I met Kathryn in her quarters. There was light now and she wasn't hiding anymore. We looked at a schematic of the vortex.
"We fight our way past them. Navigate the vortex on our own." I told her. It didn't' seem like to big or bad of a risk. I told her that once we were on the other side, we could contact the Malon authorities and blow the whistle on Emck and his crew.
Kathryn said we could then share the technology with the Malon and go on our way, just two years closer then now.
"Even if we did get through the vortex, there's no guarantee that the Malon will do the right thing, if Mr. Emck is any indication." She circled around to the other side of her desk, opposite of me. "As long as this vortex exists, the inhabitants of this region are at risk."
"Any chance we could destroy it?" I asked. I wasn't sure I was going to like her answer, but I had to know.
"I believe so, but there's a catch. We'll have to collapse it from this end, where it's dimensional radius is weakest." I sighed. I didn't like the idea much. It could be done. It had to be done. "We'll be closing our short cut out of here." She finished.
"Two more years in the void. I can live with that." I told her. If it saved a group, hell yes, I'd do it.
"But I'm not sure I can." Kathryn said. "Four years ago I destroyed the Caretaker's array to protect the Ocampa. That 'act of compassion' stranded this crew in the Delta Quadrant. I'm not about to give that order again."
"This situation is a little different." I told her. I meant it as well.
"Oh, it's close enough. I'm asking this crew to make too big a sacrifice. I won't make that same mistake."
"If you have another option, I'm listening." I said. For some reason, I knew I wasn't going to like it.
"Chakotay, there's no one I trust more than you. You're a fine first officer." She came back around the desk, standing directly in front of me. She chose her next words carefully. "Are you ready to captain this ship?"
"Yes." I admitted. I knew no other answer would be acceptable.
"Assemble the crew." Kathryn ordered. I looked at her a moment longer, then I left.
I went to Tuvok and called the assembled senior staff.
I may have overstepped my boundaries, I may spend the rest of this mission in the brig. Nothing short of her executing us for mutiny was going to make me-make the crew, leave her here to close that vortex and spend the rest of her days alone.
Kathryn entered the bridge, the first time in weeks she'd been up here. All the senior staff, including Doc and Neelix were on the bridge. I was going to need all of them backing me on this, or we'd lose Kathryn. "Captain on the bridge" Tuvok announced.
"At ease," Kathryn said. She took in the crew, and seemed happy to see them. As if she was seeing them for the first time after years of separation.
"Harry. How have you been?"
"Just fine, ma'am."
"Good." She stepped down to our level.
"We've missed you, captain." Neelix said.
"Likewise." She answered.
Kathryn jumped in with both feet. "I'll make this brief. Your orders are to proceed to the Vortex. Use whatever means necessary to fight your way past the Malon freighter. I'll stay behind in a shuttle craft and destroy the Vortex. Tuvok, I'll need a class-two shuttle armed with photon torpedoes. Tom, set a course for..."
B'Elanna spoke first, cutting off Kathryn's statement. "Forget it. We're not going to let you die out here."
Kathryn looked at her, her voice not betraying the death sentence she was condemning herself too. "Have a little faith, B'Elanna. I'll have a shuttle, plenty of rations. I'll survive."
"Alone in the Delta Quadrant?" Paris asks. "No offense, but..."
"I've made my decision" Kathryn said.
Harry threw in his two cents worth. "What about us? Don't we have a say?"
Neelix backed Harry. "He's right, Captain. I'd be willing to brave this Void if it meant keeping you with us."
Kathryn stepped down behind Tom, who had sat down and turned around so he could see what was going on. "Tom...Set a course." He looked at her with the defiance he kept tucked away. "Lieutenant, I gave you an order."
Tom stood. "I can't follow that order, ma'am." He said. Tom wasn't about to back down.
"Harry, take the helm."
"I'm sorry, Captain," Harry said.
She walked over to me, and I met her gaze but said nothing. This was one time she wasn't going to win. All of us, or none of us, were staying being.
She looked at Seven. " I will not comply." First time I was ever glad to hear that statement She even looked at the doctor.
"What's a hologram to do?" He answered to her silent question.
"As you can see," Tuvok said, bringing out the reason for her decision. "you're not the only one who's had time to evaluate the past."
"Yes, I can see that," Kathryn replied. "You realize you could all be hanged for mutiny." She said, walking the bridge again, but the fire seemed to come back within her.
"Looks like we need another option" Kathryn said, realizing we weren't going to let her do it alone.
I was ready. "We fire torpedoes the instant we cross the threshold. As the vortex begins to collapse we jump into high warp."
"There'll be a *massive* shock wave on our tail."
"There's still one obstacle-- the Malon," says the captain.
Tuvok was also ready. "Antimatter waste has weakened the bulkhead surrounding their cargo hold. A direct phaser strike should disable them."
Doc smirks. "Poetic justice."
Tuvok nods. "Indeed."
"You realize it will reduce our chance of getting through." Kathryn said, trying to give us an out.
"Chance is irrelevant. We will succeed." Seven told her.
"A vote of Borg confidence. Who could argue with that?" Doc said sarcastically.
"All right," she says, slapping the railing behind her chair. "Back to your stations. Let's do it."
"Battle stations." I ordered.
The lights dimmed with red alert. I took my seat. But as Kathryn passed me, she whispered, "You told them. They knew coming in."
I met her look. "Let's just say I wouldn't be a 'fine first officer' if I hadn't."
For the first time in a while, Kathryn smiled a genuine smile
The fight began. The Malon wasn't about to let us through the vortex. As the fight continued, Kathryn ordered Tuvok to return fire.
"Hit them with everything we've got."
We used phasers in conjunction with our torpedoes to fight. Their shields were holding, which we didn't need. We needed to hit their weak spot. Hailing them didn't help and the fight was making our destination come even more slowly. One of their hits took out our port nacelle.
Tom expertly piloted us, avoiding a barrage of fire from the Malon.
We would be intercepting the vortex in 47 seconds. As we got closer, we took more hits, then lost our nacelle.
"One more hit and we're dead in the water. Without warp drive, we'll never outrun the shock wave."
We reinforced the aft shields further and kept on going. "We're going to ride that shock wave out of here--let it push us to the other side." Kathryn said.
Our friends took up the fight with us and the Malon decided to let us go in favor of taking on the others. If we could just get to the vortex. . .
Tuvok reported that their shields were weakening. We needed to hurt them if we were to make it.
"Target their cargo hold. Time to take out the garbage."The freighter went up. It left the way clear. The ship slid into the vortex and Kathryn ordered the photon torpedoes deployed. As they exploded, plasma came at us quicker then we wished, but it was our only hope. It quickly overtook us and we rode the wave. Tom kept us going, his skills coming in to play once again.
As we came out of the vortex and slowed down from our push, we noticed it was still dark outside. Not at all pretty. I hoped we hadn't went through all of that to fail.
"That little maneuver brought us up a bit short." Harry said. "We're still 200,000 kilometers from the boundary."
We crawled forward, all on the bridge looking for that one little spot of light, that one little star. A few nonessential remarks between Doc and Tom were ignored. Slowly, we began seeing light. Lots of little stars.
"Harry, what do you see out there?" Kathryn asked. He stepped away from the panel and walked over to Seven. "I see a densely-packed region with thousands of star systems. Looks pretty lively." He smiled at Seven.
Kathryn seemed to be happy for the first time in ages. No more self imposed hell to sit in. She was back where she belonged. "Full speed ahead."
We had done it. We helped a helpless species, we emerged from a black abyss. Kathryn was back in the saddle and we had saved her from a slow suicide.
Kathryn had asked me if I was ready to captain Voyager. Yes, I am. But, only when and if it becomes necessary. There is only one captain of this ship.
Captain Kathryn Janeway.