Disclaimer:
Paramount owns all things Star Trek Voyager.  I don’t.  Only borrowing  them. Etc. Etc. Etc.                          

Rating:         
R – for occasional sexual references and the odd swear word.

Summary:    
Back in the Alpha Quadrant, debriefings and parties over, Kathryn and her crew go their separate ways. Unable to settle and with her life empty, Kathryn struggles to find a purpose for herself and a place to feel really needed, totally unaware that most of her former crew are equally lost and unhappy.  With the help of some new friends, she finds that purpose and a new life but then tragedy strikes, leaving her and her adopted ‘home’ and ‘family’ in dire need of help.  Can the former Voyager crew come to their rescue before it’s too late?  And in doing so, can they also ‘save’ themselves and build a new life they can all share?

Thanks:        
To Judy –
my ever patient beta and friend.  For your encouragement and ‘whippings’ I thank you.  You worked so hard on this and lost so much sleep.  It wouldn’t have been finished without you.

To KJ –
for it all and for keeping me sane at times. 

To Pat - 
For friendship and encouragement.



THERE’S A PLACE FOR US.

By KAT LADY.



PART TWO.


Kathryn stopped working and leaned heavily on the spade she held.  Using the sleeve of the tunic she wore, she wiped at her forehead.  A small giggle beside her brought her attention to the little girl sitting cross-legged in the dirt, digging with a small trowel.

“And just what do you find so funny, may I ask?”  Kathryn smiled fondly down at Julie, her constant companion.  In place of an answer, the little girl pointed at her own face and then at the soil.  Kathryn shook her head.  “I’ve got a dirty face, is that it?”  She got an eager nod in reply.  Kathryn kneeled down beside her and using her gloved fingers, marked the little face.  “Now we’re a matched pair.”  Julie burst into peals of laughter, a sound Kathryn and the others were hearing more and more.  She had yet to speak properly but she was making the odd strange sound and Kathryn found she was getting to understand the child’s meanings a lot of the time.  She looked down at where the girl was digging.  “What are you planting?”  Julie shrugged and pointed to a bag beside her.  Kathryn looked and smiled.  “You’re taking my potatoes and planting them too?”  Julie nodded and looked uncertain for a minute.  Kathryn just laughed.  “That’s fine sweetheart…I need all the help I can get.”

Kathryn sat in the dirt and watched as her small charge continued to dig, measuring the depth of each hole with a stick, before dropping in one of the seed potatoes.  Kathryn smiled to herself as she watched, amazed as usual at the exactness the child brought to her task, just as she did with everything she undertook.  Kathryn sighed deeply to herself.  Julie was indeed a very special child and Kathryn felt tears come to her eyes as she remembered Jonathan telling her about the girl. 

Julie had been one of the children brought to the refuge by a human women, who claimed to be the child’s aunt.  She had explained that the child’s mother, her sister, had died in childbirth.  Julie’s conception had been the result of a rape, just like most of the children.  The details the aunt gave were sketchy but as far as she knew, her sister had been raped when the ship she was travelling on had been boarded by Cardassian soldiers.  Half the crew and passengers had been killed before a Federation ship had intervened and fought off the Cardassians.  The woman’s husband, who had been fighting with the Maquis and been out of touch all the time, returned home to find his wife dead and a mixed race daughter of three years old, who had secretly been raised by the aunt, who had kept the truth to herself.  He had vowed revenge and had threatened to murder the child, whom he saw as responsible for his wife’s death.  Doing her best to keep the promise she had made to her dying sister, to protect and look after the girl, the aunt had run with the child and found out about the refuge.  Unable to take care of a child herself while hiding from her brother-in-law, she had felt it best to leave Julie with Jonathan and Duncan.  That had been just over two years ago and Julie had never uttered a word since being left.  Kathryn was the first person the girl had even responded to, despite numerous attempts by Jonathan and the other psychologist, Lorcha.

Julie looked to Kathryn now for approval and smiled at the nod she received.  The child looked more human than Cardassian and Kathryn smiled at the dirt smudges on the small face.  Her ridges were barely visible.

“Hey Julie…”  The girl looked up.  “How about tomorrow we make a start on your cart…”  The little face lit up.  “It may take some time but at least you and the other girls will have a cart of your own and not have to keep annoying the boys for theirs…”  Julie seemed to think about that and nodded before breaking back into a wide smile.  Kathryn shook her head.  “OK honey, you have a deal.  Now…I better stop slacking and get back to work.  These things won’t plant themselves…”  She groaned and laughed at the same time, as she began to raise herself from the ground.  “Oh Julie…I’m getting old…”  She stopped suddenly as a shadow fell across her and she looked up into the face of a stranger.

^^^^^^^^^^

Kathryn was aware of a few things happening over the next few moments.  She instantly felt Julie freeze beside her, something telling her that this wasn’t just fear of a stranger but something more.  She also felt herself fall back in time, her Starfleet training flooding back to her as ‘the Captain’ snapped into place.  Kathryn stood quickly, her grip tightening on the spade she held and faced the large man before her.  She reached down beside her with one hand, grabbing Julie by the shoulder, pulling her up and pushing the girl behind her.

“Can I help you?  Who are you?”  Kathryn kept her voice steady and held the man’s eyes.  He didn’t speak for a moment, staring at Kathryn, before his gaze fell towards Julie.  Kathryn immediately saw the look of hate on his face.

“I’d know it anywhere and of course the name…”  He looked back at Kathryn and sneered.  Kathryn felt her heart pounding and gripped the spade with both hands now.

“What would you know…?”  She felt such a threat from this man and knew she needed to keep him talking.  He laughed cynically and pointed behind her.

“It.  That thing.”  Kathryn's face hardened. 

“Look…I don’t know who you are but ‘that’ is a child…”  She jumped as he threw his head back and laughed.

“That is the spawn of the devil…they all are.  It’s taken me a long time to find it but now that I have…I’m here to destroy it…”  The evil glint in his eyes sent chills down Kathryn's spine.  She felt all her defensive instincts coming out in her.

“You won’t touch her.  How did you get here anyway…?”  Kathryn eased back from him, hoping Julie would move with her.  The man before her laughed again.

“Oh I’ve been here some time and I will touch it.  I’m here to kill the thing that murdered my wife…”  Kathryn's fears were confirmed now.  This was the husband of Julie’s late mother.  He moved his hand now from behind his back and Kathryn felt a fist of ice in her chest as she saw the knife he held.  She looked around her quickly and prayed that someone would be around to see what was happening, but there was no one.  They were in the fields well away from the main buildings.  She tried to keep her voice steady.

“You won’t lay a finger on her.  Look…let’s just talk…”  He moved so quickly, Kathryn didn’t have a chance to react.  His hand shot out and wrenched the spade from her hands, sending her staggering back.  Kathryn held her balance and reached behind her, holding Julie to her.

“No talk.  I have a job to finish here so just get out of the way and let me get on with it…”  Kathryn faced him bravely.

“No one is harming this child…”  The man before her laughed evilly.

“What?  Over your dead body?  That can easily be arranged…”  Kathryn stepped back again, feeling Julie move with her.

“She’s just an innocent child and you’re not thinking straight.  You don’t want to do this…”  He moved quickly again and made a grab for Julie, trying to push Kathryn out of the way.

“Give it to me…it has to die…they all have to die…”  Julie screamed as Kathryn fought to keep her own body between the man with the knife and the small child.  She grabbed at him, determined to pull him away from the girl.  She screamed to Julie at the same time.

“Julie…run…get help…”  She fought to keep a tight grip on the man’s clothes, determined to hold him long enough for the small girl to get away.  She vaguely saw the child racing across the field and struggled to keep the man from following her.  She cried out as she felt the blade cut into her arm, her gloves helping to protect her hands in some way. 

Kathryn was no match for this man, despite her months of strenuous work outdoors or her training.  It flashed across her mind that he had been Maquis once and would have had similar training to her own, but he was at least twice her size and much stronger.  She felt herself being pushed down to the ground and fought to remain standing but lost the fight.  His weight bore down on her as she struggled to keep the knife away from her body, but whereas her gloves had protected her hands from the knife, now they hindered her in trying to grapple with his hands and arms.  She cried out again as she felt the knife slice at her face.  She saw the madness in his eyes as he swiped at her face and neck again and again with the blade, before driving it down into her chest.  As pain exploded in Kathryn, she vaguely heard shouts and saw the man above her look up, ripping the knife from her chest as he did.  He was instantly on his feet and running, leaving Kathryn sprawled on the ground in agony with blood pouring from her wounds.

^^^^^^^^^^

What followed was a blur to Kathryn.  She was vaguely aware of Duncan’s concerned face looking down into hers, his hands pressing down on the deep wound in her chest.  She fought to breathe, desperately trying to draw air into her lungs as pain consumed her.  She managed a strangled sound.

“Julie…”  Duncan’s soft voice reached her.

“Lie still, Kathryn.  Don’t try to talk.  Julie’s fine.  You’ll be fine.”  Kathryn's head rolled to the side as she saw more and more people coming.  Her vision blurred as she continued to fight to breathe.  Odd words drifted over her as she felt hands touching her.

“Stretcher…think her lung is collapsing…blood loss…get her to surgery now…”  Everything spun around her as she felt herself lifted and then carried, a weak moan escaping her lips.  Shouts still sounded around her but she couldn’t focus on them.  Pain rolled over her in waves as her breathing grew worse and she felt the edges of blackness closing in as a coldness seeped into her.

“Julie…”  It was a bare whisper and then the kindly face of Cassa was smiling down softly at her.

“Just take it easy, Kathryn.  Julie’s fine.  We’ll take care of you.”  Kathryn fought to focus.

“Cold…”  Cassa stroked Kathryn's hair.

“You’ll be just fine.  We’ll take care of you…”  Cassa looked into Duncan’s eyes and saw her own fears reflected there.  She looked back down at Kathryn and saw her eyes close.  “You’ll be fine, Kathryn…just hang on…”  She knew the woman on the stretcher could no longer hear her.  She looked up at Duncan again then turned to Roberto and Eugene who carried the stretcher.  “Get her into the clinic as quickly as possible.  Straight into surgery.”  They nodded and hurried away as fast as they could, careful with their precious load.  Cassa exchanged a worried look with Duncan.

“We haven’t much time.  She’s losing massive amounts of blood and her lung is collapsed…”  He nodded and gripped her arm as they rushed inside.  He called to the shocked people behind him, seeing Lorcha holding a terrified Julie.

“Get Miriam and Dressa here now…Galan and Greta too if you can find them.  They were working in the far fields.”  Olga ran off, calling behind her.

“I’ll get them.  Miriam and Dressa are already inside.”  Duncan nodded his thanks and exchanged a weary look with Jonathan who had just arrived.  Few words were needed.

“Just see to Kathryn, Duncan.  We’ll take care of everything else…”  Duncan managed a small smile and hurried into the clinic.

^^^^^^^^^^

Duncan and Cassa worked frantically over the next two hours to stem the flow of blood from Kathryn's wounds and re-inflate her collapsed lung.  Once again, Duncan wished for more up to date equipment but finally it began to turn their way.  Cassa shouted to Galan for more blood as she began to close the deep chest wound.

“How are you going with that chest drain?”  She glanced up briefly at Duncan.

“It’s fine…working fine…  She’s breathing much better now although I’ll leave her on the respirator for awhile.”  He drew in a deep steadying breath as he placed a last stitch.  “How’s that chest wound…?”  Cassa met his eyes briefly again and nodded.

“Good.  All blood loss stopped.”  She stood back, letting Dressa take over the final stitches.  “God Duncan…we barely had enough blood.  That was too close…”  They locked eyes and he nodded.

“I know.”  He looked down at their patient.  “We’ll ask the questions later.  For now let’s see what we can do about her facial and neck injuries.”  Cassa nodded and gave Miriam some instructions for what they’d need.  She turned to Duncan then.

“She’s going to have scars from this, Duncan.  You know that.  We don’t have the equipment…”  Duncan nodded sadly.

“I know.  Let’s just do the best we can for her.”  He turned to Miriam who was bringing what they needed.

“Miriam, you’ve sutured the wound on her arm?”  The young nurse nodded.

“It’s as neat as I can get it but there’ll be a scar there too.  We just don’t have…”  She didn’t finish and Duncan nodded and sighed deeply.

“I know.  There’s so damned much we don’t have.”  Cassa leaned towards him.

“Duncan, we have her life back.  That’s all that matters.  We have Julie…”  Duncan smiled his apology.

“I know and I don’t mean…  You know what I mean.  She just has such a beautiful face…”  He shook his head.  “Oh shit…you know what I mean.  Beautiful or not isn’t the issue.  I just hate to have her scarred from this because of some mad, evil bastard…”  Cassa smiled at him sadly.

“Let’s just do the very best we can.  Scar or no scar, she’ll always be beautiful.”  Duncan smiled and nodded.

“I know she will.  I know.”  They set to work.

^^^^^^^^^^

Jonathan and Lorcha spent the hours of Kathryn's surgery in the main meeting room trying desperately to calm the terrified children.  Even though they hadn’t witnessed the attack, they had seen Kathryn as she was brought into the clinic and heard everything that was going on.  Julie sat huddled against Lorcha the entire time, saying nothing.  Jonathan shook his head.  He looked around him and was filled with pride at the way the women were helping with the children, despite the fear he knew they had themselves.  He saw them put aside their own terror in order to reassure the children as best they could and it was working.  The kids drew from the calmness of the adults and slowly began to relax, although there was a lingering fear in all the small eyes.  He smiled towards Roberto and Eugene who had also stayed with the children and received reassuring smiles from them also.

He looked up as the door opened and John, Peter and Trevor came in.  They nodded gratefully to Seloma as she handed them towels and drinks.  Jonathan stood up, motioning to Hista and Olga to take his place and walked towards the men, motioning them into a far corner.  They followed him.

“Well…did you catch the bastard?”  The three men looked at each other and then shook their heads.  John sighed. 

“Fucker took off in a shuttle.  Had it over the other side of the woods.  We were so close…”  Jonathan nodded angrily.  Peter spoke now.

“Do we know who he was?”  Jonathan shook his head.

“Not yet.  Maybe Kathryn can…”  He didn’t finish.  Trevor asked for them all.

“Any word on her?  How she is or…?”  Jonathan shook his head.

“No word yet.  They’ve been in there two hours.  I’m trying to take that as a good sign.  The ‘no news is good news’ kind of thing…”  The men nodded.  John rubbed at his face.

“How are they all?  Julie must be terrified out of her mind.”  Jonathan shook his head and looked towards the young girl who was still clinging to Lorcha.

“She is.  I’m amazed how close she’s let Lorcha get to her.  It just shows how bad she is.  They’re all terrified but the women have been great.  Lou, Ria, Paula and Jule took them over immediately and began to calm them down…reassure them as best they could.  They split up into small groups and worked with them.  They’ve put aside their own terror in order to help us with the kids.  They’ve been wonderful but they’ll need some time with us later when we get the kids to bed.  They’ve had no release for their own feelings on all this yet and they’ll need it.”  They all looked up now as the door opened again and Duncan came in.  He looked at all the faces turned towards him and smiled then nodded.  He spoke loudly enough so they could all hear.

“She’ll be fine.  It all went very well.  She’s still asleep but she’ll be just fine.”  He caught Jonathan’s eye and nodded.  Only his partner could see just how bad it had really been, but he saw that he spoke the truth.  He let out the breath he found he’d been holding and nodded back.  He then made his way over to Julie.

“Hear that, Julie?  Mommy Kathryn is going to be just fine.  She’s all right.  She just needs to sleep for a little while and get some rest.  She’ll be fine though.”  Two small, terrified eyes looked back at him as he took a small hand in his.  “She’ll be fine, Julie.”  She slowly looked up at Lorcha who nodded also.

“If Daddy Duncan said she’ll be fine then she’ll be fine.”  Duncan watched and then came over, kneeling down by the small girl.

“Hey Julie…  It’s the truth.  I can take you to see her before you go to bed if you like.”  Julie nodded quickly.  Duncan smiled and reached for the little girl.  She went to him immediately.  “OK then.  You can see her for a few minutes and tell her goodnight but then you have to go to bed.  Mommy Kathryn needs her rest too but you can come back and see her first thing in the morning.  Is that a deal?”  He smiled gently and got a small nod.  “Right then…let’s go.”

^^^^^^^^^^

Several hours later, the staff sat huddled around the table in the kitchen, nursing lukewarm cups of tea.  The only ones missing were Miriam and Greta, who were keeping a close eye on Kathryn, and Roberto and Eugene who were keeping watch at the dorms.  The women had insisted on staying in the dorms also with their own children, believing that they were safer all together and that suited everyone.  Things were a bit overcrowded, with bedding set up wherever there was space and many of the kids sharing beds, but no one minded. 

The remainder of the staff were now meeting to try and work out what had happened.  Duncan let out a long breath.

“Just how the hell did he get through?”  Peter had an answer none of them wanted to think about.

“He got in because our security is crap.  The sensor systems we have in place just aren’t sophisticated enough.  We’ve always known that.”  They all nodded in agreement, hating to admit the truth.  Hista added to their worries.

“If he did this once, he can do it again.  We’re going to have to stay at high alert until…”  Trevor broke in.

“Until when?  He got away.  We’ve no idea who he was or where he is now.  We don’t even know what knowledge he has of this place although it was obviously adequate for him to get here and do what he did.  He had his getaway planned too.  I’d say he knew we couldn’t give chase once he took off.  He probably also knew that we couldn’t or wouldn’t be able to call on any authorities to report this.”  Hista joined in again.

“He could be back here and we wouldn’t even know it…”  Jonathan laid a hand on her arm.

“It’s all we can do, Hista.  We deal with one thing at a time and with what we can…”  Cassa joined in.

“Look, Jonathan’s right.  Besides, he’ll know we’ll be on high alert for him.  I can’t see him coming back any time soon…if at all.”  John shook his head and cleared his throat.

“It’s hard to know.  I don’t believe he’ll be back tonight…then of course he may take advantage of the fact that we’ll most likely think that and pick tonight.  He might be scared off completely or be more determined.  We just don’t know…”  Jonathan sighed heavily.

“We just need to stay on alert and do what we can.  For now, we have the kids settled for the night.  We’ve done what we can for the women and reassured them as best we can.  Until we find out more…”  John nodded agreement. 

“That’s all we can do tonight…but tomorrow…”  He shook his head.  “We need to know…  What I mean is…”  He swallowed.  “We have to ask…”  He looked at the others around the table.  “Was it us or was it Kathryn he was after?”  He saw several frowns and continued.  “We all know Kathryn's past and it is possible…  What I’m saying is…did he just go after her because she was alone with Julie…away from the main buildings and an easy target…or…was it deliberate…?  Did he seek her out?”  He sighed.  “I’m sorry…but we have to ask…”  Duncan nodded.

It’s OK John…you’re right.  We also have to ask if even Julie was the target...personally or simply as one of the children.”  Peter placed his cup on the table before him.

“I saw this guy…  I saw the way he moved.  To me it suggested he’s had some training.  He could have been here after anyone…just picked Kathryn and Julie randomly because they were alone…or it could be as John said…and he was after Kathryn.  We just don’t know…”  Duncan played with his cup.

“All we can do for tonight is post a security detail.  Then we wait until morning when Kathryn will be conscious to try and find out more.  We’ll just have to see what she can tell us…or even IF she can tell us something.  She may not know anything.”  He looked to Jonathan.  “Was Julie able to say anything?”  Jonathan shook his head.

“She’s too terrified.  Not that she could tell us anything anyway.  You saw her earlier.  It was only the terror on her face and her pulling at us that got us out there.  She couldn’t get any words out to tell us what was happening.”  Seloma leaned forward.

“What about Kathryn, Duncan?  Will she really be all right?”  The others all nodded.  Duncan smiled sadly.

“She’ll be fine.  She’s going to be in some pain for a while, which we can control, but she’ll be fine in time.”  He closed his eyes a moment before looking around at the others.  “She will be…she will be…scarred…her face…her neck and arm…her chest…  We did our best but…”  He leaned back, his face angry.  “You all know how it is.  The regenerators we have can only heal small cuts and wounds.  They can only do so much on cuts that deep and the rest has to heal naturally with sutures.”  He sighed deeply.  “The great medical advancements of the 24th century and we’re condemned to work centuries behind the times because…”  Cassa, sitting beside him, gripped his arm.

“Duncan, we’ve been through this.  We saved her life and that’s the most important.”  The others all voiced their agreement and Duncan looked around at them and managed a small smile.

“You’re all right…I know that.  I just feel so damned…impotent…at times…”  Jonathan laughed at that, trying to ease the sombre mood.

“Oh, you’re never that.  I can testify to that…”  Duncan glared at him a moment and then smiled as the others all laughed.  John stood up now, scraping his chair back.

“Right.  That’s it.  Lower the tone of the evening.  I don’t need to hear about your sex life…especially when I haven’t got one of my own.”  Olga patted his backside as he moved away from the table.

“Well big boy…you only have to ask…”  John stopped and turned back to her. 

“Big boy?  Who’s been telling all my secrets…?”  Everyone laughed, all of them needing the release from the tension.  Duncan stood also, trying not to laugh.

“When you’ve all gotten your minds out of the gutter, I suggest we try and get some rest.  We’ll take two hour shifts for security and dorm duty…”  Everyone nodded agreement and set about working out a rota. 

^^^^^^^^^^

Kathryn regained consciousness just before noon the next day.  Duncan was sitting in a chair beside her bed when she groggily opened her eyes.  He watched as she fought to make sense of where she was and what had happened.  He studied the transformation in her eyes as awareness slammed into her and was ready for her when she tried to sit up.

“Julie…”  He gently pressed her back down onto the bed.

“Easy Kathryn.  Julie is fine.  She’s just fine.  Don’t try and move yet.  Just take it easy…”  Kathryn groaned loudly in pain.  Duncan nodded to Dressa to hand him a painkilling hypospray.  “Just take it easy, honey.  I have something here for the pain.  It’ll kick in almost immediately.”  Kathryn nodded slowly as he pressed the hypo to her neck.  Within a minute, he saw it take effect.  “Better?”  Kathryn again nodded slowly.

Duncan sat again, handing the empty hypo back to Dressa and took Kathryn's hand in his.  He sighed inwardly as he felt how rough the skin was on her hands, remembering how soft they’d been when she’d first come to work with them.  He reached over now and brushed some hair back from her face.

“Kathryn, I hate to do this to you but…  I need you to try and remember…”  Kathryn squeezed his hand and nodded.  Her voice was barely above a whisper.

“It’s…OK…I…know…”  She took a moment and then continued.  “You need to…know about…him…what he…why…”  Duncan saw how the few words tired her.

“I’m sorry…but yes…we badly need to know if he said anything…said why he was here…”  Kathryn nodded again and closed her eyes a moment.  She tried to draw in a deep breath and winced.  Duncan stroked her face.

“It’ll hurt for a while…I’m sorry…”  Kathryn nodded slowly again.

“It’s OK…I’ve had…worse…”  She tried a smile which didn’t quite work.  Duncan smiled sadly at her.  Kathryn licked at her dry lips and then haltingly told him what she remembered.  Duncan listened quietly, keeping his anger in check as best he could.  When Kathryn finished speaking, he saw how exhausted she was.

“OK honey…that’s all I need to know.  You try and rest now.  We’re all so proud of you.”  He went to remove his hand from hers but she held him back weakly.

“Duncan…how bad…?”  He knew what she was asking and smiled softly.  He also knew this was a woman who would accept nothing but his total honesty.

“You had a chest wound…which was the worst of your injuries.  Your lung collapsed but we took care of that.  You still have a chest drain in but I’ll remove that later on today.”  Kathryn nodded weakly.

“Throat is sore…”  Duncan smiled again.  He reached for a cup of water and a straw, holding it for her as she sipped at the cool liquid.  She nodded her thanks.

“We had you on a ventilator for a while…a tube down your throat…just to help you breathe for a little time.  That’s why your throat is sore.  It’s gone now.”  He touched an oxygen line which crossed her face.  “This is just helping you for a little while.  It’s giving you some oxygen nasally.  I’ll take it off later too.”  Kathryn looked him in the eye.

“The rest…?  My face…?”  Duncan squeezed her hand.

“Your arm was cut…which wasn’t too bad…as well as your face…and on your neck…  We’ve treated them all…”  Kathryn moved her other hand, trying to touch her face but Duncan reached over to stop her.

“You’ll only hurt yourself.  It’s still very tender there…”  Kathryn barely nodded as Duncan held her eyes.  “We had to suture them…the cuts…”  Kathryn closed her eyes a moment and then opened them again.

“I’ll be scarred you mean…”  Duncan barely nodded and Kathryn looked away.  “How bad…?”  He squeezed her hand until she looked at him again.

“I don’t think it’ll be too bad…we did our best…”  Kathryn fought the tears she felt threatening.  Duncan stroked her hair again.

“Hey…you’re still beautiful…”  She looked at him sadly.

“I don’t care about the scars for me…  Will I scare the children…?  What about…?”  Duncan leaned over and kissed her forehead.

“Oh my dear friend…you always worry about others and never yourself.”  He looked deeply into her eyes, his face showing his sincerity.  “You listen to me now.  Those kids love you and will always love you.  Everyone here loves you.  Don’t you ever forget that.  You’ll have a few scars for a little while which won’t matter to anyone here.  And I say a little while, because next time we’re back on Earth, we’ll get them taken care of.”  He wiped at the tears which fell from her eyes.  “For now, there’s a little girl out there who’s alive because of you.  She wants her Mommy Kathryn so you’d better get some rest and get back on your feet as soon as you can.  No one here cares what anyone else looks like.  You’re beautiful now and you always will be…always have been.  We all love you and miss you so don’t you worry about a thing.  Just rest now.  Sleep and get better.”  Kathryn sniffed loudly and nodded, her eyes already closing.  Duncan went to stand but saw her eyes snap open again suddenly.

“Duncan…what about…did you get him?  Where…?”  Duncan shook his head.

“He got away but not for long.  Don’t worry.  It’s all in hand.  We’ve upped security.  He won’t be back…”  He saw her watch him closely and then finally nod, too tired to say any more.  “We’re all safe.  I promise you.  Now sleep woman.”  She managed a watery smile as her eyes closed again.  In seconds, she was asleep. 

Duncan moved away from the bed and looked into Dressa’s eyes.  He ran a hand through his hair and sighed deeply.

“Can you believe all that?”  The young woman nodded and smiled.

“Yes I can actually.  The woman I’ve come to know…consider my friend…”  She smiled.  “Yes, I can believe it.  She’s one very special person.  One of a kind.  It doesn’t surprise me in the least that she puts herself last.”  Duncan looked back at the sleeping woman and shook his head.

“I know what you mean.  I guess it doesn’t surprise me either.”

^^^^^^^^^^

Duncan sat with most of the other staff and several of the women as they discussed what Kathryn had told them.  They knew now who their ‘intruder’ was and Duncan’s anger was still clearly evident.  He looked around and saw the others match his emotions.

“OK people…we now know who he was and why he came here.  I’ve called you here for one main reason.”  He saw them all look back at him and tried a tired smile.  “I want to say one thing and I don’t want you to think I’m ordering this.  I just believe strongly in it…”  They all frowned.  John leaned on the large table they all sat around.

“Just say it, Duncan.  What is it…?”  Duncan sighed.

“I don’t want Julie to know who he was.  Maybe when she’s older…”  He ran a hand through his unruly hair.  “She just doesn’t need to know that her father came here and tried to kill her…”  Jonathan shook his head.

“Duncan, he’s not her father…”  Duncan shook his head in annoyance.

“You know what I mean…”  He looked back at his partner and shrugged.  “Sorry…”  Jonathan waved his apology away.  “It’s just the fact that anyone came here to try and hurt her…  She doesn’t need to know…”  Jonathan leaned forward.

“Duncan, she was there.  She heard everything.  She knows already.”  Duncan shook his head.

“Yes…but she doesn’t need to know all the details.  She doesn’t understand it all and I want it kept that way…  She knows that a bad man came here and tried to hurt us...  She witnessed what happened to Kathryn…and that’s bad enough.  He’s gone now and I want to keep stressing that to her.  She couldn’t deal with the fact that it was her he came here for.”  Lorcha spoke up now.

“Duncan, from what I remember…”  She scratched the side of her face.  “Didn’t he say that…about who he was and why he was here…when he stabbed Kathryn?”  Duncan saw them all looking to him for the answer to that.  He nodded.

“Yes, he did, but Julie was too terrified to hear his words.”  Lorcha shook her head.

“Duncan, she knows.  I’ve spoken with Kathryn too.  As she remembers it, Julie stiffened beside her.  That child knew who he was…remembered him from somewhere in her mind…”  Duncan splayed his hands on the table.

“OK…so maybe she does.  That being the case then…let me put it this way.  I don’t want her reminded.  She seems to have pushed that from her mind and I want that encouraged.  She’ll see Kathryn getting better and life returning to normal.  Let’s just treat her as normal…”  He looked around at them all and saw them nod their agreement.

^^^^^^^^^^

Within a week, Kathryn was shakily back on her feet, surprising everyone with her recovery and determination.  She was still weak but insisted that she wanted and needed to be around the others.  Duncan finally relented and allowed her to sit with the women in the day room, joining them as they sewed and created items which helped to improve all their lives.  They even taught her how to cut the children’s hair. 

Kathryn had been worried about the first time she would meet with the children again, afraid her scarred face and neck would frighten them.  Instead she had almost been swamped under a mass of small bodies as they’d all tried to hug her at the same time.  It seemed as if not one of them even noticed the marks on her face. 

The women had been more open with her.  Most had simply looked at the scars and shrugged.  ‘Not that bad at all’ or ‘They’ll fade in time…don’t worry’ were among the comments she received.  All in all, they helped Kathryn put her injuries into perspective.  The women silently taught her that who she was as a person was more important than how she looked.  It simply made no difference to them.  One of the women, Dara, had even laughed and said that Duncan could have at least tried to use the scars to make her look a little Cardassian, that then she would have been beautiful. 

Within a further week, Kathryn had outwardly learned to ignore her appearance and concentrated instead on getting on with her life.  In private though, she shed tears as she studied her reflection in the mirror.  She would sit and gently finger the red lines which marked her skin. 

“You wouldn’t think much of me now, Chakotay.  You wouldn’t want me now.”

^^^^^^^^^^

Life slowly returned to normal on Haven, at least as far as the kids were concerned.  The women knew such a threat could visit again but did their best to play down their fears in front of the children.  The staff knew differently though and kept a constant watch over everything and everyone.  No night passed now without a security detail, but this fact was kept from the women and children. 

Julie was the last of the kids to move past what had happened.  She found it hard to leave Kathryn's side, and on the rare occasions when she played with the other children, she always had to keep Kathryn in sight.  Jonathan and Lorcha worked hard with her and so by the end of a month, she began to very slowly relax, spending a little more time away from Kathryn and mixing a little better with the others. 

As more time passed and there was no sign of any further threat, everyone else began to relax slightly, although security details were still kept in place.  Duncan researched hard on finding a better system of protection for the small planet, but they all knew it would take time to get the funding together.  In the meantime, all they could do was hope and pray.

Kathryn gradually learned to live with her scars, even in private.  No one else made mention of them anymore, simply treating her as they always had and this helped her enormously.  There was only the odd down moment for her when she would sit somewhere on her own and softly finger the scars, allowing herself a few stray tears.  On one of these occasions, Jonathan found her sitting out at the back of the kitchen area as darkness fell.  Kathryn quickly tried to compose herself but she didn’t fool her friend.  He quietly sat down beside her and took her hand in his.

“You put on a good act most of the time, Kathryn.  You can’t fool me though.  I’m all seeing and all hearing.”  He smiled softly at her.  Kathryn just shrugged.

“I’m fine.  I can live with a few scars.  They’ll add to my other ones.”  Her bravado was false and they both knew it.  Jonathan shook his head and smiled sadly.

“Which ones, Kathryn…the physical or the emotional?”  She met his eyes and smiled.

“Stop playing shrink, Jonathan.  You’re as bad as Duncan.”  He raised her hand in his and brought it to his lips where he kissed her fingers gently.

“We just care about you.  You can’t blame us for worrying.”  He smiled softly.  “Which reminds me…  Duncan thinks you’re working too hard.  He told you light duties only…maybe some teaching…but no more.  You need to build yourself back up first.”  Kathryn rolled her eyes and laughed.

“I hear that from the lot of you.  I’m fine.  I prefer to work…”  Jonathan’s smile faded a little.

“Staying busy helps keep your mind off what happened?”  Kathryn sighed and smiled.

“You don’t give up, do you?”  He shook his head.  Kathryn laughed.  “OK, if it makes you feel better…yes…it keeps my mind occupied.  Of course I still think about it and I’d rather not.  Working helps me with that.  I’ve always been that way and I always will be.”  Jonathan nodded his understanding.

“I knew that.  It’s been that way since you first arrived here.  You always work hard to stop yourself thinking.”  He squeezed her hand.  “Does it work?”  Kathryn frowned.  “I mean does it help you forget about him and them…what was…?  And before you say it…I’m not prying or asking for details.”  Kathryn looked away quickly and stared out over the fields.

“I know you’re not.”  She was quiet for a moment.  “Not forget…  It stops me thinking sometimes…  That’s better than…”  She lowered her head.  “Let it go, Jonathan.  I try to.”  She looked towards him again and he smiled sadly at her.

“So we beat on…boats against the current…”  Kathryn frowned at his words.  He smiled.  “Borne back ceaselessly into the night…”  She shook her head as he supplied the answer.  “Old Earth novel…the last lines…  The Great Gatsby…if I remember correctly…”  Kathryn just nodded.

“I see.  Yeah…something like that…”  She sighed.  “Look Jonathan, that’s my past and it’s gone.  I can’t go back and can never re-create it.  Dwelling on what can never be or what never was…  You have to agree that doing that is just a waste of time and life…”  He nodded slowly.  “So then…I can’t change it.  I still have a right to feel sad about that from time to time though, haven’t I?”  He nodded again.

“You’re right.  And I should just let you do that.  We all need to grieve in different ways for different losses.  I’m sorry.  It’s just in my nature to try and make you feel better if I can.”  Kathryn smiled at him and squeezed his hand now.

“Look Daddy Jonathan…  I’m better than I was.  Take the way I was when you met me first…”  He smiled and nodded at that.  “Well then…I’m improving.  Give me credit for that.  I should be quite normal in another hundred years or so…”  Jonathan reached over and playfully punched her arm.

“All right lady…  I concede.  I just want to see you happy.  Last word on this.  Just know that if you ever want to talk or just cry or whatever…  Well, you know where I am.  Is that a deal?”  Kathryn nodded and smiled, then reached over and hugged her friend.

“Yeah…it’s a deal.”

^^^^^^^^^^

Kathryn continued to work harder than she should have, despite constant lectures from Duncan and Cassa.  Every other staff member gave her shorter versions of the same speech but she still pushed herself, hindering her recovery in many ways. 

Duncan found her one day in the school, down on her hands and knees, scrubbing the floors.

“For God’s sake, Kathryn…what are you doing…?”  His voice was raised and he didn’t try to hide his anger.  Kathryn just smiled as she looked up at him and wiped the back of her hand across her sweaty forehead.  Her hair hung limply in damp strands around her face.

“I’m washing the floors down.  What does it look like?”  Duncan leaned down and grabbed the scrubbing brush from her hands.

“It looks as if you’re pushing yourself far too hard again.  You taught classes here yesterday and now you’re back cleaning the place.  Can’t you stay away?  This can wait.  School is now out for the summer in case you hadn’t noticed.”  Kathryn sat back, her hands on her hips.

“I had noticed…hence the cleanup.  It’s the perfect time…”  Duncan wasn’t having it.

“Cut it out, Kathryn.  School only finished yesterday.  We have all summer to do this.  It’ll only have to be done again before the kids start back anyway…”  Kathryn continued to argue.

“Yes…but we use this building for meetings in between so it has to be clean…”   Duncan wasn’t having any of it.

“We had our meeting last night.  We won’t have another until the end of next week or middle of the week after…  Nothing else is planned.  Try again.  That one won’t work…”  Kathryn smiled.

“The summer classes we spoke of…?”   Duncan shook his head.

“Not planned for another month yet.  You lose.”  Kathryn tried to think and smiled at him.

“Give me a minute.  I’m thinking…”  Duncan growled in frustration and reached down, then bodily lifted her to her feet.

“Now you listen here to me, lady.  I’m blue in the face talking to you about this.  You’re pushing yourself far too hard and you know I’m right.  Had you listened to me at the start and done what I’d told you to do, you’d be fully recovered by now.  You didn’t, as usual of course, do that.  Now you’re behind with that recovery.  You’ve pushed me into a corner now and I’m angry with you…”  Kathryn put on a childish pout and dropped her head to the side.

“Ahh Daddy Duncan…be nice now…”  Duncan sighed and shook his head.

“The puppy dog eyes don’t work on me…”  Kathryn tried harder and finally won herself a smile.  “God damn it, Kathryn…you fight dirty…  You can be worse than the kids…”  Kathryn smiled softly.

“But you love me…”  Duncan gave her a gentle shake.

“I must…  If I didn’t, I’d put you across my knees and give you the spanking of your life…”  Kathryn just smiled coyly.

“Jonathan would not approve.  Besides, I’m not your type…”  Duncan rolled his eyes.

“What am I to do with you…?”  He reached down and picked up the bucket of water she had been using. 

“This goes down the drain.  You go out that door and head back to your room for a nap.”  Kathryn pretended shock.

“Ohhh…you are so sexy when you’re angry.  Jonathan is lucky…”  Duncan held his patience and smiled sweetly.

“It’s not working, Kathryn.  Sweet talk me all you like.  You’re still going to have that lie down and you’re on very light duties only for the next week…at least…during which time you rest each afternoon.  At the end of that time, I’ll check you out and if I’m happy with you then…I’ll consider letting you take on a little more.  That’s my last word on this.”  His face was deadly serious and Kathryn knew she’d lost.  She tried to out stare him for a moment and then gave up.

“Oh all right.  You win.  For now.  One week only though…”  She reached over and picked up an empty glass from a nearby desk.  “Can I at least get a refill of water before I leave?  It’s thirsty work.”  Duncan allowed a small smile and nodded.

“Go on.  Straight to bed then and sleep for the rest of the afternoon.”  Kathryn made a face at him and headed over to the small sink against the wall.  She filled her glass and then drained it, the cool water washing the dust from her throat.  Duncan watched her with a smile on his face.  “You’ve had your drink…now straight to bed.”  Kathryn made another face at him and placed her glass on a towel to drip dry.  She mimicked a child’s voice.

“Yes Daddy…right away Daddy…”  They locked eyes and both smiled.

^^^^^^^^^^

When Kathryn entered the kitchen that evening, Greta was helping with dinner.  She looked up and smiled as Kathryn reached over for a glass, then her face grew serious.

“Kathryn?  Are you feeling all right?  You looked flushed.”  She looked her over carefully.  Kathryn nodded and filled her glass with lemonade.

“I’m fine.  I’m just still a bit warm from my nap.  It’s been hot today.”  She drained the glass and smiled.  “You know how it is.  You wake up all sweaty.”  Greta nodded and smiled.

“Yes, I know.  Summer has come early here this year.  It was hot today.  That usually means a short season here…fall and winter coming in sooner.”  She smiled again at Kathryn.  “Just you take it easy though.  Duncan has given strict orders to everyone to watch you.”  Kathryn nodded and rolled her eyes.

“I thought he might.  I got the full lecture earlier.”  Greta shrugged as she placed some chopped vegetables into a pot.

“We just all care about you.  You can’t blame us for that.”  Kathryn smiled softly.

“I know.”  She reached for a knife.  “Come on.  Let me help.  Peeling a few things won’t hurt me.  I’ll even sit down while I do it.”  Greta shook her head and smiled.

“Go on.  You’ll only pester me to death otherwise.”  The two women shared a smile.

^^^^^^^^^^

After dinner, Kathryn helped Selona and Greta clear away, the other two women making sure they took on the bulk of the work.  Kathryn looked down at the plates they were clearing away.

“Some of the kids didn’t eat much tonight…a few of the women too…”  Selona nodded agreement.

“You didn’t either, honey.  I noticed that.”  Kathryn smiled softly.

“Too much lemonade before dinner.  Besides, it was too hot to eat much.  Maybe it was the same for the kids…”  Selona shrugged.

“Doesn’t bother my appetite…”  Greta laughed at that.

“Nothing ever bothers your appetite, Selona.”  Kathryn laughed with her as Selona pretended hurt.

“Are you two saying I eat too much?”  Greta put a shocked expression on her face.

“Selona, would we say that?  Why…that wasn’t you the last time we were back on Earth who ate a second helping of steak and then finished off an entire apple pie…with cream…”  Kathryn's eyes widened.  She whispered her words in disbelief.

“Selona, you didn’t…”  The other woman just smiled.

“I was just extra hungry that day…  Besides, everyone deserves a treat now and then…”  Greta groaned.

“What gets me though, is that she never puts on a pound.  Look at her.  Skinny as hell.  I just look at some candy and I gain five pounds.  Life is not fair at times.”  Kathryn joined in their laughter as she helped with the dishes.

“Oh, life has a way of catching you.  You watch.  Give her a few years and she’ll suffer middle age spread.  Then we’ll get even…”

^^^^^^^^^^

Kathryn woke early the next morning and sat up slowly.  She looked down at herself and frowned.  Her body was drenched in sweat and her head pounded.  She groaned as she slid out of bed and made for the bathroom.  She splashed cold water on her face and studied her appearance in the mirror.  Her eyes were instantly drawn to her scars, which seemed to stand out more this morning.  She then noticed how pale she was and understood why their redness was more pronounced.  She looked down her body, noting how flushed her skin seemed and how her nightdress was plastered to her skin.  She peeled it off and got into the shower, keeping the water as cool as possible.  Conscious of wasting water, she didn’t stay long and stepped out, towelling herself dry.  A sudden wave of nausea sent her racing for the toilet, where she dry retched more than anything.  She stood shakily and rinsed out her mouth.  She splashed more water on her face and then dried herself.  Feeling a little better, she dressed slowly, ignoring how tired she still felt and made her way down to the kitchen and dining area.

As she entered the kitchen, she found John and Peter working alongside Galan and Selona as they placed large pots on the stoves.

“What’s going on?  Is everyone starving this morning?”  Suddenly the thought of breakfast made Kathryn's stomach feel queasy.  Galan turned to her and shook his head.

“Some of the kids are sick…a few of the women too.  It seems to be just upset stomach but Duncan and Cassa asked for boiled water.”  Kathryn frowned as she looked towards several containers of hot water which were cooling.  She looked up and saw Galan staring at her with a concerned look on his face.  “Come to think of it…maybe you should go over to the clinic and join them.  You don’t look too good yourself.”  Kathryn watched as the others turned to look at her also.  Selona nodded.

“You don’t Kathryn.  You don’t look well at all.  You didn’t eat much last night either and it’s the same kids and women who weren’t hungry last night who seem to be sick this morning.  Galan’s right.  Go over to the clinic now.”  Kathryn went to object when John nudged her with his shoulder.

“Come on…come over with me.  I’m taking the first batch of boiled water over.  You can help me carry some.”  Kathryn sighed and shook her head, then smiled.

“I’ll help you but I don’t feel that bad so you can all stop fussing.”

^^^^^^^^^^

When Kathryn got to the clinic with John, it seemed as if a riot had broken out.  Several of the children were sitting on beds, with others on the floor.  Some of the women sat in chairs, holding their heads.  Duncan and Cassa ran around examining as many people as they could, while Miriam, Dressa and Greta handed round containers which were rapidly being filled as several of the kids were sick.  Kathryn immediately put aside how she felt and began helping.

For the next several hours, Kathryn worked alongside the others as they dealt with the sick children and women.  Duncan administered hypo after hypo, quelling the nausea of his patients.  Cassa pressed a second hypo to each of her charges, in an attempt to lower the fevers that had come on.  While no one was watching, Kathryn gave herself a similar dose of each drug, and feeling a little better, she worked on.

Before they knew it, it was mid afternoon and most of the patients had been sent to the dorms where they were watched over by some of the women who were still well.  Kathryn was helping to clear away when Duncan suddenly grabbed her arm.

“Don’t think I haven’t noticed you working here all day.  Enough now.  You look worn out.  Head back and get something to eat and then rest.”  He studied her closely.  “You don’t look too well.  Let me check you first.”  Kathryn pulled her arm from his loose grip.

“Duncan, stop fussing.  I’m fine.  I’ll go and get something now and then have a lie down.  I promise.”  He didn’t look convinced.

“You don’t look well.  How are you feeling?  Any nausea or fever?”  He went to feel her forehead but she turned away, on the pretext of placing some blankets down on a bed.

“Duncan, I’m fine.  Just hot and tired.  If I felt sick, you’d know it.  I’d have been throwing up just like everyone else…”  She gave him a quick smile and saw him ponder her answer for a moment.  Before he could say anything, Cassa called him for something and he turned away.  Taking her chance, Kathryn left the clinic and headed back to her room.

She was no sooner in the door when she felt her stomach rebel again and dove for the toilet.  As before, she had nothing to bring up and retched painfully for several minutes.  She sat back and wiped at her face, feeling her skin hot and clammy.  She stood slowly and made her way to the sink, washing her face.  She then reached into her pocket and pulled out the hypos she had taken from the clinic.  Feeling guilty, she pressed two of them to her neck and made her way towards her bed.  She lay down slowly as she felt the drugs begin to work and rolled onto her side.  Within minutes, she had fallen into a fitful sleep.

^^^^^^^^^^

Duncan stood with his back to the wall in the large dayroom and looked at Jonathan.  He shook his head and then turned to Cassa beside him.  Even though there was no one else in the room, he still whispered.

“You’re sure about this?”  She nodded slowly, whispering back.

“I’m sure…I can show you…”  He shook his head, a look of deep shock on his face and ran both hands through his hair.

“Dear God…I don’t believe this…”  He locked eyes with Cassa and lowered his voice even more.  “Poison…?”  She nodded. 

“I’ve checked and double checked.  At first, I just assumed it was a harmless bug…mild flu or something…the kind of unknown thing kids get all the time and pass to each other.  I then thought it had to be food poisoning…thinking what else could it be…but there was no common link between those affected in anything they ate so I dug a bit deeper.  I ran samples of blood from everyone who’s sick.”  She shrugged.  “I can’t identify it though…don’t have the equipment or the expertise…”  Duncan rubbed at his temples.

“Same old story…”  He looked to Jonathan again.

“Why only some of them?  If they didn’t eat the same thing, how did they ingest it?  How did it get into their systems?”  Jonathan shrugged.

“We’re working on that.  The others are talking to the kids and the women affected.  We’re trying to find a common link.  None of the staff are affected for some reason.”  Duncan sighed and tried to sort his thoughts.

“The medicines are only suppressing the symptoms.  As soon as they wear off, we’re back to square one.”  He looked to Cassa who nodded, confirming his words.

“They seem better for a little while and then they’re sick again.  The drugs are less effective each time though…and more symptoms are showing up.”  Duncan nodded, acknowledging the information.  He began pacing.

“What the bloody hell is happening here?  How did this happen so quickly?  Where did it come from?”  He looked at the other two knowing they didn’t have any answers.  He thought for a moment and then made a quick decision.  “Call a meeting.  All the staff we can spare and as many of the women as possible.  Normally I’d keep the women out of this until we know what we’re dealing with, but this is too serious.  They have to know.  Until the meeting though, the fewer people who know about this the better.  For now, we’ll keep this on a need to know basis.  We don’t need wild speculation and guesswork before we get everyone together.  I’ve already heard a few of the women use the word ‘plague’ in their fear of the unknown.”  He thought for a moment.  “Talk quietly to Eugene and Roberto…maybe Peter too…and get them working on this in advance of the meeting.  Kathryn’s hopefully sleeping so leave her for the moment.”  He turned to Cassa.  “Get Miriam to work with you.  She has lab experience.”  Cassa nodded quietly.  “Leave Galan and Greta at the dorm and a few of the women.  Get everyone else here.  Hopefully we can come up with something before the meeting.  We need answers and we need to figure out where to go from here…”  He looked at the two people before him, seeing his own worry reflected on their faces.  They nodded quietly and left.

^^^^^^^^^^

Kathryn awoke feeling worse than she could ever remember feeling.  Once again her body was drenched in sweat and she seemed to ache all over.  She raised a hand to her forehead and was alarmed at the heat she felt there, yet she shivered as a cold feeling seemed to surround her.  Her headache had also returned, pounding behind her eyes.  She forced herself from the bed and tried to stand up but a wave of dizziness forced her back down.  She sat for several minutes gripping the side of the bed until it passed.  Trying again, she managed to stand and moaned softly as every joint in her body seemed to protest at the movement.  Feeling her earlier nausea return, she swallowed to hold it back as she slowly made her way to the bathroom.  She gripped the side of the wash basin, not able to make it as far as the toilet bowl and leaned over, dry retching painfully into it.

When this stopped, she eased her way back towards her bedroom.  Her head snapped up now as she heard a knock at her door, followed by Hista’s voice.

“Kathryn…are you awake?”  Kathryn drew in a few deep breaths and tried to steady her voice.

“Hista?  Yes…I’m awake.”  There was a short silence.

“Are you all right?  You sound…”  Kathryn swallowed again and answered quickly.

“I’m fine…just woken up…sorry…”  She waited a few seconds before Hista answered.

“Listen…Duncan’s called a meeting in about twenty minutes…in the day room.  As soon as we can all get there in fact.  There have been some developments and the kids are worse.  He needs everyone down there together to discuss this…”  Kathryn dropped her head against the side of the door.

“OK Hista…I’ll just get dressed and be there as quickly as I can…”  She listened as she heard the other woman walk away then made her way to the bed and sat down again.  She reached over to the small locker beside her bed and picked up the two remaining hypos she had taken from the clinic and quickly pressed them to her neck then began pulling off her clothes.  Feeling better within a few minutes, she quickly washed and put on a fresh dress, the simple task exhausting her and leaving her breathless.  Summoning all her strength, she left her room and made her way to the day room.

^^^^^^^^^^

Kathryn tried to keep her face turned away from everyone and busied herself handing out cups of tea as the others found seats for themselves.  It was evening now and the room was in semi darkness so she kept to the shadows.  She listened as Duncan spoke.

“Right…there’s no sense in being anything but honest and direct here.  The sick are getting worse and we don’t know what we’re dealing with.”  He paused a moment.  “Well…that’s not true.  At first we thought it was food poisoning but…”  Selona cut in.

“Duncan, it can’t be.  I keep my kitchen spotless and I’m always so careful with storage and preparation…”  She looked upset and Duncan smiled reassuringly at her.

“We all know that, Selona.  Listerea or Salmonella can happen in the cleanest places though and we had to consider that.  It can be the food itself and not the kitchen.  As it is…that’s not the cause of this…”  Selona nodded but she still seemed uneasy.

“You’re sure…?”  She looked from Duncan to Cassa.  The Cardassian doctor nodded.

“I first ruled out a common bug…viral infection…general stuff and the usual suspects…  Food poisoning was the next most probable cause.”  She smiled kindly at Selona.  “I know how clean and hygienic the kitchen always is but I had to check anyway just to be sure.  The kids are in and out of the place so much that there was always the possibility that one of them had brought something in there that they shouldn’t have.”  Selona nodded but said nothing.  “I also checked the foodstuffs.  The meat in particular…and the dairy produce.  I checked the cold stores and the refrigeration units to be sure they were working properly.  A power or mechanical failure there could cause food to spoil without anyone noticing it.  They were all fine though.”  Selona nodded again and looked from Cassa to Duncan.

“What has caused it then…?”  Duncan hesitated a moment before he spoke.

“I have to tell you this…and there isn’t any easy way so I’ll just say it.”  He hesitated a moment more and then spoke.  “We know this is a poison…” 

Everyone outside of Duncan and those who already knew, gasped at that.  Kathryn felt the blood drain from her face and gripped the side of the table where she stood.  Duncan scratched at his neck.  “Cassa has checked blood samples from everyone and has been working on cultures all day, but we’re unable to identify exactly what it is…only that it’s a poison and it’s caused some kind of virus in those affected.  We simply don’t have the equipment for the kind of toxicology screening and testing needed to investigate further…no scanning equipment to identify it…”  No one missed the barely controlled anger in his voice.  He looked around at the others.  “Now…we need to try and isolate this…find out where it came from…if it’s naturally occurring…why only some are affected…”  Eugene coughed and leaned forward.

“Roberto and I have a theory on that…the only thing we can think of actually…”  Duncan nodded for him to continue.

“Anything…”  The vet nodded.

“We’ve worked out that those affected have only one thing in common.”  He looked around at the others.  “They were all at the school in the past few days…connected with there in some way…either at classes the day before yesterday when school broke up or at the meeting that evening.  The only flaw in that theory is that some of the others who were there aren’t sick…  However, it’s the only link with those who are sick that we can come up with.”  Duncan leaned forward.

“Go on…”  Roberto took over.

“Look, all the kids who are sick were at the school the day before yesterday.  Some of the others were out on that field trip with John and they’re fine.  So out of those who were there…the majority are sick.  The women who are sick were there the night before last at the meeting.  Not all of the women attended that and those who didn’t aren’t sick.  Once again, the majority who were there are sick.”  He paused and seemed to weigh his next words. 

“Look…to recap…”  He sighed.  “Only some are sick and they were all connected to the school.  No one else is sick…as in those who weren’t at the school.  Eugene checked the animals…the livestock and the pets…and they’re perfectly healthy.  Nothing wrong with them at all.  We also checked the crops…even the kids’ flower gardens…and they’re also fine.  Nothing has ever been sprayed on them that could cause this.  We’ve always grown organically.  We also checked all the stores and the greenhouses and nothing is out of order there either.  So…”  He paused a moment.  “It struck us…Peter in fact when we told him this earlier…that the water supply to the school is on a separate system to the rest of the place.  You all know how it works.  The river feeds the main treatment tank which runs to the shelters and dorms and then here.  That tank is well covered…buried in fact.  The water for the animals also comes from there as does the supply for the irrigation system feeding the fields to water the crops.  The other tank which feeds to the school comes from the upper stream.  The treatment tank there isn’t buried.  It’s covered but it’s loose.  Anyway…we took samples from both tanks and the river and stream.”  He looked around at all the faces riveted on his.  “Cassa’s running tests now.  She’ll let us know as soon as she has anything…if she finds something…”  Duncan leaned back and rubbed his hands over his face.

“So you think those who are sick drank the water there and the others didn’t?”  Roberto nodded.  “If it is…oh God…”  He sighed deeply.  “It could be something from up in the hills…some naturally occurring…”  Jonathan leaned forward.

“Could a dead animal have gotten into the water…or rotting vegetation?  In the stream or maybe the tank?  Something from that…?”  Cassa looked from one to the other.

“I don’t think it’s that.  While I can’t identify this…”  She shook her head.  “Everything in me tells me this isn’t natural.  Something about the structure and make up of what I’m seeing suggests otherwise…”  Olga joined in for the first time.

“Could it be…?”  Everyone turned to look at her and she blushed.  She looked from Duncan to the women.  “I don’t know if I should…”  One of the women spoke up.  She looked Duncan squarely in the eye.

“We’d prefer it if you just talked honestly and openly in front of us.  We know you mean well but you have to stop trying to protect us.  This is something we can’t be protected from.  It affects us all too much.  We need to know the facts and we need to know the truth.”  Duncan smiled at the woman a moment and then nodded.

“You’re right, Paula.  I’m sorry.”  She smiled back and then looked to Olga. 

“Please, Olga.  What is it you think?”  Olga smiled nervously and then nodded.

“OK, I’ll just say it.”  She hesitated just a moment.  “Could it be HIM again?  If this is deliberate…so fast acting…in the water…”  There wasn’t a sound as everyone tried to digest that.  Duncan leaned forward, placing his elbows on the table and looked at them all.  He took a moment to compose his thoughts and rein in his emotions.

“We’ll check the surveillance imagers…such as they are.  Maybe they’ll show up something.  If it is him…and I say ‘if’…”  He paused and watched the women in particular.  “If it is…we can’t deal with this alone…can’t cope as it is even…”  He looked directly at the women now.  “I know how scared you all are of outsiders… seeing or talking to anyone outside of here…letting anyone know…”  He paused a moment.  “However…  Over half the kids are sick and almost a third of the women.  As I said…we can’t deal with this alone…  We haven’t the medicines…the equipment…the expertise…  Our supplies are almost gone.  If someone is out there…if HE is still out there…”  He sighed.  “We need help…”  He looked closely at the women, seeing fearful eyes looking back at him.  He leaned back and looked at Jonathan a moment then turned away.

“Kathryn…what do you think…?”  He looked towards her and saw her back to them all.  Something stirred in him when she didn’t answer.  “Kathryn…?”  He watched as she turned slowly and moved towards a chair, also in the shadows.  “Kathryn…what do you think…?”  He saw her look towards him and then stop, her hand reaching out, groping towards the table behind her.  He scraped his chair back and was standing up, just as Kathryn went down, falling backwards against the table.  He saw the lightweight table give way as she fell against it, several cups smashing to the floor as she collapsed.  He was at her side in a second, Cassa beside him.  He heard someone call for the lights as he gently turned her over. 

“Kathryn…?”  His hand brushed her face and he drew it back, shocked at the heat he felt.  They all heard her laboured breathing.  He quickly turned to Cassa, his eyes saying everything.  She nodded and looked to Jonathan who had knelt beside them.

“I’ll take her…”  Jonathan leaned over and scooped an unconscious Kathryn into his arms, then headed for the clinic.  Duncan stood quickly and turned to address the others but no words came.  Eugene spoke for him.

“See to Kathryn first.  We’ll report to you.  Miriam was working with Cassa on the tests.  We can get any results from her and talk it through…”  Duncan nodded.

“We have to get outside help…can’t cope with this…”  Eugene nodded.

“We’ll talk here…  You go on…  Take care of her…”  Duncan barely nodded and rushed off.

^^^^^^^^^^

Duncan and Cassa were just finishing their examination of Kathryn when she began to regain consciousness.  She moaned softly as she fought to open her eyes.  Finally she won the battle and saw Duncan smiling down at her.

“Hey there…welcome back.”  He saw her try to speak, then lick at her lips.  He reached over and picked up a glass of water with a straw.  Cassa eased her up and held her as she drank. 

“This water is fine.  It’s been checked and filtered.”  When Kathryn pulled her head back, Cassa eased her back down, seeing how the small effort had exhausted her.  Duncan stroked her face, still feeling the heat radiating off her skin.

“Kathryn honey…how long have you felt like this?  You were ill earlier, weren’t you?”  Kathryn barely nodded.  “Why didn’t you say something…?”  Kathryn shook her head.

“You had…enough…to cope with…the children…women…”  Duncan sighed deeply.

“You should have told us…said something…about how bad you felt…”  Kathryn tried a tired smile.

“Don’t…fuss…”  Duncan shook his head.

“It’s my job to fuss.  Come on now…I need to know what you’re feeling and how long.  This is no time for bravado…”  Kathryn managed a slight smile.

“I feel…too bad…for that…”  She drew in a ragged breath.  “Nausea…was sick…vomited…headache…sweating…feel hot like burning…but chills… shivering…shaking…like flu…  Can’t stop shivering…”  She took a moment to catch her breath.  “Sorry…took some…hypos earlier…same as…you gave…the others…  Didn’t say…”  Duncan smiled softly.

“I’ll overlook that for the moment.  Anything else?”  She nodded slowly.

“Breathless…sore everywhere…aching…dizzy…cold…felt bad yesterday…worse today…”  Duncan nodded and briefly met Cassa’a eyes.

“You were at the school.  Taught the last day there.  Then you worked there yesterday.”  Kathryn managed to nod slowly.  “Did you drink the water…?”  He suddenly closed his eyes and groaned.  “You’d just finished a glass when I found you and you got another one…finished that too…I remember…”  Kathryn nodded again. 

“Was hot…thirsty…”  Duncan nodded.

“And when you were working there and at the meeting?  You drank it then too?”  Kathryn nodded slowly again.

“Sorry…”  Duncan stroked her face again.

“Kathryn, you have absolutely nothing to be sorry about.  Don’t worry now…we’ll get you better…”  Kathryn didn’t seem to hear him.

“How bad…the children…how sick are they…?”  Duncan shook his head.

“No change…  Look Kathryn, I want you to try and rest now.”  He saw how exhausted she seemed, fighting to keep her eyes open.  “I need to talk with the others but I’ll come back and see you soon.  Just sleep for now.”  Kathryn nodded again slowly as her eyes closed.  Duncan just sat watching her for a moment as Cassa took a blood sample then moved away.  He looked at her when she spoke.

“I’ll get working on this.”  She held up the sample of blood she’d just taken.  “I’ll give the other results to Miriam first for the meeting.”  Duncan nodded and turned back to look at Kathryn.

“This could explain why none of the staff outside of Kathryn are sick.  She took the classes the last day and the meeting was just the women on their own…  None of the rest of us were there…”  Cassa sighed.

“It’s possible.  It depends how long whatever this is, was in the water.  We could also just have a natural immunity to it or didn’t drink as much…  We might know more later…  In the meantime, I’ll pass on the results I have to Miriam for the meeting…”  Duncan stood but continued to look down at Kathryn.

“Thanks.  I’ll head over there in a few minutes.”  He heard Cassa leave but didn’t take his eyes off his patient.  Finally he looked up after a few minutes and smiled sadly at Dressa who came over to wipe Kathryn's forehead with a cool cloth.

“She never once asked how she herself was…how bad or what I thought.  She was only concerned about the kids…”  Dressa stopped and smiled sadly at him.

“We’ve had this conversation before…you and I…”  Duncan sighed and nodded, looking back at the sleeping woman before him.

“I know.  I just pray the outcome is the same.”

^^^^^^^^^^

When Duncan returned to the day room, he found most of the staff and many of the women already there, quietly talking amongst themselves.  They all went quiet as he entered and Jonathan stood slowly.

“Sit down, Duncan.  You look exhausted.  How’s Kathryn?”  Duncan sighed and made his way over to the large table where many of them sat, the others sitting around where they could.  He sighed and took the tea Selona gave him, gratefully sipping at it.

“She’s…not good…”  He saw the pained looks around him and shrugged.  “I don’t know…  She felt bad the last two days but said nothing.  She worked at the school yesterday and the day before…drank the water…maybe more of it than anyone else…  I found her there yesterday scrubbing the floors.  She’d already had a glass before I came and I watched her drink another one.”  He groaned and shook his head.  “She wasn’t exactly in the best of health before this even…”  He looked up and saw Miriam sitting across from him.  “I take it you have the results of the toxicology tests?”  The young nurse looked down at the table a moment and then back at him.

“There was something in the treatment tank which supplies the school…some contaminant.    It matches what we found in the blood tests.  The other tank is clear.  The samples from the stream and the river are also clear.  It was only in the school tank.”  Duncan leaned back, trying to swallow the anger he felt rising within him.

“Just that tank?”  Miriam nodded.  “In other words…whatever it is…didn’t get there by accident?”  She shook her head at that.  Duncan put his cup down, afraid his grip would smash it.  “It was put there deliberately?”  She again nodded.

“It’s the only explanation.  Cassa and I checked the tank itself.  Nothing had fallen into it or anything.  We even checked the vegetation around there.  There’s nothing poisonous which could have gotten into it…no berries or anything.  Peter was with us…and he agrees.  We checked the cover too and…”  She licked her lips and glanced at Peter who nodded and took over.

“We checked the cover again…more thoroughly this time.  I told you it was loose and that bothered me.  I was so certain it wasn’t like that before.  Anyway, it looks like it was tampered with…levered off or something.  There are scratch marks.  It’s a heavy enough cover.  Something would have been needed to push it aside.  It can’t be lifted by hand…not one person on their own anyway.  I always had at least two of the men with me when I worked there and needed to check it.”  Duncan lowered his head a moment and squeezed his eyes shut.

“So we can say that this…poison…whatever it is…was deliberately added to that tank?”  He looked up and saw them all nod in agreement.  Peter added more.

“I think we can also say we’re damned sure who did this too…”  He didn’t try to hide his anger.  “Bastard knew what he was doing as well.  He didn’t add it to the stream or river, knowing that running or moving water would disperse it.  Adding it to the tank…to still water…”  His voice trailed off.  Duncan slammed his hands down on the table, making everyone jump.

“We relaxed…let our guard down…  We should have been more careful…watched more…”  Jonathan cut him off.

“Stop that, Duncan.  It’s not going to help.  We have to decide what to do now.  This could be worse.  That bastard obviously believed that was the only tank supplying water.  If he’d known about the other one…or maybe he just didn’t have time to look for it…”  He didn’t need to say anything else.  Duncan leaned forward.

“Have the imagers shown up anything?”  Peter Walker cleared his throat.

“We’re still working on them…  I’ll look at what they picked up as soon as we finish here…if they picked up anything…”  Silence followed for several minutes until one of the women spoke up.  She cleared her throat and seemed almost shy.

“Duncan…please…”  Duncan looked towards her and smiled.

“I’m sorry…yes Jaal…”  The woman smiled and looked around her for a moment before continuing.

“It’s just that…”  She bit at her lip.  “We’ve been talking…me and the other women…”  She looked at the others.  “We’re scared…  You were right about that earlier…  We’re terrified of anyone coming here…strangers…outsiders…but…”  She wiped at her face as her tears started.  “Duncan…you haven’t said it but…we can see…”  She swallowed loudly.  “Duncan…our children are dying…our friends…  So many of the kids are sick…the other women…and now Kathryn.  We saw her when she collapsed here…heard what you just said about her condition…”  She shook her head and broke down.  Another of the women took over for her as a third comforted Jaal.

“Jaal’s right, Duncan.  Unless we get help now, our kids and our friends will be dead.  We’re not stupid.  We were all mature, intelligent adults before we let our fear take over.”  She looked straight at Duncan.  “Once before a man tried to ruin my life and I let him.  Oh, I couldn’t stop the act but I could have stopped the rest.  He made me afraid…made me feel worthless and vulnerable…dirty and used…  He started that but I let it continue.  I allowed him to make me feel like that.  Afterwards, I ran from another man because I felt all those things…let him reinforce them in me.  I let him make me feel the same.  The only strength I had was fighting to keep my baby.”  She shook her head.  “Now yet another man has come into my life and tried to do the same thing.  Well, this time I fight back.  I refuse to let my fear win this time.  I’m not the only one either.  I’ve spoken to the others…we’ve all spoken…and we’ve decided.  We know we’ve no choice here.  So Duncan, you do whatever you have to…call whoever…  Just don’t let our children…our friends…our dear Kathryn die…”  She stood almost panting at the end of her words as Duncan and the others stared at her.  Jonathan just stood slowly and went over to the woman and took her in his arms.

“You’re a wonderful woman, Kit…don’t ever let anyone tell you differently.  You’re not afraid.  You’re very brave…”  He pulled back and smiled at several of the other women.  They smiled shakily back at him.  One of them stood hesitantly.  Duncan nodded for her to speak. 

“Please Nann…”  She nodded slowly.

“It’s not so much bravery as necessity, Duncan.  We’re all very afraid but now we know we have to face that fear…just as Kit said.”  She drew in a deep breath, gaining confidence.  “You can run from a situation but the fear follows you.  Long after that situation is over, that fear is still there.”  She looked around her, speaking more to the other women now. 

“My husband is no longer my enemy and neither is the one who hurt me at the start of all this.  Fear however, is still my enemy but I see now that I can’t run from it anymore.  Oh, I could give into it and curl up in a corner and die…watch my friends and the kids die…or…I can stand…turn around and face it head on…and fight it.”  She shook her head and turned back to look at Duncan.

“I can’t speak for the others here…although I think they feel as I do…”  There were several murmurs of agreement and she smiled at several of the women.  “Thanks.”  She took a moment and licked at her lips then looked at Duncan again.  “At this moment, I’m speaking mainly for myself.”  He nodded his understanding.  “As I see it, you can run from a situation…as we all did…but the fear and the feelings follow you…stay with you…no matter where you go.  You can’t hide from them because they’re always within you…always there…even sometimes in sleep.  You can run…but you take those feelings and that fear with you when you run.”  She shook her head, tears filling her eyes.  Her face took on a look of determination though.

“Well…I’ve decided that I can’t run anymore.  I’m tired of running and hiding and being afraid…tired of being only half or a quarter of the woman and person I once was.  I’m ashamed to let my kids see me like that at times.  I’m not setting them a great example.”  She shrugged and held her hands out.

“So…I can give in to this and curl up and die…and being afraid is a form of death…or I can stand and fight.  Fear is a disease which I was infected with but I’ve done nothing to treat it…and I’ve probably infected others because of that.”  She drew in another deep breath. 

“So I choose to fight.  I know it won’t be easy but then…nothing worth fighting for is ever easy but it is always worth the fight.  Either way, it can’t be any worse than living in fear the way I have been.”  Several women voiced their agreement.  Nann nodded, acknowledging them.  She then jerked her finger towards the door, her voice rising slightly.

“That ‘thing’ who came here meant for us all to die.  He wanted us to die here…unknown and hidden away…no one ever knowing of our existence or our fate.  Well, now we have a chance to stop what he planned.  It’s only our fear which is stopping us from fighting this…fighting back.  He’s probably depending on that.  Well…our courage can stop it…stop him achieving the evil he set out to perpetrate against us and our children.  We need to see our fear as a separate enemy and fight it.  We have to use our combating that fear as a weapon we can use against that bastard and not let him use it as a weapon against us or as an accomplice.”  She looked directly at Duncan, her breathing heavy.

“I wasn’t able to fight back the last time I was threatened…by that soldier…or by my husband and family.  I let my fear stop me…”  She leaned on a chair in front of her now, her voice low and determined.  “Well…that stops right now.  This time I too fight back…”  A silence followed for a moment, the only sound that of Nann’s breathing.  Duncan smiled and nodded at her, his pride in this woman clearly showing.  They both looked around at the sound of a chair scraping back as one of the women stood.

“I fight too…”  Another woman beside her stood also.

“As do I.  My son is very sick…possibly dying.  I’ll do whatever I need to do in order to help him.  My fear is nothing compared to getting him well.  I fought for him before.  I fought for him when I was pregnant with him.  I fought to give birth to him and then to keep him safe afterwards.  I fought just to keep him, in fact.  Well…this is just another fight for him…just another battle for him.”  A woman beside Jonathan stood shakily.

“I’m not that brave…not yet anyway…but I’ll try.  It looks like I’ll have plenty of support.”  Several hands reached for her and patted her reassuringly.  Duncan’s was one of them.

“Your fear is still important, Ria.”  She nodded.

“I know…but not compared to the lives here which need saving.”  Duncan smiled tearfully at her and then around at all the women.

“We’ll all support each other…”  They all smiled back at him.  He shook his head.  “We’re very proud of you…of all of you…  You’re all very brave.”  He looked at the other staff and saw that many of them were also close to tears.  Jaal cleared her throat and moved towards Duncan

“They may sound like brave words now, Duncan.  Let’s just hope I can keep it up when help arrives.  You might have quite a few women hiding out in the woods…”  Duncan smiled reassuringly at her. 

“You’ll be fine.  We’ll all be here with you.”  The women all nodded, some whispering to each other.  Duncan watched them a moment and then held up a hand and waited for complete silence.  “So are you all sure about this?  I want you all to be in total agreement…”  He looked around at them all.  The women looked at each other and whispered amongst themselves a moment.  Dara spoke for them.  She looked at Duncan and nodded, managing a small smile. 

“We’re sure…”  She nodded again and then turned to look at the other staff.  Jonathan smiled kindly at her.

“So we get help…?”  She nodded again, the other women voicing their agreement.  Duncan let out the breath he’d been holding and nodded.

“Right…”  His relief was evident in his voice and he suddenly felt very tired.  He watched as Jonathan moved back to the table and sat again, smiling at him, his eyes conveying so much more than anyone present could see.  Miriam broke the silence and asked a question no one had so far addressed. 

“Just who can help though…?  It has to be someone we can trust but I wouldn’t know who to even think of…”  John Wilson had a suggestion.

“Is Kathryn conscious?”  Duncan frowned.

“She was earlier for a time.  She’s sleeping now.  Why?”  John leaned his arms on the table.

“We all know Kathryn was once Starfleet.  We trust her.”  He looked around at the others who all nodded agreement.  “Well then…if we asked her…if she’s able…  If there was someone she trusted…and we trust her…”  He leaned back.  “Look, we all know that the Federation…Starfleet…the Cardassian Government…above a certain level…they know about us…and always have.  They don’t bother us.  If there was someone whom Kathryn trusted and as we trust her…then we know we could also trust that person…  Maybe civilians or someone she worked with…I don’t know…”  He stopped and shook his head.  “Am I making any sense here or am I going in circles?”  Duncan smiled softly.

“I’m not sure you ever make sense, John…but we know what you mean.”  The others laughed a little.  “OK then…I agree but I need you all to agree.”  He looked around him.  “Do we…?  Hands?”  Everyone present raised a hand and Duncan nodded and smiled, relief flooding through him.

“OK.  I’ll take care of it.”

^^^^^^^^^^

Duncan sat with several staff members after the meeting had broken up and the women had returned to their homes or to the dorms.  He held a fresh cup of tea and stared down at it.  He spoke to no one in particular.

“You know…I think in our minds…in my mind anyway…”  He looked up and glanced around the others at the table.  “I think we made them or saw them as helpless as we imagine we would be in their situation.  Do you know what I mean?”  They all nodded.  Jonathan sighed.

“Perhaps we underestimated them.  Maybe we haven’t given them the credit for the strength they still have within them.  It’s hidden or maybe we’ve refused to see it.”  Olga joined in.

“I know they’re all victims of terrible crimes and experiences, but do we treat them as victims and perhaps keep them that way?  They’re grown women and not as helpless as we perhaps think they are.”  Miriam leaned in.

“Maybe we’re so used to dealing with the kids that we tend to treat the women the same way.  I mean, they need help too but it’s a different kind of help…”  Duncan leaned back in his chair.

“The way I saw it tonight, they have a strength I didn’t know they had or would have credited them with.  I now think it was there all along but it had been terrified into submission.  A person can only take so much happening to them.  We might have forgotten that their time here has healed some of that.  We treat them the same now as we did when they arrived and that’s wrong.  This situation has shown us that.  It’s lit the fire within them again.  They’ve had recovery time here but we haven’t acknowledged that.  Our way of being with them should have changed as time passed but it stayed the same.  What’s happening now has brought that strength back when it should have been us who helped it come back with their help.”  Everyone nodded their agreement.  Jonathan leaned forward, playing with the cup he held.  He looked around the table.

“Well…we can talk about all this some other time.  For now, we have to deal with what’s happening.”  Again they all nodded agreement.  Duncan sighed heavily.

“You’re right.”  He scraped his chair back.  “OK people…let’s get moving and fight this thing…”

^^^^^^^^^^

Duncan could see immediately that Kathryn's breathing was worse than it had been before.  He exchanged a worried look with Cassa before looking back at Kathryn and gently stroking her face.

“Kathryn…Kathryn…”  He watched as she groaned and tried to open her eyes before closing them again.  Duncan understood immediately.  “Cassa…can you lower the lights a bit?”  The Cardassian woman smiled softly and did as asked.

“OK Kathryn…it’s not so bright…”  He watched as she tried again and moved her head slightly, wincing in pain.  Duncan pressed a hypo to her neck, having anticipated the need for it.  “That’s a painkiller…it’ll work in a moment.”  Kathryn licked at her lips and nodded, opening her eyes again.  It took her a minute to focus on the man before her and she tried a small smile.

“Duncan…”  Her voice was a mere whisper.  He smiled down at her.

“Any better?”  She nodded.

“The others?”  He shook his head and smiled, not surprised that she would think of the others first.  He hesitated a moment, knowing he had to be honest.

“Not good.”  He saw the pain his words caused.  “Kathryn…I need your help…we all do…”  She frowned a little and nodded.

“Whatever I can…”  Duncan pressed a finger to her lips. 

“Don’t push yourself.  Just listen to me.”  She managed a small nod.  “Kathryn… we need to call for outside help…”  He saw her frown again and drew in a deep breath.  “Kathryn… I’ll be honest with you…  You’re very ill… We need help here…”  He saw tears in her eyes now.

“No…please…not for me…  I know how afraid…they all are…”  Duncan shook his head.

“Kathryn…listen…”  He pressed down gently on her shoulders as she tried to sit up.  He didn’t miss how much she shivered and pulled her blanket up more, tucking it in around her neck.  Cassa immediately reached for another blanket and covered her patient with it.  Duncan smiled his thanks and turned back to Kathryn when she tried to sit up again.  “Kathryn…don’t…”  He saw her grow agitated.

“Don’t…not for me…not to save me…”  Duncan forced his emotions down.  He knew he’d have to be totally straight with her.

“Kathryn…please…  You’re not the only one who needs saving.  The others are very ill too…worse now.  We can’t deal with this alone…can’t cope…can’t even hope to.”  He saw her tears fall now.

“The children…no…”  He brushed at her tears with gentle fingers.

“Kathryn, we’ve all talked…spoken with the women…and they agree.  They’re afraid but they know we have to get help.  They’re so worried about their kids…their friends…worried about you …  We need help and we all know it.”  Her tears continued.  “Kathryn, they trust you …  Who can we call for help?  Is there someone?  Perhaps someone you know…trust…  You spoke of an Admiral once…spoke well of him…said he cared…”  Kathryn swallowed and sniffed, then nodded.

“Admiral Paris…I trust him…”  Duncan nodded and smiled.

“He’s at Starfleet?”  She nodded again.

“Headquarters…”  Duncan smiled and stroked her face.

“OK Kathryn.  Rest now.  I’ll call him.”  He pressed her down when she tried to sit up again.  “Kathryn… please…”  She lay back.

“Code name…Roman Emperor…he’ll know…code blue five…”  Duncan smiled and nodded, hiding his concern at how exhausted and breathless she was after just a few minutes of effort.

“Roman Emperor…code blue five.  OK…I’ll tell him.  Thank you.”  He brushed back her hair, which was damp and sticking to her face.  He knew without checking that her temperature was higher now.  “You just rest now…you’ll be fine…”  Her hand reached for his weakly.

“I’m dying…”  Duncan swallowed and shook his head.  He tried to steady his voice.

“No Kathryn…because I won’t let you.”  She gripped his hand harder.

“I heard…know…drank more…”  Her hand fell away from his.  “So sorry… mistakes…”  Her tears continued to fall even as her eyes closed.  Duncan blinked back his own tears, hearing how laboured her breathing was now.  He looked up at Cassa and shook his head, not trusting himself to speak.  She reached across and gripped his shoulder.

“I know…but we won’t let her go…  We’ll fight this…  Now go on…you’ve a call to make…” 

^^^^^^^^^^

Admiral Paris stood looking out his window, watching as various Starfleet personnel and civilians crossed back and forth on the grounds below him.  He sighed deeply and turned away.  He shook his head and cleared his throat and then made his way to his desk, pressing on the intercom button.

“Denise…I’m finished with that last call.  Can you come in here a moment?”  He didn’t wait for an answer but turned as his secretary knocked first and then entered his office.

“Admiral?”  He smiled sadly at her.

“That last call…  I don’t need to tell you about confidentiality…”  He smiled and nodded at her expression.  “I know.  I just had to say it.”  He moved a padd on his desk.  “Any more calls from that same source…with those codes…you find me immediately…no matter where I am or what the time is…”  The woman nodded.

“Of course Sir…”  He walked around the side of his desk.

“There’s to be no record of it…no names noted anywhere…”  She nodded again.  “Good.  Now…I need you to make a call for me.  Contact Commander Chakotay.  He’s lecturing in Henderson Block…Room 5 or 6.  Have him come here as soon as he can.  No details…just that I need to speak with him as soon as possible.”  Denise nodded and when no further instructions came, she left.  Admiral Paris watched the closed door for a moment and then sat down wearily.  He had some calls to make.

“Just hang on, Kathryn…just hang on…”

^^^^^^^^^^

Admiral Paris smiled at the large man before him, a man he had come to greatly respect and admire over the past months.

“Please Chakotay, sit down.  Thank you for coming so quickly.  Let me get you some tea.”  Chakotay smiled and nodded.

“Thanks Admiral.  Tea would be very welcome.  I’ve just survived a two hour lecture to a group of young women who seemed more interested in looking at me rather than listening to what I was saying.”  The old man placed the tea on the desk in front of Chakotay and smiled.

“Don’t knock it.  Take it as a compliment.”  Chakotay laughed and reached for his cup.

“Easier said than done.  What happens at exam time when they can’t complete the paper?  It falls back on me then.”  The Admiral shook his head and laughed also.

“Oh, don’t be so sure of that.  I can still remember feeling the same way about one of my lecturers.  She was a real stunner and my friends and I spent all our lectures just staring at her and well…you can imagine what our minds were doing…”  Chakotay smiled and nodded.  “In the end though, when the exams came, we were surprised just how much we remembered of what she’d said.  Subconsciously it had sunk in.  I think there was also the element of not wanting to let her down so we did study too.  You wait and see…they’ll surprise you yet.”  Chakotay sighed and sipped at his tea.

“I hope you’re right.”  They were quiet for a moment as they drank and then the Admiral placed his cup down on the desk but still held onto it.

“How are you really getting on?  Are you happy with what you’re doing?”  Chakotay shrugged.

“I’m…content…I guess you could say.  It puts in the days…”  Admiral Paris nodded slowly.

“But you’re not happy?  Not fulfilled?”  Chakotay leaned back and shook his head.

“To be honest…  No I’m not.  I didn’t expect to be though.  I never believed doing this would give me what I wanted or needed but life could be a lot worse.  Oh, I know I’m passing something on to the next generation, but it’s not going to change anyone’s life or make a great difference to the world.  Let’s face it, I could just have recorded my lectures and the result would be the same.  I don’t need to be there.  It gives me something to do but I still don’t feel I’m making a difference…”  He smiled sadly at the man before him.  The Admiral smiled his understanding.

“I did think that was the case.  I see the same thing with Tom and B'Elanna.  They do some work here and there, but it’s not very satisfying for them.”  He leaned back from his desk now and looked at Chakotay for a moment.  Chakotay felt a slight unease growing inside him and leaned forward.

“Admiral, why exactly have you called me here?”  The old man held his eyes. 

“I have a mission for you…”  Chakotay raised an eyebrow, surprised at the direct answer.

“I’m not officially Starfleet anymore.  I know I kept my rank but we agreed it wasn’t active…”  The Admiral leaned forward now and held up a hand.

“I know that…but this mission isn’t exactly ‘official’ either…”  Chakotay barely nodded, deciding to keep quiet until he had heard what the Admiral had to say.  The old man leaned over the desk and laced his fingers together.  “Besides…we occasionally ‘hire’ outside consultants or contractors…”  He smiled slightly at Chakotay.

“Meaning me…?”  The old man nodded.

“You for one…but it could also include others…  Anyway…you’re not exactly an outsider…”  He cleared his throat.  “As I said, it’s not an official mission.  There’s nothing sinister here but it is important.  I thought you might be interested…”  Chakotay nodded slowly.

“I might be.  I need something...”  The Admiral nodded and continued.

“It’s a humanitarian mission, in fact.”  Chakotay nodded again.

“Even better…”  Admiral Paris smiled slightly.

“It is a delicate situation though…”  Chakotay dropped his head to the side.

“Maybe you just better tell me the whole story…”  The old Admiral nodded and stood.

“Let me just get us a refill…”  Chakotay laughed and handed over his empty cup.

“That sounds ominous…”  He said no more as Admiral Paris placed two fresh cups of tea on the desk and then sat.

“OK…this is the story.”  He delayed a brief moment and then continued.  “There’s a place…a small planet on the edge of Federation Space.  It was uninhabited for years…decades.  The soil there isn’t the best but it’s OK.  People could get by.”  He took a sip of his tea.

“For the past while, a group of people have lived there…self-sufficient for the most part.  They never bothered anyone and no one bothered them either.”  Chakotay had a slight frown on his face.

“But now they need help…are in trouble?  Am I right?”  The old man nodded.

“You’re not far wrong.  Look Chakotay…what I’m about to tell you…  Let’s just say I don’t want it going too far…”  Chakotay nodded his agreement as the Admiral smiled his thanks.  “Some of this will shock you…some of it probably won’t surprise you at all.”  He played with his cup again.

“This place is a…refuge….I guess.  It’s for women and children who were…badly affected by the war…the one between ourselves and the Cardassians…”  He saw Chakotay’s head snap up.  “As I said…some of this won’t surprise you…especially the Cardassian end of it…”  Chakotay’s face wore an unreadable expression as he sat forward now.  Admiral Paris held up a hand before the man in front of him could speak.  “I also have to say that Starfleet’s hands aren’t clean in all of this either.”  Chakotay blew out a breath.

“So you come to me because I know both sides?”  The old man saw the anger start and held up his hand again.

“Just listen to me.  There’s a lot more to this…”  Chakotay closed his eyes a moment and then nodded.

“OK…I’m sorry.  Tell me it all…”  Admiral Paris smiled his thanks once more.

“Look Chakotay…we both know war and we both know what it does to men…  We’ve both probably seen things we’ll never forget…”  He saw painful memories flit across Chakotay’s eyes as they did across his own.  “Like me, you can honestly say that not every man you served with was true to the cause or honourable.  We both know only too well what some men are capable of…within a war situation and without.”  Chakotay nodded a reluctant agreement to that.  The Admiral hesitated a brief moment and then decided to plunge right in. 

“Chakotay…the women at this refuge…they were all…and they’re mixed…from Earth and Cardassia…  They were all victims of…rape…by soldiers…on both sides…”  Chakotay’s face took on a look of horror.

“What are…?”  The raised hand stopped him again.

“Let me finish.  These are apparently women who became pregnant as a result of those rapes.  They are women who refused to terminate those pregnancies.  They had their children…and for various different reasons…had to run with those children.  They had to escape husbands…families…shame…embarrassment…all kinds of things…”  Chakotay’s face actually grew pale as he tried to take it all in.  “They live there with their children…the ones from…what happened…and in some cases…children they already had.  There’s a small staff there also…and they too are mixed…but that’s all...no one else…”  Chakotay just sat shaking his head.

“They’re not well known about, of course.  More for their liking than ours.  Oh, from a certain level up, we knew about them.  The same goes for the Cardassian Government, but it suited both us and the people at the refuge to say nothing.  Starfleet and the Cardassians for obvious reasons.  We don’t exactly like admitting what our rogue soldiers got up to.”  Chakotay looked sadly at the man across from him.

“And the people there…at the refuge…?”  The Admiral sighed.

“They preferred it because they felt safer.”  He shook his head and sighed again.  “The other thing you have to understand is that…politically at present…they’re not high on any agenda…not on any priority list for help after the war, particularly as a result of shutting themselves off, which suits them, as I said.  They apparently work the land, breed their own animals and survive on private donations.”  Admiral Paris leaned back a little.  “They also weren’t on a priority list because basically no one really is.  So many have been equally deserving after the war.”  Chakotay sipped at his tea.

“What else…?”  The Admiral smiled slightly.

“As I said, they always preferred to do things on their own and be as self-sufficient as possible.  As I also said…to our shame…ourselves and the Cardassians…we went  along with that.  Now though, they need help and I’ll explain about that in a moment.”  Chakotay nodded.  “The reason I’m asking you is…”  He leaned forward again.

“You have to understand that with what these women and many of the children went through…”  He sighed.  “We can’t just land there and start helping.  This has to be done quietly…and that’s mainly at the request of those who contacted us.”  He played with his untouched tea, dipping a finger into the cooling liquid.

“Look Chakotay, most of the people there have seen enough Starfleet and Cardassian uniforms to last them a lifetime.  Many are still terrified of us both and with good reason.  They can’t tell one from the other…good from bad.  To them we’re all just soldiers and their only experience of soldiers was bad.  They don’t or won’t…can’t see…that the war is over and that we’ve all moved on and put the past behind us.  To many of them that war will continue in their minds forever.”  Chakotay smiled sadly and nodded.

“I can understand that.  Those feelings stay.”  The Admiral nodded.

“But you’ve let a lot of the hate go…can see both sides in a sense.  You’ve seen what hate can do and that’s one of the reasons I’m talking to you now.”  Chakotay sipped at his tea again but said nothing.  The old man took a moment before speaking again.

“Chakotay, these people can’t see that we’re on their side and just want to help now.  They can’t see that we understand.  They wouldn’t understand that we just want to help them and maybe…in some small way…try and make up for the past and what happened to them.”  Chakotay sighed.

“What about the Cardassians?  Are they involved in this mission too?”  The Admiral shook his head.

“No, they’re not.  Oh, they know.”  He sighed.  “Look, two staff members from the refuge contacted me for help.  They didn’t contact anyone else.  I’ve spoken with certain people here and I also had to let my Cardassian counterpart know what was going on.  He’s in agreement on this and has also spoken with certain people at his end.  They understand and feel as we do.  They too have their guilt over what some of their soldiers did, believe it or not.  We’re the same.  They’re happy to let us take care of this ourselves, mainly because that’s what the people at the refuge want.”  Chakotay shook his head.

“And the people who contacted you from the refuge…  Do they know you contacted the Cardassians about all this?”  The Admiral nodded. 

“Yes, they do and they understand.  They know I had to tell them.  I’ve explained it all to them and they understand our guilt and the guilt the Cardassians feel.  Chakotay, the people in power on Cardassia now…those in power here…  We’re trying to let go of the hate and the past.  None of us ever wanted war really.  We certainly never would have condoned what some of our men did.  Soldier against soldier was one thing…but not this.  Atrocities were committed by both sides.  We freely admit that and now we’re just trying to let go of the hate and try in any way to repair the damage.  That’s going to take time.  This situation is here now and we have to do something but we can’t just rush in with our ships and uniforms.  The only thing the people there would see are those uniforms.”  He sighed and ran a hand through his grey hair.

“For these people, it would only have taken one bad apple for the rot to set in and they would see everyone the same…see us as one.  In their minds, one bad individual came to represent the entire organization or government.  They couldn’t see the actions of the man…only the uniform he wore.  That uniform came to represent to them…fear, terror, pain.  When they see that now, they only see what happened to them and remember that.”  Chakotay sighed deeply, idly playing with his own cup.

“Couldn’t one or two of you meet with them…out of uniform?  You could tell them…help them understand…”  The old man shook his head.

“We couldn’t deny who we were.  They wouldn’t listen anyway.  Chakotay, these people are terrified.  They don’t trust us.  They’re also terrified of their own families finding them.  That’s why the fewer people who know about this, the better.  Oh, their leaders trust us…a few of us anyway…”  He smiled and Chakotay thought he could see more in the smile than the Admiral was telling but he didn’t question it yet.

“Won’t they be terrified if I arrive with some people?  Wouldn’t that seem the same to them?  We’d still be strangers…”  The Admiral nodded.

“It will terrify them but not as much as we would.  Besides, they know they have no choice with what’s happening.  The people themselves asked their leaders to get help.  They know there’s no other way.”  Chakotay sat forward.

“Maybe you’d better tell me exactly why they need help so badly.  What the hell happened there…?”  Admiral Paris signed deeply and took a sip of cold tea before speaking.

“They’re ill.  Very ill.”  Chakotay looked shocked.  “At first they thought it was some kind of bug or viral infection.  They then thought it was food poisoning.  They were the most obvious choices.  None of the sick had eaten the same thing though so…  I think they even considered a kind of plague.”  Chakotay’s eyes widened.  “From cultures and blood tests, they know now it was something in their water.  Many of them are very sick.  What it is…they still don’t know… What they do know is that it’s a poison which has caused some kind of virus and that it was placed there deliberately.”  Chakotay’s mouth fell open.

“This was done deliberately?  Who…?”  The Admiral cut him off.

“All I know is that someone broke through their security…such as that security was.  I don’t have all the details.  All I can tell you is that they need medical supplies… medical expertise…all the help they can get.”  Admiral Paris leaned back in his chair again and gave the man before him a moment to digest everything.  “So Commander, can I count on your help?”  Chakotay leaned back also and thought for a moment.

“Yes…yes…you can…”  The old man smiled.  “Get me a small ship…whatever medical personnel you think will be needed…”  He shook his head.  “I’ll do what I can.”  The Admiral nodded.

“You can take whoever you like…people you might perhaps feel comfortable with…those you would be familiar working with…”  Chakotay looked wary.

“I’ll have to think about that.  I’m not sure who…  I’ll go though.”  Admiral Paris smiled softly to himself.  So far so good.  He knew the next bit would be harder though.

“I was hoping you’d say that.”  He hesitated a moment and locked eyes with Chakotay, watching his face carefully.  “You know…Voyager is finally finished her refit…”  He got the reaction he expected.  He saw the shocked look on Chakotay’s face just before he shook his head.

“No.  No.  Get me another ship.  Any other ship.”  The Admiral ignored him and spoke on quickly, waiting for the expected reaction.

“I want you to take her and as many of your old crew as you can…”  Chakotay didn’t disappoint as he jumped up and backed away from the desk.

“No way.  I can’t.”  He ran a hand through his hair and shook his head sadly.  “Anyway…it’s not my crew.  It was Kathryn's.  I know even without asking that they’ll all say the same.  None of us would ever want to set foot on that ship again without her as Captain.”  He calmed a little more and sighed deeply.  “Look Admiral, it’s a good cause…and I’m more than willing to help…but give me another ship.  I’ll agree to the crew part…if they’re willing…and I can’t speak for them…but not Voyager…”  The old man leaned forward, placing his elbows on the desk.

“Chakotay, just hear me out.  Voyager is the best available to you.”  He held up his hand to silence Chakotay when he saw him about to object again.  “Please just sit down and listen.  That’s all I ask.”  Chakotay eventually nodded agreement and sat.  Admiral Paris went on.

“Look, Voyager was refitted…well…she was more repaired than anything.  She’s at her best but she’s still no match to our current designs.  Some even want to retire her as a museum.  Our ships now are far more advanced.  You were all away for seven years.  Technology and design moved on in that time and there have been many changes and advances.  The need for better ships during the war saw to that.  The ships in our fleet now are far more advanced than Voyager.  You and the crew would need to be retrained for them.  This is the best way…”  Chakotay just shook his head.

“Admiral, I’m sorry.  As I said…I’ll go…gladly…but not on Voyager.  There really is nothing you can say to change my mind.  I’m so sorry for the people at that refuge and how sick they are and I’ll go as I agreed…the majority of the crew most likely too…but not this way.  Just give us another ship.  Otherwise I know you’ll need to get another crew and I’m sure you could manage to get one together quite quickly.  You don’t even really need me.”  He suddenly frowned deeply.  “Why me and why us anyway?”  The old man leaned back and smiled sadly.  He didn’t answer immediately.

“You’re the best for the job.”  Chakotay narrowed his eyes.

“Others are as good…  Better even…”  The Admiral nodded at that.

“It’s also a delicate matter…”  Chakotay frowned a little, sensing something he couldn’t name.

“So you said.”  He watched the old man a moment and then shook his head, unable to read him.  “Look, I’ll still say the same thing to you.  You won’t change my mind on this…really…I told you…”  Admiral Paris smiled a knowing smile.

“You’re wrong there, son.”  He looked deeply into Chakotay’s eyes, his expression serious now.

“What if I were to tell you that Kathryn is part of this mission.”  He almost wanted to laugh at the shocked look before him and would have if he hadn’t also seen the pain his words caused.  There was a deadly silence for a few moments before Chakotay spoke.

“You said you didn’t know where she was…”  His voice was soft.  The Admiral shook his head sadly.

“I didn’t…until now…”  Chakotay sucked in a few deep breaths.

“She’d be coming with us?”  Admiral Paris shook his head sadly.

“No.  You don’t understand.”  He cleared his throat.  “She’s already there.”  Chakotay felt a fear start in him, unable to understand why. 

“What are you not telling me?”  He saw the old man look away a moment before meeting his eyes.

“Kathryn has been working there.  I’m sorry but…  She’s one of the people infected…”  Chakotay felt the blood drain from his face and almost fell back in his chair.

“How bad…?”  His voice sounded choked and he tried again.  “How bad is she?”  The Admiral shook his head.

“I don’t know.  Not good…I think.”  Chakotay closed his eyes a moment, Kathryn's image filling his mind.  He opened them again to escape the pain it caused, only to find it still there.  Admiral Paris saw it and sighed sadly.

“All I know is that she’s been working there for months.  When she got ill…  From what I can gather…she didn’t want them to contact anyone even though it could help her.  She insisted in fact, because she knew how afraid the people there were of outsiders.  She put them before herself.  She only agreed when the children began to get sicker.  She gave them my name.  They agreed…the women…to us helping because they knew if Kathryn trusted us then they could too.”  Chakotay just sat there, shaking his head, trying desperately to sort his thoughts.  The Admiral spoke on, his words barely penetrating Chakotay’s mind.

“Look Chakotay, this is kids…and now we know it’s also Kathryn.  They need you and your people…people without uniforms…people they know Kathryn trusts.  They don’t want or need uniforms and strangers in there.  The more outside people involved in this, the greater the risk of their families finding them.  To them…if Kathryn trusts you…they will.”  He hit hard with his next words.

“It’s also a matter of time and they have little of that.”  He hesitated, hating to see the pain his words caused.  “Look, I’ll be totally honest with you here…completely straight.”  Chakotay stared at him.  “This also…and I know how selfish this sounds…but this also helps Starfleet too.  I’m asking you to take as many of Voyager’s crew as possible because…although the people at the refuge didn’t say it…I get the feeling they need all the help they can get…not just with the medical side of things.  As I said…it sounds very hard but…we haven’t known what to do with you all…the returning Voyager crew.  No more than they’ve known what to do with themselves…”  Chakotay stood again, suddenly unsure if his legs would support him.  He leaned against the desk to be safe.  His face suddenly wore a determined look

“Yes, it does sound hard but at this moment, I couldn’t care less.  Just help me get in touch with the crew as soon as possible…within the next few minutes if you can.  Get Voyager ready and all supplies on board while I get them together and talk to them.”
The Admiral nodded.

“It would also be better if none of you wore uniforms while you’re there.  It would terrify the women and children…”  Chakotay nodded to that.

“That’s fine.  I understand that.  The crew will be OK with it too.  I don’t think any of them have worn a uniform since they left after the debriefings…”  The old man smiled but seemed to hesitate a moment before speaking.

“There’s one last thing…something I need to ask about…”  He looked up into Chakotay’s face.  “At this point…I need to ask you how you feel about this from your own point of view.  I need to ask how you feel about going there and working with these people.  I know you’ve already agreed…said yes…but…I need to be sure.  As I said…many are Cardassian…many from Earth…most of the kids are mixed human and Cardassian.  Kathryn obviously had no problem with it but you went through so much…lost so many…”  He swallowed, seeing the man before him remember those he had lost.  “I need to ask how you feel about working there.  I know you’re going more for Kathryn now than anything else but you’ll also be working with these people.  I need to know how you really feel about that…and how you think the other ex-Maquis on your crew will feel about it.”  He watched as Chakotay took a moment, his thoughts his own.  Finally he spoke, his voice steady.

“Admiral, let me say it this way.  The war is over.  It had been over for some time before we got back.  It was over well before that for those of us on Voyager.  Besides…from what you say…these people are also victims.  I’ve hated long enough.  So have the other ex-Maquis.  It’s enough.  Has been enough for long enough.”  He smiled softly but there was a great sadness there.  “Kathryn Janeway taught us that.  She taught us the meaning of letting the past go.  She taught us about loving instead of hating.  She helped us find peace within ourselves.”  He smiled softly again as he looked at the old Admiral.  “Don’t get me wrong.  We’re not about to go out there and embrace those we fought, but we know who the real enemy was and it wasn’t those women and children.  As I said, Kathryn Janeway taught us all that and we haven’t forgotten it.”  He paused briefly until Admiral Paris nodded his understanding.  He then turned and left the room.

^^^^^^^^^^

As Duncan entered the dimly lit curtained off section where Kathryn was, Cassa’s sad eyes gave him her report before she could utter any words.

“She’s worse?”  She nodded gravely and signed deeply.

“Much worse.  Her condition has deteriorated badly in the last hour.”  Duncan drew in a deep breath and nodded before looking towards his friend in the bed.  He had spent the past two hours trying to treat his other patients, many of whom had also deteriorated.  While some had improved and a few even verged on recovery, many continued to worsen, their temperatures rising as they fell into a delirium which brought unseen terrors to them.  They cried out in pain as they scratched at themselves, screaming about something crawling under their skin, eating at them.  Duncan and the others were at a loss as to how to ease their suffering and even though it heralded a worsening of their condition, felt relief when they fell unconscious.  He sighed now as he took Kathryn's progress padd from Cassa and let his eyes skim it.  Cassa spoke as he read it, almost as if she were reading it to him.

“Her temperature keeps rising and she’s delirious now...just like the others…  She’s worse in fact…  She’s raving…mumbling words…many of which I can’t fully understand…  She keeps saying ‘sorry’ and ‘forgive me’…crying out…  She has periods of just staring at nothing and then she’s crying…tears pouring down her face…and she calls to someone to help her…a name I think…sounds like ‘Chachotae’…something like that…”  Cassa shook her head sadly. 

“She’s started to claw and tear at herself now too.  She cries out about ‘them crawling inside her…eating at her’…”  Duncan nodded, having heard it before.  “It’s also like she’s seeing things and she cries out…tries to get away from them.  I hate the idea but I think we’re going to have to restrain her in some way.  She’s harming herself…  I put IV lines in to try and get some fluids into her because she’s becoming dehydrated.  I’m afraid she’ll try to pull them out…”  Duncan met Cassa’s eyes, her pain matching his own.  He looked back down at the padd then back at her.

“When did this haemorrhaging start?”  He pointed at an item on the padd.  Cassa signed.

“I noticed it about half an hour ago.  It seemed light at first and I thought it was just her monthly period starting…but it increased so quickly…  A nosebleed followed that…”  She shook her head.  “I’m administering something to help slow the bleeding…a clotting agent…but…  I’m worried too that there might be some internal…”  She rubbed a hand across her face.  “I wish I knew what we were dealing with here.  I feel so damned useless…like I’m groping around in the dark.  She’s in so much pain yet the pain killers I’ve given her seem useless.  Her breathing is worse…far worse…and her joints are swelling…  The fever is worse too…yet she’s shivering with the cold…and the light hurts her eyes even more now…”   She stopped, unsure of what else to say.  The sudden silence was broken by a piercing scream and both their eyes flew to the bed.  Kathryn seemed to be staring at something across the room, trying to push herself from the bed in an attempt to escape some unseen horror.  Duncan and Cassa reached for her immediately, trying to restrain her as she fought them.  Within minutes she stopped struggling and they relaxed their grip.  Suddenly her body arched and spasmed as her face contorted in pain.  The convulsion stopped as quickly as it had started as she fell limp, her eyes barely open as she cried weakly now, her voice a hoarse whisper.

“Chakotay…help me…”  Kathryn then shocked them as she began clawing at her arms and face, once more screaming and crying out about ‘the things eating her’.  Duncan made a quick decision and reached behind him for a strong sedative.  He quickly injected the contents into a struggling Kathryn and watched as the drug slowly took effect.  Finally she stilled but she continued to moan softly to herself as tears fell from her eyes.  Duncan looked hopelessly at Cassa.

“I can’t continue to sedate her.”  He fought an inner battle for a moment and then nodded.  “Help me secure her.  I hate…can’t bear…but…”  He couldn’t continue and Cassa gripped his arm.

“It’s for her own good, Duncan.  She’s doing too much harm to herself otherwise.”  His eyes reluctantly agreed as he looked at the raw and now bleeding scratches Kathryn had inflicted on herself only moments ago.  Together they bound Kathryn's wrists and ankles to the bed, neither of them knowing what to say.  As if understanding what they were doing, despite the sedative, she fought them at first but then stopped, as exhaustion overtook her.  Duncan stood back a moment, tears in his eyes as he watched her, her breathing loud and rasping as she continued to moan and cry out at something no one else could see or understand.  Cassa saw Duncan’s inner conflict.

“We had to do this, Duncan.  You know that.”  He slowly met her eyes and nodded.

“I know…but it doesn’t make me feel better…doesn’t make it any easier…”  Cassa tried a weak smile, hoping it displayed some semblance of comfort to her friend.

“The treatment is often worse than the disease.  We both know that.”  Duncan nodded tiredly.

“Are the antibiotics having any affect at all?”  Cassa shook her head. 

“They’re barely making an inroad…”  She hesitated a moment and played with a fingernail.  “Duncan…I also ran further tests…function tests…heart…liver … kidneys…and…”  Duncan looked sadly at her. 

“And what?  They’re…?”  Cassa nodded and reached for the padd.  She skimmed down it a moment and then stopped, pointing to her test results.  

“It’s like the others…only much worse in her case.  Every symptom the others show, Kathryn shows ten times greater.  Some sooner…others later.  Her kidneys aren’t functioning the way I’d like and her liver…”  She glanced towards the bed.  “Her skin is beginning to show that telltale yellowish tinge…”  Duncan looked also and saw what he hadn’t immediately noticed.  He closed his eyes a moment and signed deeply.

“Her heart…?”  He finally looked at Cassa and saw her nod.

“Her heart rate is…  It’s not what I’m happy with…  I’m managing to control it at present but it’s a fight…and it’s weakening.  Her lungs are…  There’s fluid building up in them.  You can hear her breathing…how bad it’s getting…  Her nervous system and brain…all the major organs are affected…  Her immune system is even…”  Cassa didn’t finish and Duncan rubbed a hand over his tired face.

“Oh dear God…”  Cassa took the padd from his other hand before he dropped it.

“How long before help arrives?”  Duncan stared at her and shook his head.

“I don’t know.  I was promised as soon as possible but…”  He looked down at Kathryn in the bed, almost seeing her slipping away from them.  “I just pray to God that it’ll be in time…”

^^^^^^^^^^

Chakotay stood to one side of the large room which Admiral Paris had set aside for this meeting.  He watched the crew members who had beamed in almost within minutes of being called, asking no questions once they heard it was their former First Officer who had summoned them.  He watched them now, each seeming far happier than the last time he had been with them.  The fact that they were together lifted the gloom which had seemed to reside over them all the last time he had seen them.  He smiled to himself a moment, still not used to seeing them all out of uniform.

Knowing time was of the essence, he rapped on the table beside him and waited as silence descended over the room.  He glanced over at Admiral Paris a moment and nodded, thinking back over everything the old man had briefed him on…during their meeting and afterwards.  He turned to the crew then and smiled warmly at all the faces which now turned towards him, scanning them all and nodding to several of them.

“People please…  Thank you for coming at such short notice.  I know it can’t have been easy to just drop everything and come when you were called…”  A voice from the back broke across his.

“Yeah…I have such a busy life at the moment…  Dropping everything was a real hardship…”  Several murmurs joined the voice in agreement.  Chakotay smiled sadly.

“Look…I’ll explain this briefly…and keep the main details until afterwards…”  He went on to outline the reason he had called them all together, leaving out some details for security reasons.  He simply told them about the refuge without saying where it was located.  He told them of the women and children there but made no mention of Kathryn.  He then went on to inform them about how ill the people were and how they were terrified of outsiders but now needed help badly.  As he spoke, he saw many heads nodding and when he finished, he smiled at them all.  Harry Kim caught Chakotay’s eye.

“Sorry Sir…but will the Captain be joining us…?”  Chakotay swallowed and shook his head. 

“It’s just us…here in this room.  Some medical and scientific personnel too.  I know I’m asking a lot…when you’re just home and all…”  That brought some cynical laughter.  A member of Tuvok’s former Security Detail stepped forward.

“Look Commander…I think we’re all the same here.  We’d welcome something in our lives again.  I know for myself…  Hell…I’ve been lost since I got home.  I think most of us here feel the same…”  He looked around and saw many of his friends nod in agreement.  He looked back at Chakotay.  “I told you this before…we all did…”  Chakotay smiled sadly.  Another voice, a woman, drew his attention.  He looked over to see Ensign Morrison, a young women who had worked in Engineering with B'Elanna.

“Commander…it’s like this.  For seven years we were together.  When we got home, it was like being wrenched away from our lives all over again.”  Chell stood beside her and smiled sadly then turned to Chakotay.

“You know…it’s like a holovid…”  He looked around him, appearing slightly embarrassed but pushed on.  “You come in late and you know the characters…the ones playing the roles and you know the basic story or at least the background to it…but the main part of it is new to you and because you’ve come in late…you’re missing so much of the story.  You spend your time catching up or at least trying to but you can’t really follow what’s going on.  It’s like the story started without you and you can’t follow it.  You’re lost…out of place…”  Another voice cut in.

“People around me tell jokes with references to things I know nothing of…”  More voices now joined in, adding their own sad experiences.

“We feel like outsiders in our own homes…”

“My kids call someone else ‘Daddy’ now…”

“I’m a complete stranger to mine.  I think they’re even afraid of me…”

“I left a home…but it wasn’t there when I got back.”

Chakotay looked around them all, feeling their sadness and loss.  Tom caught his eye and smiled sadly.

“You know how B'Elanna and I feel.  We feel utterly useless.  The days just seem endless.  If it wasn’t for each other and Miral…”  He shrugged, not needing to continue and smiled apologetically at his father who nodded his understanding. B'Elanna reached to him and squeezed his arm.  Chakotay nodded again.

“I know.  I know how you all feel…well most of you anyway.  I understand completely.”  He looked across at Seven and the Doctor, letting his words mean more to them and they both nodded gratefully.  He drew in a deep breath and smiled towards Tuvok before continuing.  He had been surprised to learn that the Vulcan and his wife were actually on Earth but was delighted by the fact.

“There are two things I need to tell you.  First off, we won’t be wearing uniforms on this trip or while we’re there.  It would only cause fear.”  No one commented on that.  “The other thing is...”  He hesitated for just a moment.  “We’ll be taking Voyager on this mission…”  Instantly there were whispers among them all.  Mike Ayala spoke up.

“Look Chakotay…no offence.  I think I can pretty much speak for everyone here when I say we’d love to help these people.  Let’s face it…few of us have anything else going on in our lives…”  He looked around his fellow crew members and received several nods of encouragement.  “It’s just…well…being back on Voyager without the Captain…”  He shrugged.  “It just wouldn’t feel right.”  Many agreements sounded around him.  Another voice sounded.

“Yeah Commander…it just wouldn’t be the same without her…wouldn’t feel right somehow.  Can’t they give us another ship…?”  Chakotay sighed to himself, remembering his own objections.  He gave a knowing look to Admiral Paris and then looked around a moment before he smiled at those before him.

“There’s one element to all this I haven’t mentioned yet.”  He paused for just a moment.  “The Captain is already there…”  He almost laughed as he saw that get everyone’s attention.  B'Elanna stepped forward.

“What do you mean?  We’ve tried to find her for a long time and couldn’t.  Has she gone on ahead or what…?”  Chakotay looked to the old Admiral again and received an approving nod.  He nodded back then cleared his throat and turned back to everyone.

“No…she was already there…is already…”  He sighed.  “Captain Janeway had left Starfleet…for those of you who don’t know.  We’ve only just discovered that this is where she went.  She’s been working at the refuge for months now.”  He hesitated a moment, meeting many of the eyes which were staring back at him, seeing he had their full attention as they hung on his every word.  “There’s one other thing I didn’t mention.  As I said…she’s already there but…she’s one of the…  She needs our help…badly.  She’s one of those who are ill.  She’s very ill in fact…  I don’t know how bad exactly…”  B'Elanna jumped forward again.

“Why the bloody hell didn’t you just say that to start with?  Let’s go.”  Mike Ayala stepped forward too.

“Jeez Chakotay…you’re wasting time here…”  Chakotay shook his head in amazement and smiled softly to himself.  He held a hand up for silence and slowly got it.

“People please…let me finish.  You have to understand all of this.  This is strictly confidential.  I’ve told you the situation there.  You can’t let your families know where you’ll be going when you leave…when you come with me.  We’re not sure what we’ll find there or what will happen…even how long we’ll be gone…”  Tom laughed at that, cutting him off.

“Sounds just like our last outing…”  Everyone laughed with him and Chakotay smiled as he shook his head.

“What I mean is…you can’t discuss this with anyone.  This could be a short mission or a very long one but to be safe, expect to be in it for the long haul.  We’ve no idea how much work will be needed when we get there or what their situation will be.  If it’s as bad as it sounds…I for one will stay as long as I’m needed…years if that’s what it takes.  I’m just trying to get you to understand that you’re going into the unknown in a way.  You won’t be able to just come and go…or maybe even contact your families for some time…  For the moment, I can’t even tell you where this place is.”  He looked at Tom and smiled.  “Not quite like the last time but still…”  Tom shook his head.  Harry Kim stepped forward now.

“Look Commander…”  He smiled at the look he received.  “Sorry…Chakotay.  What I mean is…”  He took a moment to sort his thoughts.  “For myself…I don’t have that family.  Many others here are the same.  For those who do though…”  He smiled shyly.  “I guess I’m saying that it’s not like we’ll never see them again.  Yes…it could be a long mission but it’s still not exactly the Delta Quadrant…”  He smiled at Tom.  “We can come back and even if some of us stayed on…well…we could still visit and…”  He sighed.  “You know what I mean…”  Chakotay smiled softly at the young man he had watched mature over the years.

“I know what you mean.  I’m not saying otherwise.  I just want you all to understand every aspect of this.”  The looks he received gave him his answer and he nodded.  “All right.  I want you all to take a few hours.  Contact whoever you need to and make your arrangements without discussing any details.  Sort what you need to sort.  Report back here in say…four hours for a final briefing.”  He looked around him and smiled.  Within a minute, everyone had left the room and Chakotay made his way towards Admiral Paris.  The old man smiled at him softly.

“They’re an amazing bunch of people, Chakotay.”  The large man smiled and nodded.

“I guess I didn’t really expect anything less of them.  I was right about how they’d feel about Kathryn though…”  The Admiral nodded, conceding the point.

“Yes, you were.  I should have realized the loyalty that would still be there for her.  She’s an amazing woman.” 

^^^^^^^^^^

Five hours later, all the crew who were going with Chakotay were back and ready to set off.  They had all been further briefed and were overseeing the loading of Voyager.  Admiral Paris drew Chakotay aside.

“Most of them call you Chakotay rather than Commander?”  Chakotay smiled softly.

“Yeah.  After we got back…  Well…after I tracked them all down, I insisted on it.  I prefer it.  I don’t really hold the title any longer and I also felt uncomfortable with it outside of a command structure.  Chakotay is who I am now…not the Commander.  My old Maquis crew found it easy to call me Chakotay because they had before, but many of the Starfleet and Equinox crews have still to get used to the idea…”  He laughed.  “I practically had to re-program Voyager’s Doctor to use my given name…”  The Admiral smiled at that for a moment and then brought his mind back to business.

“How many are going with you?”  Chakotay scratched the side of his head and consulted a padd in his hand. 

“Almost everyone who was at the meeting.”  He shook his head in amazement.  “Most of the Maquis crew…which I expected.  Mike Ayala, Chell, Ken Dalby, Gerron, Mariah Henley, Jarvin, Jor, O’Donnell, Yosa, Tabor…”  He scrolled down the padd.  “Quite a number of the Starfleet lot.  Ashmore, Walter Baxter, Pablo Baytart, Freddie Bristow, William Chapman…”  He laughed and looked up into the puzzled face of Admiral Paris.  “Sorry…it’s just Chapman.  He was Seven’s first date in her attempts to embrace humanity.  The poor man never really recovered.  I don’t think he’s had much luck with women since…”  The old man smiled in an attempt to share a joke you had to have been there for.

“Maybe his luck will change.  Who else…?”  Chakotay smiled also and looked back down at his padd.

“So many.  Tal Celes, Culhane, Jenny and Megan Delaney, Grimes, Hargrove, Mortimer Harren, Jenkins, Kaplan, Lewis, Mannus, McCormick…”  He looked up sadly this time.  “I hope things change for her…”  Once again he saw a puzzled look on the face before him and explained.

“She was in a relationship with Bennet.  He died on an away mission with Tuvok.  No one even knew they were in love.  She’s never gotten over it…never even looked at another man since…  She’s been completely on her own since our return.”  The old man just shook his head sadly.

“They all have their story…”  Chakotay nodded in agreement.

“They sure do.”  He stared off at nothing for a moment as he remembered and then shook himself.  “Sorry…who else…?”  He activated the padd again and read from the list there.  “William McKenzie, Mendez, Molina, Mulcahy, Sue Nicoletti, Robinson, Rollins, Ryson, Strickler, Swift, William Teffer, Trumari, White…”  He stopped for a breath and smiled.  “And that’s not counting the senior staff…  Tom, B'Elanna, Harry Kim, Tuvok and his wife, T’Pel, The Doctor, Seven and myself…”  The Admiral nodded slowly. 

“Anyone else…?”  Chakotay nodded, a sad smile on his face.

“The entire Equinox crew, believe it or not…  Marla Gilmore, Noah Lessing, Angelo Tassoni, Brian Sofin and James Morrow…  That surprised me…”  Admiral Paris also looked surprised but not shocked.

“Is that it…?  There seemed to be more at the meeting.”  Chakotay nodded.

“A few who were here decided not to come but they won’t discuss what we talked about.  I trust them on that.”  The old man nodded his agreement.  “Several who weren’t here have finally settled back in on Earth…made a niche for themselves again.  They hadn’t when I last spoke with them but they seem more settled now.  Others have kids they don’t want to leave, even if marriages are over.  I’ve spoken with them and I understand.  People like Sam Wildman won’t be coming either.  She’s settling well with her husband and doesn’t want to separate Naomi from her father…  A few others have also managed to settle back like that.  So…”  He scanned the padd.  “I make it about…including myself and the ten medical personnel and scientists you included…”  He took a moment.  “Sixty three people…”  He looked at the man before him.  “That’s unbelievable…”  They shared a quiet look and smiled at each other.  Admiral Paris broke the silence.

“You leave in two hours time?”  Chakotay nodded.

“We’re almost loaded now.  All the supplies…  You might want to warn the people there how many are coming.  Might scare them too much otherwise. We’ll ease them in anyway as best we can, rather than arrive all together…have only a few at a time on the surface and leave the rest to work on the ship until everyone is used to the situation.”  The old man nodded.

“I will.  Sixty three strangers all together would be hard to take without warning.”  He frowned now.  “I also get the impression that some of them might want to stay on there and work…if that’s possible…especially now they know Kathryn is there.  I suppose like her…if they find a life or use there…they’ll want to stay for as long as they can.”  Chakotay nodded slowly. 

“I got that impression also…been thinking that way myself…”  He hesitated, seeing that his words didn’t surprise the old man.  “You’re thinking that Tom and B'Elanna will want to stay?”  Admiral Paris nodded.

“Yes.  It had crossed my mind.  Actually I’m expecting it…”  Chakotay saw sadness in the old eyes but understanding also.  He smiled softly.  “I’ll just seek out my son and daughter in law then…and that grand daughter of mine…”  Chakotay saw the sadness he tried to hide.

“Admiral…I know that…how hard…”  The old man smiled and shook his head.

“It’s like your Harry Kim said.  It’s not as if I’ll never see them again.  I understand…I really do.  And Miral will be on the ship until they know it’s safe.”  He shook his head.  “Chakotay…if you ever have children of your own some day…”  He tried to ignore the flash of pain he saw in the other man’s eyes.  “Let’s just say that you learn…when they’re grown up…that the greatest gift you can give them is to let them go…to see them happy and fulfilled.  I got Tom back when I thought I’d never see him again.  We’ve formed a wonderful relationship since then…better than I could ever have hoped for.  I gained a beautiful daughter and grandchild.  I couldn’t ever ask for more.  ‘My cup runneth over’ as they say.”  He sighed and shook his head again.  “I see how they are though…feeling useless and unfulfilled…and I know what that can do to someone.”  He smiled sadly.  “I saw that with Kathryn only too well…  You too.”  Once again he tried to ignore the pain on the face before him.  “Being here…back with his family…isn’t enough for Tom…isn’t enough for any man or woman.  I see that and I understand it only too well.”  He gripped Chakotay’s arm gently.  “Let me put it this way.  I love them enough to let them go.  I’ll see them again.  This is just my gift to them…to repay them for all they’ve given me.  If they decide to stay…which I feel they might well do…well…I’ll visit…and they’ll visit…come for holidays….  If they don’t stay of course…they’ll be back to me.  Either way…I’ll understand.  Tom’s mother even understands.”  He dropped his hand and smiled again.  Chakotay gripped his arm now and smiled.

“I’ll say it now.  You’re an amazing man, Admiral.  I’m proud to know you.  I wish all of Starfleet had been like you back when…”  He didn’t finish and the old man smiled.  They left the rest unsaid.

^^^^^^^^^^

Cassa smiled gently at Duncan who was sitting at Kathryn's bedside just watching the unconscious woman before him.  He raised his head as he heard someone enter.  He tried to return the smile and failed miserably.  Cassa spoke softly.

“How’s it going?”  He shook his head and rubbed his hands over his face, trying to rub away the weariness he felt.

“Not good.  She’s still deteriorating.  Our last efforts seem to have slowed it a bit but it’s still…”  He looked up at the IV bags as they slowly dripped blood and other fluids into the tubes which then ran into Kathryn's veins.  “The blood is helping but…  Her veins are even beginning to close down.  I had a hell of a job getting that last line in…”  He shook his head.  “Her temperature is so high…  Miriam has sponged her down several times in an effort to bring it down but it has no effect.  The antibiotics are practically useless.  She’s suffered several more convulsions…almost choking each time.  I had to use the suction tube because she vomited each time…although God knows with what.  There’s nothing left in her stomach.  Her muscles lock into painful spasms and between the pain and whatever horrors she sees, she’s screamed herself hoarse…”  Cassa saw the tears of frustration and pain in his eyes as he spoke.  “She thrashes and pulls at the bindings…fights them fiercely…and I’m terrified she’ll break or dislocate her ankles or wrists…”  He sighed deeply.  “And then she cries…and calls out to whoever it is…her ‘Chachotae’…pleading with him…  Of course…to top it all off…it looks like she’s beginning to develop pneumonia now and I can’t do a damn thing about it…”  He stared helplessly at the woman standing before him, his voice softer now.  “She finally lost consciousness about twenty minutes ago…slipped into a coma…  Probably a mercy…”  He shook his head again, at a loss for what else to say.  Cassa nodded slowly and walked over to the side of the bed.

“Is the oxygen helping at all?”  She indicated the old fashioned oxygen tent, the plastic covering draped over the bed which they had put in place earlier.  Duncan smiled bitterly.

“Our up-to-the- minute technology, you mean…?”  Cassa threw him a stern look and he shook his head.  “I managed to draw some of the fluid from her lungs and that’s made a little difference.  The oxygen is helping her breathing in some way but…”  He stood up, his face angry now.  “God Cassa, I’m right.  This is madness…”  He waved an arm towards the covering.  Cassa moved to him now.

“Duncan, I am not going to have this conversation with you again.”  She gripped his arm tightly.  “Now you listen to me.  We have this situation and we’re dealing with it in the best way we can.  There are places where our equipment would be considered a luxury and you know that.  Stop this and put what energy you have into helping your patients.  Better still, you need to get something to eat and have a rest.  That will help them even more.  An exhausted doctor will do no one any good.”  Duncan smiled ruefully and nodded.

“Guess I’ve been spending too much time with Kathryn.  Her habits are rubbing off on me…”  They smiled gently at each other, the tension broken for a moment.  Cassa patted his arm.

“Go and get some rest.  Selona has food on the go all the time.  Get something to eat and drink and then rest.  Help will be here soon.”  Duncan tried to smile.

“I hope so.  I pray so.  I just hope to God they can all hang on that long…especially Kathryn…”  They both fell silent as they looked at their friend in the bed as she fought for her life.

^^^^^^^^^^

At her best speed and with the refit and improvements Starfleet had been able to make to Voyager, Chakotay and the crew made it to their destination in just under ten hours at high warp.  He spent the best part of the journey with his mind filled with images of Kathryn and he constantly prayed that they wouldn’t be too late.  At the Doctor’s insistence, he’d managed to sleep for a few hours, but even then Kathryn had continued to haunt his thoughts, filling his dreams with scenes from the life they’d once had together.

Chakotay finally briefed the crew fully on their mission and was proud of the determination and dedication he saw on each face.  They silently showed him their support as he stood on the bridge when they came within hailing distance of the planet they had been informed was known as Haven by the residents there.  Tuvok made the hail and Chakotay found himself face to face with a pleasant looking man with sandy tousled hair and deep blue eyes.  He saw immediately the tiredness and worry on the tanned face and nodded gently.

“This is the Starship Voyager.  Admiral Paris of Starfleet spoke with you I believe.”  The man nodded slowly, his expression guarded.

“You are to tell me something.  Sorry…we need to be sure.”  Chakotay smiled softly in understanding.

“I’m to tell you ‘Roman Emperor…Code Blue Five’.”  The man cut him off.

“Thank you.  I hoped…prayed it was you.  Please…come down as soon as you can.”  He rubbed a hand over his face.  “I can assure you that it’s quite safe for your crew.  This thing isn’t airborne.  I give you my word on that.  We’ve isolated the source and secured it.  You’re not in any danger.”  Chakotay smiled his thanks.

“I’ll beam down immediately.  There’ll be two others with me for now.  I take it you know how many of us there are in all?”  The man nodded sadly.

“We know…were told and we’re prepared although it would be better if you eased yourselves in.  I’m sending you the co-ordinates now…”  Chakotay turned to Tuvok, who nodded receipt of the details.  Chakotay turned back to the screen.

“We’ll be there in a moment…”  The man nodded again and turned away a moment.  He then turned back.

“Sorry.  There’s one other thing.”  He seemed embarrassed.  “You don’t seem to be wearing a uniform and I was wondering if the others…if you were…”  Chakotay nodded understandingly.

“It’s OK.  We understand about that.  No one is wearing a uniform of any kind.”  Duncan smiled his thanks and then nodded, before cutting the transmission.  Chakotay turned to Tom and then Tuvok.  “You two come with me.  We’ll go on ahead and then call the others down.”  Tuvok nodded his approval at the precaution which protocol demanded then followed the former Commander to the turbolift, nodding to Tom who followed also.  Within two minutes, they materialized on the planet’s surface.

^^^^^^^^^^

Chakotay took a moment and glanced around him.  They were standing in the centre of a small compound which was surrounded by several buildings, a small playground off to their right, the swings and slides deserted.  He found himself surprised at how neat and tidy the place seemed.  Several raised patches of earth sported flowering shrubs, and beyond the buildings he could see many trees growing.  Somehow he hadn’t imagined the surface to be this green.   

He turned his attention now to the man who came towards them, the same one who had answered their hail.  He nodded at him and extended his hand to shake the one which was being offered to him.

“I’m from Starfleet…along with these two men.  Admiral Paris sent us…”  He paused.  “Sorry.  I said that already…  Who else would we be…?”  The man before him nodded slightly and smiled softly.

“You’d be surprised but it’s OK…  It’s nice to be reassured actually.”  He let his smile slip then.  “Unfortunately, we’ve already had experience of an unwelcome visitor…”  He shook his head.  “Sorry…later.”  Chakotay nodded, his eyes suddenly drawn to a small group of women outside one of the buildings.  They huddled together and even from a distance, Chakotay could see and sense their fear.  He turned back to the man before him, seeing that he had followed his gaze. 

“Admiral Paris filled us in…briefed us as much as he could.  Don’t worry.  We understand the confidential and sensitive nature of all this.”  He looked to Tom and Tuvok.  “We all do.  Some of the others will be down shortly in small groups so as not to frighten anyone too much.  Most will work from the ship for the moment.”  He turned back to the fair haired man, who just smiled sadly.

“Thank you again.  You have to understand that they’re terrified but they know this is the only way.  We’re desperate.”  Chakotay sighed deeply.

“It’s all right.  We understand.”  He drew in a deep breath.  “Look, I know there’s a lot we need to discuss and sort but…”  His eyes searched those of the man before him.  “Please…I need to know about Kathryn Janeway…”  He saw the man study him a moment, then smile sadly.

“Of course.  Please come with me.”  He looked behind Chakotay towards Tom and Tuvok and then turned to his right and pointed to another man who had joined them.  “Gentlemen…this is Jonathan.  He’ll take you to meet the others and explain things to you.”  Tom and Tuvok looked to Chakotay a moment and when he nodded, they turned back to Jonathan.

“Please to meet you, Jonathan.  I’m Tom and this is Tuvok.  I’m sorry we’re meeting in this way…”  Jonathan smiled gently as they all shook hands, then indicated the way towards the main building.

“Thank you.  If you’ll just come with me, I’ll tell you what we know…”  Chakotay nodded to his friends again and then turned back to the man beside him who pointed towards another building to their left.

“This way please.”  He began walking before speaking again.  “Your Admiral explained that you knew Kathryn from before…”  Chakotay nodded slowly but said nothing as his guide spoke on.  “He seems a good man…decent and honest…your Admiral that is…”  He looked at Chakotay as they walked and received a small smile.

“Yes…yes…he is…”  Duncan nodded slowly at that.

“Look…I know you said you’d been briefed but I’m not sure how much you actually know.”  He briefly met Chakotay’s eyes.  “We’re not sure what we’re dealing with here.  We’ve used terms from sickness to bug to virus and food poisoning.  Even the term ‘plague’ was uttered.  What we know now is that it is a poison which was deliberately placed in the water supply to the school building and anyone who drank that water is now very sick.”  He stopped when he felt a hand on his arm.

“Kathryn…?”  He saw the pain and worry in the eyes which met his.  He nodded slowly.

“Kathryn has been badly affected by it.”  He turned away from the pain he saw his words inflict and began walking again.  “She was already run down from hard work…emotionally and physically…  Self neglect in a way…despite us constantly being on her back about that.  She was already weak but worked herself into the ground.  She’s not one to listen to good advice and certainly not the best at taking care of herself.  I saw that when we first met her and tried to watch her when she came here.  We all did but…”  He finally looked at Chakotay again and saw that the large man already knew all this.  “I see you know what I’m talking about…”  Chakotay just nodded, memories filling his mind.  The other man went on, adding to his pain without knowing it.

“As I say, she worked so hard.”  He shook his head now and slowed his pace.  “Actually it was more than that.  It’s like she was always trying to escape her demons…or a deep pain…always running from something…or…well…someone…  Of course…she said nothing about being ill…about how she was feeling.  She helped and tended the sick…worked so hard.  She hid it for two days.  We knew nothing until she collapsed…”  He stopped walking now and seemed to regret how much he had divulged.  He looked at Chakotay and saw so much pain in the eyes before him.  “I’m sorry…perhaps I shouldn’t have…”  Chakotay just shook his head.

“It’s OK…I need to know…to understand…”  He swallowed loudly.  “I know her…what she can be like…how she…  She was always a hard worker.”  He swallowed again and shook his head, not trusting his voice anymore.  He saw the sad look on the face of the other man then saw him smile and nod.

“I can see that.  I only spoke as I did because you know her already…felt you should be aware...”   He shook his head then smiled gently.  “I’m sorry.  My manners are terrible.”  He held out his hand again.  “Forgive me.  I’m Duncan.  Duncan Staynes…although we never use surnames here.  I’m one of the doctors…”  Chakotay smiled softly, grateful for the change of direction in their discussion and took the man’s hand again.

“I’m as remiss.  I’m Chakotay…Commander Chakotay…  I was Kathryn's First Officer on Voyager...her XO.  I’m not sure if you know about that…”  He frowned now at the strange look which crossed Duncan’s face.

“Chakotay…?  Ahh…so you’re the one.”  He smiled softly.  “Yes…I know about Voyager.”  He licked at his lips.  “So you’re the ‘Chachotae’…”  Chakotay frowned as he released Duncan’s hand.

“How do you know my name or who I am?  How do you know about me?  You said Kathryn never spoke about…”  His voice trailed off.  Duncan just smiled again and began walking once more, indicating Chakotay should follow him.

“From Kathryn.”  He shook his head, meeting Chakotay’s eyes.  “Don’t get me wrong.  She never spoke of you by name.  Kathryn's heart is a deep well of secrets where her feelings are concerned.”  Chakotay nodded sadly at that.  “I don’t mean to speak out of turn but…  Let’s just say that I know she’s been running from the memories of something and someone.  I’ve seen the pain it causes her and yet…”  He shook his head in memory.  “I see her cling to those memories also.”  He smiled softly at Chakotay.  “I knew it was someone she loved but I didn’t know who of course.  As I said, she never spoke of you directly or by name.”  He hesitated a moment, seemingly unsure of how much to say.  Chakotay nodded to him to continue.

“Please…tell me…”  Duncan nodded again.

“It’s just that…since she’s been so sick…”  He sighed deeply.  “She’s been calling out your name…calling to you constantly…crying out for you…”  He shook his head again.  “It was easy.  I just put two and two together.”  Chakotay stopped and turned away a moment, needing to control his emotions.  Duncan stopped and gave him the time.  When he turned back, Duncan saw the fight there.  Chakotay blinked back the moisture in his eyes.  He was afraid to ask his next question…even more afraid of the answer.

“How…how ill is she…?”  The silence that followed spoke volumes.  Duncan looked into the other man’s eyes and saw them demand the truth.  He shook his head.

“She’s…very ill…I’m sorry…”  Chakotay drew in a ragged breath.

“Is she…”  He swallowed the lump in his throat.  “Is she…dying…?”  The word almost stuck in his throat but his eyes begged.  Duncan lowered his head a moment before finding the courage to meet Chakotay’s eyes.

“I think so…”  Needing to offer some hope though, he pushed on.  “Hopefully now though…with you here…your team…  Please God you’ll be able to do something…”  Chakotay squeezed his eyes closed a moment and then moved forward.

“I need to…see her…”  He looked back at Duncan, suddenly realizing he didn’t know the way.  The other man nodded.

“I’ll take you to her now.  I’ll explain what I can to you.  As soon as your doctor comes, I’ll fill him in on everything we know.”  Chakotay nodded then stopped and slapped at his commbadge.

“Chakotay to Voyager.  Get the rest of the team down here now…especially the medical and scientific personnel.”  He didn’t wait for a reply and began walking again, following Duncan.

^^^^^^^^^^

Chakotay took a moment to let his eyes adjust to the dim interior of the building they had just entered.  He stopped and looked around him in shock, then began walking slowly.  He looked from bed to bed, seeing children and women lying there, tended by other women.  Some in the beds seemed unconscious or asleep, while others lay weakly against pillows.  The typical smells of a hospital or clinic filled his nostrils. 

He instantly sensed the fear his presence brought and tried to smile at the faces which looked to him.  Most turned away quickly or looked to Duncan for reassurance.  The other man touched Chakotay’s arm gently.

“This way…”  He pointed to people lying on mattresses on the floor as they made their way to the back of the building.  “We haven’t nearly enough beds…never believed we’d need so many…”  He seemed to be talking as much to himself as to Chakotay.  “We’re doing what we can…” 

They reached the end of the main room and Duncan turned to look at Chakotay.  He saw the look of disbelief there and tried to defend everything.

“Please understand…  Our equipment is so basic…so old…mostly donated.  Some of it is ‘throw aways’…too out of date for use by others…”  He waved his hand towards his patients.  “It must seem so…I don’t know…medieval…to you…”  He stopped now and turned back to look into the main ward.  “Oxygen tents in this day and age…”  Chakotay met his eyes and shook his head.

“I’m sorry…I don’t mean to…”  Duncan just smiled sadly.

“It’s OK.  I’d be the same if I came across this outside of here.  I’d be as shocked.”  He sighed.  “Look…our equipment is basic.  I know it’s not the most hi-tech or modern…but it works…  Anything state-of-the-art here would be a pipe dream.  This is the best we have.  We’ve managed to keep everyone alive with it.  In this place, we work with what we have…  We’re barely managing to keep on top of treating them all…but…”  He sighed.  “Our lab equipment is pathetic.  We have so little in that area…can’t even hope to try and find a cure…  It’s a miracle we were even able to test the water.  That’s how we learned that this wasn’t something naturally occurring.”  His voice trailed off, not knowing what else to say.  He looked up and nodded when Chakotay placed a hand on his shoulder.

“You’ve done so well…”  Duncan shook his head.

“No we haven’t.”  Chakotay heard the bitterness in his voice.  “I feel so damned  useless…we all do…”  He pulled himself back and smiled sadly, then pointed to a partitioned off section.  “Kathryn's here…”  He watched as Chakotay hesitated a moment, steeling himself as his eyes went to the curtained off area.  He eventually nodded slowly and drew in a deep breath then made his way forward.  Duncan reached out and pulled back the curtain.

^^^^^^^^^^

The first thing Chakotay saw was the back of a woman leaning over the bed.  She turned when Duncan spoke.

“Cassa…this is Chakotay…from Starfleet.”  Chakotay smiled at the woman.  He already knew from Admiral Paris that some of the staff at the refuge were Cardassian.  “Chakotay, this is Cassa Ghal, our other doctor.”  Chakotay reached out and shook the woman’s hand.  He saw the look on her face change quickly, seeing that she recognized his name also.  He smiled at her and received a warm smile in return.  Duncan spoke softly.  “It’s all right.  I’ve already told him about Kathryn calling for him…”  Chakotay glanced at the man a moment and nodded again.  He then tore his eyes away and looked towards the bed, trying to prepare himself for what he would see.

^^^^^^^^^^


ON TO PART THREE.



RETURN TO STORY INDEX ONE.

RETURN TO STORY INDEX TWO.


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