Summary: Kathryn and Chakotay take a demotion in the name of crew training. Set somewhere in the third season.
Disclaimer: Characters, props and particulars all belong to Paramount. No infringement intended.
Chakotay let out a low moan as he sank into the Captain's sofa. Pride prevented him from taking the muscle relaxant the Doctor offered him an hour earlier and now his groaning muscles were paying the price. Kathryn leaned closer to pass him a cool glass of water, then slid into the arm chair opposite him.
“Dinner won't be long.”
She cast a practiced eye over her first officer. He was usually rugged enough to shrug off the challenges that crew training required. At the moment he looked as if walking back to his quarters was beyond him. She wondered idly if he'd consider staying the night, then almost slapped herself on the forehead. Where did that thought come from?
“I take it from the crews' scuttlebutt that this exercise wasn't particularly successful?”
Chakotay merely grunted as he slurped his drink.
“B'Elanna told me that Tom led his team halfway across the wrong continent before someone questioned him. He said someone must have scrambled the maps, although B'Elanna's inclined to think he was having a little fun with them.”
“Mmm,” Chakotay managed.
Kathryn found herself forcing a jovial edge into her voice.
“At least Jenny Delaney's team located the beacon. That's an improvement on the last mission.”
“She didn't,” Chakotay said shortly, putting his near empty glass back down.
Kathryn stared at him, her next attempt at bravado quashed. “Didn't what?”
“Didn't find the beacon. Her team splintered into three rival groups on day two. One of the other factions got there first. Delaney traded for the prize with her ration packs. The real winning team - or rather, sub-team - were out of food, dispirited and extremely hungry.”
Kathryn frowned as he scrubbed at his face with his palms.
“They were out after three days?”
Chakotay mumbled something through his hands.
“Pardon?” she said. “I didn't quite catch that.”
“I said somebody set fire to their packs.”
“She also managed to convince them it would be another two days until Voyager picked them up.”
He grabbed his glass and swallowed the remaining liquid.
Kathryn chuckled. “Delaney obviously has some hidden talents.”
“I hope arson isn't one of them.”
“Kathryn, I know our crew is well trained. They're usually competent and efficient, very Starfleet spic and span. Even the Maquis have been ship-shape lately. But I have to say, these survival drills...”
He left the sentence hanging and blew out a frustrated breath. Eying his slouched form, Kathryn had to force herself to pay attention to the conversation. His chest was rising and falling rhythmically. She could see a sliver of brown skin peeking out from beneath his soft grey t-shirt. As much as she hated to admit it, she'd been having inappropriate thoughts about her XO for weeks now. She wasn't sure when it started, but at some point in their growing friendship her brain began, essentially, developing a mind of its own. Until recently, she’d thought any rogue feelings remaining from the time they’d spent together on the planet they’d named New Earth had disappeared.
Part of her worried that at some stressful juncture her silent patter would accidentally, irrevocably, slither out. At odd moments she wondered how he would respond if their friendly banter did take a more serious turn. She breathed deeply for a few moments, as if to dispel these meandering thoughts, and refocused on work.
“Five weeks ago you thought they were a great idea,” she said. “In fact, if I recall correctly, they were your idea. You said that being in this quiet area of space was a perfect opportunity. B'Elanna's team could finish the engine overhaul while the rest of the crew brushed up on some survival skills. That way it wouldn't be a waste of time. You even insisted on going on most of them. You said-”
Chakotay's snort eclipsed whatever she'd been about to recite.
“I know,” he said. “Please don't quote me ever again. In fact, don't ever listen to me again.” He sighed. “I know we can't expect perfection. But I had no idea they'd be so insanely competitive.”
The missions had morphed, somehow, from standard field exercises into a chance to contest prowess, even to settle old rivalries. She'd had some misgivings about the resurfacing of Maquis-Starfleet tensions, but Chakotay's presence seemed to have a moderating effect on the overly enthusiastic. To some extent, she thought wryly, recalling the bruises Harry Kim sported two weeks ago after wrestling with Ensign Ayala for his trophy.
“Tuvok did argue that more drills on the holodeck were all we needed,” she said.
“I'm beginning to think Tuvok is a very wise man.”
“I'm sure he'll be delighted to hear it.”
Chakotay rested his head back on the sofa cushions and wriggled his legs to release some of the tension from his muscles. “Not as delighted as I'll be when this is finished,” he said.
“Maybe there are betting pools,” Kathryn suggested.
“I'd bet there are.”
She grimaced at the bad pun.
“Sorry,” he said with a small smile. “I know there are, but I'm turning a blind eye in the name of morale. At least we're nearly there.”
“How many more?”
“Only one. This challenge was of Tuvok's devising. The people who've yet to participate are enough to make up the last two teams.”
He gestured towards a padd he'd left on the table. Kathryn scooped it up and began scanning the names.
“Team one,” she read, “Lieutenant Chapman's in charge. His team is O'Donnell, Renlay, Emmanuel, Henley, Anderson and Weiss.”
She grinned at him. “A sound team. I don't think they'll be setting fire to their rations.”
“One can only hope.”
“And they're up against.... Hold on,” she said, as her eyes ran down the list. “This must be a mistake.”
Chakotay shrugged innocently. “You did say all the crew.”
“Dimitrovski in charge of Murphy, Bristow, Gallagher, Brooks, Chakotay and Janeway?”
She glared at him over the padd. “You'd better hope I have a relative on this ship I didn't know about, Mister.”
“You did say all the crew, Captain,” he repeated. “I've been on eight out of eleven drills so far, and that was only because the Doctor wouldn't let me do all of them. Tuvok's been on six. You haven't been on any.”
“By 'all the crew' I didn't mean me,” she said.
“I know,” he said. “But what kind of message would it send to the crew if you don't take part? Even Kes and Neelix had a go.”
“Neelix broke his ankle.”
“That's enthusiasm for you.”
“Chakotay,” she said, snapping the padd down on the table, edging forwards on her chair, “I'm not trying to be difficult. It isn't that I don't want to take part. It isn't practical.”
“I'm the Captain.”
He rolled his eyes. “You know that excuse won't wash. Tuvok can manage Voyager while we're away. It will be seven days at worst. Most teams have only taken three or four. “
“I didn't mean that,” she said. “Lieutenant Dimitrovski is supposed to be developing her leadership skills. How is she supposed to boss the Captain around?”
Chakotay laughed softly. “Take off your pips,” he said.
Kathryn blinked at him, wondering if her hearing was faulty. “I beg your pardon?”
“I've been removing my rank bar each time,” he said. “They call me Crewman Chakotay.”
She raised an eyebrow at that. “That's rather unconventional. Was that in your reports?”
“Why?” he said. “Haven't you been reading them?”
“Of course I have.”
“Then you should know this is the last chance for any team to score full marks.”
A small gleam appeared in her eye then. “No one's scored full marks yet?”
“Not even Harry's team?”
“But they got to the goal.”
“They got the prize, Kathryn. That's not all of it.”
She considered that for a moment. “Why aren't we on opposing teams?”
“Perhaps Tuvok thought I'd keep you honest.”
“Or vice versa.” She eyed him thoughtfully. “Are you sure you're up to this? You look exhausted.”
“A good meal with my Captain. A good night's sleep,” he said, “that's all I need.”
A good night's sleep with your Captain - no! This really must stop.
“Well, Crewman Janeway,” he said, into her silence. “You'd better get your team mate some dinner soon, or I'm going to start gnawing on your furniture. An old man with broken teeth can't be good for team spirit.”
Kathryn's sour facial expression was an eloquent enough reply.
Day One, 0530 hours
Sacha Dimitrovski had never been good at hiding her feelings. When Kathryn and Chakotay entered the transporter room the next morning, and it became apparent they weren't there to wish the team farewell, she looked as if she’d bitten into a particularly nasty piece of fruit. To her credit, she rearranged her features quickly.
“I know this may seem a little unfair to you, Lieutenant,” Kathryn said, as Sacha greeted them. “But for this mission we're crewmen. I don't want you to treat me any differently to the others. As for the Commander - from what I understand he's been messing in with the best of them.”
Dimitrovski's eyes flickered briefly to Chakotay, then she gave Kathryn a firm nod.
“Alright then, Crewmen. Welcome to the team.”
Kathryn glanced around the room. Apart from Ensign Murphy the group was already assembled. The other three young ensigns, Freddie Bristow, Sophie Gallagher and Anais Brooks, clustered beside the packs that comprised their supplies for the rest of the week. Kathryn eyed them each in turn.
Sophie Gallagher was a slight woman with a shock of pale blonde hair she wore cut very short against her temples. Kathryn knew her work in Astrophysics was extremely good, but wasn't sure about her stamina in the field. Beside her stood Anais Brooks, a full head taller. Brooks worked in Engineering, and Kathryn heard she'd challenged all of B'Elanna's team to velocity, and had, one by one, beaten them all. Freddie Bristow was taller still, with a stocky frame that bellied his skill as a medium distance runner. Dimitrovski herself seemed quite fit, although Kathryn didn’t know which sport she played. If nothing else, their team should cope well with the physical challenges of the mission.
Bristow appeared to be judging the weight of each bag. He set aside one which was obviously the largest, saying softly to Gallagher, “Murphy can take this one.”
Kathryn glanced at Chakotay and saw by his quick grin that he'd noticed her rapid assessment of the others. She suppressed her own smile and turned back to Dimitrovski.
“What would you like me to do?”
“Sir,” Dimitrovski said.
Chakotay cleared his throat.
“Oh,” she said. “Right. Sorry. What would you like me to do, Sir?”
Dimitrovski gestured at the largest bag. “You can take that pack, Crewman. Crewman Chakotay,” she added, with a nod in his direction, “I'd like you to take charge of the medical supplies.”
“Aye, Sir,” he said.
He passed the large pack to Kathryn with the slightest of winks.
“And you were worried about her ability to boss you around,” he said under his breath.
“I suppose I can play the pack mule for a little while,” she whispered back, hefting the bag onto her back with a low grunt.
“Now there's an attractive picture,” Chakotay said. “Fancy some neck bells?”
“I might not be able to carry your sarcasm as well, Commander.”
“Oh no,” he said softly, as Jack Murphy rushed in to join the others, “we're the same rank. So I guess that leaves room for all the sarcasm I can fit in. You'll have to stop thinking of me as 'Commander' this week.”
Kathryn grimaced as the weight of the shoulder straps began to dig into her. It probably wasn't be the best time to mention she'd already been thinking of him as something other than 'Commander'.
“Are you sure there's no other Janeway aboard?”
“Positive, Crewman,” he said, as they joined the others on the transporter padd. “You're one of a kind.”
Day Two, 0330 hours
“I want to kill her.”
“I do. She's a sadist and must be stopped.”
Chakotay laughed at that, a short burst, before he caught himself and covered it with a low cough.
“She's perfectly correct though,” he said in low voice. “The first riddle we found indicated that both teams were placed within a fair distance of our target. Logically, it would follow that we're in close proximity to each other. Given we don't have communicators, thanks to B'Elanna's efforts at scrambling the system, she needs to send out scouts to patrol our camp.”
“At two thirty in the morning?”
“Any advantage we gain is worth it. It looks like her strategy is based on getting ahead in intelligence. Even if that means sacrificing sleep.”
Kathryn stopped her careful pacing and scowled at him, although they could barely see each other in the dim moonlight.
“You're enjoying this,” she said.
Chakotay moved closer to her, so that she could make out the gleam of his white teeth.
“Was that a question, Crewman? Or a statement?” he said.
“My tricorder produces enough light to stop me falling flat on my backside,” she said, ignoring his last comment. “I'm scanning the terrain up to a hundred metres in front of us so that we don't tumble into an unexpected ravine. And as for life signs... Apart from our beloved team back that-a-ways,” she gestured vaguely behind her, “there's nobody nearby.”
“That's good to hear,” he said cheerfully, “or you'd have to keep your grumbling even quieter.”
“I don't grumble,” she said. “I offer tactical analyses of strategic choices.”
“Actually,” he went on as though she hadn't spoken. “I am enjoying this.”
“Us being the same rank?”
“I was thinking more of the fact that this mission has been a disaster free zone. So far. That, and I'm enjoying our romantic stroll in the moonlight.”
Kathryn snorted and was about to retort in kind when a signal from her tricorder caught her attention. She reached out and seized Chakotay's elbow.
“Wait,” she hissed. “I'm getting something now.”
“A lifeform?” he said.
“No.” Kathryn pushed a few buttons on the device and then strode off, with Chakotay in pursuit.
The planet they had chosen for the drills possessed a slightly higher gravity than Earth, but its make up and formations were similar enough to that planet's semi-arid regions to appear familiar. Kathryn and Chakotay had been walking for nearly an hour, and this was the first sign that their reconnaissance arcs were taking them in the right direction.
Kathryn slowed as she approached the source of the signal. It was emanating from a small cluster of rocks. She slowly pulled the other rocks and plant debris aside. At its center lay a small metallic tube, around seven centimetres long and a thumb's width in diameter.
“Bingo,” she said, picking it up and holding the cool metal between her thumb and middle finger.
Chakotay stepped closer to her so that he could see it.
“Looks like the one we found last night. Should we open it?”
The temptation was clearly written across Kathryn's face, but she slid the tube into her backpack.
“No. Dimitrovski's orders were clear. She wants Brooks to examine each one first in case they're booby trapped.”
“Can you really picture Tuvok jury-rigging his riddles with explosives?” Chakotay said. “Never mind. Let's finish our patrol and head back.” In the darkness she couldn't tell if he was grinning, but his voice still sounded annoyingly cheerful. “Maybe if we're really lucky the others will still be asleep, and you can have the privilege of waking them up.”
Kathryn rolled her eyes. “Hurrah,” she said. “Let's move out, fellow Crewman. Before I fall asleep on you.”
Damn, she thought. At least that sounded reasonably innocent.
Day Two, 1740 hours
“This morning we were walking in a north westerly direction here,” Chakotay said, drawing a line in the dirt with his index finger. “We found the riddle casing here,” he marked the spot on the impromptu map, “and the footprints about five kilometers further. They seemed to be heading west, or west-south-west, and it appears it may have been the outer perimeter of a circular patrol. Our patrol took us across this ground here. So if I were to make an educated guess, I'd put their point of origin here.”
He scratched another mark in the dirt north west of the arcing tracks they'd followed.
Dimitrovski was watching Chakotay keenly. “Good work, both of you,” she said. “But I heard a few seems and maybes in there. Are you sure?”
Kathryn opened her mouth to respond but Chakotay was quicker.
“Yes Sir,” he said. “There was no effort to hide the prints, I'd say it didn't occur to them we'd be looking for their tracks, not the clues.”
“Okay.” Dimitrovski considered this for a moment, then nodded, as if to herself. She squatted down beside Chakotay so that the map was in front of her as well.
“Brooks has been able to establish that the two data chips we've found actually fit together. Individually they're riddles which give clues about the other clues. But together, they look like they might point to the beacon.”
She marked Chakotay's map to indicate where they'd found the first chip the night before.
“And this,” she jabbed again with her finger, “is where Murphy and Gallagher found the third chip about two hours ago.”
“Does that one fit with the others?” Bristow said.
“Not yet,” Brooks said. “But it's similar in form.”
“Brooks and I think there are at least eight more chips, and that they will interconnect,” Dimitrovski said. “Each of the messages, which are fragmentary by themselves, might form a whole when joined.”
“They look like Kalto pieces,” Kathryn said suddenly.
Dimitrovski looked at her sharply, but merely nodded.
Chakotay gazed at her map, taking in the location of the three chips they'd found, the foot prints and the suspected location of the other team.
“So you think the other chips will be located here?” he said, waving his hand at the north eastern corner.
Dimitrovski nodded. “It makes sense. We found three near us. I'd be willing to bet that the others have found two, or three similar data chips around their drop-off point. Given the distances we walked, I'd estimate maybe here, here, or here.”
She made a few larger marks. Looking over their shoulders, Kathryn could see the logic of her thinking, but wasn't sure how that would help them. If they'd each a quarter of the clues, what was the next step? Should they try to locate the beacon with the information they possessed, or seek to gain further clues?
“What's the next step, then Sir?” she said out loud.
If anyone thought it strange to hear her calling someone sir, they didn't show it.
“I'd say we need to raid the other team,” Murphy said.
“I disagree,” Gallagher said. “We've used up a lot of our energy, at the expense of sleep for most of us last night in scouting all the surrounding terrain. We've all been working hard today. We're not in peak condition for fighting. Nor will we be if we engage them tomorrow morning. We should try and decipher the coding and see if it leads us to the beacon.”
“If it is like Kalto,” Brooks said, “it won't make sense until it's all together.”
“How can we do that if they have half the pieces?” Gallagher said.
“Er, hello,” Murphy said. “Attack them?”
“We were able to gain some tactical data though,” Bristow said. He crouched next to Chakotay and swept his hand above the map they'd constructed.
“In this region between us there's high ground. It's easier to access from our side, but very defensible once we gain it. If we could occupy that position we'd be a stronger position.”
“But if we're going to fight them we should do it sooner rather than later,” Murphy said. “We should stop wasting time wandering around like lost cartographers.”
Dimitrovski stood and glanced at them all in turn.
“What do you think, Chakotay?” she said.
“I'd advise caution,” he said. “We shouldn't fight if there's no reason to fight.”
Dimitrovski nodded slowly. “Janeway?” she said.
“I agree with Chakotay,” Kathryn said. “But if there is a better tactical position it would be prudent for us to try and reach it first and be prepared. We should assume they're thinking along the same lines.”
“I don't imagine they've spent the past two days making maps,” Murphy grumbled.
“Thankyou Ensign,” Dimitrovski said sharply.
Murphy glared at her. Kathryn wondered at his level of irritation. It seemed out of proportion to her warning.
“I'm not sure why you bother asking us what we think, if you're going to do whatever the command team suggests,” he said.
Kathryn drew in her breath sharply and watched to see how Dimitrovski would respond. Despite Murphy's continued irreverence she didn't appear nettled.
“I value all of your opinions,” she said calmly. “But I'm in command here. We'll take a quick meal then head for the high ground. Hopefully we'll make it there by nightfall.”
Kathryn shot Chakotay a questioning glance, but he merely shrugged, and obliterated their map with a sweep of his boot.
Day Three, 0430 hours
Kathryn shifted position so that her legs wouldn't become cramped, pulling the emergency blanket into her lap.
“Have I mentioned that I want to throttle her yet?” she said.
Chakotay yawned. “Only eight times. Whatever happened to respect for your superiors?”
“She's doing this on purpose. Giving us the worst jobs, making us run on virtually no sleep.”
“Of course she is, Kathryn. Besides, how many nights have I nagged you about going to bed?”
Kathryn could feel her face starting to flush and was thankful for the darkness. Perhaps it was the sleep deprivation, but now she was reading insinuation into everything he said. Not a good sign. He said going to bed, Kathryn, she told herself sternly. Not coming to bed.
“Yes,” she said, “But that always involved a few shots of coffee per hour, and that's something Starfleet doesn't deem necessary for its ration packs.”
“Maybe you should file a complaint,” Chakotay said.
“I will,” she said, “when we're in writing range.”
“There's no point us gaining the high ground if we can't defend it,” he said.
“I'm not disagreeing about the need for sentry duty,” Kathryn said. “I'm not so keen to be doing it while everyone else snoozes.”
Chakotay was silent for a moment. “It's been a while since anyone has ordered you around, hasn't it?”
“Why do you say that?”
“You don't seem to like it much. It's odd for someone who values the chain of command so much.”
“I can follow orders,” Kathryn protested. “I didn't open the clue, did I?”
“No,” Chakotay allowed. “You did scan it with your tricorder three times.”
“Not the same thing. Besides, there's more to leadership than giving and taking orders. You know that. You're a natural leader. You know how to make people want to do what you want... I mean, to want to work for you.”
She couldn't see him in the darkness, but could feel his weight shifting beside her.
“Do you want to work for me?” he said.
“Not an option,” she said.
“Maybe if you're interested in building leadership skills on Voyager we could implement a long term program. Like job swapping.”
Kathryn laughed softly. “And whose job would you like?”
“Oh, not yours if that's what you're thinking. Maybe I could swap with Neelix and take a turn in the galley.”
“Your cooking's not bad,” she said.
“High praise indeed. What about you?”
“I've heard First Officer is a pretty cushy job.”
“Aha!” he said. “So next time there's survival training you'll volunteer to come out nine times?”
“I'll be an expert by then. There are a few perks though. Getting to hang out with the Captain, for one.”
“That's my favourite part of it,” he agreed.
Right then Kathryn wished she could see his face to judge how much he was joking.
“Not because of the Captain, per se,” he went on, “but I do get a thrill from being a hanger-on to positions of power.”
She punched his upper arm. “Just when I think you're being nice.”
She yawned loudly then, belatedly covering her mouth.
“Don't do that,” he said, yawning too.
“We must be getting old,” she said, straightening her back and stretching. “I remember my Academy training camps. I'd be up and about at all hours, staying up late studying then leaping up to repeat it all again.”
“That's the stupidity of callow youth,” Chakotay said. “Not appreciating the value of a good lie in.”
“True,” she said.
“Or maybe you never met the right person to lie in with,” he said.
Kathryn grinned at him in the darkness, though she was sure he couldn't see her face any more than she could his.
“Chakotay,” she said softly.
“If you keep flirting with me like this, I'll have to report you to my commanding officer.”
In the ensuing silence she wondered – half hoping – if he was about to respond seriously.
“Go ahead, Crewman Kathryn,” he said, eventually. “Then I'll tell her how you shifted some of the weight from your pack into the other bags when you thought no one was looking.”
Kathryn spluttered indignantly. “I don't know what you're talking about.”
When he didn't respond she added, “Do you really think the Captain would do something like that?”
“The Captain? No. Crewman Janeway? Yes indeedy.”
She chuckled. “I guess you've got me there.”
She shifted the blanket again and glanced around at the huddled silhouettes of the others. They all appeared to be sleeping soundly.
“How do you think she's doing?”
“Dimitrovski? Quite well.”
“You must have noticed the way Jack Murphy is talking to her.”
“It'd be hard not to.”
“She shouldn't let him be so disrespectful. It undermines her authority.”
“I don't know, Kath,” he said. “People handle leadership situations differently. You wouldn't let a subordinate use that tone with you. By not raising to his bait, she shows the others she's not easily rattled.”
Kathryn chewed on her cuticle, considering this. “Doesn't it show them they could be disrespectful too?”
Chakotay was quiet for a moment.
“I don't think Murphy's disrespect is quite what you think it is, Kathryn.”
“What do you mean?”
“Perhaps you should ask her.”
Kathryn could feel the ragged edges of a looming caffeine-deprivation headache. She cursed herself silently for not bringing a hypospray to deal with it.
“I will,” she said, rubbing her pulsing temples.
Chakotay leaned closer to peer at her. Out of the darkness she could smell his scent distinctly. It was shockingly sudden, like plummeting into icy water.
“Are you okay? How are you holding up?”
She wanted to say something about the confusion she'd been awash with recently, something that might pry open a crack in the conversation, into which she could press for a sense of what he was feeling. Somehow, she didn't feel that brave.
“I'm fine,” she said.
“You always say that.”
“And yet you keep on asking.”
“It's part of the job.”
“But you aren't First Officer right now, so quit worrying.”
“True,” he said, “but I didn't mean that job.”
“Please, don't you start talking in riddles, too.”
“I meant the job of being your best friend. A sometimes more challenging, but occasionally more rewarding enterprise.”
She considered that for a moment, resisting the urge to say “occasionally?,” and weighing several replies.
“I wonder if anyone would take that in a job swap? Captain's best friend.”
He gave a low, soft laugh, then she could feel the warmth of his hand as it closed around hers. Now it felt like slipping naked into gloriously warm water - gorgeous, and not a little bit dangerous.
“It's not up for grabs,” he said.
Right then Kathryn could have hugged Sacha Dimitrovski.
Day Three, 1130 hours
After their watch, a protracted tactical discussion, and a quick meal of field rations, the morning was almost spent. Much to Kathryn’s surprise, Dimitrovski ordered both herself and the Commander to take a cat nap.
“We need you both up to speed this afternoon,” she said.
Kathryn opened her mouth to retort, but a flicker of Chakotay’s eyebrow reminded her to hold her tongue. She had a feeling the young Lieutenant wouldn’t hesitate to call Murphy and Gallagher back from the patrol she’d sent them on, and order her to take their place instead. It wasn’t an appealing prospect.
On the far side of the campfire Brooks and Bristow were huddled intently around an array of electronic equipment. It appeared they’d gathered together all the groups’ tricorders, communicators, the riddle chips they’d found, and an assortment of instruments from the med kit.
As if sensing her curiosity, Chakotay tugged softly on her wrist.
“Leave them be, Crewman Kathryn,” he said. “We should get some rest.”
She nodded reluctantly, but couldn’t help adding, “I feel like a child who’s been ordered to bed while the adults and their guests stay up to play.”
He shrugged. “This kid is happy to hit the sack.” He gestured at her lumpy backpack. “Or should I say, hit the pack.”
She grimaced. “Your puns get better and better.”
“It’s all part of the service.”
They made their way to a shady cluster of trees a short distance from the others. Kathryn dropped her pack and lowered herself to the dusty ground, propping her bag up as a pillow. Although she couldn’t see him, she felt, rather than heard, Chakotay do the same beside her. She knew better than to blame her lack of sleep. It was as if all of her senses were heightened, so that she now possessed a finely tuned Chakotay-detector. She could sense when he was nearby, could hear and smell his movements even when there was no logical reason to be paying attention to him. This really was not a good sign.
They both lay on their backs, side by side. There was no sound save the mumble of voices from the others and the soft swishing of the branches above them. Kathryn stared up at the tree, wondering about its species. The way the dull green leaves hung in dry bunches reminded her of eucalypts.
“You should rest, Kathryn.”
Without looking across at him, Kathryn could sense that his eyes were closed.
“Still keeping an eye on me?” she said quietly.
“It’s a twenty four hour service.”
She smiled, and fell asleep listening to his steady breathing.
Day Three, 1300 hours
When she awoke he was gone. She sat up, brushing herself down, and scanned the camp. Murphy and Gallagher were nowhere to be seen. Chakotay had joined Bristow, Brooks and Dimitrovski. They were still gathered around the scattered equipment, talking in low voices.
Dimitrovski glanced up as she approached them.
“Crewman,” she said, with a small smile. “I hope you feel better.”
“I do, thankyou.” Kathryn’s eyes were drawn to Brooks, who was prying off the cover of a communicator to manipulate the circuits within. “May I ask what’s happening?”
“We’ve fixed the communicators,” Brooks said, without looking up. “We can contact each other and, with any luck, the other team.”
“Impressive work. How did you manage that?”
Bristow grinned up at her. “Long story Cap... I mean, Crewman. The short version is that we’re now ready to go.”
Dimitrovski stood, brushing sand from her trousers. “We’re going to try to trade with them.”
Kathryn shot a quick look at Chakotay. He gave her a small, somewhat sleepy smile.
“There’s nothing in the rules that says this has to be a competition,” Dimitrovski said. “We need to get to the beacon. We stand a better chance if we co-operate with the others.”
She nodded to Brooks, who snapped the shell of the communicator back in place.
“Brooks to Murphy. Can you hear me?”
“Loud and clear, Anais.”
Dimitrovski didn’t smile, but Kathryn saw the quick flash of pride in her eyes.
“Have you located them, Ensign?” she said.
“Yep, we can see them now, Sir.” Murphy’s voice sounded slightly crackly, but they could hear him clearly enough. “We’ll have to hike down a ways to make the trade.”
“No,” Dimitrovski said firmly. “I’m sending another team to do that. I want you to hold your position and keep watch. They’ll rendezvous with you and take one of the chips. We’ll give it to Chapman as a sign of good faith. I want you two held in reserve with the other chips.”
Murphy was silent for a moment, then Gallagher spoke. “Sir, it would be quicker if we spoke to them.”
“Quicker, yes. Safer, no.”
“They have no idea we’re here,” Murphy said. “I could jump their guards and they’d be none the wiser.”
For a moment Kathryn thought Dimitrovski would snap at him, but her response was mild enough. “Hold your position, Ensign. That’s an order. We don’t know enough about what they’ve been doing. It would be foolish to underestimate them.”
Dimitrovski turned to Kathryn. “You and Chakotay will make the trade.”
She nodded. Remembering her conversation with Chakotay earlier in the morning, she drew Dimitrovski away from the others.
“There was something I’d like to talk to you about.”
“Do you think this is a bad idea?”
Kathryn shook her head. “No. Actually, it’s a very good one. We don’t know how they’ll react, but from what Chakotay’s told me of the other drills, we’d be the first team to try it.”
She glanced back towards the others, who were once again discussing their plans. Chakotay started to sketch another map in the dirt.
“Actually, it’s a personal question.”
Dimitrovski smiled tightly, but didn’t seem surprised. “You want to ask how I’m feeling about leading this team.”
Kathryn raised her eyebrows, then ducked her head in assent. She hadn’t been sure how to raise the subject.
“I’m not psychic, Captain. I mean, Crewman. I’ve seen you watching me.”
Kathryn grinned. “That subtle, huh?”
“The pips are one thing. Taking off the Captain’s habits are another.”
“True,” Kathryn conceded.
“Anyway,” the younger woman went on, “this is off the record, isn't it? I mean, you're not the Captain right now.”
Considering the events of the past few days - the packs, the hiking, the early morning starts - Kathryn repressed a chuckle. Dimitrovski hadn’t shown any indication of being bothered by her rank so far.
“No, I'm not,” she said. “Although I'd like to think we can talk in confidence, now or any time.”
“I guess now would be a better time than when you're on the bridge.”
Kathryn acknowledged her levity with a small smile.
“The thing is,” Dimitrovski continued, ” I don't think I'm doing such a bad job with leadership, generally speaking. I feel like I can handle people, generally speaking.”
“Your performance reports are exemplary, particularly regarding your relationships with other staff.”
“The problem is this particular team.”
“Because I'm here?”
Kathryn surveyed the others.
Dimitrovski let out a low laugh.
“No. He's great to work with,” she said warmly.
Kathryn almost nodded in agreement before she caught herself.
“People skills aren't about being able to deal with people who are easy. It's learning how to handle people who are difficult that’s the real test.”
“I know, believe me, I've worked at it.”
She paused, as if considering how much to say. Kathryn waited patiently. Dimitrovski shot a quick look at the group and seemed to come to a decision.
“Okay, if anyone asks me about this I'll deny ever speaking to you.”
Dimitrovski narrowed her eyes. “And I will shoot you if you tell anyone.”
Now it was Kathryn’s turn to laugh, at the seriousness of her countenance more than the words. “Alright. Although with less enthusiasm for that option.”
“I'm finding this situation difficult because I have had... because I am having a relationship with someone in this team.” Dimitrovski’s face coloured slightly, but she went on quickly. “There, I said it. This is the first time I've commanded him.”
“I see,” Kathryn said. This wasn’t what she had expected at all.
Now that she’d come this far, Dimitrovski seemed almost eager to go on. “I mean... how do you tell someone to get their butt into gear when you've actually seen their butt? When you've seen all of them?” She lowered her voice slightly. “Certainly more than they would like other people to know.”
Kathryn resisted the urge to ask her who she meant.
“You're not the first person to face that dilemma. It's reasonably common in Starfleet for officers to be involved with other crewmembers. And when one person is in a higher position, a position of command, that can pose its own difficulties. But those problems aren't insurmountable.”
Even as she spoke the words, Kathryn recognised her own jumbled thoughts.
Dimitrovski nodded. “You say that, Captain. But you're repeating the old generalities. I mean this situation.”
With a sudden, horrible insight, Kathryn knew that Dimitrovski meant Chakotay. Her stomach lurched. She bit her lip, trying to keep her voice even. “I'm not sure how I can be specific.”
Dimitrovski frowned. “Do you want me to tell you who it is? I thought you could guess.”
Kathryn forced herself to breathe steadily.
“Freddie Bristow?” she said.
Dimitrovski laughed. “Freddie? No. Why would you think that?”
Suddenly, Kathryn felt nauseated. She could sense Chakotay looking at her, no doubt curious about their conversation.
“Well,” she said, floundering slightly, “I was under the impression that he was generally thought of as good looking.”
“Mm,” Dimitrovski said, glancing at Freddie and the others. “So's Commander Chakotay, but you didn't name him. Some of the girls think he’s quite a catch.”
Oh hell, she thought. Please, don’t tell me who ‘the girls’ are. To her relief, Sacha kept talking. Kathryn blinked quickly, realising she hadn’t heard a word. “Pardon?”
“I said, no, it’s Jack.”
Kathryn became aware she was gaping and snapped her mouth shut.
“Jack Murphy?” she said.
“He's the only Jack here.”
“I didn’t realise.”
She thought about the young Ensign. He was attractive, in a rouseabout Tom Paris kind of way, but she’d always considered him more gangly than handsome. At times it seemed he hadn’t fully grown into his body.
“I thought you might have guessed from the way he's been acting,” Dimitrovski said. “He disrespects me at every turn, he makes fun of everything. And that's the most annoying thing, you know, because that’s partly what I like the most about him. He can make you laugh at almost anything.”
“You just don't want him laughing at you.”
Kathryn sighed, feeling the nervous tension that encircled her gut seeping from her body. Not Chakotay, she thought. Excellent.
But what about next time? She couldn’t believe the thought hadn’t occurred to her before. They had a long journey ahead of them. Maybe even decades long. What if he was the target of one of the other ‘girls’ affections? It was very likely. Quite possible, actually. In fact, almost a certainty. She could feel her mind calculating possibilities. Who? When? How soon?
Stop it, Kathryn, she thought. This is crazy.
Almost as much to distract herself as to reassure Dimitrovski, Kathryn began telling her a story about her first command, and the time she discovered the crew had christened her with a terrible nickname. It wasn’t really the same thing, but quite frankly, that didn’t feel like the safest terrain to be exploring right now.
Day Four, 0115 hours
She loved the way he said her name. There was such warmth to it, such a delicious familiarity. Sometimes he shortened it, but most often it was simply Kathryn.
“Are you awake?” he whispered.
She rolled towards him. In the gloom afforded by the moonlight creeping over the edges of the small gully, she could barely make out the dark outline of his cropped hair and faintly, the whites of his eyes.
“Yes,” she said.
“I can’t sleep,” he said. “It’s ridiculous, when you think about how little we’ve slept since this started.”
“Ridiculous,” she agreed.
He wriggled closer to her. “Are you okay?”
She had to smile at that. “Considering the situation, I’d say I’m doing fine.”
“Hmm,” he said. “The standard Captain Janeway response, Crewman Kathryn.”
“To the standard First Officer question, Crewman Chakotay.”
“True,” he allowed. “But not exactly in the standard circumstances.”
She let out a small chuckle at that. “Captured by our own crew during a training exercise? No, I’m fairly sure that this is a first.”
He was silent for a moment. “It’s not your fault, Kathryn.”
She peered closely at him. Even in the dimness, he was watching her face carefully.
“Is that what you think? That I’m worried about screwing up this mission?”
“No. It was a good idea. Worth a try at least. We didn’t know Chapman would be so devious. Remind me to put a note on his file.”
When they arrived the night before, Chapman’s team not only took them both prisoner, but confiscated their communicators along with the chip they’d brought to trade.
“True again,” Chakotay said, “although technically, it was Henley who caught you in that headlock.”
She winced at the memory, rubbing her shoulder muscle where she’d strained it during the tussle. He caught the gesture and reached across to rest his hand against her upper arm.
“Are you okay? Really?”
He was so close she could feel his warm breath on her face. She closed her eyes, willing herself to focus on where they were.
“I’m a little sore. My shoulder. Nothing serious.”
“Would you like me to rub it for you?”
Oh hell. She remembered quite clearly what that felt like. On some quiet nights, the memories of their time abandoned on New Earth were as clear as if it had been yesterday and not ten months ago. He’d massaged her aching muscles one night, but more than that, he’d admitted, albeit in a round-about ‘my people have a legend’ manner, that he cared deeply for her. And yet, since then, he’d never said anything, never pushed her, or openly spoken about what he wanted. How could she help wondering if she’d imagined it all?
“No, I’m fine,” she said.
If he heard the slight tremor in her voice, he gave no sign. He removed his hand and glanced around at the barely visible form of Lydia Anderson, the Ensign whom Chapman had left guarding them. They’d been placed in a natural gully, so steep they couldn’t climb out. Anderson blocked one end, while rocks from a landslide obscured the other. She was sitting almost ten metres away and didn’t appear to be able to hear them. Somehow, Chapman’s team procured a phaser (Chakotay suspected someone stowed it in their luggage), and although they couldn’t see her, they knew she sat with it resting against her thigh.
“What were you talking to Dimitrovski about this afternoon? I mean, yesterday.”
Hoping for a chance of subject, Kathryn sighed softly. “I took your advice. I was asking her about leadership. And Murphy.”
That one syllable let her know he’d already been aware of their relationship.
“She said that normally rank isn’t a problem. But this is her first time commanding him and it’s been... difficult.”
“I can imagine,” he said.
“Can you?” she said.
Almost without thinking she reached out towards him and ran her fingers along the side of his face. He didn’t move, although she could hear his breath catch.
“Difficult,” she said softly.
Before she could stop herself, she moved forwards, across the almost imperceptible distance between them, to press her lips against his. This time he responded, snaking a hand around behind her head to tangle in her hair as he returned the kiss. For some reason he tasted like apples, although his cheek smelt like the dusty ground they’d been lying on.
It lasted only a few moments, and then he pulled away.
“Oh, Kathryn,” he said. “I’m not sure that this is a very good idea.”
Her lips were still tingling from his touch. “What?”
He pushed her hair back gently from her face.
“This is an unusual situation. This planet, this mission. I don’t think you’re going to feel the same way once we get out of here.”
She could hear the words but they didn’t seem to make much sense.
“Do you think I.... because we’re stuck here?” She would have laughed if she didn’t feel so mortified. “That I’m pouncing on you because we’re both prisoners?”
Chakotay was silent for a few moments, running his fingers through her hair.
“If you don’t want... If I’ve misjudged this...” she said, “I’m sorry. But I thought you...”
She silently cursed her sudden inability to finish sentences.
“Do you really think I’m that capricious?”
“Crewman Janeway,” he said softly. “Do you remember the last time we were somewhere rank didn’t matter? Somewhere I called you Kathryn? And you let me be this close to you?”
Kathryn had never heard him mention New Earth before. Since their return to Voyager he’d not spoken of it, not to her, or, to her knowledge, to anyone else. Given her own recent thoughts she wondered why she hadn’t considered that he might dwell on it too.
“Of course I do.”
“When it was over, you made it quite clear to me that we could never have that again. You didn’t say anything. You didn’t need to.”
He withdrew his hand from her hair.
“I don’t happen to agree with your decision, but I respect it. I promised myself I would never pressure you.”
Her thoughts were awash with confusion. He was clearly pushing her away, but why? Had she misread the situation? Because he thought she didn’t want him?
“Then you don’t want...” she couldn’t finish that thought.
“I want you to be happy, Kathryn,” he said. “And I don’t want you to regret me.”
“You’re the closest, best friend I have,” she said. “I don’t want to lose that.”
He took her hand and squeezed it. “You don’t have to. I’ll always be your friend.”
He seemed to be trying to force his voice to remain steady. “But we’ve have a rough couple of days. We’re both exhausted and sleep deprived. I don’t think you’ll feel the same way about this tomorrow.”
Of course I will, she wanted to say. I love you. But the words were gone, along with the last shreds of her courage. They both lay in silence, each lost in their own thoughts. After a while, his fingers slipped from hers.
Later, they both pretended to sleep.
Day Four, 0530 hours
Bill Chapman examined each member of his team in turn. Only Mariah Henley still looked sullen. Evan O’Donnell and Renlay Sharr appeared to agree with Konrad Weiss.
“Are you sure, Konrad?” he said.
Yesterday Lieutenant Weiss had voiced uncertainty about taking the other team’s envoy as prisoners, but now, evidence in hand, he felt sure he was right.
“It looks like Sharr was correct. When the pieces fit together they’ll provide navigation towards the beacon. But the riddles also spell out a code. When the pieces are together it forms a phrase.”
“We only have five pieces,” Henley said, her arms tightly crossed against her chest. “You may have them in the wrong order.”
“I don’t think so,” Weiss said firmly.
Chapman chewed his lip thoughtfully, staring at the datachips nestled in Weiss’ palm.
“I can’t see how you could rearrange those words. ‘Only working together will you’,” he quoted. “The message seems pretty clear.”
Sharr spoke up. “So Dimitrovski was right. Mr Tuvok has created a puzzle that we’ll need to co-operate to solve.”
“Damned Vulcans,” Henley muttered.
“I wonder what the next part is,” Sharr said. “‘Find the beacon’, maybe.”
Chapman sighed. This wasn’t going quite as smoothly as he had hoped. “Alright. Maybe we should go to them and say...”
He was cut off by the sound of approaching footsteps. They turned to see Jose Emmanuel jogging back through the underbrush flanking the gully.
“Slight problem, Sir,” he said.
Chapman felt his stomach tighten. “What kind of problem?”
“I went to relieve Anderson, only to find...”
“They’ve escaped!” Henley exclaimed. “I knew it.”
“No,” Emmanuel said. “Janeway and Chakotay are still there. But Anderson is gone.”
Chapman stared at him. “Gone? And you left them there? Unguarded?”
Emmanuel shrugged. “He said they wouldn’t go anywhere.”
Sharr giggled, but quickly stopped at Chapman’s sharp glare.
“What on earth are they doing?”
Day Four, 0535 hours
Kathryn and Chakotay sat with their backs resting against the smooth gully wall. Now that the planet’s sun was rising, some of last night’s gloom was lifting.
“Do you think this will work?” she said.
“Dimitrovski’s a fine tactician,” he said.
She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. He’d said nothing about what transpired last night. She wasn’t sure if it was best to leave it be. But what kind of resolution is that, Kath? she asked herself. Kiss him once, one rebuff, then you give up? She remembered something else he’d said. I don’t want to regret you, either, Chakotay.
She grinned suddenly, her thoughts more cheerful than they had been for days. “I can hear them coming.”
“Not very subtle, are they?”
“Maybe it’s the early mornings, making them clumsy.”
They listened to the approaching footfalls.
“By the way,” she said, “I haven’t changed my mind.”
Chakotay looked at her sharply. “What?”
“Last night. You said tomorrow I would feel differently. I don’t. Just F.Y.I.”
He stared at her, his face unreadable.
“Well,” he said, after a moment passed, “actually that was earlier this morning. Same day, technically. So it isn’t ‘tomorrow’ yet. It’ll be tomorrow tomorrow.”
“Right,” she said. “I guess I’ll get back to you then.”
Chapman, Weiss, Henley and Emmanuel appeared at the entrance to the gully.
“Hello,” Kathryn said. “We were expecting you.”
Bill Chapman looked extremely embarrassed. Kathryn almost felt sorry for him.
Chakotay and Janeway shared a glance, then both shrugged their shoulders.
“She was right there last time I looked,” Chakotay said, gesturing to the gap in which they stood. “We were chatting amongst ourselves, then next thing we looked up and Crewman Emmanuel was there.”
“Quite a shock,” Kathryn added.
Chapman took a few steps towards them. “Look,” he began.
He stopped in his tracks as his communicator chirped.
“How-” he said.
“Better answer that,” Chakotay said.
Chapman eyed him suspiciously, then slapped his communicator.
“Chapman here,” he said.
“Hi there,” Dimitrovski’s voice said.
“Sacha? How did you-”
“Good to talk to you, Bill. I understand you have two of my team members.”
Chapman’s eyes narrowed. He flicked his wrist, gesturing to Weiss, Henley and Emmanuel to back up. He also took a few steps out of the gully.
“They’re here,” he said.
“That wasn’t very clever,” Dimitrovski said. “We offered you a fair trade. Co-operation in good faith. And look what you did.”
If it was possible, Chapman looked even more abashed. “We may have made a tactical miscalculation,” he said.
Dimitrovski laughed. “It depends how you look at the numbers,” she said. “You have two of my people. I only have one of yours.”
Weiss and Henley gazed around them as if they could discern the source of her voice.
“But,” she went on, “I also have your phaser. From where I’m standing, I could shoot you all.”
“Cover,” Chapman hissed.
His team ducked their heads, but given they didn’t know where Dimitrovski was, it seemed a futile exercise.
“I’m willing to give you a second chance,” she said. “Come out of the gully. Bring Sharr and O’Donnell too, and the chips.”
Chapman swung his head around, wondering where she could be.
“Don’t bother looking for me,” she said, “We’ve got an optical chip embedded in Janeway’s jacket. I can see everything.”
Chapman was too distracted to notice the look that his prisoners exchanged at this revelation.
“She did what?” Kathryn whispered.
“Alright,” Chapman said. “We made a mistake. I’m sorry. It was pride, I suppose. We were thinking of this as a competition. We didn’t really consider alternative possibilities.”
Kathryn could feel her face growing extremely warm.
“So what do you say, Chapman?” Dimitrovski said. “Are we going to do this together?”
Chapman was silent, observing those around him. Henley sighed. Emmanuel and Weiss nodded. Janeway and Chakotay were staring at each other, almost as if they were communicating something telepathically.
“What do your words say?” he asked.
“My words?” Dimitrovski said.
“On the chips. What does the code spell? Our phrase says: ‘Only working together will you’...”
Chakotay gave Kathryn a small smile.
“You know what it says,” she said softly. “You knew all along.”
“...triumph over adversity,” Dimitrovski finished.
Day Five, 0937 hours
She stood in the doorway as he scooped a blanket and some stray clothes from the couch.
“Sorry,” he said. “I slept in here last night.”
“Something wrong with your bed?”
Ouch, she thought. Watch it, Kathryn.
He eyed her seriously, but a hint of a smile flickered in his eyes. “No one special to lie in with,” he said.
“Come in. Sit down.”
She glanced at the stack of padds on his table. “I thought you were taking the day off?”
“I am. But I wanted to get this report to Tuvok. He’s curious about how his puzzle turned out.”
She sank into the couch, the small metallic object nestled in her left hand.
“Dimitrovski seemed pleased about the way it ended,” Chakotay said.
She nodded. “I spoke to her last night. She was worried she might have offended me after all.”
“It’s alright. There was no camera. That was a tactical ruse.”
Chakotay let out a slow breath, then grinned at her. “Pity.”
“It was a nice kiss,” he said innocently, his face serious. “I would have liked a record of it. For posterity, you know.”
She chuckled. “I suppose it was quite an historic event. Kathryn Janeway - demoted, captured, and kissed, all in the space of three days.”
“Four days,” he said.
The metal was cool against her palm as she smiled her agreement. “Right. Four days.”
“So, Crewman Kathryn,” he said, stretching his legs out and resting them on the coffee table. “What are you doing with your day off? I thought you might be sleeping.”
“Highly overrated,” she said.
He smiled at her. “I’ve heard there are other ways to pass the time at night.”
“Oh, you mean hiking patrols? Sentry duty?”
“I was thinking of slightly more fun ways.”
He held up a finger. “No superior officer to report me to now, Crewman Kathryn. What are you going to do about it?”
As she watched his dark eyes she could see the real question there, behind the joking, behind the harmless flirting.
“Actually, I came to give you a gift.”
“A gift? What’s the occasion?”
“Is it?” He frowned. “Somehow, that doesn’t seem metaphysically possible.”
“You know what I mean.”
“I do know.” Chakotay was watching his hands now as they rested in his lap. “It’s day five, after all.”
Kathryn frowned, confused. “Day five?”
“Of the mission.”
“I thought it was over.”
“Depends which mission you mean.”
She handed him the small metallic box. It was plain silver, about a thumb’s length and width, with small hinges along one side. He took it wordlessly, running his fingers along the smooth surface, then opening it.
“It’s... ummm...” he glanced at her, obviously puzzled. “It’s an empty box.”
“More than that,” she said. “It’s my empty box.”
“It looks like the riddle casings.”
“It’s not. But that gave me the idea.”
“Right.” He looked at her, waiting for more explanation. “And?”
“Actually, it’s a replica of one I have in my quarters. I thought you might like this one, to keep in your quarters.”
Chakotay stared at the box for a few moments, his brow creasing.
“Kathryn,” he said, “I’d hate to suggest you’ve been spending too much time with Tuvok. But if you’re going to make me guess what this is...”
“It’s my pip box,” she said.
He looked at her blankly. “What?”
“My pips,” she said. “When the pips come off, that’s where they go.”
“Okay,” he said slowly. “So you take your uniform off, and the pips come off, and they go in here. So why...”
Understanding dawned in his eyes. “Oh,” he said. “Oh. You... you want me to keep this in here? In my room?”
“For when the pips come off,” she said again.
“My pips. You have a rank bar,” she reminded him, “but if you like, I could...”
Her suggestion was muffled by the beginning of their second kiss. The speed of his reaction astonished her, but his lips already felt familiar. This time he tasted like apple tea and spice, and a fresh morning smell. This time the kiss was languorous and long.
“Mmm,” he said, as they broke apart. “Who needs a holographic replay?”
“Highly overrated,” she agreed.
“Oh, wait,” he said. “That reminds me. I have a gift for you, too.”
She raised a single eyebrow, and his grin deepened at the characteristic gesture.
“Not that kind of gift, Crewman Kathryn. Maybe later,” he amended.
Chakotay scrabbled among the stack of pads on his table. He selected one and handed it to her.
“Courtesy of Mr Murphy, who did have an optical imager with him.”
Kathryn smiled as she took the padd, wondering if his report to Tuvok mentioned that the crew had, defying his rules, snuck a phaser and a holo-imager into their packs. It was a picture of Dimitrovski, standing proudly with her hands on her hips beside the winning beacon.
“Ah. Not that one.”
He pushed a button and another picture appeared. This time both teams – Chapman, O'Donnell, Emmanuel , Sharr, Henley, Anderson, Weiss, Dimitrovski, Murphy, Bristow, Gallagher, Brooks, and themselves – clustered, beaming, around their prize.
“The only team to score full marks,” she said, “I like it.”
“But wait,” he tapped another button, and a recorded audio track began to play.
It was clearly Jack Murphy’s voice imitating Tuvok’s measured Vulcan tones.
“Only working together will you triumph over adversity,” it recited.
Kathryn laughed again, taking Chakotay’s warm hand in her own. The most pleasant thing about it, she thought, was knowing she could do this every single day. Why did she wait so long? Why would she risk regretting him?
“All things considered, Crewman Chakotay,” she said, “I’d have to agree with young Mr Murphy. Togetherness is definitely the better choice.”
~ Jinny's stories ~ feed the author ~