Elaasia. What a beautiful name for a world, thought Captain Janeway. She eagerly anticipated this peace conference to which Voyager’s highest ranking officers had been invited by the administrators of this newly discovered M-Class planet. Chakotay skillfully set the shuttlecraft down at the designated landing place. Officials were on hand to greet delegates from all inhabited planets in the sector and the two visitors in transit. Captain Janeway, her curiosity aroused, had accepted the invitations for herself and Chakotay over Tuvok’s nagging protests. The frequency at which the Captain and First Officer departed the ship together was a blatant disregard for regulations. The last glimpse of Tuvok’s stern, disapproving face was the last thing they saw before the shuttlecraft doors closed.
First contact with so many unknown races was a prize worth risking Tuvok’s disapproval. While she valued his opinion, he held her reins a bit too tight for her adventurous spirit - a habit of his from their first meeting when he was assigned to her first command. Now, following their escorts, Janeway and Chakotay eagerly entered the massive hall. Here was an opportunity to observe a populated Delta Quadrant sector going about its business. So many different species organizing to promote peace! The Alpha Quadrant could certainly make use of this idea, they agreed. Janeway and Chakotay were assigned to comfortable seats near the refreshments and cautioned not to interfere with matters at hand. They were to be merely guests and observers.
The first observation they made was that bipeds such as themselves were a rarity. The usual alien in the Alpha Quadrant looked almost exactly like Homo sapiens but for variation in head and face shape. Here, many different configurations of living, intelligent beings milled about, surreptitiously studying the two visitors as they were, in turn, observing them. The Starfleet officers returned the friendly nods, occasionally copying local customs by either touching extremities, bowing or kissing. The method of simply shaking hands was unknown. Chakotay smiled as his Captain bravely tiptoed to return the gentle kiss of a seven-foot being who could easily have swallowed her whole, had he… or it… the inclination. He ruefully imagined Tuvok’s reaction, as Security Officer, to the trust the Captain displayed in this first contact situation. On the whole, however, Starfleet, his old nemesis, had the right idea. Trust builds more friends than enemies.
In the interest of diplomacy, Janeway had denied herself the usual equipment she would have brought: scanning equipment - save for one tricorder with which she checked the refreshments, and phasers - something else that would have horrified Tuvok, had he the capacity for horror – but Janeway felt the situation called for trust, and Chakotay agreed. The only other technology each possessed was a universal translator.
The conference proceeded under its own version of parliamentary procedure and the agenda was announced. As the list droned on, Janeway began to wonder why she had been so eager to accept. Peace conference? No warring factions were present. The agenda listed only minor disagreements between worlds, a few boundary disputes, supply problems, and requests for aid. As the conference progressed, Janeway pasted a professional smile on her face but found herself wishing for a little excitement; a Kazon or two, or perhaps an appearance by Species 8472 to liven things up. She smiled ruefully to herself, and her First Officer read the thought behind the expression.
‘Bored, Captain?’ he whispered in her ear, grinning.
‘A little,’ she admitted, leaning in close. ‘This reminds me of a small town council meeting. When they said peace conference, I expected a little conflict. Well, that’s what I got, actually – a little conflict. Very little.’
‘Shall we break out the phaser rifles; show them how Starfleet does it? Or, even better, launch a Maquis strike?’ He grinned wider at her withering glance.
‘How un-diplomatic would it be for us to leave early?’
‘Let’s at least have refreshments – they’re adjourning now. We’ll leave right after. Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it,’ he assured her.
After an interminable time chatting and tasting the various delicacies, Chakotay, true to his word, handed her the goblet he had been holding, bent on seeking deliverance for his Captain. Now, that’s devotion, she thought to herself. She swirled the nearly full contents of his goblet. He had barely sipped it. The thickly swirled, greenish yellow liquid, whatever it was and despite its appearance, was delicious and as far as the tricorder readings could determine, completely harmless. Her own goblet was nearly empty. She glanced reluctantly toward the long line waiting at the refreshment tables and decided to simply finish Chakotay’s. The fluid left her relaxed and mellow after hours of monotonous proceedings. Presently Chakotay returned.
‘I told them we must be on our way; that our ship needed its Captain. I said that we appreciated the opportunity to attend, and wished them well in settling their various issues.’
‘They weren’t offended?’
‘On the contrary – they really respond to sucking up,’ he joked, handing her a sealed carafe. ‘Here - the chairman sends you off with a sample of that grog you’ve been guzzling. I couldn’t tolerate it, myself.’
‘You should apply for the diplomatic corps when we get home.’
‘If we get home. Let’s get back to the ship and work on it, shall we?’
When they had gone far enough that they could be sure they wouldn’t be observed, both officers broke into a faster pace, headed for their shuttle.
Janeway relaxed, breathing a great sigh of relief as the shuttle soared into the night sky and gained the outer reaches of the atmosphere. Content to allow Chakotay full command of the vessel, she leaned back in her chair, sipping from the carafe.
‘I’m glad that’s over. I never sat through anything more mind-numbing. Remind me not to accept any more invitations for a while.’
‘Aye,’ was his amused reply.
The shuttle flew for several minutes after which the comforting hum broke into static. Warning lights flashed across the console, then went dim. Chakotay frowned, tapping controls. ‘I think we have a problem here.’
‘…Oh?’ Janeway said, languidly.
Chakotay shot her a glance. Usually, at mention of the word problem, she was alert and on top of it in an instant. Her voice betrayed her mental state: too much grog.
‘Something’s wrong,’ said Chakotay evenly. ‘We’re losing all our systems, one by one. I’m going to hail Voyager.’
Something was wrong, all right – Janeway had leaned back in her seat, out like a light. He studied her for a moment; her breathing was normal, her color was normal. No time for a medical scan, for the ship was shutting down; scanners, engines, phasers - all blinked out, one by one. Life support might be next. A quick visual did not locate Voyager. Chakotay checked his monitor: the hail to Voyager had not gone out. The atmosphere soon thinned out to nothing and their momentum swiftly carried them through it, with no friction to slow them down. They had reached deep space in a dead ship.
Chakotay sat back, frustrated. Nothing he tried had worked, and the ship was adrift. Voyager was nowhere to be seen, and there was no way of hailing the ship. Both of their communicators were inoperable. All he could think of to do was wait it out. He turned to his Captain. Something about her inert body alarmed him. She was breathing, but her respiration had escalated slightly, and her face had a reddish hue. He bent over her and felt heat radiating off her. He lifted her from her chair and placed her on the floor in the rear of the shuttle. Grateful they had water, a medical kit and blankets, he tried the medical tricorder with no luck. Not a single piece of technology was operating – why? Life support was on a separate system with backups – that must be why they still had air, but how much longer would that last? What was causing it? Was it something from Elaasia they had brought on board? A virus? He stopped speculating and began treating the Captain as best he could. With no other way to measure her temperature, his own hand still told him that her fever was above normal and rising. He examined her for other symptoms; the high fever was the only manifestation. If it continued climbing she was in danger of hallucinations and convulsions. A hypospray operated on a mechanical level; it already contained an antibiotic. It should work. He injected her, hoping it would help. It seemed to, for she came to, momentarily, enough to recognize him.
‘I’m here, Kathryn. Just lie still. We’ve had some problems with the shuttle and…’
‘What kind of problems?’
‘A few of the systems are down, Captain. Something from that planet or something we brought from the conference affected the shuttle, I think…I’m not sure.’
‘How far are we from Elaasia?’
‘About 145 million kilometers’
‘That’s about the distance between our earth and the sun.’
‘Are we adrift? You said something about the sun. Are we caught in the gravitational pull of the sun?’
‘Captain, you need to rest and not worry about anything.’
‘Do we have any water?’ her thin voice begged, sounding not at all like Captain Janeway. Her fever rose inexorably. Compresses wet down and placed on the bulkhead cooled her, but only as temporary measure. As her fever rose, he divested her of her uniform. He had to add a blanket when chills set in, then when the fever took over he removed the blanket. He had no time to attend the dead shuttle; her condition demanded constant care. He stuffed more icy cold compresses beneath her arms.
He himself had felt some light nausea but it had soon passed. He knew the culprit without needing a tricorder: that damned juice she’d taken a liking to. He had drunk maybe two sips – not enough to make him as sick as this. But what happened to the tricorder at the conference? Had it malfunctioned, a prelude to what was happening now? Only his distaste for the beverage had prevented him from being right where she was now – writhing, sweating, babbling in a fever so high he wasn’t sure she could survive it.
We’re headed for the sun, Janeway thought. To her, everything seemed clear as if she were dictating her log. A strange ending to a distinguished career. Nothing will be left of us but infinitesimal flakes of ash – if even that. Stranger still is that my father died in water. Which should I myself prefer, a hot baking or a cool asphyxiation? Such a quandary. No, why is it a quandary? We’re helplessly falling or being pulled toward this blazing star and nothing can stop our descent. Dante’s inferno… Hell... A roiling sea of lava. Gasping for air then feeling the burn. I hope it’s quick. I hope it’s quick for Chakotay. I wouldn’t want to see him suffer…
Chakotay inventoried their situation: Janeway’s serious condition and the dead shuttle. There was a chance that Voyager would search for them by sending out some long range scans. If they didn’t do it soon, he and the Captain would be headed for trouble. The atmospheric controls were failing. He’d managed to coax some juice from one of the tricorders and her communicator to keep their air circulating for a few more hours, but their momentum and trajectory continued to propel them toward open, deep space; nothing to even crash into. They would freeze before their air ran out. Voyager might find them, days later, in a dead ship and frozen together. He grinned to himself. Should he strip, take Kathryn in his arms at the last moment and allow sub zero temperatures to lock them into an eternal embrace? What would Tuvok think then? He laughed aloud at the mental picture. Hell, better to laugh than sit here and stew…or freeze…
‘Are we there yet, Chakotay? Are we in the sun’s corona? It’s so hot…’
‘I’m here, Captain. It’ll be cooler soon. You’ll feel better, I promise.’ He peeled the crackling compress from the icy bulkhead and softened it in his hands before placing it on her forehead. She winced at the sudden change in temperature on her brow, continuing to babble in delirium.
‘Don’t tell Tuvok, Chakotay. Don’t tell him.’
‘Don’t tell him what, Kathryn?’
‘The real reason I take you with me on away missions…he doesn’t like us to leave the ship together… against…regulations…’
‘Don’t worry, I won’t tell him. But what is the real reason?’ he teased, as much to get his mind off their current situation as to find out what she thought. Never had they expressed personal emotions to each other, and he had a feeling he was about to gain some insight into Kathryn’s heart. They had grown as close as they could professionally. Personally, he knew his own feelings. What were hers?
‘I think Tuvok is jealous of you. He’s been attracted to me since we first started working together. T’Pel doesn’t know.’
Chakotay inserted a knuckle between his teeth and bit down hard. It was certainly not the time to be laughing, and what she was saying was fired by neurons gone wild in fever. Her next words, however, broke his heart.
‘So hot…Chakotay…hot… We’re flying into the sun… I have to tell you how much I love you… before we die… It will be a horrible death, Chakotay……I’m sorry I got you into this. It’s so hot!’
How could he tell her that the sun was her fever, that they were actually headed in the opposite direction, that before another hour passed they would freeze solid? Would that be any less horrible than what her brain was telling her? How could he tell her what was real? How…?
A faint chirp from his communicator aroused him.
…***…’Voyager to Shuttlecraft Pillar, come in…’
‘Acknowledged, Tuvok! Shuttle is down! Kathryn is very sick. We need help, now!’
‘We have your coordinates. Stand by.’
‘Did you hear that, Kathryn? Voyager is coming for us. We’ve escaped the sun.’ To himself he muttered, ‘…and we’ve escaped the ice…’
She heard nothing.
~~~The Doctor treated Chakotay for hypothermia and mild frostbite. The Captain was placed in stasis until he could find out what was infecting her. He discovered a microscopic worm, capable of affecting the shuttle technology, its bioneural gelpacks and its biological passengers. It didn’t take him long to prepare an antidote to eradicate it from her system. The worm was present in the buffet served at the conference and when Janeway scanned it with her tricorder, it hitched a ride into the shuttle. It was also present in the yellowish drink. A serum injected into the bioneural gelpacks 'cured' the ship. As usual, the Doctor's boasting brought practically no comment from anyone. Somewhat miffed, he retreated to his office while Chakotay leaned over the Captain's biobed.
'Feeling better?' he asked tenderly, taking her hand.
'Oh, much. How about you?'
'I wasn't that sick.'
'I'm glad.' She shook her head, unbelieving. 'The dreams I had! I remember them. We were falling toward a star...slowly burning...'
'Not exactly...just the opposite.'
'Well, whatever happened will be in your report, I'm sure.' She sat up, and he saw that her eyes were bright, and felt her strength returning in the firm hand she placed on his arm. 'Are you up for duty?'
'I feel fine. Are you sure you're ready?'
'I'm sure.' She grabbed his arm as he headed for the EMH. 'No, don't check with the Doctor. Trust me, I'm sure.'
He turned back, grinning. 'I hope so, because Tuvok has requested our presence at our own conference.'
'Peace?' she asked hopefully.
'From the look on his face, I doubt it. This may be the end of our excursions for a while...at least until we can lull him into a false sense of security.'
'I'm willing if you are. That's your next mission, Commander.'
He helped her down from the bed. As quietly as they could, they crept past the Doctor's open office and escaped to the corridor outside.The End