Chakotay looked at the piece of line he had repaired weeks before. It was holding up well. In fact, he couldn’t have been happier that his job had held together. But as he had feared earlier, the older sections of duct were coming apart at an alarming rate. New leaks sprung up daily. He and the two men assigned to oversee the duct could barely keep up with new cracks, holes and weakened supports.
He stood silently, looking at the line and the newest patch. He turned when he heard footsteps approaching.
Dvelrel came up to Chakotay, boots sending up dust. He was one of Shalmon’s main overseers of the prisoners. A burly man, he overshadowed most at the camp, including Chakotay. He stood to Chakotay’s side, looking up the length of the duct and carefully surveying it down as far as he could see.
“It’s not going last much longer,” Dvelrel said, eyes scanning back up the line.
“I figure maybe six more months of usage if we keep patching the holes,” Chakotay rubbed his hands against the fabric of his pants. He had come to the conclusion that the material was like the old style denim he’d seen Tom wear at informal functions on Voyager. “But that is a rough estimate. The holes are springing up faster then we can patch them. The only sure area of this line is the portion we repaired a few weeks ago.”
“I was thin’ing the same thing, ‘Tay,” Dvelrel said. He had not been able to quite enunciate Chakotay’s name properly, so he did a shortened version, which Chakotay didn’t mind.
“The duct itself is fine, just outdated.”
Dvelrel squinted into the sun. “We nee’ a new line. Pure and sim’le. Without the water, life will get pretty harsh. No one is going to want to climb this in’line to fetch water.”
Chakotay walked over to the line and bent down at one of the supports. He put his fingers to the seam, his fingers coming away damp.
“This section is going to have to be replaced next.” Condensation could be seen running along the seam. It dripped occasionally, the dusty ground eagerly swallowing the offering. Small puffs of dust came up from the parched land each time a drop fell.
Dvelrel looked at Chakotay. “I’ve brought it up to Shalmon a ‘ouple of times. He’s not sure if a new du’t ‘an be beneficial. No one here has ever had to design something like this—something that will withstand the usage, yet will not re’uire ‘onstant maintaining.”
“Well, anything new built will have to be maintained so it doesn’t fall into this type of disrepair. The plans can be simple, yet get the same job done as this one does,” Chakotay said.
Dvelrel looked at the line. “If I proposed, say, a plan to Shalmon in which a new du’t ‘ould be designed and built, would you be interested in overseeing the proje’t?” Chakotay looked at the man, his eyes dancing at the thought of being more then helpful—being productive.
“Sure. I could even draw up a preliminary if that is what he wants.”
Dvelrel looked at Chakotay. “Good. I don’t thin’ Shalmon will have a problem with it. He seems to li’e your wor’. I’ll tal’ to him this afternoon and will get ba’ to you.”
“I’m not going anywhere, so I’ll be here,” Chakotay smiled and as the man lumbered off. Running his hands through his hair, he turned and began mixing a new batch of fill for the cracks.
Mystle, or the equivalent of terran Sundays, was a half day of rest. Kathryn had been surprised the first Mystle she was there. It seemed to her to be an oxymoron of why they were here. They were worked hard, beaten, threatened, given the same meals day in and out. It was the same day after day. But Mystle, or at least half of it, was the day they looked forward to. Marcole had told her that she should enjoy every second of her free hours.
“Why?” Kathryn had asked. “There isn’t any where we can go.”
“That’s where you’re wrong, Kathryn,” Marcole had said, joining her on her bunk. “It’s a day to cleanse your soul for another week; feel alive until the next Mystle rolls around.”
“What are you talking about?”
Marcole had leaned up against the wall and drew her knee up to her chest, clasping her long arms around it. “The shower.” Kathryn gave Marcole a look that she interpreted as her not knowing of any shower in the camp. “The round building at the lower end of the camp.”
“I thought that was abandoned,” Kathryn had said. “I’ve never seen any indication of use. No one going in or out.”
Marcole had laughed. “It’s because it’s only used on Mystle.”
Even now, months into her imprisonment, Kathryn looked forward to this day. Marcole had been correct that she enjoyed these weekly interludes of pleasure.
The round building, Kathryn had observed on subsequent visits, had once been a lovely building. The inside had once been exacting. It had crumbling yellowed and gray tile, which Kathryn had guessed to be once white and blue. The tiles now, besides discolored, were crumbled, falling off here and there. Huge chunks were swept into corners, making the holes look like infected sores. Dirt, grime, mold grew between the tiles that were still present.
Yet Kathryn, after her first couple of visits, began overlooking the small imperfections and began speculating on what this once had been. One theory, she’d work on while standing under the shower was that the prison had once been part of some opulent estate. When in sector 23b mine, Kathryn had a pretty good view of the surrounding area.
One of the first things that Kathryn noticed was the large mansion on the hill. It reminded her of spacious homes she’d seen in California during her time at the academy. It was far away, but very visible. Though for the life of her, she couldn’t understand why someone would want a view of the prison camp. Unless it proved her first theory that where she was, was once part of something much bigger.
Today’s Mystle, was like the rest for Kathryn. She found the stall on a corner, the one with the most privacy and stepped inside. First thing she did was wash the dirty garment of the week before, scrubbing as much of the dust, dirt, and grim out of it as possible. She’d wring it, then step in to bathe herself.
The water wasn’t as warm as she would normally like it, but it was refreshing and slowly, Kathryn would feel a little bit of herself return each time. Here, in the semi vacant and serene shower, Kathryn could reflect on the past week; run through her each and every action and, sometimes the consequences of those actions.
The weekly shower also gave Kathryn a means of escape. She would allow herself to think about the days before this nightmare. She would wonder about the welfare of her former crew: would they be any closer to home? Had they run into unforeseeable peril and had to land, thereby ending their journey? She wondered about her senior staff, the ones she had grown especially close to. How big was Naomi and did she have playmates now? Had Seven found the key to her humanity?
Kathryn found the reflection of the days passed helped bring back her perspective. All she would have to do was close her eyes and there they would be.
However, there was one she worried about more then anyone. How was he doing? Did he face the same circumstances, trials, as she had? Was he punished regularly or did he accept the situation readily? Kathryn would smile at that thought.
“Yes and no,” would always be her answer. If Chakotay thought there was even the remotest of chances of escape, then he would. But Kathryn also knew that Chakotay, if he knew he didn’t have a choice or he knew that trying would be pointless, that he would fit into his circumstances and situation. His one strength, Kathryn had learned years ago, was his ability to adapt to his situation. He had before; the Voorhie, Species 8472—to list just a few. But she wondered.
Kathryn stood in her usual shower cubical. The sun was at the right position in the sky, so that it fell in slanted bands across the cubical, warming Kathryn’s skin even as she bathed. Her back she had arched, her left leg bent, only her toes holding up the leg. Her arms were up and bent, running through the wet hair. The soap like substance that the prisoners were given were good enough. Kathryn would wash her entire self and hair; the hair getting a little extra attention.
As she stood there, soapy bubbles slid down her torso, foaming at her feet. Her eyes were closed in quiet repose, just like every week. Thinking of worlds and places far away. So minutes later, when a general rumbling started within the voices of others in her barrack group, she almost didn’t hear them.
“. . .of course, madam. We like your visits,” came a voice Kathryn recognized as one of the higher officials. Marcole in the next stall over let out a sarcastic laugh and said something Kathryn couldn’t hear fully.
“I like to keep an eye on all of my girls,” a female voice responded. Kathryn wasn’t sure what to make of this. Usually, their showers were their own, without interruption. Kathryn turned around so her body was toward the wall, letting the water fall against her front, rinsing the soap away.
“And this is Kathryn,” the man said. Kathryn kept her back to them, not wanting her private time imposed upon by someone taking a look at her; as if she were stock in some cattle yard. “Kathryn, please turn around.” Kathryn had all but shut the world beyond the shower out.
“Kathryn! I said turn around,” he again said.
“Don’t force her,” the woman said. “She is obviously enjoying herself.”
The man laughed then gestured with his hand to someone behind him. “She is always insubordinate, madam. Kathryn is one of the few who believes rules are not for her.”
“Now I understand the marks on her back.” The woman’s voice held something that bordered on anger. “I told you she was to not be touched.”
“But madam, when she continues to disobey, fight—punishment is imminent.”
The woman turned to him. “My orders are what you obey. I will not have this one damaged any further by your crude methods.” There was a slight pause. “Do I make myself understood?”
“Yes, madam,” he said.
“Now, have her turn around.”
The man sighed. Kathryn still was ignoring them. This was an infringement on her time and one she did not readily enjoy. “Kathryn, turn around.”
Again, his request was denied. Kathryn had turned off all around her everyone. She didn’t notice the voices behind her. Didn’t notice the deadening of sound as water was turned off.
“Turn her around at once,” the man ordered of the guard accompanying the small party. In a moments time, a large hand had roughly gripped Kathryn’s upper arm and had swung her around. The suddenness of the turn made Kathryn slip on the foam. Shock was on her face as the guard roughly brought her up to her feet. He let go of her and Kathryn crossed one arm over her breasts, the other, she used as a cover with her rag against her pubis.
“Kathryn, uncover yourself!” the man shouted and made as to enter the stall. A slender and pale arm set itself in his path.
“No, I can see enough,” she smiled, “for now.” She turned to the man. “No more punishment, or it will be taken out on you next time. I do promise you that.”
The woman, dressed in a clinging white garment, took a step inside the stall. Her hard heels clicked on the broken tiles as Kathryn watched the people in front of her. Her path was blocked if she wished to escape. ‘Is nothing sacred here?’ she thought. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Marcole peering up over the wall.
“Turn around,” the woman said, her tone indicating a demand. Kathryn looked at her and sidelong at Marcole. Marcole shook her head, but indicated that yes, she should obey this order. Kathryn slowly turned in a circle, trying to think of something to take her mind off of this dreadful inspection.
“Very nice,” the woman said, looking Kathryn from toe to head. “Please—uhm, Kathryn is it? Of course. Please uncover yourself. I just want to see your,” she hesitated, “condition.”
Kathryn remembered to breathe, and slowly lowered her arm covering her breasts and moving the one with the rag to her side. The woman sighed in appreciation.
“She looks like she could be carved of our finest stone. What beautiful lines—exquisite coloring. She is unique.” Kathryn was puzzled by the words the woman spoke, yet was suspicious. “Her body is amazing, long limbs. Look at her legs! Just supple but looking strong. How excellent.”
Kathryn noticed that the woman didn’t look at her face but looked at her body. It made her shiver as the woman turned and stepped out.
“I’ll be seeing you again. Please, continue your bathing.”
Kathryn’s mood was broken by the intrusion. She grabbed the swatch of fabric she used as a towel and quickly toweled herself dry, and getting her clean clothing on. As she did this, she could hear Marcole’s usually soft voice yell out.
“You’ll have to kill me to get to her! You hear me, you wretch.” Kathryn wished Marcole would shut up. “You aren’t fit enough to cover Kathryn. She’s more of a lady then you’ll ever be!” Marcole came around to Kathryn’s stall. Kathryn stood looking toward the entrance.
“What was that all about?” Her voice was quiet in the echoing room.
“We were inspected. Just her way of keeping us under her thumbs, encroaching on our free time.” Marcole turned toward Kathryn. “If it weren’t for the fact that she has taken an interest in you, they would probably kill you. I’d say endure the punishments. What she would do to you is a universe worse.”
Kathryn followed Marcole from the building to enjoy what little of the day they had left. The woman was now more of a mystery then before.
And Kathryn hated mysteries. Especially this one.
“Show him in,” Shalmon said, drinking some green liquid from a pottery type cup.
Chakotay stepped into the room, arms to the side. He waited to speak until the other man had left.
“Have a seat, Chakotay,” Shalmon said quietly. When Chakotay was situated, he began. “Dvelrel told me what you said about the duct. How are repairs going?”
Chakotay looked him in the eye, a trait his father said couldn’t fail him. “To be honest, sir, the duct’s life is now countable in time.”
“Years? Months?” Shalmon asked.
“More like weeks. Three of us, myself and the two men you assigned to assist me—we can’t keep up with the new leaks. For every one we patch, ten more spring. The material is ripping much more easily. The supports in the upper basin are showing signs of what is called rot.” Chakotay paused, weighing the words carefully. “To be honest, if the cracks don’t get the best of us, the top area will collapse within months, maybe weeks.”
“Fixable, without having a total rebuild?” Shalmon asked.
“With all due respect sir, no. The upper section needs to be rebuilt and soon. The lower sections can be repaired to stay workable until they can be individually replaced. But I see no other options.”
Shalmon shook his head. But the consequences were worse then the solution. He looked at the paper under his sun browned hand. Chakotay, looking at them upside down, deduced that they were plans of some sort and asked if it were.
“The original plans for the duct you just told me is falling apart.” Shalmon looked out the window briefly. “I’m going out on a limb here, son. You told me what I knew was inevitable.” Again, his eyes scanned the paper. He picked them up and rolled them back up.
“Chakotay, I’m giving you an opportunity. We need the new duct. No question of when, but how soon.” He held out the sheets to Chakotay, who took them hesitantly. “Read over these. Alter anything you think can be improved upon.” He handed Chakotay another smaller piece of paper. “Those are materials and prices. I want you to redesign this duct. Figure your man power, estimated completion time, price.”
“Me, sir? You want me to design the new duct?”
Shalmon smiled at the younger man across the table. “Yes. You’re inventive and I suspect you can make something out of nothing. I need this. I will give you complete power over it if it meets with my approval. Interested?”
Chakotay smiled, looking at the list. “Interested, you bet. I can have preliminary drawings to you by morning.”
Shalmon got up and Chakotay followed suit. “Good, because time is a luxury we don’t have with this. We need it now.”
Chakotay stepped toward the door. “I will do my best.”
Shalmon watched the man walk down the hill from his window.
“I know you will.”