Disclaimer: see previous part
"I was so mad. Tuvok wanted to put me into the brig. Chakotay, though wouldn't let him. When he came to quarters later to talk to me, I threw a bowl at him. It surprised me to find out that he had recommended me as Chief Engineer. I thought 'there's no way in a million years that she'd allow me to be her chief.' I know her and Chakotay got into a huge fight about it. But in the end, she gave me the position."
"Did they fight a lot? Chakotay and Janeway?"
"At first, yes. Especially when it came down to crew issues. He made her look beyond the obvious, see deeper then she would have. He had been on command track when he left. He knew what he was talking about. But soon, it seemed to grow into something you think happens only in fairy tales. We all saw it coming. I think they were the last to know."
"I want to get back to that, but I want to know about some of the moments you had. Proudest, most frightened, angry-all of that." I wanted to know about the famous captain, but I wanted to know this woman in front of me. One who was quickly dispelling my preconceived notions of Klingons.
"Proudest, I would have to say when I became Chief. Most fearful, the same thing. I always thought she was waiting for me to make a mistake, just so she could take it away from me, laugh at me. But I dared to believe she saw something in me that I didn't. She gave me hope." B'Elanna took a deep breath.
"Frightened, that would have to be the time Tom, Durst and myself were taken by the Viidians. They harvested body parts of other being to fight this deadly plague they had that had no cure. They separated my DNA and I ended up split. One was Klingon, fully; the other was human. That was the most frightening. Angry, I guess would have to be at the beginning, all the time. I did things, discovered, fixed, saw things, in the Delta Quadrant, I would never have known existed. Sentient robots, ruthless aliens. Technology beyond our wildest dreams. An engineers playground. For all the hardships, all the pain, we forged lasting relationships, became a family. I felt more with them then I had anywhere else."
"Relationships. You forged one with Thomas Paris." I saw a light come into her eyes. This must be something very special.
"We knew if this was going to be an extended journey, relationships would form. Harry fell for Seven. All kinds of relationships. Tom, I thought was a pig. Chasing after all the women. But I began getting to know him. And soon, I realized that there was something there. When a Vulcan mind meld sent me into Pon Farr, he had every opportunity to. . .well, you know. But he didn't." She leaned closer to me. "Losing air in the free floating darkness of space is incredible for getting one to admit how they feel." We both started laughing.
"What about the captain and commander?"
"Well, like I said, they fought a lot in the beginning. Chakotay was never one to really mince words and I knew she wasn't either. But they became comfortable with each other and began working as a team. It grew to a friendship. They knew each other as well as themselves. When we left them for three months, we thought something had happened then. It grew steadily. Teasing, flirting. All that goes into it. No one ever knew for sure when they finally did go that final step. But one day, it was there."
"So, no one objected?"
"No, at least not vocally. They both deserved deep respect and they got it. They were team, no matter what. It was his belief in her and her devotion for him. They got us home. They. Not she. Not he. They.
I had found out what I wanted. I knew there was nothing else I could ask her. But I had one question left.
"What did you find?" I said, rising and walking with her to the door.
"I found myself. Janeway made me believe in myself. That other's opinions make no difference if you believe in yourself. She taught me that. She saved so many of us from our own self destructive behavior." She stopped at the door and looked me right in the eye. "Some may call me a miracle worker for what I did in terms of getting the ship back. The miracle worker, the real one, is Kathryn Janeway."
I stepped out into the drizzle and looked back. B'Elanna Torres waved at me and I knew she meant it, every word.
I think I was beginning to understand the story behind the scenes. One more to go, with the most important woman on that ship. I knew the story was almost complete.
It was two more weeks until I heard from Kathryn Janeway. I had been putting the other interviews together to find a scheme for the things that I wanted to have in the order I wanted them in. Hell, I was still lounging in my nightclothes when I got a message.
"Amantha Ashlund?" A woman with reddish-brown hair asked.
"Yes." I responded.
"I'm Kathryn Janeway. Neelix told me about you."
I smiled. I could already tell that I liked her. "Yes. I was doing some interviews of Voyager crew members and you are the last one." I paused for a minute. "If you're still willing to do it." I said.
I was given a warm smile. "Of course I do. I think you're one of the first decent press people I've encountered. I'm just sorry it's taken so long for me to contact you."
"No, it's no problem. I've been putting together what I have so far."
She smiled. "Would next week work out?" I hesitated. I had been planning my vacation. "I take it from your hesitation that it isn't good."
I didn't want to seem pushy or ungrateful. "No. It's only my vacation. I haven't had one in years." I said.
"I understand." She replied and I knew that she did. "May I ask where you are going for your vacation?"
"No where. I'm going to sit here and do nothing." I admitted. My husband was going to be away and I didn't have any family that I wanted to spend a long period of time with.
"Well," Janeway said. "if you're willing, you could come here to Indiana. You'd get away, get your interview, all in one shot."
I smiled at her. "That is the best offer I've had in a long time."
"Good. I think you'll enjoy yourself." And we spent the rest of the transmission making plans for my arrival in Indiana.
I transported to the central area that Kathryn Janeway had directed me too. I stepped from the platform, claimed my luggage and slung my bag over my shoulder. Directly in front of me, came a woman that I recognized.
"Kathryn?" She nodded and she took one of my bags.
"I know your going to love it out here. I've relaxed so much the last few days."
"I'm sure you have."
When we arrived at her home, I saw something that took my breath away. A large home, big enough to give the occupants the room that they wanted and small enough to feel homey. The kind of home that I had when growing up. Kathryn took one of my bags while I grabbed the other.
"It's amazing what being home will do to your perspective," Kathryn said. I tend to agree. "You ever been to Indiana before?"
"No. All around it, but never here," I said. I took a second and looked around the landscape. It was absolutely beautiful. Gold and rusts were evident, colors of warmth.
"You'll love it," Kathryn said.
I'm sure I would believe her.
She showed me to the room that had been her sisters. Kathryn explained how her sister was on Bajor, studying some major artistic designs. Her mother was downstairs, busily working in the kitchen. I felt I was intruding, but didn't say anything. Dinner was just the three of us. Kathryn wanting to know why I quit Starfleet to become a journalist.
Then she and I retreated outside to begin my interview. Time find out about Kathryn Janeway.
"Well, it wasn't the way I thought a three week mission would end," she began. Kathryn had one leg tucked beneath her, the other one swinging above the ground. "That was all it supposed to be. Three weeks. Go to the badlands, find the Maquis ship. Bring them into custody. Retrieve one of my best friends."
"How'd the Maquis commander take it when he found out that one of his was in reality, one of yours?"
Kathryn laughed and gave me this crooked little grin. "Well, better then I thought. My impression, once I had time to look back on the situation, was that if I had been a male captain, I'm sure he would have knocked me on my ass."
I laughed at that. "Was it hard at first? To integrate your crews?"
"Not really. The first thing I did was make Chakotay my first officer. He argued slightly, but in the end I told him it wasn't to use him, build him up. The plain and simple fact of the matter was that I needed him."
I smiled at her admission.
"It wasn't easy. We fought about everything. About how to punish errant crew members, making B'Elanna Torres Chief of Engineering. He told me quite frankly that he wasn't going to be my token Maquis officer. I think that statement, said more then any action would have said." I looked out into the yard. I could see the fields beyond, imagining the scene that must have been. She continued. "That statement knocked me down a peg or two, though I didn't let it show and never admitted it to him. He stood up to me and right then I knew I had the right man in the right job."
"So," I began, "it was necessity."
"Not the way you would think. It would have been so easy to make Chakotay and his crew crewmen, not having any authority, voice, opinions. I could have locked them up in the brig for the duration of the mission. But what would that have solved? Nothing. I'd lost half my crew in the incident, not even enough to run this ship with any efficiency."
I looked at her, seeing what she saw, or trying. She had a difficult job. "But it would have so easy to just throw the group away, send them to an M-Class world. Surely there were opportunities."
"I could have. But they had skills I needed. I had my share of problems with his crew, but Chakotay took care of it." Kathryn let out a laugh then. It was interesting listening to this woman laugh. She acted as if it was foreign to even herself. "In fact, I'd be willing to be that there was a lot that ended up at his doorstep that I never knew about. He told me if I needed to know, but most of the time, he dealt with the troubles that cropped up. I only wish I had been as forthcoming."
I narrowed my eyes and shifted. "What do you mean?"
Kathryn looked down to her hands, studying them for a moment and then looking back up to watch the birds flying to nearby trees to call it a night. "I don't want to paint the picture of a entirely happy crew. There was problems and yes, most came from the former Maquis crew. I don't fault Chakotay, but I hurt him deeply-when I needed his support the most."
"Do you mind telling me?" I asked. I hated to press the issue. That's the problem with most press people, they press until the person either breaks and spill everything, or they fabricate. Heaven forbid if I ever get like that.
"Hmm, not at all," she said, a smile gracing her lips. "It started with Seska. Seska was a Cardassian who had been surgically altered to look Bajoran. She's had a relationship with Chakotay in the past, but it had been long since been over when they joined us. But it still didn't stop her from trying to get her way through him." She laughed, but it was one full of pain. "She began communicating with the Kazon, who were to us at the time, to be feared. They wanted our technology. The balance of power would have shifted."
"The Prime Directive," I stated. A smile of my own graced me.
"Yes, the Prime Directive. Chakotay did as he always did-does, tried to see past the lies and believe her. But Bajorans can look decidedly Cardassian when they are crossed. And Seska did. She called us fools for following Starfleet rules. From then on out, we never knew when she'd pop up. They'd even stolen vital components from us. Chakotay risked his life to get it back and out of their hands. It jeopardized the trust I'd built in him, but nothing compared to what Seska did to him."
I almost didn't want to ask. Cardassian's were known for being ruthless and cruel. A woman, if by the slight description I had, knew the Maquis, knew Cardassian, Starfleet, probably Bajoran, to fit in and whatever else she picked up.
"After I'd thoroughly chewed him out, she taunted him, saying she'd extracted his DNA and impregnated herself with it. So we had this other little secret following us. Chakotay, I have no doubt, was in dilemma. Family was important to him, so he had this supposed obligation."
"You sound doubtful," I said.
" Believe me, we had plenty of doubt. Too chummy with the Kazon leader. Manipulative. That was her to a 'tee'. But she wasn't the only one. Some were lazy and lacked discipline. Others were treacherous. That's what almost caused us to lose our trust in each other."
"It must have been bad," I commented.
"To say the least. Tuvok, my tactical officer, detected transmissions riding other emissions from the ship. He brought it to my attention, an to be honest, I had to agree with him. It was just too convenient-it had to be yet another Maquis. I knew Chakotay felt bad. One was conspiring with our enemy, one was a sociopath and Betazoid to boot. His crew didn't have a very good track record and this just gave the Starfleet crew more ammo." Kathryn sat back and picked at the lush cushion beside her. "So I incorporated Tom Paris to help. It started with small things; late for duty, looking like he slept in his uniform, escalating into gambling, shoving around Chakotay. All for looks, all to make it seem like he was disenchanted with the ship and his duties."
"All an elaborate ruse," I remarked.
"And it worked. We had everyone convinced Tom hated it on the ship. When the Talaxian freighter picked him up, and then was attacked by the Kazon, we had ourselves right where we wanted to be. Tom looked like the spy and the real spy would become careless, thinking the suspicion would be off of them. Only Neelix, just having began a morning program, turned investigative and found that it couldn't have been Tom. Then I had to come clean with my first officer, and I felt horrible."
"I'll bet. It sounds like you really like him."
Kathryn sighed and smiled. "Chakotay is something I can't describe. I've served on many ships, been captain on a couple. Never have I had a first officer more concerned about me then himself. He's risked everything for me. During the ten years we spent out there, it was comforting to know that there was always a presence right there beside me. We'd grown closer, fought, laughed, cried-but we were always there for each other."
I asked the question I'd been wondering since that night when I'd seen her the first time at the party. "Did--do you love him? Off the record."
Kathryn smiled at me and looked out toward an old dirt road. She'd been doing it all night, I'd noticed. "Amantha, with him, I felt that no matter how far I fell, he'd catch me. He was the enemy. You weren't supposed to fall in love with the enemy. But the longer we were out there, the closer we became. He was my best friend, and I was his. He told me once he loved me, but I never reciprocated. After. . .after all this time, I doubt he still does. You can only push away so many times--."
"Ten to one he knew, and respected the reasons why. Men like him seem to know more then you give them credit for. They deal with it in their own way." I looked at her and I saw one tear slide down her cheek. I understood.
She was looking for him.
All this time since the party, she hadn't seen him. It must have been a terrible blow to her. Once she was free of responsibility he'd turned away. To win yet lose. How horrible.
"Well, I'm tired. I'd like to finish this tomorrow," I said, getting up. She looked up at me and smiled.
"You know the way. Need anything, just knock on my door."
I nodded at her and went back inside, leaving her to stare up a deserted dirt road.
I knew when she came up to bed. Her mother had turned in not long after I had went up. Wasn't more then a few hours later I heard her get up and go downstairs, outside to again sit in the swing. The room I had, had two corner windows. One to look toward the west where the road went the other to the swing. I hadn't been able to sleep so I was sitting by the window, far enough back to not be seen. I could hear the steady creak of that swing. How lonely she must have been.
Then it stopped. Just stopped and very suddenly. I heard her take a step on the old boards. She looked like an apparition, standing out there with this white quilt draped over her, her hair pulled back loosely from her face, bare feet and a white nightgown. She looked like the lovelorn ghost of old gothic novels.
I watched her step off the porch and walk like she was possessed. I heard her voice, soft against the sound of crickets.
"I knew you'd come. . ." and she walked until I couldn't see from that window anymore. I moved to the other window and I saw him. Standing at the crest of the small hill on the old dirt road. I saw her, overcome with emotion. She'd been wrong. A man like that doesn't stop loving.
They had to be at least one hundred yards apart when they both stopped. I could see him now; devilishly handsome, dark hair, dark marking above his left eye. The white quilt fell to the ground and she took two steps.
He took two steps.
Then they ran for each other, her arms outstretched-just like those novels I had read as a teenager. He caught her and swung her around. Around and around in the grass. Her nightgown flowing about her, her arms around his shoulders. Kathryn threw her head back and just laughed and cried and smiled. He held her close and kissed her cheeks, her forehead, then finally kissed her.
I could feel the electricity from it where I stood. I understood just what they had sacrificed to get that crew home.
They'd sacrificed themselves.
When I left at the end of two weeks, I saw a woman who was loved and who loved. I met a man who could give my husband a serious run for his money in the ways of males. I learned the whole story. And I learned what courage and grace were under fire.
I left them at the transporter site, telling them they would see the paper before anyone, other then Seven of Nine and B'Elanna Torres.
My last sight of the two was with there arms about each other.
It took me three weeks to put the report together. I wanted to be true to these women, knowing that lies had been printed before. I wanted to be true to them. They lived this experience, did these jobs. And they survived.
Three weeks took a toll on me. I was tired, not from only the chronic work, but I'd found out a few days after my return that I was pregnant. My husband and I were overjoyed. We'd tried for years, but had no luck.
So, before I sent that report to my editor, I sent out three copies. One to Vulcan, for Seven of Nine. One to San Francisco to B'Elanna Torres, whom, I'd seen in the news, had been accepted to head the exclusive engineering division of Starfleet academy and had become engaged to Thomas Paris.
The last I sent to Indiana, to Kathryn Janeway.
I sat in my office, looking out over the bay, half sick and relieved that my job was done. I had put a lot of soul and thought into that report, wanting to say who these women were. I was surprised when my terminal beeped with an incoming message.
Reaching over, I turned on the monitor and saw the face of Kathryn. She smiled.
"Amantha, congratulations. How wonderful for you!"
I smiled. "Thank you, we're very happy."
"I just wanted to tell you I read your report," she paused and looked away from the terminal for a moment. I knew it then, she hated it. I had messed it up. "You did a wonderful job. I laughed, I cried. You took our stories and told them the way we intended them to be told. You can interview me anytime."
I sat hard in the chair. I didn't know what to think. I had put my heart and soul into this story. She continued. "Amantha, when that baby arrives, I want you and your husband to come out here to Indiana."
"I couldn't impose. . ." I began.
"Nonsense. I would overjoyed to have you come here and spend the holidays with me and my family. With my mother, sister and husband."
We talked a while longer, plans set up firmly.
I had so much to be happy about. A new addition, a phenomenal story and an invitation from Starfleet's finest.
You may ask what I learned from these women. I learned that humanity sometimes comes at a price, but can be achieved. I learned that differences and hatred can be cultivated by a talent that is accepted. And I learned that grace, can be tempered with courage, and that you can overcome the hardest obstacles.
That's my story. I'm staying with it.