I don't know whose idea it was to pick to Alonius Prime as the primary center for Maquis operations, but at the time, we had thought it inspired, as if its sole reason to be in the cosmos was to serve as the launch point for terrorists like us. Land covers most of Alonius, with only about forty-seven percent water. Tall mountains cover much of the northern landmasses and because of the strong electromagnetic fields generated by the highly polar north and south poles, it was easy to create a dampening field to mask life signs on the planet.
Alonius is also famous for its bitterly cold winters and ferocious storms, all of which contribute to its inhospitable aura.
The shuttlecraft lands on one of the northern continents and as the back hatch opens, we see that we're at a settlement of some kind. The prefabricated buildings are Starfleet-issue, the supplies we see are also Starfleet.
"Welcome to the Maquis settlement," one of the pilots says to us as he releases our handcuffs. I rub my red wrists gratefully. Chakotay swings his arms back and forth in an attempt to loosen his stiff shoulders. I note the pilot's hand on the phaser on his hip; I have no doubt that the setting is on "kill." My tentative plan to grab the pilot around the neck and aim a knee to the groin has been put on hold. There's not much I can do against a phaser and I like being alive, thank you very much.
"The Maquis settlement?" I ask.
The pilot nods, indicating the buildings in front of us.
"All of the surviving Maquis are here," he says. "I've got fresh supplies, so if you'll give us a hand, we can be on our way."
"You're leaving us here?" I ask.
"Those are my orders," he says easily. "Come on, give me a hand."
I notice Chakotay staring at a trio approaching us.
"It's them," he says in a soft voice. "It's Deres, Camden and Kadian."
"Are you going to help or not?" the pilot is growing impatient.
"One minute," I snap. I take a step forward. The other three are approaching at a quickening pace.
"Chakotay?" Deres, a Bajoran, asks. "Is it really you?"
"Tag, it's good to see you," Chakotay says. "Anna, Leo, I didn't think I'd see you again."
"Nor did we," Anna Camden says. "B'Elanna, how are you?"
"I'm good, Anna," I say. "How... how long have you been here?"
"Since the destruction of the Maquis," Leo Kadian puts in. "Those of us who survived, they put us in a Federation prison for a few months and then sent us out here. It's not a bad life. We can't leave, but we're basically free to pursue our own lives."
"We'd better help with the supplies," Deres Tag says. He moves past me and begins to help the pilots unload.
"You must be tired," Anna says to me. "It must have been a long journey."
"Very long," I agree.
"I'm amazed to see you, B'Elanna," Anna propels me towards the village in front of us. "We heard you were all lost in the Badlands and hadn't gotten any news since. We gave you up for dead."
"I heard about what happened," I tell her. "About the... you know."
"It's been hard," Anna says, knowing exactly what I was referring to - the wholesale slaughter of our friends and comrades. "My goodness, you're shivering. I forgot how cold you get. Come inside and get warm."
"Shouldn't we help out?" I look back at the shuttlecraft. "Don't they need help carrying the supplies back?"
"No, it will be all right. There are plenty of people to help out," Anna says. "Come inside."
She stops in front of the first little building and opens the door.
Inside, there are two rooms - a common living area with a replicator in the far corner and a fireplace on the long wall. The second room is a bedroom. The furniture is all standard Starfleet modular - utilitarian and not necessarily attractive. Anna heads to the replicator.
"Welcome to my home," she says with a smile. "Beats a cave or crowded living quarters on the Liberty, doesn't it?"
I look around. Anna has done her best to add a personal touch to her small home. There are small wooden sculptures and arrangements of dried flowers. A small rug in warm burgundy lies in front of the fireplace. There are two or three pictures on the small end table. Burgundy pillows add color to the otherwise gray room.
"It's nice," I say. "You've done well with the place."
"Raktajino?" she asks. "The replicator, out-dated as it is, actually does a good job."
"Sure," I rub my hands together in an effort to get warm. "Thanks. I appreciate it."
"The ground is frozen," Anna says. "It may take some time to get your shelter up, so you're welcome to stay here with me."
Anna hands me a mug of the Klingon coffee and watches intently as I take the first sip.
"How is it?" she asks anxiously.
"It's good," I say.
She smiles. "I'm glad. You know, when Chell and Gerron showed up, they told us about Voyager, about the Delta Quadrant. It seems like you had a lot of adventures out there."
"That's putting it mildly," I answer.
"Have a seat, B'Elanna," Anna indicates one of two high-backed chairs. "It's not comfortable, but it could be worse. We could still be rotting in a Starfleet brig. At least here, we can forget that we are prisoners. Supplies come every two or three months and we've learned how to make a life here. At least we understand each other. Popular feeling against the Maquis is still fairly high. There are many that still consider us traitors. They never had to fight for their homes, so I can forgive them for that sentiment."
"You're more forgiving than I would be."
"Always the hard one, aren't you?"
"Yes, I suppose."
"No room for sentimentality. God, B'Elanna, it's good to see you again. There are so few of us left now that..." Anna pauses. "I'm sorry, it still hurts."
"I know," I tell her quietly. "I feel so guilty sometimes that I'm still alive. I used to dream up ways to kill myself so then I would know what it would feel like to bleed."
"You don't feel that way anymore, do you?"
I shake my head, "Sometimes I do."
Anna says, "It's hard to forget. I replay some of the scenes over and over again. I think about the battles and I keep thinking that if there was something I could have done differently to prevent it, but I come back to one truth and that is that there was nothing I could do. We were fighting a losing battle from the day we began, B'Elanna."
Anna rouses herself and looks out the window.
"Looks like the supplies are in the storehouse," she says. "If you're warmed up, we can reintroduce you to everyone."
"I'd like that," I tell her.
The mood is gloomy as we all sit around the conference room table. Janeway, as usual, occupies the head seat, swiveled so she sits perpendicular to the table. She strokes her chin pensively with one hand and her other hand taps a staccato rhythm on the table.
"I've filed a formal complaint with Starfleet Headquarters regarding the treatment of the Maquis," she begins. "I haven't heard anything. I'm starting to think that there is no one in San Francisco. No one with any kind of moral fortitude, that is."
"That's a bit harsh," I observe, even though I secretly agree.
"Our reception has been a bit lacking," Janeway says crisply. "A few answers, I don't think that's too much to ask for."
Harry nods in agreement while Seven looks bored by Janeway's irritation.
"Have we heard anything about the explosion? What about survivors?" I demand.
"Still nothing," she says. "Casualty lists have yet to be compiled."
"What's taking so long?" I demand. "It's been over twenty-six hours. First they delay us back on the station and then they take this long to compile a list of who made it and who didn't? Don't they have a rough estimate by now?"
"Admiral McArthur has promised me that he will make the information available to me as soon as possible," Janeway says calmly. She looks at Tuvok who shakes his head slightly.
"I've been unable to find any signs that Commander Chakotay, Lieutenant Torres and the others escaped the station," he says. "And I have yet to contact Admiral Paris."
"Was everyone meeting at the same rendezvous point?" Harry asks. "Starbase 91, right?"
"Yes," Janeway nods. "But it is possible that some shuttles were diverted due to crowded shipping lanes or inclement conditions."
"It is not yet time to give up hope," Tuvok says. "It is possible that Commander Chakotay and the others survived."
Seven cocks her head to the side. "Was Starbase 87 the closest base to the Delta Quadrant?" she asks. Janeway looks at me and I clear my throat.
"Actually, no," I say. "Admiral McArthur requested we dock there, but there were several stations closer."
Seven nods, but I can see that she is not completely satisfied with my answer and that questions lurk just below that placid expression.
"What is it?" Janeway asks sharply.
"It seems peculiar to me that we would arrive at a starbase completely unsuited for a starship of Voyager's size," Seven comments. "In addition, after the length of time Voyager has been absent from the Alpha Quadrant, the welcome you received was not appropriate."
`Not appropriate' is an understatement, perhaps the greatest one Seven has made in quite a while. There is silence in the room. Finally the Doctor nods.
"I did think it odd that no one was interested in our experiences in the Delta Quadrant," he says. "I myself made many contributions to medicine and no one was interested in hearing about them."
Janeway whirls herself around, faces us straight on, her forearms on the table, and fingers knit together. She leans forward, her expression eager.
"You think there is something going on?" she asks.
"It would seem likely," Tuvok says. "I did find the questioning of Commander Chakotay to be... fairly unusual in its format."
"Anything else?" Janeway asks. "You were on the station the longest and had the most contact with both Commander Chakotay and Lieutenant Torres, as well as Admiral McArthur and the others."
Tuvok strokes his chin with two fingers and then puts his hands down.
"They did not question Commander Chakotay about his Maquis activities," Tuvok says thoughtfully.
"That's odd," Harry comments.
"Precisely," Tuvok says. "Rather, they questioned him mainly on Voyager with some emphasis on his relationship with you, Captain."
I lift my head to look across the table; the Captain's cheeks have flushed pink and her eyes are bright, but steady.
"What are you saying, Commander?" Janeway's voice is low, but carries firmly the distance between herself and Tuvok.
"It seems to me that the questioning was not about the Maquis," he says. "The verdict was already decided in their case."
"That's not fair!" the words burst out before I can help myself.
Janeway glares at me.
"That's enough, Tom," she says. "Then what was the questioning about?"
"You," he says.
"I already talked to Admiral McArthur about that. Apparently, my many violations of the Prime Directive were a popular subject," Janeway says. "He did offer me the Dauntless, though, in return for my cooperation regarding the Maquis."
"Two contradictions," Seven observes. "They are not interested in the Maquis, but they are interested in you. They offer you a command where the General Orders specifically say that any violation of the Prime Directive could result in a loss of a command. This command is offered and you agree to remain silent about a terrorist organization which the Federation is not interested in."
"Very succinctly put," Tuvok compliments the former Borg drone. She tips her head in acknowledgment.
"There's more," Janeway says. "It has to do with your father, Tom."
I perk up immediately. "What?"
"He says that in the beginning, maybe between the years 2367 and 2369, there were some promises made to colonists living in the DMZ," she says. "Protection from the Cardassians in return for monetary compensation."
"Who made those promises?" I ask.
Janeway shrugs. "He wouldn't say. He does know that high-ranking Starfleet officials were involved in the conspiracy and that they were not supporters of the Maquis, but rather out for their own gain."
"What happened? Were the promises kept?" Harry asks.
"No," Janeway says. "Hence, the birth of the Maquis."
Silence descends upon us once again. Harry suddenly becomes interested in his fingernails; Janeway's face takes on a faraway look while Seven and Tuvok both appear deep in thought.
"Let me try something," I say. "Aiding the Maquis would have been a blatant violation of the Federation's stance towards the border colonists, right?"
"That is correct," Tuvok nods.
"And demanding money for something that was a violation in the first place, that would go against Starfleet principles, right?" I continue.
"Also correct," Tuvok says.
"We could be looking at a court martial," Harry realizes. "If we knew who these people were, they could stand to lose a lot."
"Especially if they are high up in Starfleet and Federation officiating circles," I add.
"Tuvok, Seven, I want you to investigate the destruction of the starbase," Janeway's voice is full of energy. "Tom, I'm in no hurry to get to the Dauntless. Perhaps, you could engineer a solution. Harry, give him a hand."
"Aye, Captain," I exchange a look with Harry; he grins back at me.
"You have your orders," Janeway says. "Dismissed."
The settlement doesn't have a name. Apparently, when the Federation first dropped the former Maquis on Alonius Prime, assembling the prefabricated buildings, finding sources of food and energy took precedence over the naming the damn place.
I damn it already because I want to go home.
Home, I realize, is Voyager.
But according to Anna, here on Alonius Prime in a nameless little settlement, this is home.
"You'll get used to it," she says as we walk down the dirt-packed main thoroughfare. "It's hard, but you know, we don't have anywhere else to go. No one else wants us. Even after all this time, we're still pariah to ninety percent of the known universe."
"That's a comforting thought," I comment. "Is it always this cold here?"
"Unfortunately, yes," Anna nods. "Dack calculated that the sun shines only twenty-two percent of the time."
"I don't suppose we could be rescued," I say hopefully.
"Don't count on it," Anna responds. "Remember the dampening field? The Federation put it to good use. Short-range scanners won't pick us up. Life signs are completely masked. We thought about building a ship, but we don't have the right supplies and without more robust replicators, we can't replicate the parts we need. Eventually, you get used to it. Over there, that's the main meeting hall. We eat many of our meals there, actually. It's nice to spend time with each other."
"I am looking forward to seeing everyone again," I admit.
Anna grins. "It's nice to have you back, B'Elanna."
We enter the meeting hall and I see Chakotay talking with a few of our former comrades. Henley, Jackson, Ayala, McKenzie, and Gerron are already here. Anna tugs on my arm.
"Come talk to Jessup," she urges. I give her a look. "No, really, B'Elanna. Come say hello."
"If you insist," I say in a low voice.
Herid Jessup, a Ktarian, offers up a wide smile as we approach him.
"B'Elanna Torres," he extends his hand and then his arm, enveloping me in a massive bear hug.
"It's good to see you, Jessup," I say. He pushes me an arm's length away, evaluating me with his beady black eyes.
"You look good," he says. "Have you lost some weight?"
"A bit. The last few months haven't been exactly easy," I say.
"Chakotay was telling us," Jessup replies. "I'm sorry to hear that. I guess it shouldn't surprise us that the Federation hasn't changed a bit."
"We don't get much news," Anna confides. "Being cut off as we are."
"I think I've had enough of politicking for a lifetime," Jessup grins. "What have you been up to, B'Elanna?"
I shrug, "A bit of this and that. Seven years in the Delta Quadrant, actually."
"You got married," Jessup is holding my hands and staring down at the gold band on my ring finger.
"Yeah," I say uncomfortably. "I was going to tell you."
Jessup drops my hand.
"Things change, I understand," he says. "It's been a long time."
"Anyone we know?" Anna asks.
"Actually, yes," I shift from foot to foot. "Tom Paris."
Anna and Jessup stare at me. I bite my lip.
"Tom Paris," Jessup says finally.
"Wasn't he...?" Anna's voice drifts off.
"B'Elanna," Chakotay joins us, his hand lingering briefly on my shoulder. "Something wrong?"
"Nothing," Jessup says. He looks at me, his expression hardening. "I find it hard to believe you married Tom Paris."
"It's true," I look at Chakotay.
"He betrayed us," Anna burst out.
"No, it wasn't like that," I insist. "He told me all about it. Said he was captured on the mission, but he managed to save the crew. The Federation sent him to the New Zealand penal colony and he was there until Captain Janeway asked him to serve on Voyager as an observer."
"Probably an excuse," Jessup says. "Never liked that guy. Always looking for the easy way out. Heavy drinker and always one for the ladies."
"That's not true," I'm nearly nose to nose with Jessup now. Tom once observed that when I got angry, my cheeks flushed, my nostrils flared and my voice would crack ever so slightly. And he had said then in a softly lustful voice, his hands gentle on my face, "You're beautiful when you're angry. Impossible to resist."
"I thought you had better taste," Jessup scoffs now.
"Like you?" I shoot back.
Chakotay says, grabbing my arm. "It's not important, okay?
B'Elanna's personal life shouldn't be an issue, not now."
"What is this, the trademark Chakotay teamwork speech?" Jessup asks.
"Your attitude certainly hasn't improved over the years," Chakotay remarks calmly. Jessup shrugs.
"I have a reason to be angry," he says. "You guys had it good for seven years, living on a Federation starship instead of having to muck it out on a godforsaken planet."
"Oh right," I say. "Being lost in the Delta Quadrant was a picnic. If you were poked, prodded and shot by the Hirogen for days, I wonder if you would say the same. Or maybe you should experience the joys of assimilation."
"B'Elanna," Chakotay says in a warning tone. "This isn't the time."
"I don't appreciate his tone," I say.
"You weren't here when we needed you," Jessup says. "We were slaughtered and where were you?"
"Oh hell with you," I tell him. "We did not choose to be in the Delta Quadrant. Don't you think we thought about you? Don't you think we hurt when we found out what happened? Don't trivialize our experiences, Herid, and certainly, don't blame us for not being there. We wanted to be and circumstances conspired against us. Was it fair? No, but there wasn't a single moment when we didn't want to fight with all of you for what we believed in. I'm sorry if you can't understand that."
"Jessup," Chakotay says. "B'Elanna, both of you. It's been a long time since we've seen each other and we've all been through a lot. There's no need to compare stories. It's been a rough few years and let's leave it at that."
Jessup and I eye each other, each daring the other to be the first to back down. Chakotay's expression is unreadable, but I know he is on the brink of exasperation. And the last thing I want to do is contribute to the stress of our current situation.
"I'm sorry," I extend my hand. "I guess my temper is a bit on edge."
"Some things don't change," Jessup answers. "I'm sorry too, though I did mean what I said about Tom Paris."
I shrug. "He's changed, but I don't expect you to know that."
"Why don't we get something to eat?" Anna jumps in. "Chakotay and B'Elanna must be starving."
"You're right," I tell her. "It's been hours since we've eaten anything."
"Good," Anna takes Chakotay's arm. Jessup holds me back.
"I'm just looking out for you, B'Elanna," he says. "Don't take it the wrong way. We're all friends here."
"Tom Paris didn't do a damn thing when he was with us. You know that too. You couldn't even stand him and now you married him? What happened? Did you get a brain transplant?"
"I wouldn't expect you to understand, Jessup."
His face softens a bit and he reaches out to stroke my cheek.
"I'm being irrational, I know. I'm overprotective, maybe even a bit jealous. Jealous that he succeeded where I failed," Jessup says. "I just don't want to see someone I care about get hurt."
I clasp my hand around Jessup's and push his away.
"I know," I tell him. "And I appreciate your concern, but you don't have to worry about me."
There is a moment of silence as Jessup evaluates my remark. He then smiles at me.
"I really am glad to see you again," Jessup says. "Now, how about some food?"
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