In Chakotay's opinion, there were too many people in sickbay. In addition to himself, Tuvok and the Captain, a security detail of four crewmen stood off to the side, their hands on their phasers.
And he hadn't even counted the Sernaix: Ilix, Adimh Liven's representative, and the wounded Sernaix, Lous.
Ilix was tall and muscular, like all Sernaix, and he walked with a measured gait, a symptom of his obviously double-jointed limbs. His eyes, dark and deep-set beneath his prominent forehead, shifted between Janeway and Chakotay.
"Your forehead ornamentation..." Ilix finally said as his gaze settled on the first officer.
"Yes?" Chakotay asked coolly.
"You must be highly ranked," Ilix said. He rolled up his sleeve, revealing various artistic renderings against his pale blue skin. "As am I. I am a zvir on the Crimson Stone."
"A zvir?" Janeway asked curiously.
"When Adimh Liven steps down as commander of the Crimson Stone, I will succeed him," Ilix said as he stared at Janeway in fascination. "And you are a female of your species?"
"Yes," Janeway said. She exchanged a look with Chakotay, who was alternately fascinated and nervous about the tone of these conversations. Ilix seemed entirely too laid-back for Chakotay's tastes and his Maquis instincts were perked for any sign of intrigue on Ilix's part; the Sernaix, in Chakotay's opinion, were not the type to indulge in casual conversation.
"I have so very little contact with females," Ilix said. He stepped closer to the Captain. Tuvok reacted, his hand on his phaser. Janeway held up a hand, stopping Tuvok from further action. Chakotay sighed. "I wish to learn more about your people..."
Janeway turned to look at Chakotay and he recognized that look; she had seen an opening and was going to take it. Perhaps, Chakotay mused, I've been mistaken all along...
He shifted from foot to foot as he watched Janeway talk to the Sernaix. Her voice was low, pleading, and she gestured frequently with her hands, as if to punctuate her sentences. Chakotay glanced at Tuvok, who was also watching the conversation with interest, his eyes darting between the captain and the Sernaix. Chakotay leaned towards Tuvok.
"Talkative fellow, isn't he?" Chakotay asked. Tuvok nodded.
"Given our past encounters with the Sernaix, I do find his behavior unusual," Tuvok said in an equally low voice. "He is uncommonly friendly."
"Do you think he's up to something?"
"Perhaps," Tuvok said. His eyes narrowed slightly as the Sernaix took a step closer to the captain. "With the Sernaix, anything is possible."
"I was afraid you would say something like that."
Gradually, much to Chakotay's relief, the conversation shifted from the cultural differences between Sernaix and humanoids to the condition of the wounded Sernaix.
"As you can see, Lous is being well-treated," Janeway said. "Obviously, we mean him no harm."
Ilix eyed the Captain skeptically, all traces of goodwill gone from those dark eyes. "We have been lied to before."
"I'm not lying."
"Then explain the guards," Ilix barked out. "And the forcefield..."
"Your past actions have not given us any reason to trust you," Chakotay said, taking the moment to step into the conversation. He glanced at Janeway and she offered him the smallest semblance of a smile. Feeling bolder, Chakotay went on, "However, if you show you are worthy of our trust, I assure you, we will remove the forcefield."
"What about the guards?"
"No," Tuvok said. "According to Starfleet guidelines, they must remain at all times when non-Federation personnel are onboard."
Janeway arched an eyebrow, but said nothing at all in response to Tuvok's dictate. The Vulcan stepped back, seemingly removing himself from any further conversation.
"Well?" Janeway looked back down at Lous, whose eyes were darting back and forth, looking first at Ilix and then back at the Captain. "We did not mean to infringe on your space. Our arrival was an accident, an unfortunate circumstance of fate."
"I find that hard to believe. Many have taken advantage of the Sernaix," Ilix growled. "We will not be taken in by mere words."
"Believe me, that's not our intention. However, we'd like to request your help in getting us out of this-" Janeway looked at Chakotay, but he shrugged. "Our scans of the area show we've been caught in a bubble of some kind that is keeping us from our home, Earth. All we're trying to do is find a way home. As I said before, we are willing to offer you our assistance in return."
"What do you have that we would want?" Ilix snapped.
It was true Voyager had little to offer the Sernaix in terms of technology, Chakotay thought, but he could tell by Janeway's expression she was not willing to concede the point.
"I don't know. Perhaps we should talk about it?" Janeway's lips curled up. Chakotay stifled a grin.
"How do I know this isn't a trick?"
Janeway glanced over her shoulder back at Chakotay; her look told him, very plainly, that she was finding this conversation boring.
So much rides on this, don't lose your focus now, Kathryn, Chakotay thought. Next to him, Tuvok shifted position. It was a slight movement, but enough so that Chakotay was aware of the Vulcan's evident concern in the tableau being played out in front of them.
"Well?" Janeway tapped her fingers against the biobed, a physical sign of her growing impatience with the Sernaix. "What do you think? You're closing yourself off without even listening to what we have to say. Where I come from, that's a sign of an incompetent diplomat."
Ilix's eyes narrowed as he glanced down at his injured comrade and then back at Janeway.
You've got his attention now, Kathryn, Chakotay thought.
Janeway leaned forward so that only a few inches separated her from Ilix.
"Let me make on thing clear," she said softly. "In case there are any lingering doubts on your part, my only goal is to get this ship home. That has been and will always be, my only objective."
Ilix nodded finally. "Very well," he said. "I will hear what you have to say."
"You won't be sorry," Janeway said. "Commander, please see our guests to the briefing room."
Tuvok stepped aside to let Ilix pass, accompanied by two of the security guards. The other two guards remained behind to look after the patient.
Out in the corridor, Janeway and Chakotay fell into step together.
"What do you think?" she asked.
Chakotay shrugged his shoulders.
"I'm asking your opinion," Janeway said. A note of desperation crept into her voice. "Chakotay-"
"You shouldn't make promises you might not be able to keep," he said finally.
"Is that all?"
Chakotay smiled. "Yes, that's all."
"Then that's easy," Janeway said. She scowled at Ilix's back. "We've been in far worse situations than this, Chakotay. A little bluff never hurt us."
"They have technology more advanced than ours," Chakotay pointed out as they rounded a corner.
"Are you saying they are more of a danger to us than the Kazon? The Hirogen? Species 8472? The Borg?"
"We'll find out, won't we?" Chakotay said. He paused in front of the turbolift. "For what it's worth, I support you. I may not agree with you all of the time, but you never have to doubt my loyalty."
Janeway put her hand on his forearm and leaned in closer so mere centimeters separated them. In that moment, she knew the distance between them had been bridged and for that, she was grateful.
"I know," she said.
"How do you feel?" the Doctor asked. He looked at his two patients - Harry and B'Elanna - with obvious concern etched across his features.
"A little shaky, but fine," B'Elanna said. She rubbed her hands together, trying to warm them. She felt cold, incredibly cold, as if she had been frozen. She was still sitting in the same chair as before and her muscles had stiffened during her last trip to the past. She stretched cautiously, flexing her legs and arms.
Harry sat on the edge of the bed, his head bowed and his arms resting on his knees. He looked nauseous and B'Elanna bit her lip.
He had risked so much for her, she knew. Without thinking, she got up from her chair and sat next to Harry, placing her hand on his back.
"Thank you," she said softly. She was embarrassed by the depth of her confession to Harry; she had told him things she hadn't even dared to tell Tom. In a way, she felt relieved, thankful she had had finally revealed her uncertainties to someone.
"You're welcome," Harry said. He groaned. "I feel absolutely terrible. I can't believe the Caprijens do this."
The Doctor quickly came over with a hypospray.
"This should help with the nausea," he said. "Both of you will be fine with some rest. I trust you won't be doing anything of this nature again in the near future."
"I certainly won't," Harry said. He stood up shakily, putting one hand against the wall for balance. After a few seconds, he looked normal again, much to B'Elanna's relief. She knew she would never forgive herself if something had happened to Harry.
Because of me, she thought.
"It was so tempting," B'Elanna said. She wanted to explain to the Doctor and Harry, but got the feeling they would not understand. After all, the Doctor was a hologram and Harry, well, Harry had led an almost serene life. His emotional scars, if he had any, were superficial at best. "I can't explain it any better than that."
"Don't worry about it, B'Elanna," Harry said gently. He made his way to the table where a pitcher of water stood. "It's all right."
At that moment, the door burst open and Azuma entered. Her face was flushed red and her silver hair, normally straight and shiny against her back, was wild around her face.
"What is it?" B'Elanna asked.
"You must return to your ship immediately," Azuma said. "They have come."
"The aliens," Azuma said. "We have picked up their life signs near your shuttlecraft."
Harry, B'Elanna and the Doctor exchanged looks. Was Azuma referring to the Sernaix?
"I'd advise against returning to the Delta Flyer," the Doctor said. "You've both just undergone traumatic experiences and if it is the Sernaix, neither of you are in a shape to take them on."
"Sorry, Doc," Harry said, as he put down his glass and B'Elanna grabbed a pair of phasers from her toolkit. She tossed one to Harry.
"Let's go," she said.
The Doctor sighed. He found a third phaser and followed Harry and B'Elanna outside, blinking against the brightness of the day.
Janeway had lost track of how many meetings she'd held here in the briefing room. So many different species had sat around this table, some friendly, some neutral, and others hostile. She glanced at Tuvok, seated to her right, and Chakotay at her left. At least she knew she had their support now.
As for Ilix, he
was completely alone, but Janeway had no doubt there were plenty of Sernaix
ships available to come to his aid if he summoned them.
There's only one Federation ship out here, Janeway thought. Heavens only knows how many of them are out there.
She shivered, and then immediately resented the brief show of weakness. She leaned forward, knitting her fingers together in front of her to prevent her hands from shaking, from betraying her once again.
"I told you what we want," Janeway said. "What do you want?"
"You can provide us with nothing."
"That can't be true," Janeway said with a smile. "If that was indeed the case, why are you talking to me now?"
"You have one of our men. That is unacceptable."
"You could have taken him by force but you didn't."
"Your ship would not survive our assault." A note of pride slipped into Ilix' voice and Janeway wondered if he was aware of the paradoxical nature of his comment. From their first encounter with the Sernaix, Janeway was very aware the aliens wanted nothing less than Voyager's destruction. Perhaps only Lous' presence on Voyager kept them safe.
"Believe me, I'm aware of that," Janeway said, her lips curving up into a half-hearted smile laced with cynicism. She shifted in her seat. "Are you saying that there is nothing at all we can help you with? Technology? Medical supplies? Anything at all?"
Tuvok raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. Janeway knew exactly what he was thinking.
Yes, old friend,
she thought, I know the consequences, but I'm willing to risk it. One more
time. If it'll get us home, then I'm going to do that.
"I will take your proposal back to Adimh Liven," Ilix said finally. "I have listened to your proposal, Captain, and I believe this is sufficient conversation."
Janeway inhaled deeply, trying to prevent frustration from completely overtaking her. She nodded.
"Of course," she said. "I don't think I could ask for more. You've been very... receptive."
Next to her, Chakotay shifted but Janeway didn't dare look at her first officer. "But if I may, before you go, I have a question for you."
Ilix nodded. "Go ahead."
"In our first encounter, you fired upon us, seemingly without provocation," Janeway said. "We had done nothing to you. Why?"
"I apologize for that, but you must accept our reasons."
"With all due respect, I don't think I understand anything," Janeway said. "I offer you a trade and you deny it. We did nothing to provoke you but you still attacked us. Those had better be some pretty damn good reasons."
"I think you'll understand more clearly when I tell you what happened the last time we trusted," Ilix said. "Eighty thousand years ago, a race such as yours, humanoid, entered our space. They came in peace, much as you do now, and once we let our guard down, they proceeded to slaughter us, intending to claim our territory as theirs. We were able to defend ourselves and expel the humanoids from our space, but it was generations before we were truly able to recover from the genocide inflicted on our people."
"I'm sorry to hear that," Janeway said. "But you have to believe we weren't responsible for those atrocities. I told you before; our only motivation is getting home. We have no desire to stay here."
"Adimh Liven has authority to make binding decisions. He will consider your proposal."
"That's all I can ask," Janeway said. She got up from her chair and rounded the table to shake hands with the Sernaix. Ilix looked at her in confusion. "It's an ancient Terran custom. A gesture of goodwill. I hope you take it in the spirit that it's offered." She clasped Ilix's cool hand between hers. "I look forward to hearing from Commander Liven."
"Thank you, Captain. And if Lous is well enough to leave, I shall take him back to my ship."
Janeway nodded at Tuvok. "Have Lieutenant Paris meet you in sickbay," she said. "If Lous appears healthy enough, by all means, he should return to his ship."
When Tuvok and Ilix were gone, Janeway swirled around in her chair so she directly faced Chakotay.
"You were right about one thing," she said. "We will never be friends with the Sernaix, especially now that we know of their history with other humanoids. At least we understand what drives them now."
"I didn't want to be right," Chakotay answered. "I always hope you'll prove me wrong. As you have on previous occasions."
"This isn't a contest about right and wrong, Chakotay," Janeway said. She sighed and slumped down in her chair. "We lose sight of that sometimes, I think."
Chakotay remained silent and Janeway was suddenly grateful for his solid presence at her side. She got up from her chair, suddenly feeling energized.
"An alliance is out of the question right now," she said over her shoulder as she headed towards the exit. "But what happened today, it's a good start."
Go to part V
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