Characters and places belong to Paramount. I simply wanted to take them out for a spin through the Texas Hill Country; I'll bring them home safely.
He found B'Elanna exactly where he knew she'd be: in Engineering, in front of her workstation on the second level. She was hunched over, deep in thought, her right hand curled around a coffee mug. He placed his hand gently on her shoulder and B'Elanna jumped. She turned to face him in one furious motion and then her expression softened.
"Chakotay," she said in relief. "You scared me."
Chakotay chuckled. "You've gotten soft, B'Elanna. There was a time when a person couldn't sneak within twenty-five meters of you before you reached for your phaser."
"Call it the result of good living," B'Elanna said. She glanced at her console and Chakotay could make out intricate diagrams of an unfamiliar technology.
"What is that?" he asked.
"The results - or rather, lack thereof - of the Borg autopsy." B'Elanna nodded towards the diagrams. "I'm still trying to figure out what or who deactivated the drones on that cube."
"Any ideas yet?"
"No," B'Elanna said. She sighed, resting her cheek against the palm of her hand. "Whatever it is, I hate to see what it would do to Voyager. Let's hope we don't run into it."
"That's one suggestion I won't disagree with," Chakotay said. He leaned against the pillar, crossing his arms against his chest. "I take it you're feeling better now?"
B'Elanna quirked a smile. "I've been shot before. How about you? I assume the Doctor gave you a clean bill of health?"
"I am, in his words, 'completely severed from the Collective.' The Doctor ran a neurogenic scan and mapped all relevant synaptic activity. There should be no lingering traces from my ordeal," Chakotay said the last word with some emphasis and B'Elanna looked up at him curiously.
"So your thoughts once again are your own," she commented.
"You could say that," Chakotay said. He paused, wondering how much he should reveal to B'Elanna. In truth, he still felt a little off-balance and he could recall the memories of the others he had been joined with so clearly, almost as if they were all still linked together. It was both a frightening and intimate feeling.
"Something bothering you?" B'Elanna pushed back in her chair and tilted her head back, looking Chakotay squarely in the eye. "It's me, Chakotay. Whatever's on your mind, you can tell me."
Chakotay took a deep breath. Might as well jump right into it, he supposed.
"I'm sorry," he said. "For starters. I'm not in the habit of shooting my friends."
"I'm aware of that," B'Elanna said gently. "What happened on the shuttle, it wasn't your fault."
"The Captain said the same thing."
"You ought to listen the Captain more often," B'Elanna said, quirking a smile. "Look, you were under the influence of the Borg, or whatever they were or are now. You had no control over your actions."
"I don't accept that," Chakotay said. He shuffled his feet a bit before once again leaning his weight against the wall. "I should have been more aware, stronger..."
B'Elanna stared at him. "Are you upset because of what they forced you to do or is there something you're not telling me?"
Chakotay leaned over to look more closely at the diagrams on B'Elanna's station. The intricate circuitry which turned flesh into machine was magnified in several different views on the console. Chakotay carefully ran his fingers over the yellow lines which outlined the deactivated drone's complex innards.
B'Elanna rolled her chair slightly back to give him more room, resting her palms on her thighs, interest clearly etched across her face. She watched carefully, but Chakotay's expression did not change as he viewed the schematics with obvious disinterest.
"Did I tell you about Riley?" Chakotay asked softly, not taking his eyes off the screen. He tried to imagine this kind of machinery inside Riley Frazier's body, but the memory of her - blond hair curling to her shoulders, the clear and intelligent eyes, the softness of her skin - softened the actual distaste he felt for the Borg.
"A brief mention, nothing more."
"I've been trying to sort things out in my head and it's been... confusing."
"In what way?"
She was..." Chakotay paused as he searched for exactly the right word. "Strong."
"Strong. I see." B'Elanna pressed her lips into a thin, straight line. "And that's all you've come up with?"
"I've never met anyone quite like her," Chakotay said softly. He turned to look at B'Elanna, meeting her gaze steadily. She blinked first.
"You... you have feelings for her?"
The shock in B'Elanna's voice exactly paralleled Chakotay's emotions. How could he possibly even begin to explain his relationship with Riley, if he could even call it a relationship? How could he tell B'Elanna he had invited Riley to come aboard Voyager with intentions that were not completely altruistic or unselfish? He sighed heavily, trying to control the emotion which threatened to overwhelm him.
"She was fascinating and exciting. I felt different with her. It was like..." Chakotay cleared his throat, unable to find the exact words to describe Riley. For some reason, he wanted - needed - to be absolutely precise.
"Seska?" B'Elanna interjected. Chakotay, surprise crossing his face, looked at his old friend. It had been so long since Seska's name had been mentioned and it astonished Chakotay how, after all this time, the memory of Seska still had the power to wound him.
"If you're referring to an initial rush of emotion, yes, I suppose so," he said. "The way Seska and I were at the beginning of our relationship." He placed the emphasis on 'beginning' so B'Elanna understood exactly where Chakotay stood on Seska at this particular moment.
"I understand," B'Elanna said, but her lip curled with distaste.
"What I don't understand is how I didn't notice that Riley had an agenda of her own," Chakotay said, his voice rising in restrained fury. He slammed his fist against his palm. B'Elanna's eyes widened. "How could I've been so ignorant of their intentions?"
"Because it's in your nature to believe in others. You're always willing to take a chance on someone even if that person appears to be a hopeless cause. It's the way you are," B'Elanna said gently.
Chakotay pressed his lips into a straight line. "I guess this is where you remind me I'm a lousy judge of character."
B'Elanna got up from her chair to stand very close to Chakotay, her head nearly resting on his shoulder. She covered his shaking hand with hers. "No, no, I'm not going to do that. Those Borg down there, they told you a good story, Chakotay. I don't think any of us would have suspected duplicity."
"I should have known better. My Maquis days should count for something, shouldn't they?" Chakotay asked. B'Elanna smiled.
"As you pointed out earlier, Chakotay, we've grown complacent," she said.
"That's no excuse," he answered. He sighed. "Something's got to change, B'Elanna. What if we run into whatever it is that incapacitated that cube? What then?"
"I imagine we'll do whatever it takes to make sure we get through in one piece," B'Elanna said, but Chakotay could hear the uncertainty underlying her bravado.
"That I don't doubt. We've faced the unknown before, but this-" he pointed at B'Elanna's console - "whatever caused this is infinitely more intimidating."
"You're thinking about something, aren't you?" B'Elanna asked suspiciously. "You have a solution?"
"Riley mentioned the possibility of joining their collective, of starting a new life here in the Delta Quadrant."
"It seems to me that Riley said a lot to you," B'Elanna said, an edge slipping into her tone.
"Sometimes, I can't figure out what she actually said or what she thought," Chakotay said. "But it did occur to me that maybe she had a point."
"Settling in the Delta Quadrant is a terrible idea," B'Elanna said. "What you're saying is tantamount to giving up. I don't have much to look forward to in the Alpha Quadrant except maybe an all-expenses paid trip to New Zealand or wherever it is they put the undesirables these days, but frankly, the thought of giving up disgusts me, Chakotay, and I can't believe you'd even suggest it."
B'Elanna slammed her hand down on the console, her fingers quickly moving over the buttons, her actions obviously propelled by fury; the image of the drone's body disappeared. Chakotay looked at her in surprise.
"I can't look at it anymore," B'Elanna explained shortly. She sighed and for the first time, Chakotay noted the dark circles beneath her eyes, the paleness of her skin. He touched her cheek lightly. "Sorry, I didn't mean to lose my temper."
"You're tired," he said. "You should rest."
"There's plenty of time to relax later on," B'Elanna said, brushing away his fingers. "There's work to be done. I just don't know where to start. Fighting against an enemy we don't know, have yet to encounter... Chakotay, there's a point when we can't anticipate all of the possibilities, but that doesn't mean we should just give up."
"I agree," Chakotay said. "Staying in the Delta Quadrant does make sense up to a point, but I agree with you. Voyager is our home now and it's unthinkable not to do everything in our power to get home. Not after all we have been through already."
"But you've obviously spent a lot of time thinking about the idea," B'Elanna said, laying heavy emphasis on the last word.
Chakotay shook his head. "On New Earth, yes, the possibility did strike me and was very tempting." For a brief moment, Chakotay reflected on the serenity of the time spent on New Earth. For the first time in years, he had felt a curious peace, removed from the various stresses that had plagued him in Starfleet, in the Maquis, and then on Voyager. "And when I was with Riley, when her thoughts touched mine, the prospect of staying in one place was equally tantalizing."
"So you miss Riley?" B'Elanna's voice rose slightly, turning the statement into a question.
Chakotay shrugged. "I don't know. I'm too... angry." Until he said those words, Chakotay hadn't realized exactly how he felt towards Riley and the other Borg; even when talking to Kathryn, he had been curiously calm and reflective about his experience down on the planet.
"Well, that's something, at least. I was afraid you were going to start your own mini collective here on Voyager." B'Elanna sank back down into her chair, rubbing her eyes with the back of her hand. "She betrayed you, I understand that. I suppose you can say she acted in the best interests of her people. Doesn't that mean something?"
Chakotay was taken off balance by B'Elanna's question. It was a strangely introspective and quiet query coming from the half-Klingon engineer.
"Perhaps, but I don't like being lied to," Chakotay said softly.
Chakotay didn't say it, but both of them could see the parallels between Seska and Riley. The two women's personalities hid conflicting motivations and it made Chakotay wonder if either had cared for him at all. To think both had used him to further her own cause wounded him greatly and he could tell by the look on B'Elanna's face she understood what he was thinking.
Perhaps, he mused, this is why he had sought B'Elanna out, because she could understand him in a way few others on Voyager could.
"What do you think will happen now?" B'Elanna asked softly. "Now that they're Borg again?"
"I know that, but they are different Borg," Chakotay said. He stressed the word 'different', as if saying it with emphasis he could convince himself that Riley and the others were indeed a breed apart from the Borg which terrorized the Alpha Quadrant and caused the massive destruction and loss of life at Wolf 359.
"With a different mindset and some traces of individuality, yes, but it could be that the Borg first began with all good intentions and then evolved over centuries to the way they are now."
"I can't think about Riley in that light."
"You have to consider the possibility," B'Elanna said. "We may encounter them again and they may have changed drastically from the peace-loving community you knew to something more sinister."
Chakotay inhaled deeply. "I know," he said. "And I have thought about it. Don't think I haven't." He put his hand lightly on B'Elanna's shoulder. "Come on, B'Elanna. It's been a long day. Why don't you get some rest?"
"You're right." B'Elanna rose from her chair. "I've got an early shift tomorrow and I suppose I can get Harry to help me with this autopsy in the afternoon. What about you? You could use some rest too."
Chakotay shook his head as the two of them headed towards the stairs.
"I've got something I need to take care of," he said. B'Elanna glanced at him.
"What?" she asked, her eyes narrowing in suspicion. "Don't tell me you really are going to run off with the Borg."
Her tone was teasing, but Chakotay could hear the genuine concern underlying her words. He shook his head in an attempt to reassure her.
"No, nothing like that," Chakotay said. He gripped the handrail as they made their way down the stairs. "Don't worry."
B'Elanna paused, but Chakotay kept going, his stride forceful and measured. After a moment, she hurried after him.
"I probably could keep my eyes open for another hour or so," she said as she caught up to him. Chakotay offered her a thin smile.
"I was hoping you'd say that," he told her.
He heard footsteps, but kept his attention on the keypad in front of him. Just a few more modifications...
"Commander, you did say 2100 hours."
Chakotay stifled his smile as he looked up briefly. Janeway stood barely a meter away from him, one hand on her hip and a blanket draped over her other arm. She glanced towards the holodeck doors.
"What is the occasion?" she asked. She handed the blanket over to Chakotay. "You asked me to bring this."
"Thanks." Chakotay's fingers flew over the keypad quickly and then he turned to face Janeway, smiling briefly. "You deserve an explanation. This -" he nodded towards the holodeck - "is my way of sharing my experience with you."
"You don't owe me any apologies, Chakotay," Janeway said, her voice dropping in volume. She leaned in closer, one hand resting gently on Chakotay's forearm. "I thought I made that clear."
"Humor me," Chakotay said. "Computer, activate program Chakotay three-two-eight."
The holodeck doors slid open, revealing a wide expanse of grass, stretching far into the horizon. A gentle wind blew through the warm air, setting off silver-green ripples through the meadow. Chakotay gestured expansively.
"After you," he said quietly.
The Captain stepped into the holodeck, Chakotay just behind her.
Janeway inhaled deeply. "Smells good. What is that?"
"Cedar," Chakotay answered. He pointed to a clump of trees off to the left. "Coming from over there."
Janeway nodded. "That's quite an aroma. Where are we anyway?"
"Texas. The hill country, to be precise. Somewhere to the east of Fredricksburg."
"Ah," Janeway said. She took a few steps forward, taking in the scenery around her. The field was spotted with delicate blue, orange and white flowers. In some places, the fragrance of the flowers filled the air. In the distance, the twisted branches of live oak dotted the gently rolling landscape. Brilliant orange streaked the lavender-hued sky. "It's a lovely program, Chakotay, and certainly not what I would have expected if you had told me beforehand where we were going."
Chakotay reached down and plucked a single blue flower and handed it to Janeway.
"A Texas bluebonnet," Chakotay said. "The state flower."
"Hmm," Janeway said, inhaling the sweet smell. She fingered the delicate petals lightly. "You have exquisite attention to detail, Commander."
"I can't take all of the credit. B'Elanna helped," Chakotay said. "I told her what I wanted to do and she remembered that Tom had spent a spring break on Padre Island. B'Elanna managed to talk him into sharing some of his vacation pictures to create this program. Apparently, they even declared a truce and worked on some of the coding together."
Janeway looked amused. "There's some hope for them yet," she said. She squeezed Chakotay's arm gently. "They - all of you - did a wonderful job."
"It is gorgeous and I admit, I never had a desire to visit Texas before."
Chakotay sighed, fixing his gaze on the gentle slope of land in the distance. A grove of trees grew awkwardly at the top, their gnarled branches reaching out, rather than up.
"This isn't just any place, Kathryn," he said quietly. "This was Riley Frazier's home."
Chakotay could not quite read Kathryn's expression; in fact, she displayed no emotion whatsoever regarding his revelation.
"Through our... link," Chakotay began and then stopped, unsure of how to proceed. He wanted to Kathryn to understand about Riley, but at the same time, he felt ambivalent about revealing the depth of his feelings for the former Borg drone.
"When you were linked," Janeway said softly. "Go on."
"Many of her memories were of Fredricksburg," Chakotay said in a rushed voice. He waved a hand in the direction of the hills. "Apparently, this is the one place you can get Mexican food cooked with a German twist." He recalled Riley's fondness for enchiladas smothered in heavy cream sauce served with a side of sauerkraut.
"Sounds interesting." Janeway's lips twisted up into a wry smile.
"Her family has lived here for centuries. They had a small vineyard and made their own wine. I believe they were quite successful," Chakotay went on. "Riley's last visit home was just before Wolf 359." He smiled sadly. "It was a hot day when she left for San Francisco. The sun blazed, scorching the earth for miles around. It hadn't rained in weeks and the inhabitants were considering installing climate controls protocols. Riley was against the enhancement; it would take away from Texas, she said, take away from the culture they had there."
"Did they install the protocols?"
Chakotay glanced at his captain, wondering at her question. She gazed back at him earnestly, genuinely curious.
"I did some research and apparently, no," he said.
"What of her family? Are they still in the area?"
"Yes," he said. "They had a memorial service for Riley in the aftermath of the battle. Starfleet listed her missing in action, but I suppose they wanted to spare her family the horrors of her assimilation. I don't know. When Riley and I were linked, I felt her concern for her family and I know she misses them greatly. A part of her wanted to come with us but a greater part of her acknowledged that she is now different from the Riley Frazier her friends and family knew and loved. She-" his voice shook slightly - "wasn't sure if they would accept her after all this time. Her concern was understandable, given the intense prejudice against the Borg."
"Things may have changed. I'm sure her family would welcome her back."
"Perhaps," Chakotay said. "But she does have a point. Her experiences have changed her and even if her family did accept her, she wasn't completely sure she could go back to that life. Her life is in the Delta Quadrant now, as painful as that epiphany was to her. She's made her decision, Kathryn, and perhaps, is even comfortable with never seeing her home again."
Janeway nodded, her lips flattening into a thin line, a reaction which prompted Chakotay to consider a change in subject.
"There's a ridge over there." Chakotay pointed. "It's the best place to view the setting sun."
"I can't remember the last time I saw a sunset, holographic or otherwise," Janeway said wistfully. The two fell into step together, heading towards the ridge. "Did Riley tell you about this vista point?"
"In a manner of speaking," Chakotay said uncomfortably. Janeway shot him a sideways glance, letting him know she suspected more had happened between her first officer and Riley Frazier than he had let on. "When you're linked, it's an internal conversation, one which flows continuously and has no boundaries and makes no judgements. You absorb everything about that person without even realizing it. It feels like you've known the other person all of your life. It's an unbelievably vicarious experience."
"In what way?" Janeway's tone was curiously flat.
Chakotay shrugged. "Just as I'd never been to Texas, she'd never been to Dorvan. Through our thoughts, we were able to experience the other's home."
"I've never felt so close to someone in my entire life., Kathryn," Chakotay said earnestly as they began the slow ascent up the ridge. They paused briefly to catch their breath. "I knew how Riley felt about the change in seasons and I knew what made her happy. I experienced the fear of assimilation and then the calmness which followed."
Janeway resumed walking. "So you enjoyed it?"
The abruptness of Janeway's statement bothered Chakotay greatly, but he knew he couldn't lie.
"Even when she manipulated you?"
"I couldn't predict that. She managed to hide that much from me."
"But you must have felt something about her actions," Janeway challenged. By now, Chakotay had caught up to her and they were facing each other. "Chakotay, she used you. How do you know if any of the things she shared with you, any of those emotions, were real? How do you know she wasn't manipulating you even then?"
"You could be right," Chakotay said. "But that doesn't negate the experience."
Janeway sighed and shook her head. "I've been going over the events of the last couple days in my head. If our positions had been reversed, if Riley had appealed to me for help, I don't know if I could deny that request. It's in your nature to do good, Chakotay. Coupled with your... relationship with Riley, I imagine her request was almost irresistible."
"I wouldn't have disobeyed you."
They reached the top of the hill. By now, the sun had melted into nothing more than a red-gold sliver cutting across the sky. Chakotay unfolded the blanket and spread it across the grass.
"I know you wouldn't have," Janeway said as she settled down on the blanket. "I hope you're right, Chakotay. I hope Riley and her... collective, or whatever they call themselves keep their word. You know what they say about the road to hell."
Chakotay allowed his lips to turn up slightly. "Are you making that generalization about me or Riley?"
"Seriously, Chakotay," Janeway said as the first officer settled down next to her. "Have you considered the possibility of what they could become?"
"You asked me that before."
Janeway shot Chakotay a sideways look.
Chakotay heaved a sigh. How to answer this question? He had tossed and turned all night trying to convince himself Riley would keep her promise and use the link only for good. He remembered what B'Elanna had suggested to him: that the Borg had started out as a peaceful entity bent on bringing order to chaos and over time had evolved into their current belligerent state. He had come to the conclusion, no matter how much he wanted to believe otherwise, that Riley and her collective would eventually evolve into the very thing they had fought to escape. It was, Chakotay mused, an inevitable conclusion.
He turned to look at Kathryn and from the expression on her face, he could tell she had hit on the same theory herself.
"Seems ironic, doesn't it?" Kathryn asked. "Someone who grew up in a part of the world known for its fierce independence, both in thought and action, should choose interdependence instead even for the sake of peace?" She shook her head. "I'm not sure that giving up one's individuality is something I can understand completely."
"If you saw what I did down on that planet, maybe the idea isn't so farfetched. Desperate times, it's a cliche, Kathryn, but they lead to desperate measures. Riley reached for the only possible solution she could," Chakotay said.
"You sound like you're defending her," Kathryn said gently. She held up a hand. "I'm not criticizing, Chakotay. When it comes to Riley Frazier and what she did to you... I can only guess at how conflicted you must feel."
He sighed. "I considered creating a hologram of her, so you could meet her, judge for yourself."
Janeway glanced at him in surprise. "What stopped you?"
Chakotay tipped his head back, taking in a view of the sky, which was rapidly dissolving into shades of gray and eggplant. He had designed the program so eventually the sky would turn pitch black, with only the moon and the tiny pinpricks of distant stars for illumination. He took a deep breath.
"I kept wanting to make her someone she wasn't, who she used to be..." he said hollowly, recalling his earlier attempts to create a Riley Frazier who was authentic in every detail.
Kathryn reached over to grab Chakotay's hand; her fingers were warm as they curled around the curve of his palm.
"I wanted to push away everything Borg about her," Chakotay said, his normally even voice trembling slightly. "In the end, I knew the person I would create would not be the Riley I met, but someone else entirely - the person I believed her to be when we first met."
you were disappointed," Kathryn said softly, her fingers tightening around
Chakotay's hand. "I get the feeling you must have cared for her deeply."
"Perhaps," Chakotay said reluctantly. "Or maybe it was the possibility of what could have been that was disappointing - the hope that we could have become something more than what we were. I can't admit to any real emotion, Kathryn, and even if a feeling of depth existed between the two of us, I don't know if I could reciprocate in the same way any more, given what happened."
"Tell me about her," Janeway suggested gently. "The way you would have created her here in this holoprogram." She pulled her hand away and drew her knees up to her chest, wrapping her arms around her legs. The air was starting to cool and had settled into comfortable temperatures now; the scents of cedar and bluebonnets remained heavy and thick all around them.
"She loved barbecue," Chakotay began. He smiled at the obvious longing he had sensed in Riley for her uncle's mesquite sauce. "When she first got to the Academy, she used up an entire month's rations to throw a barbecue for her hall mates. Of course," he smiled, "she then had to beg, borrow, and on occasion, steal to make it up the deficit."
"Sounds like she had a lot of spirit."
"That she did." Chakotay smiled. "She was on command track, by the way. Her superiors, recognizing her leadership ability, recommended her for a first officer posting on the Travis." Chakotay glanced over at Janeway, curious as to her reaction, but Janeway's expression didn't change.
"Looks like she's still putting those skills to use," Janeway said. "Though not in a way Starfleet would approve of."
"But she's doing what she believes is right," Chakotay said, surprising himself. When B'Elanna had made a similar comment earlier, he had been reluctant to accept what she was saying; but now, sitting among bluebonnets in the waning hours of the day, he felt a curious sense of clarity, something he hadn't felt in years.
"So you're all right with what happened now?"
"I don't know if I'll ever be all right with what happened completely, but I'm starting to understand her actions, even if I can't completely forgive her betrayal." Chakotay sighed. "You're a lot alike, the two of you." Without meaning to, his voice took on a wistful tone. "Determined, intelligent, thoughtful, caring-" he stopped, unwilling to finish the thought. Janeway reached across, her fingers gently brushing against Chakotay's cheek in a gesture of comfort. He smiled back at her gratefully as she pulled away slightly, so that their shoulders were no longer touching.
"She sounds wonderful," Janeway said softly. Chakotay glanced at her in surprise, knowing that Kathryn wasn't simply paying lip service; she truly meant what she was saying. Her lips turned up into a smile touched with irony. "I can see why she attracted you."
"Thank you," Chakotay said gratefully.
"Don't beat yourself up over this," Kathryn said. "You've been forgiven, many, many times. And especially now, since you've created this program." She smiled and tipped her head back. "Thank you for bringing me here."
"You're welcome." Chakotay paused. "Maybe, another time, we can have a barbecue out here. Neelix can replicate Riley's uncle's recipe."
Janeway laughed, deep and throaty. "Hmmm... are you sure?"
"You're probably right," Chakotay said, imagining Neelix taking on the task of barbecuing for the entire crew. Somehow, the first officer knew that leola root - or something else equally bland or pungent tasting - would make it into the sauce. "In any case, I have the holodeck for another hour..." He let his voice trail off, looking away from Kathryn. "If you'd like to stay..."
Janeway inhaled as a warm, gentle breeze rippled through the fields and the leaves on the trees.
"It's a beautiful night, Chakotay," she said quietly. "It would be a shame to let it go to waste."
Chakotay allowed himself his first smile of the evening. They remained on the blanket, their shoulders nearly touching, well after darkness had fallen, watching as the stars scattered across the night sky.
~ the end ~
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