1. Chapter 1 by Cheshire
2. Chapter 2 by Cheshire
3. Chapter 3 by Cheshire
4. Chapter 4 by Cheshire
5. Chapter 5 by Cheshire
6. Chapter 6 by Cheshire
Disclaimer: No infringement intended. I don’t own Star Trek or any of its characters. Nor do I make any money off this.
Notes: This was written for Elem for the VAMB 2011 Secret Santa exchange. The request was for an adventure where J/C have only each other to rely on. Many thanks to my most awesome beta QS for doing what she does so well and managing to do it on a deadline this time! Thanks!
Kingdom’s Son by Cheshire
“Lieutenant, it is imperative that you maintain control of her.”
“That’s easy-” B’Elanna jerked her head to the side, dodging a wildly flung elbow, “for you to say!” She finally managed to get both arms around her target’s waist, trapping the flailing woman’s arms at her sides and locked her right hand around her left wrist. It wasn’t an ideal hold, but it would have to do for the moment. “Can’t you give her something?”
“If I had a moment to spare,” the Doctor retorted while frantically running instruments over the supine form on the biobed, “or a trained medic available to help.” The ship bucked beneath their feet as if on cue to remind them that Tom was busy at the helm. “However, I’m not sure it would help our situation.”
“How’s that?” B’Elanna grunted as the desperately writhing figure in her arms ground a heel all the way down her shin before digging it into the top of her foot.
“They seem to be connected somehow – linked to each other,” he explained cryptically as he studied more readings coming from the medical instruments. “It’s only when she approaches that he seems to calm.”
“Same. Here.” She had to shift her weight and take a step back to regain her balance between the two biobeds. B’Elanna really didn’t want to take this struggle to the deck, but the woman’s agitated struggling was leaving her with little choice.
“Yes,” the Doctor glanced in her direction, “but in the commander’s case, becoming calm may reduce his chances of surviving. If he feels her presence, even subconsciously, it may reduce his will to live.”
A shudder ran through Voyager, and B’Elanna could feel the intrepid ship tilt to port. The inertial dampeners were failing. “I should be in engineering!”
Even manic, Kathryn Janeway was an excellent fighter and she used B’Elanna’s momentary distraction to her advantage, wriggling an arm free and throwing an elbow back, crunching cartilage beneath bone.
“Seven will have to handle it. I need you here,” he said, moving forward to help only to quickly jump back as the two struggling women fell to the deck with B’Elanna landing on top and pinning her captain down with a knee in the back.
A mewling cry was the only sound the captain made as she flailed against the deck, trying to get up. Inarticulate noises were the only sounds she had made at all since being beamed onto the ship. B’Elanna looked up at the doctor, red blood streaming from her nose, one hand firmly placed between the captain’s shoulder blades, holding her down. “And we need both of them. So fix this, Doctor.”
He nodded grimly, hurrying back to his instruments and patient. “I just need to isolate what’s causing the connection and find a way to neutralize it.”
The ship rocked again and the lights dimmed and flickered. As did the doctor. B’Elanna locked eyes with the hologram just as the lights went out completely, leaving her blind in inky, black darkness.
96 hours earlier
“Erowid welcomes you! Offworlders, we are so pleased you could finally arrive. We have been waiting many seasons and were growing concerned. That is now all in the past. With your arrival, the Celebrations can now begin!”
The universal translator was having difficulty capturing the ambassador’s language and properly translating it, resulting in a one second delay between Captain Janeway hearing the speaker and understanding him. He’d already turned away from her and raised his hands, signaling something akin to fireworks shooting off on both sides of the stage by the time she was finally hearing him commence the Celebrations. Having been in one too many dangerous situations, the booming smoke and noise followed by the unfurling of ten large banners behind them had both she and Chakotay slightly unnerved. But as everyone in the gathered audience seemed to be cheering with no one fleeing the scene, they chose to take it all in as a good thing.
Ambassador Mreee turned back to them, beaming and making some sort of hooting noise before gesturing for them to precede him off the stage. An aisle of golden-clad guards had formed at the base of the stairs awaiting them. Chakotay glanced at his captain and as her official escort offered her his arm.
She took it and leaned towards him as they walked forward. “I get the impression they don’t have many visitors here. Many seasons?”
He chuckled. “Considering we only found out about them a day ago, I’d agree that the ambassador’s speech wasn’t written precisely for us but more for anyone that came along. I guess we give them an excuse to celebrate.”
Their procession forward was slowed as several children approached, giving each of them a flower of varying color and size until they each held a bouquet of five distinctive flowers. “One for each kingdom. Just like the banners.”
Chakotay nodded and they watched Ambassador Mreee receive a bouquet of eleven flowers – all gold in color. “And one for the ruling house.”
As they passed under an awning and out of the sunlight, Mreee joined them, dropping his rather large hands on their shoulders, the stems of his flowers tickling Chakotay’s neck. “Now that the masses are finished. We tour and dine. You will also meet the Sons and Prince Future. Come, come, follow.”
Again, the ambassador had finished speaking and was already steering them towards a hallway on their left before the translator had completed its rendition. Kathryn shook her head slightly at the delay. Eventually, given enough of the language, the translator would overcome the difficulty, but for now it was just going to be something they had to live with.
Two ornate gilded doors opened widely before them, admitting them into an opulent chamber. Mreee strode before them, his arms spread wide as he indicated colored windows, flags, statues, weapons and paintings. The translator struggled to keep up, informing the command team of each item as Mreee was already speaking about the next one. Kathryn was trying to keep the kingdoms straight in her head. Shades of blue or green usually denoted the Third or Eighth Kingdoms. Weapons came from the Ninth while more artistic items came from the Fifth. The Second Kingdom was represented only once, but the dark crimson statue of a formidable-looking warrior was possibly the most striking item in the entire hall.
Mreee finally turned and waited for them at the end of the hall as the translator finished telling them about the last window decorated with purple glass depicting what looked like a large blanket created by the Seventh Kingdom. The ambassador looked at them expectantly as the translator finally completed his speech by asking if they had any questions.
“So, each kingdom takes a turn at ruling over all the kingdoms, and these items represent each particular…era?” Chakotay asked, in an attempt to summarize the grand hallway.
Thankfully, Mreee kept his answer short by simply nodding.
Kathryn looked again at the single crimson statue compared to the numerous blue or green adornments. “Has the Second Kingdom only ruled once?”
“Erowid’s Second Kingdom has been blessed with many…” the ambassador hesitated, glancing between the two members of the command team before finishing, “queens.”
Kathryn raised an eyebrow and took that to mean that females were not allowed to rule over the kingdoms of Erowid. She knew the ambassador was aware that she was higher ranking than Chakotay but wondered if that had been conveyed to the ruling families.
“Will the Supreme Ruler negotiate with Captain Janeway for the supplies we requested?” Chakotay asked, hoping he was making it clear enough to Mreee who would be making the decisions.
The ambassador waved them off. “Yes, yes, no problem. Celebrations of your arrival first. Negotiations later. Introductions to Sons now. Come, come, follow.”
Neither of them was convinced by the assurance, but Mreee was already headed towards another door, gesturing for them to follow. Kathryn’s face had a pinched look that Chakotay understood all too well. He shrugged and indicated he would follow her lead. “After you.”
Meeting the Sons had not taken long at all. There had been only nine of them, as apparently the Second Kingdom once again had only a daughter that was considered to be of the proper age. If appearances were at all comparable to humans, the Sons all appeared to be between the ages of fifteen and twenty. Each had been wearing clothing associated to their particular kingdom, a few had been adorned in colored robes, and others with pants and jackets or some sort of uniform. The olive-skinned Son from the Fourth Kingdom had been bare-chested with linen slacks and no shoes. He had seemed perfectly at ease with his state of dress, so Kathryn didn’t take it as a sign of poverty. All of the Sons had been respectful to both Kathryn and Chakotay, showing no deference to either, but as the ambassador had led them on a stroll through the gardens, pointing out all the flowering plants and their kingdoms of origin, Kathryn couldn’t shake the feeling that they were being closely observed.
The feeling didn’t leave her as they were escorted into a heavily perfumed lounge area where they were informed they could relax and refresh before dinner. As soon as they were alone, she hit her comm. badge. “Janeway to Tuvok.”
His immediate reply eased some of the tension she’d been feeling. She’d half expected her call to go unanswered. “Report.”
“We have received approximately one third of the requested supplies at this time. The Erowidian shuttles have been conducting deliveries for the past four hours.”
Chakotay had gotten to his feet and was standing at Janeway’s side. “That’s about the time when the ambassador declared the Celebrations were to begin.”
She hadn’t thought about it, but realized his estimate was accurate. “Tuvok, I haven’t authorized any deliveries.”
The Vulcan hesitated. “My apologies, Captain. Although I had not heard from you directly, I was assured by the ambassador’s aide and a representative of the Supreme Ruler that negotiations had been completed.”
“And what have they requested in return?”
“They have requested nothing, Captain. I was informed that the command team’s presence during their time of celebration was all that had been required.”
“I wonder how long our presence is required,” Chakotay said, quietly enough that it wouldn’t carry over the comm. line.
“You get that feeling too?” she asked, not feeling at all relieved that they were both suspicious.
“Captain,” Tuvok’s voice carried over the comm. line, “shall I make arrangements to return the supplies?”
The supplies had been badly needed and if she knew B’Elanna at all, four hours had been more than enough for the engineer to have already made use of some of them. “No. Not yet, but don’t use any more of them until I contact you again. I’m going to talk to the ambassador and clarify our situation. Janeway out.”
“Now we know why the ambassador wasn’t concerned about negotiating with you,” Chakotay quipped.
“Well, he should be now,” Kathryn muttered, striding for the door. “I don’t appreciate being uninformed.”
The door slid open at her approach but she hadn’t needed to go very far. The ambassador’s aide was waiting for her right outside the door. He bowed deeply. “How may I assist you?”
“I need to speak with Ambassador Mreee.”
“He is meeting with the Supreme Ruler at this time. I cannot inform him of your need until conclusion. May I assist you?” he asked again.
“Were you the one who spoke with my ship and arranged for the transport of supplies?”
“As soon as your arrival heralded the commencement of Celebrations, it was our duty to reciprocate. Has there been miscommunication?”
The universal translator had problems with the last word and Kathryn wasn’t entirely sure miscommunication was the word the aide had intended. “What is expected of us in exchange for your supplies?”
The aide appeared flustered. “Without your presence, the Celebrations would not have begun. We would still be in the time of Stasis. Once begun, it cannot be stopped.”
“What can’t be stopped?” Chakotay asked. “The Celebrations?”
The aide nodded.
“What are you celebrating?”
“The end of Stasis.”
Kathryn almost growled that the entire explanation was in stasis when a new voice joined the conversation.
“Perhaps instead of showing you flowers, the ambassador should have explained our world to you.”
Kathryn and Chakotay both turned to look at the newcomer, but the aide bowed low, backing several paces away until he was on the opposite side of the hall. The adult Erowid male that had joined them was dressed in copper and bronze tones that deeply accented his dark hair and skin contrasting him starkly to the fair skin of the ambassador and his aide. He gave them a slight smile before addressing the aide. “You may leave.”
The aide hesitated only briefly before bowing again and quickly departing down the hall. The man watched him go before returning his attention to the command team. He smiled again. “I’m sure to hear about this later, but as the Celebrations have already begun there is not much they can do.” He placed his hand to his chest. “My name is Sevrn. I am the Prince Future. We are not scheduled to meet until later, but I know Mreee to be a great ambassador. Speak much and say nothing.”
Kathryn inclined her head. “It is an honor to meet you, Prince Future. I’m Captain Kathryn Janeway,” she said, knowing he probably already knew but introductions gave her an opening. “Allow me to introduce my first officer, Commander Chakotay.”
Sevrn again placed his hand against his chest as he faced Chakotay. He then took a step towards the lounge area and sniffed disdainfully at the heavily-perfumed air. “Let us adjourn to my quarters instead.” As they walked down the hall, he gestured to their shoulders. “You wear the colors of the Second Kingdom, Captain. The Queen will like you. I assume Mreee showed you the Hall of Kings? Did you see the statue of King Barnerum? A fierce warrior. The Queen is his direct descendant, but by many generations. And you, Commander, you wear the clothing of a Second Son, but like me, your true colors show you to be from the Sixth Kingdom. Perhaps you are of a distant relation?”
Sevrn did not speak quickly, but he also did not allow time for them to respond in any protracted way. Kathryn got the distinct impression that this was entirely on purpose as they passed many people in the hallway. As Voyager’s leader, Kathryn knew all too well that when in public there was always someone listening. Walking beside her, Chakotay seemed to have caught on as well. When given the chance, he asked the Prince Future simple questions about the lands and waters of the Sixth Kingdom instead of questions that could illuminate anything of a political nature.
“Ah, here we are.” Sevrn opened a wide set of doors at the end of a long system of halls. “My current home.” He toed off his shoes and settled easily into an overstuffed chair. “Please, be seated. I am not Supreme Ruler yet. We need not be quite so formal. Would you like anything to drink?”
A servant placed a tray of beverages on the low table between them and Kathryn accepted one, holding it in her lap. “As Prince Future, are you the next in line to be the Supreme Ruler?”
“Yes.” Sevrn waited until the room had cleared of servants before answering further. “The Celebrations are the end of Stasis. On the Fourth Horizon, I will become Supreme Ruler, a new Prince Future will be anointed, and the Sons of my Ascension will take charge of their respective kingdoms.”
Kathryn and Chakotay exchanged a look. “And our arrival precipitated all of that?”
Sevrn nodded. “When Offworlders arrive, it signals Erowid’s time to change. In the past it has usually worked out that a Supreme Ruler and his selected Queen serve for five seasons, give or take a season or two. Your arrival was a bit later than usual. I have been Prince Future longer than any Son before me.” He smirked. “I was beginning to think you’d never get here.”
“Our apologies,” Chakotay offered wryly. “How long have you served as Prince Future?”
“Our thirteenth season starts in a dozen horizons.” He sipped his drink, frowned and leaned forward to add a pinch of pale green powder to it. “Now, perhaps you understand why we are so happy to see you and eager to reciprocate to your ship. We are fortunate to have been blessed with a wise Supreme Ruler during this long time of Stasis, but Erowids are not used to such lengths of rule. Even the Ruler himself wishes to return to his kingdom and be blessed with his own Son.” He glanced at Kathryn. “Or daughter.”
Kathryn didn’t even bother with the comment. She was just thankful Sevrn spoke more slowly than the ambassador, giving the translator better time to repeat him. “So the supplies arriving at our ship? You want nothing in exchange for those?”
For the first time since arriving in his quarters, Sevrn’s expression seemed to close off. “Your arrival and participation in the Celebrations is payment enough.”
“So far our participation in the Celebrations has included an onstage introduction to the citizens of Erowid, and we’ve been told about the feast this evening,” Chakotay said. “What other participation will be expected of us?”
The Prince Future set his drink down on the table, a frown forming between his eyes. “Tell me, how did you happen to come across our planet?”
“A trader named Aldon. His ship was sending out a distress signal, and he didn’t seem to be much of an engineer. We were able to affect a small repair for him. He told us of your planet and suggested that we could negotiate for supplies here,” Kathryn explained.
Sevrn nodded, closing his eyes. “And how is it that the two of you specifically came to the surface?”
“When we approached orbit, we received a communication from the ambassador welcoming us. Mreee indicated that the Supreme Ruler and his queen would only negotiate with offworlders of equal standing.”
“And you are the highest ranking male and female on the ship?” Sevrn clarified.
“Yes, I’m the captain. He’s my first officer.”
Sevrn looked between the two of them. “You are not…mated?”
“No,” Kathryn replied, hoping that the translator had not misinterpreted the last word. “Is that a problem?”
The Prince Future was quiet for several moments. “No.” He got to his feet, causing them to do the same. “Ruling relationships are built on far less sometimes, but if you’ll excuse me, I do need to speak with the Supreme Ruler and ensure he is aware that there have been some…misunderstandings regarding your participation.” He gestured to the doors through which they entered. “My aide will see you back to the lounge. I will see you at this evening’s feast and look forward to speaking to you more then.”
He inclined his head in their direction and left the room through a side door. The front doors opened, and the aide waited for them to join him. Chakotay offered to let Kathryn go first. As she passed him, he said, “One day, Kathryn, we’ll learn to answer that question differently.”
The feast was designed to be exactly the elaborate affair that Kathryn had envisioned, and despite the discomfort, she was glad she and Chakotay had changed into dress uniforms. They still looked underdressed comparatively, but it was the best they had to offer while still staying in uniform. And until they were assured that Kathryn would be treated as an equal, they had no intention of giving up her military edge.
Aside from themselves, there were ten other couples in attendance, each kingdom having sent their ruling king and queen. The ruling couple from the Second Kingdom approached and embraced them almost immediately. Eventually several other couples joined their conversation and by glancing around, Kathryn noticed that each of the five queens surrounding her were adorned with some sort of crimson jewelry despite wearing gowns of whatever other color signified their kingdom.
“I was under the impression that only the Second Kingdom was represented in red,” she commented.
The First Kingdom’s queen laid her hand gently on Kathryn’s arm. “Surely, you’ve heard that while the Second Kingdom may not lay claim to many Supreme Rulers, we do hold the edge in producing queens.”
“I have been told that, but I guess until now I didn’t quite realize what the ambassador meant.”
“Daughters of the Second Kingdom are generally found to have very calm personalities.”
“A stabilizing influence in opposition to our sometimes rather aggressive husbands has averted many a conflict.”
Kathryn nodded in understanding, grateful they were speaking one at a time, making it easier for the translator to compensate.
The Sixth Kingdom’s queen swirled the drink in her glass. “It’s very ingenious of you to wear the Supreme Queen’s colors. She will be more inclined to show you favor in the coming horizons.”
“How many horizons of celebrations should I be expecting?” Kathryn asked, wondering not for the first time how long the Celebrations lasted. With the abrupt departure of the Prince Future earlier, she and Chakotay had still not been given a clear idea of what was expected of them.
The queen gave Kathryn a curious look but then looked past her and rolled her eyes, indicating with her chin that Kathryn should turn around. Ambassador Mreee, dressed garishly in gold and silver robes, was approaching the gathered nobles and command team. “Greetings, greetings everyone!” He gestured to the long table behind him. “If everyone would please gather at their chairs, the Prince Future will arrive followed by the Supreme Ruler and his queen. Offworlders, if you would follow me please?”
Chakotay extended his arm to Kathryn, and they followed the ambassador to the head of the table. Mreee indicated the two seats on the left end of the table and attempted to maneuver Chakotay in to taking the chair on the end, closest to where the Supreme Ruler and the Queen would sit. To once again reinforce the idea that Kathryn was the higher ranking officer, he and Kathryn exchanged seats after Mreee had taken his position behind his own chair across from where Chakotay would now sit. The ambassador did not look pleased, but as a trill of chimes announced the arrival of Prince Future Sevrn, there wasn’t much he could do about it.
Sevrn entered, circling the table and greeting each of the kings in turn, some of whom it was obvious he was friendlier with than others. Reaching Voyager’s Command team, he was much more formal than when they had met him earlier, but he did manage a quick smirk towards Mreee when he saw where Janeway was intending to sit. He inclined his head to the captain and took his place across the table from her.
Heavier, deep bells sounded, announcing the arrival of the Supreme Ruler and Queen. Unlike the Prince Future, the stately couple walked directly to their seats, acknowledging no one at the table until they sat down. Then everyone else joined them, seating themselves and immediately breaking into conversations.
The Supreme Queen immediately reached over to clasp Kathryn’s arm. “I am so glad you could finally arrive. Good fortune smiles on my family and yours now.” She sat back again, giving Kathryn a wink. “Husband, did you happen to notice how finely dressed our distinguished guests are?”
Apparently the Supreme Ruler hadn’t paid any attention at all to what they’d been wearing, but upon having their red uniforms pointed out to him, he frowned at his wife. “Did you put them up to this?”
The Queen laughed, obviously amused at his reaction. “Heavens, no. These are her colors. I’ve never seen them before now, but I must say I definitely approve.”
The Supreme Ruler wore clothing of gold fabric, but Kathryn noticed his wrist cuff and two rings were all a deep purple and she thought she finally understood. Gold was the color for the Supreme Ruler, but prior to being anointed, he had been a Son of the Seventh Kingdom.
“I shall send jewelry from my home to you tomorrow,” the Queen announced to Kathryn. “I know you’ll be wearing clothing of a darker material at tomorrow night’s feast, but you can still have a hint of color.”
“Forgive me, but why will I be wearing darker clothing tomorrow?” Kathryn asked.
“It’s only fair,” the Queen replied after a moment’s hesitation.
Another chime sounded before Kathryn could ask her to elaborate, and servers began to enter the great hall, carrying trays upon trays of food. Plates were placed in front of the Supreme Ruler and the Queen first, and Kathryn was surprised to see that the main servers were the nine Sons of the Kingdoms.
The Prince Future saw her surprise and explained. “It helps them learn to work together. As future rulers of their kingdoms, they must be able to help each other.” He indicated the rest of the table. “Prior to being anointed Supreme Ruler, the King worked with each of these fine men in service and in his Ascension.” A couple of the closest kings heard him and raised their glasses in salute. He responded in kind. “When I am Supreme Ruler, my kingdoms will be ruled by those with whom I trained. The bonds we created while serving as young men will hold us close as allies.”
“How long do you train together?” Chakotay asked.
Sevrn glanced at the Supreme Ruler before answering. “Sons arrive here in training when they become of age. They train together throughout each Stasis.” He laughed lightly as he accepted a prepared plate. “These young men are also among the relieved that you have finally arrived. The Celebrations signal the end of their training. This will be the final meal they serve together.” He indicated that the command team should look behind them. “Tell them which foods you would like to try, and they will serve you.”
“Try the pheasant. It is a delicacy from my home,” the Queen suggested to Kathryn. “I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.”
Kathryn tried getting the servers to simply fix what they thought best but they looked aghast at the suggestion and she ended up randomly picking a few items, being sure to include the pheasant. She wasn’t sure what Chakotay was going to eat as most of the dishes seemed to involve meat of some sort. He caught her eye and just shrugged. Although he preferred vegetarian, it wasn’t as though he hadn’t eaten meat before.
“Be sure and season that food well,” the Supreme Ruler barked at the servers before jabbing his eating utensil in Chakotay’s direction. “What about you, sir? You have the look of the Sixth Kingdom and yet you wear her colors. Does your society encourage this intersecting of lineages?”
Sevrn looked agitated, frowning at the servers, but he remained quiet as Chakotay began explaining that, in their society, officers in the command structure wore the red uniform. Plates heaped with food were set in front of Kathryn and Chakotay, and for a moment, her attention wavered from the conversation. The universal translator was still slightly delayed and seemed to be getting worse as multiple conversations in the hall began to slow down its process. There would be no overhearing interesting tidbits of conversation this night. To simply maintain a single conversation, she had to concentrate on the translation.
Using the utensils provided, she took a bite of the pheasant and found that the Queen had not been exaggerating. It was indeed a delicacy that seemed to simply burst with flavor in her mouth. She nudged Chakotay in the side, indicating he should definitely try it. When she looked up to compliment the Queen, she caught Sevrn frowning at her. He locked gazes with her for a moment before looking away again and being drawn into conversation with Mreee. She wished she could ask him about it and made a mental note to do so after the meal.
After what seemed like hours of dining, the Supreme Ruler pushed himself to his feet, gesturing for everyone to stay seated. “Now, I think it’s time for a toast.”
Immediately, the Sons placed tall, narrow glasses made of color-shifting crystal in front of each person at the table. A golden liquid was poured into the Supreme Ruler’s flute and the Queen’s.
“It’s been a long generation for us, but tonight we begin the Celebrations that will end our time of Stasis.” He leaned over and poured his drink into Sevrn’s flute.
Kathryn was surprised to see the Queen do the same by pouring her drink into Kathryn’s glass. For a moment, she worried that it was some sort of bonding ceremony between her and Sevrn, but then he poured the contents into Mreee’s glass. The Queen gently nudged Kathryn to follow suit and send the contents down the length of the table by pouring hers into Chakotay’s glass. The Supreme Ruler was still toasting, but everyone at the table watched as the golden liquid made its way down to the end of the table where the rulers seated there exchanged glasses across the table and then sent the liquid on its way back up the table. Within moments, Chakotay was pouring into Kathryn’s glass and she received the slight nod from the Queen before pouring it into her glass.
“To the end of Stasis!” the Supreme Ruler finished, and he and the Queen both drained their glasses. All the rulers at the table cheered and the Sons stepped forward to fill everyone’s glasses with the golden liquid. “To Sevrn the Prince Future!” Everyone cheered and drank; the glasses were refilled. “To the Offworlders!” The cheers were louder, and again the glasses needed to be refilled. “To the Kingdoms’ Sons!”
At the third toast, Kathryn tried just taking a sip of the deliciously sweet liquid, but the Queen noticed and indicated she should finish the drink. The fourth toast sent warmth spreading through her entire body as she, against her better judgment, downed the contents of the glass. The fifth and sixth toasts were offered up by the Queen and Sevrn and oddly enough she didn’t feel bad about drinking to them at all. She felt Chakotay nudge her in the side, indicating she was to offer up the seventh toast. She hailed Voyager and heard everyone cheer although she wondered if they had any idea what she had said. It sounded as though Chakotay commended her as captain for the eighth toast, and she was glad to feel the support of his free hand resting at the small of her back. As there were ten kingdoms, there had to be ten toasts, but Kathryn could’ve been put in front of a board of admirals and she wouldn’t have been able to answer a single question regarding the final two toasts.
She leaned into Chakotay’s side and sincerely hoped he was handling the golden liquid better than she was.
The material covering her face was quite possibly the softest thing Kathryn had ever felt. It obviously wasn’t Starfleet issued. She blinked open her eyes and was able to see bright sunlight through the gauzy blue material. The sunlight confirmed that she wasn’t on Voyager, but she wasn’t entirely sure she knew where she was. She didn’t feel bad. Nothing felt sore or abused, so she hoped that meant she hadn’t been kidnapped by anyone. The surface beneath her was soft and supportive and there was a pleasant scent in the air.
Slowly, using one hand, she pulled the material down and off her face and lifted her head. She half expected a headache, but felt no pain other than her eyes adjusting to her brightly lit and opulently decorated surroundings. The bed she was lying on was huge, large enough that until she realized the noise she was hearing was a snore, she hadn’t realized she wasn’t alone. A bit more cautious, she pushed herself up to her elbows, the soft sheet fluttering down to her waist as she moved. She was relieved to see she was still wearing the grey undershirt of a uniform, but there was definitely someone else in the bed with her as she could see a muscular, well tanned arm sticking out from under the covers.
Sliding up to a sitting position, choosing to ignore for the moment that her legs felt rather bare, she reached over and gingerly tugged the covers away from her bedmate. As she pulled, Chakotay turned with them, resettling on his side and facing her. Kathryn stared in silent shock at his bare chest and was still staring at him when he opened his eyes.
He blinked. “Kathryn?”
Her eyes met his. “Commander.”
He frowned at her. “Why are you wearing my undershirt?”
“What? I’m not. This is my -” She looked down and ceased her argument when she saw how loosely the shirt was covering her. It was way too big on her to be hers. She bit her lip. “Are you wearing pants?”
He shifted slightly underneath the covers. “Yes. Are you?”
She could feel her face heating up. “No.”
His eyes strayed downwards even though she was completely covered by blankets. “Huh.”
“That’s it? That’s all you have to say? A grunt!” she snapped.
He ran a hand through his hair. “Are you wearing underwear?”
“Yes! Of course I am,” she snapped again.
Chakotay stared at her chest. “All of it?”
“I cannot believe you are asking me this.” She moved her shoulders slightly, confirming what she was afraid of. “And no. Apparently, I’m not. Would you care to explain yourself?”
He looked up at her face. “Me? What makes you think this is my fault?”
“Well, it’s not mine!”
“You don’t know that!”
She opened her mouth to argue the point, but found she couldn’t. He was right. She had no idea if it was her fault because she couldn’t remember anything about how she’d come to be this way.
“Ha!” Chakotay chided, throwing the covers off himself and sliding to the edge of the bed to get up. “These aren’t my pants.”
She’d averted her eyes as soon as he’d thrown the covers off. “Please tell me they aren’t mine,” she muttered.
He chuckled. “No. I’ve never seen them before. Must’ve gotten them from in here somewhere.”
Kathryn looked and immediately wished she hadn’t. The pants were definitely not his usual wear and while they weren’t transparent, she could clearly see tenting in the crotch area. She turned away again, hoping to see some clothing on her side of the room that belonged to her. She saw nothing. Not her boots, her uniform, not even her bra. Maybe she’d taken a shower and left them in the refresher. Unfortunately, that did nothing to explain why she was wearing his shirt.
Chakotay strolled back into her view, carrying a glass of juice and eating something that looked like a croissant. “Looks like they delivered breakfast. You going to get up?”
“Not without pants.”
He looked at the covers again where her legs were. “Oh. Let me look around and see if I can’t find you a robe or something.”
She couldn’t believe how cavalier he was being about the whole situation and was also rather surprised that she was as calm as she was. Surely, pants shouldn’t matter more than knowing where she was and how she got here. “Chakotay,” she hesitated, “where are we?”
He came back in carrying a robe. “Well, I assume we’re at the Supreme Ruler’s palace still, since we obviously didn’t make it back to Voyager.”
He tossed her the robe but then stood there, munching on his croissant. She waited for him to turn away, but when he didn’t, she flung the covers off in exasperation anyway, giving him a good look at her bare legs before quickly securing the robe around herself. She regretted the rash action the instant she did it and kept her eyes averted as she tied a knot in the belt, trying to concentrate instead on what he’d said. The Supreme Ruler’s palace…right, because they’d been there attending a feast last night. There’d been toasts and some sort of warm, golden wine.
“The last thing I remember,” she said, “was making several toasts.” Finally looking up again, she found Chakotay staring at her with a look that took her breath away. She hadn’t seen that raw of emotion in his eyes since the very first days in the Delta Quadrant, since they’d merged the crews and he’d agreed to become her first officer. Her body flushed almost as warm as it had with golden wine from last night. When his gaze didn’t move away from her, she cleared her throat. “Chakotay?”
His eyes immediately snapped up to meet hers, clearing instantly of the lust she had just seen in them. “Sorry. Yes, there were toasts.”
She waited for him to elaborate. “And? Do you remember anything else?”
He looked blankly at her. “Like what?”
“Like how I came to be wearing your shirt with no bra on!”
Chakotay smiled and reached up to tuck her hair behind her ear. “You’re cute when you’re angry.”
She literally felt her jaw drop open in shock. “What the hell is the matter with you?”
“Nothing.” He shrugged and began walking back towards where he’d gotten his breakfast. “You seem to be the one with your panties in a twist.”
She couldn’t believe it. He had just called her cute, referred to her underwear, and then walked away. He had simply walked away from her. That was not the Chakotay she knew at all. He had the wrong demeanor, the wrong attitude…she stopped. He wasn’t Chakotay. That explained everything. Oh, now she was pissed. Someone was going to have a lot of explaining to do just as soon as she exposed this man for the fraud he obviously was.
Putting one hand on her hip, she joined him at the breakfast bar, feeling her mouth water at the smells of the different breads. She picked up a golden colored muffin and tore off a chunk. “Chakotay?”
He grinned at her. “Got hungry?”
The dimples almost got her again. He certainly looked like the Chakotay she knew. She looked down at the crumbs she was causing. “You remember when we were on New Earth and we had that dog with us? What was its name?”
He frowned at her. “There was no dog with us on New Earth, Kathryn.”
“Are you sure? Wasn’t her name Molly or something like that?”
“Molly was the name of the dog you left on Earth when you went on your mission in the Badlands, Kathryn,” he said, now sounding genuinely concerned. “All we had on New Earth was that damn monkey you wanted to domesticate.”
“That’s right,” she said. “What about that monkey? What name did we give it?”
He circled the bar until he was standing right in front of her. “You wanted to call it George for some reason, something about it being curious.” He settled his hands on her hips, surprising her. “Are you feeling all right, Kathryn? You’re acting…strange.”
She cleared her throat and gently removed his hands from her hips but not letting go of them. “I’m not the one acting strange, Chakotay. You are, and for a minute there, I was really hoping this wasn’t you, but you know things that only you would know. So you must be you.”
The dimples came out again. “Well, isn’t that a good thing?”
He was caressing her palms with his thumbs, tracing around in slow circles. She let out a nervous laugh and tugged her hands away from him. “Not right now it isn’t.”
Laughing, he took a few steps back from her. “Okay, what would make you feel better?”
“You, acting normal, would be a good start! Barring that, me finding my uniform and comm. badge so I can call the ship and get you to sickbay would be a good second.”
“Your uniform is hanging in the refresher.” He pointed to the side room. “Pretty sure your comm. badge is still on the jacket.”
She quickly headed in the direction he indicated and then stopped dead in her tracks, turning back to him. “If you knew where my uniform was, why did you bring me this?” she asked, tugging on the robe.
His eyes traveled all the way down to her feet and back up again. “I liked how that one would look better.” He cocked his head slightly to the side. “I especially like the way it rides up when you put your hand on your hip like that.”
She immediately dropped her hand to her side and resumed her trip to the refresher, knowing without looking that he watched her go every step of the way.
Fortunately, the majority of her uniform was easily found and in presentable condition. Her dress jacket however sported quite a large stain down the front of it. With only the vaguest recollections of memory, she could almost see herself banging her glass against someone else’s in toast and having the contents of both glasses slosh down her front. It was certainly not a very dignified memory to say the least and she wondered how she’d be able to keep her chin up upon seeing the royal family today. The only thing good about the golden wine was that it hadn’t left her with a hangover, and for that she was extremely thankful.
Forgoing the jacket, she ripped off the comm. badge and activated it. “Janeway to Tuvok.”
It didn’t even surprise her, really, and actually explained why she hadn’t already heard from Tuvok this morning. Since she and Chakotay were still on the planet’s surface even without comms, she could also fairly assume that transporters were no longer working either. As if the morning wasn’t already screwed up enough as it was, now she was going to have to seek out the royal family or at least Ambassador Mreee for either an explanation or assistance. Thinking of the ambassador made her remember him singing a song to her…something about the glory of the ten kingdoms conquering invading forces. She couldn’t remember and probably didn’t want to. She did, however, want to take a quick shower before dressing and dealing with Chakotay and the royal family.
Several minutes later, dressed and dragging her fingers through her damp hair, she reentered the common area of the quarters. “Chakotay, I can’t reach the ship,” she started. “We’re going to have to-”
Chakotay was no longer alone. Instead, he lay face down on the bed with two young, scantily-clad women preparing a tray of oils on the nightstand. “Kathryn,” he raised up slightly, “they’re here to give us massages.” The two women bowed slightly to her in acknowledgment. Chakotay pointed haphazardly over his shoulder towards the door. “Those two guys are here for yours.”
Shocked and startled, Kathryn looked in the direction he indicated and saw two well muscled young men wearing only pantaloons bow to her before venturing further into the room, closer to her and the bed. She held up a hand, warding them off. “Chakotay, we really don’t have time for this.” She looked back to him and saw one of the girls now on the bed with him, straddling his back and beginning to rub oil into his shoulders. Anger burned unexpectedly in her chest at the sight. “Chakotay!”
He sighed heavily into the bedding, then rose up to his elbows and glared at his captain. “What, Kathryn? What do you want?”
The anger that was already smoldering within her ignited. “What?” she repeated. “I don’t know who you think you’re talking to, Commander but-”
He was off the bed in one fluid motion, completely throwing off the girl and moving directly into Kathryn’s space. “I’m talking to you, Captain,” he sneered the word as his hand gripped her upper arm, bringing her even closer to him. “Do you have a problem with that?”
His eyes were dark again, and he was so close to her she could smell the scented oil that was only half worked into his skin. She forced her temper down, trying to make herself remember that the Chakotay she was dealing with was not completely rational for reasons that were not his fault. He hadn’t been all morning, and she would do well to remember that as he pulled her even closer against his chest. Feeling his hard arousal between them, she tried to move back but he tightened his grip on her. His warm breath slid across the sensitive skin of her neck as he nuzzled against her damp hair.
“Chakotay,” she said, speaking softly now and shifting her hips away from his, “you’re hurting me.”
His grip on her arm loosened, but he didn’t move away like she’d hoped. Instead he looked down at her, his forehead almost touching hers. “Can’t you, just for once, let things be easy?”
He was irrational. She knew that. She needed to contact the ship and find out what was wrong with him. Instead she asked, “What is it you want me to do?”
“Relax,” he said, a smile breaking out on his face. “Enjoy the massage. Be here with me and let the ship worry about itself for just a little while longer.” His hand had left her arm and was now stroking the side of her face, playing along her jaw. “Do it for me.”
She hesitated, wanting to deny him. Knowing she should despite the overwhelming urge to just do what he said. Both of his hands cupped her face now and his thumb traced lightly below her bottom lip. “For you,” she agreed.
He kissed her. His mouth pressing warmly against hers for a brief instant before pulling away as though it was something he did all the time instead of it being their first kiss ever. He grinned and, taking her hand in his, led her over to the bed where the four young masseuses patiently awaited them.
Kathryn didn’t know what was wrong with Chakotay, but she feared that whatever it was, she now had it, too. It was the only way she could explain her earlier capitulation. It had been like following an order she had terrible misgivings about, but because it was an order, following it anyway. She couldn’t discount that the outcome had been enjoyable. The massage had relaxed her to the point that she’d actually fallen asleep, but now she was awake and once again lying half naked in bed with Chakotay snoring. He’d apparently enjoyed his massage as well. At least she hoped that was all it had been.
Keeping the sheet trapped to her chest, she reached for her comm. badge lying on the nightstand and tried unsuccessfully again to reach Voyager. Frustrated, she pushed herself up and looked to the chair where she had laid her uniform, only to find it missing and replaced with the robe she had been wearing earlier. With more than a little irritation, she snatched it up and quickly covered herself with it.
After a quick search of the quarters that revealed no other clothes, she resigned herself to dealing with Chakotay. She needed his help to get out of here, and even if he wasn’t thinking specifically like her first officer, his input would still be invaluable. Assuming she could get him to agree that they needed to leave the room.
Crouching next to his side of the bed, she shook him lightly. “Chakotay, please wake up.”
He opened his eyes, blinking blearily at her for a few seconds before smiling. “Kathryn?” She nodded and stood up as he stretched and sat up on the bed. He looked around the quarters, absently running his hand through his hair, and noticed her watching him. “Didn’t you find your uniform?”
“I did,” she admitted, stepping back as he got to his feet, “but it seems to be gone again.”
He yawned. “What about Tuvok? Were you able to talk to him?”
“No, I haven’t been able to reach the ship at all.” She was relieved to see him frown at her answer. “Do you find that…odd?”
He nodded. “I would’ve thought whatever comm. issue they’d been having Tuvok could’ve fixed by now. Maybe it’s something here in the palace that’s blocking the transmission.”
“I’m wondering if it’s something deliberate,” she suggested.
“Deliberate? Come on, Kathryn. These people have been nothing but nice to us. They’ve showered us with hospitality. They’ve resupplied the ship. Why do you always have to be suspicious of everyone we meet?” He moved towards her and noticed how she immediately moved away. “You’re even suspicious of me, aren’t you?”
“Chakotay, I’m worried,” she began, moving back towards him to emphasize what she was saying but still trying to stay out of his reach. “You aren’t acting like yourself.”
“What do you mean?” he asked, his hands settling on his hips.
“Please, just hear me out.” She waited for him to nod in agreement before continuing. “Think about our situation for a moment. Compare it to situations we’ve found ourselves in in the past. We haven’t heard from Voyager since before the dinner last night. We woke up in quarters we’ve never seen before wearing….well, wearing different clothes than we remember wearing, and now even our uniforms are missing.” She could see his jaw working as he listened. “Do you find it strange that all these things combined doesn’t have you at all concerned? Even a little bit?”
He didn’t answer immediately. Simply glowered at her and began moving around the room as he considered what she’d said. Completing an entire circuit of the room, he stopped in front of her and grudgingly admitted, “You may have a point.”
Relief flooded her that he wasn’t being completely unreasonable. “Thank you.” He grunted in response and she rolled her eyes. “What do you suggest we do about it?”
He stared at her chest for a moment. “I’ll go find out what’s going on. You’re going to stay here.”
Crossing her arms over her chest and obstructing his view, she said, “I beg your pardon.”
“Well, you sure as hell aren’t going anywhere in this palace dressed like that!” he said, his eyes meeting hers now.
Ordinarily, he’d be right. She wouldn’t want to go anywhere dressed in nothing but a robe, but their current situation was hardly normal. “The robe covers everything I don’t want people seeing.”
“Stay. Here,” he reiterated through clenched teeth.
He seemed to keep forgetting that he did not give orders to her, and yet when he headed for the doors that led to the outside hallway, she didn’t follow him.
“Ahhhh! Commander Chakotay, you are awake and refreshed! Very good, very good. And Kathryn! How good to see you again this wonderful daylight of celebration!”
Kathryn’s head snapped up, and she pulled the robe more tightly closed as Ambassador Mreee swept into the quarters. A surprised Chakotay was still holding the door open as a retinue followed closely behind the ambassador, their arms laden with food, clothing, and shoes.
“Our most sincere apologies, Kathryn!” He motioned the attendants carrying clothes forward to offer them to her for inspection. “Recreating properly sized podiatric attire for you took us longer than expected.”
She noticed one young man carrying a rugged looking pair of black hiking boots that appeared to be her size. “Thank you, Ambassador, but I prefer to wear my uniform.”
He nodded repeatedly. “Again, I apologize and understand, but your morning servants took it to be cleansed so that it will be ready upon your return if needed.”
Clapping twice quickly, Mreee gestured the servants forward. “Attend the captain. Commander, your evening’s attire awaits you as well.”
Kathryn found herself being crowded towards the side room and understood that the servants intended to dress her. She accepted the clothing but pushed them out, promising she could take care of herself. The clothing was solid black and like the boots, more rugged than anything she had previously seen on the planet: sturdy pants and a long-sleeved shirt that fit her perfectly but did little to alleviate her unease. Just what exactly were they going to be doing tonight at a feast that required clothes like these? The boots fit her well and fastened up past her ankle, giving her more support than she was accustomed to, but unfortunately left her standing at her actual height.
Exiting the room, she immediately spotted Chakotay wearing much the same outfit with the exception of elbow length sleeves and less form fitting pants. He motioned for her to join him and the ambassador, and again she bristled at his new high-handed behavior towards her.
“Kathryn, the ambassador was just explaining that an incoming storm system has prevented all communications between the ground and Voyager,” he told her once she stood at his side. “He has volunteered to send up any messages we need to relay via shuttle, although the storm system could make it dangerous for the pilot.”
Both men looked at her expectantly, and she felt even more suspicious and angry at how neatly that option was taken from her. “I guess that won’t be necessary then. I really just wanted to check in with my officer and assure that everything was going according to plan.”
“Of course, of course,” Mreee said. “I spoke with a Lieutenant Paris early this morning, and he assured me that all supplies had been received. He inquired after you, and I relayed to him that you were both still resting after the previous night’s festivities.”
Chakotay snorted. “Naturally, it had to be Paris on the bridge for that message.”
Kathryn understood his sentiment completely. Tom would have read all sorts of innuendo into that and would be sure to ask them all about it upon their return. Thinking of that, she remembered the Ambassador’s comment before she had been ushered into getting dressed. “Ambassador, you said something about our uniforms being here upon our return. Are we going somewhere?”
“I just meant to the feast this evening. The Sons have already begun their fasting in anticipation of the Trials of Ascension, but it is expected and understood that as offworlders you will still require sustenance.”
“The Trials of Ascension?” Chakotay asked.
“It is a ritual the Sons must undertake in order to determine which of them will be the next Prince Future.”
“Why are they fasting?”
“In young Erowid males, fasting creates a metabolic state that increases their…natural instincts. After all, we want a ruler with instincts we can all rely on, don’t we?” Without further comment, he clapped his hands twice and the servants all began to file out of the quarters past them. “If you are ready to depart, I have arranged for a flight over the local area for you, so that you may observe your direct surroundings.”
“I thought you said it was dangerous to fly right now,” Kathryn said, choosing to ignore the possessive arm Chakotay had draped over her shoulders.
“At the higher levels of the stratosphere, yes, but I assure you your pilot will keep you close to the ground.” He gestured for them to precede him out. “After all, if you can’t the kingdom’s natural fauna and geography then what would be the point?”
“What was the point of that?” Kathryn muttered to Chakotay as they disembarked the shuttle after flying around in circles for two hours. “How many times did we need to see two forests, one lake, and a questionable mountain?”
“The pilot was probably just off course,” he replied, looking darkly back over his shoulder. “He was too busy watching you to have any idea what coordinates his instrument panel recorded.”
Kathryn rolled her eyes and slipped her hand into his, calming him as an aide appeared in front of them: the Prince Future’s aide if Kathryn remembered him correctly from the day before.
Chakotay stopped, standing slightly in front of her. “Did Sevrn send you?”
The aide bowed. “The Prince Future requests an audience with you before you proceed to the evening’s feast. I will take you to him if you agree.”
Chakotay barely glanced at Kathryn. “Lead the way.”
The Prince Future was seated behind a desk when the aide showed them in and immediately got to his feet. “Thank you for coming.” He glanced at their joined hands and smiled grimly. “Would you be so kind as to join me for a drink?”
He indicated the same couches they’d sat on previously, and Kathryn was surprised to see him pour the three drinks himself before setting one in front of each of them. He caught Kathryn watching him and smiled easily. “Remember, I spent many seasons serving in the great hall prior to becoming Prince Future. I can also make a wonderful breisgrendrest.”
Kathryn had no idea what that was and was about to ask when Chakotay surprised her by resting his hand on her knee. She glared at him but he ignored it, drinking deeply from the glass Sevrn had given him.
Sevrn sighed at the display, regaining both of their attentions. He lifted his glass in their direction. “It’s begun then.”
“What’s begun?” Kathryn asked, trying unsuccessfully to move Chakotay’s hand away from her. She succeeded only in him trapping her hand beneath his.
“When we spoke yesterday about your continued roles in the Celebrations, you informed me that you weren’t sure what that entailed. Does this still hold true?”
“My apologies for that,” Sevrn offered. “I tried speaking yesterday to the Supreme Ruler about your involvement, but he forbade me from speaking to you about it. I do so now only because I can tell by your behavior that it is beyond stopping at this point.”
“What’s beyond stopping?” Chakotay fairly growled. Kathryn nudged him, but Sevrn seemed to take it in stride.
“Since your arrival to our planet you’ve been…influenced. The foods you’ve eaten, the air you’ve breathed, they’ve all been tainted. Were you given massages today?” He nodded answering his own question. “I imagine the oils were infused as well.”
“Infused with what?” Kathryn asked. “And influence how? To what purpose?”
“As the offworlders in attendance at the Celebrations, you play an integral part in our change of government. Events were already set into motion before we understood your…relationship to one another was not as close as we originally thought. Tradition requires a bonded pair and while the two of you were close, it was clear that you could be separated. Unlike now.” He gestured to their joined hands. “Now, I doubt the commander will let you out of his sight or allow another male within arm’s reach of you.”
Chakotay didn’t deny it and Kathryn thought about how protective bordering on possessive he’d become of her over the course of the day. “What did you do to us?”
“Bonded you to each other and to Erowid herself,” he stated simply. “It’s very easy really. Special herbs added to your food and drink, the incense burning in your quarters, all of it has been laced with Erowid’s sands.”
“Sands?” Chakotay asked.
“Drugs.” He swirled the drink in his glass. “Drugs that bring you more in synch with Erowid’s natural energies. Make you more susceptible to our ways. As the attending offworlders, you would have been subjected to some of this in order to align your alien physiologies with our world regardless, but given the status of your relationship upon arrival…” Sevrn downed the remainder of his drink. “You’ve been given more.” He leaned forward to refill his glass. “I’m curious; did you even notice a change before now?”
“Yes,” Kathryn answered. “Somewhat, at least. He’s been acting different since this morning.”
Sevrn nodded. “He drank more than you last night. You stopped shortly after the toasts, but he had quite a few more after you had retired for the evening.”
“We didn’t leave at the same time?” she asked.
She shook her head, thinking about how she’d wound up wearing Chakotay’s shirt, but not wanting to discuss it. “It doesn’t matter.”
“What happens now?” Chakotay demanded to know. “Clearly, you’ve done all this for a reason.”
Sevrn leaned forward, topping off their glasses. “Has anyone mentioned to you the Trials of Ascension?”
“Vaguely,” they answered at the same time.
“That sounds like Mreee,” Sevrn muttered. “The Trials of Ascension are undertaken by the kingdoms’ Sons. It is how Prince Futures are selected, which in turn is how future Supreme Rulers are selected. It is a tradition that forces the Sons to work together while also determining who among them is most fit to lead. The Trials officially begin on the Third Horizon of the Celebrations, but preparation for them begins as soon as the toast to the Sons is given at the inaugural feast.”
“And by preparation you mean the fasting?” Kathryn asked, eyeing the drink in front of her but no longer trusting anything presented to her here.
Sevrn nodded again. “By fasting, the Sons increase their primal instincts. Hunting prowess. Strength. Aggression.” He glanced uneasily at Kathryn. “Lust.”
Chakotay’s hand tightened around Kathryn’s. “And what does any of that have to do with us?”
“The two of you represent a common goal that unites all the Kingdoms. You are Offworlders. Only by working together can the kingdoms ever hope to defeat an outside force, should one choose to attack our planet.” Sevrn folded his hands in his lap and regarded the command team solemnly. “By hunting, capturing and subduing you, the Sons will learn that they are stronger as a team than as isolated kingdoms.”
“At the conclusion of this evening’s feast, the two of you will be free to depart the castle on foot. At the break of tomorrow’s horizon, the Sons will come for you.” He paused, glancing towards the door. “They will find you, but only once one of the Sons emerges as the true leader will all of this be over. Whoever that one Son is, he will be anointed Prince Future and I will take my place as Supreme Ruler.”
The doors opened and Sevrn’s aide entered, followed by Ambassador Mreee. The ambassador did not look happy to see them. Sevrn got to his feet.
“Where does Voyager fit into all of this?”
He looked surprised by her question. “Your ship? It is unharmed and will remain free of danger so long as you remain on the planet. They know nothing more than there has been a communications outage. When the Celebrations have concluded, your ship will be free to go.”
“Will we be on it?” Chakotay asked, keeping Kathryn’s hand in his as they stood.
Ambassador Mreee cleared his throat loudly.
“I don’t know.” Sevrn looked pained. “I wish I could do more for you, but until I have become Supreme Ruler, I am powerless to stop any of this. Good fortune to you both.”
For the third time in as many hours, Kathryn’s foot lodged between two rocks, threatening to twist her ankle. She was repeatedly thankful for the rugged boots. “Hold up.”
Chakotay was at her side in a second, helping to tug her free. Even in the dark night, she could read the concern on his face. “Can you keep going?”
Holding onto his forearm, she rolled her foot around in a circle, only wincing slightly when she moved it to the extreme left. “Yes, I’m fine.” She indicated the mountain trail they were following upwards. “Besides, it’s not like we have much choice.”
Escorted by the ambassador, they’d been taken straight from Sevrn’s quarters to the grand dining hall, where the same guests from the previous night mingled albeit with a much more subdued air. All eyes turned to Kathryn and Chakotay when they’d entered. Some were sympathetic, mostly the queens Kathryn had spoken to, but most just seemed indifferent. Chakotay had pulled her closer against him and they’d proceeded directly to their seats.
The dinner itself had been tense. No one spoke to either of them, and only a few dared look in their direction. Svern had and so had the Supreme Queen. The Queen had appeared very sympathetic and on the verge of saying something several times only to stop herself with a glance at her husband.
It had only been when the last of the plates and dishes had been cleared away that the Supreme Ruler himself deigned to look at them. Kathryn had glared at him. Maybe the others hadn’t known of her and Chakotay’s ignorance concerning the part they had been chosen to play, but the Supreme Ruler had. Svern had said so. He’d also said that he’d explained the misunderstanding of the situation and the Supreme Ruler had continued, counting on their lack of knowledge. She’d wondered if the Supreme Ruler had been responsible for the trader that had directed them to the planet too.
Finally, he’d risen to his feet. “This meal is concluded. The Offworlders will now depart.”
Surprising Kathryn, and many others in the room if the muttering had been any indication, the Supreme Queen had gotten to her feet and embraced Kathryn. What no one had seen was the Queen discreetly pushing a piece of the Second Kingdom crimson jewelry into Kathryn’s hand and wrapping her fingers tightly around it to conceal it. “May wearing it bring you good fortune,” she’d whispered.
Kathryn hadn’t even had a chance to really examine it as Chakotay had already been pulling her from the hall. She’d simply shoved it into a pocket at her hip and not looked back as they’d quickly made their way out of the castle and into the surrounding forest. Now they at least knew why they’d been taken on a tour of the grounds. She only wished she had known at the time what she’d really needed to be looking for.
A place to hide.
In three hours, Chakotay had taken them straight through the initial woods and skirted the edge of the lake. Together, they’d decided to try their luck with higher ground, heading for the mountain instead of haphazardly plundering further into more woods. At least with rock at their backs they wouldn’t have to worry about a sneak attack from at least one side.
“Hopefully, we won’t need to go too much further. With any luck, we can find a small cave or outcropping,” Chakotay said, squinting in the darkness. “Possibly something we can defend.”
Kathryn nodded in agreement, but finding a defensible position was only a temporary solution. Sevrn had made it painfully clear that they would be found. After all, this was the Sons’ backyard. Surely, they knew all the hiding places better than anything she and Chakotay could find in the dark. Not to mention their lack of any provisions. What they were really hedging their bets on was Voyager. Despite what they’d been told by Mreee, she knew Tuvok had to be suspicious by now and was hopefully already searching for a way to contact them.
The only question was whether or not they would be found in time. One thing Sevrn had been unclear about was what happened after the Sons captured them. Would they be killed? Was there some other part of the ceremony no one had bothered to tell them about? Or was capturing them simply enough? For some reason, Kathryn highly doubted it would be enough. Her and Chakotay’s luck didn’t seem to run that way.
Two more hours slipped by as they hiked upwards, and just as the sky was beginning to lighten, Chakotay pointed out what looked like a dark hole in the side of the stone. A cave. Kathryn sincerely hoped there was nothing living in it that they were about to disturb. As they approached, they could see that it was about as much as they could hope for with enough room for them to both sit comfortably in it and not be easily seen from below.
They both sat, resting their backs against the cool stone and catching their breath. Chakotay took her hand in his, gently, without the possessive strength of recent hours. When she rolled her head to look at him, color crept into his cheeks. He shrugged. “Fresh air, I guess.”
She squeezed his hand. “Or the fact that there’s no other male within five kilometers of us.”
“That could be it, too,” he agreed easily. “I’m sorry I’ve been acting like such a…”
“Hormone crazed teenager?” she finished for him, teasing so he’d know she wasn’t overly upset. “It wasn’t you, Chakotay. I knew that within minutes. I just didn’t know how to help you.”
“I’m just glad you weren’t affected.”
A shadow crossed her expression as she thought about how she’d acted the past day or so. “I think I was.” She caught his look of disbelief and smiled. “Maybe a bit more subtly than you, but any other day besides today and you would have found yourself in serious trouble more than once.”
“Trouble?” he asked, teasing.
“Noted.” He leaned out a bit from their shelter and looked at the steadily-brightening sky. “I guess they’ll be on their way now.”
“Release the hounds,” Kathryn muttered, leaning her head back.
Chakotay looked up. “As much protection as this may offer us from them, it may also shield us from Voyager.”
She sighed. “I thought about that, but do we expose ourselves for someone who may be looking or hide from someone we know is looking?”
“We could do both,” he suggested, pressing on quickly before she could interrupt him. “You could stay here and I could draw them off. It would also give Voyager something to see.”
Kathryn was shaking her head before he even got to the part about Voyager. “No. We stay together.” The very thought of him going off by himself panicked her. “Either we take our chances here or out there, I don’t care which, but we stay together. Not apart.”
He must’ve seen something in her expression because he nodded, agreeing with her way too easily. “To tell you the truth, I wasn’t too fond of the idea either.”
She closed her eyes at his admission, acutely embarrassed. Panic was not an emotion she usually succumbed to. She would never have made it very far in Starfleet if she had, but as the feeling slowly ebbed away, she could hardly deny how strongly she had felt it. She wondered if she could blame Erowid’s mind-altering drugs for her reaction.
“Well, if we’re going to stay here,” Chakotay interrupted her thoughts, “we should probably at least fortify ourselves with some weapons. We’ve at least got plenty of rocks to choose from.”
Kathryn nodded shakily and followed him out, keeping close to him. She tried burying the loose threads of panic she still seemed to be feeling, but they refused to dissipate completely. When she reached for a baseball-sized rock that she thought would be good for throwing, she ignored the shaking in her hands.
She hated waiting. Always had. After they’d retrieved a sizeable caveman arsenal and retreated back to their cave, all they could do was wait. Now she was even waiting by herself as it was her turn to take watch while Chakotay rested. Glancing at him, she resisted the urge to brush his hair away from his forehead. It was that impulse, like so many others she’d had, that convinced her that whatever drugs or chemicals were in their systems hadn’t run their course just yet. Even if Chakotay was acting more like himself.
It annoyed her. Staring out over the planet’s surface from their high vantage point, Kathryn could see how beautiful Erowid truly was. It could have been a really great place to have shore leave, but not after all this. Now she knew she’d never have good memories from this place. She might keep the boots, though, as they were actually quite comfortable when she wasn’t trying to run uphill in them. She’d also have the bracelet from the Supreme Queen. The crimson stones felt cool against her wrist and had a nice weight to them. If she survived the next several hours, the bracelet would be yet another Delta Quadrant memento with a hell of a story behind it.
Something in the air tickled her throat and she coughed. Then coughed again. Chakotay woke up, practically jumping to his feet before he too started coughing. Within seconds, the air began to thicken with smoke, acrid smoke that was not the mere burning of wood but something more dangerous. Tears began to stream from Kathryn’s eyes. “We can’t…defend against this.”
“And they know it,” he coughed, pulling his shirt up over his mouth and nose. “We’ve got to move…try and get past them.”
Kathryn nodded, rubbing hastily at her eyes and grabbing her rock. “Let’s do it.”
They didn’t make it far. The smoke had become so thick and toxic that they could barely see or breathe, and when the attack came, it started from above. A heavy net landed squarely on Kathryn, tangling her feet, causing her to fall to the ground. She barely had time to throw it off and take Chakotay’s hand before they heard the skittering of rocks as figures approached them from all sides.
Seven of the Sons surrounded them, wearing their shirts as protective scarves around their faces, bare chests covered in dirt and dust from the mountain, carrying large sticks or stones like the one Kathryn still clenched in her hand. No one spoke.
Chakotay squeezed her hand, silently trying to get her to move behind him. She put her back to his and blinked rapidly, trying to clear her vision. The Son in front of her reached for a pouch at his waist. She tightened her free hand on the rock, preparing to throw it if he moved. The Son on Chakotay’s far right lunged for him. Chakotay easily blocked the attack, but the movement had distracted Kathryn for a split second and that was all the time the boy in front of her needed.
A clump of black powder struck her in the face, immediately insinuating itself into her eyes, nose and mouth. Burning and blinding her as she frantically tried to wipe it away, but that had been the opening salvo as the Sons rushed forward as one entity. Kathryn couldn’t see the final attack, but the Sons’ war cries all melted together into a single roar that was silenced only when she felt a hard strike behind her right ear. She felt herself sliding against stone, knees hitting the ground…and then nothing.
There were cheers, guttural shouts of encouragement, and grunts of pain. The sounds of flesh impacting flesh and a thud of bodies hitting the ground roused her from unconsciousness. She’d attended a few of Chakotay’s boxing matches over the years, but it had never been a sport she enjoyed watching. At the moment, it sounded as if she had a front row seat.
Her head was pounding and even closed her eyes still burned, but she could breathe at least. The late afternoon air was cool and light and she took several deep breaths, feeling a twinge of sore muscles in her chest. Blinking open her eyes created a fresh round of tears, but after a few nerve-wracking minutes she realized she could see. Blurrily at first, but she was just thankful she hadn’t been permanently blinded.
Her view of the world was disorienting until she realized she was lying on her side. Her arms were bound behind her and attempts to move produced pain in her shoulders. She’d obviously been in the position for some time. Her hands were almost numb, but she could feel a coarse fiber rubbing against the exposed skin of her wrists. Her calves were also bound uncomfortably tight together, but at least no bones felt broken.
Lifting her head slightly and swallowing back against the nausea the motion caused, she surveyed her surroundings. A short distance away was the source of all the noise as two men seemed to be fighting in the middle of a loose ring of others. Squinting, she thought perhaps it was the Sons fighting amongst themselves. Unfortunately, one of the observers seemed to notice her looking and walked away from the fight towards her. It was too late to pretend otherwise, so Kathryn watched him come, never breaking eye contact. Wearing only shorts that were cut off at the knee and some sort of rope across his chest, he crouched down in front of her.
“Whe…” her voice caught, and she had to swallow twice before she managed to speak. “Where’s…Chakotay?”
He cocked his head to the side in a curious expression and reached for her. She flinched and he paused, frowning. “My name is Mitus, Son of the Fourth Kingdom. I will not hurt you.”
Kathryn wasn’t sure what surprised her more: that he spoke or that he sounded so kind. He gently grasped her by the shoulder and helped her to a sitting position. Pulling at the rope across his chest, he produced a sort of canteen that he’d been carrying draped across his back. Moving to her side, he held it to her mouth and allowed her several sips of water. The liquid did wonders for her mouth and throat, cooling the burn that was still lingering from the powder.
“Thank you,” she said.
Mitus shrugged, slinging the water skin back over his shoulder. “Your man is just over there,” he said, pointing past the unlit torches surrounding the fighting ring. “He has been awake and watching the trials for some time now. He was quite concerned for you, but it is good that he studies us.”
He glanced upwards at the early evening sky. “Before the Celebration’s Fourth Horizon, we will have decided amongst the Sons who is worthy to be Prince Future. But to also be eventually worthy of the title Supreme Ruler, that Son must ultimately conquer the offworlder.”
“Chakotay has to fight one of you?” she asked, looking again at the gathered young men still fighting.
He nodded. “At the peak of nightfall. Before the next horizon.”
Kathryn’s mind was racing. It wasn’t as though Chakotay didn’t know how to defend himself, but he hadn’t exactly been training for something like this either. “But you’ve already defeated us. We’re captured. You win. Wasn’t that the whole point? The kingdoms working together against an outside threat?”
Mitus looked impressed. “Are you certain you are not from the Second Kingdom? You are knowledgeable for an offworlder.”
Not knowledgeable enough. Every day that she’d been on the planet, she’d learned a new rule to the game she’d been unknowingly playing.
A loud cheer went up from the fighting circle, drawing both of their attention. The fight was over and the winner pumped a bloody fist skyward before dragging his defeated opponent up to his feet.
“Shurgar wins again,” Mitus sighed. “I had hoped not to fight him, but as there are only four of us left undefeated, I believe it will come down to us.”
Kathryn looked at him, sitting beside her in the dirt instead of celebrating with the others. She didn’t want Chakotay to have to fight any of the Sons, but she did like his odds better against Mitus than Shurgar. “Is he your friend?”
“He’s like my brother.” He grimaced slightly. “Well, like a younger brother that needs much supervision and a firm guiding hand. As Supreme Ruler, Sevrn will have to be stern with him.”
“You sound like you’re conceding defeat.”
Mitus shrugged again and gave her a half smile. “Unfortunately, victory is unlikely.” He pointed at Shurgar, who was watching them. “It’s been three seasons since I last bested him in personal combat.” He got to his feet. “Once this portion of the trials is concluded, we will rest for a bit. I’ll be able to reduce your bonds at that time.”
“Mitus,” she stopped him from leaving, “you never answered my question. You’ve defeated us. Why fight Chakotay?”
He looked away from her and towards where Chakotay sat on the ground. Relieved, she finally caught her first glimpse of him. Shurgar wasn’t the only one watching Mitus and Kathryn. “Your man is not defeated. He is merely captured. Only when he is forced to give up what he holds most dear is he truly conquered.”
For a moment she still didn’t understand, and then it hit her like a shuttle jumping to warp. “Me? You’re talking about Chakotay giving me up?” Mitus nodded. “I’m not his to give up,” she argued. “I’m his captain…not his queen.”
“That does not make you any less valuable to him. He will fight for you.”
She glanced again at Shurgar. “What if Chakotay wins?”
“An offworlder has never won. Allies of the Prince Future to be will not allow it.”
“It’s not even going to be a fair fight?”
Mitus gave her a slight smirk. “It will be…mostly fair.”
“Mitus!” Shurgar bellowed. “Come! Join us, Brother!”
“Please, wait. I just have one more question.” It scared her to even ask, but it was the one thing Sevrn had not been clear on. “This fight between Chakotay and whomever…will it be a fight to the death?”
He almost answered easily, relieving her, but then he glanced towards the fighting ring. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “I’m afraid that will be up to Shurgar.”
Enough time had passed that Fourth Horizon was now closer to hand than Third Nightfall, and still Sevrn had not been signaled by the Sons. Surely, they had anointed a Prince Future by now. The shuttle service had reported seeing smoke in the boulders late in the morning of the Third Horizon, and everyone knew that meant the offworlders had been captured. So what was taking so long? The trials themselves should not have taken overly long. The trainers had all but determined that it would come down to the Sons of the Fourth and Eighth Kingdoms. Mitus and Shurgar. And despite what anyone personally desired, it was well known how that fight would end. The Supreme Ruler had already counseled Sevrn on how to best train Shurgar in his duties as Prince Future. With all that easily decided, that meant the delay could only be occurring because of the offworlders.
Sevrn glanced at the vials the Supreme Ruler had pressed into his hand at the end of the dinner. It was distasteful to him to even think of using them. He had met with the captain and commander. They were honorable beings that had been duped into their role. They did not deserve to be treated with disrespect. He ran his hand through his hair, remembering fondly how his trials had proceeded.
The barbaric pair of Wadarians he’d faced had happily volunteered to play the role of offworlders in the Celebrations. The male hadn’t been particularly smart, but he’d had a nasty knuckle punch that Sevrn still suffered from on occasion. It had been a pleasure to conquer him so thoroughly in battle. The female had not been pleased with her mate’s performance, but she hadn’t wanted to stay on Erowid. Which had worked out perfectly, since Sevrn had had no intention of ever making her his wife.
One of the reasons Sevrn had so looked forward to the Fourth Horizon was that he’d finally be rejoined by his lovely Kitaza. He knew that even without Second Kingdom heritage, she was going to make a wonderful Supreme Queen. And although it was not common knowledge, he was aware that the current Supreme Queen was with child. She too had a vested interest in seeing her time of ruling completed. If her child be a son, he could only be considered for Supreme Ruler later in life if he was born in a kingdom and not at the royal palace.
Sevrn paced. Many things rested on the Celebrations being completed properly. The change of rule to him. The anointing of Shurgar as Prince Future if that was indeed to be. The blessing and exiling of the captain and commander back to their ship. So what was it that was keeping the Sons from completing their trials? Surely, they were hungry by now…
He froze in mid-step halfway across the room. The Sons had now spent two complete nightfalls fasting, gaining strength, focusing their instincts, and increasing their aggression. Fasting was usually only done in moderate levels, but it was not unheard of for a Son to begin secretly fasting before the others, believing that it would give them an edge in the Trials. This practice was not generally condoned as instincts were to be honed for the Trials, but not given complete rule over rational thought. Sevrn shook his head, fearing he knew now what had happened. It wasn’t as though Shurgar had ever been accused of being overly logical on the best of days.
Sevrn summoned his aide. “Prepare a shuttle. I need to go out to the site of the trials immediately.”
His aide hesitated. “Are you certain, sir?”
Only because his aide was a trusted advisor did Sevrn not immediately snap at the man. “Yes, I’m certain. It’s unusual, but not unlawful. Now do as I say.”
Sevrn closed his eyes and wondered if this was a final test for him. Was it up to him to ensure the initiation of his time of ruling? He couldn’t recall seeing the previous Prince Future appearing at his trials, but the passing of seasons eroded many things from memory. Then again, he also hadn’t been in the best frame of mind to remember many details at the conclusion of his trials. Because of the damage of the strike to his temple from the Wadarian, Sevrn barely remembered being anointed. For all he knew, he could have had every ruler from each kingdom at his trials.
A green light showed on his comm. panel. The shuttle was prepared. He glared at the two vials sitting innocuously on the table. They were not something he wanted to use, but Fourth Horizon was drawing closer with every moment he wavered. With disgust, Sevrn pocketed the vials and strode out of the room and towards his shuttle. If fortune was with him, no one need ever know they existed, but one way or another, he would see that the trials would be finished in time for Horizon.
The Prince Future’s shuttle landed far enough away from the firelight to not be completely obtrusive. Sevrn had debated on the short journey how best to approach the encampment, but as the shuttle ramp lowered, he could see someone already approaching to escort him.
Mitus approached him with a slight limp and inclined his head respectfully. “I wondered if someone would check on us.”
Sevrn grasped forearms with the younger Son, admiring the darkening bruise covering the right side of Mitus’s face. “Shurgar has bested you, then?”
“I did what I could,” Mitus replied.
“Your kingdom will welcome you home with honors.”
The younger man acknowledged the comment with a defeated sigh and broached a new subject. “The hour of nightfall grows late, and Fourth Horizon will be upon us soon.”
Sevrn appreciated the candor. “Indeed. If Shurgar has won his placement, why now the delay?”
“The offworlder refuses to fight.”
This surprised Sevrn. “Does he give a reason?”
“The commander understands that as long as he is not fighting back, Shurgar cannot truly conquer him.” Mitus glanced back towards the flickering shadows of the firelight. “We are at a stalemate.”
Sevrn knew he was missing an important piece of the puzzle. “What about Kathryn?”
“The woman is calm.”
“Calm?” Sevrn asked, surprised.
“And you’ve done as instructed? You’ve kept the pair separated from each other?”
“Since the moment of their capture,” Mitus assured him. “I’ve even spoken with her. My presence near her agitates him, but not beyond reason. She watches him continually when in sight of one another, but she has not tried to reach his side.”
Sevrn rubbed his hand over his mouth and chin. That was certainly not how he remembered his trials going. The Wadarian beast had been anxious to fight him and return to his mate, and she…she had broken from her bonds more than once trying to reach him. The primal nature of the trials heightened everyone’s base instincts, including offworlders. Were the humans really so different that Erowid’s sands had not affected them? No, that wasn’t it. He’d seen the change.
“Sir,” Mitus interrupted his thoughts, “I’ve been told stories of the trials for many seasons now. I do not recall one ever being told like this.”
“Neither have I,” Sevrn admitted. “Is there anything else?”
Mitus hesitated, glancing again towards the ring. “I do not wish to be disloyal to my Prince Future.”
Sevrn placed his hand on Mitus’ shoulder. “I am your Prince Future.”
He nodded quickly, realizing his mistake. “It’s Shurgar, sir. He is not entirely himself. The commander will not fight him because Shurgar has made it clear that it will be a fight to the death.”
“To the death?” Sevrn repeated. “We haven’t done that in generations.”
“Shurgar wants to take Kathryn as his queen.”
“That can only occur if her mate is dead,” Sevrn said, rubbing at his temple, feeling the slight indentation left there by the Wadarian’s knuckled fist.
“The commander uses logic against Shurgar. If he doesn’t fight back, Shurgar is honorable enough that he will not kill him. If Chakotay isn’t killed, Kathryn cannot be made queen.”
“Logic has always been Shurgar’s enemy, I’m afraid,” Sevrn muttered before straightening and addressing Mitus directly. “I will address them all and bring about a conclusion. Lead me into the circle.”
Sevrn’s entrance into the torch-lit area was greeted warily by everyone present. The shuttle had been impossible not to notice, but no one had known who exactly was visiting them. The appearance of the Prince Future was more easily accepted than the Supreme Ruler’s would have been. All of the Sons knew Sevrn. He had helped in their training many times over the seasons.
Shurgar and Chakotay were both in the circle although seated on opposite sides of it. Kathryn sat at a distance away from everyone, her hands, bound loosely at the wrists, resting in her lap. She appeared dirty and tired but not mistreated. Sevrn was glad to see that the young Sons had not completely forgotten themselves. “Greetings, Brothers!”
Shurgar got to his feet and bowed respectfully if with a bit of arrogance. “Prince Future.”
Sevrn approached him, clasping the younger man’s forearm. “I understand you have done well, Shurgar. The Eighth Kingdom will be proud of its son.”
“Thank you,” he replied, not releasing his grip in greeting, “but the trials are not yet complete.”
Sevrn gave a pointed look at their still-clasped arms, enough that Shurgar took the hint and released him. Sevrn nodded. “I understand there has been some delay.”
“I will have her,” Shurgar insisted preemptively.
The Prince Future motioned for Kathryn to be brought closer into the light. “Are you certain you wish to do this, Shurgar? You could conquer the commander without making death a necessary outcome.”
Once in the firelight, Sevrn could see the dark smudges on Kathryn’s face for what they were. He was both sympathetic and impressed. He didn’t know how the Sons had managed to procure the Flameless Burn, but he did know firsthand what she must have experienced.
“I will not have her otherwise,” Shurgar growled.
“You will not have me regardless,” Kathryn replied, her voice stronger than Sevrn had expected. Sevrn almost grimaced. An attitude of defiance from her would not help matters.
Shurgar took a step towards her, slightly bumping into his Prince Future. “You will be mine.”
Sevrn watched closely for Chakotay’s reaction. The commander had gotten to his feet when Kathryn had been brought closer, and Shurgar’s statements had clearly agitated him if his tightening fists were any indication. But it was as Mitus had said; the commander was still managing to restrain himself. Sevrn felt the vials slide slightly in the pocket of his robe and decided to try a different tactic.
He moved forward, closer to Kathryn, and reaching out a hand to her face, stroked his thumb across her cheek, removing some of the black powder that still clung to her irritated skin. She flinched slightly at his touch, and he heard movement behind him. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw Mitus with a restraining hand on Shurgar’s shoulder. Chakotay had taken a step forward as well, but two Sons pushed him back. It was something, but not enough from any of the three parties. He studied Kathryn’s face and saw the questions there. She was willing to follow his lead if it resolved the situation, of that he was certain.
Turning his back to her, he addressed Shurgar. “Are you absolutely certain you want her?”
“Why wouldn’t I?”
“I believe the hunt consumes you more than you know, Brother.” Sevrn forced a light chuckle. “Look at her. Attractive she may be, but she is many seasons older than you. It’s not likely that by the end of your time of ruling, she would even be able to bear you a son.”
“You should consider his words, Shurgar,” Mitus said softly, standing at the fighter’s side. “She is not of our world.”
Shurgar almost seemed to consider their words for a moment before shaking his head. “It matters not. She wears the markers of the Second Kingdom.” He gestured towards Kathryn’s bound wrists. “She’d never produce a Son, anyway.”
Sevrn frowned. Taking hold of Kathryn’s hands, he pushed aside the coarse rope binding her to reveal the crimson stone bracelet. He looked into Kathryn’s eyes and sighed. That, at least, explained one thing. “Where did you get this?” he asked quietly.
“It was a gift from the Supreme Queen,” she answered him, keeping her voice as low as his. “Why does it matter?”
He fingered the bracelet. “When worn, these stones affect the wearer’s energy, promoting calm and healing.” He glanced at Chakotay. “And your wellbeing affects his.”
Slipping the bracelet from her wrist, he held it up to Shurgar. “She is not from our world. This is merely a token from the Supreme Queen.”
“I infer it as approval then,” Shurgar argued, “from the Supreme Queen herself.”
Sevrn ground his teeth together in frustration. There would be no reasoning the younger man away from his decision this nightfall. After rest and nourishment, Shurgar would be easily swayed that his demand to keep Kathryn was unreasonable. Erowid would owe her restitution, but she would be free to return to her ship. Sevrn himself could even institute changes to the entire trials process to prevent a similar occurrence with future Sons, but he could only do that after he’d become Supreme Ruler. Not before. Not this nightfall.
“Prince Future, why do you obstruct me on this?” Shurgar asked. “I will destroy him, and she will be mine by right.”
“You cannot conquer someone who will not fight you,” Sevrn said grimly, making his decision. “This, you already know.” He motioned for Chakotay to approach him. “You still refuse to fight Shurgar?”
Chakotay glanced at the young fighter and then at Kathryn, his eyes lingering on her. “Not without considerable provocation. I will not risk her safety or her freedom.”
Sevrn sighed, reaching inside his robes to pull out the two vials. “I wish that you were not so honorable.”
At a silent signal given from their leader, three Sons converged on Chakotay, forcing him to his knees and restraining his arms behind him. Kathryn instinctively pushed forward, intending to help, but she was held back by two of the young fighters.
“Mitus,” Sevrn called for him and handed over one of the vials, “have the commander ingest this.”
The younger man frowned at the liquid but accepted it. “I will see it done.”
Sevrn turned to Kathryn, clutching the second vial in his hand. He would administer hers himself. Still struggling against the two men that held her, she tore her eyes away from Chakotay to glare at Sevrn. “We trusted you.”
Her hissed accusation struck him hard, but he refused to allow it to sway him. Not now, not in front of these future kings. He couldn’t waver. A choked cough behind him drew Kathryn’s attention to her mate, and Sevrn closed the distance between them. Grabbing her jaw, he forced open her mouth and emptied the vial’s contents, quickly clamping his hand over her face, forcing her to hold the liquid. Even if she didn’t swallow, he knew the chemical would still be absorbed into her system. He held her gaze even as he kept his grip firm. “I’m sorry,” he whispered.
She tried to jerk her head away from his hand, her eyes widening as some of the liquid slid down her throat. She gagged, trying to cough it back up, but it was gone and the impulse to swallow the rest was too great. Sevrn released her and the Sons allowed her to fall to her knees. She tried to spit out whatever was left in her mouth, but the warm sensation sliding down her throat and spreading through her chest told her it was useless.
Kathryn glared up at the Prince Future. “You bastard. What did you-” She gasped, feeling the change begin as the drug hit her bloodstream. “What did you do to me?” She felt like her heart and lungs were being torn from her chest. The rope binding her wrists cut into her skin as she twisted against it, trying desperately to get away from it. To get any relief from the burning that was now coursing through every single one of her veins.
Sevrn grasped her hands and trapped her writhing legs underneath one of his. “This will pass,” he said, knowing she probably couldn’t hear him. Her eyes clenched shut against the pain.
The shout was from behind him, and he knew that all of the Sons would be moving to protect him from the now incensed offworlder. Kathryn stilled beneath him, her chest still heaving and her face covered in a slight sheen of sweat, but she was no longer struggling. Sevrn waited, watching for her to open her eyes. When she did, he could hardly see the blue in them that had reminded him so much of Kitaza. Now the black centers took up much of the space, leaving the blue as only a sliver around the edges. She didn’t appear to see Sevrn, but she still cried out, an inarticulate sound filled with fear that made the Prince Future damn his own decision.
The roar of the offworlder was stronger now and Sevrn could hear scuffling as the Sons held him back. “Shurgar!” he yelled, catching Kathryn’s hands as she began to squirm and fight beneath him to reach her mate.
The young fighter appeared at his side, clearly surprised at the turn of events. “Yes, sir?”
“I have provided the offworlder with his motivation to fight,” he said, wrapping his arms around the still-struggling woman as he got them both to their feet. “He will not stop now. The rest is up to you.”
The mewling noises Kathryn made as she fought against Sevrn’s grip drew Shurgar’s attention. “Is she all right?”
Sevrn ignored the question, frustrated at the young man’s idiocy for pushing the situation to this point. He began dragging the now kicking, scratching woman away from the firelight. “The farther he is from her, the more inspired he will be to reach her. I suggest you finish your fight quickly.”
With any luck, maybe the offworlder would actually defeat Shurgar and Sevrn would no longer have to worry about eventually handing the kingdoms over to him. Kathryn sank her teeth into his forearm and he grunted in pain. Of course, if Chakotay beat Shurgar, the commander would undoubtedly be coming for Sevrn next.
Mitus approached the shuttle just as his Prince Future descended the ramp, dabbing at his mouth with a square of linen. He held the cloth up for Mitus to see the blood stains on it. “I haven’t had a bloody lip since the last time you and I sparred.”
Mitus’s eyebrows went up in surprise. Clearly the woman had surprised the Prince Future in order to land a strike like that. He was normally quite capable of defending himself. “She landed a fist on you?”
“The back of her head,” Sevrn said, throwing the square to the ground. “Do you have news?”
“It’s over, sir.” Mitus bowed, looking up when they heard a crash from inside the shuttle.
Sevrn looked questioningly at the younger man and pointed in towards the ship. “If it was over, she would no longer be acting this way. She’d know if her mate was dead.”
Mitus cleared his throat. “Shurgar showed mercy.”
“He chose not to kill the offworlder. He even tried to end the fight without causing severe damage, but the commander…he would not let up.”
“Well, of course, he wouldn’t!” Sevrn yelled, exasperated. “They’re bonded! A thousand times over they’re bonded! Blight the bloody Eighth Kingdom and their Sons. We could have avoided all of this!”
Mitus kept his eyes lowered, remaining silent.
An anguished cry of pain echoed from inside the shuttle, and Sevrn rubbed furiously at his temple, trying to calm himself. “Apologies.”
Mitus inclined his head.
“Where is the man now? How did you manage to restrain him?”
“He is not dead by Shurgar’s hand. However, he is near death. For a moment, the offworlder almost won. The fight had gone to ground and the commander had his hands on Shurgar’s throat. Little Rawsed tackled the offworlder.”
Sevrn was shocked. “Rawsed is barely of age. He couldn’t have truly harmed the offworlder.”
Mitus winced. “Tackled is perhaps too strong a word. He provided a distraction long enough for Shurgar to grasp a rock and extinguish the commander’s fight. He remains unconscious.”
Sevrn ran a hand through his hair. “And now Shurgar will have an alliance with the Third Kingdom. That will be interesting.”
The younger man nodded again and looked at the ever-lightening sky. “Fourth Horizon approaches.”
“I will send two shuttles to retrieve the lot of you. Normally, you would make your own way back, but time grows late. Bring the commander back with you and we will hope our medical staff can restore life to him. Insure that all of you are in your proper places for the midday sun and the Time of Anointing.”
“I shall relay your instructions to Shurgar.” Mitus bowed low.
Sevrn shook his head at the reminder. “It should have been you, Mitus. Point well taken. See that he gets it done.”
He strode back into the shuttle, giving terse directions for the pilot to take off. Looking in to the secured area where he’d left Kathryn, he felt his frustration grow once again. She was almost catatonic, staring back at him from the furthest corner where she huddled, her knees pulled up against her chest. “Gods forgive me.”
Tuvok had never thought of himself as an informal kind of officer. However, the formality of holding a briefing of the senior staff in the briefing room simply for the sake of formality seemed illogical. It was more expedient to do as they were now and simply update each other while on the bridge and still able to operate their stations. Only the doctor and Lieutenant Torres were not in their actual departments, but even that was inconsequential as the EMH had no patients and Seven of Nine was continuing work in Engineering.
“Until we get that tractor beam shut off,” Tom said, turning around in his chair to address them, “we’re just spinning our wheels. Even when we get them back, we won’t be going very far.”
Harry appreciated that Tom said “when” and not “if”.
“If we don’t get the commander back on board soon, it won’t matter to him anyway,” the doctor said darkly. “His vital signs are continuing to decrease.”
“And the captain?” Tuvok asked.
“No change since the spike in her levels four hours ago. All of her readings are elevated, but they are at least consistently so.”
“Seven thinks she’s found a way to break through their shielding long enough to attempt a transport. It’ll take her about an hour to finish the modifications,” Torres reported. Then clarified, “It sounds sketchy at best, but it’s the most promising solution we have at the moment. Their phasing is like nothing I’ve ever seen before.”
“And your attempts at disengaging the tractor?”
The half-Klingon actually smiled at that. “Right on schedule. The energy backup that we’ve been building into their grid will be ready to blow in twenty minutes. As soon as we hit the switch, they won’t know what hit them.”
Tuvok turned to Harry. “Communications?”
“No change,” Harry reported with a shake of his head. “We can track their comm. badges but no messages are getting through. The continuous hail to the surface is going unanswered except by automation. An important planetary function is taking place-”
“And all ambassadors are currently busy fulfilling official duties related to the function,” B’Elanna, Tom and the EMH finished with him.
“We will coordinate all efforts to coincide with Seven’s transport attempt. Mister Kim, maintain the tracking lock on the command team. Mister Paris, be prepared to break orbit against enemy actions. Doctor-”
“Sickbay is ready and waiting,” he assured everyone.
“I’ll alert you as soon as we have something,” B’Elanna promised.
“Very well,” Tuvok nodded, ignoring for the moment the breach of protocol at interrupting him. “Upon retrieval of the captain and commander, we will depart this area of space at maximum warp. I believe the captain will agree that we’ve spent enough time here.”
Tom swiveled back around to his view of the green and white planet. “Amen to that.”
In past ceremonies, when circumstances had proceeded normally, the offworlders had always been present at the anointing and passing of rule ceremony. This season, however, given that one offworlder was near death and the other had shaken off her catatonic state only to become quite manic, it was determined by the Supreme Ruler that their presence at the dais would not be required.
Sevrn had tried to achieve agreement that the captain and commander could be returned to their ship, but Mreee had insisted that that process would be too disruptive. As soon as the ceremonies instituting all the new rulers into their kingdoms as well as anointing the new Prince Future and delivering the change of rule over to Svern were completed, then the offworlders could depart. It was tradition, after all, for them to be exiled at the conclusion of the ceremony – not before.
Sevrn read the medical data banks regarding the commander as best he could and hoped that Chakotay had that much time. He had no idea whether or not Voyager could perform any better medicine than the royal medical staff, but at the very least, it would be better to die amongst one’s own people. Switching the view away from medical, he checked on Kathryn as well. Security had confined her to a cell that she paced relentlessly. No one had been able to approach her to administer a sedative, but at least she was now in a space where she couldn’t hurt anyone or herself.
Sevrn was concerned about what would happen to her when Chakotay expired. According to the prime medical master, an Erowid who had seen more than twenty Supreme Rulers, he’d never witnessed a bond like the one shared by the humans. He speculated that perhaps their alien biologies had been more affected by the liquid sands than anticipated. Sevrn had departed before he’d struck the man in frustration. Watching Kathryn, he swore that once he became Supreme Ruler, he would change things. Tradition and ritual did not justify what they had done to these people…what he had done. Soon, he thought. Very soon.
The ceremonies began as scheduled. Selected audience was allowed inside, while most citizens watched transmissions either at their homes or in community areas. The Kingdoms’ Sons all filed in, many sporting injuries that if chosen as Prince Future would be written into legend. Some glanced about their surroundings as if in a daze only to be subtly anchored by a gentle nudge from an escort or fellow brother. The kings and queens from the ten kingdoms and their successors had all entered, taking their seats in the front rows. Ambassador Mreee, followed by Prince Future Sevrn, made their way to the dais, and all eyes turned to the entrance to view the final entry of the Supreme Ruler and his queen.
Sevrn glanced to the side of the stage and saw the security detail assigned to the ceremony whispering furiously amongst themselves. He frowned, turning his attention back to the ceremony. The Supreme Ruler and Queen were half-way down the aisle when the entire castle shook slightly from the force of a distant explosion. Everyone in the crowd began murmuring, wondering what could have caused such a disturbance, and the Supreme Ruler’s entrance was forgotten. Sevrn received a severe glare from the Supreme Ruler when he bowed quickly to acknowledge him and then ran off the stage to speak with the security detail.
“…disappeared in a blue transport light.”
“Security forces launching now. Control has switched to secondary location.”
“What is going on?” Sevrn hissed to the Soldier of the Guard, mindful of the Supreme Ruler speaking to the gathered audience, assuring them that everything was under control.
“Please, please, take your seats. Just a minor disturbance. Nothing to worry about.”
Having issued orders to all of his people, the Soldier of the Guard answered the Prince Future. “The offworlders have disappeared, sir, and their ship attempted to break free of the confining beam, causing a minor explosion at station one. Station two was able to reconfirm hold before they could make a run for it, and I have fighters launching to subdue them from taking further action. We’ll pulse them if we have to, sir.”
Sevrn glanced up at the stage to see that Mreee had begun the retelling of the historical records, explaining how the kingdoms had all come to be. It was tradition even though every child on Erowid already knew the story. Sevrn also saw the Supreme Ruler glaring at him, clearly wanting him to retake his position on the stage.
“Why pulse Voyager, Soldier?” he asked. “If all they’re trying to do is leave, then why not let them? We’re going to demand they depart before nightfall anyway.”
The soldier looked at him with surprise. “Supreme Ruler’s order, sir. Best you get on stage before you’re late for your own ceremony. Leave the offworlders to us.”
“We’re loose!” Tom cried, his nimble fingers racing across the helm controls.
“Shields are dropped. Energizing,” Harry reported from his station as the concussive sounds struck the hull.
“Receiving enemy fire.”
“Evasive maneuvers,” Tuvok instructed calmly. “Mister Ayala, return fire.”
“We’ve got them!” Harry cheered. “Seven and B’Elanna transported the captain and commander directly to sickbay.”
“Shields to maximum.” The ship bucked beneath their feet. “Helm, report.”
“Looks like they’ve got another one of those tractor beams,” Tom yelled. “It’s coming from a different angle, but it’s locked onto us and reading as the same power drain like before.”
“Reverse thrusters, full power.”
A shudder ran through the ship as Tom engaged the thrusters and then had to grab hold of his console as the ship tilted to port. “Inertial dampeners are failing!”
“Two ships approaching, charging unknown weapons,” Ayala reported from the security station.
“We’re being hailed. Audio only.”
“USS Voyager, drop your shields and stand down all weapons. Return officers Janeway and Chakotay to our custody until the completion of our ceremony.”
“This is Commander Tuvok. Release our vessel from-”
“Drop your shields and stand down all weapons. Return-”
Harry cut off the transmission at Tuvok’s signal.
“Enemy ships are firing.”
The two ships fired, a single white beam striking the shields, creating a blinding white explosion that blossomed outward along the shields until it filled the entire viewscreen.
Tom raised an arm in front of his face to block the glare and tried changing the direction of the thrusters. The helm didn’t respond. He leaned closer, squinting at it, only to find his console had gone completely dark. “I’ve lost helm control.”
“We’re losing all power! Engineering, weapons, life support...everything.” Harry looked up from his console. “We’re dead in the water.”
As suddenly as it had started, the beam shut off, leaving the bridge in darkness.
B’Elanna blinked in the sudden inky, black darkness of sickbay. She couldn’t believe how dark it was. Even the emergency lights weren’t coming on and that was never supposed to happen. Except when it did, which it already had that year. Which made this two times too many.
Janeway writhed underneath her, getting halfway turned over before B’Elanna had a chance to react. A knee pounded into B’Elanna’s back, knocking her forwards and off balance. Hands dug into the shoulders of her jacket, pulling her even further forward, and a twist of hips and body weight had her completely pulled off her captain so that they were both scrambling in the dark to get a better position on the other. Weight slammed into B’Elanna’s midsection, knocking her backwards, her head cracking against the biobed. When she reached out with her hand, trying to blindly grab the captain, she got nothing but air. She hit her comm. badge and received only static.
“Captain?” Pulling herself up using the biobed, she listened to the silence in the room. She couldn’t even hear Chakotay’s labored breathing anymore. “Chakotay?”
With several flickers, the lights finally came back on. At the sight that greeted her, B'Elanna wished she had remained in the dark.
“And with the blessing of the kingdoms, I conclude my time as Supreme Ruler of Erowid and give the power of rule over to Prince Future Sevrn, now to be known as Supreme Ruler Sevrn of Erowid.”
Sevrn accepted the half-staff the Supreme Ruler commonly held at ceremonial events. “I accept my duties and will honor my people.” He waited for the former ruler to bow first and then he reciprocated.
Ambassador Mreee stepped forward to anoint the next Prince Future.
A few audible gasps went up in the crowd as Sevrn held his place, blocking Mreee from continuing the ceremony. He pointed towards the side exit of the stairs. “Soldier of the Guard. Cease your attack on the offworlder ship Voyager immediately.”
“What are you doing?” Mreee hissed.
The Soldier of the Guard hesitated, looking both to Mreee and to Sevrn.
Sevrn was furious. “Am I the Supreme Ruler of Erowid or am I not? Obey my commands. Release Voyager. Now.”
Mreee sputtered with indignation, but the Soldier was convinced. “Aye, sir. Right away, sir.”
Sevrn turned to Mreee. “You may leave now. Your services are no longer required.”
“Wha-? But I’ve served the past seven Supreme Rulers!”
“And you have earned your rest. Depart now, or I shall have you escorted out.”
There was no recourse. Mreee knew it and with a last glance of futility at the former ruler, he stumbled his way down the steps of the stage. Sevrn turned back to the shocked audience. “Mitus, Son of the Fourth Kingdom, come forth.”
Shakily and looking as much curious as confused, Mitus joined Sevrn on the stage and bowed. “I appear at your command, Supreme Ruler.”
“I offer you the role of Ambassador of Erowid. Do you accept?”
Mitus blinked. “I don’t know the duties, sir.”
Sevrn smiled and extended his arm. “Neither do I, but if you accept, we can figure them out together.”
“I would be honored,” he replied, grasping his Supreme Ruler’s forearm.
“Unfortunately, your duties must begin immediately. I will anoint Shurgar as Prince Future, but I need you to go and communicate with Voyager. Ensure that we have stopped firing on them and then offer them any assistance they will accept.” He glanced at their audience. “I will be along as soon as possible.”
Mitus paled slightly but nodded. “Consider it done.”
Sevrn handed him the half-staff. “If anyone fails to cooperate with you, feel free to beat them with this.”
The younger man smiled. “You’re going to make my first job too easy, sir.”
“I can only hope it will be your most difficult.”
Mitus nodded in understanding, bowed slightly and hurried off the stage. Sevrn faced his audience. “Now then, I believe the Sons of the kingdoms have chosen from amongst their ranks our next Prince Future.”
“Emergency power coming back online.”
“For once, I’m glad we were being held in a tractor beam,” Tom quipped, barely able to see across the bridge as the main lighting flickered. “If not, that would have been a nasty little fall to the planet’s surface.”
“Sensors?” Tuvok asked, his serene Vulcan calm cutting across the edgy bridge crew.
“Recalibrating,” Harry answered, his voice trailing off slightly.
“Scans show sixteen assault shuttles surrounding our position,” Ayala reported, with a note of aggression not usually heard from tactical.
With a burst of static, the viewscreen reengaged, showing four ships holding position, fanned out directly in front of them. Tom whistled. “Anyone want to wager a guess as to why they aren’t still attacking us?”
“We’re being hailed.”
A considerably younger Erowid male than anyone had previously spoken to appeared on screen. Tom grimaced at the purplish bruise spanning half his face.
“Greetings, Voyager. My name is Mi…Ambassador Mitus. I speak to you on behalf of Supreme Ruler Sevrn.”
“I am Lieutenant Commander Tuvok. We were under the impression that the Sevrn was the Prince Future.”
“We’ve had a change of government,” Mitus answered and saw the dubious expressions shared between a few of the bridge crew. “I assure you, it was all legal and conducted according to our laws.”
Tuvok raised an eyebrow. “Then you have not held your post for long?”
Mitus laughed nervously and shook his head. “No, not at all.”
“I see.” Tuvok waited for the Erowid to continue, then prompted him, “You hailed us, Ambassador.”
A flush crept into the younger man’s face, but he recovered quickly. “Supreme Ruler Sevrn offers his condolences for how you have been treated thus far, and offers you any assistance you may require.”
“Assistance?” Tuvok repeated.
Tom didn’t think the Vulcan’s eyebrow could go any higher, but he was even more delighted when his console lit up with an assortment of beeps and whirs. “I’ve got helm control, propulsion, engines are back online.”
“Release us from your tractor beam,” Tuvok instructed the ambassador. “Then we will consider your offer of further assistance.”
For a second, Mitus looked confused. “Oh!” He spoke to someone off screen. “Discontinue confinement beam.” He returned his attention to Tuvok. “Better?”
“Torres to bridge. If we aren’t flying anywhere at the moment, I could really use Tom’s help down here.”
“In Engineering?” Tom frowned. “I thought you were going to be in sickbay to help with the transport.”
“I am in sickbay. If I was in Engineering and needed help, I’d be calling Harry – not you!” she snapped. “Now get down here, the doctor is still offline, and I’ve got two comatose patients down here that I have no idea how to treat.”
“Mister Paris,” Tuvok said, not even needing to finish before Tom was out of his chair, moving towards the turbolift. He returned his attention to the viewscreen where the young Erowid Ambassador was still waiting.
Mitus didn’t wait for him to speak. “I was going to inquire about the health of the commander and Kathryn.” He hesitated. “Do you have the capability to save him?”
“If your offer of assistance is true,” Tuvok replied stiffly, “you can send us data on how the captain and commander were injured. Aside from that, I believe that, for now, we are finished speaking, Ambassador.”
“Please state the nature of the medical emergency.”
B’Elanna let out a sigh of relief. “Finally!”
The doctor scrutinized her face. “Your nose is still broken, Lieutenant.” He paused in that minute way that indicated he was reviewing new data being uploaded to his matrix. “Why have I been offline for four hours and seven minutes? I was in the middle of an emergency procedure with the commander.”
He immediately stalked away from her, heading towards the main area of sickbay.
She followed him. “It’s actually been six hours and twenty-two minutes. I haven’t had a chance yet to recalibrate the ship’s chronometer…or my nose.”
“What about the commander? And the captain?”
She didn’t have a chance to answer before he pulled up short at the sight of the command team. Chakotay was lying on the biobed in the surgical bay where the doctor had last seen him, but the captain was also lying in the surgical bay. On an elevated, portable stretcher alongside the commander.
“It looks weird, and we have to keep taking manual readings of her vitals,” Tom explained, appearing next to the EMH, “but, it keeps them happy.”
“Happy?” Incensed at the flippant description, he snatched the tricorder from Tom’s hands, striding towards his patients. “The captain was conscious when she was beamed aboard. I told you to restrain her, Lieutenant Torres. Not render her comatose.”
“I didn’t do this to her,” B’Elanna protested angrily. “She got away from me when the lights went out, tried to give me a concussion, and then went and draped herself over him.”
“She did give you a concussion,” Tom muttered. “I got down here from the bridge as soon as I could, but the captain was already unconscious. As soon as we moved her away from him, both of their vitals started dropping. As long as we kept them near each other, Chakotay’s condition improved. So…”
The Doctor circled the biobeds, scanning the two officers. Their proximity to each other seemed far from a logical reason for their improved health, but he couldn’t deny the information he was receiving from his scans. Yes, she was unconscious, but all of her previously elevated levels had regulated, putting her within acceptable parameters. As for the commander, the intracranial swelling and pressure that had been at fatal levels were now almost nonexistent. “And you’ve given them no other treatments?”
“General antibiotics. Healed some contusions and cuts on both of them. Ran a dermal regenerator over a light chemical burn on the captain’s face. Used the osteo-regenerator on Chakotay’s skull fracture,” Tom reported, handing him a medical PADD, “but that’s about it.”
The EMH nodded, assimilating the information. Looking at his patients more closely, he lifted the captain’s hand slightly, peering at a bracelet around her wrist made of dark crimson stones. He noticed the commander was also wearing one. “And where did these come from? I don’t recognize them as anything from the commander’s religious background.”
“Those came from the planet,” Tom said, not quite sure how the hologram would appreciate the use of unconventional medicine in his sickbay. “The newly-appointed Supreme Ruler returned their uniforms as a sort of peace offering to Tuvok and included the two bracelets. He suggested that since the captain and commander’s bodies were still acclimated to the planet’s surface, the stones would promote healing.”
“A peace offering? Didn’t they fire on us first?”
Tom and B’Elanna both nodded.
“I see I have a lot of catching up to do,” the hologram muttered.
“The stones didn’t register as dangerous on the tricorder, and they haven’t had any negative reactions to them,” Tom explained. “I figured they couldn’t hurt.”
The doctor gently placed his captain’s hand back down on the bed, resting it against the commander’s, where he’d found it. He took another scan of the two officers and closed the tricorder. “Well done, Mister Paris. Since we apparently have a moment to spare, let’s see if we can’t keep Miss Torres here long enough to heal her nose.”
Sevrn paced the length of his receiving hall. He hadn’t grown accustomed to it yet. He was used to seven strides bringing him to a turn in his office…in the Prince Future’s office. In the hall, he could complete more than twenty before turning to go back.
Mitus arrived in the hall. “We have received a hail.”
It wasn’t stately for a Supreme Ruler to run, but he did increase his pace in the direction of his communications area. “Did they agree to our request?”
“Unknown, sir,” Mitus hedged. He did not believe it would be granted, but it was not yet his place to speculate.
Entering the office, Sevrn centered himself at the Supreme Ruler’s desk and nodded to his aide to open the transmission. The screen in front of him changed in view from the emerald green of his homeland to the sophisticated bridge of the starship. He had seen it several times now in communications, but this was his first time to see the ship with her captain.
An unseen burden was removed from his shoulders at the sight of her and her commander seated in front of him on the viewscreen. He smiled. “Kathryn. I am pleased-”
“Forgive me for interrupting, Supreme Ruler, but I’d prefer you address me as ‘captain’. It’s a title I have earned through many years of training and sacrifice.”
Her voice was hard and lacked any of the laughter and warmth he’d heard in it before. It saddened him, but he did not fault her. “My apologies, Captain.” He inclined his head to her. “I’m relieved that our communication finds both you and Commander Chakotay recovered.”
“We have an excellent doctor,” she stated, offering nothing.
Sevrn swallowed, knowing before she officially answered that his original request would be denied. He’d hoped, perhaps foolishly, that she’d understand. He knew they would be leaving the planet, but he’d hoped to talk with her more as equals than they ever had been before.
He watched as she pushed herself gracefully to her feet, seemingly unable to remain sitting for any longer.
“I’ve reviewed the generous amount of supplies you’ve sent, but I’m afraid we won’t be able to meet in person again.” One hand rested on her hip while the other remained fisted at her side. “I hope you understand.”
“I do.” And he did. “I’m grateful that, at minimum, the supplies were accepted as you have our gratitude.” It was a slight movement, but he noted how her facial expression seemed to tighten at his words. If he had to guess, he would have to say that words of departure were the only thing she would welcome from him at this point. He smiled faintly. It was the least he could do. “Good faith on the rest of your journey, Captain Janeway.”
She hesitated before replying. “Rule your planet better than those who’ve come before you…Sevrn.”
He watched her turn away as his viewscreen returned to the colors of Erowid. “I will try, Kathryn.”
Chakotay waited until she poured the wine in both of their glasses. He’d already waited until she had finished off at least one glass; a few more seconds didn’t bother him. He watched her relax into the cushions of the couch and look in his direction.
“It’s really a good thing you didn’t grant his request to come aboard.”
Her eyes hardened and he wondered if he shouldn’t have waited a bit longer.
“Did you really think that I would ever let that bas-” she cut herself off from what she’d been about to say, pursing her lips together. “Did you really think I would have let him set one foot on my ship?”
“Nope,” he agreed easily. “I was simply stating that, as your first officer, I’m glad you made that choice.”
She continued to eye him warily. “And why is that, First Officer?”
“It’s more difficult than one might think to get B’Elanna’s bat’leth away from her,” he explained, “and locking Seven in the cargo bay? Forget it.”
She sipped her wine.
“I’d have to monitor Tuvok closely because he can be sneaky and I’m not entirely sure what method he would employ. Poor Harry would have to be sedated, but at least that would keep the doctor occupied.”
“I see,” she said. “You’re not worried about Tom’s reaction?”
“Tom’s a pretty simple guy. He’d probably just find a way to pass Sevrn in the corridor or something and then deck him with a good right hook.” He drank more of his wine. “I wouldn’t really need to prevent that. I might even take him off night shifts for a while as a reward.”
She finished her glass. “And what about me? No worries about how I might be compelled to treat the Supreme Ruler of Erowid?”
“I’d reroute control of all airlocks through my command codes.”
“I can overrule your command codes.”
“Guess it’s a good thing you didn’t allow him on the ship, then.”
She laughed, and it was the sound he’d been waiting to hear. Watching her stew on the bridge for the past four hours since they’d left the planet behind had been tiring. He knew she was still frustrated about the entire situation: how it had happened, how completely it had been out of her realm of control. He also knew that if he didn’t get her talking about it, she’d keep obsessing about it until they reached the Alpha Quadrant.
“I wouldn’t have blown him out an airlock,” she said, refilling their glasses.
“No?” He liked the smirk she had on her face. It meant she had already come up with alternatives.
“No, I could be much more imaginative than that.”
“I could have taken him down to sickbay, strapped him to a biobed, and had the doctor show him his entire collection of holo-essays.”
“I also think he would have enjoyed dining on leola root casserole while listening to Tuvok recite one hundred twelve sonnets of Vulcan poetry.”
“Personally, I’d prefer the airlock.”
“Wouldn’t we all?”
Stretching his legs out in front of him, he decided to test the waters. “The trip wasn’t all bad.”
She sat up and looked at him. “What part of that could you have possibly enjoyed?”
“The massage wasn’t bad.”
She threw a pillow at him.
He caught it easily and put it behind his head, leaning back on it. “I liked waking up in sickbay,” he admitted softly. “I knew before I even opened my eyes that you were there. It felt really good.”
“It felt like home,” she replied just as quietly. “Like I was warm and safe and would always be loved.”
A comfortable silence built on the admission for several minutes.
“Do you miss it?” she asked. “That…connection?”
Knowing she was looking at him now, he sat up. “We’ve always had a connection, Kathryn.”
“Not like that.”
“No,” he agreed, “not quite like that.”
She toyed with her wine glass, rolling it between her fingers. “If I could have that feeling and leave out all the other stuff…”
Her voice trailed off, leaving the thought unfinished, but he knew what she meant. “Do you remember the other stuff?”
She set the wine glass down and pulled one leg up to her chest, resting her chin on her knee. “Not really. I mean, I remember everything up until Sevrn emptying that vial down my throat. After that, it’s kind of a blur. An emotional blur,” she admitted, “but still a blur.”
He leaned forward in the chair, his elbows on his knees. “What emotion?”
Her blue eyes met his. “Fear,” she said simply. “I was scared for you. Scared I was going to lose you.”
It wasn’t their way but he moved, leaving his chair and sitting down next to her on the couch. He took her hand in between his. “You could never lose me, Kathryn.”
She smiled at their joined hands and then lifted them over her head, draping his arm around her shoulders so she could lean in against his side.
He laid a gentle kiss on the top of her head. “And you will always be loved.”
“What about you?” she asked, her voice almost directed into his chest. “Do you remember that last night?”
“No,” he said, surprising her. “I barely remember Sevrn even showing up. I think it was that blow to the head I took.”
Kathryn winced, sorry she’d asked.
“I did finally remember our first night on the planet though.”
“The first night?” She could feel the laughter building in his chest and sat up so she could see him. He was grinning like a Cheshire cat and remembering, she gasped. “You know how we ended up in bed together!”
“Not only that,” he laughed, “but I know how you ended up in nothing but your underwear and my shirt!”
Thanks to Audabee for giving my words a home!