Lines in the Sand IV, part IV
Chakotay has a way of understating the shocking, of delivering the most stunning, heart-stopping gut-wrenching news in a calm, unruffled manner; he might as well be spinning parables around a campfire for all of the emotion he displays now.
I, on the other hand, well, I'm sure Chakotay's going to have to peel me right off the floor and carry me out of here.
seated, stunned into a silence that I cannot quite break out of.
Chakotay says nothing because he understands what it's like to have a trust violated.
I knew - Owen Paris - apparently was nothing like the man he projected himself
The man I admired, he was another a projection, if you will - of what the ideal Starfleet officer should be like.
Truth be told, I fall easily.
It had taken all of my courage to request Admiral Paris to serve as my advisor for my honors thesis back in the Academy; I had taken on the massive compact halo objects as my topic and I needed someone who could steer me through it.
Paris had done that and more, and the day I presented my thesis to the Committee, he sat in the front row.
After graduation, Paris approached me with an offer.
"You'll be the junior science officer," he said. "It's the Arias mission. Consider this a great opportunity to put your theory in practice."
And of course, I had accepted; I would have been foolish to do otherwise.
I would wake each morning, and compose myself into a stellar example of what a Starfleet officer ought to be, just so I could catch his eye. Once, he noted me observing him, and he beckoned me to come near.
"You look pensive. What are you thinking about?"
"Thinking about this mission and when we're going to have a chance to observe spatial phenomena in action."
"That fascinates you?"
"On a primitive level. I like the idea of something bigger, more dynamic, and of course, maybe have an opportunity to witness the very forces which formed our universe."
"It's good to see you have a passion for something," the Admiral told me. "Perhaps- I wish that the enthusiasm you showed, I wish it manifested itself - well, it's not prevalent in the younger generation."
"That, sir, if I may be candid..."
"Of course, Kathryn."
"That, sir, is a matter of perspective."
"Discipline. That's what it takes."
Paris looked at me, the slightest hint of a smile stretching his thin, pale pink lips.
"You're not afraid of me, are you?" he asked.
"I try not to be, no, sir," I told him.
"You don't have to lie, Ensign."
"I know," I said. "It's honor to serve on your ship."
"If it were not an honor, would you say so?"
"Probably not, no, sir."
"That's what I thought," he sighed. "Why don't people tell me the truth? Tell me, Ensign, why you watch me so closely."
I didn't have an easy answer. Remember that I was still young, rather naive, and I had yet to develop the ability to think quickly and diplomatically. Paris saved me from answering by laughing and grasping my shoulder with his large hand.
"Are you interested in command?" he asked seriously.
"It would be a future goal of mine, yes."
"Then watch and learn." Those Paris blue eyes twinkled at me. "Command isn't as easy as it seems, Ensign. It's an art. You must appear to be infallible, flawless, and never should you show a moment of indecision. You should be willing to call a bluff when necessary and you should be prepared to lie and lie well. They call it diplomacy, but we'll call it what it is, Lieutenant. You must be conniving, deceitful, but you must also be fair and just. You must adhere to doctrines of Starfleet, yet you must be able to see the shades of gray when the rule of law is not clear. You must make everyone happy but also be prepared to disappoint everyone - all at the same time. You must be willing to kill, as you are to heal and protect. You must make sacrifices and forgo indulgences for the greater good. Are you still interested, Kathryn?"
"Put that way, sir, it hardly sounds satisfying."
"Ah, but that's where you're mistaken," the Captain nodded at passing crewmen. "There's nothing in my life that could afford me greater pleasure or satisfaction than this career. One day, you'll understand, Ensign. One day."
"I hope so, sir."
From that day on, Paris would notice me and call me to his side, asking me a variety of questions. Quizzes on various Starfleet procedures turned into long hours on the Bridge training and later, into private sessions with the Captain himself on the fine art of command, as he so liked to bill his one-hour lectures.
It was in one of these private meetings that I learnt that this so-called science expedition was really a spy mission and I had been woefully deceived; there would be no exploration of the natural forces for me. Rather, we were on a reconnaissance mission to gather information about Cardassian military operations and troops. Even in my disappointment, I found it difficult to despise Admiral Paris for not being entirely honest with me then.
When I finally left the Paris' tutelage, he looked at me pensively.
"You'll make a fine captain," he said.
"I had a good teacher."
"If I were a terrible teacher, would you say otherwise?"
And because I knew how Owen Paris wanted this question answered and with my newly discovered confidence backing me up, I nodded.
"Yes, sir, I would."
"Good," Paris said approvingly. "Then I have done my job and done it well."
during my short shoreleaves, I would drop in on Paris, let him know how I was
doing, and in the darkest corners of the Delta Quadrant, when it seemed like
we would perish out there,
I would wonder what Paris would do in the same situations.
I see now that I was painfully deceived.
That spy mission, that was simply a symptom of the untruths and deceptions he would spin later. Yet, we all believed. We all admired. And Owen Paris, he accepted our adulation and gave us grave, ponderous words of wisdom. So the charade, this charming facade of an upstanding officer, continued.
He did it with mirrors.
Those damn mirrors.
Hell, I look at myself every morning and try not to see the insane Kathryn Janeway who periodically took control. I stare at my reflection and try to compose myself into a calm, articulate, commanding leader. Several deep breaths, shoulders thrust back, a lift of the chin and voila, I am the Captain, the embodiment of all things Starfleet and Federation. I recite the Prime Directive on my knees with my hands clasped, my eyes closed in serene meditation. I confess regularly for violating that divine mantra and I hope that in the high holy place that is Starfleet Headquarters, forgiveness is forthcoming.
I'm a traitor to my own religion.
Chakotay reminds me of this frequently.
What the hell, he's the reason for my conversion.
He looks at me with those dark eyes and immediately, I find myself thinking those thoughts that no Starfleet-fearing Captain ought to be thinking.
Downright sinful, if you ask me.
I'm sure there is a special place in hell for people like me. If I look to that ancient philosopher, Dante, for his interpretation, I would hover somewhere in the first few circles - where reason cannot govern the most natural of instincts. As for Admiral Paris, well, he earns himself a front row seat in the eighth circle of hell, his soul forever encased by flame.
I suppose then, that it's fitting, that Admiral self-immolated himself in the eerily beautiful explosion of a starbase.
But why he saved the Maquis, now that's a question I can't answer. Then again, not all questions have answers and some things are better left unknown and open to speculation.
"I know. You get that little crease right between your eyes," Chakotay says.
"Why didn't you ever say anything?"
"No one ever asked."
if I understood you properly, Admiral Paris was the one who engineered this
"He was one of the main players, yes."
I sigh. A dull ache begins in my right temple and I know that before long, this pain will settle itself comfortably behind my eyes, not to be evicted until somehow, I can make my way to the first aid kit on the Delta Flyer.
"There's a certain irony in knowing the truth, isn't there, Kathryn? After all we went through?"
"Things aren't as they seem," I say dully.
"I know," I sigh. "I suppose it was... quixotic, wasn't it? Idealistic, even?"
"There is nothing wrong with a belief system, Kathryn. You need to understand that some will subjugate that system even as they insist that they are the upholders of that particular creed."
"My fatal flaw, right?"
"It's not so bad to take people at face value."
"I can't believe I was deceived and so easily..."
"I think the Admiral Paris you knew and the one I knew, those were two different men at different periods in time. In retrospect, his reputation as an outstanding Starfleet officer should not be in doubt."
"He broke the law."
"He betrayed confidences."
"And he and McArthur, they wanted the Maquis out of the way, so the truth wouldn't be revealed."
"That's how I see it, yes."
I mull over the information and slowly the scenario of what must have happened plays out in my mind. Voyager nears the Alpha Quadrant and those Starfleet officers involved in the scheme panic. Someone must do something. So Voyager is sent to a decrepit, out of the way starbase. Admiral Paris, delayed on his way out from San Francisco, gives McArthur orders to delay us however he can. McArthur runs through a farcical, half-hearted interrogation, but even he is not entirely sure of what is planned.
"Why would Paris secretly order your evacuation? It seems to me that he went through a lot of trouble to cover his tracks," I ask. "Why didn't he just order you to Alonius Prime?"
"I don't know," he says. "It could be that he wanted to conduct a real trial, but because of the explosion, he couldn't carry out those plans."
I ponder this suggestion, but even that seems out of character for Owen Paris.
"If he was afraid of you talking, what about the others?" I ask.
"Didn't all of the Maquis know?" I ask. "What about those Maquis who have been exiled here for years?"
Chakotay shakes his head.
"We never came out and said who was involved," he says. "The deal fell through almost immediately. The first raid they didn't show, we knew we couldn't count on Starfleet for protection. It occurred to us that maybe we could cause a stir back in San Francisco if we revealed names, but by then, we were in the thick of the battle. They were hunting us down and petty grievances -"
"These weren't petty grievances," I tell Chakotay. "What did you give them?"
"Everything," Chakotay offers me a sad smile. "You know, I don't have a home to go back to. My family owned that land for years and now, well, I exchanged it for protection. I suppose Admiral Paris knows who owns it now."
"Or did," I say grimly.
"What do you mean?"
"Owen Paris is dead. He died in the explosion."
Chakotay chuckles. I look at him in surprise; my former first officer is not one to exhibit inappropriate emotion.
"That's one way to clear a conscience," Chakotay says. "And it makes me wonder, yes, I wonder..."
But on this question, Chakotay is strangely silent; his eyes take on a faraway look. After a few minutes, he rouses himself.
"You must be hungry," he says.
"Actually, I'd like to talk about returning to Voyager."
"Food first," he says.
I recognize a challenge when one is thrown down. I nod.
B'Elanna's voice is barely louder than a whisper, but it's enough to startle me right out of my seat. She looks at me sleepily, her eyes barely open. I grab her hand.
"You came," she says.
I brush her hair away from her face. Her skin is still warm and slightly damp. She offers me a smile, the one that always hits me physically in the stomach.
"How do you feel?" I ask. I look around for a tricorder and spot one on a low shelf. I grab it and come back to B'Elanna. "According to this, you're on the road to recovery."
"That's good news." B'Elanna squints at me. "You look tired, Tom. Did you spend the entire night in that chair?"
"Pretty much," I smile. "Your friend Herid offered me a spot on his sofa for the night, but I have a hearty sense of self-preservation."
"He wouldn't have hurt you."
"Your friends still hate me, B'Elanna. I have the bruises to prove it."
B'Elanna struggles to sit up, and winces at the exertion. I help her, placing my arm directly behind her shoulders.
"You fought with him?"
"A little fight. Over you," I grin at her.
"Over me?" she laughs. "No, really. What did you fight about?"
"It's not important, B'Elanna. We've agreed to avoid each other at all costs."
"It's not your fault. You didn't answer my question. How do you feel?"
"You're changing the subject again."
"So are you."
"I didn't think I was alive," B'Elanna confesses. "I was there. In gre'thor."
"That's what the Doctor speculated."
"Is the Doctor here?"
"Yes, but he's off-line right now."
B'Elanna lifts her arm and cautiously moves her fingers.
"You may have some stiffness," I tell her. "We weren't sure if you'd get full mobility back."
She nods as she stares at her fingers.
"Hey," I say softly. "In no time at all, you'll be puttering about again. It'll just take some time."
"Yeah, I know," B'Elanna says. She stares over my shoulder. "How long have you been here?"
"Just a day. Seems longer than that, though."
"You were there."
"In my... in gre'thor with me. You had planned a honeymoon. You wanted to go to Chicago, that's what you planned, and at the last moment, you changed your mind and we were going to go to a beach instead. A real beach."
"That sounds nice."
"And then you left. I - I reached out for you, but you vanished." B'Elanna bites her lip and she fumbles around on the biobed with her stiff arm.
"Hey there, careful," I say. "Tell me what you want, B'Elanna."
"I didn't know," she goes on, almost as if I never spoke. "I thought it was real. And then there were the ghosts... the walking dead. They were there too. I asked for forgiveness and they, they didn't..."
I wrap my arms around her as best as I can. She lays her forehead on my shoulder as I run my fingers through her hair. B'Elanna shivers, but I make no further move to ask her what is wrong.
There are many things I've learned during the course of our rather erratic relationship and one lesson is that you never ask questions that hint at any kind of emotional weakness. B'Elanna and I, we don't do that. We cry in silent, letting only the puffiness of our eyes speak for what we cannot say, and we nurse our battle scars in dark corners where the other cannot see what bleeds.
After a few minutes, B'Elanna lifts her head. Her eyes are still watery, but she seems calmer now.
"What happens now?" she asks.
"I don't know. It's up to the Captain and Chakotay, I suppose."
"Chakotay doesn't want to leave."
"And go where?"
Good question. Where to go? Given that those of us with less than stellar service records will probably find ourselves scrubbing pots in foul smelling kitchens for a living, the possibility of living happily ever in a castle on a hill seem rather remote.
"I don't know," I admit.
"What if they don't let us go?" she asks.
"I never thought of this place as home sweet home, but I suppose it would have to do."
"You'd stay here? With me?"
"B'Elanna," I lean in so that we're eye to eye. "I would have stayed in the Delta Quadrant with you. You really only had to ask."
She puts her hand on my chest as she lowers her eyes.
"I don't want to doubt you, Tom. I'm sorry."
"It's all right. I know."
At that moment, we hear the hiss of the EMH coming online.
"Please state - ah, B'Elanna, Mr. Paris," the Doctor sounds positively jubilant. I wish I could sound that alive first thing after getting out of bed. As it is, I'm bleary-eyed and positively cranky in the morning before that first cup of that all-rejuvenating caffeine brew. And B'Elanna, well, she's not a morning person either; you don't even look at her unless you want to be turned to stone. And even after two cups of coffee, you're still treading on dangerous ground with my temperamental wife. "How do you feel, B'Elanna?"
"My tricorder begs to differ."
"Excuse me?" there's a decidedly violent edge to B'Elanna's voice. I grin at the Doctor and he shrugs his photonic shoulders in surrender. Apparently, the Doctor has been paying close attention to his lessons; you never argue with a Klingon who says she feels fine.
"You should take it easy," the Doctor says.
"Don't worry," I assure him. "I'll make sure she does."
It's a good thing B'Elanna's arm is still stiff otherwise I'm sure she would have taken a nice swipe at me. Impulsively, I lean in to kiss her on the cheek. When I look at her, she is smiling.
I will trust you to Mr. Paris' care," the Doctor says. "Lieutenant
- you are still a
lieutenant, aren't you?"
I shrug, "I don't know. I don't know anything anymore."
"It doesn't matter," the Doctor sighs melodramatically. "We'll all be scattered across the galaxy, communicating via subspace. We'll be friends, not fellow officers."
"What is he talking about?" B'Elanna asks.
"New assignments," I tell her. "The Captain has already been reassigned."
"Just her. The rest of us were - are - supposed to get our assignments when we reached Deep Space Nine."
God, when someone gets under your skin the way B'Elanna has gotten under mine, you know exactly what that person is thinking, even if they don't articulate those thoughts. I smile at her but say nothing. After all, I don't know what's happening any more than she does and there are questions without answers. I imagine we'll figure it out as we go along.
And that, in a nutshell, is the plan.
Go to part V
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