An area of darkness. A void. A two year journey through nothingness. At first, the crew seemed to be fine with the idea of not having to fight, worry about the next aliens we encountered. But after two months, the routine was getting dull and boring.
Two months of the same old same old. 'Cabin fever' it was once called. Much of the crew were bored. There was no reason for many of the stations to be manned. Tom had coerced Harry into a new holo program. B'Elanna had the engines running at peak efficiency. Seven kept herself occupied in Astrometrics, looking ahead. Tuvok did as well.
But as time wore on, I noticed a change in the one person I thought would welcome the change of pace.
Slowly, yet surely, she began withdrawing from the bridge. At first, it was spending more hours then usual in her ready room. Then it was spending entire shifts in her ready room. After a while of that, she would come to the bridge for less then half a shift. Soon, she was hailing me in the morning, telling me I had the bridge and she'd be in her quarters if she were needed.
I was about the only one she'd see. . .the only one she'd talk to. But that even became less and less. It seemed Kathryn was running away, even if it was to her quarters. The crew began to feel the absence of her. She shut them out, which, especially now, was hard for them to accept.
We could function like this for two years. Of that I had no worry. But could we function for two years of nothingness with a captain who was secluding herself from life?
I was on the bridge, yet again. No excitement. Just some terminal boredom. I missed having the crew up here. Tom and Harry were on the Holodeck. What I wouldn't give for a smart ass comment from Tom about now. But the presence I missed the most was the one to my right. An empty chair that should be occupied.
Imagine my excitement as my console revealed that there had been a problem on the holodeck.
"Bridge to holodeck one. What's going on down there?" I asked.
"Oh, nothing, commander." Tom began. "Just a little power surge."
"Says here the hologrid just blew out." I told them. Sure, 'nothing'.
"We're fixing it now, sir."
"Well, make it quick. The last thing we need is a broken holodeck." I said. And it was. Imagine twenty-two months without that diversion. About that time, the bridge expelled Seven. She was about the only one who hadn't complained about our plight.
"Seven," I said rising. "I want good news. That's an order." Even if I meant it as a joke, I knew she wouldn't take it as such.
"Then I must disobey. I have no good news to report." She handed me a Padd. "I completed an astrometric scan of the entire region. There are no star systems within 2500 light years."
"Nothing?" I said. Surely, we couldn't be in that much dead space. Absolutely nothing?
"Nothing." She repeated.
"Why can't we see any stars beyond that?" I asked her. The black screen I had the privilege of looking at day after day was getting pretty annoying, for lack of a better term. "There are heavy concentrations of theta radiation. It has clouded our sensors." She replied.
"Any other ships out there?" Okay, I'd go for a living microbe of some form.
"None. We are alone." Kathryn's favorite phrase. This wasn't good. I looked out the view screen. I walked forward and sighed.
"Every sailors nightmare."
"Commander?" Seven asked.
"It's like being the calmed in the middle of the ocean. If it weren't for sensors, we wouldn't even know that we were at warp." I said, then turned. "We've only been crossing this expanse for two months and we're already feeling the strain. How do we last another two years?"
"We will adapt." Seven said. The standard answer for everything, it seemed. We might adapt, but would we live?
"Easier said then done." I said and turned back to the black view screen.
"Shall I. . .inform the captain of my findings?" Seven asked. Probably not the best idea. Right then, I fully realized the full impact of not having Kathryn on the bridge. I missed her.
"No, I'll tell her." And I walked away and into the ready room.
"First officers log: Stardate, 52081.2:
It's been fifty-three days since we entered this desolate region. If we want to continue our course toward home, we have no choice but to cross it.
We won't have an opportunity to take on fresh supplies or fuel, so I've ordered all departments to create an energy reserve. We're using power cells to stock pile deuterium."
I called a staff meeting of the senior staff. As they filed in, I looked out into the blackness that void.
"This won't be much of a briefing. There isn't much to report." I heard B'Elanna say. I knew everyone sans Kathryn and Seven were here.
I turned around and put my hands behind my back. "Humor me." I said.
"All right. Let's see: Warp cores at peak efficiency, just like last week. And the week before that. And my engineering staff is going stir crazy." As if I didn't know.
"Thanks." I told her. "Ensign?" I directed to Harry.
"Can you be more specific?" I asked him. I knew it was a stretch, but we had to act at least like there was nothing wrong.
"All systems are operating within parameters." I looked at Tuvok.
"Anything new on sensors?" I asked.
"I've detected a sudden increase of theta radiation in the vicinity."
"Source?" I asked.
"Unknown." Tuvok replied.
Anticipating something, I said, "Could be worth a look." I had made comment that I even missed Tom's smart ass comments. Well, he made up for the lack.
"Finally, some excitement. Radiation." He said. It got the desired effect. Chuckles from the crew.
"Next piece of business. Crew morale."
"Deteriorating." Doc said. "Obviously." He said after looking at Tom on the opposite side of the table. Then Neelix, our self designated morale officer spoke up.
"I have a few suggestions that might boost people's spirits."
"Please." I said, encouraging him to continue.
"Rotate crew assignments. Add variety to the daily routine. I, myself wouldn't mind squeezing in a little tactical training." A very broad hint from our resident Talaxian.
"Noted." Was all Tuvok said. I knew the he wasn't very thrilled with the idea of having Neelix working with him.
"And the holodeck's have been in high demand. I was thinking, we could install emitters in cargo bay two. Turn it into a third holodeck."
"Here, here." Doc said. I knew he was commenting about the trouble earlier, of which I finally got the whole story on.
"See to it, Harry." I said.
"One other item, sir. A point of . . .a concern, among some of the crew. It's a. . .well, it's the captain. She's been bit elusive lately." Ah, so I wasn't the only one who'd noticed.
"What's your point?" I asked. I didn't want to have to cover for her. But here I was, doing exactly that.
"People take comfort in talking to her. When they see the captain happy, they're happy."
Tom decided to add to the 'captain mystery'. "Rumor has it she never leaves her quarters." I knew for fact it wasn't rumor.
"Captain's privilege. She'll come to the bridge if and *when* she's needed." I said. B'Elanna spoke up then, digging deeper.
"Spare us the protocol, Chakotay. It's pretty odd, you got to admit it." I didn't have to admit anything. My control of my own concern for Kathryn was beginning to show. This conversation was not going where it needed to go.
"It's her choice. She can run this ship from where ever the hell she wants too. Understood?" I emphasized the last word, letting them know discussion was over.
"Yeah. Sure." B'Elanna said. I knew she wasn't pleased with that answer, but how the hell could I answer something that I couldn't answer myself.
I pinched the bridge of my nose, feeling the onslaught of a headache that I didn't want. "We're all feeling the pressure. Including me." I said. I regretted losing my patience, but still.
"Listen, maybe we've got the wrong attitude. Let's think of this as a two year vacation." Harry said, optimistic as ever and with a smile on his face. It lightened the mood and I even had to smile. I looked over what was fast approaching my crew.
"Dismissed." I said. They all shuffled out and I left last. I had bridge duty. And after they'd left, I made my way to the bridge, empty save one ensign at the helm.
And that black screen glaring back at me with no end in sight.
I ran her chime, Seven's data on a Padd in hand. The door slid open without so much as a 'come in'. It was dark, dreary; like the abyss we were flying through. I stepped forward, seeing her standing in the shadows, looking out like I had been on the bridge. No sense of beating around the bush. I began.
"It's probably nothing. Just background theta radiation. But it could mean there is someone near by." I said, looking at her. I'd never seen her like this.
"Approximately twenty-five light years." I told her. I could see her. One hand on her temple, the other hanging loosely at her side.
"It's a long shot, but alter course."
I hesitated a second. I was worried about her. "Yes, ma'am." I hoped calling her 'ma'am' would clue her in to the fact that there was more.
She hadn't looked at me once. "That's all, commander." She said. There was no emotion in her voice. None at all.
"Actually, I'd like to make a request. I've been saving up my holodeck rations and I've got three full hours coming. Any chance I might persuade you to join me for a few rounds of Velocity?" I was dead serious. She needed to get out of these damn quarters. "It'll help clear your mind."
One hand went to her hip, a half hearted attempt at her command posture. "My mind is perfectly clear." She said, her voice betraying a little anger.
"Then what if I told you I'm not leaving until you join me?" I was giving her an ultimatum, hoping that would motivate her. She hated ultimatums.
"I'd say 'have a seat, it'll be a while.'" So much for that.
"Then I'll be blunt. You've picked a bad time to isolate yourself from the crew. This ship needs a captain. Especially now." I told her exactly the mood that I'd been picking up.
Kathryn turned toward me now, still immersed in the shadows and began walking toward me, finally letting me see her. "Would you be satisfied with 'I'm just catching up on some reading'? I'm not sure I understand it myself," Kathryn admitted. "It started when we entered this--what does the crew call it?"
"The Void." I said.
"Charming. Oh, what I wouldn't give for a few Borg cubes about now--anything for a little distraction. Strange as it sounds, I almost long for the days when we were under constant attack. No time to stop and think about how we got stranded in the Delta Quadrant." The whole time, her back again turned toward me. "How did we end up here, Chakotay?" She turned and walked back over so she was facing me. "Answer me."
How the hell was I supposed to answer that one? It's taken her this long for those actions of four years ago to surface? I remained silent a moment, then answered, with what I thought she wanted-needed to hear. "Faced with a difficult choice, we had the means to get home but using it would have put an innocent people at risk, so we decided to stay."
Wrong choice of words. "No...No, no. I decided to stay. I made that choice for everyone."
"We're alive and well, and we've gathered enough data about this quadrant to keep Starfleet scientists busy for decades. Our mission's been a success!"
Kathryn took on her defensive stand. "Very same words I've been telling myself for the past four years. Then we hit this void and I started to realize how empty those words sound."
Very wrong thing to say. Her state of mind was becoming so clear to me. "I made an error in judgment, Chakotay. It was shortsighted and it was selfish and now all of us are paying for my mistake!" She's been carrying this around for this long? God, no wonder she's been keeping to herself. "So if you don't mind, Commander, I'll pass on that little game and I'll leave shipboard morale in your capable hands. If the crew asks for me tell them the Captain sends her regards." And she went back to her shadows. Leaving me a command I didn't want.
I left, my concern full.
I retreated to my quarters, leaving Harry the bridge. I couldn't even deny him his request that he be allowed to take his clarinet up on the bridge so that he might finish a concerto he was working on. I needed to think of a way to bring Kathryn out of her shell and into life again.
After all, I'm her first officer and I'm also her friend.
Nothing like being jolted to your senses. Then again, there's nothing like being thrust into darkness almost as bad as that which is encompassing you. I found my wrist lamp and began to look around, look for anything that would literally shed some light on this situation. I was in the corridor when I heard it.
It sounded like someone having a hard time. I turned from the useless commands I was trying to access, with no success. It was coming from behind me. I went toward the noise, hoping it was nothing more then a crew member.
Neelix was on the floor, knees up, holding what I took to be his blanket. "Neelix." I said. Letting him know who it was.
"Don't mind me." He said.
"There's been a power loss. Nothing to worry about."
"Who's worried?" He said.
"Come on." I said, pulling him up so he wouldn't be staying here alone. "Take deep breaths. Nice and slow." He needed to calm down. That's it."
We slowly made our way around, trying to find some place that had power.
Neelix was holding on for dear life, afraid to let go. Of course, like this was, I didn't mind. He grabbed my shoulder.
"I saw something!" He said. "Over there." I gave him a look. I didn't see anything and I was holding the light. We walked cautiously forward. I still saw nothing. "I'm telling you I saw something. I may be nilophobic, but my eyes work just fine." We walked a little further.
Neelix stopped me again. "I can hear breathing." He said. I listened closely. So could I. As we turned the corner, we saw it. Some sort of alien. It seemed to scared of the light and rushed at us. Just as it was about to attack, it was hit in the back by a phaser blast. It turned and the phaser hit again. It took off down the corridor. I trailed my light after it.
Surprise. It was Kathryn. Her uniform jacket on, though not zipped and her trusted phaser rifle. "Follow me." She said.
"Yes, ma'am." Neelix said, staying between Kathryn and I.
On the way to engineering, we picked up one of the energy containers I had ordered the crew to start surplussing. We made it to engineering and Kathryn shoved open the door. After we'd brought power back on line, Kathryn hailed the bridge. We had alien ships out there and seventeen inside the ship. They weren't responding to hails, but I told Kathryn we did have weapons on line. She ordered Tuvok to fire a few warning shots.
We were hit again. And we still didn't have propulsion.
We almost lost power again, but it came back on. The aliens were leaving. But why.
An answer came shortly with Tuvok.
What beamed aboard seemed like the classic garbage man. Survival suit. We kept him on the platform just to be on the safe side.
Mr. Emck advised us to get out of this space, that there were thousands more of those aliens, that they were almost undetectable and that we couldn't survive another attack. But it was our only way home, as Kathryn pointed out.
He informed us that we'd be going with him, that there was a spatial vortex ahead. According to him, the vortex led to the other side of the expanse. It would cut two years off our journey and get us out into real space again. I pointed this out to Kathryn. She smiled, especially at that anticipation
She asked our guest why he was here. He gave us that he was on a transport mission. He was curious about the creature that had been injured. Kathryn wanted to know why, but he told us 'enough questions.' He'd take the creature and lead us to the vortex.
I knew this wouldn't go over well with Kathryn. Knowing her like I did, I figured she'd latch onto there was more to this story then we knew. "Are you at war with these beings?" She asked.
"None of your concern." He told us.
Kathryn asked him what exactly it was that he was transporting. He didn't say, alluding the question by telling him that he was leaving in two hours, unless we wanted to stay out here. He was finished and Kathryn gave the nod to Tuvok to beam our 'savior' back to his ship.
Kathryn turned to me, her mind turning already. "I think it's time we heard the other side of the story." And we left the transporter room.
Our guest, the doctor theorized, was indigenous to this area of space. That he was extremely sensitive to light.
He was also dying. Of radiation poisoning.
Kathryn went to talk to him. She told him she would not be giving him to Emck. The Maylon, he said, was killing them, poisoning them. She ordered Doc to reroute a station down here to the helm, so he lay in a course to take him back to his people. He was grateful for it. Kathryn came around the table.
"Take the bridge. I'll stay here."
"We still don't have a defense against their dampening field. If they decide to attack again. . ."
"I'm confident they won't. Finally, something to put in my log book." She said. Kathryn seemed at least to be happy to be back in the fold.
But it still didn't feel right. She still wasn't Kathryn.
When I entered the bridge, I asked Tuvok to join me. I needed to talk to someone about Kathryn and he'd known her longer then anyone else on board. I turned to him in the briefing room. "I need your advice." I admitted. Believe me, it wasn't easy.
Tuvok looks surprised by my request. "A first."
"Look," I began. "I realize we're not exactly best friends. From day one, we've kept each other at arm's length. But I've always respected your judgment--and right now, I could use a little Vulcan clarity."
I got right to the point. "It's the captain. As you may have noticed, she's isolated herself from the crew."
"She believes that she made an error in judgment four years ago--that she's responsible for stranding Voyager in the Delta Quadrant." How did he know? Was she back to her old ways of talking to him first and me second?
"She told you?" I probably sounded slightly jealous, but at this point, I really didn't care.
"No. I've been observing her behavior for the past four years. Guilt has been her constant companion." I knew she held back, but I truly had no idea. I thought that Starfleet protocol would have made what she did then all right. I know I didn't blame her. And if anyone did, they never voiced it.
"You've known her longer than anyone. Have you ever seen her like this?" I was curious. Seeing her like this was doing a number on me. I couldn't imagine her doing this to herself on a regular basis. As I said, Voyager needed her captain and Kathryn was the captain.
"Only once. It was during her first year as a commander on the USS Billings." He recounted the event. One I should probably should have known about, since it was in her service record. "She sent an away team to survey a volcanic moon. Their shuttle was damaged by a magma eruption and three crew members were severely injured. The next day, she returned to the moon, alone, to complete the survey. She wanted the crew to know that their suffering had not been in vain. She could have been killed."
"Seeking redemption..." I said. It sounded like Kathryn. To take on something to prove that it could be done.
"Precisely. Captain Janeway's methods are--unorthodox. It is her strength as a leader but, unfortunately, it is also her greatest weakness." It's hard to imagine Kathryn as anything but weak.
"Stubborn as a Klingon." I observed. A knowing B'Elanna had given me that insight.
"To put it mildly." Tuvok said. I was surprised that he'd agreed with me.
If she had done something like that once, what would stop her from trying to do something alone again? If crew morale was down because her isolation, imagine what it would be if she decided to sacrifice herself? I couldn't take that risk, not only for the crew, but for myself. "If she tries something like that again I want to be ready--and I'm going to need your support."
And Tuvok agreed with me.
On the bridge, I ordered an all stop. Tuvok still wasn't reading them, but I had him raise shields anyway. They locked onto the one in sickbay and beamed him aboard. Kathryn told me we were going to help them.
I couldn't agree more.
In Astrometrics, Kathryn stared with her arms folded, at the massive view screen. Seven and I scanned the vessel while Kathryn made the comment that they were poisoning the space. I told her that the ship contained over 90,000 gillitons.
Kathryn hailed Mr. Emck. He told us how much waste they produced. Sure, it was a lot, but they were killing other beings. I stated that once it was out of sight, it was out of mind. And slowly killing others. He maintained it was only one species. Kathryn told him what we were thinking.
"One's enough," Kathryn said.. "We didn't come here to debate the issue. We came here to offer a peaceful solution." Kathryn went on to tell him that we'd be happy to show him how to reduce the waste, without them dumping it on this side of the vortex and poisoning the inhabitants.
"Show me now," He insisted.
Kathryn ordered me to take our friend to engineering and give him a demonstration of how this could be done. I was happy to comply. It could be a good thing all around.
B'Elanna, while we walked through engineering, gave Emck the low down on how he could reduce the waste. He seemed to be genuinely impressed by our methods. I let B'Elanna do the talking since it is her specialty. She answered questions like a seasoned professional.
I told him that it would involve some work on their part, but it would be worth it. We were even willing to help them out with some of the items they would need. It seemed to be a resourceful option.
"Ingenious design," Emck said. "Our engineers would be pleased. This would solve a lot of problems on my world." He stared at the warp core. "Unfortunately, it would also put me out of business."
Emck said if he used this, he'd become "obsolete." Apparently, the lives others meant nothing to him.
I tried to tell him, that if gave it chance, tried it, it could work for his advantage. He laughed. Emck only seemed to care about his profit margin, that he and his crew were the only ones who knew about the vortex, that it cut his expenses in half. He wasn't about to give that up.
I tried to reason with him when B'Elanna was about to show him out the airlock. But it came down to nothing. Profit was more important then the lives of others. I indicated to the security personal. "Get him out of here."
So much for a peaceful way to do this.