The door to the turbolift slid open, admitting its occupant to
"Commander, my Ready Room. Now," came the icy command as the
newly arrived Janeway breezed into her office, barely sparing a
glance at those around her.
Momentarily stunned, Chakotay soon lifted himself out of his
chair to follow the woman off the Bridge.
The door opened, admitting him into the room and he stepped in
just enough to let it close behind him, then eyed the Captain.
She was sitting in her chair as straight as a board, her body
tense and her hands tightly closed in fists. Her eyes held a barely
concealed fury as she regarded her console. With a deep, angry sigh
she turned the computer slightly, indicating for Chakotay to come
see what its screen contained. He did so quickly enough, peering
over Janeway's shoulder as he read the communiquT Starfleet had sent
TO: Captain Kathryn Janeway, Commanding Officer, USS Voyager-A,
FROM: Admiral Laurence Forward, Starfleet Command,
orders - Urgent
The Federation has received an offer of an alliance with the
Vidiian people. After considering the possibility, the UFP's
President has decided to be open to such an idea, should the
necessary preliminary talks go well.
Considering your familiarity with the area and Voyager's still
quite unique methods of transportation, the resulting mission has
been assigned to you and your crew.
Your orders, Captain, are to collect Commander Ashcroft and
Lieutenant Watson from Deep Space Nine. You are then to proceed to
Vidiia, where the diplomatic talks will take place tomorrow.
Whilst your two passengers will represent the Federation in these
talks, we ask that you choose two more officers out of your crew to
accompany them. I trust your judgment in this matter, but I must
stress one point.
Under no circumstances are you or Commander Chakotay allowed to
take part in the discussions. Indeed, it would be best if, with the
exemption of a brief greeting conversation with the Vidiian Mar,
neither you nor the Commander was to speak to any Vidiian
I hope you will have a quick journey and a successful
Admiral Laurence Forward
Head of Starfleet Diplomatic
Chakotay sighed. It had just occurred to him that in the last
decade he had spent less than a year in the Alpha Quadrant, out of
which he had been planet- side only five months or so. He was sure
the rest of their old crew was close behind in those statistics, his
possibly slightly higher due to his being in the Maquis previous to
their seven-year Delta Quadrant stint.
Truth be told, the Voyagers could be classified as nomads for
almost eight years. For most of them, with the notable exceptions of
Naomi Wildman and Icheb, this had still not changed. They still
spent most of their lives on the move, the several months they had
been on Earth not an altogether pleasant memory.
On the other hand, Chakotay knew that those same people did not
think of themselves as vagabonds for the simple reason that they had
been home all that time. Voyager had been their home.
Shaking his head to get his thoughts back on track, Chakotay
glanced at the Captain. "Back to the Delta Quadrant, then?"
It was her turn to sigh as she gave a strong push at the desk, in
effect moving herself and her chair away from the console. She
seemed about to stand up, but sat back down for a moment before
rising fully. Shoving the chair back in place, she turned to her
First Officer with fire in her eyes.
"Of course! We've only just returned here, so why not travel back
to the Delta Quadrant for a THIRD time, right?" Her voice was laced
with sarcasm as she continued, gesticulating wildly to make her
point. "After all, we don't have anybody here to go back to, do we?
After nine years, we're sure to have lost all our family and friends
that were here all that time, right?"
Chakotay listened carefully, paying attention to the words
Janeway used, noting the tone of her voice and eyeing her movements
and the expressions that flitted across her face. Coming to a
conclusion, he voiced it quietly. "You're talking about this, but
it's not what really bothers you, is it?"
She brought her eyes to his for a moment, as if surprised by his
accusation, then made as if to shake her head in denial. Finally,
sighing, she hunched her shoulders, admitting that he was right.
"You know me too well, Chakotay," she uttered with a sigh, as she
had done many times in the years she had known him.
Walking towards the viewport, she fixed her gaze on the
once-familiar stars. She knew it was a subjective opinion, but it
somehow seemed to her that these heavenly bodies were no longer
signs of home as much as they had once been. These constellations
that she used to stare up at when she was little, remembering the
legends that humans had invented generations earlier... those same
constellations seemed to tell different stories now that Kathryn had
been to the other side of the galaxy and back.
It was ironic, she reflected, that one of the very sights she had
most missed while out in the Delta Quadrant now seemed almost...
Turning to look back at Chakotay, she heaved a sigh. He was
right, of course. She had no problem with going back there, it
really was not the problem at all.
"So then, what is it?" he urged gently.
"I don't know... this feeling of us being... used, I guess," she
said, lifting her hands as if to show something then dropping them
in resignation. "I mean, Voyager is among the strongest ships they
have right now. We've basically been ordered to drive those two to
Vidiia, and when we finally get there..."
"...You're not allowed to take part in the negotiations?" he
She nodded slowly, then the fire returned to her eyes as she
remembered the message. "Not only me, but also you. It's like...
It's like they don't trust our judgment, you know?" she asked,
deliberately using the same words the Admiral had written. "Like
they don't trust..."
"...Us," he finished her sentence in a near whisper. "Kathryn,
they're only human. Or, well, aliens," he corrected himself with a
slight grin. "They don't trust us, and no matter what we think about
that, we can't change it. We've done what we could and now it's
their turn. In the meantime, we just have to follow their orders -
as long as they're not too outlandish."
She turned to look out the viewport again, "I know, I know. It's
Seeing her reaction to the news, Chakotay quickly analyzed the
situation. An idea came to him almost instantly and he placed a hand
on her shoulder. "How about we escape?"
That got her attention. "Escape?" she asked, swiveling around to
He nodded. "Once we get there. They don't need us anyway, so we
could go on some short vacation. Spirits know how little we've had
of that these past few years."
"Chakotay, we can't leave the-"
"Kathryn," he countered, predicting her line of reasoning, "the
crew will be alright. Really. They've been through worse things than
orbiting around a planet." Seeing her reluctantly agree, he
continued, "We could take the AsteriŽ for a shake-down cruise-"
Chakotay shrugged. "The Captain's Yacht. She didn't have a name,
and I think it fits. Of course, it's not official yet, so you could
She cut him off, "No, I like it." Eyeing him carefully, she
asked, "And where would this shake-down cruise take place?"
Flashing her a grin, he answered, "That's a surprise. But trust
me, you'd like it." Despite the surprise factor, he knew she was
warming up to the idea. Now just to say the final thing... "So, what
do you say? Just you and me...?"
Her reaction was slow in coming as she considered the options,
but in the end she threw her hands up in the air and rolled her
eyes, saying, "All right, all right, I'll go!"
She shook her head, seemingly reproaching him, but there was
laughter in her voice as she continued, heading to the replicator to
get some much-needed coffee, "Now, back to the matter at hand. Have
Voyager go to Deep Space Nine and inform the crew of our plans.
Somebody might still prefer to stay, and I won't drag anyone out
there if they don't have to go."
He nodded, and with a quick kiss on the cheek he practically ran
out the door, already planning the details of Voyager's mission -
and their vacation.
Janeway marched into the Transporter Room with Chakotay and Tuvok
in tow. She nodded curtly to the ensign on duty and took her
position in the middle of the room, looking at the pads before her.
Once her executive officers had come to stand on either side of her,
as was their habit, she sighed quietly and gave the order.
A bluish glow permeated the room as the closest two pads were
filled with sparkles of light, and soon the officers materialized
Janeway's body was tense and her hands were folded behind her
straight back in a manner that would have earned her top marks for
the position if she were a cadet.
Nevertheless, she moved forward to greet the diplomats. Her eyes
first focused on the human whom she knew to be Kevin Ashcroft. A
tall, well-built man in his mid-forties whose dark tan contrasted
sharply with his blue eyes and blond hair. Janeway briefly wondered
why Starfleet was sending a mere Commander to the Vidiians, as she
knew that a Captain would probably have a much more appropriate
level of diplomatic skills. She quickly dismissed the thought; after
all, she was not allowed to intervene.
"Commander Ashcroft, I'm Captain Janeway," she said, shaking the
man's hand as he acknowledged her introduction. She then nodded to
her companions. "This is my First Officer, Commander Chakotay, and
Voyager's Chief of Security, Commander Tuvok."
"Commanders," he said, nodding politely to the two men.
Next to Ashcroft stood a young woman, possibly in her early
thirties. Pale- skinned and dark-haired, she was a direct opposite
of the Commander, even down to the smile that graced her lips, so
different from the strict, emotionless face of her superior. The
barely visible ridges on her nose were a sign that she had Bajoran
genes somewhere along the way, possibly from one of her
grandparents. Her dark, almost black eyes, on the other hand, hinted
at the Betazoid blood that flowed through her veins. Apart from
those characteristics, however, and the slight telepathic abilities,
Vela Watson was human. Her mixed heritage had helped her throughout
her career, bringing her to the rank of Lieutenant relatively
"Captain," the woman replied with a smile, "Commander Chakotay,
Chakotay and Tuvok watched their Captain welcome the newcomers.
Sure, there was a smile on her lips, but it was just a bit too thin
and just a bit too tight for Chakotay to consider it in the least
genuine. True, her stance would seem relaxed to the average
onlooker, but Tuvok had known her long enough to recognize it for
what it was. It was a stance meant to make her appear relaxed when
she truly was not.
Chakotay sighed. The Captain was not happy with their new
mission, and even if it was not obvious to the two diplomats, he was
sure both Tuvok and the quiet ensign behind them knew it. No, she
was not happy with it. Far from it. In fact, Kathryn Janeway was
Thankfully, that would end soon.
Once again Chakotay thanked the spirits for inspiring him several
hours earlier. Their vacation was indeed a very good idea.
Ashcroft stepped out of the turbolift and straightened his
uniform. Disregarding the Bridge crew's curious looks, he made his
way down the steps and towards the Briefing Room. The door opened to
a sight of half a dozen people sitting at the oblong table, with
Janeway standing at its head.
At the interruption, however, she moved towards the diplomat
until they stood within less than a meter.
Ashcroft waited a moment before speaking, loud enough for all to
hear, "I find it strange, Captain, that I found out about this
meeting through an overheard explanation of Commander Tuvok's
Janeway sighed inwardly, trying not to glare at the diplomat. He
was impertinent, she'd give him that. And insolent, she realized, as
she saw the look he was giving her. Eyeing the expanse of the Bridge
behind him, she decided to give those manning the consoles a little
show and narrowed her eyes slightly.
"I had a reason not to invite you, Commander," she said, her
voice, though not especially loud, had a steel-like quality to it
that ensured her words carried well to those around her. "I called a
meeting of Voyager's senior staff, and unless you know something I
don't know, that does not include you."
Her eyes held a challenging look as she stood before Ashcroft,
hands planted firmly on her hips. Despite the quite significant
difference in heights, with her chin raised high and her mouth set,
it was Janeway that had the upper hand.
Seeing this, as well as noticing the angry, yet amused looks of
those in the room behind her, the diplomat nodded slightly, not
wanting to admit defeat too obviously.
"Of course, Ma'am," he said with a hint of sarcasm. "I'm sorry to
interrupt." Turning back, he reentered the Bridge, throwing a brazen
"Carry on" over his shoulder before the door closed.
Kathryn turned around, let the door slide closed and looked at
those around her. Her eyes still held some of the hardness that had
appeared moments earlier, but when she smiled at her crew it was a
genuine smile that hinted at her satisfaction with her recent
"Well then, now that that's settled, let's get on with the
meeting, shall we?"
Janeway proceeded to where her chair stood, having just finished
informing those present at the meeting of their newest mission, as
well as her little vacation with Chakotay. Those seated around the
table accepted both pieces of information and now only one thing
remained to be done.
Not bothering to sit down, Kathryn leaned against her chair with
her hands folded across its back as she regarded the EMH.
"Doctor, your knowledge of the Vidiians is unrivaled on Voyager,
and, consequently, in Starfleet. Your presence at the negotiations
will undoubtedly be a valuable asset."
The Doctor nodded and Janeway turned to look at the man sitting
at the end of the table, his face hinting at his being slightly
uncomfortable. No wonder, Kathryn reflected. Up to now, not one word
had been spoken that somehow related to him personally. Well, that
was about to change.
"Lieutenant, with over seven years in security, your recent
switch to piloting and considerable abilities in other fields,
you're one of the most cross-trained people we have. You'll be
joining the Doctor on the away team." Ayala acknowledged the order
with a curt nod and waited for the comments he knew were still to
come. "Officially, you'll take part in the negotiations in the
capacity of a security officer. Your being Tuvok's second for so
long will be a good reason for such a choice. Unofficially,
though... I trust you'll use some of that Maquis thinking that I
know is still in you. Another point of view will be welcome in the
Kathryn smiled at Mike before she turned her gaze to the
holographic medic. "The same goes for you, Doctor. Along with your
being our head physician, you've also some outstanding knowledge of
the Vidiians. Officially, Commander Ashcroft will be in charge of
the team. Unofficially, though, keep an eye on those two, okay?"
His eyes widened slightly as he read between the lines. She
nodded slightly as a sign that he had heard her right, and
continued, her gaze flitting between Ayala's calm face and the
Doctor's eager one.
"Gentlemen, like the rest of us, your way of thinking is more
Voyager than it is pure Starfleet. Let them see it, but don't let
them realize it."
Despite the good-natured wink, they both knew what the Captain
meant by those words. The 'Fleet hounds could still be out for
A planet revolved around its axis, the light mauve clouds
swirling about the otherwise cerulean globe. For an offworlder,
especially one used to the blues and greens of Earth, the planet
seemed to be covered by water all around. Only a moment later would
more scientific thoughts come to mind, hinting at the presence of
colourful gases in the atmosphere. In spite of its correctness,
however, one would still think of the planet as a big ocean.
Vidiia was far from being an ocean. There were several continents
and quite a few big cities surrounded by the many smaller villages.
Paradoxically, unlike on most other homeworlds, it was the smallest
continent that was home to the Vidiian capital. It was also the
smallest continent that had withered the least in the preceding two
millennia. This was why the little strip of land near the south pole
was now the center of Vidiian political, cultural, and economical
He was happy.
No, 'happy' did not cover how he felt at that moment, the Doctor
More like... proud.
He was proud.
Yes, he reflected as he read everything Voyager's database had to
offer about the Vidiians. The Captain's order had made him
Oh, there had been occasions where he had been in charge of the
away team - there had even be quite a few instances where he had
constituted the whole away team - so this did not seem better.
But it was. By asking him to make sure everything went right, the
Captain had not only hinted at her own lack of faith in Ashcroft's
abilities when confronted with the realities of the Delta Quadrant.
She had also, once again, given the Doctor a sign of her trust in
And so his unofficial position of what amounted to being in
command, albeit not by Starfleet's orders, was a source of pride for
Besides, he thought with a smile, out in the Delta Quadrant,
Janeway's orders were more important to him than Starfleet's.
His smile faded and he gasped as new information came forth on
the terminal's screen. Fingers hovering mid-air, he let his eyes
focus on the picture before him.
Memories flooded him. Her soft chestnut hair; the awkward moment
in Sickbay. Her rosy lips; parking in the '57 Chevy. Her emerald
green eyes, their dance in Sandrine's...
He leaned back in his chair, letting his eyes slide closed as he
reminisced. So many memories... so many happy moments they had
Would he see her again? he wondered. There was a chance that they
would meet sometime during this mission, but the medic knew better
than to think it was very likely. After all, quite a few years had
passed since their last encounter. For all he knew, she could
No, he would not let himself think that. She had been sick with
the phage, but B'Elanna's DNA had slowed down the effects of the
disease. She had a much bigger chance of surviving this long than
most of her compatriots did. Still... one did not die only from the
Sighing, the Doctor lifted a finger to trace the familiar shapes
of his first love's face, to follow the length of her forehead ridge
and continue on to her nose. With him lost deep in thought, his lips
moved slightly to form a single word.
"Harry, have the diplomatic team report to Transporter Room One,"
Chakotay said, looking at where the ops station was located opposite
Turning to face the Ready Room door just in time to see Janeway
leave its confines, the Commander gave his Commanding Officer a grin
that only widened at the answering smile. Placing her hands on her
hips, Kathryn looked around the Bridge, taking in her surroundings.
Finally, satisfied when she came to the conclusion that everything
was all right, she walked over to sit down in her chair, as she
She rested there only a moment, keying a few commands in the
console between the chairs to check if any new messages had come in
the meantime. Satisfied when she found none, she rose from her seat
and turned towards Tactical, which was thankfully positioned exactly
where it had been on the previous Voyager.
She made a sweeping movement with her hand, then spoke to her
second in command. "Tuvok, for the duration, Voyager is yours. Try
not to let our Starfleet guests cause too much trouble. I'd like to
reclaim her in one piece."
With Tuvok accustomed to such comments after years of serving
under Janeway, he arched his eyebrow only a bit as he answered
stoically, "Indeed, Captain. I shall endeavour to ensure that they
comport themselves with Voyager's usual high standards."
Kathryn glanced to her left where Chakotay stood, barely
suppressing a grin. She focused once again on the Vulcan, her
serious expression belied by the sparkle in her eyes. "Commander, I
do believe that was an attempt at a joke. Am I right?"
Eight years earlier, Tuvok would have almost blanched at such an
accusation. Now, he only tilted his head slightly, accepting the
comment in silence. There was, after all, no logic in attempting to
correct Janeway, along with the rest of the old crew.
The brilliant sparkling lights of the transporter disappeared
from before Kevin Ashcroft's eyes as his body materialised.
He took a quick look around, noting the room seemed to be an
unusual cross between dreary Cardassian-like architecture and the
colourful, imaginative decor of an artistic people. While the
bleakness was an obvious example of how the phage had influenced the
Vidiians, the attempts at rebuilding their previous way of life were
His gaze fell on a group of three people standing not far away.
With their cranial ridges as distinctive of their race as spots were
to Trills, it was easy to recognize them as Vidiians.
One of them, whom Ashcroft identified as the Mar, stepped
forward. His eyes were a dark, piercing grey that, with the slate
colour of his cropped hair, gave him an air of leadership and
"Welcome to Vidiia, Commander Ashcroft," he said, offering his
hand in what he knew to be a human greeting.
"Thank you, Mar Kalani. May I introduce my assistant, Lieutenant
Watson, Voyager's Doctor and Lieutenant Ayala from security,"
Ashcroft said, nodding in turn towards the three officers.
"Pleased to meet you," the Vidiian leader said, acknowledging
politely each of them, then turning slightly to look at his own
people. "This is our Internal Affairs Advisor, Gilar Emorin and Sen
Caddock, our Security General. I must apologise for the absence of
the fourth member of our party. There has been a slight delay in the
shuttle's repair, but she should arrive shortly. May I suggest a
tour of the city while we wait?"
"That sounds like a good idea. We can start the talks as soon as
your team is complete."
"Actually, Commander, it is a Vidiian custom to share Calnesh
before negotiations... We were hoping you would agree to observe it
"Calnesh?" Ashcroft asked, obviously as unfamiliar with the
practice as his assistant was.
It was the Doctor who took a step forward, opting to explain the
term to the two officers. "It's a small repast, finished by a toast
of a sweet Vidiian beverage. It is a way to become acquainted with
others taking part in the negotiations. Traditionally, observing the
Calnesh is a sign of good will."
The older diplomat nodded to the medic, then looked to Kalani
with a smile. "Lead the way then, Mar."
"You know, every time I see her from the outside..."
"Yes?" Chakotay asked, glancing out the Yacht's window at the USS
Voyager-A, then looking back at Janeway.
She shook her head and started again, "I love this ship, and it's
wonderful how state of the art she is, but..."
"But you find yourself imagining she's a different ship, don't
Janeway looked at her companion guiltily. "I do. I can't help it.
I fell in love with her over the years. So many memories... We
christened her fight after fight. We practically rebuilt her. She
was our home for years... she really was our ship."
Sighing, she shook her head and continued, "I shouldn't. This
Voyager is as good, even better a ship than she was. Harry, B'Elanna
and Seven coordinated her construction from the very beginning, just
like they used to do with all the repairs... I'm the Captain; I
shouldn't play favourites with my crew, and I definitely shouldn't
with ships, but I can't help thinking that if they let me, if they
gave her back to us..."
She carried off and Chakotay placed a hand on her shoulder. "It's
okay, Kathryn. You're not alone in this. Some of our old crew dream
of her from time to time. A few pilots, wishing they could fly her
again or engineers, who find themselves once again repairing a burnt
plasma relay... They all treasure her in their hearts, Kathryn, just
like you and me."
Interpreting what he saw in Janeway's eyes as surprise, he
continued, remembering the vessel in a slightly dreamy voice. "She
was the most beautiful ship I'd ever seen, you know. Sleek and
powerful, with graceful curves and a matching personality..." He
paused as he noticed the expression on her face, "What?"
Kathryn shook her head, grinning. "It's just... Should I be
He chuckled. "Never, Kathryn. I love her, but so do you." When
she grudgingly nodded in agreement, he continued, "Don't feel guilty
about it because it's not wrong to love her. By now, if you asked
Tuvok, he'd probably give you a properly Vulcan version of 'I miss
Janeway sighed. As true as it was that Vulcans did not see the
logic in such thoughts, after eight years spent on the same ship,
her old friend was bound to feel Voyager's absence, even if it was
perceived as a lack of her engines' familiar hum while he
Still a bit lost in his reverie, Chakotay concluded, "The
original Voyager was one of a kind."
"You make it sound like 'the original Enterprise'," Janeway
remarked with a laugh.
"She's in the same class, Kathryn," he countered, then winked at
Kathryn. "Besides, she's outdone the Enterprise. Eight years of
fights and she's still in one piece."
"She was stubborn, that's for sure," she agreed, before her eyes
took on a distant look as she whispered, "We had some wonderful
adventures with her."
Hearing what she did not say, Chakotay decided to lift her
spirits. "That's the catch, isn't it?" he asked. "Once you get a
namesake of a previous ship, people start thinking you drive a
While she agreed with his comment, Kathryn nevertheless smirked
at his vocabulary. "A taxi?"
"Tom," they both said at the same time, laughing.
Thirty minutes and a quick tour of the city later, a Vidiian had
walked up to Kalani, bowed his head, and informed the Mar that the
shuttle had just arrived. Soon after, the two diplomatic parties
were headed towards the sikelt, a building that served the dual
purpose of being the capital's town hall and housing any diplomatic
ouvertures that took place. Maeno Kalani continued telling the
Starfleet officers about the Vidiian culture.
From what the Mar said, Ashcroft realized one could think of the
Vidiians as one of two things: a people free from moral wrong,
without crime committed in their entire history, or a people who
admitted to past wrongs, but had changed their ways and were now
once again innocent.
The way this portrait of the people was repeatedly although
subtly pointed at brought suspicious notions to the man's mind.
However, at this point of the talks - which indeed had not even
started yet - these thoughts were still closer to curiosity than
distrust. Resolving to figure out the mystery, Ashcroft concentrated
once again on the Kalani's words.
It was a few moments later that they entered the majestic-looking
building they were to have Calnesh in, and they soon found
themselves in what looked liked a small ballroom. There were several
tables with various specialties and a few bottles that the Fleeters
suspected contained what they were expected to drink later on. The
windows, tall and slim, reminded the humans of ancient Terran
cathedral architecture, but the glass was instead transparent,
letting in as much light as possible.
While Ashcroft continued his conversation with the Vidiian
leader, with Lieutenant Watson standing close-by, Ayala immersed
himself in a chat with Caddock, who apart from his job as security
chief to the whole planet, seemed to have a penchant for painting.
Not only that, but from what Mike understood, his interlocutor was
quite well known in the field and some of his better pieces were
considered true works of art by the critics.
"Ah, here she comes," Kalani noticed as he turned to the
entrance. A smile on her face, she walked up to the group, and the
Mar once again took the introducing upon himself, "Commander, may I
introduce one of our leading medics, Doctor Danara Pel. Doctor, this
is Commander Ashcroft of Starfleet's diplomatic corps."
"Commander," the newcomer uttered with a polite nod, sharing a
handshake with the human.
"Lieutenant Watson, also from the corps," Kalani said, waiting
until the customary greeting was shared before he continued, "From
Voyager's security, Lieutenant Ayala..."
There was a twinkle in her eye as Danara recognized the man from
years before. Trying to be formal, however, she took the proffered
hand and nodded. "Lieutenant."
"Doctor," Mike replied, a grin on his handsome features as he
remembered the EMH. This was sure to be one of his more memorable
missions, he decided.
The Mar did not notice the amused looks passing between the two
and instead resumed the presentations, "...and this is... where'd he
The Doctor, having first taken part in the art-centered chat of
the two security officers, had excused himself to inspect the
various paintings strewn across the walls of the ballroom. Here and
there hung brightly coloured images, some in greens and blues and
others in redder, earthier tones, enlivening the otherwise ashen
It was Danara that first saw the EMH at the other end of the
room, surveying the art. Her eyes lit up as she recognized the
familiar figure. She had no doubt who that could be.
It had to be him. It had to be-
"Schmullus!" she cried, lifting her hand high in the air. She
half ran towards him in her delight at seeing him. "Schmullus!"
That name. That voice. Could that be-
"Danara?" he asked, turning around to face where he thought she
would be. His eyes immediately focused on the woman approaching him,
and his lips curled upwards in a brilliant smile.
"Schmullus!" she repeated, running into his open arms. He brought
them around her without thinking, a laugh threatening to bubble out
at his happiness to see her again.
For her part, Danara hugged him tight, then, as if realizing her
actions, hastily moved out of his embrace. She looked up at the man,
a shy smile playing on her lips.
She looked... wonderful, the Doctor thought as he looked at her.
A blush had crept onto her cheeks in her hurry to reach him as fast
as possible, and her mouth was rosy with her excitement. A few locks
of her chestnut hair had escaped the confines of her simple ponytail
and fell loosely around her face in soft curls, tickling her
distinctly Vidiian ridge. Her eyes were bright with happiness and
laughter as she took his hand in one of her smaller ones.
"I was hoping you'd be on the Federation's team," she
"Likewise, Danara. Likewise."
Ashcroft approached the newly rejoined twosome and waited for the
hologram to notice his presence before he spoke in slightly hushed
tones, "You know Doctor Pel?"
"I do," the Doctor answered simply, but at the look in the
Commander's eyes, he quickly elaborated, "She's a good family
"'Family friend'? But you don't *have* a family, Doctor," the man
countered. Unless, of course, he means all those Mark Ones out
there, he continued in his mind.
Used to such comments, the EMH answered smoothly, "On the
contrary, Commander. I have a family that has, over time, grown to
almost two hundred people."
Kevin Ashcroft shook his head. "Whatever you say. So, why is she
a 'family friend'?"
"For starters, Danara gave us the cure for a virus the Captain
and Commander contracted in the second year of our journey. I trust
you'll understand that in our situation, losing both commanding
officers was a scenario we especially wanted to avoid."
"Of course, Doctor," he agreed, deciding to ask for another
reason for this friendship. He wanted to check how much information
the EMH would be willing to give and how accurate it would be. He
knew about her help with the medicine, as well as her stay on the
original Voyager. After all, he had readied himself for this
mission, reading up not just on the Vidiians, but also on all their
previous contact with Starfleet. And those always, as far as they
knew, had to do with Voyager.
So he had read all their official logs from the time, studying
intently the relations between the Vidiians and the lonely ship.
Oh yes, he knew the Vidiians. He supposed he knew the Vidiians as
well as he possibly could without ever having met one.
But only so much information was ever put in an official log, and
Ashcroft hoped the EMH would provide him with some more data when
He was about to continue his questioning when the Doctor turned
to the security officer saying, "Lieutenant, if you could..."
"I'll get right on it, Sir," Ayala said, pulling out his
tricorder to scan the room.
Ashcroft furrowed his brows, confused. He was a hologram, wasn't
he? He was not programmed to lie, or to avoid answering a question.
So why did it seem to the Commander that that was what he had just
Meanwhile, the EMH, with Danara still standing behind him, turned
back towards the hosts. "I hope you understand, gentlemen. Standard
Kalani nodded. "Of course, we understand."
The Commander, however, did not. Politely excusing them from the
Vidiians' company, he pulled the Doctor to the side. "Correct me if
I'm wrong, Doctor, but I thought Starfleet put me in charge of this
The medic nodded, inwardly amused at how attached the diplomat
seemed to be to being in a commanding position. "I thought you would
prefer to take care of the negotiations without having to worry
about the other, more mundane tasks. Am I to continue, or should I
leave everything to you, Commander?" he asked, eyeing the man.
It seemed he was reluctant to agree with the logic, but in the
end he conceded, "Very well, you may continue." For a hologram, he
thought, he thinks quite a bit like a human. We'll see what else he
The Doctor smiled slightly and pulled out his own medical
tricorder, intending to check the food and drinks. He knew he should
have had Mike check the room as soon as they entered, but he had
quite frankly forgotten all about it. It was only when he realized
the Commander had not issued any safety precaution orders that he
had remembered about that.
And he was grateful that he had, for he did not want to explain
any more of his relationship with Danara. It was complicated enough
without him having to do so.
"If you'll excuse me then, Commander," he said, nodding to the
diplomat and heading towards the tables.
"Laying in course..." Entering a few commands in the console
before him, Chakotay made sure Kathryn could not find out what their
destination was before time. He knew her well enough, after all, to
know she would try to do just that.
"Course laid in. Engaging warp drive... Warp drive engaged," he
said, partly absentmindedly, the habit of commenting his actions
ingrained deep in his mind. He waited a moment as the AsteriŽ's
speed increased, then stated, "Warp six."
Chakotay glanced at Kathryn and grinned, knowing what would come
now. Sure enough, she looked up at him innocently, "So, where are we
"Not gonna tell you," he said, repeating his words from earlier
in the day when she had tried to trick him into revealing their
"Aw, come on, Chakotay... Just a hint, then?" she asked, flashing
her sweetest smile.
"Not gonna tell you."
A chuckle escaped him at her near-whine and he repeated a
sentence he had spoken several years earlier, "We've been down this
road before, Kathryn."
"Yes, we have. I even remember my conclusion the first time
"You're like a little kid, wheedling."
Had it been possible, the AsteriŽ would have shook with the
laughter that ensued.
The first formalities finally done with, Lieutenant Watson
stretched imperceptibly, enjoying a momentary respite from the
talks. They had, after all, been holed up in this room for almost
half an hour now, and had only now finalized the usual, dreary
customs connected with the beginning of diplomatic talks.
Knowing the mission should finally become more interesting in a
few more minutes, Vela took the opportunity to look around.
The room they were seated in was nearly circular in shape, the
pale violet walls livened up in a few places by strategically hung
vibrant arrases, while the windows let bright light in to the room.
Cabinets stood along the walls, various small trinkets resting on
their flat surfaces in an effort to make the office-like chamber
more or less lived-in.
In its middle stood eight chairs, flanking the conference table
from two sides. To Vela's right sat her superior officer, and she
briefly considered him. After having served under him almost six
years, Watson knew well that the expression he wore on his face at
that moment was as haughty as it would get during talks. While she
knew it was unnoticeable for anybody else, that almost ever-present
look was as clear as ever for her to see and the Lieutenant sighed
inwardly. Once again, she was witness to the very reason why
Ashcroft had not made it to Captain yet.
Shaking off the thought, Vela turned her head slightly so that
she could see Ayala, the security officer, from the corner of her
eye. Tall, dark and handsome, she thought. Seemingly every woman's
desire. With looks like that, she knew, he should be brazen and
seductive. And yet from what she gathered from their short
exchanges, this was hardly the case. Here was a man of few words,
quiet and serious in everything he did despite the trace of anger
the Betazoid part of Watson caught. A curious man, she decided,
before settling her gaze on the fourth member of their diplomatic
The Doctor. Voyager's Chief Medical Officer. A hologram. Truth be
told, she thought, she had been against the concept of a sentient
hologram, and Janeway's assigning one to their team had been a
reason for Watson to doubt the Captain for a moment. But she was
over that by now, her keen perception having quickly noticed that
this hologram was more than photons and forcefields. How much more
she could not be sure yet, but she was willing to give him a chance,
which, she knew, was more than could be said for Kevin Ashcroft.
Presently, she regarded the Doctor, wondering who was more human: he
or her superior. Resolving to keep an eye on the Doctor and his
affiliation with his Vidiian counterpart, Vela Watson turned her
mind back to the topic at hand.
Just in time too, for the Commander had just posed the first
"I hope you'll understand my reasons for asking, Mar, but why
exactly does Vidiia want an alliance with the Federation?"
Kalani nodded. "Of course, Commander. It's really quite simple.
As you can imagine, the war has left us depleted. All our resources
have been severely reduced throughout the last several months. And
we didn't have much to begin with; we were only just starting to get
our feet under after the phage."
General Caddock, who was in charge of security, continued where
the leader had left off. "While formally the Alliance has not ceased
to exist, it was only formed because of the war. As long as we were
needed by the Alliance's other members, everything was all right.
The Devore, the Krenim - even the Kazon - would do nothing to us but
say things. We were safe. Now, with the Sernaix threat eliminated,
we can't trust them at all."
The Mar took charge again, saying, "And so we need a strong ally.
We don't wish the others wrong, but we want to know they won't
attack us. With the Federation as our ally, they wouldn't dare. The
only ones foolish enough to do so are the Kazon, and them we are not
"We just want some time to restore ourselves," Emorin said with a
sigh, a trace of a stutter in his explanation. "With the phage gone
and the Sernaix hopefully nothing more than a memory, we want to
rebuild Vidiia as it had once been."
Nodding in acknowledgement of his Internal Affairs Advisor's
words, Kalani tilted his head to the side slightly and regarded the
leader of the Federation diplomats. His voice quiet and smooth, he
put forth the question that had been nagging at his mind ever since
Ashcroft had asked about their motives.
"Surely, Commander, the Federation has nothing against an
alliance for such reasons?"
The human shook his head in the negative. "The Federation, as a
general rule, is happy to ally itself with anyone whose intents and
deeds are the same as those the Federation strives for." Lifting a
hand at the sight of a grin spreading across the Mar's face,
Ashcroft continued, "However, we always have to make sure that such
is the case. It is not that we do not trust the Vidiians
specifically, it's just the way things are done."
Kalani smiled widely, with an answer already leaving his lips.
"Of course, Commander. We understand the importance of such things
as procedure and protocol. Now, may I invite you all to lunch? We
have, after all, just completed the first step of the negotiations,
Watson's eyes narrowed slightly as she looked at the Vidiian
leader. There seemed something off about him, she surmised. The way
he spread his arms as if trying to convince them that he was
trustworthy. The way the words rolled off his tongue as if each one
had been individually coated in honey. The smile that seemed a
little too... eager?
Quickly putting the thought away for future consideration, Vela
rose from the chair she had been occupying and followed the others
out of the room.
When they had all settled back into their seats, Ashcroft
none-too-bluntly asked his next question.
"Have you stopped the organ-harvesting?"
Though wincing at the term, Kalani nodded, answering smoothly.
"We have. We were never proud of it to begin with. We only even
considered it because we saw it as a necessity to assure our
survival. When the cure was found, we more than willingly stopped
Noticing Pel narrow her eyes slightly at the last sentence, Vela
studied the Mar for a moment before asking a more specific
"Have you disposed of the instruments you used?"
"No, we still use them."
Kalani raised a hand at the hologram's outrage and spoke in a
sure voice. "Tell me, Doctor, would you really throw away a tool
that would let you help your patient without having to operate on
him? Heal him without cutting his flesh? Take away the pain without
inflicting more pain? Would you?"
The EMH was left to shake his head. "No, of course not."
"That is what we do. The herano is the perfect way to extract an
organ out of a body, operate on it, and then return it to the
patient. It spares both nerves and hurt, not to mention time and
funds." Settling his gaze back on Ashcroft, the Mar continued in a
determined voice, "We will not change this. Whatever the herano has
been used for in the past, it is now used as ethically as you would
use any other medical instrument."
The Commander nodded in accord. "Of course, Mar. I must say the
concept itself of operating without a creating an incision seems a
bit strange to me, but I agree that such a use of this herano is
ethical. And you need not worry; far be it from the Federation to
It was that same evening that a get-together was organized in the
sikelt ballroom, offering a reprieve from the talks to both teams of
diplomats. Similarly to earlier in the day, tables full of food were
lined up along the walls while the middle of the room had been
cleared, providing a space for dancing.
Popping a small treat into his mouth, Ayala looked around. Mar
Kalani stood to one side, conversing with General Caddock and
Commander Ashcroft. His younger partner, Lieutenant Watson, who had
finished talking with Gilar Emorin a few minutes earlier, was now
chatting amiably with the Doctor.
Finally, Mike's scrutiny settled on the other medic in the room,
who was now glancing around in much the same way as he was. Their
eyes met for a moment and she smiled at him before letting her gaze
wander back to the hologram.
Understanding the situation as soon as she had made that move,
Ayala strode purposefully towards Voyager's Chief of Medicine. He
gave a slight nod to Watson, a wordless apology for his intrusion,
and she stepped back, giving the two men some privacy. Again Ayala
nodded, this time in thanks, then turned towards the Doctor, who was
only too happy to question the man's intents.
"What is it, Lieutenant? I was just-"
"Avoiding Doctor Pel?"
"Why- no! Of- of course not!" The hologram quickly glanced back
at the woman in question, who in turn blushed and averted her gaze.
He narrowed his eyes at Mike, "Does it look like that?"
"It IS that, Doctor."
He grumbled something about security officers sticking their
noses into other people's business, but his eyes once again strayed
to Danara. Had Ayala been anyone else, he would have sighed. As it
was, the quiet man just shook his head a little.
"Why don't you ask her to dance?"
Finally registering the soft tunes of music flowing around the
room, the Doctor raised an eyebrow. Again, he glanced back at the
other medic before asking speculatively, "You think I should?"
Accustomed to reading between the lines, Ayala placed a hand on
the hologram's shoulder. "She'll accept."
"I didn't- You think so?"
"Yes, I do. Now go before she thinks you're not interested in
her," Mike said. A nudge in Pel's direction stopped any further
The Doctor stumbled slightly because of the shove, but soon
regained his footing and walked towards Danara still a bit unsure,
but nevertheless determined to at least try.
She smiled at him as he approached her. With a grin and a twinkle
in her eyes, she greeted him, "Doctor."
He caught on quick enough and with a polite nod of the head
responded in kind. "Doctor."
The exchange left them quiet for a few moments, the two of them
standing awkwardly, both unsure what to do. Finally, gathering up
what was left of his courage, the Doctor cleared his throat.
"Uh, Danara... Would you... care to dance?"
Her eyes brightened up immediately. "I thought you'd never ask,"
she answered, looping her arm through his as he led her to the dance
"Actually," he confided as he let his hands rest on her hips, "I
thought so too."
Her quiet laughter filled a part of his heart that the Doctor
suddenly realized had been empty for much too long.
With a soft smile, he looked down at the woman in his arms,
reveling in how her own lips curved in happiness, how pale her
cheeks were in the evening light, how soft her hair seemed to
How wonderfully green those eyes that gazed straight at him were.
Bright, clear emeralds one could lose himself in. So
During all the talks she had been a part of in her decade-long
diplomat career, Lieutenant Vela Watson had always taken it upon
herself to learn as much as possible about the people she was
Sometimes those were honest and true, their intents and wishes
exactly such as they had presented them to the Federation. Sometimes
they were the direct opposite, lying and veering around the
questions to obtain their secret goal. More often than not, however,
the team consisted of several people whose objectives and sincerity
Such was the case this time, Vela realized, as she regarded the
four Vidiians seated across from her.
Straight across from her superior sat Mar Maeno Kalani, the
Vidiian leader. Quite an imposing man, wearing what seemed to be a
cross between a uniform and traditional garb. He was handsome in his
own way, nearing a distinguished age, with eyes a few shades darker
than his silver hair. His voice was usually deceivingly soft, its
more steely quality hidden no doubt for the duration of the talks
with the Federation diplomats. To Watson, Kalani seemed sure of
himself despite his attempts at proving the opposite. It did not
work. Even if Ashcroft were fooled, she knew better than to trust
Shaking her head, resolving not to think wrong of a man she did
not know yet, she switched her gaze to the man sitting to Kalani's
left, opposite Lieutenant Ayala. The Security General, Sen Caddock.
He was quite a few years younger than the Mar, bangs of black hair
falling into his eyes, which were a striking mixture of gray and
mauve. Both in his actions and his words he contrasted with Ayala,
exuding an air of strength in a much more violent way than his human
counterpart. Every move was similar in this, as if designed to
provoke fear in those who were with him. His voice, low and gruff,
seemed to perpetually have a warning tone in it, and Watson found
herself wondering if this was the same voice Caddock used when he
spoke to his friends, his wife, or his children.
Once again realizing she was getting sidetracked, the diplomat
turned to inspect the man sitting on the other side of the table,
directly across from her. Unlike the two previous men, Gilar Emorin
was a none-too-remarkable individual. Tall and lean with dark brown
hair and bright green eyes, he evoked in Watson's mind the image of
a hard-studying pupil, who was rarely seen with his nose out of a
book. Indeed, were he a human, he only lacked the glasses that were
characteristic of such people, despite the long-gone need for those.
She had never figured out why some scientists - especially
physicists - chose to wear glasses instead of having a doctor
correct their eyesight. But that was beside the point. This man, the
Internal Affairs advisor to the Mar, seemed to be... Her eyes
narrowed slightly as she studied the Vidiian, then widened in
disbelief as she recognized the look. He was afraid. What of,
though? She had no clue. The fact was, however, that as shy as
Emorin was, reclusive almost, was strange for a man in his position,
unless fear was in the picture. She would have to get to the bottom
of this, she knew. It more than likely had something to do with the
Finally, Watson's gaze came to settle on the Vidiian doctor.
Young, attractive, and from what she had gathered from bits of
conversation, quite the scientist. Once not much more than a field
medic, now a leading hematologist, Danara Pel seemed to be the
honest one of the four. She smiled often, an expression that would
reach her eyes when she looked at Voyager's Doctor, and her
laughter, the few times Watson had heard it, was melodious and
Relying on her Betazoid senses, Vela frowned. While Pel appeared
happy not only about the Doctor's presence, but also Voyager's, she
seemed at the same time unwilling to go through with the talks.
Strange. Of the four Vidiians she would have thought Danara Pel to
be the most likely to want an alliance with the Federation.
"Have you made reparations to the races you attacked?" Ashcroft
asked, breaking Lieutenant Watson's train of thought.
Kalani seemed a bit reluctant, but answered the question, "No, we
have not. Vidiia is still too weak, not only militarily, but also
economically. We have not had the means to make such reparations
yet. And, truth be said," he confessed, looking slightly askance,
"we can't be sure any such compensation would be accepted."
It was Emorin who answered, his gaze kept focused on the table
before him. "We've done them much wrong. They do not trust us
"No wonder," the EMH muttered under his breath, just loud enough
for his immediate neighbor to hear him. Lieutenant Watson glanced at
him, the look in her eyes a mixture of reproach for not keeping
comments like that to himself and of agreement with his
"But," Kalani continued, unaware of the medic's remark, "we're
also hoping that our help against the Sernaix might prove to be a
factor in our favour. We were going to ask to meet in the nearby
future with the leaders of the races we attacked. For now, we're
just trying to stabilize our economy, so that we have the means to
make those reparations."
On the second day of the talks, the weather on Vidiia was far
better than it had been the previous day. With the sun shining
brightly and the general feeling of happiness in the air, the Mar
had proposed that the lunch be consumed in the sikelt gardens.
The eight of them had been chatting in small groups for a few
minutes when the Doctor sighed, looking around. Glancing towards his
companion who was presently taking a bite out of one of the snacks
provided by the local chef, he gathered up his courage for the
second time in as many days.
"Danara," he whispered, leaning in slightly so as to make sure
she would be the only one to hear him. "Would you care for a
Just like the previous evening, she smiled up at him brightly and
nodded, letting him grasp her elbow gently to lead her away from the
rest of the diplomats.
"So," she started when they were a slight distance from the
others, "tell me how it is that you're down here, on Vidiia?"
He grinned, immediately understanding her question. A brief
thought crossed his mind as he wondered why she had not brought up
the matter earlier, but he decided she must have been in too much
shock at seeing him to ask him then and there. And after that, she
had probably opted to wait with the question until they were alone,
without the other Vidiians around... For all she knew, whatever
means had been used to get him to the planet were confidential
"See this?" he asked, pointing at the small device attached to
his arm. "I got it about a year after we last saw each other. As you
can see, it not only freed me from the confines of Sickbay, but from
the whole of Voyager."
She seemed genuinely interested in the little piece of technology
as she took a closer look at it. "What's it called?"
"A mobile emitter," the EMH answered proudly.
Danara laughed at the slight way he had puffed his chest out and
laid a hand on his arm, smiling.
"It's so good to see you on Vidiia, Schmullus."
A loud blast drowned out her name for him and the clearing was
suddenly filled with smoke seemingly coming from nowhere.
Somebody, one of the diplomats cried, quite unnecessarily,
It all happened too fast for him to react properly. One moment
there was only smoke and silence, and the next he felt himself being
dragged away from where he thought the others has been. His vision
impaired by the smoke and still in slight shock from what had just
happened, he let the invisible hands pull him, then help him into
what he supposed was a shuttle. His arms were pulled behind his
back, fastened there with some kind of rope, and he was lead further
in. Pushed down until his legs gave way, he slid down to the floor
to lean against the shuttle bulkhead just as the door closed with a
His last conscious thought before he slipped into shock was that
he should not be slipping into shock.
Meanwhile, outside, the smoke was clearing away slowly and
Vidiians and Starfleet officers alike were gathering themselves up
from the ground.
A woman with faint ridges across the bridge of her nose and
piercing, black eyes struggled to a where she had last seen two of
the diplomats. She looked around, and saw nothing but two pairs of
fresh tracks in the grass, all but evident signs of someone having
been dragged across the clearing.
Turning back, Vela yelled to the others, "They took the