Chakotay awoke that morning, as he did most mornings, with no specific expectation of the day that lay ahead. It was something which had served him well throughout his life and since entering the Delta Quadrant, he found it was an attitude that kept him sane. No day here could ever be planned and he never knew what the next hour would bring, much less the coming day.
This was the last day they would be spending at Intara, a planet rich in minerals and foodstuffs. He knew the crew would be almost sorry to depart this world, shore leave having been enjoyed by them all at a purpose-built resort provided by the Government.
Chakotay remembered the relaxing time he'd spent on the surface the previous day and had almost begged Kathryn to take some leave also, knowing she badly needed it. Thoughts of his captain sobered him instantly. She'd not been herself for many weeks now and despite constant attempts on his part to get her to open up to him or take part in crew events, he failed miserably each time.
He knew she was aware of how he felt about her and he was weary of reminding her that she wasn't alone, that he was always there for her but lately this appeared to cause her to withdraw into herself even more and so he'd backed off, showing her silently that his feelings were the same but that he also respected her space.
He dragged his thoughts back to the present and hurried to the bridge for his shift. He knew there were final details to be gone over with the Intaran Government regarding their trade and set his mind to that. Chakotay admitted to himself that this was one part of their visit to this world he wouldn't miss. While the officials they dealt with were nothing but courteous and helpful, there was something about them which troubled the First Officer. He felt he was dealing with a mask, that there was more going on beneath the surface, hidden from him.
When he arrived on the bridge, he found that Kathryn was already in her ready room and had been on duty for almost two hours already, despite the fact that their shifts started at the same time. He shook his head and sighed as he signalled for entrance to her inner sanctum and was already prepared for the sight that met him. Kathryn, as she was constantly these days, sat behind her desk, engrossed in reports and other ship's business and barely acknowledged his presence. He cleared his throat to speak but Kathryn beat him to it.
"Commander, the bridge is yours today. I'll be going down to the surface."
Chakotay might as well have been hit in the face with a chair, his shock was so great. "Pardon me, Captain, did I hear you right? Are you feeling well?"
His face had broken into a smile which vanished when Kathryn looked up at him and met his eyes. He knew she was tired lately and that something was troubling her but the face he saw held more than that. She looked sad and even vulnerable and concern instantly swept over him. Protocol left the room and he sat in front of her desk. "Kathryn? Kathryn, what's wrong? I can see something…"
immediately stood up and turned towards the replicator, ordering a
refill of her coffee.
"Chakotay, there's nothing wrong. I'm just taking up the chance of some leave. I need… I thought this was what you'd want also. You've been badgering me for days now."
Chakotay was suddenly standing behind her, his concern showing. "Kathryn, I agree you need to take some time off but that's not it. I can read you pretty well and I get the feeling there's something more here. You look…"
"What I look is tired, Chakotay. That's all. Now please, if there's nothing else…" Her manner was soft yet warned against further discussion on the matter and Chakotay reluctantly let it drop.
"All right, Kathryn. I'll drop it for now but just promise me to take this day for yourself. Relax please and take the time to be you for one day. Do something that feels good. I'm not trying to upset you or anything. Kathryn, I just care about you, as does the entire crew. What's good for you is good for us."
She had her back to him and made no move to turn and face him so he turned to leave the room. He'd just reached the door when her voice stopped him and he turned back to her. "Chakotay, I know you care and… I know you all care. I just need to take a bit of time to myself, resolve some things. Chakotay, I care too. I just need to settle…once and for all…"
Chakotay was just about to speak when Tuvok hailed them that they were ready for Kathryn to transport down. As she walked past him toward the door, she suddenly stopped and placed her hand on his cheek. She looked deep into his eyes and seemed about to say something then appeared to change her mind. "I'd better go."
She was out the door and gone before his mind started working again, leaving him wondering what the hell had just happened. Before he had a chance to try and make sense of anything, B'Elanna called him about a problem in Engineering and the train of thought was lost.
The 'problem' in Engineering turned into a full-scale headache for Chakotay and B'Elanna and even with four other Engineering crew helping, it was almost eight hours later before everything was back to normal and Voyager was running at peak efficiency.
Chakotay headed for the mess hall, his mind as tired as his body and forced a small meal down, his exhaustion having stolen his appetite. He groaned to himself thinking of the report which would have to be filed before he could escape to his bed. Some two hours later, he pressed his thumbprint to the last padd and left his office, nothing but sleep on his mind. He was so out of it, not even Kathryn entered his thoughts and within two minutes of falling across his bed, he was asleep.
It took Chakotay a while to realize that the hand shaking his shoulder was not a part of some dream and he slowly climbed back to consciousness and opened his eyes to see Tuvok leaning over him.
"Commander, I apologise for the intrusion but I did try and hail you many times. Obviously you were sleeping rather deeply."
Chakotay dragged himself into a sitting position and realized that he was still wearing his uniform. It was surprisingly free of creases, his slumber having been so deep that he'd made no movement during his unconscious hours.
"Tuvok, sorry. I guess I was too out of it. What is it?" The world was gradually coming into focus and he rubbed at his face with his hands, as if trying to wash the sleep away without the aid of water. The Vulcan's next words however, changed everything.
"Commander, I must inform you that the captain is missing."
Chakotay was now instantly awake and on his feet. "What do you mean 'missing'? Tuvok…"
"Commander, the captain was due back on the ship two hours ago. She has not answered our hails and scans of the surface have failed to locate her."
Chakotay was pacing in a small circle, oblivious of himself. This was something he'd always feared most and he forced his mind to order itself. "Search teams?"
"Already on the surface. The Intaran Government have also been informed and are doing what they can."
"Let's get moving then." Chakotay was off, Tuvok trying to keep up.
Chakotay sat in his office, head in hands, his mind in turmoil. Two weeks had passed and despite constant searches and scans of the planet, no trace could be found of their captain. The Government had sent out search parties of their own and informed the Voyager crew that they'd questioned many people but there had been no sightings of Kathryn Janeway.
He'd stormed out of the mess hall earlier, leaving two red faced ensigns in his wake. Chakotay had torn strips off the two and had barely controlled his fists. He knew the crew were all speculating about their captain's disappearance and many different stories had done the rounds, ranging from the highly possible to the downright impossible.
Most believed that their leader had been kidnapped but that the senior crew were saying nothing until a ransom could be paid. Some believed she had finally cracked and had been put into stasis by the Doctor. Others suggested she'd met with an Official of the Intaran Government and had fallen madly in love and was now going to remain on this world. And now the latest which Chakotay had heard, that she'd run off, her guilt having finally caught up with her and that she was going somewhere to kill herself.
It was late in the evening and the searches had once again been called off until daylight returned. Voyager's First Officer and now acting Captain left his office and found himself wandering the corridors, eventually arriving outside Kathryn's quarters.
He was unsure what had taken him here and without thinking, saw himself using his override codes on her door and entering her rooms. Her scent surrounded him instantly and he felt tears come to his eyes. After a few minutes, he found himself wandering from sitting room to bedroom and back, touching her things as if they could give him the answers he so desired. He absent mindedly fingered a padd lying on her desk and then picked it up, wandering towards the couch before sitting and activating the padd.
He realized at once that the words were part of a personal log and was about to stop reading when his name jumped out at him. He read on slowly, a feeling of guilt growing at this intrusion into her private world but he swallowed it, telling himself that maybe there was some clue here to her whereabouts. What he read suggested to him an answer he didn't ever want to consider.
"This has gone on long enough. I know I'm making Chakotay's life a misery and the crew can even see the way I am, what I've become. I wish so much I could resolve these issues and sort my thoughts but the peace of mind I long for eludes me and without that, no other part of my mind seems to want to function.
Dear Chakotay and his endless patience. I know he loves me and I hate myself for the pain I've caused him. I constantly feel he'd be far better off without me in his life and as I look at this fine crew, I now feel they'd also be better off were I not here. At times I believe I almost hinder their journey home the way I am. Will they ever get to see that home again? Without me, they wouldn't be here in the first place.
I know I need to end all this and so I've finally made a decision. Chakotay has been at me for days now to take some leave and he's right. I know now this is what I need to do and so tomorrow I'll go down to the surface and resolve this one and for all, for the good of everyone. I actually pray for the guidance and courage I need to see this through, to make this decision and keep to it. They all think I'm so strong but I know how weak I can be. If I can just find enough strength to do this, this ship will be a far happier place and maybe Chakotay will find the peace and love he deserves."
Chakotay just sat, his mind in turmoil. Before he thought about it, he hailed Tuvok and when the Vulcan arrived in Kathryn's quarters, obviously wondering what the First Officer was doing there at such a late hour, Chakotay just handed him the padd. He looked around his Captain's private domain carefully, trying to notice if anything was missing but couldn't tell. Finally Tuvok's voice broke into his senses. "Am I correct in assuming that you believe this to be some form of suicide note, Commander?" There was no nice way to say it.
"I'm not sure what to think anymore, Tuvok. Scans would have revealed something, even a body. I don't know what to think anymore." Chakotay stood and paced back and forth. "Let's just say that was her intention, as much as I hate to think that." He tried to keep his emotions in control and think rationally "Surely we'd have found remains or something, even her comm badge." Chakotay looked to Tuvok.
The Vulcan thought a moment. "There is also the possibility that she may have left this planet. We should check to see what other vessels have been here or have left orbit. Sir, I would suggest sharing this with the senior staff, despite the personal nature of the log."
Chakotay nodded. "Call a meeting."
Over the next two hours, many opinions and ideas were passed back and forth. Not one of the senior crew could believe that Kathryn Janeway would ever take her own life but all reluctantly admitted that her words suggested some drastic action on her part. Most preferred to believe that she'd left to find another life elsewhere rather than face the idea that she could have been so desperate as to end it all.
Chakotay looked around at them all, the pain on their faces and the obvious love and respect they all had for their Captain. He wondered if Kathryn had any idea of what she was putting them through, where ever she was.
Finally it was B'Elanna who broke the silence that had ascended over the small group. "Chakotay, even if this is the case… I don't know about the rest of you, but if it's the worst, that she has… Well, we should still look for her and bring her home. It's the least we can do and…" The tough Klingon couldn't go on.
Chakotay nodded only, his throat dried up. He noticed the others mimicking him, all tacitly agreeing. Whatever had happened, they wanted their leader back.
All the next day, they checked and re-checked records from the Government on ship movement to and from the planet and discovered that only Intaran ships had been in and out of orbit. The Official helping them assured them that all their ships had been contacted and that no passengers had been taken on any of them.
At this stage, another Official had joined their meeting and called Chakotay and Tuvok to one side. As delicately as she could, she informed them that their Government were calling off their searches. She pointed out to them that there were many places on their planet where scans could never penetrate and as diplomatically as possible, suggested that there was nothing more to be done. Without coming right out and saying it, the message was passed that it was over, that it was time they moved on.
Chakotay and Tuvok had at this time also checked through Kathryn's personal belongings and discovered that nothing was missing, even items she'd always have kept with her. This discovery did not bode well with them.
When all the senior staff met later back on Voyager, Chakotay relayed the day's events. They all knew the end of the road had been reached, that they'd failed. To stay on further would not be permitted, even though it hadn't been said up front. They would break orbit in the morning and resume their journey home, forever leaving a part of them on this world they'd all come to hate. Voyager would never again be the same.
Chakotay sat in Kathryn's quarters all that night, breathing in her scent and making what contact he could with the woman he loved by touching her belongings but the pain in his soul continued to grow. He felt he'd betrayed her, that by even leaving her body behind, he'd failed her completely. He dreaded the coming morning, when he knew they'd have to finally let her go and he knew the rest of the crew felt the same, that they also shared his silent vigil on this long night.
Nearly three weeks had passed since Voyager's Captain had beamed down to the planet's surface to sort her troubled mind, knowing she couldn't continue the way she had been and not without Chakotay in her life. Her indecision and denial of any personal happiness in her life was tearing the ship apart and she knew it. She knew that if she couldn't function as a whole person, the mission to get home would suffer. She'd come down to the surface to set her mind in order and decide how best to approach the man she loved. She'd wanted her words to be right when she spoke to him and tried to explain how confused and filled with doubts she'd been but also how she'd finally realized that she could no longer live without him in her life in every way. She never got that chance.
She remembered vaguely hearing a small child crying and without thinking, had ventured into the side alley to help if she could. Other images stayed with her of dark shadows suddenly moving out from the walls and closing in on her, of pain when fists and boots rained down on her as she fell under the weight of the shadows and the blackness that claimed her mind within minutes.
For Kathryn Janeway now, hours and days and weeks had all blurred together with only pain and fear filling them. All that existed now was the tiny cell with the damp and cold and almost total darkness and as bad as it was, she grew to crave it. Outside of the cell, was the pain and the bright lights that sliced into her eyes. She thought they took her many times a day but even that was unclear to her. She found her mind unable to comprehend the length of a day anymore and she forced herself to remember names and places from her life, which grew dimmer all the time.
As she lay in the darkness, she tried to block out the screams of what she assumed were other prisoners and wondered if that was how she sounded to them when it was her turn and she screamed until she was hoarse. She felt guilty for feeling relieved that it was someone else's turn and not hers but she knew the others would feel the same. There was no room in this place for thinking of anyone else. Anything like compassion was long gone from her and she found herself with just the base feelings of any creature, fear, pain and hate. All her faith and belief that someone would come for her now was gone and she knew that Voyager had either been destroyed or that her crew believed her dead. Either way, she knew that her only way out of this hell now was through death and found herself praying for that end and the pain free peace it would bring.
Each time they took her was the same. She was dragged down a long stone corridor and thrown into a dark room, and then the bright lights would come on and send shards of pain into her eyes. She would be hauled up off the floor but then it varied from time to time. Sometimes she found herself strapped into a chair, other times chained onto a table or hung from the ceiling but the beatings and torture that followed were always the same. They screamed endless questions at her, none of which she understood. She could never make them understand that without her comm badge, she would never understand their words. She tried on occasions to indicate to them that she needed the badge, but they never grasped her meaning and so the pain continued endlessly.
Lately they'd started using drugs on her and had inserted a tube into her neck, which was left in place. This was used each time to inject the various fluids, all of which caused excruciating pain. Other times, an alien she assumed was a doctor of some kind would come and when she was secured to the table, took great delight in 'examining' her, painful probes inserted all over her body as he prodded and cut away at her flesh and invaded her with crude instruments which caused further agony to an already battered body.
Kathryn knew the drugs were affecting her mind now and even simple thinking was becoming harder. She found trouble at times remembering her own name and constantly repeated names and places to herself in a vain effort to hang onto something of herself. Only short-term memory remained with her now, her long-term memory fading by the day.
She found herself once more awakening in the darkness of her cell and had enough sense to realize that she'd passed out again during her time away. Her thoughts swirled and drifted around her mind and she tried desperately to repeat her words over and over to herself despite the constant pain but her voice failed her. It registered dimly with her that her constant screaming had taken her voice and also that the tube in her neck was causing damage and she felt the skin around the insertion area as burning and painful. The word 'infection' came to her but was forgotten just as quickly. She dragged herself over to a corner of her cell and lay her head down and it vaguely registered with her that her arm and leg wouldn't move with her. With pain her only companion, she let the darkness invade her mind and welcomed it.
Kathryn passed in and out of consciousness and slowly realized that it was longer than usual since her last 'visit'. As time passed further, she came to understand now that days instead of hours had passed with no one coming for her. No food or water had been brought and her limited thought processes were enough for her to realize that the end would come this way. She knew enough to understand that she'd been left here to die in the cold and dark and whereas a death like that would have caused her unbearable pain and sadness before, now it brought relief that soon it would be over. She fought the agonising hunger and thirst and as she felt the darkness enter her mind again, she prayed that this time it would last forever.
Awareness of sorts returned slowly and Kathryn could hear muffled shouts and bangs. Her hearing was bad now and the pain in one ear blocked out most sounds. She suddenly felt hands lift her and knew they were back for her, taking her to another round of pain and torture. She hung limply from the hands that dragged her down the corridor and was conscious of her bare feet dragging along the stone floor, tearing away layers of skin. She felt the journey longer than usual and was suddenly aware of air on her face and body and realized she was outside. A thought came that perhaps this was to be the end, that they were taking her out here to finish her off and she prayed they'd be quick about it.
Kathryn's world swirled around her and suddenly she felt herself lifted by strong arms and could barely make out an alien face staring down at her, her vision blurred. Her head lolled back and she felt she could make out stars and then shadows of perhaps trees. Other muffled shouts and screams came to her and then loud explosions. The arms carrying her tightened and then the darkness came to her again.
The next time Kathryn was aware, she found herself lying on something soft and another alien face was looking down at her. She tried to move her head to see her surroundings but pain stopped her and she groaned, little sound coming from her throat. She was aware of something cool on her forehead and then she closed her eyes again.
Time passed this way and each time Kathryn became aware, the same alien face was there, tending and soothing her and she felt her fear slowly fade. She tried moving again but each time she was met with fresh pain and so she gave up. She felt this 'woman' smear a paste on her body that always burned slightly but eased within seconds. As her awareness increased and her lucid moments became longer, her new friend would press some form of leaf into her mouth and make an indication of chewing to Kathryn. She quickly understood that this leaf took some of her pain away and she tried to smile her gratitude but even the effort of that caused agony and she gave up.
After many 'days' spent in this state, Kathryn finally managed to take in some of her surroundings. She came to realize that she was far from alone here in her condition. There were many others lying on the ground, scattered around the cave like area they inhabited. Finally Kathryn tried to sit up and was rewarded with a wave of nausea and dizziness which knocked her back down again. Her friend, now her constant carer, stroked her face gently and uttered soft words which Kathryn couldn't understand. She pressed a wet cloth to Kathryn's lips, slowly squeezing it to let the moisture drip into her mouth. Kathryn sucked desperately on the cloth, craving the fluid it held, causing her to cough violently. The other woman withdrew the cloth quickly and gently eased Kathryn onto her side until it passed then gently lay her back down again. A silent moment passed between the two women and Kathryn found herself feeling safe for the first time in her memory.
As the days went by, Kathryn slowly gained strength and found she could take the pain with the help of the leaves she was given to chew. The darkness of the cave was easy on her eyes but her hearing was bad and her voice seemed to have left her completely. She was managing to keep a little food and water down now. Kathryn became aware that there were perhaps twenty or so people in this place, all doing what they could for the sick and dying. Twice she witnessed the removal of someone who'd not made it through the night and it pained her. She never knew when night was there, the dim illumination of the cave making time impossible to distinguish.
Slowly bit by bit, she was able to move around and as time passed, she began helping with the others, doing what her new friend showed her. She noticed that her arm and leg were twisted, the breaks having healed badly. Her left arm and hand were of little use and her right leg dragged badly but she managed. Almost everything seemed to have to be learned again but she found having some purpose helped her.
Comprehension with the others was a major problem but with hand gestures, understanding was quickly established. She learned that her friend was called Lall but when she tried to say her own name, nothing came to her, either in voice or from her memory. Lall seemed to understand and just smiled.
Kathryn tended the others as best she could, pressing the leaves into their mouths, spreading the paste on wounds and comforting them in their pain. On one occasion, she sat and cried for a long time as a young child died in her arms, hoping that her presence and comforting had eased the little one's passage in some way.
Over time, she eventually ventured outside with the others, always during the hours of darkness. She realized that the darkness was a friend to them all, their eyes as badly affected by light as her own. Her new friends quickly taught her their ways and showed her the correct fruit and berries to pick, how to find the leaves that eased their pain, where to dig for tubers, even how to fish the nearby stream.
With time, Kathryn came to accept this life and what had been before slipped from her but there was always something in her mind that refused to let go but it would never form clearly for her. She found herself constantly staring at the night sky without understanding why and in this way she earned her new name. The others watched her sadness when her mind wandered like this and would point to the sky and then at Kathryn, saying simply 'Kar'. A closeness grew amongst the group who depended so much upon each other.
One night, Kathryn was working the river and found a flat stone. On instinct she slipped it into her clothing and when she had time, she chipped away at it, working a design into it. Her mind would give her no clue as to why she did this, but she knew it was important to her and so it became her most treasured and only possession. She kept it tied inside her clothing, guarding it carefully.
Some nights, there would be screams from further into the forest and the others always dragged her back into the cave quickly. Later, she realized that some of them hadn't returned and weren't seen again.
The next time this happened, Kathryn was working with Lall digging tubers when dark shadows came from nowhere. Lall screamed and fought with one of the shadows. Kathryn felt hands dragging her away and realized one of their group was trying to get her to safety but something in her fought the hands. She found herself running towards her friend to help and suddenly two more shadows were on her and now she was fighting for herself. She knew with her arm and leg the way they were that she'd no hope and felt something strike her head and then nothing.
When the world came back to Kathryn, she found herself in a small, windowless room lying on a bed. It took several minutes for her eyes to adjust to the gloom and she slowly began to make out the bed she lay on, a table and chair in the corner and cloth hangings on the wall. A dim light burned on the table.
Suddenly Kathryn heard the door open and a man stepped into the room carrying a bowl of sorts and a tray of something. He nodded to some unseen presence outside the door and Kathryn saw the door close again and heard a lock click into place. This alien man walked towards the table, ignoring Kathryn and her fear. She curled up tightly on the bed as far from him as she could. Finally he turned to her and just stared for a long time and then brought the tray over to her. He motioned with his hand that she should eat and set the tray down beside her on the bed then backed off. Kathryn's hunger won out over her fear and she grabbed at the food. This stranger then brought over some water from a jug on the table Kathryn hadn't seen and handed it to her. Once again her fear came second to her needs and she gulped down the liquid, almost choking on it.
The stranger came back towards her and removed the tray and glass, placing them on the table. He brought the bowl over to her and placed it on a chair beside the bed. He knocked on the door and took something from the one outside, nodding again and then the door locked once more. The man now indicated to Kathryn that she should wash and change into the clothes he laid on the bed then knocked once more on the door and was gone.
Kathryn's instinct to be clean quickly took over and she washed and changed quickly. It felt good to be clean again and she enjoyed this small pleasure. A lot of her memories had left her but she found that instincts remained. As she changed, she remembered her stone and removed it from her old rags, hiding it quickly inside her new dress, then lay down on the bed to await whatever would be next.
The stranger came back and removed the basin and the old clothes but returned quickly. Once again he stood and stared at her and Kathryn felt herself growing nervous. Slowly he approached her and she found herself staring into his face, quickly reading his slow smile. Her mind worked well enough to understand the look on his face and with the instincts she still had, she found herself sliding off the bed and backing into a corner.
He was on her before she knew what was happening. She fought as best she could but knew she had no hope. She ducked under his arm, knowing there was nowhere to go yet trying to stave off the inevitable but he was too quick for her, her leg hindering her badly. She felt him lift her off her feet and then throw her down onto the bed. Within seconds he was on her, tearing at the dress he'd given her. She felt it rip and then felt the pain as his hands squeezed at her breasts. His knees dug between her thighs painfully and she fought with all her strength but to no avail. She was weak and he knew it. In seconds he'd entered her and Kathryn tried to scream out as pain racked her lower body but no sound came. He rammed into her, ignoring her tears and then she felt him shudder and empty himself into her. He lay on top of her for several minutes as her tears continued, then pulled out of her, straightened his clothes and left the room.
Kathryn continued to lie there, her mind and body in shock. She was suddenly aware of another man entering the room and waited for the same thing to happen again. She was conscious of this man kneeling down between her legs and pulling her towards the edge of the bed. The fresh assault didn't come and she looked towards him but he ignored her. He started wiping at her and Kathryn saw the cloth he used stained with her blood, then felt him run some kind of device over the area before spreading a cream on her. A hypospray of sorts was pressed to her hip and Kathryn felt the pain ease. This was followed by two others and then this 'doctor' handed her another dress and left the room without having uttered a word.
Kathryn found herself acting on autopilot as she changed her dress, secured her stone and then crawled onto the bed, curling into a tight ball. Exhaustion overtook her and she was dimly aware of someone in the room taking the old dress and pulling a blanket over her. She gave into the darkness and prayed not to return.
Over the next days or weeks, she wasn't sure, her 'owner' as she came to think of him, visited many times and slowly started to introduce others to her. Kathryn now understood why she was here and gave up thoughts of fighting it quickly. Mostly she just lay there and let the men do what they'd come for. The doctor was a constant visitor to her, healing the injuries which the men inflicted and to press a hypospray to her neck each morning. Kathryn knew enough to understand that this was some form of contraceptive and wondered how she knew this but she accepted it, just as she accepted the image of a man's face which came to her and gave her comfort. She couldn't remember him well but he was always there with her. His image made her feel good and she vaguely remembered caring for him at some time. She longed to be with him and wondered where he was.
Some of the men who came would be gentle and appeared to just want release but others delighted in her pain and tears. Kathryn realized quickly that fighting them prolonged the ordeal with some and finished it more quickly with others and she learned to act accordingly. Most of the time she just lay still and let them take what they'd come for. She would withdraw into her mind as they pulled her body around and used her for their own satisfaction. All Kathryn did was pray for an end that never came.
In the weeks and months following their departure from Intara, life aboard Voyager was changed. Neelix was at a loss as regards morale and found he didn't care. There was no longer any banter on the bridge, meal times were silent affairs and the holodecks went unused. Chakotay was functioning only, refusing contact with others and after his shifts, retired to his quarters, not appearing until his next. Even Tuvok was disturbed.
Chakotay tried many times to contact Kathryn's spirit on a vision quest but always failed and eventually gave up. No laughter was heard on the ship and smiles were as rare. Kathryn Janeway had taken with her the souls of every crewmember and the ship itself.
Chakotay sat on the bridge, his mind somewhere else. He sat in his own chair, refusing to ever sit in Kathryn's. Tuvok rarely used the First Officer's chair, preferring to remain at Tactical.
Chakotay's thoughts were suddenly interrupted by Tuvok telling him that they were picking up a distress call. Within a half hour, they arrived at the source of the call and came across a small ship with one life sign. Chakotay ordered an immediate beam out and within minutes of that, the small craft exploded.
Voyager's new Captain, who refused the title, made his way to sickbay where he was met with the Doctor working over a small woman who seemed relatively unharmed. He told her what had happened to her ship and watched as her face paled when she realized how close she'd come to being killed.
Chakotay sat across from her as she explained her situation. She told him she was Denar, the eldest daughter of the Ruler of Briall, a planet nearby and that she studied science and had been on an exploration of a nebula close by when her engines had developed problems. She assured Chakotay that he and this crew would be handsomely rewarded for returning her to her home. Chakotay assured her that they'd do this anyway and all they'd ask for would be a chance to trade for supplies and nothing more.
After the Doctor declared Denar fit to leave sickbay, Chakotay and B'Elanna accompanied her to guest quarters. Their guest was a small woman of humanoid appearance with golden hair highlighted with an almost greenish tinge. Her face was small and pretty with a slight ridge over her eyebrows and another under her chin.
B'Elanna noticed that this girl would need clothes and hesitated to suggest to Chakotay that she appeared the same size as Kathryn but the look in his eyes told her that she already reminded him of the woman they'd all lost. As delicately as she could, she raised the subject. "Denar will need clothes."
Chakotay had indeed already noticed the almost identical body shape of the alien before him and nodded slowly. "I know B'El, and I guess it's time. She'd want use made of… I'll get something." With that he was gone.
Chakotay returned with some of Kathryn's clothes, having chosen a dress and wrap she'd seldom worn. Anything else would have been too painful for him. He knew she used the wrap when alone in her quarters reading, but it wasn't in his own memory. He handed the garments to Denar.
Denar reached for them and as she took hold of the wrap, she stopped dead. She appeared to almost enter a trance and quickly dropped the items on the floor, backing into a corner quickly, tears pouring down her face. "How could you do this? These things. With all that suffering." She was almost hysterical at this stage and Chakotay and B'Elanna were shocked at her reaction. "What did you do to her? Where? How?" The young girl fell to her knees and B'Elanna approached her slowly.
"Denar, what is it? These clothes belonged to our Captain. I'm sorry if we upset you. Look, she died some months ago but I know she'd want someone to have use…"
Denar's next words slammed into Chakotay. "These… She's not dead. Her pain, her suffering. Where is she? Where is she? What kind of people are you to let it happen? What have you done to her?"
B'Elanna was equally shocked and did her best to explain to Denar what had happened over the last three months and about Kathryn's disappearance and their futile search for her. The entire time, Chakotay just stood and listened. Finally he spoke. "Denar…" His voice was breaking. "Denar, are you a telepath or something?"
She looked at him. "My people have always been able to see beyond what shows itself. We understand what cannot be seen." She young girl was still very upset.
Chakotay walked towards her shakily. "Denar, please understand. What we say is true. We lost someone we loved very much and everything made us believe she was dead. Now you're saying… I don't know… Oh Kathryn." He fell to his knees and was aware of B'Elanna holding him.
When they'd all calmed and were thinking straight, Chakotay alerted Tuvok and they brought Denar to Kathryn's quarters. They watched the emotions fight for room on her thin face as she walked around, touching items which had gone untouched since Kathryn's fingers had last been on them. Finally, she sat and looked to the three of them. Her voice was filled with pain.
"I know she's alive. I can't prove that to you but I know with everything that is in me that I speak the truth. She's in pain. I'm sorry. Maybe I shouldn't…"
Chakotay spoke for them all. "I know this will be terrible and painful for us to hear but if it means, in any way, that we can get to her, find her… Please."
The young girl nodded her head and continued. "Please understand that I see images and they don't always make sense. I can only tell what I see and feel." She looked to them and they nodded, indicating that she continue. Denar held onto Kathryn's wrap and concentrated. "I see darkness, always dark. So much pain and suffering, terrible confusion, alone and…" She looked towards Chakotay and saw his tears and he nodded to her to go on.
"There was…tricked in some way. She was alone, hungry, so much pain. I can't…then I see others but they're also in the dark, only there's no escape. The others have pain also but they don't bring the pain. Nothing but pain, agony, burning inside. More darkness, a long time I think. Something then…fast movement and… It's all mixed up, running, trees, some place else. It's also dark but it feels safer. Many others there. I think later…a good time later…strangers come. Somewhere else…a struggle. Men…many men…pain and fear. Alone again. Something was taken from her. I don't know. She wanted to give it to someone else but she couldn't fight. I can't see clearly. So much suffering and always dark. More struggle…in pain…" Denar slumped back apparently exhausted but continued, knowing how important this was to these people.
"Some kind of comfort. She has something, something special to her, a link. It holds her. There's so much confusion, her mind. There's something wrong, her arm and leg. She's inside herself, hiding there. I'm sorry…" Denar was too exhausted now and lay back on the sofa. "You must go back." As she said this, Chakotay was already giving Tuvok orders to turn the ship and return to Intara, then he stumbled out of the room.
Word spread quickly amongst the crew and suddenly they had a purpose, a goal. Everyone worked double shifts, pushed themselves to the limit. Only one thing mattered now. Getting to their Captain before it was too late. They vowed not to fail this time.
Kathryn began to slowly realize that the number of men coming was growing smaller and she came to understand that her owner wasn't happy with the way she just lay there most of the time. He came to understand quickly that pain was the only way through to her and constantly took delight in inflicting as much as he could on her. When he came for her himself, he always seemed to be trying new ways to cause her pain and humiliate her into some reaction.
On this occasion, he stormed into the room, slamming the door behind him. Kathryn was instantly terrified as he made a grab for her, throwing her against the wall. He dragged her over to the table and threw her face down over it. She felt him pull her dress up from behind and fumble to release himself. Instantly he was inside her, pounding in and out of her but she refused to give him what he wanted. Suddenly she felt him pull out of her and then he was pressing against her anus, thrusting painfully inside her. Kathryn tried to scream out and fight him off and she heard him laugh. This was what he wanted and he reached over her, pinching the soft flesh of her inner arms, trying to cause the most pain he could to her. He came quickly, delighting in her pain, his laughter and grunts ringing in her ears.
When he pulled out of her, Kathryn fell to the floor in agony but her ordeal wasn't over. She felt herself dragged up by her hair and then pulled out of the room. He hauled her down a hallway and towards a window of sorts where she could see another woman with her 'client'. He made Kathryn watch for a long time, showing her what was expected of her, then dragged her back to her room where he used her again to his own satisfaction and then beat her, leaving her in a heap on the floor.
This continued but Kathryn wasn't responding to what was expected of her. The men came less often and despite several visits from her owner, always now involving his new brand of punishment, Kathryn only proceeded to withdraw into herself further. The doctor was with her two or three times a day now but she just lay there and let him treat her. She actually began to notice a semblance of pity with him towards her.
When two or more days had passed and no men had visited, Kathryn waited for what was to come and it came quickly. She felt herself bounced off the walls and furniture and then thrown across the table. This time he was more brutal than usual and Kathryn hoarsely screamed in agony as he rammed himself into her repeatedly, tearing at her flesh. When he was finished, she was dragged into the hallway and flung into the wall. He continued screaming abuse at her and then she felt herself dragged to the top of a flight of stairs, before he threw her down them. Kathryn landed in a crumpled heap at the bottom, pain racking her body. In seconds he was on her again, dragging her down another passageway and then outside.
He slammed her into another wall, where she smashed her face on the hard surface, feeling her nose and mouth pour blood. Suddenly she was aware that it was bright sunlight outside and she tried to scream as the brightness tore into her eyes, trying her best to shield herself from the unforgiving light. She felt herself lifted and thrown into another surface and then felt herself moving. She realized quickly that she was on a cart of some kind and knew with certainty that he was taking her somewhere to kill her and found that she welcomed it.
The cart rounded a corner and Kathryn rolled with it, the light once again cutting into her eyes. She felt a sharp pain to her ribs and realized that her body had rolled over onto her stone, which was hidden in her dress. A surge of energy and fight came to her and with it the face which always stayed with her. Shielding her eyes as best she could, she tried to see where she was and barely made out a narrow street. Without thinking, she rolled herself off the back of the cart and threw herself to the ground, rolling to her feet as best she could. She ducked into the alley and dragged herself down it, hearing the roars of the monster behind her. Pure survival instinct took over and she struggled on, feeling her way around another corner, the shouts from behind gaining on her.
Suddenly hands reached out and grabbed her, one of them pressing tightly over her mouth and she found herself pulled into a doorway. She struggled as best she could and felt a body press her onto the ground, lying on top of her to prevent her escape. She heard the shouts continue and then feet pounding past where she lay and quickly understood that the one holding her was not her owner and she stopped her struggles.
After some time, the hand on her mouth eased and the body rolled off her. Kathryn slowly opened her eyes and found that she was in semi darkness, much to the relief of her eyes. The face before her was female and she instantly recognized it as a woman who'd been in the cave with her. Kathryn's tears of relief came immediately and the two women hugged tightly, drawing comfort from each other.
Kathryn learned quickly that there were others using this run-down shack and a new life quickly developed. The others treated her injuries the best way they could but some went untreated. Many lived in this way, sleeping by day and trawling the streets by night, scavenging what food they could from the market area and from other people's throwaways. Each night, Kathryn and her friends crept through the dark alleys in search of something to fill their bellies. She wondered if life had always been like this for her but knew in some corner of her mind that it hadn't been. The face of the man in her mind, gentle and kind, spoke to her of a better life once, where love and kindness had dwelt. Now life was about survival as Kathryn and the others searched under boxes and in gutters for scraps and at the back of rooming places, where meals were served for others. Water was available from the fountains and they often used makeshift buckets to carry some back to their shelter for drinking and washing. Kathryn always tried her best to keep clean and noticed that the others did the same. They lived worse than animals but they had pride. They also knew being clean meant staying a little healthier.
Kathryn's injuries continued to plague her and the others helped as best they could, supplying her with the painkilling leaves. She knew that their stories were similar to her own, especially the women. They huddled together when sleeping for warmth and Kathryn was amazed to notice that some had even formed couples. Their group was close and depended on one another, sharing what they had and just being there for each other. Many times during their sleep time, Kathryn would lie awake, caressing her stone and holding to the image of the man's face who gave her so much comfort. She constantly wondered about who she really was and what had been before. She still stared at the sky at night and felt almost a calling to it.
Over time, Kathryn noticed that her strength was fading and knew the others would look after her, but she didn't want that. She knew it was hard enough for them to take care of themselves and she didn't want to end her life here. She longed to return to the cave she vaguely remembered and knew she wanted to die there, out of the city and in the fresh, clean air, a place where she'd felt safe. More and more now there seemed to be police or soldiers on the streets at night and it frightened her. They always seemed to be chasing someone and Kathryn was terrified of being returned to her owner.
She managed to convey this to the others and they understood, although they were sad about it. The woman who'd pulled her to safety that day from her owner, Manna, managed to draw a crude map for Kathryn to follow and led her to the edge of the city that night. Kathryn had made a tearful goodbye with the others but only Manna came with her to see her off. The two women hugged tightly and said a silent farewell and then Kathryn set off. She knew it would take her some time and prayed for the strength to take her home.
Denar had insisted on returning with Voyager to search for Kathryn. Having contacted her father and arranged for ships to meet with Voyager to restock them, she received Chakotay's permission to stay with them. She felt she could still help and wanted to see this through, feeling it was some way to re-pay these people for saving her life.
The crew grew used to seeing the young Briallan woman wander the corridors, always clutching Kathryn's wrap. As they continued towards Intara, Denar once again told Chakotay of what she sensed.
"I'm sensing less pain. There was more but it's lessened, different now. Hungry and still dark. There's more comfort but still struggle. I can't decipher this well. I'm sorry. She's weaker, something fading. Still confused…" Chakotay stayed silent and let her continue.
"Always dark, never any light. There was a fight or a struggle. Pain. Was there but not so much now. I feel weakness. I think she's alone now. It's dark still but alone. A journey of some kind, has to get somewhere to feel safe…" She was crying now and looked to Chakotay.
"I'm sorry. I feel her weakening so much, letting go but I still feel the link…a circle. I'm sorry." She was exhausted by the efforts again.
In almost record time, Voyager once again entered orbit of a planet none of them had ever wanted to see again. Chakotay prepared himself for a confrontation with the Officials he'd dealt with before and who had in all but words, ordered them to leave.
The face that answered their hails was a stranger to him. Chakotay had barely started to explain why they'd returned when the Official interrupted him.
"Please Captain, I understand more than you know. Please, meet with me and I'll explain everything. You have nothing to fear. Circumstances have changed on this world. Please, I'll explain when you arrive." The link was cut and coordinates received by Kim, which he passed to the Transporter Room.
Chakotay was stunned but still wary. He beamed down with Tuvok and a strong security detail. If the Official was insulted in any way, he didn't show it. In fact, he seemed to expect it. He ushered them into an office and offered refreshments which were declined. When they were all seated, the Official began his story while Voyager's officers and crew sat stunned.
"My apologies for waiting until you were here to explain all this. It will become clear as I speak." They nodded for him to continue. "You are not the first to return here and I'm sorry to say you won't be the last. You explained briefly that someone of your crew disappeared here, yes?"
Chakotay answered him. "Our Captain. We believed she had either been killed or… She had been troubled. We searched but…"
The Official nodded. "Sir, please. I can tell you your own story. She disappeared and the Government helped in the search. They were very helpful but no trace of your Captain was ever found. They stated that some areas of the planet could not be scanned due to mining operations and the like. All ships were contacted and no passenger had been taken on board any of them. Eventually, after some time it was 'suggested' that you leave. Despite extensive searches by both yourselves and the Government, she was not found and not one person had ever seen her. Am I correct?"
They sat stunned. Tuvok was the first to break the silence. "I believe you have spoken these words before."
The Official nodded. "Sadly of late, too many times. Your Captain was not the first. Please, let me explain. The Government in power when you were here has been overthrown in recent weeks. We, the former Resistance, are still finding our feet. Unfortunately, it will take a long time to re-build what was before and to undo what was done by those… Pardon me, Gentlemen. What we had was a corrupt Dictatorship which abused its people. Eventually after many months, almost a year in the planning, we took over. Those who murdered and maimed now inhabit the prison cells where they once committed those crimes against their helpless victims. All supporters and those who benefited from that regime keep them company. Sir, if your Captain is still alive, I'm sorry to speak in that way, but if she is, we'll find her." He looked sadly at Chakotay and the others.
Tuvok spoke now. "May be have your permission to scan the surface for human life signs and conduct a search?"
The other man sat forward. "Of course. Please, whatever you need, just ask. I assure you, this Government is open and honest. Unfortunately, very few records exist from before. Also, some former prisoners still hide away in caves which are hidden by scans. That part was true. There are some areas which cannot be scanned due to deposits in the stone. Unfortunately, the prison was one such area. What I can do is speak with my colleagues and former Resistance friends. If she was in the prison, someone might know. She would have stood out and been remembered. Do you have an image of her? I could show it around." Chakotay assured the Official he would send this immediately and thanked the man profusely for his honesty and help.
"Please come and go as you wish. We only want to undo as much of the evil that was done as possible but there is so much. People are still on the streets, homeless and hungry. We can't feed and house them quickly enough. A lot of them are still very frightened and finding them and reaching them is a problem. I'll make this a priority though, and I'll speak with the others immediately."
When Chakotay returned to Voyager, he was emotionally drained. Denar met with him, still clutching Kathryn's wrap. She seemed upset. "Commander, please. You must hurry. She's growing weaker. I feel she's… It's still dark but this feels…deep. I can't explain. Deep and…down." She stopped for a minute then looked up, sudden clarity in her eyes. "Under the ground." Chakotay looked panicked.
Denar shook her head quickly. "No, she's alive. I know. I feel her. Where she is… It's hidden and there are others…under the ground. She holds something…the link. It's round…something on it, a circle. I'm sorry."
Chakotay remembered the Official mentioning caves and within two hours, the Official hailed Chakotay and Tuvok and asked them to return to the surface. He told him there was someone who would meet with them but was suspicious. The Official explained that they'd meet in a public place and that he would accompany them. This was the only way his contact would agree to the meeting.
They met in a café of sorts and the young woman who was already seated appeared very nervous. Once the Official assured her that all was well and told her about the situation, she visibly relaxed. She named herself as Reea and told them that she worked with the street people and victims of the old Government. She spit the last words then controlled herself and started speaking.
She told them about life in the prison, sparing them no details. She told of the torture and abuse, the medical experiments, the screams and helplessness of the inmates there. Chakotay found himself clutching the table in front of him in rage, thinking of his Kathryn going through that. The young woman saw his reaction and this increased her trust in him. She called to someone behind her they hadn't noticed and another young woman joined them. Reea introduced the young girl as Lall. Chakotay showed Lall the image he'd brought with him of Kathryn and she studied it for a while then whispered to Reea.
"Lall says this is Kar, although she looked very different from her injuries. She was in the prison. She was badly injured from beatings and torture. Drugs had been used on her." Chakotay tried to control himself and his emotions. He knew he had to keep control if he was to find Kathryn.
Lall continued to whisper to Reea, too nervous to speak directly to the others. Chakotay noticed she held onto Reea's hand the entire time.
Reea nodded and turned back to Chakotay and the others. "There was an escape. Our Resistance attacked the prison and got our…their people out. They also risked their lives to take the others with them. Lall says Kar was one of them. She says she was taken to a hide of theirs, a cave." Reea listened again as Lall spoke. "Kar was badly hurt, you understand. Lall tended her for many days. Eventually she began to recover and then helped in return. She stayed with them for some time."
Chakotay nodded and spoke softly. "Reea, I'm sorry but are you sure 'Kar' is Kath…our Captain?"
Reea spoke quietly with Lall and nodded at her. "She's sure. They named her Kar because it fit. Kar means 'sky' in her language. She was always looking at the sky and the stars it seems."
Chakotay barely controlled himself. "Does Lall know where she is now?"
After a lot more whispering, Reea nodded and turned to Chakotay. She seemed to hesitate but he silently pleaded with her, his eyes asking for him. She nodded again and cleared her throat.
"Sometimes soldiers, more like hunting parties, came to the forests looking for…women. They caught Lall one night and Kar ran to her rescue. She apparently could have gotten to safety but instead came to help Lall. They were both taken." She stopped at this and swallowed.
Chakotay was agitated by now. "Taken where?"
Reea hesitated and then continued. "The women taken like this were taken to…visiting places, places where men, Government and Officials could visit." She didn't continue and Chakotay groaned and turned away. After several minutes he controlled himself.
Reea continued. "Lall is unsure what happened to Kar after that. She knows they were there for some time but that the owner was not happy with Kar. She knows he beat her and… She's unsure but she heard that the owner beat her badly the last time and took her away. Lall was rescued when the Resistance stormed the house a week or so later."
Chakotay remembered Denar's words. "Something was taken from her. She wanted to give it to someone else." He let his head fall into his hands.
"Are you saying she believes the Captain was killed by this 'owner'?" It was the first time Tuvok had spoken.
Reea spoke again with Lall and listened to her reply. "Lall is not sure but she heard stories of Kar on the streets. Perhaps she escaped. She says she knows another woman who lived the streets and might know. We could go there." Chakotay nodded and pushed himself away from the table. He needed air.
Chakotay stood outside and gulped in the air, trying to control his raging emotions. Images of Kathryn and what she'd endured tore at him and he felt his tears come. He squeezed his eyes closed. Suddenly he felt a hand on his arm and opened his eyes to see Tuvok. "Commander?"
"Tuvok. Sorry. It's just…"
"I understand. We should return and try and find this other woman." The Vulcan was barely managing to keep control of himself. Chakotay saw this and nodded then took another lungful of air to calm himself and returned inside. He apologised to the women and the Official but could see they understood.
Reea continued. "Sir, Lall has also told me that Kar had injuries that didn't heal. Her arm and leg. They were broken but they were unable to do much. You must understand how it was for them." Denar's words echoed to Chakotay again. "Something wrong. Her arm and leg."
Chakotay and Tuvok thanked Lall and as they left, Chakotay asked Reea if the young woman would be all right. Reea assured them that Lall had the help she needed now and would be fine in time.
After walking through back streets for perhaps half an hour, they arrived at a small shack like dwelling and waited while Reea made contact with the woman they were looking for and then she called them in. The young woman appeared terrified and told a similar story to Lall. She remembered Kar and told them she'd been on the streets with them but that she'd been closer to another woman named Manna. She then told them that Manna still lived on the streets, too afraid to be helped yet. They thanked her and when they were outside, Reea told them that in order to find Manna, they'd have to wait until night when these women came out. She explained about how they hid in the dark and warned them that Kar might also have the same problems. They thanked her and arranged to return in two hours time.
Back on the ship, Chakotay sought out the Doctor and told him what he knew so far of Kathryn's condition. He wanted the Doctor ready for anything.
That night, he and Tuvok searched the back streets for Manna and what they saw shocked them to the core. They kept their distance from the shadows which crawled there, afraid of frightening them further and let Reea approach them. They seemed to know and trust her. While she spoke with someone, Chakotay watched some of the people scavenging in the gutter for what rotten fruit they could find and his heart broke to think of Kathryn living like this. He looked at the pitiful creatures who'd been men and women once and he prayed they would be again.
Reea returned with a timid young woman and introduced her as Manna. She eventually looked at Chakotay and seemed to gasp. Reea immediately asked her what was wrong and reassured her that these people were safe. Manna pointed to Chakotay and whispered to Reea.
Reea translated for the man before her. "She knows your sign." Chakotay didn't understand and Reea asked for more from Manna.
"She says the sign on your face travelled with Kar on her stone." She went on, as Manna filled her in, about Kathryn's stone and Chakotay finally began to understand what Denar meant by the link. His tears came full force now and this time he didn't hide them. He understood from Manna that Kathryn's mind was affected in some way, her memories damaged but that she'd kept this stone with her, her only link to what she'd been and it broke his heart.
Manna told them all she knew and about Kathryn's trek home to die. Chakotay was falling apart with what he was learning and as soon as they received the location of the cave from Manna, he and Tuvok beamed back to the ship to arrange transport to the place he prayed he would finally find Kathryn. He prayed also that they wouldn't be too late.
Kathryn travelled by night and hid away to sleep by day, finding any shelter she could. She drank from what streams she could find and ate berries and fruits whenever she could find them. She grew weaker and her pain increased. She managed to find some of the leaves she'd come to know so well, but they helped little any more.
After perhaps a week, Kathryn reached 'home' and fell into the arms of the men and women who ran to her. She watched their eyes as they took in her appearance and silent understanding passed between them. Their Kar had come home to die and they all knew it. They gently carried her into the cave and lay her down on soft bedding. Kathryn felt herself let go after the tremendous strain of the last week and knew that here with these people she'd be safe and cared for.
Over the next few days, she gained a little strength back but she knew there'd be no miracle recovery. Her brief gain was only a prelude to her weakening once again and as the next day passed, Kathryn faded. Someone was always with her, comforting and tending to her in the only ways they knew. Throughout all this, Kathryn held tightly to her stone.
Chakotay and a team took a shuttle and the Official and Reea went with them. Transporting directly to the site was out of the question, whatever it was in the rocks that prevented their scans, making beaming down impossible. Chakotay got Tom to pilot and brought along B'Elanna and the Doctor. Within minutes they were on their way.
They landed a little bit away from the cave, afraid of frightening the inhabitants of this place. Chakotay gave Reea and the Official a few minutes to approach first and explain, then he followed with B'Elanna and the Doctor. He watched the faces of the people as he approached and he saw their fear and mistrust but Reea constantly reassured them. Finally an old man came up to them and told them that Kar was in the cave but that she was close to her returning. Chakotay didn't need a translation.
As he entered the cave he was shocked by what he saw and how these people fended for themselves and lived. The old man pointed to the corner and Chakotay held his breath as he caught a glimpse of red hair. Kathryn lay with her back to them and an older woman was tending her, gently sponging her face. Chakotay approached slowly and saw the woman look up in fear until the old man nodded to her. She stepped back and let Chakotay take her place.
Chakotay knelt down and looked at Kathryn for the first time in months and his tears almost blinded him. Her face was marked with scars from old cuts and beatings and her breathing was ragged. She appeared to be almost skin and bone only, her face gaunt and her eyes sunken back in their sockets. He lifted his hand to her face, pushing her hair back and was shocked by the heat coming from her skin. He called gently to her and her eyes fluttered open. She met his eyes with a glazed look from her fever and for an instant there was recognition before her eyes closed again. Chakotay felt her hand move and looked down, taking her hand in his. He kept calling her name and then Kathryn moved her other hand to his and gently dropped her stone into his open palm. Chakotay sobbed out loud as Kathryn's hands both fell limply back to the ground.
Chakotay gave way immediately as the Doctor came over and held his breath again as the medic examined her. He quickly ordered them back to the shuttle and Chakotay stepped forward and lifted her into his arms. She weighed almost nothing and this only added to his heartache. He gently carried her to the waiting shuttle, B'elanna following behind and the Doctor ahead of them. Kathryn's friends parted to let them through and each of them reached out a hesitant hand to touch her as they passed. Chakotay was aware of his tears and had no intention of hiding them.
As they boarded the shuttle, he heard Tom's gasp of horror and the Doctor's order to get them back as quickly as possible. Chakotay lay Kathryn down gently and let the Doctor go to work. He shouted to the Official and Reea that he'd send someone back for them and they nodded their understanding. Kathryn was all that mattered now.
The trip took too long for Chakotay but in actual fact was perhaps ten minutes, ten minutes in which Kathryn's heart stopped and they got it going again.
Time lost meaning for him as the Doctor fought to save Kathryn. Every crewmember held their breath and prayed over the next few hours. Tom worked with the Doctor, following orders like a robot while B'Elanna and Denar sat with Chakotay, trying their best to be there for him, needing comfort just as much themselves.
Sometime later, the Doctor finally appeared in the doorway and motioned for the others to leave, then sat facing Chakotay. His face was solemn.
"She's alive but there's little fight in her. She has massive injuries, some of which appear to have been crudely healed at some time. I've broken and reset her leg and arm. There was also a problem with broken ribs which healed badly but I've repaired them." The Doctor watched Chakotay closely. "Her kidneys were badly damaged but should heal. She has been beaten many times. There was a drug in her system, stayed there somehow, which damaged her mind and I've managed to flush it out but only time will tell if any brain damage remains. Also her hearing was damaged and her vocal chords. There's damage to her throat from something that was inserted there at some time. She will also have problems with her eyes and will be photosensitive for some time. I'll keep the lights down." The Doctor stood. "There were other injuries, internal which are also healed now."
Chakotay stood also. "Doctor, I know about… Look please, just tell me. Will she be all right, I mean physically." He looked to the medic to save his soul.
The Doctor sighed. "Commander, yes, in time I believe… She will live. She's badly malnourished but that is easily taken care of. However, as I say… Her mind and her memory of all this will live on. She'll need care."
Chakotay looked down at the floor. "Her family are here for her. She'll get all the care and love she needs. Please, can I sit with her?"
The Doctor nodded. "Please. Talk to her. She may hear you. It could help her fight." The EMH looked down at his desk and when he looked up, Chakotay was gone, already at Kathryn's side.
While Chakotay spent his time at the side of the woman he loved, constantly whispering to her and stroking her face and arms, Voyager's crew kept themselves busy doing what they could to help on the planet below them. It helped them to work with Reea and the others, fighting to rebuild a life for these people and at the same time kept their minds from the other fight they knew was taking place in sickbay.
Each crewmember spent every spare second he or she had, day and night, trying to reach the shadows which crept the dark alleyways and hovels. They helped with building permanent homes and worked feeding centres, reminiscent of Earth's old 'soup kitchens'. By the end of the week, the dwellers of the caves have been fed and had the medical treatment they desperately needed. Cabins had been built for them and small 'villages' established. Help was given in educating the people on aftercare and running their small newly founded societies. Wells were dug and seeds planted. In the cities, small cooperatives were set up and the former victims encouraged to help themselves and make a new life. Counsellors worked constantly and soon small support groups were found everywhere.
Gradually, everyone had been reached in some way and a new life began on Intara. The Voyager crew felt great satisfaction with each achievement. Every time they succeeded and witnessed a small smile, their energy levels and determination doubled and they set off to do even more. What had started off as being something they were doing for their Captain, turned into something they wanted to do for these people. Helping them was something each crewmember would stay proud of until their dying day.
Chakotay continued to spend every minute with Kathryn. He slept at her side and read to her, telling her stories of his life and hers and what the future would hold. He also told her of the situation on the planet and told her constantly how much he loved her, that he was still there for her. He pressed the stone he still had with him into Kathryn's hand, holding it in place against her limp fingers, hoping the feel of its presence would get through to her somehow.
Late in the evening on the tenth day, Chakotay became aware of the Doctor scanning Kathryn and sat up quickly, concern on his face. "Doctor, what is it? Is she all right?"
The Doctor smiled and ordered the lights in sickbay to a low illumination. "I believe she's starting to remain consciousness."
Chakotay held Kathryn's hand tightly as she slowly moved her head and then her eyes gradually opened. He choked back sobs as her eyes met his again but he saw the confusion there. Softly he spoke her name as the Doctor stood by. "Kathryn…Kathryn…" She tried to speak but no sound came. He understood and squeezed her hand. "Your voice will come back. It's OK. Kathryn, you're home. You're on Voyager. Do you understand?" Her confusion continued then slowly her eyes moved around the dimly lit sickbay and Chakotay thought he saw glimmers of recognition flicker in her eyes. When she looked back to him, there were tears there. He held her hand more tightly and raised her other hand which held her stone so she could see it and he saw that she remembered.
"Cha…" It was barely a whisper.
He nodded tearfully. "Chakotay. I'm Chakotay. Oh Kathryn…" He lowered his head to her and then felt her other hand stroke his hair. He broke into sobs and realized that she'd joined him. Not thinking or caring, he stood up and gathered her into his arms, holding her tightly to him. They stayed that way for a long time as the Doctor made a discreet exit. Chakotay whispered soothingly to her and held her until her breathing slowed and he realized she'd fallen into a deep and healing sleep. Kathryn was finally home.
Bit by bit over the next week, Voyager's Captain gained strength. Her eyesight was slowly accepting more light and her hearing was fully restored. Her voice also was almost back to normal. Physically she improved daily but emotionally the ghosts followed her constantly. With the drug out of her system, her memory slowly returned and with it understanding of the full horrors she'd endured. Chakotay spent all his time with her, doing what he could to chase them away and slowly it started to work. Gradually, her eyes began to lose their haunted look. Kathryn constantly used her good memories to try and rid herself of the bad ones.
Night was different. Nightmares plagued her but Chakotay was always there, his strong arms surrounding her, pulling her back from the abyss of her torment. As this faded, Kathryn Janeway emerged gradually to the waiting arms of the man she knew she loved with all her heart. He knew that what had happened would never leave her completely but together they could place it away from their lives, somewhere in their minds where it could do little harm to them.
Each evening, Chakotay brought her to his quarters for dinner and later as they sat curled together, Kathryn would open up to him, cleansing herself of the horrors inflicted on her. Chakotay held her, listening painfully but using his strength to help her and not himself.
Kathryn finally completed Chakotay as she told him of her real reason for her depression and uncertainty before her disappearance, and when she told him for the first time how much she loved him, he broke down completely and repeated the words back to her. He in turn told her of the weeks and months following her disappearance, their pain and despair, finding her log and the agony that had lived with him. He told her of Denar and the hope they'd all felt along with the fear that they might be too late. He told her also of their search and how they'd found her and his terror when her heart had stopped on the shuttle. They shared everything and in this way purged each other of all the bad things. They clung to each other throughout the night and towards morning, as sleep claimed them, a peace settled in, healing and powerful. Dawn came in two ways, into the sky below and into their new life.
By the end of the second week, Kathryn was, to all appearances, almost back to herself. Only Chakotay saw where the cracks were expertly covered. When she told him she wanted to return to the planet surface, he was uncertain.
"Chakotay, I have to see them. Can you understand? There are some things I'll never get past without them. I don't mean to hurt you in any way, but there are some things only they can understand, Lall and Manna. Please, I have to face that again to let it go. Chakotay, please understand."
He pulled her into his arms. "Oh sweetheart. I do understand. I'm just worried about you. I guess I'm also afraid to let you out of my sight."
Kathryn pulled back a little from him. "Chakotay, I don't ever want to be out of your sight again. I want you and need you with me for this. Please, will you come with me? I don't know if I can do this alone but I do need to do it."
Chakotay pulled her back to him again. "I'll be with you every step of the way. I promise." They held each other for a long time, drawing strength from each other.
The next day, Kathryn made her way around the ship, calling into each department, greeting crewmembers. Protocol disappeared as many hugged her and tears fell. Kathryn of old would have been embarrassed, would have pulled back, but too much had happened and the new Kathryn bathed in the love she felt from these men and woman who'd served with her with such loyalty and devotion. Her own tears never stopped. Chakotay was never more than a step away from her and she fed off his strength constantly.
That evening, keeping a tight hold on Chakotay's hand, Kathryn returned to the surface to finally lay the last of her ghosts to rest. This journey was a form of exorcism for her and they both knew it.
Chakotay held her close to him all the time as they walked the city and she faced her demons but also her saviours. She saw that the part of the prison where she'd been held had been demolished during the escape and felt satisfaction at this but she cried for those unknown souls who'd not been as lucky as she'd been. She gained greater satisfaction when she discovered that all the visiting places, as they had been known, had also been razed to the ground. Chakotay kept a tight hold of her hand the entire time.
The only time Chakotay stood back was when she met with Lall and Manna again. The women held each other tightly and cried away all their pain and the horror which had filled their lives for such a long time. This time, with the aid of her comm Badge, Kathryn was finally able to express her feelings to her friends, to thank them as she wanted to for what they'd done for her and understand their words in return.
Kathryn wept also as she witnessed the work her crew had achieved with the buildings, the food centres and the clinics which had been set up. She repeatedly looked to Chakotay and it was always his loving face and smile that got her thought. He never needed to speak. Everything was there on his face and in his eyes for her to read.
Later, he went with her to the caves and again stood back a little as she once more dealt with what she needed to deal with in order to let go of the past. He smiled to himself as he saw her marvel at the work, which had been achieved here too, and her pride in her crew and what they'd done.
That night, back on the ship, Chakotay held Kathryn close to him as she cried for all that had happened and he cried with her. Her tears were a mixture of sadness and anger for what could never be undone but also of the deep emotions of the day, the friendships she'd made and the hope she'd witnessed. She cried as she remembered the work her wonderful crew had achieved and the love and care they'd put into every stone laid and every kind gesture made and throughout it all, Chakotay's arms held her, a buffer against it all and a comfort and promise of the future.
The day before they left, Kathryn and the entire Voyager crew attended a sunset ceremony to mark the lives of those who'd not lived to see the bright future this world now faced. A small gold bowl which would house an eternal flame sat atop a stone plinth, naming all those fallen friends who'd been cruelly taken before their time. Tears streamed down Kathryn's face as the Official stepped forward and asked if she would light the flame on behalf of them all. As she took the smaller flame from his hands, she reached behind her for Chakotay's hand and together they lit the bowl and watched as the flames leapt into the air, reaching to the sky and the spirits they hoped were finally at peace.
As Kathryn lay in Chakotay's arms later in his quarters, she suddenly leaned up on one elbow and looked shyly into his eyes. "Chakotay, I want to tell you, things I need to share with you, things you need to know, that I need you to know." He wore a worried look but stayed silent.
"Some of this you know but throughout all, throughout that time, my memory… Well, it was… I couldn't seem to hold on to anything and I remember trying to recite things, names and places, to hang on to them but they slipped away. Even some of what you meant, but your face and your smile, Chakotay, all the time they stayed in my mind and I felt safer with that, but I'm sorry…most of the details of what I'd felt…" She was crying now and he took her hands in his but remained quiet.
"What I guess I'm trying to say is… The stone, it meant everything. It tied me to you even when I couldn't understand it. I forgot so much but I always remembered you and your love. That never left, your face always there, telling me all, just like today. Chakotay, you were always there and I'd like for you… That stone has become my most treasured possession and I'd… If you want… I'd like for you to have it, maybe for your medicine bundle but if you don't…"
She got her answer in a tearful hug. "It's the greatest gift, Kathryn, I…" He choked up.
Kathryn spoke for him. "Chakotay, I love you."
He stared into her eyes and answered her with them before speaking the words. "I love you too." They hugged for a long time, their bodies moulded together.
Slowly Kathryn pulled up and there was a hesitant look in her eyes. "Chakotay, I…"
He sat up also, a bit worried. "Kathryn? What is it, love?"
She looked away for a second then back at him. "I…I…"
He smiled lovingly at her. "Kathryn, there's nothing you can't say to me, you know that. I love you. There's nothing we can't deal with." He saw tears come to her eyes, balancing on her lids.
She swallowed and nodded. "Chakotay, I don't know what you'll think, after everything, what they did…" She looked away quickly and the tears spilled over.
Chakotay quickly took her chin in his hand and raised her face to look at him. "Kathryn, please don't think that anything that happened before… Spirits, Kathryn, I love you."
She sobbed and lowered her face to his chest and he held her until it passed. Finally, she looked up at him again. "Chakotay, I want to…need you… If you can bring yourself to…" Her tears spilled again and she looked away but once again he made her look at him.
He held her tightly. "Kathryn? Are you saying you want us to be together?"
She nodded slowly. "If you can bring yourself to touch me, like that, after…"
He just pulled her more tightly into his arms. "Oh, my sweet Kathryn. I'd want nothing more. I just want to be sure. Are you ready? Gods, Kathryn, I love you so much. Nothing could ever change that or could ever stop me wanting you. I just need for you to be sure you're ready, that I won't hurt you. That would kill me to think I hurt you."
She just smiled gently at him. "I…I was afraid you wouldn't want…" She got her answer as she saw him lower his face towards hers and his lips slowly brushed hers. The tenderness and sweetness of it all choked up her and deep sobs erupted from her. Chakotay held her tightly to him, all the time whispering reassurances to her.
When she'd settled again, he checked her eyes, searching for any doubts she might have but all he saw was her love for him.
She smiled lovingly at him. "Can you understand why I need… I need to replace the bad with the good in this way and because I love you. That more than anything."
He kissed her gently. "I do understand, love, and I'm honoured. I promise I'll try and erase it all and also because I love you." She just smiled and traced his lips with her finger. He took hold of her hand and again lowered his lips to hers and this time, he deepened the kiss. He felt her lean into the kiss and her arms come up around his neck. When they broke away finally needing air, this time her eyes spoke of desire as well as love. Chakotay stood slowly and swept her into his arms and carried her to his bed.
They made love slowly, savouring the sweetness and tenderness of it all. They slowly undressed each other, taking time with each new discovery. They spent time learning the feel of each other's bodies, touching and caressing each inch of skin, worshiping the other. They spoke with their eyes and their touch and as Chakotay gently suckled at her breasts, Kathryn felt safer than she ever had as his touch erased all memory of the feel of others. He stroked and soothed her with his hands and when he finally reached where she most wanted to be touched and brought her to his mouth, she cried out with the overwhelming sweetness of it. He bore her slowly to her climax and gently eased her down from it before he settled over her. Once again, he checked her eyes and saw though his own tears that hers were tears of joy. Never breaking eye contact, he slowly and gently entered her, and a feeling of completion crashed down on them both. They rode the wave together, finally crying out as their joint climax washed over them, and the joy of it swelled their hearts. They were finally home.
Over the next couple of weeks, as Voyager made its way back to Denar's home planet, Kathryn and the young girl formed a strong friendship, Kathryn getting to know the telepath slowly. Denar already felt she knew Kathryn but the physical presence of the woman who, up until that time, had only been felt, filled in gaps and cemented a deep friendship. Neither would ever forget the other.
When they reached Briall, Kathryn who was still on leave, ordered that every crew member take part in extended shore leave despite the lost time and everyone agreed, needing the time to work through the last months.
Chakotay took Kathryn away for a few days, time they needed together, to just walk barefoot on the grass, sleep late, swim and eat and generally just be together. When they returned to the ship, everyone could see the difference in their Captain. She appeared to be reborn and they silently celebrated the new life they saw.
When they finally broke orbit to resume their journey home, Kathryn stood on the bridge, back in uniform to give the order and it felt good. "Mr. Paris, engage."
The pilot was never happier to obey an order. "Yes, Ma'am." Their Captain was fully back, an enhanced version.
Kathryn glanced to her left where Chakotay stood watching her, love and admiration shining from him. Despite protocol, Kathryn reached to him and took his hand, gently squeezing her thanks and love to him. The gentle return grip told her all she ever needed to know.
She was loved and she was home.