs your help. I don’t think he’ll survive without treatment.”
The Doctor walked over to the newborn, and scanned him.
“You’re right, he’s already suffering from radiation exposure, even with all the magnesite. Ma’am? You should come with us.”

“But-” the woman said,
“Brin,” Neelix said, “this is the best Doctor within a hundred light years. He can help you, and your son. Let him.”
“I’ll need to treat Mister Carey immediately, too,” The Doctor said, running his medical tricorder over the assistant chief engineer while Neelix talked to the woman he’d called Brin. “Luckily there shouldn’t be any permanent brain damage.”
“I’d feel better if you just said no brain damage without the qualifier, Doc,” Carey said.
“The fact that you can crack a joke right now is a sign that you’ll recover quickly,” The Doctor said.
“Okay,” Brin said. “But you have to promise me you’ll send us back.”
“We promise,” Neelix said, offering her a hand to help her up.

“He’s already responding to treatment,” The Doctor said as Janeway looked down on the Uxali infant. Janeway looked at the boy’s mother, sleeping peacefully in a biobed, receiving treatments of her own like those Otrin had been receiving. After only a day the latter Uxali had lost almost all visible signs of radiation poisoning, giving the Voyager crew their first look at what the species had looked like before the disaster.

“How’s Joe doing?” Janeway asked.
“Bed rest, for now,” The Doctor said. “I think because of a combination of his concussion and shock his mind couldn’t process what happened to Commander Chakotay. It’s a bit early to tell, but I’m recommending he speak with a specialist on Earth at the first opportunity. He’s almost certainly going to be dealing with survivor’s guilt once he’s fully recovered.”

“Once the baby and the mother are well enough,” Janeway said, “transport them and Otrin to the surface, along with some food and medical supplies. I can’t condemn the entire race because of what Verin did, as tempting as it is. Chakotay would never forgive me.”
“We’re leaving?” Neelix said. Janeway hadn’t realized the Talaxian was awake. He hadn’t appeared to be when she came to sickbay. The Doctor had said he’d been fortunate not to be as affected by the radiation as Mister Carey, but that The Doctor used triage to determine that Carey and the newborn needed treatment first.
“Once we’ve returned our guests, and as soon as I report to Starfleet,” Janeway said.
“Captain, once we send them back they’re just going to get sick again. Didn’t you say there might be a way to neutralize the radiation?”
“Yes,” Janeway said. “But they made it clear they didn’t want our help.”
“Verin didn’t want our help,” Neelix said.

“And he killed Commander Chakotay,” Janeway said. “I won’t waste time and resources helping murderers.”

“I’m not saying we should forget what happened,” Neelix said, “but if you saw how they were living, how desperate they are-”
“That’s enough, Mister Neelix,” Janeway said.
“What would Chakotay say if here were here right now?” Neelix said. Sickbay seemed to get quiet, the tension between the Captain and Neelix growing palpable. She looked around and saw The Doctor trying very hard to avoid looking at them, scanning the infant again even though he had just done that a moment ago.
Janeway just glared at Neelix, keeping her mouth shut. She considered Neelix a friend and she just knew that if she said what was on her mind in that moment that could ruin that forever.
“It wasn’t intentional,” Neelix said, “but that probe had a terrible impact on these people. Yes, the fault lies mostly with them for not securing the core of their power plant properly. But not entirely. Humanity bears a portion of the blame too. Isn’t that what Chakotay would be telling you right now?”
Janeway thought about it. She wanted to say, “No,” but she knew deep down that that would be a lie.

“He’d want us to at least try to help these people,” she said quietly. She sighed and looked at The Doctor. “I’ll be in engineering.”

Seven resented having to be in engineering right now. She wanted to be with her family. She felt they needed her this day more than ever. Each of them had suffered loss before. They’d all felt sad before, but the Commander’s death had affected all of them deeply. Icheb even expressed a desire for revenge, something he’d never done before.

But the Captain had insisted she aide Otrin in engineering, so here she was, waiting for Captain Janeway to arrive so that Otrin, herself, and Ensign Vorik, filling in for an injured Joe Carey and a grieving B’Elanna Torres, could demonstrate what they’d developed to help the Uxali.
The entire crew felt the sting of the Commander’s loss of course, but it was unsurprising that B’Elanna, who had known him longer than anyone aboard Voyager, had taken it the hardest.
When Janeway came in, Otrin wasted no time.
“I’ve changed the radiation levels in this canister here to match conditions on the surface,” he said. “I’ve also added an agent to the air in it that will allow you to see the radioactive particles.”

“That explains why it looks like a rain cloud in there,” Janeway said.
“Exactly,” Otrin said. “Now, watch.” He added a device to the side of the canister and activated it.
“If this works as we believe it will,” Seven said, “An isolitic chain reaction will occur.”
“Meaning?”
“It recombines the nucleonic particles in the atmosphere,” Vorik said. “The results will not be instantaneous. How-”
Vorik’s sentence was cut off by a glow coming from the canister. Janeway took a step back, but Seven raised her hands in a calming gesture.
“This reaction from the air inside the canister was expected, Captain,” she said.
The glow got brighter for a half a second, then appeared to vanish, leaving the canister empty.
“Good work,” Janeway said. “How do we apply your methods on a planetary scale?”
“Atmospheric processors are one possibility,” Seven said.
“Too bad we don’t have a corp of engineers on hand to build them,” Janeway said.
“True,” Seven said.
“What if we infused some photon torpedoes with the catalytic agent and used the concussive force to start the reaction?” Janeway said
“That would be the fastest way to do it,” Otrin said. “But it would look like an orbital attack from the caves. Verin could easily use it to rally the other survivors around him.”
“What could they do to us from down there?” Janeway said, her tone suggesting a legitimate question rather than arrogant dismissal.
“The unused antimatter missiles,” Otrin said. “They’re still in their silos, and I know for a fact that most if not all of them still work.”
“Captain,” Vorik said, “we have enough raw resources aboard to create at least one, perhaps two, atmospheric processors. Providing them as well as the schematics to build more, to the Uxali would improve their conditions.”
“Seeing as they’ve been aware of Earth for over a hundred years, I can’t exactly argue that on Prime Directive grounds,” Janeway said, “but in terms of practicality, what would it take to get two working processors assembled?”
“In total,” Seven said, “including replicating necessary parts, assembly, determining where on the planet to place them, several days.”
“Get started,” Janeway said. “In the meantime, Otrin, are you well enough to travel?”

“I’ve been healthy enough to return home since yesterday, Captain. I stayed largely so I could help.”
“I appreciate it. But for now, you and I are going to have a talk with Verin.”
“Captain,” Seven said, honestly stunned by what she was hearing. “Going to meet him in person is far too dangerous. He was perfectly willing to murder Commander Chakotay. He would likely execute you on site.”
“He’d have to go through me to do it,” Otrin said. “I’m more than healthy enough to take on Verin if I have to.”
“Hopefully it won’t come to that,” Janeway said. “Brin and the baby are coming with us too. I’m returning all three of you home personally.”
“At least take a phaser with you for defense,” Vorik said, “if you insist on this unwise course of action.”
“No,” Janeway said. Seven got the impression from the way she said it that she wasn’t doing it as a sign of good faith to Verin, but more like she was afraid she would lose control and attempt to get revenge for Chakotay. While she did not approve of this plan any more than Vorik did, she wasn’t going to argue the point.

When Janeway entered the transport room, she was surprised, but not exactly shocked, to see Jaffen there.
“If you’re planning to try and talk me out of this-”
“Come on, Kathy. I may not have known you that long, but I know you well enough. I can’t talk you out of anything once you’ve really set your mind to it. So, instead of trying to convince you not to do the bad idea…” He stepped up onto the transporter pad, standing between Otrin and Brin. “I’m going to go and do the bad idea with you.”
“Jaffen,” Janeway said, frowning. “I can’t lose you too.”
“You won’t,” Jaffen said. “I”m going to be there when you win this thing. Once this Verin character sees what you’re willing to do to help his planet, he’ll back down. And if he doesn’t, I bet some of his people will and will try to stop him is he does anything rash.”
“You’re that sure that’s what’s going to happen?” Janeway said.
“Absolutely,” Jaffen said.
Janeway groaned and pinched the bridge of her nose.
“Fine. I don’t have time to argue anyway.” She stepped onto the transporter pad, made sure the helmet on her environmental suit was secure, and gave Lieutenant Kitrick the order to beam them down.

When they materialized in the cave, the party had weapons pointed at them immediately, but Verin himself gave the order to hold fire. He walked up to Brin, shoving aside the others as he did so and looked at the baby in awe.
“You’re both alive. And healthy,” he said. “May I?”
Brin took a small step back. “Yes, but only after you listen to what Captain Janeway has to say.”
“Janeway?” Verin said, turning quickly to look in her direction. “You!”
He reached for a gun, but Otrin grabbed his arm as Jaffen moved in front of her. She gently moved Jaffen aside as Otrin and Verin continued to struggle, glad that Verin’s judgement seemed too clouded by anger to make the obvious call to order one of his subordinates to shoot them.
“I want you to understand one thing before we continue the conversation that you rudely interrupted by murdering a member of my crew,” she said. “The only reason I am helping you now, instead of just leaving once these people were treated,” she motioned at Otrin and Brin, “is because it’s what Chakotay would’ve wanted. He would’ve insisted we least try to help.”

“You’re not just going to kill me?” Verin said, finally giving up the fight once Otrin had what had been his own weapon trained on him. “Why should I believe that?”
“You really are blinded by hate,” Janeway said. “Use your brain, Verin. I came down here, unarmed, with only my friend and two of your people to protect me. I needed you to be able to look me in the eye and see that I am telling the truth when I tell you that working with Otrin, we have found a way to start clearing the antimatter radiation from your atmosphere.”
“Why should I believe you? Any of you?” Verin looked back and forth between Otrin and Brin. “How do I do she didn’t poison your minds somehow?”
Janeway started to unclasp her helmet.
“Uh, Kathy?” Jaffen said. “Is that really the best-”
She had the helmet off before he could finish the question.

“Look me in the eye,” she said forcefully. Otrin nudged him with the point of the rifle.
“Do it,” he said. Verin walked up to Janeway, fist clenched.
Janeway repeated what she’d said before about the atmosphere, adding the details about how it worked that Otrin had given her.
“I saw it work with my own eyes,” Otrin said. “It will be a slow process, but it can be done.”
Verin stepped back. “Can this technology rebuild our cities? Bring back the people who died?”
“They’re offering us their help,” Otrin said, “despite being in a position to just leave. The Captain chose to come down here of her own free will. After you murdered her second-in-command in cold blood. Do you really care about our people Verin, or do you just want revenge for what you think happened?”
“You thought it too,” Verin said.
“Yes, I did. But I was wrong. This was never about conquest. Over a hundred years ago, Captain Janeway’s species made a poor decision. Putting design specs for how to harness antimatter in their probe when they had no idea how or even if any race that encountered it had either the intelligence or temperament to use it safely. And you know what? We did. So many other races would’ve used that power to make war, but we didn’t. What happened to us was an accident, Verin.”
“Why do you trust them?” Verin said, but to Janeway’s ear it sounded like he was losing confidence in his argument.
He’s trying to convince himself, not everyone else.
“They sent armed men to attack us!” Verin said.
“To rescue hostages,” Otrin said. “We would’ve done the same in their place and you know it. And keep in mind they did not kill anyone. That was you. They used non-lethal weaponry. Did any of the guards they shot die?”

Verin frowned, refusing to answer the question.
“That’s a ‘No,’ I take it,” Jaffen said.
“Jaffen,” Janeway said, calmly.
“Sorry,” Jaffen said.
“Friend? I know that tone. You brought your lover down with you, Captain?” Verin said. “That is either very brave or very stupid.”
“I don’t see the two as mutually exclusive,” Janeway said.
Verin let out a short laugh.
“I will not a be party to this,” Verin said. “I can see that none of you,” he looked at the gathered crowd of Uxali, including the guards whose weapons were all lowered, “will listen to reason. Trust her, then. I will go to the ruins of my old city. I will not watch my people sign their own death warrant.”
“Verin-” Brin started to say.
“Let him go,” Otrin said. “Assuming he doesn’t kill himself, we can find him once we’ve started the atmospheric processors. Once he sees for himself that it works…”
“One can only hope,” Janeway said, knowing all too well that some people can never be convinced of the truth, even when they see it with their own eyes.

Samantha watched the streaks of lights pass by through the viewport in the mess hall. Things had taken longer than expected to get the first few atmospheric processors up and running, but once active they exceeded expectations. Large swaths of the Uxali homeworld were still too radioactive to resettle, but according to Seven of Nine, it wouldn’t take much longer than two to three years for Otrin’s people to start building processors of their own.
“Enjoying the view?”
Sam turned to see Joe Carey standing a few feet behind her.
“Hey, Joe,” she said. “Glad to see you up and around.”
“Well,” Carey said, “I’ve been recovered from the concussion for almost two weeks now. I just haven’t been leaving my quarters much.”

“So that’s why I didn’t see you at the memorial,” Sam said.
“Yeah,” Carey said, sighing. “Sorry about that.”
“It’s okay. No one held it against you. A lot of us were worried you were blaming yourself for what happened.”
“As Vorik would put it, ‘an accurate assessment,’” Carey said, taking a seat next to Sam at the table, looking out the viewport himself. “If I hadn’t fought back I wouldn’t have been smacked in the head, and I would’ve been the one to assemble the transporter enhancers.”
“And you’d be the one who’d be dead,” Sam said bluntly.
“And?”
“What about your sons, Joe?” Sam said. “Speaking parent to parent, do you really think that your boys wouldn’t be traumatized by the knowledge that their father was murdered by a madman? You dying would be hard on them no matter what the circumstance obviously, but like that? No way. Maybe if you dying had saved an entire civilization from genocide, or ended the threat of the Borg once and for all, they could at least take comfort in you going out like a hero. But what Verin did…”
The two Voyager crew members fell silent, the background chatter of the other officers as they talked over their own meals the only noise in the room.
“If you want to honor Chakotay,” Sam said, “then do what you know he’d want you to do. Live, and do good.”
“Live and do good,” Carey repeated quietly. “Yeah, I can do that.”

Seven saw B’Elanna standing outside Chakotay’s quarters leaning against the wall.
“Are you alright, B’Elanna? Seven said.
“Hmm? Oh, hi, Seven,” B’Elanna shook her head. “Just, apparently during the whole construction project the Captain pulled up Chakotay’s… His will, basically, although Starfleet uses a somewhat less loaded word for it these days, but that’s what it’s called. Chakotay left me some of his family’s tribal artifacts.”
Seven leaned against the wall next to B’Elanna and just listened. Had this happened several years ago she likely would’ve tactlessly told B’Elanna to just get on with it, or worse made some snide comment about “foolish organic sentimentality.”

“I’ve come here three times in the past two days, but I can’t make myself go in there,” B’Elanna continued.
“Would it help if I went in with you?” Seven asked.
“You know, maybe it would. Lucky for me he included pictures,” B’Elanna said, holding up a PADD. “In addition to items belonging to his tribe, he also had a number of items from other Native American tribes, The ones from his were obviously family heirlooms, or items important to his faith. The others he kept for historical value, or for artistic reasons. Thing is, without a handy guide, there’s no way in hell I’d be able to the difference just by looking.”
Seven sighed.
“What is it?” B’Elanna asked.
“I just realized something. In the four years I knew the Commander, all the times I listened to him talk about his people’s rituals and beliefs, I somehow managed to never actually learn which tribe he belonged to.”
B’Elanna snorted. “I’m sorry, but, in a weird way that is kinda funny.”
“Seems like something I should know,” Seven said. “I wasn’t as close to him as many people aboard were. I wouldn’t call him a friend. But I respected him. Both Naomi and Icheb looked up to him. He took time out of his day to help Sam when Naomi was still a baby.”

“Yeah,” B’Elanna said. “Nothing’s going to be the same around here, is it?”

The crew had retrieved the remains of Friendship I, but none could bring themselves to come by and look at it, so Janeway had it placed into containers in cargo bay 1. The general mood of the ship had grown darker since they’ve left Uxali space. Working to build the atmospheric processors and recover the probe had served as a distraction for the members of the crew involved in the process, but that just meant that unlike everyone else, the reaction to their loss had been delayed.
She went through the motions of command, grateful that no other crisis had presented itself in the intervening weeks. There were still things that needed to be done. Appointing a new first officer for starters. But that she felt she could put off a little while longer. B’Elanna had, without being asked, volunteered to take on the task of informing Chakotay’s sister. Jaffen had been a source of comfort, talking when she needed him to, and shutting up when she didn’t.

Ever present at the back of her mind though, even as she casually gave orders on the bridge as she had so many times in the past seven years, was the thought that this was it for her. The burdens of command could be trying for anyone. Even the best Captains in Starfleet history had had breaking points. Some drove them to take time away, others to the Admiralty, and even some into retirement and civilian life.

She felt she was at hers now. She’d felt this way once before, after the incident with Arturis and the Dauntless, but she’s come back from that. Now though, if she could just snap her fingers like a Q and go home right this moment she would, and the first thing she would do afterwards is turn in her resignation.

She’d kept this thought to herself. Not even Jaffen knew it, not yet anyway. No point in telling anyone now, not when her crew was still 30 years from home, coming up on 29.

As the chronometer ticked over to 1200 hours, she decided there was one task she couldn’t put off any longer.
Tuvok, she thought, looking at the empty first officer’s chair. That’s obvious. As for new chief of security, I’ll ask him, but if I were the gambling type I’d go all in on him suggesting Lieutenant Ayala.
Within twelve hours, she was proven right.

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