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Prologue


"Captain Janeway please report to the bridge."

Kathryn Janeway got off a last shot at the blue disk, which ricocheted off a wall and shot by her former Borg opponent. Seven concealed her frustration with obvious effort as the captain called "point" over her shoulder and left the holodeck.

Wiping the sweat from her brow, Voyager's captain waited impatiently for the lift to carry her to the Bridge. Whatever the summons concerned it must be fairly important. Chakotay never interrupted her off-duty time, especially since he was always complaining that she didn't take enough time for relaxation. She sighed in impatience as the lift slowed and then bolted forward as the doors parted, entered the Bridge, and promptly took her seat. "Report," she barked.

Chakotay keyed data into her terminal. "Seven approaching ships, Captain. They aren't answering our hails." He eyed her workout clothes with a smile. "Nice uniform style. Are we making a change?"

Kathryn tried to ignore the comment, but a smile tugged at the corners of her mouth as she scanned the data Chakotay had collected for her. "Commander Tuvok?"

"Seven fighters: their weapons are on stand-by."

She grimaced. It seemed most new encounters started like this--despite Chakotay's earlier humor, he too was frowning as he studied the data coming in. "Open a channel." Janeway waited as Ensign Kim opened communication with the first vessels they had encountered in three weeks. She sat up straight as Ensign Kim nodded to her. "Approaching vessels, this is Captain Kathryn Janeway of the Federation starship Voyager. Our..."

The small angular fighters broke formation and spread out across Voyager's flight path.

"That doesn't look much like a welcome wagon," observed Paris. Kathryn couldn't help but agree.

An alien with several blue ridges on his face appeared on their screen. "Starship Voyager, you are entering an embargo zone. Until the Plor government agrees to listen to our concerns, travel in this sector is restricted by order of the Tevian council."

"We are a neutral party," Janeway said as the screen went blank.

"They are powering weapons systems, Captain," reported Tuvok.

"Evasive maneuvers," ordered Chakotay. "Red alert."

The lead fighter got off a shot which flew across Voyager's bow, a clean miss. Five of the alien fighters realigned into a loose pentagon, while the other two took lead. The seven ships fired randomly. There was a flash of light, and Voyager vibrated as several of the shots made contact with the shields.

"Shields at 95%," Kim stated from Ops. "No other damage."

"Return fire, Mr. Tuvok," Kathryn ordered. "Target weapons."

"Aye." The Vulcan never looked up as he punched in the preset firing sequence. Phaser fire shot smoothly from the Voyager's underbelly and slammed into one of the lead raiders. The other shot missed as the second alien ship anticipated the volley. All the remaining ships concentrated fire on the area of shields near the phaser array. The jolts could be felt in earnest, and Tom's console sparked. The pilot rubbed his hands, then returned to flying the ship.

"Shields down to 80%," Kim offered, raising his eyes in the direction of his captain.

"Can we go to warp, Lieutenant?" Kathryn's eyes never left the view screen as the little ships continued to flurry about them like so many swarming flies. She glanced quickly at the technical data. The damn things were definitely maneuverable, but Voyager was faster.

"Yes," Tom murmured, his voice edged with concentration. On her signal, he threw Voyager into a sharp dive and then quickly pulled up in a half spin at an angle that left the inertial dampers struggling to catch up.

There was a collective sigh as the star lines streamed and the raider ships disappeared behind them. "Good flying, Lieutenant," Kathryn said as she stood. "Stand down, red alert. I want a report on those vessels. Where did they come from? Is there a larger vessel nearby? A planet?"

Orders given, she turned to the man at her side. She glanced down at the flounced skirt of her exercise outfit and then returned her gaze to his. They shared a quick grin. "Commander, you have the bridge."

The Captain hurriedly showered and changed into a uniform and headed back to the Bridge. Not a great deal of time had passed, but she expected some answers anyway; her crew did not disappoint. She entered to find everyone hard at work. Chakotay's smile told her that he believed they were getting somewhere. She gave him a short nod and he returned it as he stood and prepared to follow her.

As she descended the few steps to her ready room door, Chakotay on her heels, she handed the bridge over to Tuvok.

Chakotay sat down in his chair and smiled at her. She nodded grimly in response as she sat down as well. "Another typical day in the Delta Quadrant."

She chose to ignore his quip and pulled up some data. "Those seven ships." She leaned back. "What the hell have we found ourselves in the middle of?"

He shrugged. "Whatever it is, we have no choice but to continue. We've not been able to determine any boundaries."

"And we need to resupply..."

He handed her a PADD. "The most recent report from Astrometrics. There are six inhabited planets in a ten light year range and what look to be several space stations. The nearest station is just over twenty-four hours away. It's about one fourth the size of Deep Space 9. According to Seven's reports, it's a free trade port."

She looked up at him. "So, are they friend or foe?"

"Assume they are foe." He grinned. "Safer that way."

She smiled back at him. "Foe they are. We'll discuss our options at the staff meeting in one hour." She turned her attention to the map. "Dismissed, Commander."


Chapter Text


Act One

Kathryn glanced at the report on her desk, then up at the chief tactical officer. She didn't shake her head at his stiff demeanor. "Commander Tuvok, your preparedness drills are paying off."

"Captain, I'm afraid I must disagree. The security teams took five point three seconds longer to report to their stations than is acceptable."

This time she did shake her head. "Commander Tuvok, you and your teams have cut response times by a full minute. This is very commendable. Have your teams remain at alert." She dismissed him. He was pushing everyone--possibly too hard, but the results were impressive.

Her combadge chirped. "Janeway here."

"Captain," Commander Chakotay's voice said. "The station commandant is hailing us." She stood as she responded, grabbing another PADD:

She nodded toward Ensign Kim as she entered the bridge. The viewscreen activated to reveal a big alien with dark blue ridges on his face.

"I'm Captain Kathryn Janeway, of the starship Voyager. We wish to come to your station to conduct trade."

The alien smiled as he straightened his garish gold uniform. "Ahhh, Captain Janeway, I'm Governor Elib, commandant of Xor-Alpha. As the representative of the Plor government, I would be honored to have you and your crew visit our station. You no doubt require supplies, and...distractions."

"Thank you, Governor Elib."

"I shall assign three Plor cruisers to accompany you."

She shook her head. "Thank-you, but that won't be necessary."

Elib frowned. "I must advise you that you are in a contested part of space. Tevian terrorists have been known to attack ships here to conduct legitimate business with Plor and other traders."

"I believe we've already met them."

"Then I am surprised at your refusal." He stared at her for a second. "I look forward to meeting you on Xor-Alpha." He bowed as the viewscreen went blank.

Janeway shook her head. "Maintain yellow alert."

#

Harry sat down across from Tom before he let himself look at dinner. "We really need to resupply." He motioned for Seven to join them.

"The food in particular. I'm not looking forward to a hundred recipes using verdrenat." B'Elanna said as she pulled her hand away from Tom's and picked up her fork.

"Verdrenat beats leola root. This isn't too bad." Tom let the brown goopish stuff drip of his spoon.

"And it would be even better," Harry said with a wicked laugh. "With the appropriate *distractions.*"

"Harry, Harry, Harry, you have a one track mind." Tom rolled his eyes, then grunted when B'Elanna dug her elbow in his ribs.

"I do not understand why distractions would make the food more palatable," Seven said in her typical near monotone.

Harry bit his lip to keep from laughing and noticed his friends were doing the same. "Some distractions can be...well...ummm...Quite pleasant," he tried to explain.

"You mean sex," Seven said bluntly.

B'Elanna laughed while Tom and Harry glanced around the mess hall quickly. The other diners glanced their way, then returned to eating. Harry shook his head in exasperation.

"I do not understand the need to hide behind euphemisms."

"Because," Harry said in a very quiet voice, "Sex is a private..."

He was relieved when the lights began to flash.

#

Tom glanced quickly at the viewscreen as he and Harry entered the bridge. Three small angular fighters were closing in, followed by two battleships that were twice Voyager's size. The three fighters suddenly accelerated as the lead oval-shaped battleship fired. He grabbed hold as the ship shook violently. Tom grimaced.

"Shields are holding," Harry said.

"Hail them," Janeway said. There was a small flash as one of the small ships blew. "To all ships, we are a neutral party. Please..." The two remaining fighters flew under Voyager, then went to warp. The two battleships continued their pursuit, almost oblivious to Voyager's presence. Tom's fingers flew over his console as he worked to keep Voyager from being crushed. The two large ships came too damn close.

Voyager shuddered when they went to light speed. "Report," Janeway called out. Tom listened as he ran through his check list. The damage to the crew and ship was minimal.

"Captain," Tom said, "Maintain our present course?"

Janeway nodded.

Chapter Text

Act two

Chakotay turned to the wall console and studied the Astrometrics diagram. "Were you able to determine the type of trade negotiated via these transmissions?"

Harry nodded. "Yes. While the variety of goods is extensive, the space station seems to deal mostly in technological wares."

B'Elanna swung her chair to face the Captain. "I have some additional equipment to add to my list."

Kathryn nodded as she glanced at B'Elanna. "Bring your shopping list, Lieutenant Torres." At B'Elanna's nod, she turned to Harry. "Ensign Kim... I want continuous monitoring of transmissions. We don't know who is who out here. We need to stay alert." She turned when Neelix started to speak. "Neelix?"

"As Voyager's official ambassador, I should accompany the team."

She smiled. "Permission granted. I'll lead this away team. Neelix, Lieutenants Paris and Torres will accompany me."

"Captain," Tuvok said, "Starfleet regulations require the presence of security personnel..."

"I suggest," Chakotay cut in, "Lieutenant Ayala."

She nodded quickly. Chakotay smiled slightly. Ayala would owe him big for this, but he did sympathize with him. He knew the training schedule Tuvok had put together was running security ragged. He stood after Janeway dismissed them, his smile fading. This was her second mission in the past couple of months. It seemed that every time she left the ship, things went wrong. He just had a feeling that this mission wasn't going to be different.

#

Chakotay sat in his chair and glanced at his console again. He grumbled something about bureaucracy being the same across the galaxy. There were six different forms to be filled out just to be granted docking privileges at the station. Permission had been denied. They had refiled, asking to dock the Delta Flyer instead. They had been assigned docking number thirty-six. He didn't like the situation--especially since the station's shields prevented them from using the transporters. He glanced at the PADD Janeway had given him ten minutes ago and gritted his teeth. Now they were being told the Delta Flyer could not remain at the station. Something about too much incoming traffic...

He glanced over at Tuvok, who just arched an eyebrow. There would be no debating her on this he knew. She wanted to lead the Away Team.

He stood slowly. "Commander, you have the bridge." He marched over to the turbo lift, prepared to make one last attempt to change her mind.

The door to her quarters swished open at his approach. She was waiting for him. "I figured you would have been here five minutes ago."

"That obvious?"

She nodded. "Don't bother. I'm going, and I think I've covered every reason you usually use."

"I see." He smiled at her. "Well, how about bribery?"

She laughed. "I believe attempted bribery of a superior officer is a violation of some regulation."

"This is your second away team mission since our run in with the Cardassians. Perhaps I should go this time?"

She grinned as she tossed him a PADD. "Look at this."

He read the file quickly and raised his eyebrows. "Fascinating." He wondered again, just why she felt the need to lead the team. She had changed the subject to avoid any further inquiries.

"Timing is everything. A new used-ship would be very useful. I'll just make sure to keep you away from it. I've been going through our list of supplies. If the bidding doesn't go too high, we can. I've made arrangements for Tom to test fly it."

"And B'Elanna will go over it with a fine-toothed comb." He scrolled through the rest of the list. "It looks promising."

"B'Elanna is already planning several repair projects." She walked over to him. "I have to get ready." She placed her hand on his arm and smiled. "Do take care of my ship. Maybe I'll let you lead an Away Team when the carpets are cleaned?"

He grinned. "You have ten minutes before the shuttle leaves."

She pulled her hand away quickly. "I'd better hurry then. See you tomorrow." She reached down to pick up her travel bag.

His gaze lowered to the floor. Without pause, his own hand followed, brushing lightly against hers as he grasped the handle of the bag. "Please... allow me to..." He lifted his eyes to hers, and froze.

Mere centimeters separated them. He could feel her breath on his lips... warm... inviting. He could smell the subtle scent of her shampoo... something clean, flowery. He could feel the intensity of her gaze. The effect was heady, uncovering an ache he could feel to his depths. The urgency of the sudden sensations surprised him, considering everything that had (and hadn't) happened during the past couple of years.

For a long moment, they remained unmoving, staring at each other. His eyes drifted to her lips. He imagined their softness. When he again lifted his gaze, her eyes were closed. There was little doubt her thoughts mirrored his own. A forbidden pleasure.

And then their lips touched. Briefly. It was barely a kiss. And yet, it was. As soon as their lips touched, the realization of the act slammed through his mind. He instantly drew back, released the handle of the bag, stunned embarrassment coloring his face. He straightened, hesitantly meeting her eyes. "Uh..." he faltered. What the hell was he supposed to say? He wasn't sorry. It wasn't enough to be sorry about. And yet, the look on her face was enough to tell him he'd overstepped a boundary. So had she.

He watched as her hand tightened around the handle of the bag. He watched as she lifted it, then turned toward the door, her Captain's mask sliding firmly into place. "I'll see you tomorrow, Commander."

And then she was gone.

#

Tom watched as Lieutenant Hargrove glanced around the Delta Flyer all the while tapping lightly on the console. They'd finished the pre-flight checklist and were waiting for the rest of Away Team to board.

"Just don't break anything on the return trip," Tom said to the pilot. "The Captain would never forgive you."

The other man grunted something as Tom stood to help B'Elanna stow her gear for the flight. "What kept you?"

"I wanted to double check that Carey understood what needed to be..."

Tom laughed at her, kindly. "They're all grown up. They know what to do."

"I just wanted to make sure." She gave her pack a hard push to squish it into the small cabinet, then jabbed Tom with her elbow as he wrapped his arm around her waist. He grunted and stepped back from her.

"Hello everybody," Neelix said as he stepped on board. "Isn't this exciting." He was carrying two small bags that he quickly shoved under the seat he'd chosen. He pulled out a PADD and sat back, prepared to take advantage of the short flight time.

Janeway and Ayala arrived at the same moment. "Sorry I'm late," she said as she shoved her gear into a corner. "Last minute clarification of instructions."

B'Elanna smiled at Tom. "I'm not the only one."

Tom rolled his eyes as he closed the Flyer's hatch and double checked the lock. "Clear here."

Hargrove nodded as he started the engines. The big docking bay doors opened and he guided the tiny ship out toward the space station.

Janeway stared out the window at the station. It was rather ugly. None of the graceful lines of Deep Space 9...It wasn't even symmetrical. She took a deep breath as she remembered seven years ago--her last sight of that station...And how just barely five minutes ago...

"Captain," B'Elanna said quietly. "Is everything all right?"

"Yes, fine..."

"It is ugly."

"What?"

"The station? Captain?"

"I'm sorry. You're right, it is." Fortunately Hargrove interrupted the conversation.

"Captain, we have permission to dock at gate number thirty-six. Our E.T.A. is in six minutes."

#

Chakotay slowly made his way toward the turbolift. He had deliberately taken a different route to avoid sharing a lift with Kathryn. She was now on her way to the Plor space station having not said anything about protocol or the kiss.

"Stupid," he muttered to himself completely unaware of the crewmembers he passed without returning a hello or a respectful nod. "What the hell were you thinking!" he hissed in self-recrimination.

The lift doors parted and he brushed past Joe Carey and Vorik as they stepped out. As the doors closed he slumped against the wall and closed his eyes. "Halt lift," he ordered; the first order of business was to get control of his emotions. He drew a trembling hand over his face trying to pull away the feel of her lips, the smell of her skin, the taste of her mouth.

"Great Spirit, Chakotay, get a hold of yourself. It was barely a kiss." He tried to believe it, but knew he wouldn't, couldn't. And what would Kathryn do? There had been no time, but when she returned he had no doubt she would take some action. She had made it very clear that captains do not become involved with their first officers. But, she was more than his captain and more than his best friend: they both knew that.

He opened his eyes and again he saw her standing before him, so close he could feel the heat from her skin. So close he could smell her hair, so close he ached. Again he felt her lips brushing his, felt his body instantly burst into flame. And again he realized just what he had let happen.

"Take care of my ship."

Her words echoed in his ears. Fall back on orders. Retreat. Some things never change.

He smiled. "Yes, ma'am." Pulling away from the wall he squared his shoulders. "Ok, so you kissed her. Or maybe she kissed you. The consequences will have to wait. Do your job, run the ship, clean the carpets. And then face the music." He paused, savoring the memory for one more moment before pushing it into the background. "Resume lift. Bridge."

When he entered the Bridge he found everything in order. Tuvok informed him that the shuttle had just departed and would be arriving at the station in five minutes. He took a seat in Kathryn's chair and called up the duty roster for the day, reviewed the departmental adjustments and authorized the changes.

"Ensign Kim, has the engineering team finished the diagnostic on the conduit relays?"

"Yes, sir. The report is on the Captain's desk."

He nodded and stood. "I'll be in the Ready Room, then. Commander Tuvok, you have the Bridge."

Taking a seat on the couch--he was never comfortable behind her desk--he began to read through the tedious but necessary report.

#

"Captain Janeway, it is a pleasure to welcome you to Xor-alpha." The alien's high pitched voice belied his build.

"Thank you, again, Governor Elib."

Elib continued, "My aide will show you to your suite, and I have arranged for guides."

"Thank-you," she said again--and again Elib continued speaking.

"And Lieutenant Torres," he took her hand and ogled her. Tom took her other hand and made sure the alien knew that B'Elanna was spoken for. "You will want to settle in and see our station." He winked at Tom. "And Captain, my apologies for your recent run in with the terrorists. We have increased patrols in that sector."

"I believe they nearly ran into us," Tom muttered loudly. Janeway shook her head. She had been on the station for less than 10 minutes and was already developing a headache. And all she needed was for Lieutenant Paris to create an incident.

"Thank-you, Governor, but we..."

Governor Elib bowed his head and thumped his chest as he interrupted. "You are most welcome. I hope you...And your team...would be willing to join me for dinner. I would love..."

Fortunately, they had started to walk through the station. Janeway tuned the governor out as she glanced at the booths of the various vendors. She could feel the excitement rise from Neelix on her left as they passed the occasional spice merchants. She also noticed that B'Elanna was making quick stops at some of the booths. The young half Klingon was smiling at what she found.

The Governor had stopped talking as he became aware of his guests' growing interest in the vendors, Janeway was delighted to notice.

They left the boisterous markets and entered a more subdued section. Elib pulled out a large chain carrying five cards. "These are your room keys. We pride ourselves on our excellent security. We don't have problems with thieves, but we still advise our guests to make sure they lock their rooms. No point in causing temptation." He carefully handed each of them a card. "Now, place your thumb on the red spot and then stick the card into the slot. It will register you as the guests. Next time, all you need do is place your thumb over the indentation..."

Ayala studied his card carefully and was the last one to *register.* He wanted to learn more about how this security system worked. Commander Tuvok would be interested--though he could imagine the long hours if such a system was implemented.

"Thank you, Governor." Kathryn said, bowing her head slightly, then started to turn toward her room. She hoped Governor Elib would recognize the hint. They were ready to unburden themselves of their bags, and set about the business for which they had come. They had little time and much to accomplish.

"I wish you good fortune," he said as he bowed in returned. He then left the group to settle in to the accommodations.

Kathryn turned to face the small group. "Let's deposit our bags and meet back here in ten minutes. We'll break into smaller groups at that time. We can cover more territory that way." With that, she moved down the corridor to her room, inserted her key in the access slot, and disappeared inside.

B'Elanna glanced at Tom, then followed suit. The room was dark when the door slid open, but as she crossed the threshold, lights, recessed in the ceiling flickered on. She snorted. Flickered. The lights had actually flickered. The Plor were employing some archaic means of lighting. The effect reminded her of something she had seen in a Chicago museum years ago. Something called neon lighting. Tawdry and cheap. Those were the words that came to mind when she'd seen it then. Tawdry and cheap were the words that came to mind now.

She stood in a small hallway, a small bathroom to her left. Straight ahead, the hallway opened into the sleeping area of the room. She stepped forward into the room, then froze, mild disgust painting her features. The place was a dump.

The room contained a grungy bed, a table, and two somethings that might be chairs. Nothing else. The center of the bed sank a good ten centimeters below the outer edges of the mattress. A thin, white sheet, stained here and there an odd shade of brown, was draped over the mattress. It was the only linen provided. The metal bed frame was rusted... completely. Something wet that had obviously once stood unchecked on the floor for an extended period of time, as tendrils of rust colored stains spread out from where the bedposts met the floor.

The table was in no better shape.

A layer of filth blanketed the floor. It was more than dust. As she walked across its splotchy grayness, her boots stuck in spots. The sound made when she picked up her feet and the floor released her boot made chills run down her spine. And the faint, musky smell just added to the ambiance.

She didn't even want to know what the bathroom looked like.

She snorted in disgust. "There is no way in hell I am sleeping..." She spun around, as the faint sound of scraping against metal met her ears. She dropped her bag on the table, pulled out her tricorder. Whatever it was, it was small, the size of a large rat. She swallowed hard, backed away from creature's hiding place, her eyes darting around the room, looking for more. Damn it. "I hate rodents." she muttered.

Tom looked at their room in absolute horror, but wanting to put up a brave front for B'Elanna he tried to joke. "I've seen worse..."

"Where?"

"I..." He had to admit his prison accommodations had definitely been nicer. "I give. I don't know where. But, most accommodations don't come with pets..."

"Pets!!!" She turned on him.

"OK, dinner then?" He grinned at her.

"I'll capture one, just for you. Maybe Neelix can stuff it with leola root?"

Tom stepped out in the hall and pulled his wife with him. Neelix, Janeway, and Ayala exited their quarters as well. "No one brought food?" Tom almost laughed at their expressions of disgust. The Captain's in particular. She usually wore her command mask better.

"Well, I guess we just grin and bear it. It's only one night..." Kathryn ignored the growl from B'Elanna. "I would suggest we sleep with our phasers handy." She smiled slightly. "Well, since we have no reason to stay in our rooms..."

"And every reason to stay out of them..." B'Elanna added loudly. The others chuckled as the Captain continued.

"I suggest we get started. Lieutenants, why don't you find this ship and see what it's like..."

Tom perked up, the room forgotten at the thought of test piloting an alien ship. "Yes, ma'am." He grabbed B'Elanna's hand. "We'll meet you here by 1700 hours." B'Elanna was just as eager to leave.

Janeway shook her head. "We'll look at the markets. Neelix, I want you to be very careful with any food items you might want to purchase." She looked around, her own rather unfortunate room very much in her thoughts. "This place is rather lacking..."

Ayala nodded. "Captain, we don't know what kind of health concerns these creatures...I would recommend that we do a thorough search when we return."

"They're probably all over..." Janeway sighed. She wasn't particularly fond of small or large rat like creatures. She wanted to stay away from her room for as long as possible. "The sooner we can purchase what we need, the sooner we can leave."

"And our guides?" Neelix asked, ever the diplomat.

"They can find us."

Chapter Text

Act three

Chakotay ordered a glass of lemonade from Sandrine, and spent a few moments watching the pool game while he sipped his drink. He muttered quietly to himself. "One mistake shouldn't mean the end, no matter what the relationship."

"Excusez-moi?" Sandrine leaned on the counter. "You said something?"

"Nothing. I was just thinking out loud."

"The captain, she is not here tonight?"

"No, she's on a mission."

"Bon. It is good for her I think. Would monsieur like another lemonade?"

He glanced at his now empty glass and shook his head. "No, thank you." He walked to the main entrance of the bar.

"Commander Tuvok to Commander Chakotay."

"Go ahead, Commander," he responded as he stepped out into the corridor.

"Several strange energy reading have come to Mr. Kim's attention. It may be advisable for you to have a look at them."

"On my way." So much for a quiet night.

#

Tom controlled the urge to smile as B'Elanna turned over the last card. He added quickly. "Stay."

"Huh?"

"Means I don't want another card."

"Oh." He watched her as she studied her hand. "The goal is to get as close to twenty-one without going over?"

Tom nodded.

B'Elanna frowned slightly, then turned over her hidden card. "Then I win." She had a king, a six, and a five.

Tom groaned as he buried his head in his hands, trying to ignore her triumphant smirk. "I hope you are enjoying yourself."

"Immensely. Let's see...You owe me two days of replicator rations and a night of passion. Again?"

There was a knock at the door. Tom stood quickly--delighted at the excuse to ignore her overstatement of her winnings. "Not so loud. Gambling while on duty?"

"Beats sleeping with those things..."

It took Tom a few seconds to wrench the door open. "Captain."

"Hmm. What I thought. The walls are pretty thin..."

Tom laughed. "Why am I not surprised. Nothing else is four star quality."

She nodded to the others behind her. "Seems no one really wanted to sleep."

"Our thoughts exactly. Come on in." He stepped back to let the three others in. "Poker? Blackjack?"

Janeway picked up the deck, "Five card stud, fives wild. Since we are technically on duty, we'll not bet anything." She shuffled the cards.

Tom shook his head. "Sure thing, Captain." The bed groaned when he sat down on it. B'Elanna sat down beside him causing the bed to screech as the mattress sank further, Neelix sat on the edge of one chair with Ayala, while Janeway sat in the other sorry-looking chair.

She swiftly passed out the cards. "We haven't had a chance to talk about the ship," Tom said. The governor had found them going over the ship. It was obvious that he was pleased with their interest--for him it probably meant a higher commission.

"It has potential," Tom answered.

"Think we can get it for a decent price?" Janeway asked as she studied her cards.

"Not with the governor already counting his *commission.*" Tom said while B'Elanna snorted. "There is a slight pull to starboard..." He glanced at his cards. Since they weren't betting anything, he decided to play dangerously. "I'll take two."

"It would be expensive to bring it up to code. But definitely cheaper than building another one." B'Elanna bit her lip. "I'm in."

"The bidding opens tomorrow. Don't get carried away..." Janeway frowned. "Fold. Neelix?"

"I'll keep what I have." He had a terrible poker face, Tom decided.

Ayala also folded. "I'll let Tom and B'Elanna fight with Neelix for the pot. Maybe one of those rats?" He pulled his phaser out and shot across the room. "Got it..." He smiled, then shrugged at the Captain's chagrined look. "Security is practically non-existent. I counted six pick-pockets out in the markets."

"So much for the governor's boasting. I call." B'Elanna placed her hand down. Full house--Queens over threes. Tom sighed and shook his head. Neelix's face fell too. "We took a quick look at the markets. I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of this stuff didn't have the proper paperwork."

"I sort of suspected that," Janeway said as she gathered the cards and handed them to Tom. "We wouldn't know what the proper paperwork is..." She looked at the cards Tom dealt her and frowned.

Tom grinned. He didn't know anything about the Captain's poker ability, as she didn't participate in the weekly games. B'Elanna had become a regular, Neelix came by sometimes. Fortunately Harry wasn't here; the kid was a real card-shark. Tom handed B'Elanna the three cards she requested. Janeway took two. He raised his eyebrows at that. Then jumped when B'Elanna pulled her phaser.

"B'Elanna I'm not cheating..." She fired past his head twice, then grinned. Everybody turned to look for her target.

The lights flickered and went out completely...

"Damn..." Someone said.


Chapter Text

Act four

"What the hell is going on now?" growled B'Elanna, slamming her cards down on the table. "Don't tell me we've exceeded our energy consumption limit for the rotation."

"Maybe you hit a power conduit," Tom offered in the darkness.

"Not unless Plor power conduits are shaped like large rodents," snapped the half-Klingon.

Kathryn bit back a smile at the comment. She'd wondered the same thing herself. She'd seen the rat-like creature, was aware of what B'Elanna was shooting at, but wasn't certain if the Chief Engineer had hit her mark. "I suggest we move this card game to another room. We can deal with reparations to the accommodations in the morning," she offered, as she stood.

"I didn't hit a power conduit, Captain," B'Elanna retorted.

Kathryn rolled her eyes under cover of darkness. *Klingons.* "I was not suggesting..." she was unable to complete her statement as the station shuddered violently around them, accompanied by the sound of explosions. Her hand immediately went to her waist for her phaser. "That was weapons fire. This station is under attack."

"Great," muttered Tom. He detached his phaser from its mooring at his waist, and stood.

"It looks like our stay here has been cut short." Janeway's hand immediately went to her combadge. "Janeway to Voyager."

The only response was another violent shudder and the high-pitched sound of stressed metal.

Kathryn's frown deepened. Even if Voyager were engaged in battle, she would have responded... unless communications were out... or she was out of communications range. She exhaled heavily. "We're leaving."

"Captain--" Ayala said, "--What about our tricorders... and other equipment in our rooms."

The room shook again... more violently this time. *Damn.* They hadn't time to worry about that. But... they couldn't leave any technology behind... regardless of how advanced the Plor were. "Okay... we go in teams. B'Elanna, Tom, and Ayala. Neelix, you're with me. One stands cover while the other retrieves their equipment. We don't know if there has been an incursion. And if there has been, we don't know where they are. Watch yourselves. You have two minutes. We meet outside Neelix's room."

"Since we're here, Tom... I'll stand cover outside." B'Elanna moved toward the door. The metal walls, ceiling, and floor clearly reflected the sound of boots against the floor. Their steps were as quick as they could make them while they groped in the darkness.... feeling their way to the door. She hoped emergency lighting would illuminate the hallways... provide them some light. And then the toe of her foot caught on the heel of whomever preceded her, causing her to lose her balance... pitch forward. "Oomph."

"Ouch!" cried Ayala, as he buffered B'Elanna's fall.

"Sorry," offered B'Elanna, now completely atop the Lieutenant. She rolled off him. "You okay?"

"Yeah," came the startled and slightly irked response. "You?"

"Fine. Just don't tell my husband that we had a tumble together." She gingerly stood up, as the door to the corridor slid open. A faint greenish glow filled the corridor... casting meager light into the room. *Kahless be praised.* She didn't do well in the dark. She extended a hand to Ayala, helped him up, then followed him to the door.

#

"Report, Ensign," Chakotay barked as he stepped on the bridge.

"I started picking them up about twenty minutes ago, sir. At first I thought it was background radiation, but they are moving in a predictable pattern." Harry replayed the images to show his point.

"And now?" Chakotay grimaced as the tactical display appeared with dozens of new energy reading. "Whatever they are, they're headed for the station."

"But, what are they?" asked Tuvok.

Chakotay looked at the ensign at Ops. It was obvious to anyone who knew him that Kim had a theory. "Come on, Ensign. Any guess is better than no guess."

Harry smiled, "They remind me of some early Romulan cloaking device leaks."

Chakotay studied the readouts again. "Similar, but the infrared is stronger." He studied them a moment longer. "I don't like it. Ensign, signal the Captain."

When there was no answer he turned sharply. "Ensign Kim?"

"No response from the Captain, sir. No response from any away team member."

Chakotay quickly took the Captain's seat. "Take us in helm."

Tuvok's console suddenly beeped. "Several ships decloaking, Commander," reported the Vulcan.

"What's their weapon's status?" barked Chakotay.

"Fully armed."

Chakotay pounded his arm against the armrest. "Damn. Red alert. Shields up. Arm phasers. Ensign, hail them." When the Ops Chief nodded Chakotay stood and addressed the ships who were about to attack not only the station, but Kathryn as well. "Tevian fleet, this is Commander Chakotay of the Federation Starship Voyager. Be advised that we have crew aboard that station. If you attack we will view it as an act of war and will respond. Do not engage that station."

His message was met with silence.

"I don't think they are listening, Commander," replied Harry.

"They have fired on the station," reported Tuvok with his usual calm demeanor. "Direct hit. Extensive damage."

"Fire phasers," ordered Chakotay. Chakotay looked on in growing horror as an entire section of the station began to crumble. These people had obviously been unprepared for such an attack. A sick feeling settled in the pit of his stomach as he thought of the many civilians no doubt wounded or worse in the broken section. He prayed that Kathryn and her team were safe.

The fleet of fighters and small ships paid little heed to Voyager's efforts to draw their fire, as they moved along and proceeded to destroy the next section of the station. The Tevians were arrogant in their power, and his instruments told him why. A large fleet of as yet uncloaked fighters waited nearby. Unless he did something, and fast, the station would fall.

"Ensign, can you still detect the leakage from their cloaking shields?"

"Aye, sir," Harry responded immediately.

"Good," Chakotay said, turning before he could finish the explanation. Time was of the essence, the details could wait.

"Commander Tuvok, how long to configure a batch of modified mines to the same frequency?" "

"Less than a minute, Commander," Tuvok was already on it.

"Do it," Chakotay said, and turned immediately toward his station, triangulating the best position from which to launch the mines. He wanted to halt the Tevian ships, not destroy them. His console beeped just as Tuvok announced that the mines were ready.

"Prepare to fire in this pattern," he ordered, sending the triangulated data to Tactical. The Vulcan wasted no time integrating the information into his subroutine, while simultaneously providing return fire against the trio of vessels the Tevians had sent to keep Voyager busy.

The first order of business was to get in closer. Normal behavior would have been to take out a couple of the vessels, thus allowing Voyager to gain some ground. Chakotay didn't have time for that. He snapped out his instructions quickly. Voyager went into a sharp dive and turned back as if to retreat; then, quickly in a move not entirely recommended by the ship's designers the ship went hard over and flew right past the trio of ships. The little vessels were maneuverable and were on to him in moments, but it was too late. Voyager was positioned perfectly.

"Deploy mines," he ordered. Several dozen dark objects littered space around Voyager before individual guidance systems kicked in. Explosions began to light the space nearer as the mines found their marks. The closest ships didn't stand a chance, as one after the other their power cells were detonated, leaving them dead in space. It was precious seconds later before the more distant ships even realized the threat.

A unrestrained triumphant "Yes!" sounded from Ops, followed quickly by an "Uh Oh."

"What is it, Ensign?" Chakotay grimaced at the new threat. One of the damaged Tevian ships moved jerkily toward their port nacelle, showing no signs of stopping.

"Evasive maneuvers," Chakotay barked out. The area was littered with many vessels that were adrift in space, so moving was not an easy task. Voyager managed to move out of the way of the out-of-control ship, who unable to stop, plowed headlong into two other ships that had been adrift. The resulting explosion caught Voyager aft, spinning her end over end.

A whirring filled the air as the inertial dampeners struggled to keep up. Chakotay clung to the chair as a sickening shudder knocked everyone off their feet. Bodies tumbled across the bridge as the ship came to a eventual stop. Every emergency klaxon and light was flashing or blaring for attention as the crew pulled itself to its feet and took in the damage.

"Report!" Chakotay was sprawled on the floor. He'd managed to hold onto the chair long enough to break the his forward momentum. The flickering red light told him beyond a doubt that the warp engines were offline. After hearing the report, he decided the only good news was that they'd been knocked a good distance from the station and the Tevians weren't following.

"Commander, I don't think we're going anywhere for a while," grumbled Harry.

Chakotay grunted his agreement as he stood. "Repair crews to all primary systems. Commander Tuvok, keep an eye on those Tevians. Ensign, keep trying to find the Captain."

The ensign didn't look too hopeful. "I'll try Commander, but there is still a great deal of interference."

"Commander, there are two Tevian ships which have broken away from the others. They appear to be headed our way," reported Tuvok.

"Any chance we can out run them, Ensign?" Chakotay asked the helm officer.

Ensign Jenkins shook his head. "No. We do have seventy-five percent impulse. Thrusters are online."

Chakotay climbed the stairs and took a look at Ensign Kim's tactical display. "Hmm. Helm, best speed on heading zero-point-five-mark-seven." He grinned at Kim. "Let's see if they want to play ring around the planet."

Voyager limped its way toward the small M-class planet with two Tevian ships closing in fast.

"Carey, what's the status on our warp engines?" asked Chakotay as he watched the approaching Tevians.

Joe's voice came back clearly, but filled with tension. "We'll have them back on line in just a few minutes, Commander."

"We don't have a few minutes, Joe. Now would be good."

"Understood, sir. Carey out."

Chakotay looked at Harry as he stepped down to sit in Kathryn's chair. "Ensign, ever play hide and seek?"

Jenkins grinned. "Yes, sir."

Chakotay grinned back. "I think we could duck behind that dust ring and wait for 'ollie-ollie-oxen-free' don't you?"

"Sounds good...uh-oh," Harry said loudly.

Chakotay winced. "Quit saying that. What now, Ensign?"

"Ten Tevian ships just emerged from our hiding spot. They're headed right for us."

"Damn. Evasive maneuvers. Tactical display." Taking a seat in the command chair he studied the picture of the current situation on the view screen. "We're boxed in."

Tuvok raised an eyebrow. "That much is obvious."

Chakotay grinned. "Never hurts to state the obvious, Tuvok." He frowned in concentration as he searched for an answer, his eyes never leaving the tactical display. "Ok, obviously this planet is out of the question. It won't do us any good to dodge the attack fleet if we fly into the back-up fleet. Harry, scan for a more distant planet, somewhere we can regroup before we mount a search for the away team; preferably something uninhabited."

"Carey to Bridge."

"Go ahead Carey," Chakotay answered instinctively raising his head to listen.

"Sir, we have warp power. At warp 5 it will last about six minutes."

"Good work, keep an eye on it."

Chakotay cut the com-channel and leaned forward. "Helm, get us out of here. Warp 5."

Voyager shuddered slightly as the damaged engines jumped to life. Harry scanned for pursuit and frowned. "No pursuit, Commander."

Chakotay glanced about the bridge. "Let's find some place to hide, lick our wounds and get back to that station." Kathryn was resourceful, she'd find a way to save the Away Team.

Chapter Text

Act five

"Neelix," Kathryn called out. "Hurry up." She nervously glanced around the corridor. She smiled slightly at how easy it had been to find her stuff. All that Starfleet training.

"Sorry, Captain," came the muffled reply. "I can't find..."

She cut him off. "Somebody's coming." And from the heavy plodding sound it wasn't the others of her team. She tried her combadge again--only the hiss of static. "Damn." Where was her ship. Neelix appeared in the doorway carrying an overstuffed bag on his back and another in his hand.

She shook her head. She hadn't realized he had made so many purchases. She tapped the combadge. "Janeway to Paris..."

"Don't bother," Tom's voice said from around the corner.

The other three officers appeared. With them were six station-security officers.

"What is going on?" Janeway asked.

One officer shook his head. "We do not have time. You must come with us. We need you to contact your ship and help us."

"What is happening?" Janeway asked again. They were walking toward the main part of the station. She could hear the screams and weapons fire.

"Tevian terrorists. Your ship must come back to help us." The officer's voice held a slight desperation. "It left soon after it was hit..."

"We're they badly damaged?" B'Elanna asked.

"It looked like it. But it must come back." The other guards pushed their way through the panicked crowd. The emergency lights dimmed further and a low wailing sound echoed through the station. The guards stopped. "We're being boarded! We don't have much time." The lead guard turned on a dim wristlight and pointed it at Janeway. She noticed the other guards move their weapons slightly. "Either your ship will fight for us, or..."

There was a bright light from somewhere, followed by the sounds of breaking metal. Neelix took advantage of the confusion and swung around quickly, catching three of the guards in the stomach with his bags. Tom and Ayala punched two, with rapid hooks to their jaws. Janeway grabbed the weapon from the astonished leader.

"We don't get involved. It is against our laws." She glanced around. "Looks like Tuvok's training has paid off. Now, where can we go to contact Voyager?"

The one standing station guard shook his head. "Too late. They will have captured it now. Too late. We will have to pay..." He looked at the ground. "And if your ship wants you back they will have to pay too. Or the Tevians will kill you..." He shrugged and walked off.

Janeway motioned for him to be left alone. "We have more pressing concerns." She led her group down a narrow corridor. "Any ideas?"

"Just one, Captain," Tom said hesitantly. "The ship we looked at. It's not that far."

Janeway stared at him. "Are you suggesting that we--"

"Steal it? Yes, ma'am."

She looked at her Away Team. The alternatives weren't very promising.

Two blasts shook the station. Janeway clutched her bag firmly. "Well..." She took a deep breath. Damned if they did...Dead if they didn't... "Let's go. We have a ship to steal."

#

Chaos reigned in the station. It was loud, noisy--and obvious that no one knew what they were doing. Janeway looked around--there was no one defending the shuttle bays. No security...

And no attackers or pirates...Ships would seem to be a prize worthy of going after. The whole thing was just enough *off* to make her more than jumpy.

Tom looked over from the bluish-green ship. "It's not much, Captain." He was working the controls to open the ship's door. "It flies, it has working weapons systems, communication, shields..." He glanced at Neelix. "No food or water though."

Neelix perked up. "I have enough food in here for two days. Water, we'll need to find some."

Janeway grimaced at the sound of an explosion. "We'll find Voyager before that becomes an issue."

"I hope you are right," Neelix muttered as he shifted his bags slightly.

B'Elanna appeared from around the corner. She'd gone to check the situation. "Water? There are several five liter containers in the next bay. Probably somebody's supplies."

Janeway nodded. "Lieutenant Torres and Neelix, go." She reached over and helped Neelix with his bags. "You have two minutes." She watched warily as both ran quickly around the corner.

She turned at Tom's triumphant yelp and watched the door open. "There's some storage in here." He pointed to a cupboard. "The head is behind it." He smiled slightly. "Primitive is an understatement. I suggest we get everything locked down. It'll probably be a bumpy ride."

Janeway shook her head. "I just hope it flies." The shuttle had been cleaned up for the auction, but it had seen better days. She noticed the signs of scoring on the hull as she and Ayala dragged Neelix's bags aboard. "Can you fly this...thing?" she asked Tom.

Tom grinned. "I can fly anything. I had a crash course on the controls earlier. I'm hoping the automatic sensors are still on line--otherwise we're going to have to blast our way out of here." He flicked a few switches. "Everything is ready. When they get here, we can go." He pointed toward several chartreuse controls. "These are the weapons. I'm not quite sure how they work--but they do work..."

Janeway sat down beside him. "I hope who built this thing was *logical.* Otherwise the first few shots will be guesses. Can you get communication on-line? I'd like to reach Voyager before we leave." She watched as Tom flicked a few switches, then shook his head.

She took a deep breath. Voyager probably hadn't gone too far..."I need some way to leave a message for them, in case...They'll be back here to look for us."

She didn't want to leave any of their technology--but a PADD was the most logical--and obvious way. She wrote a quick message and encrypted it. A simple code--and the key was obvious only to Chakotay. She hoped.

"Captain!" Ayala called out. Janeway and Tom turned to see Neelix running into the bay.

"Come quick!" He stopped to take a deep breath. "B'Elanna is injured." Tom stood, and looked at the Captain.

"Captain," he started to say.

"Stay here," she ordered him. Tom grimaced. "Find a place to put this where Chakotay can find it. And have the ship ready to go..." She handed Tom the PADD and some cards, before rushing after the Neelix. Tom wanted to crumple the cards in frustration, but then he noticed which ones she'd left.

"Well, well." He smiled as he realized the perfect place to leave the message.

#

B'Elanna sat propped against a large barrel, her teeth gritted, a grimace on her face. Kathryn was immediately on her knees, at B'Elanna's side. "What happened?"

Neelix settled on the other side of the half-Klingon. "We were retrieving the containers of water when the bay was rocked by a blast. This stockpile--" he indicated what remained of a large collection of stacked containers and several scattered haphazardly on the floor. "--toppled. The Lieutenant was caught in the collapse."

"I think my leg is broken," B'Elanna half growled, half hissed through clenched teeth.

Kathryn studied the Lieutenant's face, then her leg. She didn't need a tricorder to confirm the young woman's assessment. The leg was indeed broken. "Neelix, help me with B'Elanna. Ayala, get as much water as you can carry. We'll need it." She pulled out the tissue regenerator, but B'Elanna pushed it away.

"We don't have time for that--just get me to the ship." Then almost as an afterthought, "Captain."

#

Chapter Text

Epilogue

Tom watched the foursome make their way perilously across the shuttlebay, the station rocking about them. A barrage of fire suddenly reverberating throughout the floating barge. They were forced to stop twice... it was either that or be thrown to the deck.

And then they were again on the move, B'Elanna half dragged, half carried between Neelix and the Captain. Her right leg hung at an odd angle just below the knee... obviously broken. He could hear her low-toned growl of pain above the rattle of the shuttle's engines as they entered the compartment behind him. Ayala followed, lugging three containers of water.

"Secure the door," Janeway ordered as she gently lowered the Chief Engineer to the floor of the craft. She glanced over her shoulder, fixed Paris with a dark look. "Have you been able to establish whether the automatic sensors are operational?"

Tom shook his head. "Not yet, Captain."

They had little choice. "Then we won't worry about it. Get us out of here, Mister Paris."

Tom glanced at B'Elanna, offered a reassuring smile, then lifted his gaze to his Captain's. "Yes, ma'am." He turned to the alien console. Hesitantly, his finger lighted over the controls, and then gently the shuttle lifted from the deck, nosed it toward the bay doors. "Welcome to the good ship Chaos," he muttered as he sat down. Out of the corner of his eyes, he saw the Captain take the seat next to him.

"I'll handle weapons."

He smiled. "Here goes nothing." He took a deep breath as he activated the ship's propulsion systems. The ship he'd named Chaos hovered, then started to edge toward the portal. "Five meters... four... three..."

Kathryn checked what she assumed were status displays. No proximity alarms were blaring or flashing. That is, she thought wryly, assuming they have proximity alarms.

"... two... one." A sigh of relief escaped him. "We're clear."

Chapter Text

Chaos II

Prologue

"Get us clear of the battle, Lieutenant Paris," Janeway said. "We can try to determine where Voyager might have gone once we're a safe distance from the fire-fight."

"Captain..." Neelix called from the back.

A blast rocked the small craft.

"Not now, Neelix," she snapped as she again studied the alien displays. "Shock wave from an explosion on the station. No damage."

A blast again rocked the craft.

"That one feels like it was more than a shock wave," Tom shot back. "Shields are at 85 percent."

"I'm on it." Janeway scanned the tactical display, attempting to locate the origin of the attack. The shots weren't from the attacking fighters, but apparently random blasts from some of the escaping ships as they fled the station. She hesitated firing without cause, not wanting to draw attention to themselves. She hoped a quick and unnoticed escape could be made amidst the chaos. In all probability, the shuttle wouldn't survive a focused battle. She wanted to avoid one at all costs. "How long before we're clear of this, Tom?"

"Four minutes, Captain," Tom replied as he banked the shuttle to port. "Assuming we don't meet any friends." He nodded toward his left. "It looks like they are leaving." Janeway noted the fleeing ships were now being left alone.

Janeway agreed quietly even as she grumbled to herself, "Which of these are sensors?" She waved her hand over the array of primitive looking buttons and knobs in front of her. Logic dictated her choice. Next to the weapons array. With a smile, she realized she was right--only the data was in Plor--or whatever language. She turned slightly and requested Neelix to bring her a PADD. The Talaxian silently brought one to her.

Tom banked the shuttle again to port. She stared at the view, hoping to find Voyager at the fringes, waiting for them.

"No sign of Voyager." She worked to keep her voice even.

Tom frowned slightly. "It looks like we're being ignored. I think he said this was..." The ship shook violently; he didn't finish his statement as he worked to maintain control.

"Janeway to Voyager." She tried her combadge again and again there was no response. There wasn't even the sound of static. Frustrated, she glanced at the display to her right. "There is a class-M planet two light years from here. Set a course."

Tom grinned. "A pilot's dream..."

"Nightmare, actually." Janeway smiled slightly. At least the Starfleet technology worked the way it should. The PADD had translated the shuttle's language. "Well, no one will ever say life in the Delta Quadrant is boring." She studied the translated PADD. She tried another button. "Did you perhaps learn which one of these allow us to track a ship?"

Tom laughed. "I have no idea. I was testing this thing for space worthiness. It's a very nice little ship. Very maneuverable. I figured B'Elanna would have a chance to fix it up before we actually used it." He adjusted the heading.

"I heard that, Helmboy. Don't blame this on me--watch what you're doing!!!" B'Elanna said, her voiced tinged with pain. Tom grabbed the med kit and started to stand. "Concentrate on the ship, not me!"

Tom shook his head as he sat back down. "It looks like we're clear." He reached over and flicked a switch. "We should arrive at the planet in thirty hours." He turned toward the back of ship.

Janeway nodded as she glanced back too; B'Elanna had successfully managed to keep Neelix and Ayala from working on her leg. "Lieutenant Paris, take care of your wife. Then we'll see what we have to do to fix this thing." She then faced the viewscreen and took a deep breath. Right now boring sounded very good.

Chapter Text

Act one

Chakotay rubbed a dirty hand across his eyes and sighed. His long day had turned into an even longer 24 hours. He glanced at Commander Tuvok, then back at the blank display. "Ensign Vorik?"

"Sir," the young Vulcan said from underneath the console. "Try the sensors now."

Chakotay smiled as the console flickered and data again began to stream in.

"The problem does appear to be corrected. All systems are now within acceptable parameters," Vorik said as he crawled out.

"Acceptable, but not ideal," muttered Chakotay. "Oh, well, beggars can't be choosers. We should count ourselves lucky that we got this far after those relays blew."

Tuvok nodded. "Engine fatigue can lead to unanticipated system-wide malfunctions."

Chakotay grinned. "Is that a polite way of saying that I almost got our bacon fried?"

Tuvok's eyebrow rose an inch. "Our bacon?"

Chakotay's response was interrupted by Harry. "Commander, I've boosted our sensors by rerouting non-essential system power. We should be able to take a look at the station."

Chakotay tried not to stumble as he made his way toward the command chair. "Feed the needed position to helm, Harry." Sitting down he ran a hand through his hair. "Hold on Kathryn," he said to himself, "we're coming back for you."

The view of the station that appeared on their screen was almost a perfect image of Chakotay's worst nightmare.

Harry spoke loudly, "Two Plor ships approaching. Commander, we're being hailed. It's the governor."

The image of Governor Elib appeared on the screen. "Voyager, I am sorry for your loss. We could find no sign of your captain or her team when we evacuated. Trust me, the Tevian terrorists will pay for this outrage."

Chakotay managed to keep a neutral expression on his face. "Governor Elib, permission to send a team of our own to the station to conduct a search."

"Our repair teams will be here soon. For safety reasons, you understand, we do not wish for non-essential personnel to be on board. Perhaps Voyager's systems could be put to better use helping us hunt down the terrorists who perpetrated this attack?"

"An hour," Chakotay said, ignoring the Governor's request for help. "Perhaps they left a clue what happened."

"The Tevian are very thorough, but permission granted. Please remember, that it is the policy of the Plor government not to deal with terrorists. I'm sorry. If you change your mind about helping assist in those who most likely murdered your captain and crewmates, please contact me." Chakotay let his mask slip for a quick, angry glare at the blank screen, then turned to Harry.

"Ensign Kim and Ensign Dalby will accompany me to the station. Commander Tuvok, maintain yellow alert while we're gone."

"Commander Chakotay," Tuvok said. "I must object. It is against..."

Chakotay expected Tuvok's objection. "I know it is. You will be in command until I return. Track the governor's ship." Chakotay didn't like the governor, there was just something about him that made him uneasy.

#

His hands ran over her shoulders, down her arms and circled behind her waist pulling her closer. She closed her eyes tighter and let his warmth envelope her, comfort her. She moaned softly...

"Captain?" Tom's voice repeated, returning her to the present. "Are you all right?"

She opened her eyes with a start. "Fine." She sat up straighter and wiggled around trying to find a comfortable sitting position. "The chairs were obviously not designed for humans."

Tom glanced at his watch. "Captain, you've been standing watch for over eighteen hours."

She shifted position, then placed both hands on the console and pushed herself into a standing position. She looked toward the back. The other three were sleeping. She pretended to not notice the look Tom gave her when she yawned.

Tom said quietly, "You should get some sleep."

"Not until we're safely on the ground."

"That will be another two hours, Captain." He shook his head when she made no move to leave.

Chapter Text

Act two

Chakotay ordered his team to check their weapons before they opened the shuttle's hatch. They'd donned breather masks to combat the thick haze of smoke that sensors had detected immediately upon arriving in the broken shuttle bay. The station's environmental units were damaged, but still operational. The noxious fumes were being vented into space from all over the station.

As the hatch slid open, the entire group stepped into the thick smoke and headed for the nearest door. Left slightly ajar, it took the combined efforts of Chakotay and Harry to move it far enough so that they could fit through. The hallway beyond was relatively still and only contained moderate amounts of smoke, although the faded yellow lighting left much to be desired.

"I'm getting something, sir," Dalby spoke at the junction of a corridor.

"What is it, Ensign?" Chakotay hurried to the young man's side.

"It's weak, but it's definitely a Starfleet signal." Dalby tapped a few commands into his tricorder and read the screen. "Looks like it's only about 12 meters this direction." He pointed along a completely darkened corridor.

Chakotay glanced over his shoulder and noted that Harry was approaching. Then, flicking on his wrist lamp, he shone a beam of light along the corridor. "This is the way we go, then," he said, trying not to think of reasons why they'd be receiving a Starfleet signal but no life signs.

The weak signal led them down a dark trail of twisted support beams and damaged bulkheads. Chakotay began to repeat a silent prayer to whatever gods might be listening. "Please, please, please, don't let it end here." The plea kept repeating itself in his mind as he fought to reject the images of a lost away team that kept appearing in his mind's eye. They reached the end of the hall and found a partially opened bulkhead.

Squeezing through the hatch they found themselves in a cargo bay. "Which way, Ensign?"

"This way, sir."

Chakotay followed the bobbing lamp as the young officer led the way to the signal he had detected. When Dalby stopped Chakotay quickly stepped around him to see the source for himself and let out a sigh of relief.

Lying on some unknown Petty-Officer's desk was a Starfleet combadge.

"I don't get it," said Harry as he viewed the badge. "Why would they leave a badge behind? If someone isn't wearing theirs we have no way to locate them."

Chakotay smiled and picked up the badge. "It's not the badge that's important, Harry. It was only a signal beacon. The real message is here." He picked up the PADD and the cards.

"Playing cards?"

Chakotay laughed out loud. "That's our Captain." He felt such relief at finding a message and not a dead away team that he didn't try to hide the pride in his voice. The cards were arranged in a message only he could understand, and he was grateful that he had not allowed Tuvok to win the argument on the Bridge. Seven poker cards; the six, two, nine, four, five and eight of spades, Voyager's command code. And, the Queen of hearts; that card he picked up and gently stored in his pocket. The other six playing cards were fanned across a shuttle manifest that clearly indicated her vehicle of escape. He quickly used the code to read the message on the PADD.

Picking up the manifest and handing it to Harry, he turned around. "Come on, we found what we needed. Let's get back to Voyager and start looking for them." Without waiting to explain he led the two confused officers back to their own shuttle. The only thing that worried him was the condition of the stolen shuttle. Would it be space-worthy enough to transport her away team to safety?

#

Kathryn opened her eyes slowly and rolled over. "Yes, Neelix," she said, her voice still slurred with sleep.

"Begging the Captain's pardon. But it's morning."

She tried to avoid yawning, but didn't succeed. "And?"

"B'Elanna is hoping we may find the equipment to finish repairs."

She heard B'Elanna's voice from somewhere in front of the ship. The half-Klingon was swearing at something. Janeway sat up carefully. "Is there any breakfast?" She took the offered small yellow fruit with a smile of thank you.

B'Elanna growled. "The wiring has worked loose again. Communication is down again. This bucket of bolts is becoming a real pain...Captain."

Kathryn smiled slightly. The formality seemed a bit overdone on this...bucket of bolts. "At least it got us here. Neelix?" She looked at the Talaxian as she finished the fruit. "How's the food situation?"

"If we find Voyager soon, we'll be fine." He paused. "We've eaten most of what I bought on the station."

She glanced at Tom. "Any sign of Voyager?"

"No sign."

#

It felt good to have her feet on solid ground, Kathryn thought as she looked around the meadow they'd landed in. From the clanging behind her, B'Elanna was already working on repairs. Neelix and Ayala were out scavenging. She used the opportunity to study the Chaos. It was not a sleek ship, but Tom was right--it had potential. She knew they hadn't had much choice, but it still bothered her that they'd simply stolen the ship.

"Captain," Tom said as he approached her. He smiled. "There is a small city about 10 kilometers that way. And an industrial complex just beyond the hill." He took a deep breath. "If the wind shifts, you'll notice it." She just nodded. Tom walked over to help B'Elanna.

"Captain," Neelix exclaimed as he ran into camp. "You won't believe what I found!!!" He was holding a decent size log. "And there's more."

"Fire wood?" B'Elanna asked as she struggled to untangle a mass of wiring.

"No! Dinner." He put the log down and pulled a five-centimeter yellow-brown grub-like creature from under the bark. "The tricorder says it's edible." He looked around. "It's loaded with proteins and carbohydrates..." His voice faded away at the looks the others were giving him.

Janeway realized she had to set the example. It couldn't be worse than those grubs she'd eaten during survival training. "Neelix, I'll try one." She closed her eyes as he handed it to her.

"Just bite into it. It's actually very good."

Neelix's ideas of 'very good' left her leery but she tried to do it without showing the revulsion of the thought. She closed her eyes tighter and bit down. Her eyes opened wide in surprise, a big smile on her face. "This isn't dinner, Mr. Neelix. I think it should be dessert." She finished the bug, it was full of a honey like substance--only spicier. "Lieutenants Paris and Ayala, help Neelix bring in some more of these...Honey bugs." She laughed slightly at his look. "And don't snack on them. I don't want you spoiling your appetite...Oh, and perhaps something resembling a main course." She walked over to B'Elanna. "How's the ship?"

"Nothing I can't fix. It'll take a couple of days. I'm going to be borrowing wiring from several non-essential systems." B'Elanna shook her head. "But Captain, there's no guarantee on how long the ship will be space-worthy."

"I understand. I'll be inside working on communications. Let me know if you need anything." She crinkled her nose. A sulfurous odor was drifting across the meadow.

#

"So," Tom said as he stretched, "why did you volunteer to come along on this mission?"

"Would you believe I was hoping to catch up on my sleep?"

"Tuvok?" Tom laughed.

Ayala rolled his eyes. "Consider yourself lucky you're not part of security. We've started Klingon exercises--level eight."

"Ouch."

"And he's added some tweaks that aren't part of the original programming." Ayala glanced at his tricorder when it beeped and frowned. Tom was several feet ahead of him, gathering a tuber they had found. He whistled softly. Tom turned and nodded in understanding. He hoped Neelix realized they had company. The Talaxian had wandered away just minutes earlier.

Someone was coming. Whoever it was, seemed oblivious to their presence--or didn't care. Ayala carefully set his bag of tubers down, and joined Tom. The pilot was fingering his phaser as the trampling sound came nearer.

"How many?" Tom asked in a soft voice.

Ayala held up two fingers. They both squatted closer to the ground as two figures entered the grassy clearing. The tricorders indicated the two were Plor--and considering their recent history with the Plor, Ayala was leery of their intentions.

The shorter figure looked around. "I am Mavt, welcome to Tevia. You are trespassing...And we would like to invite you to dinner."

Ayala placed a hand on Tom's shoulder. "Tevia? Tom, these may be the ones who attacked the station."

Tom nodded. "And perhaps we should hear their side of the story." He glanced at the tricorder. "There are only two, and they aren't armed." He stood. "Cover me, just in case." Tom stepped toward the pair. "Dinner would be acceptable."

Ayala managed to glance at his tricorder while at the same time keeping one eye fixed on the aliens. No one else was in the area. Tom was laughing at something the shorter one had said, Ayala decided--then the lieutenant turned and motioned for Ayala to join them.

The taller one pushed her brown hood off her head, revealing a head of bluish-blonde hair. "I am Vo'arn, Deputy of Security for the Tevian Provisional Government. This is Councilman Mavt."

"Tom Paris. This is Ayala. We were passing through, when..." Tom shrugged.

Both aliens smiled. Vo'arn spoke. "When you were caught in the raid on the station."

Tom confirmed that and looked around. "You have good information."

"When one is fighting for one's rights, information is important," Vo'arn said. "Let me guess, Governor Elib called us terrorists." Her tone left no doubt as to her poor opinion of Elib.

"Yes, he did," Tom admitted.

"It's not what he led you to believe."

"I'm not surprised," Tom agreed. "We really need to return to our ship." Tom glanced at Ayala who nodded quickly.

"The small ship that landed last night," Mavt said. "Don't look so surprised. We know a great deal about you, and Voyager."

"Voyager? Do you know where Voyager is?" Tom could barely contain his thrill at that comment.

Vo'arn shook her head. "I'm sorry. Our contacts have not found her, yet."

"With the morning winds kicking in," Mavt said, "you may want to find another location. The smell can be overwhelming." He spread his hands. "We will meet the rest of your group and return to our village. Your ship will be safe."

#

It was all Tom could do not laugh as he stared at the grayish-brown cart by the spaceship. The strange four legged creature, a cross between a Terran ox and boar stood there looking bored. The slow movements of its mouth made Tom wonder if, like a cow, it chewed its cud.

"You know," B'Elanna said. "We could walk."

Tom did not laugh--but his grin probably gave away his amusement at their situation--if her evil glare at him was any indication.

"Watch it, Helmboy." She patted his stomach. "You could see this as an opportunity to get in shape for this Olympics thing you've put together."

Tom shook his head. "I am a judge and announcer. I just need to keep my voice healthy."

"Ahhh." The tone of her voice didn't hide her opinion of that. She jogged over to the cart and leapt into it.

He was distracted by a laugh from Neelix, who stood behind him. "They'd better be careful not to hit any rocks," the Talaxian said.

"She doesn't have her bat'leth," Tom said in return. "But don't let her hear us..."

"Excellent idea...I was thinking we could add a bat'leth competition" Neelix grinned at him. "Our situation seems to be looking up. Our hosts seem very cordial."

Tom nodded. "But so did our last ones..."

Neelix had to agree.

#

Harry rubbed his eyes for the third time in just minutes. Damn, perhaps he should get some tea--or better, coffee. He yawned.

"Perhaps you need to sleep," Seven said. "I can complete the survey alone."

He shook his head. "No, no. I'm fine. I'll sleep when we find them." He yawned again.

"Ensign Kim, you will make mistakes if you continue." He ignored her, and returned to the data that was streaming in.

"I'm fine," he snapped. "Seven, here." He pointed to spot on the large Astrometrics chart. "I think I've found them." That was assuming the data that Commander Chakotay had found at the space station was accurate. She looked up, then back down at her console.

"The warp trail is very faint. The odds..."

"I don't give a damn about the odds. We haven't see anything else that remotely..."

"Ensign, we do not know for sure they actually departed on the ship."

"Commander Chakotay believes they did. And the message said that was their plan." He tapped his combadge, ignoring her--even though he knew she had a point. "Kim to Commander Chakotay. I found them." He quickly sent the data to the bridge and bolted out the door before Seven could disagree anymore.

Chapter Text

Act three

Kathryn leaned back against the cushion and smiled at her host. The food had been quite good; it was the entertainment that was bothersome. Three Plor women were singing a traditional love song. To her it sounded like screeching.

"No wonder it is unrequited," B'Elanna whispered. Kathryn nodded. Then warned her with a slight motion of her left hand to *enjoy* the performance. No point in insulting their hosts.

B'Elanna smiled just as the trio finished. The humans applauded politely, while the others rubbed their hands.

Mavt smiled as she turned to face Janeway. "I hope you enjoyed dinner?"

"Yes, we did. Thank you."

"It is definitely better than the food at Xor-Alpha," Tom said as he pulled B'Elanna closer.

Mavt stared straight ahead with a frown. "Xor-Alpha is an insult to Tevia and to the Plor. Governor Elib is..." His voice trailed off.

"Governor Elib doesn't appear to have a high opinion of Tevians either," Kathryn said diplomatically. She herself was still wary of their new hosts. These people had been labeled terrorists and had attacked her ship.

Mavt snorted. "He has the gall to call us terrorists. He denies us access to our own government; we aren't allow to share in the profits from the mines and related industries..." He closed his eyes. "Excuse me, I should not allow myself to get carried away."

"Why not?" Vo'arn asked. The other Tevians in the hall were also listening. "For five years we tried to work within the system. Take a deep breath, smell what good it has done us."

Janeway sat straighter, warily looking around. The mood in the hall had definitely changed.

Mavt stood and raised his hand for silence. "These people came to us in trouble. They are not the problem."

"Perhaps their ship will help us. Their ship is a military ship," one called out.

"No," Janeway said as she stood. "We cannot get involved in a military solution. This is a problem you must work with your government to solve. But, perhaps we can help you arrange a more peaceful solution."

"Are you willing to watch innocent beings die or be forced to move when the Mining Consortium condemns our land? They promise to pay a pitiful amount in compensation--and even that money has not been forthcoming. Land that has been in my family for five generations." A male Tevian stood across the hall, his arms crossed.

"Tilv," Mavt said. "Captain Janeway is correct, it is not her people's fight, it's ours. All our peaceful attempts have failed, so we resort to other options."

"By warfare?" Janeway asked quietly.

"If need be. Is your Federation so different?"

B'Elanna snorted before Janeway could respond. All eyes focused on the chief engineer as she too stood. "The Federation is like most governments, it worries about the big picture, and doesn't see the individual. I fought with the Maquis. Many of us fought to free those held captive by a government the Federation aligned itself with. Our First Officer lost his family because of that treaty."

The hall was silent, then Janeway spoke. "We strive to find peaceful solutions to problems. The treaty she refers to was one that at the time seemed to offer a peaceful solution for all parties."

Tom took B'Elanna's hand and whispered something in her ear. The half-Klingon scowled but didn't continue her tirade.

"We've tried," Vo'arn said. "Our scientists have attempted to meet with the Mining Consortium to show that there are ways to minimize the pollution, but they have been arrested or heavily fined for trespassing. We don't want to close the mines, just change how they operate." Vo'arn smiled sadly. "Now, we may have no choice.

Mavt placed a hand on her shoulder. "Governor Elib listens only to the money that fattens his coffers. The Mining Consortium pays handsomely to keep us quiet. So we fought back, with the only thing left to us." He clenched his hands. "Xor-Alpha was built by the Consortium. It is a place where money and goods change hands without the necessary paperwork. Not only are the citizens of Tevia not receiving our fair share, neither is the Plor government."

"You must have a well-placed informant," Janeway said.

"Elib's accountant--until a few weeks ago. Apparently he died of food poisoning."

"So, you attacked the station. As a form of revenge?"

"No, Captain. Justice." Vo'arn gestured angrily. "Our ancestors settled here on Tevia yet swore allegiance to their homeworld. We may be Plor, but our hearts are Tevian. We have no rights as far as the Plor government is concerned. Elib appoints our senators--who of course, don't voice any of our concerns. The Mining Consortium is very powerful. Take a breath. It wouldn't cost that much to lower emissions, but despite various laws, nothing is done."

Kathryn noticed Tom pull his tricorder out. After a second he nodded. "There are elevated carbon dioxide and monoxide readings," he whispered. "As well as a number of other chemicals that shouldn't be here--including sulfur dioxide."

Mavt smiled sadly at what Tom said. "The number of respiratory diseases and other diseases that were unheard just two generations ago are on the increase, but the Consortium doesn't want any added expenses. Captain, we didn't mean to drag you into this. Our village is being condemned--and many of us will be moving for the third or fourth time."

"I understand." Janeway glanced at B'Elanna, then the others. "Perhaps we can deliver your message to Plor? Maybe arrange a meeting with members of the government, bypass Elib completely."

"We would appreciate that." Mavt glanced at Vo'arn, who nodded. "Vo'arn will accompany you. She'll have the evidence necessary to prove our case." Mavt clapped his hands. "Enough of these heavy matters. It is traditional for the guests to provide a song to close the day and dinner."

Janeway bit her lip and looked helplessly at her group. "Suggestions?"

"I can sing a Talaxian lullaby?" Neelix said with a big grin.

"I think they want all of us to sing," Tom said. Janeway glanced at the crowd. They were focusing on the away team. "What's something we all know?"

"Don't look at me," B'Elanna said. "I can't carry a tune to save my life."

"Row, row, row your boat?" Ayala asked with a shrug. The group laughed, but it was quickly discovered that everybody knew the round. "Good," the security officer said. "We'll sing it through together once, then sing it as a round." He split them into two groups. Janeway and Neelix were to start the round.

The song was a hit, and for the next half-hour Ensign Ayala and Neelix taught it to the diners and split them up into eight different groups as well.

Mavt and Vo'arn bowed politely as the Away Team stood to leave. Their hosts had provided rooms for their stay. The amenities weren't much. A small tub, beds to sleep on, and most noticeably, no rats.

As Captain she assigned herself the first bath. The metal tub was nowhere near as nice as the one she'd had on New Earth...

Her mind wandered as she made her way to this hut: to New Earth, then the other day.

"Captain?" She jumped at the unexpected sound.

"Yes...Vo'arn?"

"Did you not find everything satisfactory?"

"Yes, I did."

The Tevian female smiled. "I wish to thank you. You seemed lost in thought just now."

"I was just thinking about Voyager," Janeway said, instinctively looking up at the sky. "I know she will find us."

"I have been going through intercepted communications. Apparently Voyager returned to the station. *Governor* Elib allowed them to conduct their own search of the station."

Janeway almost laughed. There was no way Chakotay would miss her clue. "Thank you."

They reached the hut and Janeway reached out to open the door. "Captain Janeway, I would like to invite you and your team to my house for breakfast. And I have found two engineers who would be willing to help repair and adjust the shuttle."

"Thank you." She quickly did some calculations. They should be ready to depart in about 36 hours. She smiled after the departing female and looked skyward. Somewhere out there was Voyager.

#

Tom knelt beside his wife and reached for the PADD she was working on. As he did, he blew gently in her ear.

"I've almost got it," B'Elanna said as she removed his hand from the PADD. "If I reconnect the Voyager's tertiary power couplings at the beta-node..." She tapped in some information, then frowned as the results appeared.

"I thought you were working on the Chaos?" Tom sighed. He wished she would tell him just what this project was. It sometimes seemed like an obsession.

She didn't look up at him as she continued entering data. "Fixing that ship is purely mechanical." She hummed as she waited for the results. "The Zornon have extensive data on controlling tachyon bursts."

"B'Elanna. Sweetheart. We're finally alone."

"Kahless. That will create a power surge at the gamma nodes. What if..."

"But what if you put your project aside? You've been fussing with it for weeks now."

She held the PADD up. "I'm so close. I know I am."

"Shhh. You need to take a few steps back. Maybe try another position?"

She closed her eyes and laughed.

Chapter Text

Act four

Chakotay frowned as Harry finished presenting his findings. An old and weak warp trail that may or may not be the ship Kathryn and the away team had borrowed, was not very promising

"Good work, Harry. It's not much..."

"It's the best we've found so far. Sir." Harry's smile faded.

"That it is." Chakotay took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "We'll follow it. I want you to get some sleep. Report back in eight hours. Dismissed. And Ensign, I expect you to actually sleep."

#

 

"It's not about being certain, Seven," Megan Delaney tried to explain for what seemed the thousandth time. "It's about taking a leap of faith. Trusting your instincts. Harry felt like it was the right trail, and Chakotay made the leap with him."

Seven tried to assimilate the information, but the concept of acting only on intuition was still more than she was willing to accept. "Such reasoning is specious. We have no guarantee that we will find the away team with this search."

"Life isn't about guarantees, Seven."

"If life were a guarantee we wouldn't be out here in the first place." Harry added, stepping up beside the women.

Seven was startled to find that she had not noted the ensign's arrival. Such inattention meant she was not functioning at peak efficiency; she would regenerate soon. Ensign Kim certainly looked better for his own rest.

"Sometimes you have to trust your instincts," Megan added. "Life is too short and the universe too vast to only trust what you can prove."

Seven pondered the other woman's words as she scanned her panel. Humans, she concluded, still had much to teach her. "Perhaps you were correct," she said, noting new readings. "The signal we have been following continues to grow stronger. The shuttle is following Starfleet protocol for approaching an inhabited planet."

Harry grinned, "Sounds like more than a coincidence to me."

Any further comment was cut short by Tuvok's announcement. "All hands, to battle stations. Red Alert. Repeat, Red Alert."

#

"...we're boxed in, Commander." The helmsman finished his report as Harry exited the turbolift.

"Give me a tactical display," Chakotay commanded as he frowned.

Harry relieved the crewman at his station and pulled up as much data concerning their situation as he could find. It didn't look good. He looked at the main viewscreen to confirm what his instruments were already telling him. At least ten Plor ships were forming a blockade of the M-class planet where they expected to find the Away Team. Dozens of the smaller Tevian fighters were already attacking.

"Not again," Harry mumbled seeing the box they found themselves in. "Commander, the third Plor ship to our portside is the one Governor Elib is on."

"Excellent," Chakotay answered, "Open a channel." Chakotay glanced at Tuvok, who nodded. Harry didn't have time to wonder about this.

"Channel open, Commander."

"Tevian and Plor ships. This is Commander Chakotay of the Federation Starship Voyager. We believe that members of our crew..."

There was no answer--not even from the Governor. Harry watched curiously as Chakotay grimaced. "Well, I guess that's my answer." He sighed and almost negligently waved his hand. "Ok, Tuvok. Do it."

Harry clearly saw what happened on his tactical display board, but if he hadn't he wouldn't have believed his own eyes. Two blasts from phaser banks three and six fired. The shots were directed at the governor's ship. Harry frowned as he noticed two things, Voyager's shields had been lowered and the transporter were being activated.

"Commander, transporter one has been activated." Harry warned, still not understanding just what was happening.

Before Chakotay could respond Tuvok reported, "Transport complete. Security reports all is well."

Chakotay nodded. "Good work, Commander. Harry open another channel." He paused until the still confused Ops Chief nodded. "Tevian and Plor fleets, this is Commander Chakotay. We will be conducting negotiations on Plor, do not pursue. The Plor government will contact you when they are complete.."

Chakotay smiled at Tuvok, "Well done, Commander. I knew there was a reason for those drills. Helm get us out of here, warp 3."

#

"Slow to impulse," Chakotay said two minutes later. "Open a channel. "Voyager to away team," Chakotay said as he stood.

"This is the Chaos," Harry stared at the screen as Janeway's image appeared. "Is everything ready?"

"Aye, Captain," Chakotay replied. "Our guest is in transporter room one."

"Very good. Permission to bring the Chaos aboard."

Harry shook his head, hoping everything would be explained--like just what were they doing?

#

"I demand you release me at once!" Elib exclaimed. "I am a duly appointed official of the Plor government." Janeway shrugged as Ayala pushed him back down into his chair.

"For the moment, Governor. Only for the moment. Several representatives of the Plor Congress will be joining us. Seems they've learned some rather disturbing pieces of information."

"LIES!"

"If you insist. And, it seems your bookkeeping is--" She thought for a second, before finishing the sentence. "--imaginative."

"I have powerful friends..." Elib said. "I have rights."

"Friends like the Mining Consortium? Apparently the Consortium is working overtime to distance themselves from you. Not that they'll get very far." Janeway shook her head.

#

#

Kathryn rubbed the bridge of her nose as they droned on. She was definitely getting a headache; time to do something about it. She looked at the representatives before her. Both the Plor and the Tevian were ready to talk; she could feel it. The only question was how to get around all the petty differences and hurt feelings

She cast a glance at Chakotay who sat, as always, at her side. Perhaps that was the answer, she told herself.

"I think," she said addressing the peace negotiators, "that what we need is a new perspective. No one knows better than I that appearances can be deceiving. What is one man's fight for freedom is another man's terrorism, but the truth usually lies somewhere in between."

She answered Chakotay's smile; at least he understood where she was headed. "I ask you to consider this; peace can only be achieved if you are willing to work together. Put aside your anger. After examining the facts, I think the painful truth is that you have been warring over a fiction created by Governor Elib. You can reach a settlement, but only if you are willing to abandon your anger and work together for a solution."

Vo'arn smiled warmly at the Captain. "It would seem, Captain, that you have already learned our lesson."

Kathryn smiled in return. "About seven years ago." She glanced at Chakotay. "It wasn't as hard as I would have imagined."

#

Three hours later Chakotay stood next to Kathryn as they watched Chaos power up and begin its launch sequence. "You handled that very well," he complimented her as the ship lifted off the deck plates.

Janeway shrugged. "Perhaps. At least we managed to bring Governor Elib to justice. I think the Tevians and Plor will be able to work out their differences."

"I agree, they were more victims of the Governor and the Consortium than anything. Suggesting a model based on Wilson's 14 Points was a nice touch. They could have settled one of the worst conflicts of the Twentieth Century, maybe this time they'll be given a chance to work." Chakotay nodded in the direction of the departing shuttle. "Giving Vo'arn the Chaos was another nice touch."

Kathryn grinned sheepishly, "We stole it, I couldn't very well keep it. And Wilson's Points were actually Tom's idea; his interest in history is useful, but as Captain, I get part of the credit."

Chakotay chuckled, but didn't feel the need to comment.

As the Chaos exited the bay Janeway shook off her brooding and squared her shoulders. "Commander, I think it's time we set course for home."

Chapter Text

Epilogue

Chakotay leaned against the wall and watched her for several seconds as she scraped at a spot on the corridor carpet. Finally, he asked, "Just what are you doing?"

"You didn't clean the carpets."

"I could have told you that. We were a little busy."

"Putting holes in my ship, yet again."

He shook his hand as he held out his hand to help her up. She pushed herself up, apparently ignoring his offered hand. He wasn't surprised. Over the years, he recognized this pattern as how she'd distanced herself from him, whenever things heated up.

"I thought a new window would be nice." He smiled at her. She rolled her eyes.

"Any word from the Plor Congress, Commander?"

"Just that ex-Governor Elib has been formally charged with various crimes. Governor Mavt sent his best wishes and thanks."

"They have a lot of work ahead of them." She scowled as she rubbed her fingers together to remove the dirt. "I hope they succeed." She smiled, then turned to walk away.

#

"Commander Chakotay's personal log: Stardate 54297.5. It's been three days since the away team has returned--and Kathryn has still not mentioned the kiss...incident. I expected a lecture on protocol. Is she, once again, choosing to ignore *us*, or..."

There was a long pause, before Chakotay sighed as he stared at battered playing card on his desk. The Queen of Hearts. "Computer, delete log." He hit his combadge, "Chakotay to Janeway."

"Commander," her voice said, "What can I do for you?" He smiled at one possible answer, but kept his voice neutral

"I thought we could go over the reports tonight at dinner."

"An excellent suggestion. My quarters at nineteen hundred hours?"

"Have you been tinkering with your replicator?" There was a long silence. "I see. We'll have dinner in my quarters at nineteen hundred hours."

***