Equilibrium - part 5

Dorvan 5 was a dust bowl of a Planet, sustained by an illegal economy and full of people desperate to be somewhere else and willing to pay whatever it took to get there. The Cardassian's rule was brutal; their aim to strip the Planet of its natural resources and kill its inhabitants spirits. And yet, the Maquis slipped unobtrusively on and off the Planet, raiding and destroying all the enemy facilities they could find, harrying supply convoys and picking off as many ships as possible before disappearing into the Badlands. You didn't have to be a tactical genius to reach the conclusion that this oppressed, brow beaten population was somehow colluding in this activity.

Kathryn Janeway let her eyes stray slowly to the entrance of the bar once more. She was careful not to move her head too quickly since she didn't want to dislodge the cloak that was partially concealing her face. She didn't want to risk being recognised or even rousing suspicion, her colouring stood out on Dorvan, where most humans were dark haired and dark skinned. Looking different could draw unwanted attention and having gambled so much to get here the last thing she wanted to do was make a mistake.

She should have known better than to expect simplicity from Starfleet, especially Starfleet at war. Her proposal had been routed, via Admiral Paris, to the highest echelons of both Starfleet and the Federation. She had cooled her heels for a month in San Francisco while someone, she had no idea whom, reviewed all the information they had on 'their Chakotay' and his suggestion.

When he had informed her she had been given permission to continue Admiral Paris had confided that the powers that be felt it very unlikely that she would succeed, they had no faith in Chakotay's assertion that she alone could reach his alter ego. But she could hardly fault them for that, since she was far from certain of that herself. But when it came down to it, she had been allowed to continue because they had little to lose and perhaps a great deal to gain... although it had been stressed that if she were captured by the Maquis or the Cardassians Starfleet's lie would be that she had been acting without authority. Basically she was on her own.

If that wasn't bad enough it was clear that someone didn't trust her entirely. One third of her crew had been transferred and replaced with new officers - ones with no pre-existing loyalty to her. She'd been lucky to retain Commander Cavit and Lieutenant Torres her Chief Engineer - her Chief of Security had been replaced by one Annika Hanson and if she wasn't someone's spy Janeway would eat her dress uniform.

Still miraculously, unexpectedly she was here, with a mission she had no real faith in, but which, like everyone else she knew she could not afford to walk away from.

She knew a little about Chakotay - she'd read his Academy record and spoken with his last commanding officer. That information had enabled her to gain a picture of the man he had been, or at least the officer he had been. She knew he was a talented, occasionally brilliant tactitian, that he had been considered an potential Captain due to his sound leadership - and that he sometimes took unnecessary risks. All in all he sounded as though he had been an officer she would have enjoyed serving with. But that had been eight years ago - he could be a different person now, she certainly was. And so was the man sitting across the table from her.

At her last meeting with Admiral Paris she'd asked him if he had any message for his son, knowing that contact between them, personal contact at least, must be almost existant. After all a Starfleet Admiral could hardly get on the comm to talk to his son, a supposedly disgraced Starfleet officer, now a member of the Maquis.

The Admiral had asked her simply to convey his best wishes to his son - asking her to add that he was often in his parent's thoughts and their prayers. It had been a difficult message to pass along, especially since on seeing Tom she hadn't been able to shake the feeling that this was her fault. That he would never have volunteered for this mission if she had handled things better between them.

It had been doomed from the start of course. If she'd been in her right mind she would have known that immediately and would never have allowed there to be a start. But she hadn't been at her best, she'd been hurt and angry, she'd known Tom for years and he'd been there - almost as though he'd been looking for something as well.

But it had been a disaster, with sex the only means they had of communicating. For a while that had been enough, she hadn't really understood the persuasiveness of good sex until Tom, but ultimately she had been too old or too jaded for that to be enough and they had nothing more to offer each other.

They had parted with regret on his part and not much on hers, with a semblance of civility at least and shortly afterwards he had volunteered for an undercover mission - and now here they were, face to face in a disreputible Dorvan bar, with only silence and awkwardness for companions.

'You look tired Kat,' he observed after a long silence. She made herself remain still, not wanting him to know that she was uncomfortable in this situation.

'Tom,' she began, trying to phrase the reprimand sensitively - no one called her Kat, Tom had been the only person to attempt to and now it implied a level of intimacy that was inappropriate.

'I know,' his mouth twisted into a wry smile, 'this is strictly business, but I don't think it would be wise for me to address you by your rank in our present surroundings.'

'You're pushing your luck Mr Paris.'

'I'm risking my life just being here.' It was a comment she had no reason to argue with. 'And I haven't had anything approaching an explanation. Do you know how difficult it was to get Chakotay here without an explanation?'

She opened her mouth to point out that he hadn't actually delivered on his part of the mission yet but the sound of the door thumping shut stopped her - her breath caught in her throat.

It was him, she was absolutely certain of that without needing to look at Tom for confirmation. The differences were subtle and she couldn't help wonder why they stood out with such clarity. His hair was shorter, no, not shorter, it was flatter, brushed forward over his forehead rather than up. He wasn't exactly precise and tidy either, he was dressed in dark clothing and he was sweaty and grimy - as though he'd walked a great distance. He rubbed a hand over his face as his eyes raked the bar coming to rest briefly on Tom before flicking over her.

Chakotay took a few quick steps towards them, a companion equally dark and solid a few steps behind. 'Paris - his voice was identical, she noticed dispassionately. 'What the hell is going on?' Tom shrugged and looked at Janeway, indicating that she would be answering that question. 'Who the hell are you?' He demanded, glaring at her with blazing eyes.

She had already decided there was nothing to be gained by trying to deceive him - if she lied to him now there was little chance he would ever trust her. So, with that in mind she stood up, tipping the cloak back from her face announcing quietly but firmly,

'I'm Captain Kathryn Janeway of the Federation Starship Voyager.'

Part 6