Note: Inspired by Anne Rose's "ripple effect" challenge: Take one event in Voyager and change the outcome. What would happen?
My gratitude to Liz and Rocky for betaing this story.
La pi splendida proprieta
Un attimo di sole sopra noi
Alla recerca di te
- Alberto Bevilacqua
He loved this time of night, the sun having long set and the stars sprinkled against the black velvet of the sky. The air was cool, a welcome relief and very much appreciated, after the blazing heat of the afternoon and early evening.
Chakotay lifted his eyes to the sky. Ten years since they had come here, ten years since he had last seen the stars from the windows of Voyager.
There was a strange permanence to their situation, one they hadn't anticipated, but were starting to grasp, accept and in some cases, even like.
"It's only temporary," Chakotay had said on more than one occasion. "We'll try again for home."
But even he hadn't believed his own words; each day they stayed, the more likely it became they would not make another try for the Alpha Quadrant.
"Mama said you were out here." A small hand rested lightly on his shoulder and Chakotay twisted around to look at the small figure who had made her way so quietly to his side that he had not even noticed her presence.
"You were so quiet, I didn't hear you," Chakotay said. "You shouldn't creep up on people like that, Chaya."
Chaya clapped her hands gleefully and Chakotay recognized the spark of mischief in her blue eyes. He sighed; in many ways, she was very much like her father. Only in her occasional spark of temper and the gentle shadow of forehead ridges did Chaya resemble her mother.
"I've been practicing being quiet," Chaya confided.
"Really?" Chakotay couldn't help the note of amusement that slipped into his voice. "Is this for school or for something else?"
"It's for when the Borg come. I can sneak up on them," Chaya said with all the confidence of her six years.
Chakotay sighed. Lately, the children in the colony had taken to the traditional 'good guys, bad guys' scenarios, with the bad guys invariably being the Borg. At least, in these little role-plays, Voyager's children always managed to escape assimilation and defeat the Borg soundly with their toy phasers. Happy endings, Chakotay thought wryly, always came easier to the children.
"You're very good at sneaking. I didn't hear you," Chakotay said sincerely. "Did you come to look at the stars too?"
"No." Chaya shook her head, the tips of her brown hair brushing against her cheeks. "Mama's worried about you."
"So she sent you to check on me?" Chakotay asked gently. He slid over on the rock to make room for Chaya to sit.
"No, I came myself. She told Daddy you were thinking about 'her'," the child emphasized the last word with a strange reverence. Chakotay glanced at Chaya, almost distractedly. There was an undertone in Chaya's voice, a subtext that the child herself probably didn't realize. She probably picked up those hints from her parents, from the others, Chakotay thought.
And Chakotay knew exactly which 'her' Chaya was referring to, even if the child herself did not.
"B'Elanna said that? I'll have to have a talk with your mama," Chakotay said. "And punish her for putting thoughts into my head."
Chaya giggled and slipped her small hand into Chakotay's larger one.
"If you're not thinking about 'her', what are you thinking about?" she asked.
"Everything and nothing at all, both at the same time," Chakotay answered. He turned his gaze upwards one more time. A thousand stars, blinking in and out of existence. The light reflecting back at them was ancient, and possibly, the stars had long died before anyone ever saw their glow against the night sky. So fleeting, Chakotay thought with a hint of sadness.
"How can you do that?" Chaya was intrigued. "I can only think one thought at a time."
"When you get older, you will learn how to juggle many thoughts at the same time."
Chaya leaned against Chakotay's side and he wrapped his arm around her little body. Chaya had just celebrated her sixth birthday two months ago, while her beaming parents watched as she blew out the candles on the cake Neelix had baked for the occasion.
"We're not going home, are we?" Chaya asked suddenly. Chakotay jerked.
"Who told you that?" he asked.
"Tell your mama that she talks too much," Chakotay answered irritably. Damn if B'Elanna hadn't gone and filled her child's head with silly nonsense. No doubt Chaya had asked others this same question. But he also had to admit there was an element of truth to the question. They had been here on Terra for ten years and so far, there had been no preparations to resume their voyage back to the Alpha Quadrant.
"That's what Mama says about me," Chaya said cheerfully. "So we are going home?"
Chakotay didn't answer immediately. How peculiar, he thought, that Chaya could call a world she had never seen 'home.' In fact, Chakotay knew that Chaya's parents were among those who did not particularly care whether they actually returned to the Alpha Quadrant or not; for Tom Paris and B'Elanna Torres, their home was on Voyager and both had made it abundantly clear that Voyager's mission was theirs. Chakotay figured that Chaya had probably absorbed the concept of Earth as home from the time she had spent with other Voyager crewmembers who longed for the Alpha Quadrant still.
"One day, Chaya, you will see Earth," Chakotay said. He stood up, taking one, last longing look at the night sky. "Come. It's probably past your bedtime."
"Mama won't care," Chaya said. She smiled cheekily at Chakotay and most of the time, her impish expression would have caught at Chakotay's heart and he would have agreed. Tonight, however, he didn't have the patience and he hated to show anyone, especially the children, his fraying temper.
"Come on," Chakotay said, his tone sharper than he had intended. He took Chaya by the hand and led her back down the hill towards the flickering lights of the little colony at the bottom.
Halfway down, Chaya released Chakotay's hand and sprinted ahead, her little pigtails flying out behind her.
She only laughed, and kept running until she reached the small house at the very edge of the colony.
"I beat you!" Chaya was laughing so hard that she could barely get the words out.
"Yes, you did," Chakotay said. He quickened his pace so when B'Elanna opened the door, he was only a few steps behind Chaya. "Here's your daughter, B'Elanna."
"So you found her. I was about to come looking," B'Elanna said as she grabbed Chaya by the shoulder. "It's past your bedtime. Go in and your father will get you ready."
Chaya looked back at Chakotay, but he simply shrugged. Resigned to her fate, Chaya slipped past her mother and into the brightly lit house. B'Elanna closed the door behind her gently.
"Were you on the hill?" B'Elanna asked.
"Yes." Chakotay looked back in the direction of the hill. "It's the best place to look at the stars."
"I guessed," B'Elanna said. "I hope Chaya didn't bother you. She slipped out when Tom and I weren't looking."
"It's all right. I didn't mind."
"Is it, or are you just saying that?" B'Elanna eyed her friend closely. "Chakotay, I know what day it is."
He ignored the question in her voice and directed his gaze instead towards the single house at the end of the road running through the colony: his house, the only one without any illumination streaming out of the windows.
"I'm sure everyone knows what day it is," Chakotay said evenly. "I prefer not to dwell on the past, B'Elanna."
"But you do!" the words burst out of B'Elanna and Chakotay glanced at her, surprised by her intensity. How long had it been since someone had been this forceful around him? he wondered. Even B'Elanna, for the longest time, had tiptoed around him, giving him distance. "I see you go up the hill and sit on that rock for hours, Chakotay. The view isn't that spectacular. Hell, it's not even a view. Just fields, acres and acres of damn corn and wheat."
Chakotay waited for the accusation he was sure B'Elanna would level at him. He waited for the "I'm an engineer, Chakotay, not a farmer" speech, the one she had yelled at him just hours after he had made the decision... the decision Kathryn would never have made.
"Chakotay?" B'Elanna asked softly. She put her hand on his forearm, her touch warm against his bare skin. "You've got to let her go. Please."
Chakotay swallowed hard. Where were the hysterics he had been expecting? He could deal with a fiery B'Elanna, the perpetually angry and petulant B'Elanna, but this, this softer B'Elanna, the one who seemed to have keyed in on his deepest thoughts...
A cool wind ruffled the leaves of the trees surrounding the colony. Chakotay glanced upwards, noting the clouds drifting across the moon. Just slightly overcast so the morning should be cool, he conjectured. It was only then he noticed B'Elanna shivering. She was holding the edges of her sweater with one hand, pulling them tightly together as her shoulders slouched inward.
"It's not your concern," Chakotay said quietly, a trace of coldness underlying his words. He shook off her touch and turned towards his home. "Go home to your family, B'Elanna."
"I'm fine," he said, calling over his shoulder. "Good night."
He covered the distance to his cottage quickly, very aware that B'Elanna was still standing in the spot he had left her. He slowed his pace only for a second, wondering if he should go back. Guilt, a perpetual feeling with him, tugged at his conscience. B'Elanna was only trying to help, he thought as he approached the cottage. He put his hand on the door and then turned to look back.
B'Elanna was walking away, her hands plunged deep into her pants pockets, her head bowed, shoulders slumping.
Chakotay sighed, turned the door handle and let himself into the darkness.
He woke with her name on his lips.
Remembering the sweep of cheekbone, the light flutter of eyelashes and the gentle upturn of lips. He remembered, with perfect awful clarity, the last dinner, the last conversation, the last hour, the last moment...
Chakotay sat up in bed, the sheets tangled around his legs. He tried to control his breathing, tried to calm his racing heart, but he couldn't calm himself. He got out of bed and sat down at his desk.
There was a stack of PADDs, all of them filled with vital information, but he knew which one he was looking for. He pulled it out and turned it on, the glow of the letters the only illumination in the otherwise dark room.
He knew the words by heart, but he ran his fingers beneath each carefully thought-out word.
"All hands, this is the... Captain."
He remembered making the announcement, his voice shaking slightly, as he tried desperately not to make eye contact with the members of the senior staff. He already knew how B'Elanna, Tom, Harry - spirits, Harry had been devastated - felt about his decision.
"After much consideration, I've made the decision in what I feel is in this crew's best interests -" he had paused at this point and glanced at Tuvok, who had tilted his head just slightly. Tuvok, his only supporter in this decision, Tuvok who had made the suggestion in the first place, saying that this was the only logical thing to do. Chakotay had rambled on then, quickly, stumbling over words and hoping that the crew would understand his reasoning.
"There is an M-class planet not far from here and very similar to Earth in geography and climate," he had continued. Harry had dropped his head and folded his hands in front of him. "I have decided we will settle there, for the time being."
He had laid stress on the words "time being," hoping that the crew would understand the temporary nature of his decision.
"We'll only stay long enough to find a way to get through the Northwest Passage without facing annihilation," he had continued. "I do not think the risk to Voyager is worth traveling through an area of space where we are obviously out-numbered in so many ways. Please, understand I'm making this decision with your interests at heart and I promise, as soon as we are able, we will set a course for the Alpha Quadrant."
The briefing room had been curiously quiet after the announcement had been made. Tom had argued that Chakotay should make the announcement in the mess hall, face to face with the crew.
"That's what Janeway would have done," Tom had said. "She would never have told us over the comm system."
"She's not here, is she?" Chakotay had asked coldly, pushing the specter of Kathryn Janeway far from his heart and mind. "Thank you, Lieutenant, for your comments."
"I still think we can make it home," Harry had said. "There's got to be a way. We just need more time."
"Janeway wouldn't have given up," Torres had said quietly. "Four years ago, you wouldn't have either."
Their words had stung Chakotay in a way he hadn't thought possible. His chest tightened and he found it difficult to breathe.
Help me, Kathryn, he had thought as he looked around the room at the unhappy faces of the senior staff. Only Tuvok approves of what I'm doing, damn, how am I going to make it through? I, I need your strength, Kathryn.
There had been truth in everything Tom, B'Elanna and Harry had to say and Chakotay didn't want to hear it.
"Dismissed," he had said coolly. "All of you."
When they had left, he had closed his eyes and leaned back in his chair - the chair that had formerly belonged to Janeway, the chair that had never fit the contours of his body properly. Because it's her chair, he had thought. Just like everything else on Voyager. Her ship, her crew... I'm just a stand-in, someone who broke the promise.
Now, sitting in his chilly cottage, Chakotay ran his fingers over the words that had made up his terse announcement. How long had he pondered those words? How many times had he paced the length of his cabin? He had not been able to sleep and had spent hours pouring over B'Elanna and Tuvok's reports before coming to the inevitable conclusion.
"Extensive damage to all systems in Engineering," B'Elanna had reported. "The gel packs are leaking, causing a meltdown in the transverse relays. I can't get the power grids to come back online, not without setting off a chain reaction in the forward shield matrix, which would eventually cause an overload in the warp field generators. I need time, Chakotay, away from this constant pounding. How can I fix anything at all if those damn - well, whoever they are - don't let up for a single second?"
And then Tuvok, who had said in his terse way, "Sensors have detected Borg vessels in the area, Captain. Given the recent damage we have sustained, I do not believe Voyager will be able to survive an assault from the Borg."
Assimilation, death or settling on an M-class planet - those had been Chakotay's choices. And as he had paced through that long night, he kept wondering what Kathryn would have done.
"Is the Alpha Quadrant worth their lives?" he had asked out-loud. And then, in frustration, he had pounded his fist against the table. "Damn it, Kathryn, you shouldn't have left us." And then more selfishly, he said, "You shouldn't have left me." And at that time, he wondered if he would ever forgive Kathryn Janeway for dying.
But he had made his decision, had ignored Harry when the ensign had burst out, "There has to be a way! Captain Janeway would have found one."
I've made my decision, Chakotay thought now, and he was inadvertently reminded of Chaya's bright eyed look when she had asked about going home to a world she had never seen.
Chakotay turned off the PADD but the words remained, glowing eerily in outline. Eventually, they faded and Chakotay inhaled deeply. Time, he realized, did not heal his pain, only made it easier to live with. Each passing day faded the prospects for making an attempt to return to the Alpha Quadrant.
Ten years, he thought as he slipped back into bed. Ten years he had held this crew together, ten years without Kathryn. He turned on his side, pulling the blanket up, clutching at the thin wool material.
"I'm sorry," he whispered. "I didn't bring them home like you promised. I'm..."
He closed his eyes, unable to complete the thought.
Sleep, on the tenth anniversary of Kathryn Janeway's death, did not come easily.
The next morning dawned exactly as he had predicted, clear but with a definite ribbon of chill in the air.
Chakotay stepped out, closing the door behind him. He didn't bother locking it; there was no one around for kilometers other than the Voyager crewmembers. He wondered idly whether in a few years, they would get the urge to explore, find other places to settle, to wander beyond the imaginary boundaries they had set for themselves.
He glanced towards the hills and recalled the valley just beyond where Tom Paris had set Voyager down for what was to be a temporary sojourn. In those early days, they had simply lived aboard Voyager, keeping the starship's systems operational, but gradually, they had turned towards the outdoors; the brisk, invigorating oxygen was too inviting to remain indoors.
Chakotay walked towards the mess hall, a long, narrow barracks, the first they had built. On the way, he noticed Chaya with Naomi, both of them running off towards the fields, no doubt to hide before their respective mothers dragged them to lessons with Neelix. Chakotay smiled. Much as the girls adored spending time with Neelix, the lure of the great outdoors proved to be a greater temptation than the various subjects that Neelix, kindly and patiently, tried to teach them and the other children.
Chakotay allowed himself a small smile; despite his many admonishments to Neelix, the former cook and good will ambassador to Voyager still insisted on calling Chakotay 'Captain.' Old habits die hard, Chakotay knew, recalling his own reluctance to answer to the title of 'Captain.'
"Good morning, Neelix," Chakotay said. He noticed the flowers in the Talaxian's arms. "For Kes?"
"Yes," Neelix answered. He fell into step with Chakotay. "These bloomed this very morning. Remarkable specimens, aren't they?"
"Yes, they are," Chakotay said. He glanced at the velvety red petals surrounding a yellow center. "Did Kes breed these?"
"Yes," Neelix said softly. Chakotay knew Neelix missed Kes desperately; the two of them had never rekindled their romance, but had remained the best of friends, infusing the newly settled colony with spirit and cheer. "This is the first year the plant has produced flowers. I think she would have liked to see what her efforts produced."
Chakotay leaned over to inhale the flowers' pungent aroma. "Hmmm, I think so."
"Did you have a good night?" Neelix asked cautiously.
"Yes," Chakotay answered shortly. It was a lie and Neelix was astute enough to realize it, however, Chakotay did not care. Truth be told, Chakotay's thoughts had been filled with his final minutes with Kathryn. They had been relaxed, easy in each other's company, talking about Talent Night. And then moments later, he had stared down at the cold whiteness of her skin as he had pressed against her chest, begging her to breathe, just breathe. Even now, his throat felt hoarse, dry, as if he was pleading with her again. Over and over again, yet those eyes had never opened for him, never acknowledged his efforts.
Damn her, Chakotay thought furiously and then immediately regretted the thought. No matter how hard he tried, he could never stay angry at Kathryn Janeway for very long. In life, she had only to stare at him from beneath her eyelashes, those lips turned up in a smile that reached up to the edges of her eyes, the one that made him feel, for a moment, that he - and only he - existed in Kathryn's world.
How easy that life had been, Chakotay thought as they reached the end of the dirt path. Here the path veered in two directions and the one to the left would take them to Kes' grave. Kes, who had reached the end of her natural life cycle a mere four years ago, had contributed so much to their lives on Terra and no one missed her more than Neelix. Chakotay touched Neelix's brightly colored sleeve.
"Say hello to Kes for me, will you?" Chakotay asked softly. Neelix, his eyes misting over slightly, nodded.
"Of course, Captain."
Chakotay watched the Talaxian walk away, his head slightly bowed. In a way, Chakotay envied Neelix; at least he had a grave to visit.
Chakotay sucked in a sharp intake of breath. Janeway's memorial service had been exceptionally hard for him, yet he had managed to keep his composure, remaining strong for the crew. And he had been startled when B'Elanna had approached him, had asked permission to make a few remarks before they finally jettisoned Janeway's body out into space.
"I should have told her before," B'Elanna had said. Her lower lip had trembled and her bright-eyed look convinced Chakotay of her sincerity. "I never thought I could make something of myself until the Captain gave me a chance, offered me the position of Chief Engineer... She believed in me, helped me to achieve what I never thought I could."
Chakotay had granted permission; how could he not? And then he had been content to keep his remarks brief and professional, while B'Elanna's verged on the emotional. Tom had been composed, even calm, as he spoke about the second chance Janeway's generosity had afforded him. Harry had been unable to complete his story about the time he ate half a kilo of blackberries, the succulent juices staying his face. Even now Harry refused to tell them exactly what Janeway had said to him about "these are the times to remember."
Only Chakotay had stood apart, unable to share his memories; in a selfish way, he had felt that sharing those memories would dilute the sanctity of the time he had spent with Kathryn.
The voice jolted him out of his thoughts, an almost welcome intrusion. However, he didn't turn to face B'Elanna and after a second, she stood next to him, standing so close that their shoulders nearly touched.
"Join us for breakfast?" she asked. She put her hand on his forearm. "Tom and Harry are planning to take the Flyer up and I thought you'd want to know what they have in mind."
"I'm not hungry," Chakotay said shortly. By now, Neelix had completely disappeared from view. B'Elanna tugged at his sleeve, gently but firmly, propelling him back to the village.
"Then come for the company," B'Elanna said. "Chakotay. Please."
Chakotay allowed B'Elanna to lead him and after a few minutes, he shook himself free of her grip.
"Hard night?" she asked sympathetically.
"The usual. You know."
"I do," B'Elanna said. "In some ways, the events of that week..." Her voice drifted off, surprising Chakotay; B'Elanna rarely brought up the days surrounding the Doctor's official pronouncement of Janeway's death. B'Elanna swallowed, before continuing. "It feels like it happened yesterday. I still can see everything unfold clearly."
Chakotay glanced at B'Elanna curiously. He didn't have to ask her to clarify what week she was talking about; he already knew. But her comment still piqued his interest.
"In what way?" he asked.
"Little things," she said. She paused, her eyes focused on the blue-purple hills in the distance. "Like when you wouldn't sit in her seat. I told you it was no different than when you had the bridge and you said it was. You said she wasn't coming back." B'Elanna's voice cracked. "I didn't really understand what you meant until I had a problem in Engineering, a minor problem I knew I could find the solution to. I just needed to talk it out with someone. I hailed Janeway, Chakotay, and there was no answer. Engineering was so silent, so silent. Everyone was staring at me and I realized what I had done. It - her death - wasn't real to me until that moment."
"B'Elanna," Chakotay said. He gripped her wrist, his fingers running over her skin lightly.
"You aren't the only one who lost someone important," B'Elanna said. "And you must know by now that we don't blame you for what happened. You did everything you could to save her."
"Maybe not enough," Chakotay said. It was the first time he had articulated this feeling, and he felt better immediately now that B'Elanna knew. "I should have been more aware of our surroundings, more aware of the storms... perhaps if I had been, I would not have put us in that situation."
B'Elanna looked at her old friend with compassion. "Chakotay, I told you then and I'm telling you now, it wasn't your fault. There's no way you could have predicted what would happen." She shook her head. "Not at all."
"It's not the only thing that bothers me."
B'Elanna glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. "You're talking about the decision to settle here, aren't you?"
B'Elanna sighed. "We know, Chakotay."
"What?" he asked sharply.
"We know that we won't be leaving this place," B'Elanna said. She waved her arm in the direction of the village. "We've built a home here, Chakotay, and hard as it has been, we're not sure that we want to give up this life we have now." She glanced up at the gray sky. "Even five years ago, I wouldn't have said this to you, but if we go back out there, we have to face those aliens, whoever they are, and the Borg. I've got Chaya to think about now and I'm not sure that I'm ready to put my daughter in that position. Sam Wildman feels the same about Naomi, now that she has the choice. The other parents agree with us too. And what about Harry and Jenny, expecting their first baby in a few months?"
"I didn't know you felt this way," Chakotay said.
B'Elanna shrugged. "You never asked." She looped her arm through his. "Come on, Chakotay. Let's get some food."
The two of them turned back to the village, the gravel crunching beneath their boots. In the distance, Chakotay saw Tom and Harry heading out to the shuttle. Both men stopped as Chakotay and B'Elanna approached.
"Good morning, Chakotay," Tom said. "Missed you at breakfast. Harry challenged me to a pancake-eating contest. I won."
"How charming," B'Elanna said dryly. She crossed her arms against her chest and glanced at Chakotay, her lips turning upwards despite her best efforts. "You'll be back in time for Talent Night, won't you?"
"Of course," Tom said. He grinned. "Wouldn't miss it. You'll be there, won't you, Chakotay?"
"I'll see," Chakotay answered non-committedly as he noted the look that passed between Tom and B'Elanna. Every year, the colonists celebrated Talent Night as a tribute to Janeway; while no one ever performed Janeway's dying swan routine, her presence was always felt. However, Chakotay had managed to find an excuse to skip the annual event, choosing instead to spend the time in solitude. "So, Harry -" Chakotay nodded at the PADD in an attempt to turn the conversation away from Talent Night - "routine reconnaissance or something else? You're leaving earlier than usual."
"We thought we'd extend regular sweep, make sure there are no Borg or other such around," Harry said. His tone was light, belying the anxiety Chakotay knew they all felt.
"Be careful," B'Elanna said. She leaned close to Tom, brushing his cheek lightly with her lips; his hand rested on the small of her back, drawing her near. There was something very quiet about this show of affection and Chakotay understood instinctively what Tom and B'Elanna did not verbalize. After a moment, B'Elanna pulled away. "Don't try anything stupid up there, flyboy."
"What was that you were saying the other day, Tom? Something about an inverted dive?" Harry asked, his eyes sparkling with mischief. B'Elanna glared at him.
"I mean it," B'Elanna said. "Try anything at all and you'll be wearing your tongue as a belt."
Tom leered at his wife, obviously not taking her threats too seriously; since her marriage, B'Elanna had softened and Chaya had added an added dimension - more maternal, more caring - to her personality.
"I second that," Chakotay put in. He wanted his people back in one piece.
"Everything in order, Chakotay?" Tom asked, his tone serious.
"Yes, of course," Chakotay said. He handed back the PADD that he had barely scanned. He knew his people and knew, despite Harry's joke, that they would take no unexpected risks out there. After all, the two men had families to come home to. "We'll see you soon."
After the shuttle departed, B'Elanna chuckled lightly.
"You know, Chakotay, if you hadn't made the decision to settle here, I doubt Tom and I would have gotten married."
Chakotay cast an amused look in his friend's direction.
"Why do you say that?"
B'Elanna gestured towards the rising shuttle, a dark speck against the gray sky.
"When we first arrived here, you said that we would need a shuttle capable of short hauls and warp speed. You assigned Tom and me to work on designing the shuttle. I guess with the long hours..." an unfamiliar blush colored B'Elanna's cheeks. "Maybe staying in one place hasn't been such a bad thing, Chakotay. We've all managed to find our own way, even if it isn't where we expected home to be."
Chakotay looked towards the settlement, at the square little cottages dotting the flat landscape. He saw Jenny Delaney emerged from the Doctor's office, her hand resting on her slightly protruding belly.
"Kathryn would have been pleased," he said quietly, and then he smiled. "She had almost given up on you and Tom ever getting along. She hoped for it, but the two of you never gave her a reason to believe you'd ever be anything but verbal sparring partners."
B'Elanna looked at him in surprise.
"You know," she said. "That's the first time I've heard you use her name."
"Captain Janeway. You never call her Kathryn." B'Elanna frowned. "Not since she died."
"I haven't noticed."
"Right." B'Elanna inhaled sharply. "You're only fooling yourself, Chakotay, not any of us. You've got to let her go." She paused, glancing off into the distance. "The rest of us have, Chakotay. We had to."
He sighed. B'Elanna looked at him sympathetically. Some things were easier said than done and spirits, he had tried so hard to push Kathryn Janeway to a dark corner of his mind where she would no longer haunt him.
"You've got to come back to us," B'Elanna said. "Maybe we don't have a Starfleet hierarchy anymore, but we still need a leader. You look to her -" she emphasized the word 'her' - "but we need you. I hate to think we lost more than Captain Janeway. Harry and Tom, they feel the same."
"You're conspiring against me," Chakotay said, but without heat. He recalled a similar conversation, years ago, just after Kathryn's death; B'Elanna had told him in her direct way that Voyager needed its captain, and damn it, he had a job to do. "I'm not sure I like that."
"Call it what you'd like." B'Elanna shrugged. "What time is it?"
Chakotay looked up towards the sky. The sun was a white ball against the faded blue sky.
"Around 0900," he said.
"Damn, time has run away from me. I've got to find Chaya. Neelix will be starting classes any minute now and Ayala has a malfunctioning replicator I promised to look at today before lunch. Sorry about breakfast, Chakotay. I don't have time now. Maybe lunch?" B'Elanna asked. Her voice was soft, gentle, but firm, almost as if she was reprimanding her own daughter.
Chakotay swallowed hard. "That sounds good."
"And Chakotay? Don't forget about Talent Night," B'Elanna said. She squeezed his hand lightly. "Early indications show that this will be the best talent night yet."
"I'll see," Chakotay said.
He watched B'Elanna hurry away. After a few seconds, Chakotay squared his shoulders and headed towards the mess hall.
He found Tuvok in the fields.
"Good morning, Tuvok," Chakotay said genially. "How does the corn look today?"
"It is a good harvest," Tuvok said as he stripped open an ear of corn for Chakotay to take a look at. The kernels were a mixture of pale yellow and white, and from previous harvests, Chakotay knew that they would taste sweet.
Chakotay took a spot next to Tuvok and began shifting through the leaves, searching for the tiny little bugs that had wreaked havoc on the previous year's crop.
"I saw Mr. Paris and Mr. Kim depart this morning for reconnaissance," Tuvok said. Chakotay nodded.
"They're planning to specifically search for traces of the Borg," Chakotay said. Inadvertently, a memory of the Borg graveyard flashed into his mind. Debris from cubes scattered across several thousand kilometers and the bodies, all of those bodies...
"We have been lucky," Tuvok said without irony. He glanced up towards the sky and Chakotay wondered if Tuvok was recalling the same events. It had been Tuvok's description of the pile of dead Borg and their various body parts that had forced Chakotay's hand.
"If these aliens can destroy the Borg so soundly, imagine what they will do to us," Chakotay had said. Tuvok, in his logical and analytical way, had agreed. Kes, who had experienced some degree of a telepathic connection with the aliens, had been assured of their evil intent. "The weak shall perish," the aliens had told Kes, making it clear to Voyager's senior staff who the 'weak' were in this case. Given the situation, what choice did Chakotay really have?
"I agree. We have been lucky," Chakotay said now. "Though I wonder if they're still out there? Neither our scans nor the planetary sensor net have picked up any Borg activity at all. Ten years of nothing, Tuvok."
"Given the state we last saw the Borg, I speculate they have been destroyed."
Chakotay considered. The colony had immediately prepared for any attacks by the Borg when they had first arrived here, an attack that had never come, thankfully. Tuvok was probably right and without the Borg as a threat, they could possibly make another attempt for the Alpha Quadrant. However, even though the space around Terra was free and clear, Chakotay still felt some apprehension about what lay beyond their sensor range.
"Are you considering the possibility of returning to the Alpha Quadrant?" Tuvok asked. Chakotay glanced at the man who, in the aftermath of Janeway's death, had served ably as his first officer and even now, provided the logical sounding board for community decisions.
"I've been contemplating it, yes. I may bring up the possibility at our next community hall meeting," Chakotay said. "I keep thinking about what she would have done if she had been in our situation. If anything, she wouldn't like the fact we've been 'hiding' out here for the last ten years. She'd want us to try for home." The emphasis Chakotay laid on 'she' left no question about whom he was referring to. "She'd only been dead six months, Tuvok, when we decided to abandon ship. Maybe Harry was right; maybe we did make the decision too hastily."
"Perhaps," Tuvok said. He glanced at the ear of corn in his hand, eyeing it speculatively. "But it was a logical decision, far removed from emotion and personal bias. We could not withstand the attack from the Borg and the other aliens."
Chakotay sighed. "I've never been completely comfortable with this decision to make a new life here, Tuvok."
"I'm aware of that, Captain," Tuvok said, startling Chakotay with his formality. Tuvok dropped the corn into the straw basket at his feet. "However, you will find that many will not want to take the risk of leaving here. This has become our home."
"I wonder what she would say about all of this," Chakotay said. He gestured to the fields, to the village just beyond. All of their accomplishments, in Chakotay's eyes, were amazing; they had managed to build something out of nothing, a community and in many cases, families where there had been none on Voyager.
Tuvok eyed Chakotay speculatively. "There are many kinds of courage, Chakotay," Tuvok said. "I believe Captain Janeway exhibited one type and you another. Command decisions, as you know, invariably put people at risk. It takes courage to send your people into a dangerous situation and it takes courage to turn away from the situation and seek another alternative. You did the latter and no one faults you. Not at this time."
Chakotay said softly, "It's good to hear that you still believe what we decided was the - is - the right thing for this crew, Tuvok."
In a rare gesture of solidarity, Tuvok lifted his arm and rest his palm on Chakotay's shoulder.
"I have not second guessed this particular decision, Captain, nor should you. The lives of this crew are much too valuable to risk on a mission that likely would not have succeeded." Tuvok removed his hand and looked back at the corn; the tall stalks swayed gently in the light breeze, causing differing shades of green to ripple across the fields. "It has been a good crop this summer, our finest yield to date. With what we have learned this year, I have no doubt we should be able to produce results of the same quality and quantity next summer."
Chakotay nodded. The sun, still a silvery glow behind the white clouds, would grow warm and fierce as it nurtured the harvest. Yes, Tuvok was correct: next year's crop would be just as good, if not better.
He loved this time of night. Tonight was slightly cooler than the previous night, and shadow slivers drifted across the face of the moon, momentarily stifling its brightness.
Chakotay ascended the hill carefully in measured steps. Halfway up, he turned to focus down on the village.
The nightly campfire, a ritual Kes started years ago, blazed bright and he could see the crewmembers mingling around the fire. Tonight was Talent Night, Chakotay remembered, as he watched the children run circles around the adults. Their voices carried up the hill to Chakotay, the words an indistinct blur, but he could hear the - he paused, almost in shock - joy. How, he wondered, had he missed that sound before?
Once settled on his familiar perch on the rock, he glanced up at the stars. So many, so distant, but curiously, he was no longer reaching for them. He turned his attention back down to the settlement. Voyager's former crew were sweeping shadows against the fiery glow of the campfire.
As their laughter drifted up to him, Chakotay allowed a smile to touch his own lips. He inhaled, enjoying the fresh crisp air. The air had been the first thing he had noticed when they had first settled here; after years of breathing Voyager's recycled but stale air, the sharpness of fresh air had invigorated all of them.
"I wish you could see them now, Kathryn," he said. "It's not what you would have wanted, not the decision you would have made, but I couldn't risk their lives. I'm not sure if we're ever going to leave here. I'd like to think you'd be proud of what we've built. I need you to understand the decision I made."
It occurred to him then that he was tired of asking permission, tired of justifying every moment they stayed here on Terra. And he realized then how often he considered Kathryn: what she would have done, wanted, needed, felt... dear God, when had he lost himself?
"I've been wrong," Chakotay said softly. "It's never been about you." He shook his head as he reflected on the irony of his statement. He stood up, stretching, the tension easing out of his muscles. He felt strong for the first time in years. And he knew he wasn't drawing the strength from Kathryn, not this time. He glanced in the direction of the campfire and knew none of the adults were thinking about the Alpha Quadrant at this particular moment. "I think we're going to stay, Kathryn."
He remained silent for a second, his ears perked for an answer, knowing that Kathryn Janeway loved getting in the last word. But spirits, hadn't she been winning this particular argument for the past ten years? Chakotay headed back down the hill. If he remembered correctly, B'Elanna was saving a seat for him at Talent Night.
You will find
The most splendid possession
A moment of sun above us
In search of you
- Alberto Bevilacqua
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