by Dawn

Summary: Set sometime in the seventh season. The crew of Voyager has run low on dilithium again - will they locate an available source in time? Despite the challenges, the crew of Voyager still maintains a little bit of Christmas spirit.

Disclaimer: Voyager and its characters belong to Paramount.

Rating: R

Voyager was at a dead stop. The ship had been powered down to gray mode. Only life support and the enhanced ship’s sensors were drawing power as they searched for a source of dilithium. For one reason or another, all of the sources they had encountered during the previous six months had proven unattainable.

Kathryn watched the bridge crew sit quietly in the dark, with only the slight glow of the consoles illuminating their faces. Harry was working diligently and in constant communication with Seven in astrometrics. Tom was leaning back in his chair with his hands folded across his chest, waiting quietly for instructions on which direction to point the ship. B’Elanna sat tensely at the engineering station, waiting for results of the scans.

Kathryn looked over at Chakotay, who seemed to be deep in thought. She leaned across the console and whispered, “What’s on your mind?”

He turned to her. “Hmmm?”

“You’re deep in thought.”

“Mmmm. Yes.” He leaned closer so they wouldn’t be overheard. “I was thinking about how we can avoid getting ourselves in this predicament in the future. It happens far too often, and I don’t think we’d be here now if we’d handled things differently a month ago.”

He was referring to trade negotiations that had gone astray because they’d been too eager and trusting. They’d come close to losing what precious little dilithium they had, not to mention almost losing their Captain, because of a skilled con artist with a violent streak. Kathryn sighed. “I agree, but you know what they say: Hindsight is twenty/twenty.”

“That may be, but we were impatient and didn’t see the warning signs until it was almost too late. Our lack of foresight almost cost us more than we’d ever be willing to sacrifice.” He looked pointedly at her and touched her hand. “I was considering how we should institute a system of checks and balances for future encounters. We’ve been doing this for over six years – we should have it figured out by now.”

“Yet something always goes wrong. Chakotay, we’ve always managed to pull through, and we can’t predict every unknown.” She was about to say more, but Tom interrupted.

“Are you two whispering about our Christmas presents?”

“Pardon?” Kathryn asked.

“Well, you know that Christmas is in a little under a week. Since you two are our ‘parents,’ I thought all that whispering was about our presents.”

“Parents?” Chakotay questioned and threw a quick wink at Kathryn. “How do you figure?”

“You know, the heads of our Voyager family. The folks for whom we are good and dutiful children.”

“I wish,” Chakotay answered sarcastically. “And were you a good boy this year, son?”

“Of course! …when absolutely necessary.”

B’Elanna snorted and Kathryn asked, “What is it that you want for Christmas, Mr. Paris?”

“Hmmmm… Good question. Some nice dilithium crystals for my lovely wife would be good, because when she’s happy, I’m happy.”

“Yes, we’d all appreciate that. And for you?”

Chakotay interjected. “A new shuttle?”

“Nah… I’d like real, honest to goodness, cheese. And with it, I’d make a pizza.”

Harry asked, “Shall I change my search parameters to scout for mozzarella, or would a nice romano/parmesan blend be preferred?”

“Mozarella, Harry, nothing but hot, fresh mozzarella.”

Kathryn looked over at Chakotay who was smiling at her. He said, “We’ll see what we can do. Be sure to write your letter to Santa.”

“You know what would be nice?” Tom asked.

Tuvok answered, “Allowing Ensign Kim to concentrate on his task?”

“Nah, a Christmas tree in here. I used to love sitting in the dark house, staring at the colorful lights twinkling on the tree. It’d definitely liven up the bridge and bring us some Christmas cheer.”

“That’d be nice, Mr. Paris,” Kathryn answered. “If we find what we’re looking for, I’d love to have a tree in the messhall. A little taste of home would be very welcome.”

B’Elanna asked, “Why is Christmas such a big deal on Earth? I’ve always wondered.”

“You don’t know?” Tom turned to stare at her. “How long have you known me? It’s the biggest holiday of the year.”

“Yeah, but why? It’s a religious ceremony of some kind, isn’t it?”

Kathryn answered, “It’s a celebration of the birth of the Christian savior, but over the years, it’s been embraced by most everyone on Earth as a reason to exchange gifts.”

Tom said, “My grandmother used to say that even though the holiday has evolved down to a generalized opportunity to exchange gifts, the celebrations made people stop and think about God, even if just for a moment.”

Samantha Wildman spoke up. “That’s true. It’s hard to miss the point of the season, even for a non-believer. How can you sing or listen to the songs without realizing it?”

Chakotay asked, “What’s that really long song about presents? Something about a lot of birds?”

Kathryn offered, “The Twelve Days of Christmas?”

Tom started singing, “On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…. A partridge in a pear tree.”

B’Elanna responded, “Not a chance, Paris.”

“We should make up our own words,” Tom suggested.

“On the first day of Christmas, my starship gave to me, a burst of e-ner-gy.”

“Spare us, please,” B’Elanna covered her ears.

Samantha added, “On the second day of Christmas, my starship gave to me, two happy gel-packs…”

“And a burst of e-e-e-e-ner-gy.”

“Oh, my,” Kathryn rolled her eyes.

“Is there a point to the song?” Chakotay asked.

“Not to our version, no,” Kathryn laughed. “But the original was a veiled description of Christian catechisms, and the number marks the twelve days of Christmas that begin on Christmas day.”

While the bridge crew continued coming up with additional verses of the song, Kathryn concentrated on the ops readout feed on her console so that she was watching the same thing Harry was. An elevated carbonide reading got her attention and she was about to tell Harry to go back for a deeper scan when the readings changed to exactly what she wanted to see.

Chakotay asked, “What are you smiling at?”

“Oh, nothing really… I think Harry can read my mind.”

He chuckled. “Yes, I think we all can, most of the time.”

“Most of the time?” She raised her eyebrows.

“Well, I haven’t figured out what you want for Christmas… yet.”

“Yet?” she laughed. “And you think you’ll figure it out in five days?”

“I do. I always do. I’m like Santa – knowing what all the boys and girls want.”

She raised a finger and shook her head slightly. “No, you always think you do.”

“I don’t?”

“I’m not saying that your past gifts haven’t been absolutely lovely, but they don’t touch at the heart of what I would really cherish for Christmas.”

“Can you give me a hint?”

“I just did, Commander.” She winked at him.

“You did?” He was quiet for a moment. “Let’s see… I’ve given you coffee beans, replicator credits, novels, a sand painting of a sunset on earth, more coffee… those things weren’t what you wanted?”

“They were lovely. And the sand painting was striking, but this year, it would be nice to receive something that would really touch my heart… something that I can’t get for myself because of my position.” She touched her lips as she thought about it.

“Hmmmm… I might need another hint.”

She lightly licked her lips. “I just gave you a second one.”

Harry interrupted, singing, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmaaas….”

Kathryn held his gaze for a moment longer before looking at the readouts. “Outstanding, Ensign.”

“Distance is four light years,” Harry said. “Tom, I’m sending you the coordinates.”

Kathryn said, “Engage at warp six.”

“Aye, Captain.”

B’Elanna was studying her console, “Wow, that looks too good to be true.”

“Don’t jinx it,” Chakotay said. “Ensign Kim, I’d like you to put together the mining team after you’ve finished your analysis on the dilithium.”

“Me, Commander?”

“Yes, you’ve been on enough away teams. You know what needs to be done. Have Ensign Vorik assist you.” Chakotay continued, “Commander Tuvok, begin the security analysis on the planet as we come into range. We’ll schedule a mission briefing first thing in the morning.”

The crew busied themselves with preparations for their mining operation. The planet Sirra turned out to be inhabited by a newly warp-capable society which was eager to let Voyager mine on their planet in exchange for knowledge and information about the universe. The ambassador that Chakotay had spoken to reported that they’d only traveled within their own solar system and didn’t have much information beyond that. Voyager was only the third alien ship to visit their planet.

They decided not to use transporters to avoid revealing too much technology, so two shuttles were prepared for the away mission. Chakotay was headed to the shuttle bay for their departure when Kathryn fell in step beside him. He asked, “Will you have the Christmas tree up by the time we’re back?”

“Paris is already making plans. Are you sure you don’t want to take him with you?”

“No, we shouldn’t need his piloting expertise, and even though a medic would be a good idea, I want to give Kim some command experience without Paris around.”

“You’re right. After his adventures with the Nightingale ship, he could use the confidence boost.”

“Exactly. We’re taking several fully-stocked medkits, and if we need to transport someone back, we can do it from inside one of the shuttles.”

“All right, then.” They arrived outside the shuttle bay and stopped. Kathryn turned to him and said, “Be careful.”

“Don’t worry, I won’t mess this one up. We need the dilithium too badly.”

“That’s not what I meant,” she said softly as she touched his arm. “Be safe.”

“I know.” He was quiet for a moment as he studied her. “Are you sure I can’t have another hint about your present? Maybe I could find something on the planet.”

“There’s nothing down there that I want, except the dilithium of course.” She rubbed his arm coyly. “I’d rather receive a significantly more personal gift, so come back to me safely.”

Chakotay sighed. “A hint really would be helpful.”

“I’ve been giving you hints… a lot of them. Just think about what I’ve said and know that not all gifts come wrapped up in little boxes with bows on them.”

“So… it’s a gift that doesn’t fit in a box.” He looked steadily into her eyes and she had hopes that the realization would hit him like a ton of bricks. “You want holodeck time?”

“Not exactly.” She said, “You’re a brilliant military strategist, Chakotay, but I don’t believe you understand the basic concept of what women want.”

“Basic?” He shook his head. “There is absolutely nothing basic about understanding women. But you’re right… I obviously don’t understand women because I’ve had zero luck with women in the long term.”

She ushered him into the shuttle bay, softly touching the back of his shoulder. “It might be time for you to change your success rate, then.”

“If it were possible, I would.” He handed his bag to Ensign Mulcahey. “I’ve got check-ins scheduled. We don’t think communicators will work except through the shuttle or the government’s communication terminals, so if you need me, contact the ambassador or leave me a message and I’ll check in every few hours.”

“I know. Have a safe trip and I’ll see you in a few days. We’ll be watching your life signs.” She waved at him as he boarded the shuttle and sighed deeply once he was onboard. “Men can be so dense.”

As she walked back to the bridge, she decided that if he didn’t figure it out by Christmas morning, she would take matters into her own hands… to hell with Starfleet regulations. It’s not like she hadn’t already bent dozens of rules on this journey. What would one more hurt?

That evening, Chakotay reported in and Kathryn received the communication in her ready room. “Good evening, Kathryn. How was your day?”

“Boring. Yours?” She rested her chin on her hand.

“Tedious, but it went well. I’d rather you be bored than getting into trouble down here.”

“You’re sure of that, are you?”

He ignored her comment. “We’ve received permission to mine and I’ve sent Kim and his team to the northern hemisphere to get started. They still have six-seven hours of daylight, so they should at least get the equipment set up. The government would like us to save the granite for them, which is fine, of course. I just hope they don’t expect us to move it.”

“That would be difficult without transporters.”

“Yes, I know,” Chakotay sighed. “I haven’t even seen anything like hovercraft, so we’ll not mention it. As you can probably tell by your sensor readings, Tuvok, Mulcahey, and I are still in the capital city. They’re very curious about us and the ambassador wants to make a big show of having visitors from another planet. They’re thrilled that we represent two species, but not happy that we don’t have any females on the team.”

“You want me to send you a girl?” She raised an eyebrow.

He laughed, “You know that’s kind of funny considering our earlier conversation.”

Smiling, she asked, “Seriously, though. Would you like another away team member?”

“I’m sure it would please them, but they don’t think it’s possible. They believe it takes a huge effort to launch and land, and I’m not going to correct that assumption.”

“I’d come down if you needed me.”

“No!” He glared at her. “I don’t want you to leave the ship.”

“Look, Commander,” she said sharply. “Just because I was taken hostage at the last planet, abducted the one before that, and injured the month before, doesn’t mean that I don’t get to leave the ship.”

“Of course not, Captain.” He held up his hands in mock surrender. “But I don’t think we should risk your safety just to be paraded around as a human female specimen.”

“Well, when you put it like that…” She winked at him. They’d had an extensive argument after the last away mission about her leaving the ship. Their affinity for debate usually forced them into a friendly truce, rather than an agreement.

“The ambassador said there are political action groups that are against inter-planetary travel, so they want to make a show of friendly visitors to prove a point.”

“Did you tell them that not all aliens are friendly?”

“Yes, but the ambassador just waved it off. I don’t want to scare them.”

“Hard call.” Kathryn thought for a moment. “I don’t think it would hurt to get images and descriptions of some of the less friendly races to them, just in case. The Hirogen and the Borg, for example.”

“Good point, although I’ll only tell them what they need to know – don’t want to scare them unnecessarily. I’ll try to find someone other than the ambassador to talk to about it. He doesn’t want to hear anything negative.”

“All right. Will you be sleeping on the shuttle or have they given you accommodations?”

“I’d rather stay on the shuttle for communication purposes, but they insist that we be guests at an embassy.”

An idea occurred to Kathyrn, so she tapped her commbadge. “Janeway to Engineering.”

“Yes, Captain?” Carey answered.

“How long would it take you to build two portable communicator enhancers that the away teams could use outside of the shuttles?”

Chakotay smiled as Carey answered, “Not long, Captain. Maybe an hour.”

“I don’t know why we didn’t think of that before. Get started and transport one down to each shuttle. Give priority to Commander Chakotay’s shuttle.”

“Aye, Captain. Carey out.”

“Can you busy yourself in the shuttle for an hour?”

“Of course. The ambassador is waiting on me so we can go out for a nightcap, but a few minutes of quiet time would be nice, and I’d like to eat something. The dinner tonight was quite eccentric, but…”

“Not vegetarian?”

“Not at all. Luckily, Mulcahey loved it and was more than willing to steal my dinner so I didn’t appear rude.”

“Did they notice?”

“No, the ambassador was too busy grandstanding about us to pay attention.”

“You make it sound so enjoyable.” She mused. “If he introduces you to any good alcohol, see if you can bring some back, would you?”

“That’s it!”

“What’s it?”

“Your Christmas present. You want liquor.”

She dropped her head back in exasperation.

“It’s not?”

She shook her head without looking back down at the computer terminal.

“Kathryn, I really have no idea.”

Resting her chin on her hand, she said, “Obviously. Just so you know, I decided today that if you don’t figure it out by Christmas morning, I’m going to be happy, and I’ll get it myself.”

“If you can do that, why haven’t you done it yet? Have you been waiting for six and a half years to get something that will make you happy?”

“Yes,” she said emphatically. “Well, maybe not all that time. I don’t think I realized what I wanted until more recently, not that I would have turned it down before that.”

“But you’re the Captain of the ship. Surely you could bend the rules in order to get what you want.”

She leaned in close to the screen. “I plan on doing exactly that, if you don’t put it together. To hell with the rules.”

“Whatever this thing is… is it going to make my job harder?”

“Possibly.” She smiled to herself that his job wasn’t the only thing that was going to get harder. “I think, and I hope, that you’ll enjoy it as much as I do.”

He scratched his cheek. “This is an absolute mystery, Kathryn.”

“Maybe it’ll come to you in a dream.”

Laughing softly, he said, “Perhaps so. Go get some rest, now. We’re fine.”

“All right. Enjoy your evening out.”

“Oh, you know I will,” he said with sarcasm.

“Contact us if you need anything.”

“I will. Goodnight, Kathryn.”

She touched the screen and said, “Goodnight.”

As the image faded, she felt a little disheartened. He was not this dense. He was the most intelligent man she’d ever met. Well, except for Mark. But that was a different kind of intelligence. Chakotay was powerful, brilliant, and could be outright dangerous when he wanted to be. Thinking about him made her feel more than a little warm.

Over the next two days, ship’s business went on exactly as expected. Mulcahey reported in on behalf of the away team in the capital city, reporting that the commanders were busy with the ambassador. Kathryn usually found waiting on the ship boring, but this time, she did not envy Tuvok and Chakotay at all.

The other away team continually reported success, and had been consistently transporting dilithium back to the ship. Luckily, they could use their technology at will because they had no interaction with the humanoids on the planet.

Kathryn stood up and said, “Lt. Paris, the bridge is yours.”

“Aye, Captain.” He stood when his replacement arrived.

“I’ll be back to relieve you in an hour for dinner.”

“Take your time, Captain.”

She said, “Thank you,” and headed up to the turbolift, nodding at Ayala as she passed by.

When she stepped into the turbolift, she heard, “Captain!” The doors hadn’t closed yet so she walked back onto the bridge and looked at ops. “Yes, Ensign Rollins?”

He was frantically checking readings. “There’s been an explosion on the planet.”

“Where?” She was at his console in no time.

“Capital city, Captain. I’m trying to get a fix on the away team’s lifesigns.”

Her heart hammered as she waited for his analysis. She tapped her commbadge. “Voyager to Chakotay.”

“They can’t hear us without the enhanced communicator, and they haven’t been carrying it with them.” Tom was standing next to the railing around the command deck, and all eyes were on Rollins.

“There’s too much dust in the air, Captain. The ore that is hampering communications is blocking my scans.”

“They must use it in their building materials.” Kathryn stepped up to the console to assist. “Helm, move us into orbit over the city.”

“Aye, Captain.”

She felt the ship’s engines engage and the sensor readings shift to accommodate. “Lieutenant Paris, prepare the Flyer for launch.”

“Aye, Captain.” Tom left the bridge.

“Captain,” Ayala said. “There are traces of a substance similar to trinitrotoluene in the debris cloud.”

Kathryn indicated that she heard him and took a steadying breath. “Lieutenant, contact the other away team and see if they can make it to the Capital city, or if their sensors can pick up anything. I don’t think it’ll work, but let’s give it a try.”

“Aye, Captain,” Ayala answered.

She asked Rollins quietly, “Any luck yet?”

“I’m sorry, Captain.” His voice betrayed his feelings of grief. “The debris cloud is too thick. Their lifesigns were in that exact location before the explosion. It’s the embassy where they’ve spent most of their time.”

The dead weight feeling of dread had lodged itself in her gut. “How large was the blast zone?”

“Relatively small – only 200 meters.”

“I’m going down there.” She headed towards the lift. “Ayala, you’re with me. Rollins, you’re in command. Get Jenkins to help with sensors, and keep trying to pinpoint the away team.”

“Captain?” Rollins questioned.

She turned to him. “Yes, Ensign?”

He stood up a little straighter before asking, “Are you sure you should leave the ship?”

“I trust your abilities. You’ll be fine.”

“It’s not me that I’m concerned about.” He came out from behind the ops console. “If anything should happen to you down there…”

She knew where he was coming from. He had been on the away team on the last mission when she had almost died. “I respect your concerns, but I need to get down there. We’ll be in communication until we leave the shuttle, and maybe by then we’ll have a better picture of what’s happened.”

“Aye, Captain. Please be careful.”

“I’ll try, Ensign. The bridge is yours.”

In the lift, Kathryn said, “Why is this entire crew suddenly overly-concerned about my well-being?”

“We always have been, Captain,” Ayala answered. “You’ve just had a run of bad luck recently, so we’re all on our toes and actively trying to keep you alive.”

She sighed deeply. “You understand why I need to get down there, don’t you?”

“I…” He paused to form his sentence. “I understand why you want to get down there, Captain, but I believe that Paris and I can handle the situation.”

Raising her chin, she explained, “If anyone on the away team is injured, or God forbid, dead, and if the ambassador has suffered the same fate, I’ve still got an away team on that planet without a political agreement to be there. The government of that city just suffered a terrorist attack because we were there. Paris is going as our medic to get the team back to the flyer and transported up here. I’m going to attempt diplomacy and offer any aid that I can. You’re my security backup.”

“Understood, Captain. However, so that we may have enough people to both protect you and rescue the away team, may I suggest that we take Andrews and McKenzie with us?”

She didn’t lose eye contact with Ayala as she tapped her commbadge. “Janeway to Andrews and McKenzie. Please report to the shuttle bay for emergency departure.”

Two ‘Aye, Captains’ came in response and Ayala said, “Thank you, Captain. I feel better.”

“Glad I can help,” she said as they stepped out of the turbolift. On their way to the shuttle bay, Ayala made arrangements with Tom on the shuttle, the bridge, and other members of security, so they’d be ready to lift off as soon as everyone was on board.

The flight down was quick and smooth. Kathryn was at the co-pilot console, doing her best to get better readings of the away team’s life signs and communicating with Voyager. Ayala was at the security console, assessing the situation at ground zero. McKenzie and Andrews were talking quietly in the back about possible strategies for what they would encounter. She heard them say something about not letting her take point.

When they set down next to the other shuttle, Kathryn turned to her team. “Lieutenant Ayala?”

“Yes, Ma’am. We have slightly less than a one kilometer walk to ground zero. Andrews, you and I will take the lead. Paris and McKenzie, bring up the rear. Captain, I believe it would be best if you kept a low profile. If they blame us for the explosion, we should anticipate that they might be angry enough to seek retribution. Let’s avoid another hostage scenario.”

“As you wish. Let’s go.” She holstered her phaser, picked up a medkit, and let the rest of the team lead the way. The walk to the embassy was tense. People were moving in the opposite direction, looking terrified. Some were hurt, but none severely. It appeared that most of the injuries were from broken glass. Only a few paid them notice, and those that did crossed the street to avoid them.

As they neared the blast zone, they pulled breathing masks out of the medkits because of the heavy dust in the air. An eerie silence pervaded the area even though emergency medical teams were on the scene. The embassy was still standing, but all the windows of it and the surrounding buildings had been blown out.

Kathryn strained to see through the thick atmosphere, trying to catch a glimpse of her three missing crew. The Serrins had pale green skin, but otherwise didn’t differ much from humans. The looks they were getting from the emergency workers and injured were nothing short of spiteful. Ayala motioned for them to follow him around the emergency vehicles, and when one of the Serrins spat at them, she felt Tom’s hand on her back guiding her forward.

When the team stopped in front of the embassy, she kneeled down to pick up a piece of black fabric she saw on the ground. Tom kneeled with her and pulled his mask away. “Are you okay, Captain?”

She nodded as she fingered the thick, velvety fabric. She pulled her mask down too and showed him the remnant. “It’s not part of a uniform.”

He locked eyes with her in understanding, and helped her back up to her feet. All three security team members had pulled out tri-corders so she didn’t pull hers out – preferring to let her senses take in the situation. She reaffixed her mask, but that didn’t help the burning in her eyes.

An official-looking male walked up to them and addressed Ayala. “Who are you and why are you here?”

Maintaining her low profile, she let Ayala answer. “We’re from the starship Voyager that’s in orbit. Three of our crewmembers were inside this building. We’re here to find them and offer any medical assistance that you might need.”

“We can take care of our own,” he stated emphatically. “As for your… crew? If they hadn’t paraded around here so openly, this wouldn’t have happened. I last saw the dark one inside with Ambassador Daylan before the explosion. The Ambassador received minor medical attention, and I assume your crew was still with him at the time of the explosion.”

Kathryn could feel the open hostility in his voice and wanted to intervene with much-needed diplomacy, but since it appeared that the Ambassador was fine, she’d wait to speak to him. She dearly hoped that meant her crew was also safe.

Ayala said, “Thank you for your help, sir, and please accept our regrets that this happened.”

The alien huffed away, and when Kathryn made a slight move to follow him, Tom gave her a look that she assumed was a reminder to keep quiet. She turned back to the team. “I think we should head inside if it’s safe to do so.”

McKenzie answered, “It’s structurally sound, but we should try not to get in the way.”

“Agreed,” she replied. Ayala led the team inside and Kathryn kept her eyes and ears alert. Furniture was in disarray, broken glass covered the floor, and chunks of the drywall had come loose. Medical teams were tending to the injured, carrying some out on stretchers.

They weren’t in very far when another, younger male came up to them. He was harried-looking and spoke quickly. “You’re from Voyager! Oh, you shouldn’t have come here! Follow me! Quickly!”

Ayala looked back at her and she nodded, so they followed the Serrin through a long corridor and then downstairs. As they passed extremely angry-looking Serrins, Kathryn absently touched the phaser at her side. Ayala’s words regarding retribution jumped to the forefront of her mind and she felt the urge to protect her people. The stairs were in such shambles that they literally had to slide down to the next level, and Kathryn didn’t know how they would navigate their way back up.

As they moved into the basement, there was a noticeable absence of shattered glass, but parts of the floor above had fallen in. A growing sense of dread had rested in her gut, but she did her best to tamp it down.

The young male leading them said, “The ambassador will be so happy to see you, but I fear that after this catastrophe, no one else will want to see more alien visitors.”

Ayala said, “We’ve sensed that, but we need to find our people. What is their condition?”

“This way! This way!” He skipped a step and nearly stumbled over a fallen floor joist. Andrews caught him and helped him back to his feet. “Oh, you are so kind… so kind. If they only realized…”

The floor was littered with pieces of the ceiling and the floor above. It was difficult to navigate, so Kathryn let Tom help her over the rubble as they made their way down the corridor. When they went through the door and Kathryn locked eyes with Chakotay, she let out a breath that she didn’t realize was she holding and said, “Thank God.” He was sitting on the edge of a table, holding a bloodied cloth against his forehead.

The room was too silent as he somberly asked, “Why are you here?”

She set the medkit down on the table next to him. “Rescuing you.”

“So I see.” He shook his head in dismay, but couldn’t stop the small grin that tugged at his lips. “It appears that my first priority should have been finding a way to contact Voyager to give a status report.”

“Yes, Commander, I would have appreciated that.” Kathryn looked around the room. The Ambassador and his assistants were watching them with eager anticipation, as if they were chomping at the bit to speak to her. Tuvok and Mulcahey had stepped forward from where they had been standing in the back of the room, and there were three Serrins handcuffed and sitting behind the long table that Chakotay was sitting on. “You’ve been busy.”

“Per the Ambassador’s request, we haven’t surfaced since the explosion. However, we were mostly protected from it down here.”

“Glad to hear it.” As she opened the medkit, she nodded towards the three in handcuffs. “And this?”

“They were climbing out of a ventilation duct with explosives in their possession when they began a tirade against us in the back hallway down here. That’s where we left the communication enhancer.”

Tuvok added disapprovingly, “And now the Ambassador has asked us to wait for the wounded to be removed from the building before we emerge.”

“The emergency teams seem to have everything in control upstairs.” She opened a medical tri-corder and looked critically at Chakotay. “We were worried.”


“We couldn’t detect any life signs.” Kathryn lifted the cloth away from Chakotay’s head and cringed at the gash she discovered. “Lieutenant Paris, I think you’d better handle this.”

Kathryn stepped back and handed the tri-corder to Tom, but didn’t break eye contact with Chakotay. She could tell that he was not pleased that she’d come down, but amused with the arrival of the cavalry.

Tom healed the cut in only a moment, and said, “You have a slight concussion, Commander, but you’ll be fine.”

“Thank you, Lieutenant.”

“Mr. Chakotay,” the ambassador interrupted. “You haven’t introduced the rest of your voyagers here! I’m eager to know them!”

He stood up and took Kathryn’s elbow. “Ambassador, please pardon my lack of etiquette. I’d like to introduce Voyager’s commanding officer, Captain Kathryn Janeway. She is also a human from Earth.”

“Finally… I get to meet a female!” The ambassador took her offered hand and held it firmly while stroking the back of it. The action made her uncomfortable, but it was tolerable. “How very lovely you are, Miss Kathryn. May I call you that?”

She smiled kindly while retracting her hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you as well, Ambassador. I prefer Captain, or Captain Janeway.”

“Oh… I’m not used to females in such high positions, but it appears that you have adequate assistance from the males.” He obviously disapproved, but seemed to enjoy looking her over. “So fascinating how small you are compared to the males… and I suppose as a space traveler, you have to wear the clothing of a male. Tsk tsk… so unfortunate.”

She had to bite her lip to keep from saying what she’d really like, but chanced a sideways glance at Chakotay who was trying hard not to smile. Addressing the Ambassador, she said, “Males and females don’t usually dress differently unless attending a civilian social event, Ambassador.”

“Oh… I see!” He nodded. “Do you have many of those? I would so love to see your spaceship. Mr. Chakotay hasn’t told me much about it, but I just can’t imagine a ship that can hold so many persons comfortably.”

“I’d be happy to speak with you further about all of this, but right now, I’d like to offer our help in treating the wounded and getting everyone out of the building safely. Would you introduce us to a physician or rescue-worker who can direct us?”

“Oh… no, no, no. You mustn’t interfere. Not after what these three have done.” He waved at the three Serrins sitting behind the table. “The citizens are not at all pleased about this. I’ve been upstairs, and emotions are running high.”

“Yes, we noticed that, but this is also a chance for us to show kindness, and perhaps soften the hearts of your people.”

“Not likely,” muttered one of the accused.

Kathryn ignored the comment and said, “The area we walked through upstairs was almost clear of wounded people, and the blast looks like it didn’t do much more than rearrange furniture and break glass.”

“That can’t be!” shouted a Serrin in handcuffs.

Tuvok inquired, “What did you expect would happen?”

The three aliens began arguing with each other so quickly that the universal translator couldn’t keep up. One of the ambassador’s aides silenced them and spoke with enough venom that the translator had no problems whatsoever. “Do you mean to say that you expected the entire building to collapse?”

They were quiet now, but Ayala spoke. “We detected tetryl in the explosion.”

“Tetryl? What is Tetryl?” One of them asked.

Kathryn said slowly, “A yellow, crystalline compound used in explosives. How does toluene translate?”

The three of them looked at each other, wide-eyed. One finally spoke up. “We didn’t use that substance.”

Chakotay put his hands flat on the table in front of the one that spoke and leaned forward, a menacing look on his face. “What, exactly, did you plant in this building, and what, exactly, did you expect to happen?”

The one who spoke up looked at the others before explaining. “Potassium Chlorate and phosphorus. Do those terms translate into something you recognize?

“Yes,” Chakotay replied. “How much?”

Kathryn interjected, “Did you add any sulfur?”

One of the others shouted, “Why should we tell you?”

Chakotay got in his face. “Because this means your bomb hasn’t gone off, and you’re sitting underneath ground zero. Start. Talking. Now.”

The calmer one said, “No, we didn’t add any sulfur. It’s too expensive. The bombs are planted in the air circulation conduits between the floors. If that wasn’t our bomb, ours should have gone off by now.”

Chakotay turned to the ambassador. “Do whatever you can to evacuate the building as quickly as possible. Move people far away – at least a kilometer.”

“But sir… they won’t believe me.”

“Make them,” he was dead serious. “Tuvok, Paris, and Ayala, go with him.”

“Aye, sir.” They pulled the Ambassador and his aides out of the room to get started.

The last aide stopped before he left the room and said, “I am sorry about this, Voyagers. The Ambassador…”

Kathryn cut him off. “Just get everyone out. We’ll talk later.” The aide nodded and left to catch up to the others.

“Commander,” McKenzie interrupted. “We could pull people out with the transporters on the shuttles.”

“The transporters aren’t able to lock onto lifesigns through the dust in the air, and even if it has dissipated, it would take us thirty minutes to get back to the shuttles. I’m also not sure what their reaction to transporters would be. It could be frightening.”

“That’s exactly what we’ve been saying!” One of the accused yelled. “You’re going to hurt us by helping us.”

Kathryn said, “That would violate our strictest principles. We would never expose you to technology beyond what your people have developed. It’s our prime directive.”

“You being here is an exposure! Your existence contradicts our core religious beliefs!”

Calmly, Kathryn said, “I understand, and I’ll be glad to debate that issue with you after we’re out of danger.”

Chakotay said, “Let’s get out of here.”

Andrews, Mulcahey, and McKenzie were directed to release the handcuffs and each take charge of a Sirren.

“Where is the detonator?” Kathryn asked.

Chakotay said, “Captain, we don’t have time for that.”

“We don’t know when it’s going to go off.” She pulled out her tri-corder and scanned as they walked, letting Chakotay help her over the rubble.

The Sirren at the front stopped and looked up at the ceiling. “Captain Jan-a-way?”

“Yes?” She followed his gaze and scanned the floor above with her tri-corder.

“The detonator must have malfunctioned. That’s the only reason I can think of why the explosion hasn’t happened.” He pointed to a black box above their heads.

Chakotay stood behind her with his hand on her back, gently applying pressure for her to move ahead. “Captain, we can’t risk you in this building.”

Kathryn looked at the stairs lying in shambles in front of her and then studied her readings of the detonator overhead. “We may not have time.”

Chakotay studied the explosives in the ceiling and said, “Then we better see what we’re dealing with. How is that device connected?”

Kathryn studied the readings, “It’s a chemical reaction detonator. Chakotay, do you have any idea where the communication enhancer is?”

Mulcahey said, “I know right where it is.” He ran down a different corridor.

Kathryn felt more than a little frustrated. “It would have been nice to know we had access to it before now.”

Chakotay grumbled, “I didn’t realize it was accessible either. What do you have in mind, Captain?”

“I think Voyager can lock onto the chemicals and beam them into space.”

McKenzie asked, “But if they couldn’t transport us, how are they going to transport the explosives?”

“The lifesigns were masked because our people were underground and because of the debris cloud. We were able to pick up all the elements and chemicals in the explosion.”

Mulcahey returned and opened communication. Kathryn gave him a stern look and said, “Janeway to Voyager, do you read me?”

“Yes, Captain. I’m relieved to hear your voice.”

“I need you to scan the embassy for potassium chlorate. Do you find any?”

A moment of silence and then Rollins answered, “Yes, Captain, throughout the building.”

“Can you get a transporter lock onto it?”

The line was quiet for a moment while he worked. “Yes, but it’s indistinguishable from the catalyst. Are you sure you want that on the ship?”

“No,” Chakotay said. “Beam it into space. Rollins, can you get a lock on us as well?”

“Not on you, no. Your lifesigns haven’t registered at all. Give me a moment on the chlorate.”

The Sirren stepped up on a fallen joist and unfastened the detonator box. One of the others said, “Steady…”

“I don’t want to die anymore than you do, Poylam.” He opened the box that was still connected by fuse to the rest of the explosives.

“Can we sever the line?” Mulcahey asked.

“No!” All of them answered at once.

Kathryn asked, “You put a plasma reactant in here?”

“Yes, that seems to be why it malfunctioned.”

“I’ve never had luck with plasma.” Chakotay suggested, “Poke a hole in the plasma casing and let it leak out. It’s a toxic material, but we won’t be exposed to it for long.”

“How do you know that’ll work?” the Sirren asked.

“I’ve done it before.” When the Sirrens looked at him unsure, he added, “I was a terrorist at one time myself, and I’ve handled more than a few bombs.”

“You Voyagers are not what I expected at all.”

“Glad to hear it,” Janeway answered as she pierced the plasma casing. “It’s only a tiny hole, but we don’t want it to escape too quickly.”

Chakotay said, “All right, everyone out. We should get up these stairs just in case this doesn’t work.”

The Sirren said, “You were so confident a moment ago.”

“Yes, but you never know when something will go wrong.”

Rollins contacted them again as they were headed up the stairs. “I’ve begun transporting it, Captain, and it’s detonating as soon as it hits the vacuum of space.”

She turned back to look at the Sirren. “How is that possible?”

Another one answered, “There are small electrical detonators within each individual pack.”

Chakotay turned slowly around and if looks could kill, the young Sirren wouldn’t have to worry about leaving the building. “You could have mentioned that.”

“Move!” Kathryn said as they pushed their way through the debris.

Rollins was speaking to them through the pack on Mulcahey’s back. “I’m working as fast as I can, Captain.”

“Understood. Do your best,” she huffed with exertion as they moved up the stairs.

None of the men had trouble stepping over the debris because their legs were long, but Kathryn in her high heeled boots was having difficulty managing it. Mulcahey was in front of her and offered his hand with every hurdle. Chakotay was behind her, offering support with his hand on her back.

When they arrived at the last step, where the staircase had come separated from the floor above, there was no way she could make it without help. Mulcahey was able to jump up and grab hold of the floor above to hoist himself up and over. She reached up, but couldn’t even touch the edge.

Chakotay put his hands around her waist and directed, “Captain, I want you to sit on my shoulder and I’ll lift you.”

She nodded as he squatted down and wrapped his arms around her legs. Mulcahey was kneeling on the floor above, ready to pull her up. She let Chakotay help her get situated on his shoulders, and they began to rise when they heard a loud pop and the building shook. Chakotay held her tightly as they fell over. The men behind them kept them from rolling back down the stairs, but when her head hit the wall, Chakotay yelled, “Kathryn!”

She shook her head to clear it and touched Chakotay’s chest. “I’m okay.”

Rollin’s urgent voice came through on the open communicator. “Captain? Commander?”

Kathryn took Chakotay’s hand to get back on her feet. “We’re here, Ensign. Report.”

“One of the packs detonated as I locked the transporter on it. I don’t know why.”

“We’re almost out. Keep going,” Kathryn squeezed Chakotay’s hand as he hoisted her back up to his shoulders.

Mulcahey was able to get her hands this time and lift her to the main floor. Together, they pulled the rest of the people up and ran through the atrium and out into the street.

Rollins said, “Captain, I can’t get it all.”

“How much?” Kathryn asked as they moved away.

“I can’t tell, for sure. Maybe five kilograms, but I can’t read below the surface if there’s any in the basement.”

“Let it go. Everyone is out of the building. Hopefully, we’ve neutralized the detonator.”

“Yes, Ma’am, get to a safe distance.”

Chakotay urged the team forward to get away from the building. It appeared that the Ambassador had been successful in clearing the area because they couldn’t see any sign of life. They weren’t five steps forward when they felt a chain reaction of explosions that threw them to the ground. Chakotay covered Kathryn, and Mulcahey covered him.

Kathryn felt like she couldn’t breathe, but knew it was from the weight of the two men on top of her. Her head was spinning and she felt the burn from the abrasions of her impact. She felt Chakotay’s hands grasp her tightly as another set of explosions rocked them. Managing to get one hand free, she squeezed his arm in return.

His voice cracked as he spoke into her ear. “We’ll get though this, Kathryn. Hang on.” A rush of emotion filled her as she felt his love surrounding and protecting her.

When the noise settled, they were able to get to their feet. Chakotay didn’t let go of her as they scanned their surroundings. She was relieved as she saw the other five in their group standing up. They looked back at the embassy to see that it had caved in. Chills crept over her as she realized how close they’d come to being seriously injured.

She moved to check on the others, bringing Chakotay and Mulcahey with her. “Are you okay?”

McKenzie nodded, but looked at her in concern, and she figured that she must look pretty bad.

She was about to ask the Sirrens if they were all right when she saw a bright flash and felt her body fly into the air. Kathryn saw white lights behind her eyes and heard screams as she faded into oblivion.

She couldn’t tell how long she had been unconscious, but when she came to, she heard voices yelling around her. Her skin burned and her head felt like it was going to explode.

The thunder of footsteps vibrated the ground beneath her and she heard Harry’s voice calling out, “Captain! Commander!”

She wanted to open her eyes, to tell him that she was okay, but she felt stunned and immobile. She heard Tuvok say, “He has a pulse.”

Tom’s voice said, “So does she.”

B’Elanna said, “They’re all alive.”

“Captain? Are you conscious?” Tom asked.

She moaned as best she could, but she wasn’t sure if it was audible. Her thoughts went to Chakotay. She needed to know if he was okay. Tuvok said he had a pulse. Was that Chakotay or someone else? She couldn’t stop herself from drifting back into oblivion.

When she woke again, she heard Tom’s voice. “I think she’s coming around.”

Chakotay asked, “Kathryn, can you hear me?”

“Captain? Captain, are you with us?” Tom asked.

She tried to make a sound or move, but she couldn’t find the strength. A hypospray pushed something cold into her neck, and she felt the tingling of a medical instrument on her head. Some of the pressure dissipated and she heard Tom urge, “Come on, Captain. Don’t do this to us again.”

Tuvok called out, “Lieutenant Paris, Mulcahey has stopped breathing.”

Tom said, “Commander, watch her heart rate.”

She felt Chakotay’s fingers on her face. “Open your eyes, Kathryn. Come on, open your eyes.”

She tried to move her head, but it dropped too quickly to the side and she moaned with pain.

“Kathryn!” He caught the side of her cheek to steady her head and bring it back to a more comfortable position. “I’m here, Kathryn. I’m here.”

The sounds around her were muffled, but she heard a voice that she was sure she didn’t recognize. “Are you willing to have your injured transferred to our medical center?”

Chakotay said, “Yes, but I think it would be better if we could get them back to our ship. Our medical staff can treat them there.”

“How do we do that?”

“If you can transport us back to one of the shuttles, we can fly them back.”

The unknown voice said, “Are they stable enough to make the trip?”

“Three of them are, but we’ve got to try to get all four back.”

“Very well, I’ll make arrangements.”

“Thank you.”

Chakotay asked quietly, “Kathryn, are you with me?”

She tried to respond, but all she was able to do was move her lips and moan softly.

“Hang in there; we’ll get you back to Voyager soon.” He smoothed her hair back.

Tom returned. “How is she?”

“She’s responding to me and her heart rate is stable. Mulcahey?”

“He needs surgery immediately. There’s not much more I can do.”

Chakotay’s fingers lingered on her hair. “An emergency worker is arranging transportation back to the shuttles. We can transport them up as soon as they’re inside.”

“All right. Let’s take the Flyer. We’ll beam Mulcahey up to the Doctor and McKenzie up to Sam. I’ll work on the Captain and Andrews in the flyer on our way up. One of us can treat you when we’re back. Do you feel well enough to pilot?”

“I don’t think so. I can barely see anything.” Chakotay’s touch left her face. “Commander Tuvok?” he called.

It was a moment before Tuvok’s voice was close. “Yes, Commander?”

Chakotay filled him on the plans and then added, “I’m leaving you in command here. Use the mining team to assist in any way you can, even if it’s only cleaning up debris. If they’ll let you, analyze the explosion. And I need someone to pilot the flyer back to Voyager.”

“Understood, Commander. Where is Lieutenant Ayala?”

“He went to the medical center with the three Sirren’s we had in custody. I don’t want to lose track of what happens to them, because I think we can make a difference in their attitude toward aliens.”

“Very well, Commander. How is Captain Janeway?”

Tom answered, “She’s very weak, losing a lot of blood, and has severe head injuries.”

Kathryn tried to say that she was fine, but only a slight sound escaped. Chakotay noticed and touched her temple. He said quietly, “Her eyes are open, but I don’t think she can see us.”

“Probably not, Commander,” Tom said. “She was facing the building.”

She tried to force her eyes open until she realized they already were. Panic began to set in.

Tom asked worriedly, “Captain?”

“What’s wrong?” Chakotay asked.

“Her heart rate is rising. Captain? Can you hear us?”

She felt her breathing accelerate, and she pushed her lungs to say, “Can’t… Can’t…see..”

“Kathryn, it’s okay.”

“Captain, you’re going to recover. The Doctor can repair the damage to your eyes. I need you to calm down.”

“Kathryn, everything’s going to be fine.”

She closed her eyes and tried to relax, but the increase in blood pressure made her entire body felt like it was on fire. The pain was intense and she couldn’t help the tears that escaped.

Tom said softly, “She’s crying… Captain?”

“Kathryn?” Chakotay asked softly and stroked her hair. “Shhhh…”

She heard a vehicle of some kind pull up, and Tom said, “The transport is here.”

A few moments later, she felt herself being lifted onto a bed of some kind. The move hurt like hell, but she wasn’t strong enough to let anyone know. The pain was so intense that she let herself drift off to unconsciousness.

When she woke, she could hear the comforting sounds of sickbay. Her body was sore, but nothing like the pain she had felt when she passed out. She tried to open her eyes but couldn’t.

“Captain?” the Doctor asked.

“Is she awake already?” Chakotay asked. She heard him slide off of the bed next to her.

“Commander, you should be resting.”

“Chakotay?” she croaked.

“I’m here, Kathryn.” He took her hand.

“How are you feeling, Captain?”

“Sore. Weak. Is Mulcahey okay?”

“He’s in a coma, Captain.” The Doctor answered.

Her chest felt heavy with grief. “How long have I been out?”

“We’ve been back on Voyager for a little over four hours.”

“Why can’t I open my eyes?”

The Doctor said, “They’re bandaged. I’ve got a regenerative solution sitting on them until I could repair your retinas, and I need you awake for that.”

Chakotay caressed the hair at her temple. “He was able to heal all of our eyes quickly.”

“All right.”

The Doctor said, “We can try it now, if you like.” She nodded and he took the dressings off her eyes. “It would be easier with you sitting up, but I’d rather keep you lying down for now. I counted three head injuries.”

“Sounds about right.” She opened her eyes and could see nothing – it was as if she hadn’t opened them at all. “Chakotay?”


She suddenly felt the need to talk to him. “I’m sorry that I’ve been giving you a hard time about a Christmas gift.”

He kissed her hand. “Don’t worry about that. I’m pretty sure I’ve got it covered.”

“Even if you don’t, that’s okay,” she said softly, and took a moment to enjoy his touch on her hand. “How do my eyes look?”

“Beautiful,” he touched her cheek. “They’re wet from the solution, but a bright, clear blue just like always.”

The Doctor said, “Reduce lights to 20%. Captain, I’m putting a retinal scanner in front of your face.”

“All right.” She felt warmed when Chakotay closed her hand between his two larger ones.

An instrument began to hum and the Doctor said. “If you can, please direct your sightline straight forward.”

Chakotay said, “When I had the treatment, I didn’t feel a thing.”

She squeezed his hand in response. Only moments later, her sight began to return, but since the scanner above her was bright and the room dark, she couldn’t tell until he turned if off and increased the lighting up to 50%. She looked at Chakotay and smiled.


“Yes.” She cherished looking into his deep, brown eyes.

The Doctor said, “Your full vision should return within a few hours.” He scanned her with a tri-corder. “It’s after midnight, and I’d like you both to rest in here until morning.”

“What’s the status of the teams on the planet?” Kathryn asked.

“The mining team helped at the embassy for the rest of the day. Tuvok reported that the situation is satisfactory and that they were about to call it a night. Other than that, I don’t know.”

“We should go back as soon as we can tomorrow, although I’m curious about how advanced their medical technology is. I’m still concerned about exposing them to too much.”

The Doctor offered, “I can cosmetically alter you to look wounded if needed.”

“We’ll see,” Kathryn said.

“Get some rest, both of you.”

“Thank you, Doctor.”

He nodded and went back to his office, leaving them alone.

“Kathryn,” Chakotay held her hand. “Are you okay?”

“Yes,” she looked down. “That was pretty intense down there. I’m sorry that I panicked.”

“Panicked? When did you do that?”

“When I realized that I was blind.”

“Oh… well, you were in pretty bad shape.” He leaned over and kissed her forehead. “Not exactly in a condition where you’d have command over your emotions. Don’t worry about it.”

“You’re okay too? You were also injured?”

“Yes, I was out for a few minutes, but I didn’t have all the internal injuries that you did.”

“We need to go back down tomorrow. We can’t leave now.”

“I know.” He touched her shoulder gently. “Let’s get some rest. We can come up with a plan in the morning.”

“Agreed,” she smiled gently as he covered her with a blanket.

“Lights 10%.” He laid down on his own biobed and covered himself with a blanket. “Good night, Kathryn.”

“Good night.” She laid there for awhile, thinking about the situation on the planet until she finally fell asleep.

Late the next morning, Kathryn was in sickbay having the doctor cosmetically alter her appearance so that she appeared ‘on the mend.’ She was already in uniform and waiting for Chakotay to return for her.

The Doctor stood back and admired his work. “That looks about right.” He finished up by placing an old-fashioned bandage on her forehead.

Chakotay walked in and stopped mid-stride as he looked at her. “Did you have to make it so convincing, Doctor?”

“If I only had rudimentary regenerators at my disposal, then this is how she’d appear less than a day later, even with my superior abilities.”

“Looks bad?” Kathryn asked.

He looked worried as he touched her injured chin. “It looks like it hurts.”

Sliding cautiously off the bed, she said, “Well, I am still very sore, so I won’t have much acting to do.”

“Captain, I do wish you’d let Commander Chakotay handle this. As extensive as your injuries were, you really do need to rest.”

She touched the Doctor’s arm. “I know… and I appreciate your concern, but I believe that my presence down there will make an impact on the political climate.”

Chakotay added, “Normally, Doctor, I wouldn’t want her to leave the ship either, but she’s right.”

“Just be careful, and don’t exert yourself.”

“That won’t be a problem, Doctor. I got the feeling yesterday that they aren’t exactly a society that allows women in combat.”

“Far from it,” Chakotay added. “I’ll not let her out of my sight, Doctor.”

“Very well. It’s time to change your appearance, Commander.”

When they were done, Tom joined them in the shuttle bay for the trip down. He was startled by their appearance, making a comment about being thankful for modern medical technology.

The trip down was uneventful, and a large, official-looking ground vehicle was at the shuttle landing area waiting to take them into the city. When they pulled up near the embassy, Kathryn could see her crew and the Sirrens look at the vehicle with trepidation.

Tom stepped out first and she saw the crew relax. He offered a hand to Chakotay, and then both men carefully helped her out. When she and Chakotay turned to greet her crew, they gasped in shock at her appearance.

As the ambassador’s aide hurried up to them, she held a finger to her lips to quiet any comments the crew might make. “Captain Janeway! Mr. Chakotay! I’m so delighted to see you up and about!”

Kathryn said, “We wanted to check on the situation and ask if there was anything more we could do to help.”

A uniformed official greeted them. “I am Sergeant Kolnyn of the Sirra Military Force. Do I understand correctly that you are the commanding officers of the starship in orbit?”

“Yes, Sergeant.” She extended her hand. “I’m Captain Janeway of the Federation Starship Voyager. This is my First Officer, Commander Chakotay, and my Chief Helm Officer, Lieutenant Paris. Please accept our most sincere condolences.”

He held her hand the same way the Ambassador had, but without the uncomfortable stroking and only for a moment. “On the contrary, Captain, it is I who should be offering you an apology. My unit is responsible for monitoring all interactions with celestial visitors. We were keeping a distant watch on your mining team, but we left your commanders on their own at the Inter-Planetary Embassy. It’s a new facility that we believed to have the utmost security protection as long as they stayed inside, which was our instruction to the Ambassador Doylan.”

The aide jumped in, “But Sergeant, surely you understand…”

He was cut off sternly by Kolnyn. “If you’ll excuse us, Mr. Fynan.” The aide nodded and stepped away.

Kathryn appreciated not having to speak with the overexcited aide. “Sergeant, we understand that your planet’s interactions with celestial visitors are new, and that the situation is frightening for some of your citizens. It’s not uncommon for a newly-warp capable society.”

“You’ve had experience with this problem?”

“Yes, we have direct experience with it, in addition to the experiences of our Federation of Planets.”

“This Federation… should we be expecting more visitors?”

She smiled sadly. “No, we are very far from home and doing everything in our power to return, but we likely won’t get home for another twenty or thirty years.”

“And you came to us looking for resources?”

“Yes… the much-needed dilithium that we’re mining.”

“Then we really do owe you an apology. You came to us looking for help, and instead of showing you the gracious hospitality of which we’re capable, we have allowed terrorist activities to injure your crew and put your lives in danger.”

Chakotay said, “We’re not inexperienced on terrorist activities and we know that they’re often unforeseen.”

“No, but your Commander Tuvok,” he motioned for Tuvok to join the conversation, “has been able to analyze the explosions and concluded that there were not one, but two completely different terrorist groups involved, and as far as we know, neither are members of any of the outspoken political action groups that we know about.”

“Yes,” Kathryn said. “We realized there were two when we were trying to diffuse the second.”

Chakotay stated, “What I don’t understand is the third explosion. It didn’t behave like a phosporus-based or Tetryl compound.”

“Commander, if I may?” Tuvok asked and continued with approval. “The final, and most violent, explosion was a result of structural instability. The natural gas source feeding into the building was ignited by an electrical spark from a cooking appliance.”

Kathryn placed her hand on her sore abdomen and took a steadying breath. “We should have anticipated that.”

“Captain,” the Sergeant addressed her. “You don’t look well. May we offer you anything?”

She felt bolstered by Chakotay’s hand on her back. “I’m fine for a little longer, but I would like to speak with my crew for a few minutes, if I may?”

“Of course. As soon as you’re ready, I’d like to take you to the capital building to speak further and offer you rest.”

“That would be appreciated, thank you.” She let him hold her hand again and then turned to speak with the away team alone. “Commander Tuvok, what’s your assessment?”

“Just as the Sergeant explained. His forensics team discovered the identity of the first bombers, and we already knew the second.”

B’Elanna said, “If you don’t mind me saying so, you two look terrible.”

Kathryn pursed her lips slightly. “Why thank you, B’Elanna.”

Tom explained, “The Doctor altered their appearance to appear still injured.”

“Why?” Harry asked.

“To avoid showing them our medical technology,” Chakotay answered.

“Oh,” Harry nodded. “I was afraid there was something in the gas explosion that made your injuries incurable.”

“No,” Kathryn touched his arm in reassurance. “The abrasions on our faces are all cosmetic, although with the seriousness of my other injuries; I’m not exactly here with the Doctor’s full approval.”

“So we can’t stay for long,” Chakotay added. “Is there anything we need to know?”

Harry said, “We’re happy to help here as much as we need to, but we should get back to the mining. We left so quickly that all of our equipment is exposed to the elements.”

Tuvok added, “I’ve done all the forensic work I can do without going into the building, and we can’t help much more with the investigation unless we stay for a few weeks.”

“Very well,” Kathryn nodded. “Finish up what you’re doing, and after lunch, go back to the mining site. Are you getting enough rest? Do you need replacement crew?”

Harry said, “We’re all doing fine.” He looked at the others for confirmation and added, “We’ll let you know if we do.”

“Please do. I’ll work it out with the Sergeant. It sounds as if he’s eager to make amends with us. Thank you all, by the way, for coming to our rescue yesterday.”

B’elanna said, “We wish we could say it was our pleasure, Captain, but you scared the hell out of us… Again.”

Tom added, “At least this time we weren’t trying to revive her while being shot at.”

She heard Chakotay take a sharp intake of breath and she turned to look at him with concern. Seeing the pain in his eyes, she squeezed his hand and addressed everyone. “I’ll make you all a deal. Next away mission, I’ll be staying on the ship.”

“We’ll hold you to it, Captain.” Tuvok responded.

She squeezed Tuvok’s arm and said their goodbyes. It was apparent that Kathryn was losing energy, so they discussed arrangements quickly and moved on to the capital building where they could talk sitting down.

Following lunch with Sergeant Kolnyn, they were shown to a large lounge where they could sit comfortably while speaking with a task force of nine government officials, Kolnyn, and three members of his team. It took the men awhile before they realized that they could take Kathryn seriously even though she was a female, but within half an hour, she and Chakotay were able to begin having a long conversation with them about the possibilities and concerns of space exploration. The representatives expressed appreciation for their candor and advice, although it was clear that the Sirren debates were not over.

She asked to visit the medical center to see the three Sirrens who had planted the second round of bombs. When she, Chakotay, and Tom arrived at their room, they found Ayala waiting outside.

“Captain?” Ayala stood quickly and offered her his chair.

She held up a hand. “That’s not necessary, Lieutenant. I assure you that it’s not as bad as it looks. The Doctor made us appear this way so we wouldn’t demonstrate our medical technology.”

Ayala responded, “He made it a bit too convincing, if you ask me.”

Chakotay put his hand on her back. “I agree. Do you have anything to report?”

“No, it’s been very quiet. They’re resting and I’ve tried not to interact with them.”

Kathryn patted his shoulder, “Thank you for staying. I’d like to speak to them for a few minutes, and then I think you can return to Voyager with us.”

Ayala nodded and opened the door for them. When they stepped inside, Kathryn was surprised by the extent of their burns and realized that hers must have been as bad. They were all awake, but extremely quiet and looking miserable.

She quietly said, “Good afternoon, gentlemen. How are you feeling?”

“Why do you care?” One asked honestly.

Sitting down on the edge of a vacant bed, she said, “Because we were all in the same boat, so to speak, and even though you may not believe it, I’m worried about your well-being.”

Another said, “I don’t believe you.”

“Why not?” Chakotay asked.

“Our injuries are from our own bomb, and we almost killed you in the process of trying to convince our government that you’re an evil influence.”

Chakotay said, “You’ve committed a crime… there’s no question about that, but that doesn’t mean we wish you ill will.”

“Why? Because we tried to help you escape?”

“No,” Kathryn said delicately. “You were doing what you thought was right to safeguard your people, in the only way you thought you could.” She looked at Chakotay as she said it. He stood behind her and placed his hands on her shoulders.

“You’re remarkable, Voyagers. Either that, or you’re lying.”

“No,” Paris said, “We’re just people, and we know what it’s like to make mistakes and errors in judgment. Some of us more than others. And so we know how you’re feeling right now.”

“You have no idea what we’re feeling.”

Kathryn and Chakotay looked at each other knowingly, and he said, “Yes, we do. All three of us have made decisions that have resulted in loss of life. It has taken time, but the compassion of others has helped us find a certain degree of absolution.”

Kathryn said, “I came to talk to you today about your fears about interacting with other species.” She paused for a moment to make sure they were listening. “Now, I don’t know what you’ve struggled against to make your voices heard, and I don’t want to pretend to know your religious beliefs. However, I’d like to explain my society’s religious challenges.”

“We don’t care about your religion.”

“I’m sure you don’t., but please hear me out.” She waited until they nodded agreement. “Hundreds of years ago, when we had undeniable proof that there was life on other planets, the basic belief that our God created us, and us alone, was called into serious question.”

“So how did your religious leaders handle it?”

Chakotay interjected, “It’s been four hundred years, and our religious leaders are still debating it.”

“The point is, there are no easy answers,” Kathryn said. “May I assume there are other issues about your beliefs that are in debate?”

“Not the core beliefs, but interpretation of the word, always.”
Kathryn opened her hands in question. “Then why not bring this one out for discussion with the others? You said that our existence violates your core belief, but yet we do exist. That’s not a fact that you can change.”

“But we can isolate ourselves from your influence.”

Chakotay responded, “Yes, that is a choice, and we have encountered societies that have done that.”

Kathryn said, “The principles that guide our Federation of Planets are cooperation and mutual respect, and if your planet was inside Federation space, we could probably help protect and isolate you. However, that’s not possible, and you’re right to be concerned about the influence of alien societies. There are some that truly are evil, and we’ve been talking this afternoon with your government about how to safeguard yourselves from them.”


“Not in immediate proximity.” Chakotay caressed her shoulders gently as he said, “Inter-stellar exploration is not easy, but I’d suggest that instead of fighting with each other about stopping it, you might consider working together to approach it intelligently and with your eyes open.”

“That’ll be hard to do from inside a prison.”

Tom said, “I’ve been in one, and you’d be surprised how much good you can do just by doing research and writing letters. You might even ask if you can study the Articles of the Federation that we left with your magistrate.”

“How can you forgive us so easily?”

“Because we understand.” She moved to stand next to the Serrin who had been most open. Touching his uninjured forearm, she said, “I don’t know if there is anyone in your life who can help you find absolution, but there is something that you can do for me that I hope will help.”

“What’s that?” he asked nervously.

“Accept responsibility for your actions, decide what you really want to fight for – whether it’s isolation, cautious exploration, or a religious debate, and then start getting that message out to others before anyone else resorts to violence.”

He swallowed hard and nodded. “I have a lot of thinking to do.”

After they left the medical center, she contacted Sergeant Kolnyn to urge him to follow up with the young men so that if they had the inclination, they could study the Articles of the Federation and work with him to get a message out peacefully. Their problems weren’t solved, by any means, and the terrorists were going to have to face the consequences of their actions. However, as she dozed off during the shuttle’s assent, she felt certain that the Sirrens were, at the very least, going to be talking more and shouting less.

“Kathryn?” Chakotay whispered as he gently caressed her face.

“Mmmmm.” She was sleepy and didn’t want to wake up.

“We’re back on Voyager.”

“Mmmm hmmm.”

Tom said quietly, “Paris to the Bridge. Prepare for a site-to-site transport of Commander Chakotay and the Captain to her quarters.”

“Standing by,” Jenkins responded.

Chakotay asked, “Mike, could you help me pick her up?”

“Of course.”

Kathryn stirred as she felt two sets of hands lift her, and she opened her eyes to see that she was being placed in Chakotay’s arms. Smiling contently, she wrapped her arms around his neck and snuggled in.

“Energize,” Tom said with a chuckle in his voice.

When the tingle of the beam out faded, she said, “I could walk, you know.”

“Yes,” he said as he carried her into her bedroom. “But you’re so cute when you’re sleepy.”

“Captains are not cute.”

“Noted.” He laid her down on the bed and helped her take off her shoes and jacket. “Get some rest.”

“All right. You should too.”

“I will.” He leaned over and surprised her with a slight kiss on her lips. “You were amazing today.”

She smiled up at him. “If felt good to make a difference.”

“Yes, it did.” He pulled the covers up and drew a few strands of hair away from her face. “Goodnight.”

“Night,” she whispered softly as she cozily fell to sleep.

Christmas arrived two mornings later. The mining team had paused in their work to enjoy celebrations on the ship, but would be going back to it the following day. They were building additional storage to house more than usual since it was such a pure source and they were now being treated very generously by the planet’s government.

Kathryn woke early on Christmas morning to take time for all the things that made her feel beautiful. She took a long bath, applied her favorite lotion, applied the slightest bit of make-up, and fixed her hair so that it fell softly to her shoulders rather than the usually tightly arranged coiffure.

She had replicated a long nightgown and robe set that made her feel deliciously feminine – it was made of a combination of gold satin and soft, iridescent chiffon. The satin covered the important parts, and the chiffon allowed a peek at everything else. A satin robe covered her modestly, but had a tendency to open at the neckline.

When Chakotay arrived with his satchel of gifts, he paused just inside the doorway and said, “Kathryn, you look absolutely beautiful.”

Coyly, she said, “I hope you’ll forgive me for not dressing, but it’s been a long-held tradition in my family to spend the morning in our pajamas.”

He cleared his throat. “I don’t mind at all. In fact, I rather like the tradition. But, I must say that I wish you had… uh… reinstated it sooner.” His gaze lingered on her longer than decorum would normally allow, but she didn’t mind.

He took a cup of tea from her as he set the satchel on the coffee table. “Since your hints were so vague, I brought you a whole bag of presents. Surely, one of these will be your heart’s desire, which you can’t get for yourself, that you can share with me, and that you’ve wanted for six and a half years without knowing it?”

She peeked into the bag. “You think so, do you?”

“The only problem is that they all fit in a box.”

“So you were listening to me? Well, I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth…”

“You aren’t?” he laughed.

She directed him to the table where she’d prepared a breakfast for them. “I think you’ll enjoy this. Since we dine together so often, I asked my Mom for some of her best vegetarian dishes. This is a quiche with green chilies, onion, and jack cheese.”

“It looks delicious.” As he sat down and placed his napkin in his lap, he asked, “I was going to suggest joining the crew for breakfast, but your pajama tradition is probably better off in the privacy of your own quarters.”

“Oh?” She served them each a piece. “You don’t think the crew would like to have breakfast together in their pajamas?”

He passed her the bowl of fruit. “On the contrary, I’m sure they’d love it. And I’m extremely sure that your pajamas would be the hit of the party.”

She blushed modestly. “Perhaps if we ever do have a PJ party, you’d rather I wear my old academy sweats?”

“It might be best.” As he looked at her approvingly, she was tempted to pull the neckline of her robe closed, but didn’t. After all, if she was going to give him what she intended to, there was no need to be modest.

“The party last night was really beautiful,” she said. “Tom’s Christmas tree was perfect.”

“I thought so too, although I’m not sure that the Ambassador enjoyed himself.”

“Oh? I saw that Neelix spent a lot of time with him, but I didn’t notice much else,” she said as she took a sip of coffee. “…what with all my ‘men’ surrounding me.”

Chakotay laughed. “Did we overdo it?”

“A little perhaps, but it was all in good fun.” She smiled remembering how eight of her ‘males’ waited on her hand and foot and kept her completely surrounded the entire night. They provided an inexhaustible line of questions that encouraged her to share more about her home and childhood than she thought she’d ever share with her crew. They seemed to hang on her every word and provided an incessant amount of not-so subtle flirting that kept her smiling all night long.

“I didn’t have a chance to explain last night, but I assume you know why we did that?”

“To make a show for the ambassador?”

“To keep him away from you, actually. On the flight up, he had a lot to say about how he was planning to seduce you last night.”

“Oh really?” This was interesting, she thought.

“I’m sure you can imagine how angry Mike and I were getting, just listening to him.”

“I can believe it.” She was enjoying his jealousy.

“First he wanted to know if you and I were married, and if so, would I consider sharing you. I should have said that we were and denied him permission.”

“Oh?” She liked the sound of that, more than she thought she would.

“Mmmm hmmm,” he said over a bite. “Because then he asked about the availability of private rooms where he could sneak off with you alone. He was quite elaborate about his plans and asked dozens of questions about females of our species, and you specifically.”

“Such as?” This was getting interesting.

“You don’t want to know.”

“Of course I do.” She laughed.

Chakotay leaned toward her. “He wanted to know what kind of touch you like, the location of your erogenous zones, and what color your skin becomes when aroused. Would you like me to continue?”

She unconsciously licked her lips and then cleared her throat. “Umm… no. I get the picture.” She had to study her quiche for a moment until the blush that must have turned her bright pink faded. “I was expecting his questions to be a little less intimate.”

He looked a little too pleased with himself as he continued, “So, although I had a strong inclination to turn the shuttle around, Mike and I covertly came up with that plan at the last minute, and sent a coded message to Paris to follow through on it.”

“Why, you don’t think I can take care of myself?” she winked.

“Of course not, but we decided to have a good laugh at the Ambassador’s expense, and to make sure you enjoyed your Christmas Eve. It was Tom’s idea to have Neelix head the Ambassador off at every pass, so to speak.”

“Well, I can’t say that I’ve ever felt so adored by so many handsome men at once in my life.”

“They do adore you, you know. Every last one.”

She smiled gratefully. “I do know. I’ve really put them through hell and back recently, haven’t I?”

“Yes, and most of all me.”

“I am sorry, Chakotay.” She covered his hand with hers. “As you suggested, it’s time that we all review away mission protocols thoroughly, myself included. There have been a few too many mistakes, especially this one.”

“Agreed.” He took his last bite of quiche. “This is really delicious, Kathryn.”

She held her coffee with both hands, elbows resting on the table. “I’m glad you enjoyed it.”

“I was hoping you’d still be awake when I got back last night.”


“I wanted to give you the first of your presents.”

She tilted her head softly. “You should have told me… I would have stayed in the messhall.”

“Perhaps, but you were looking tired by the time we left. All that adoration was probably wearing you out.”

She winked, “Yes, a little, but I could have stayed up for you. And after all, I do like presents.”

He winked back and stood to clear away the breakfast dishes. When he was finished, he joined her in the sitting area and offered her the first gift. She set her coffee down and took it from him carefully. It felt slightly heavy for its size and was wrapped in bright red paper with a gold bow. Her fingernails slid carefully under the edge of the paper to reveal a box of chocolate covered coffee beans. She laughed. “So, what’s better than coffee beans?”

“Coffee beans covered in chocolate!” Chakotay smiled. “Not your heart’s desire?”

“No,” she smiled sweetly, “but something that I can share with you.” Setting it down, she took the next gift he offered. “I’m surprised you remembered what I said without realizing they were all hints.”

He shrugged. “I do listen to you, every now and then.”

“Glad to hear it.” She opened the next box, much larger and heavier, to reveal a bottle of dark liquid. She lifted it out and looked questioningly at him.

“A red wine, of sorts. The ambassador only gave me one, so I saved it for you.”

“Also something we can share.”

“Yes, but that’s not what you were hoping for, is it?”

“No, but I’m sure we’ll enjoy it.” She squeezed his arm. The gifts were very nice, and it was fun opening them, but she was dreading that he missed the point. No matter, she’d get it from him anyway. If there was one thing that became perfectly clear over the last few days, it’s that he cared deeply for her, and the soft kiss the other night indicated that he wasn’t opposed to a little romance.

“Okay… attempt number three. See if you like this.” He offered a large, flat box.

She opened the lid to find a hand-knitted light blue sweater. “It’s beautiful!”

“I thought you’d like it. I found it on Eudora Prime a couple months ago and was planning on saving it for your birthday.”

She lifted it out of the box and held it reverently. “It’s so soft… exceptionally soft.” Her eyes filled as she rubbed the soft fabric against her cheek. It was a truly meaningful gift and he obviously had been thinking fondly of her when he chose it. “I’ll treasure this, Chakotay. It’ll encourage me to get out of my uniform.”

“Then it’s a gift we’ll both enjoy. I’ll get to see you relax more.” He smiled warmly.

“Thank you.” She touched his arm. “This is all too much.”

“And yet, I still haven’t found that one thing you wanted?”

Still holding the sweater, she said gently, “These are wonderful gifts, but no, they aren’t what I was hinting at.”

“Then try this one.” He held out a small, shallow, square box, tied with a thin, silver rope. “I have a feeling about this one.”

When she took it, she could see the uncertainty in his eyes, so she held it gingerly for a moment before slowly loosening the knot.

He said nervously, “If I’m wrong, Kathryn...” He took a deep breath. “No… I don’t think I am.”

She touched his hand in reassurance before opening the box. In it, she found a beautiful bracelet with an intricate pattern of colors. “It’s exquisite, Chakotay.” She gently ran her fingertip around it, feeling the texture of the metal and enamel craftsmanship.

“The colors are the same as the flowers that are part of the traditional Mayan wedding ceremony.” Their fingertips made contact as he touched the bracelet. “They represent the four corners of the earth – white, red, yellow, and violet.”

Her heart felt like it was lodged in her throat as she was transfixed by the depth of his eyes. “Where did you find this?”

He slid the bracelet onto her wrist and held her hands between his. “I saw this in the market early this week, when I was looking for a jeweler or metal worker who could design a piece for me. Although I was thinking about a ring, I didn’t look any further when I found this.”

She tore her eyes away from him and looked down at the bracelet. “It’s beautiful.” Now it was she who wasn’t sure what he was saying. Did this piece of jewelry really mean what she thought it meant. She looked back up when he began to speak.

“I know not if the voice of man can reach to the sky.
I know not if the gods will hear as I pray.
I know not if the gifts I asked for will be granted.
I know not what will come to pass in our future days.
I hope that only good will come, my love, to you.”

“Chakotay…” Her heart swelled in her chest, and she couldn’t stop the tears that fell.

He continued. “I know now that the voice of man can reach to the sky.
I know now that the gods have heard as I prayed.
I know now that the gifts I asked for have all been granted.
I know now that the word of old we truly have heard.
I know now that our future days will have no number.
I know that only good will come, my love, to us.”

She withdrew her right hand from his and wiped away her tears.

He knelt on the floor in front of her and closed the distance between them. “It’s the Mayan Wedding Poem, Kathryn, from my Mother’s tribe. My final gift to you… is me.” He was so close that she felt intoxicated by his scent and warmed by the heat of his body. His hands caressed her arms through the soft fabric of her robe, his thumbs unknowingly caressing the rise of her breasts. She closed her eyes as he whispered against her cheek. “Now my question is… do you want me?”

She turned her head slightly to touch her lips to his and whispered back, “Intensely.”

Their lips met in a soft, warm kiss that wrapped around her senses. As his fingertips held her face, she was completely attuned to the heat of his lips and the sweetness of his mouth. The touch of his tongue sent a fire that flowed down into her core and radiated out through her fingers and all the way down through her toes. She threaded her fingers up into his soft hair to urge his mouth closer until his lips melted into hers as she devoured his hot, silky tongue.

When he pulled back, she felt a chasm even though she could still feel his warm breath upon her cheek. His fingers were lightly caressing the edge of her robe, encouraging her chest to rise with every short breath. With a tremendous effort, she lifted her eyes to him. “It seems you do know what I want, after all.”

He smiled against her lips. “I’ve never doubted what you wanted. It’s when you wanted it that confused me. I realized what you were, or rather, weren’t saying as soon as I left the bridge a week ago. It hit me all at once and I had to grab the wall to steady myself.”

“So, all this time…” she smiled. “You are the brilliant man that I thought you were.”

“Flattery is not going to get you any more presents, Kathryn.”

“Oh, I was just hoping to unwrap my last one.” She fingered the neckline of his tunic.

“That’s not fair… you haven’t given me one yet, my love.”

“Well, you see I was convinced that you hadn’t realized…” She sat up straight and handed him the ties of her robe. “…so I wrapped your present up in this pretty gold package.”

“Did you now?” He loosened the ties and the robe fell open, revealing her almost-translucent nightgown. The robe dropped from her shoulders, allowing him to curl a finger under one of the thin straps that barely held up the extremely low-cut gown. His voice shook slightly as he said, “I’m quite sure that I’ve never seen such a beautiful gift.”

“The problem, as I see it, is who gets to open which present first?” She stood slowly and the let robe drop away completely.

His eyes widened as he stared at her deliciously, studying every inch of the gift that stood before him. “I can’t wait to find out.”

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