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Faux Q

Based on Persistance of Visionand Pathfinder. The Seventh Circle of Hell.

Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.

The voices of the assemblage in the mess hall spilled out into the corridor. Captain Janeway was the last to arrive, and as she did so, the entire complement of officers and crew of the starship Voyager snapped to attention. Only Kes was not present, although still alive - somewhere. Her spirit was with them, at least. We've lost not only Kes - so many others have died or been left behind on this journey, Captain Janeway agonized. She rallied and stepped to the front of the crowd.

'At ease. Some Captains might make this a formal announcement, but in our seven years together we've grown too close for that. We've endured hardship, prosperity, tragedy and triumph, and it's transformed us into a family.' She cast a swift glance over the crowd and met the warm brown eyes of her First Officer before continuing. 'You're all familiar with the Pathfinder project, headed by Reginald Barclay. He is directly responsible for what I am about to tell you now'.

'A spatial anomaly; with characteristics very much like a stable wormhole, large enough to accommodate Voyager; has been located in the next sector. They've named it the Pathfinder Passage. When we enter it, we will be only six months from Sector 001.'

A collective gasp from the crowd, and an unsure query from one of the crewmen: 'Captain, are we setting a course, then?' as if he wanted assurance.

'Yes, we are setting a course,' she confirmed, smiling broadly. Everyone but Tuvok and Seven broke into a rousing cheer. Janeway joyfully continued, 'The senior staff will convene in one hour to discuss the details. For now, I feel a celebration is in order. Mr. Neelix, I know you weren't prepared, so I'm authorizing extra replicator privileges to everyone.'

In the midst of the ecstatic, milling crowd, Chakotay turned to his Captain. They stood together for a long moment, smiling. 'Reg had a hand in this - he never gave up on us. But you did it, Kathryn. You made good on your promise to get us home.'

'What are you looking forward to most, Chakotay?' she asked him later as they strolled the corridor on their way to the bridge conference room.

He thought a moment. 'That first step...onto Alpha Quadrant soil,' he joked.

'Which planet?'

'Any.'

She grinned. 'I know how you feel. But is there nothing else?'

He sighed. 'I've given it some thought, of course. I have no family left. Earth isn't home, really. Trebus is riddled with Cardassians. The Maquis are disbanded - so many of my friends are dead. And I don't know what to expect from Starfleet.'

She stopped their forward momentum and turned to face him. The corridor was empty and she allowed herself the rare opportunity to place a comforting hand on his arm. 'I'll do everything in my power to see that you and your crew are pardoned. You know that. You, Tom Paris, and B'Elanna especially, would be assets to Starfleet. Each one of the Maquis has proved themselves worthy of a second chance - and no one more than you.'

His hand covered hers only fleetingly, for he heard footsteps approaching. 'If you can convince Starfleet to accept us, great. But the question is, would any of us accept Starfleet?'

'All right. If not Starfleet, what then? What do you want, Chakotay?'

He paused while the crewman strolled past, eyeing them curiously. When they were alone again, he replied, 'I don't honestly know, Kathryn. I'm 47 years old. Seems a bit late to rebuild a life.' His comment echoed her own situation. Suppressed memories of Mark, his love and his loss flickered across her features. He read her thoughts and placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. 'Whatever comes, we'll face it...'

She looked up at him. 'Together. Is that what you were about to say?' There was laughter in her eyes.

'Yes...but let's cross that bridge when we come to it.'

'Agreed.'

~ ~ ~

Expectations ran high as the ship entered the passage's source, visible only through sensors. In six months, when Voyager emerged from the mouth of it, into Sector 001, the Pathfinder Passage would be destroyed. The risk of the Borg, the Hirogen, or Species 8472 using it to gain access to the Alpha Quadrant was too great. The six months passed swiftly, and before she knew it, Captain Janeway stood on her bridge, watching the viewscreen flicker the images of Earth's solar system. As they exited the mouth of the passage, the flickering ceased and Neptune loomed up from the darkness. One by one the old, familiar planets drifted by.

The tired little ship was met with an escort vessel to welcome and guide her in. Yet even as she rejoiced in getting home, Janeway dreaded what was to come. The docking, the formalities, the medical fiasco, the media circus, the debriefings...so much to be gone through, when all she wanted was to take a shuttle to Indiana and see Phoebe and her mother! But surely they would be at headquarters waiting for her. They would have been notified. Surely they would be there. Perhaps even Mark... No, she reminded herself. He has married, and I'm only a part of his past now. Such thoughts ran fleetingly through her brain as Voyager circled Mars for the final approach. Earth's moon loomed and faded from the viewscreen. She glanced around her bridge. Nearly every face shone with tears. Janeway reached to hold her First Officer's hand once more on the bridge they had shared for so long, and continued to hold it, damning protocol, until the announcement came through: 'Starship USS Voyager, Registry Number NCC-74656, you are cleared to dock. Welcome home.'

The ship had to be secured before anyone could disembark. For now it seemed that no one was leaving - only boarding. Kathryn didn't recognize anyone in the initial boarding party. It was as if she had come home to strangers. She longed for just one familiar face among the hordes of people who were on hand to greet the longest-running single mission in the history of Starfleet, and she was impatient for it to be over.

An admiral with the face of a bulldog arrived, accompanied by a large squad of armed security personnel, who stood at attention at the rear of the bridge.

'Welcome aboard, Admiral.' Her eager, welcoming smile seemed lost on him.

'May I see you in your ready room Captain Janeway.' It was a demand, not a request. Suddenly wary, she nodded and led the way.

'May I ask what...' she began as soon as the doors slid shut.

'Your personal escort will be here presently,' he interrupted rudely. 'All members of Starfleet on board this vessel will be escorted to Headquarters. I am here to remove those who were on board the Liberty.'

'The Maquis have long been incorporated into my own crew; several were given field commissions. Why are they not accompanying the others?'

'You don't understand, Captain. I'm taking the Maquis into custody, field commissions or no field commissions. They are to be given a fair trial to be sure, but considering what has happened to the rest of the rebel organization, I expect they'll live out their years at the New Zealand compound - that is, if the courts are lenient. That might be the case considering they had a hand in helping Voyager get home.'

'Yes, Admiral, they've helped and they've died trying. And let me tell you something else. Each one of them is Starfleet, through and through. They've had on-board training that equals and even surpasses the four years they would have spent at the Academy. They aren't Maquis any more. In fact, the Maquis Captain has been my First Officer for seven years. Each of them is qualified for and deserves a post on any ship in the fleet.'

'Starfleet Headquarters thinks otherwise. These are common criminals you've harbored - out of necessity, to be sure, but you're trying to protect them now. You're risking your career speaking like this, Captain. Now - are you going to assemble them or should I?'

'I'd rather turn this ship around and head back to the Delta Quadrant than turn them over to you.'

'Rather difficult under the circumstances. Voyager is locked down. So if you will, Captain... I'd rather not have to call my men in. Your crew obviously respects you. It would be much easier if you assembled them.'

His eyes held hers in a steely gaze. Cornered, she kept all emotion out of her voice as she gave the order. 'Commander Chakotay, please report to my ready room at once. Janeway out.'

~ ~ ~

Kathryn's old home stood vacant amid scraggly, unkempt farmland. Nothing was left except the shell of the old house. She stood staring at it, unable to believe the events that had transpired since Voyager's disastrous return home. Her sister Phoebe had perished in a shuttle accident only the year before. Gretchen, her mother, now lay in a hospice in the final stages of some mysterious, incurable disease; she didn't even recognize the daughter who came to see her. No one knew where Mr. and Mrs. Mark Johnson had gone; it was said that they were likely living on another planet in another sector. Nothing was left of the old life she lived just seven years ago. Nothing. Nothing. Suddently crying uncontrollably, she fell to her knees in the dusty soil...

~ ~ ~

Ayala wiped sweat from his dripping brow and dug his shovel deep into the borite pit. Seven years, he thought. Seven years of conforming; obeying at the bark of an order; wearing the hated uniform - all because of his loyalty to Chakotay. 'Seven years...and this is what I get. The Maquis aren't dead, he promised himself. I'll see to that. They aren't dead! We'll regroup - somehow!!

The titanium restraints on his ankles gave him the lie. Tom Paris, despite Admiral Paris' influence, swung a pickax fifty feet away. B'Elanna had begun serving her time in the prison hospital, caring for sick and injured inmates, but was transferred to the planting fields after striking a Cardassian inmate for insulting her. Most of the Maquis Voyager crewmen were here, kept strictly separated against just such an insurrection. How were they ever to regroup? There wasn't much hope of that within the confines of this heavily guarded prison. He shouldn't have allowed himself to think about it. Thinking brought worse punishment than defying the guards. Contemplating the years he had spent in this hellhole and the years remaining in the life sentences given all the Maquis - except Chakotay - grated on him unbearably and he threw down the shovel, daring the guards to make him pick it up. A month in solitary, away from the broiling sun, seemed somehow better at the moment.

~ ~ ~

Neelix wandered aimlessly through the park, stopping only to tip the bottle he clasped to his lips. He staggered to a park bench and sat down heavily. A group of Earth citizens strolled by, holding their noses as the wind shifted, laughing and ridiculing him. He looked after them sadly, wondering how it all came about. Why, I was once the trusted confidant of a Starfleet Captain - the Chief Morale Officer of a great starship. I was liked and admired by everyone...well, all except for Tuvok, of course, and he just suppressing his feelings. Oh, that Mr. Vulcan! I know deep down he really liked me. I know I could have been a good ambassador, if only they'd given me the chance... Will I never see another face like mine again? He leaned over in his drunken stupor and, in the warm afternoon sun, fell asleep, the better to escape the present.

~ ~ ~

It was visiting day again. She hated visiting days. She would be forced again to portray herself as human, if only to please him. She didn't want to be human - she had not been human since she was six years old. Captain Janeway was so certain she could restore her humanity. Did she wish to mold her into the daughter she never had? Or perhaps she had had delusions of grandeur about resurrecting a Borg drone. Humanity was something she had never quite mastered, despite years of training and encouragement by Captain Janeway, whom she despised now for severing her connection with the hive mind.

There was no escaping today, for it was a regular event in the schedule. They would force her if she did not comply. Her only friend was faithful in his regular visits, the benefits of which were minimal at best. Seven would never fit in anywhere. Upon Voyager's return it was decided by Starfleet Command that she be permanently committed to an institution for those few of which medical science had been unable to help. Though 24th century medicine was now highly advanced, thanks to the holographic Doctor, her Borg condition could never be completely altered. They were afraid of her. She thought back to the time of the alliance between the Captain Janeway and the Borg - the day she clung for life inside the Jeffries Tube, watching the other drones being sucked into the void...if only she had let go...

~ ~ ~

Harry waited nervously outside the Admiral's office. Events were transpiring behind those closed doors which would decide his future. He looked forward to a life bracketed only by Starfleet rules and regulations, by missions to the farthest reaches of the Alpha Quadrant. Maybe he would make Captain one day. It was all he had left, for he had returned from the Delta Quadrant, over sixty years early, to find Libby married, already the mother of two young children. Why couldn't Libby have waited for him? Both his parents, grieved by the loss of their only son, had already passed on. He had no other family, so he swiftly channeled his life into the only worthwhile thing left to him: Starfleet. He had even abandoned his music.

The doors were opening. Harry straightened his uniform, walked confidently in and stood at attention. 'I'm sorry, Ensign Kim,' said the Admiral, 'your request to be considered for promotion has been denied. Furthermore, your close association with a convicted felon - Tom Paris - does not look good on your record. For these and other reasons, we strongly suggest that you resign Starfleet. I'm sure, with your skills, you will do well on a commercial ship, perhaps, or a freighter...'

~ ~ ~

Tuvok emerged from the Temple, staggering with a shock that all his Vulcan training could not subdue. In all the history of his people, no Vulcan woman had ever remarried after the loss of her husband. The men - yes - they were free to take any wife they wished - some even chose off-worlders. But the women - that was another matter. It couldn't be possible that his own T'Pel would do this to him. He hadn't been gone that long. Surely the Elders could somehow remedy the situation...but he knew no remedy would be forthcoming. He had been presumed dead and T'Pel had gained their permission to remarry. His sudden reappearance was his own misfortune. He climbed the steps of Mt. Seleya and stepped to the very edge, preparing to jump.

Someone grabbed his arm and jerked him back. That same someone threw his arms around Tuvok, hugging him fiercely. Startled, Tuvok heard a familiar - and most unwelcome - voice say, 'Mr. Vulcan, I just heard about your wife - you must be devastated!' Reeling from yet another blow, Tuvok maintained cold civility even as he asked, 'How come you to be on Vulcan? And exactly from whom did you hear about something so personal, Mr. Neelix?'

'Oh, I keep my ear to the ground,' replied the oblivious Talaxian. 'Didn't I always know what was going on aboard Voyager? Well, don't you worry; you leave everything to me; I'll help you through this. What you need is a new woman. I know a quiet little place on a planet not far from here, and there's a girl there I think you should meet...

~ ~ ~'

It didn't matter what they did to him now; he was past caring. He'd worked a deal with Starfleet Command: those of his beloved Maquis who weren't already dead had been given life sentences in lieu of execution. A reprieve - such as it was. The price was his life. Now he lay in the execution chamber awaiting the hour at which he would rejoin his father. He would see his people again. He would try to hold that thought. Despite his efforts however, another face drifted across his mind. No use to think of her now. In all their years together she never gave a thought to anything but her ship and her crew. In her single-minded stubbornness, she turned from his love and devotion to get them all home. Did she ever consider what awaited them there? He would rather have been stranded but happy on New Earth than to have it turn out like this... It was time. Akoochemoya, he thought, and closed his eyes.

~ ~ ~

Janeway came back to awareness slowly. As full consciousness returned, she checked the ship's systems by her bridge chair. Everything read normal, yet she had an eerie sense that something was wrong. Concerned, she glanced around her bridge. Everyone was coming back to awareness, much as she had just done, and they all seemed preoccupied, despondent - just as she now feLieutenant Harry, shaking off his own recent experience, was the first to respond, anticipating his Captain's command.

'Captain, reports are coming in from all over the ship,' said Harry. 'From all hands.'

'What kind of reports, Ensign?'

'Everyone's been experiencing...well...visions. All terrible, frightening - like nightmares. To be honest, I just had one myself.'

Now that they were fully awake, each of the bridge crew affirmed the same. Chakotay stared at her quizzically, as if he were just awakening, completely disoriented.

'I've apparently had the same type of experience myself, Captain,' he finally managed to say. 'Certainly not something I'd care to relate, much less remember.'

'So have I,' Janeway admitted. 'Like Harry says - a waking nightmare. Could we have been invaded somehow - mentally, perhaps? It's happened to us before, back in the early part of our journey. Remember the Botha?'

'Yes, although I'd prefer not to,' answered Chakotay, uncomfortably. 'Ensign?'

'Sensors detect nothing...nothing tangible that is, Sir,' Harry replied, rubbing his temples.

'Janeway to EMH!'

'Yes, Captain?'

'Are you aware of anything unusual? Has anyone reported to Sickbay?'

'Not yet. What's happened?'

Before she could answer, the computer issued a request. 'Captain Janeway, report to your ready room, please.'

'Just what in hell is going on here?!'

~ ~ ~

A single word escaped her lips: 'YOU.'

'Oui, c'est Moi.'

'It was you...all along...wasn't it?!'

'Kathy, Kathy. Is that any way to greet an old friend? You're worse than Picard.' He lounged back in her chair as if he belonged there, propping his feet on her desk.

Speechless, she could only stare furiously.

'Well?' he asked petulantly, 'you've all been wondering what might happen once you got back to the Alpha Quadrant.' He inspected his nails and buffed them against his uniform. 'I sent each of you on a little journey to find out.'

'Years ago, the Botha did something similar to us. Mark was dangled in front of my nose, B'Elanna experienced something so traumatizing she couldn't even share it with me, and now...'

'I had no idea, Kathy! Sounds like they put you through hell.'

'You just put us through hell! From the reports I've been getting - not to mention my own experience - these weren't journeys as you call them; they were debilitating nightmares! I'll be lucky to uphold morale after this!!'

'Sit down and smooth your ruffled fur, my dear. What's wrong in preparing you for the worst? Anything you experience now has to be quite an improvement - wouldn't you say? Where's your gratitude?'

'Gratitude?! For what you just did to us?! You have strange ideas of how to help people, Q.'

'You have no idea how ingenious my little scheme was...you have no imagination.'

'We imagined plenty with your ingenious little scheme, Q,' she spat at him 'Why do this to us? Is this another example of your attempt to teach humanity?'

'Why, of course!'

Her temple throbbed and her hand itched for her phaser, useless though it might be. 'I want you off my ship. Now.'

'Pray cease your endless pacing. You're entirely too hyper, Kathy. I suggest cutting back on the caffeine.'

'Get off my ship, Q!'

'Ah, not yet,' he purred silkily, coming around her desk. 'True, I gave you worst-case scenarios. Now, how about another perspective? First the bad news, now the good news? You've proved yourselves worthy in the last seven years. Let me see...what was that ridiculous phrase out of your ancient literature? Tap your heels three times?

She stood fuming, arms crossed. 'I'm in no mood for your jokes, Q.'

'You're not tapping.'

Exasperated, she lifted her foot and tapped one heel against the other, one, twice, thrice. Perhaps he'd get the hell out if she cooperated.

He smiled benevolently as he placed an arm around her shoulders.

'Look, Kathy,' he said, gesturing grandly toward the windows. A big blue marble with a small white companion, achingly familiar, loomed so near she felt she could touch it. 'You're home.'

The End

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