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Disclaimer:  I still don’t own the Star Trek stuff mentioned in this story.  More’s the pity.

Notes: Written for the VAMB 2014 Secret Summer Exchange.  The request I received asked for something adventurous involving Janeway, Tuvok, Paris or other members of the senior staff, but it must have some sort of moral or ethical dilemma for them to face.  Thanks to QS for using some of her very limited available time and ensuring all the commas were correctly placed.

Eight Hours by Cheshire

6:00 PM

Chakotay entered the ready room, the smile on his face fading away at the solemnity of the room.  She stood at the viewport, her back to him, appearing to watch the slowly-revolving planet below them. 

“What is it, Commander?” she asked without bothering to face him.

“All of the crew are back on board and all the departments have reported in as ready and operational.  We’re ready to leave when you are, Captain.”

“Fine. Set a course heading and put us back on track for the Alpha Quadrant.  Warp six.”

“Aye, Captain.”

He didn’t leave.  He waited and the silence drew out between them.  There’d been no sound of the doors opening and closing; she knew he was still there.  In the stillness of the room, he heard it when she finally took in a deeper breath.

She half-turned to face him.  “Was there something else, Commander?”

“You recalled Tuvok back to the ship and went back to the planet’s surface with the magistrate alone,” he said.  “Mind telling me why?”

She snorted air through her nose and turned back to the view of the stars. “Captain’s prerogative.”

“I know what you did, Kathryn. I know why you went back down to the planet by yourself without telling me, without telling anyone,” he said, watching as her back stiffened at his words. He hadn’t said them in anger or with any accusation.  He just wanted her to know that he knew.  “I can’t condone your actions, but I understand why you felt you had to take them.”

Finally, she turned to face him full on.  She took the two steps to the railing without saying a word, but she didn’t lean on it as he’d expected.  Instead, she put one hand on her hip, eyeing him. “What is it exactly that you think I did, Commander?”

^~~^~~^

8 hours earlier

“Wouldn’t you prefer to have lunch, Captain?”

“I am having lunch, Tuvok.”

“Your selections of food were mainly from the breakfast portion of the menu.”

She shook out her napkin and draped it across her lap.  “Well, if we were on Earth, we’d call this brunch. It’s the best of both worlds, a little bit of breakfast, a little bit of lunch.”

“I prefer my meals to be on a more routine schedule.  As I have already eaten breakfast several hours ago, I have no wish to have it again.”

“Tuvok, you were finished with breakfast before I was even awake.”

“I am aware that your standing order before leaving the ship was that, short of an emergency, you were not to be disturbed before nine AM.”

“All of you conspired together for me to take shore leave,” she said, pointing a finger at him. “Now you have to face the consequences.”

“I see.”

She sipped fruit juice from a delicate crystal flute, enjoying the consternation on her chief of security’s face. 

He seemed to finally settle with the idea and gingerly picked up his own glass of juice. “The Doctor will be pleased that you are drinking something besides coffee.”

She grinned wickedly at him. “Coffee comes later…with dessert.”

*Voyager to Captain Janeway.*

She glanced at the alien timepiece near the restaurant’s door and did the quick conversion in her head.  It was ten AM.  She shook her head and with a little sigh activated her comm. badge.  “Good morning to you too, Voyager.”

*Sorry to bother you, Captain, but we might have a situation developing.*

She glanced across the table at Tuvok.  “What is it, Commander?”

*Neelix just called in. He was in the market area with Ensign Wildman and Naomi, but they’ve both disappeared. We tried contacting them and scanning for their badges but so far we haven’t been able to locate them.*

Janeway motioned for Tuvok to let the restaurant know they were leaving.  “Where’s Neelix now?”

*He’s still at the store in the market where they were last seen.*

“Can you transport Tuvok and me to his location?”

*There’s a designated transport area at the front entrance of the market.  I’ll have Neelix meet you there.  Standby.*

Within a moment, Janeway went from a sunny country villa cafe to a bustling marketplace filled with people and storefronts in all directions.  She shivered once at the change in temperature and felt Tuvok move in closer to her side as they moved away from the platform. She scanned the crowds for any sign of Neelix. 

“Captain!”

She saw Neelix’s blond Mohawk bobbing towards them through the crowd before she could actually see the Talaxian’s face.   As soon as he reached Janeway’s side, he started pulling her back the direction he’d just come. 

“I’m so sorry, Captain. I don’t know what happened.  One minute we were all in the store and the next…I had just found some lovely catermillan spices, but when I went to show them to Samantha – she and Naomi were gone.”  He stutter-stepped around an old man pushing a cart.  “At first, I just thought they’d moved aisles, and then that maybe they’d gone outside.  But I couldn’t find any sign of them anywhere.  They just disappeared.” He stopped in front of one of the larger shop fronts. “This is the last place I saw them, Captain.”

Tuvok had his tricorder out and Janeway and Neelix followed him into the store.  Just to double-check, she hit her badge.  “Janeway to Ensign Wildman.  Ensign Wildman, respond.” Neelix twisted his hands together and she saw Tuvok speaking with a worker. “Janeway to Naomi Wildman. Naomi, respond please.”

The only answer was silence. 

“Neelix, where was the last place you saw them?”

He pointed immediately to the back corner of the store. “Over there.” He started moving quickly, leaving Janeway to follow him.  “I went to the culinary section,” he motioned a few aisles over in the opposite direction, “I was told they have excellent grabas fruit here. Naomi, naturally, wanted to check out the toys.”

The entire back corner of the store was filled ceiling to floor with brightly colored games, plush dolls stuffed like animals native to the planet, and trinkets that would attract any child’s eye. There was also a miniature planet set orbiting the two stars of the local system.  Janeway reached out and spun the largest of the five planets.

Neelix’s head was bobbing up and down.  “I bought a set just like that one for Naomi yesterday. I don’t know if she’s even had time to use it yet. She was so excited to come down this morning.”

Janeway put her hand on Neelix’s shoulder.  “I’m sure she’s fine.  We’ll find them.” She tapped her comm. badge again.  “Janeway to Voyager. Status report.”

*We’ve still had no luck locating either of the Wildmans using scanners.  All other crew members have checked in and are accounted for. I contacted the local government and their security forces are sending a response team to your location,* Chakotay paused.  *Any luck on your end, Captain?*

“Standby.” She looked to Tuvok as he scanned the shelves of toys.

“I am detecting DNA evidence that both Wildmans were present at this location.”

“I already told you that,” Neelix interrupted. 

The tricorder emitted a trio of beeps; Tuvok trained it towards the floor, kneeling as he scanned closer.  He dislodged a metallic looking tool from underneath the bottom shelf.  He held it up for Janeway to see the discoloration on its blunted end.  “Scans from the tricorder indicate that this is Ensign Wildman’s blood.”

^~~^~~^

11:00 AM

The local magistrate led Janeway into his cluttered office.  “Have a seat, Captain.”  He glanced around for a chair to offer her, only belatedly noticing all the chairs were stacked with files and reports.  “If you can find one.” He shrugged. “Sorry about the mess. I tend to stay out of my office as much as possible so things kind of build up in here.”

She shifted a stack of folders from a chair to a table, turning them so the new pile could still be distinguished from the pile she was adding to.  “It’s no problem.  I can’t say I’m a fan of the paperwork aspect of my job either.”

“And there seems to be more of it every year,” he said, offering her a glass filled with a dark blue liquid. “I’d like to apologize about your missing people.  Generally speaking, we’re a safe enough planet, but like every large point of commerce and trade we do have a few miscreants.”

“Of course,” she said, taking a sip of the drink.  It made her tongue tingle and she coughed in surprise.

The magistrate grimaced.  “I probably should’ve warned you about the creacee .  The department kitchen probably makes it a little strong for an offworlder, but it helps keep the officers alert during the long shifts.”

She held him off from taking the glass back and tried another sip.  It went down smoother than the first but the tingles were making her teeth itch.  “A little extra alertness at this juncture won’t hurt me, Magistrate.”

“Call me Mussr.  Everyone does.” He slugged back half of his own cup in one swallow. “Now as I understand it, your man Tuvok is working well with my people at the scene and wants to bring down more of your people.”

“Yes, we want to find our missing crewmen.  My ship’s resources are at your disposal to help in that regard in whatever way we can.”

He grunted. “And I’ve been informed by the Planetary Authority that I should put all my resources at your disposal, Captain.”

“It’s your city, Magistrate. You know it better than we do. Sitting back and doing nothing is not an option for me or my people when one of our own is missing, but I’d much rather work with you than try to tell you how to do your job.” She gestured at the mess around them.  “Keeping a city safe is a full time effort, but I can offer the manpower of another hundred or so people to help find my missing crewmen.”

He finished off the remainder of his drink with another swallow and moved around to sit behind his desk.  “Well, canvassing the city with your people would take less time,” he admitted, “but it would also be a waste of time.”

“How so?”

“If this is a criminal action, then our contacts that would know anything about it aren’t going to talk if there’re offworlders present.  Your presence brings this problem up to a whole new level of government with stricter punishments than if it was just a local thing.” He moved a folder aside.  “Which really is what makes this so damn unusual to start with.”

“You don’t usually have problems with offworlders?”

“Just the usual stuff, drinking too much at the establishments or losing all their money at some game they shouldn’t have tried playing in the first place.  But something like this?”  He shook his head.  “It’s something different.”

“Tell me how I can help, Magistrate.”

He rubbed his chin.  “You said before that your scans didn’t locate your people.”

“Yes, that’s true.”

“I think I know why.”

******

Janeway shivered in the cold, dimly-lit tunnel as she peered into the darkness.  “How large is this system?”

“Runs beneath the majority of the city,” Mussr said, standing beside her. “The merchants use it to transport goods and wares. It keeps the traffic on the streets above from getting too clogged up.”

She hit her comm. badge.  “Janeway to Voyager.” All she heard was the telltale click of an open unanswered line.  She closed it and tried again. “Janeway to Ensign Wildman.”

Mussr shook his head and patted the wall. “Communications down here are always trouble.  Blind spots everywhere.”

“And the access to this area is within the stores themselves?” she asked, walking forward to see more tunnels opening before her in several directions.

Mussr nodded.  “We’ve already found the owner of the store your people disappeared from.  He was helping a customer at the time and nowhere near the access point in his store.”

“Do the access points have any kind of security on them?”

“No and since the owner was out of sight of it anyone that knew the entrance point was there could have accessed it.”

“They could be completely out of the city by now.”

“If you want your people to canvass the city and look for clues, this is where they’d do the most good.” He stepped in front of her.  “But you should know, Captain, that this isn’t the best neighborhood down here.  Communications are bad and if any of them get into trouble, they’ll be on their own.”

“I understand,” she said and moved back towards the entrance they’d descended through.  “They’ll work in teams of five and have regular interval times to check in.” She emerged back inside a small derelict shop and rubbed her hands together. “I’ll tell them to dress warm.”

Mussr stopped beside her.  “That’s another point to consider as well, Captain.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s only going to get colder as we get later in the day.  Temperatures at night are below freezing.  Once night falls, any search parties will be called off until sunrise.”

^~~^~~^

12:00 PM

*Paris to Janeway.*

“Go ahead, Tom.”

*My team just finished searching southeast tunnel number seven.  We found Samantha’s comm. badge about fifty meters back inside the tunnel from where I’m standing now.*

Janeway, Tuvok, and the magistrate pulled up the map indicating southeast tunnel number seven.  “Good job, Tom.  We’ll reallocate more teams to your sector.”

*There’s more, Captain,* Tom said.  *We found more of Sam’s blood in the area of her badge, and we’re detecting trace amounts of it now that we’re out in the open.*

“Acknowledged.  Any sign of Naomi?”

*No, ma’am.*

“All right, I’m sending Tuvok to your position.  Janeway out.” She tapped her comm. badge closed. “Tuvok, take your team and follow that blood trail.  With the magistrate’s permission, one of his teams will join you there.”

Tuvok nodded and left the office.

Mussr traced a finger over the area of the map they were now concentrating on.  “It’s a more rural area out there.  Homes are on larger tracts of land, but there are a lot fewer people and no more tunnels.  Your scanners and comm. systems should work just fine out there.”

She tapped her badge.  “Janeway to Voyager.”

*Go ahead, Captain.*

“Tom has a lead. He found Samantha’s comm. badge. Lock on to his location and send the next two teams that check in to his area.”

*We still have four teams held in reserve on board,* Chakotay reminded her. *Do you want me to send two of those or wait for the ones already on the ground?*

“Send two from the ship,” she ordered.  “Have Harry and Seven redirect their scans to Tom’s location as well and start another search from that point outwards.  We believe Ensign Wildman is above ground and may be detectable now.”

*Aye, Captain.*

The comm. line closed again and Janeway helped herself to another glass of creacee.  It didn’t have quite the same taste as coffee but the caffeine-like buzz she got from it worked well enough. 

“Mussr, is there anyone out that direction that you’re familiar with?”

He studied the map.  “A few domestic calls out there and a couple of malfunctioning vehicles, but nothing serious.  I gave the area to one of my analysts.  They’re running it in the database to see if we have any hits in the area for activity.”

*Voyager to Captain Janeway.*

“Go ahead, Seven.”

*Sensors have located Naomi Wildman’s comm. badge. It is moving through the city approximately one kilometer from your current location.*

“Can you lock onto it?”

*Yes, but the life sign that is nearest in proximity to it is neither human nor Ktarian.*

Janeway looked to Mussr.  “With your permission, Magistrate.”

“Do what you have to do, Captain.”

“Seven, have the transporters lock onto that signal and beam whoever is closest to it straight into the brig.”

The line closed abruptly, but Janeway didn’t care.  “Mussr, we’ll turn this person over to you as soon as you tell me where you’d like them transferred to.”

He headed out of the office, signaling two of his officers to join them. “We’ll bypass intake for now and go straight to the interview room.  Maybe we can get this mess cleaned up in the next few minutes.”

They descended two floors and bypassed a vacant holding area before Mussr pushed open a heavy door to an empty room and they all filed inside.  “Can your people transport to here?”

“Janeway to Voyager.”  She only had to wait a second to hear Chakotay’s calm voice.  “I believe you just picked up a person of interest, Commander.  I want them beamed to my location.”

*Aye, Captain. Transporting now.*

Janeway had no idea what to expect, but Mussr and his men seemed ready.  The two officers moved to opposite corners of the room while the magistrate closed the distance between himself and Janeway – his priorities for protection were clear. 

The blue of the transporter beam coalesced and left a young, bedraggled woman standing in their midst.  Rust colored dirt coated the bottom of her long skirt and her hair was barely being held back by a clip. Long strands of it had escaped and framed her thin face as she nervously scanned the room.  “What’s going on?”

Janeway waited but Mussr seemed content to use silence to intimidate the young woman.  She had to admit it was working as the woman before them was already starting to shake, but intimidation was probably not what was needed in this instance.  She stepped forward.  “My name is Captain Kathryn Janeway. No one here is going to harm you.”

Mussr shifted beside her and she thought for a second he was going to physically pull her back.

“I-I was just in the city,” the woman said, a shaking hand tucking her hair behind her ear.  “And then…then I was somewhere else.  It w-was bright and clean, but I was only there for a…and now I’m here. What is going on?  Where am I?”

“You’re in the magistrate’s office,” Mussr said, backing the girl up a step as he moved closer to her.  “You have something that doesn’t belong to you.”

Any lightness or self-deprecation Janeway had heard before in Mussr’s voice was completely gone.  His deepened voice and harsh tone were amplified by his imposing size, something she hadn’t really been aware of until this moment.  She touched his arm.  “Please Magistrate, if I may.”

She saw peripherally one of his men shift and knew that it wasn’t often, if ever, there was an interruption like her in their dealings with suspected criminals.  “I’d like to talk to her.”

Mussr’s eyes were cold and she could tell he didn’t like it, but he motioned Janeway forward with his chin and took a step back.

The woman’s eyes locked on Janeway, clearly sensing she was the least threatening presence in the room.  “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t have anything. Pl-please let me go home.”

“It’s all right,” Janeway told her.  “I’d just like to ask you a few questions. A little girl and her mother are missing and-” She paused. 

Something in the woman’s expression had changed; it had blanked out, going completely slack. It had happened so quickly that Janeway wasn’t sure if she’d really seen it.  She also wasn’t sure, given the alien nature of the woman, what exactly she’d seen.  She looked to Mussr who nodded; he’d seen it too. 

“I’m a mother.” The woman’s whispered words brought the attention of the room back to her.  “Please, I’m a mother, too. I need to go home.”

“What’s your name?” Janeway asked.

“Kyla Starst.”

It didn’t mean anything to her and Janeway didn’t sense that it had made an impression on the magistrate or his men.  “Kyla, I need your help.”  She touched a hand to the comm. badge on her chest.  “Have you seen a piece of jewelry like this before?”

“No.”

The answer was too immediate, the tone harder than the scared, trembling woman before her had been speaking in up until then. 

Mussr stepped forward again.  “You’re lying.”

Kyla shook her head, frantically, moving backwards again. “N-no, please.  I h-haven’t. Please, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You had a badge like that in your possession,” Mussr pressed.  “It’s how we found you.  Where did you get it?”

Kyla’s expression flattened again, staying that way as her eyes locked onto Janeway’s comm. badge.  “She shouldn’t have had it.  It wasn’t hers.”

“Who shouldn’t have had it?” Janeway asked, moving to Mussr’s side. 

“My daughter never owned anything that nice.  She shouldn’t have had it.  I just wanted to return it.”

“Where did you get the badge?” Mussr repeated.

“Took it from my daughter…no,” Kyla shook her head.  “No…no,no,no,no.  No, my daughter is dead.”  She was shaking again, wringing her hands together when she looked up at Janeway.  “She was not my daughter.”

Cold fear filled Janeway’s gut. “No, the girl that had a badge like this was not your daughter.  Her name is Naomi Wildman, and she is a member of my crew. I need to find her. Do you know where she is?”

“I-I knew she wasn’t my daughter. I knew it.” Kyla laughed, a relieved sound as she ran her hands through her hair, dislodging more of it from the clip.  “Knew she wasn’t.  Knew she wasn’t.”  She shook her head.  “Looked like her though.  Almost.  Almost.  But not quite…I knew.  I knew.”

“Kyla, please,” Janeway reached for the woman’s arm, “I need to know. What did you do? Where is Naomi Wildman?”

Kyla’s expression flattened again.  “She wasn’t my daughter.  I got rid of her.”

^~~^~~^

1:00 PM

“Kyla Starst.” Mussr’s analyst pulled up an image of the young woman on the presentation screen.  “She lost her husband and only child, a daughter named Lyell, in the mountain landslides two years ago. Three days ago her family in the northern state requested a welfare check on her. They hadn’t heard from her in over a week.  Health officials went out to her house but no one answered the door and there were no life signs in the house. The property appeared well maintained and the ground transport vehicle registered to the address was not on site.  There was an alert placed in her file, but until today no one’s seen her.”

“The residence address is easily within range of where our southeast search teams are and they’re enroute to that location,” Mussr pointed out.  “We’ve also got a lookout for her transport vehicle, but it hasn’t turned up yet.”

“This is a picture of her daughter from the year she died,” the analyst said, pulling up another picture.  “She is a close match to your crewman, Captain.  Except for the horns.”

“Except for the horns,” Janeway muttered, her fist clenched in front of her mouth. “Has Kyla said anything else?”

“Nothing useful,” Mussr replied. “The intake group did find blood on her clothes that matched the sample you provided.  Pretty damning evidence all the way around.”

“Her own garbled admission told us that much,” Janeway said, “but given her mental state, I don’t know how much responsibility we can attribute to her.”

Mussr exchanged a look with his men.  “It’s clear she knows the girl’s fate.”

Janeway nodded.  “Yes, I need to speak to her again. Will you allow it?”

“Of course,” he said, indicating that she should lead the way back to the interview room. “Just let us know what you need.”

Janeway descended the steps.  “A couple of chairs would be nice.  Perhaps some water.”

Mussr frowned.  “How much water?”

“Just a glass will be plenty,” she said as they approached the intake area.  “It sounds like she probably hasn’t been taking very good care of herself lately.  She’s probably thirsty.”

“The water is for her to drink?”

“Yes.”

They stopped in front of the heavy door of the interview room and Mussr stopped her from going inside.  “To what end?”

“What are you asking?”

“Water.  Chairs.” He pointed at the two chairs one of his men carried towards them.  “Why are you worried about this woman’s comforts?”

“It will help calm her down.  She’ll see that I mean her no harm,” Janeway said, moving out of the way so the chairs could be placed in the room.  “If she feels safe, she’ll be more likely to talk and hopefully tell me what happened.  Why?  What do you suggest?”

“It hasn’t been my experience that ‘feeling safe’ makes anyone more talkative.” He glanced inside the room and saw the prisoner slowly approach the two chairs. “It isn’t the way we do things.”

“I see.”

“Do you?”

*Tuvok to Captain Janeway.*

She tapped the badge without looking away from the magistrate.  “Go ahead, Tuvok.”

*We located Ensign Wildman and she has been transported directly to sickbay. We are beginning a search of the premises for Miss Wildman.*

“What was Samantha’s condition?”

*She was bound and unconscious.  Mister Paris reported that she had multiple injuries and that her head wound could have been fatal. However, he believes that the Doctor will be able to repair the damage.*

“Keep me informed. Janeway out.” She closed the line and glanced at the room behind her.  “I need to speak to this woman.”

Mussr grunted and pushed open the door, letting it bang against the wall. Kyla jumped to her feet, putting the chair between herself and the magistrate.  She was already trembling. 

Janeway stepped in front of Mussr, putting herself between Kyla and the magistrate.  “Magistrate, would you give us a moment, please?”

“Alone?”

“Alone.”

He didn’t like it and easily glared at Kyla over Janeway’s shoulder.  “Fine.  Don’t make me regret this.” He lowered his gaze to Janeway.  “Either of you.”

She was sure Tuvok wouldn’t have acquiesced so easily.  “I can handle myself.”

“I’ll be right outside.”

“Thank you.”  She took a breath and centered herself as he left then turned and gestured for Kyla to have a seat as she took the opposite chair.

“Please.  Please tell me what I’m doing here,” Kyla began, sinking onto the chair.  “I don’t know why I’m here.  I don’t know what they want.”

“Kyla, please calm down,” she started.  “I’m not going to hurt you.  I’d just like to ask you a few questions.”

Kyla’s eyes darted to the door and back.  “Who are you?”

“My name is Kathryn Janeway; I’m the captain of a starship that’s in orbit around your planet.”  She paused, waiting to see if there were any questions to that.  “A mother and her young daughter from my crew went missing this morning.  I’m trying to find them.”

“But what does that have to do with me?”

“I need your help to find one of them. I need your help to find the little girl.”

Kyla began shaking her head.  “I-I don’t know-”

“We just found the mother,” Janeway said, cutting her off.  “She was bound, injured, and lying unconscious in your house.”

“What? How is that…I don’t…” Kyla rubbed her hands up over her face and into her hair. “What are you saying?”

“We found her blood on your clothes, Kyla.  Do you know how it got there?”

Kyla immediately shook her head.  “No.  No, I wouldn’t…I don’t know.”

Janeway glanced at the door, not sure how long Mussr was going to give her.  “All right,” she swallowed. “What about earlier today?  Where were you this morning?” 

“I came in to town to do some shopping.”

Janeway nodded.  “Did you buy anything?”

The young woman opened her mouth but didn’t say anything.  She blinked and looked around the room, her blank gaze skipping straight over Janeway as though she wasn’t there. 

“Kyla, what did you buy this morning?”

Her head turned to the side slowly and then moved back, repeating the movement, slowly shaking her head but never focusing on anything in the room, she whispered, “Nothing.”

“Why not?  Why didn’t you buy anything?”  She waited and got no answer.  “Kyla, why didn’t you buy anything?  What stopped you?”

A tear rolled down Kyla’s cheek as she stared, fixated on a bare spot across the room. “She was there.”

“Who was there, Kyla?  Was Lyell in the store?”

Kyla nodded, her hand extending slightly towards nothing.  “She was taller than last time I saw her.”

Janeway leaned forward.  “Where is your daughter now, Kyla? Where is Lyell?”

Her expression flattened, the unshed tears receding when she blinked. “Lyell’s dead. I took her back to where she’s supposed to be.”

^~~^~~^

2:00 PM

“Doctor, report,” Janeway said, striding into sickbay with Chakotay right behind her.

“Ensign Wildman will survive. She sustained two separate head injuries which were the worst of her problems. I’ve just finished surgery on her to reduce the intracranial swelling and skull fracture.  I still need to repair a broken wrist and two broken ribs.” He adjusted the setting on an osteo-regenerator.  “Based on the condition of the injuries, I would estimate that she received the majority of her injuries approximately three hours ago.  However, the laceration and bruising near her temple are five to six hours old.”

Janeway frowned.  “So, at the time she initially went missing she’d only been hit in the temple.”

“Precisely.” He continued working on his patient.  “The laceration was deep and likely the source of your blood trail, but she didn’t suffer significant blood loss.”

“Why the second set of injuries?” Chakotay asked. 

“I could only conjecture at this point,” the Doctor answered.  “Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to focus on my patient.”

Janeway moved out of his way as he circled the end of the biobed.  “Doctor, when can I speak with the ensign?”

The Doctor stopped what he was doing and straightened up from the biobed.  “When she wakes up, Captain.”

“And when will that be?”

“A day, at least. Possibly two.”

She shook her head.  “No, I need to speak with her as soon as possible.”

“Captain, she’s just undergone major surgery,” he protested.  “Her body needs time to recuperate.”

“Doctor, we don’t have time.  We have less than four hours to find Naomi before she likely freezes to death.  Ensign Wildman is the only one who may have the information that can lead us to her daughter. I need to speak with her.” She held her hand up to hold off the Doctor’s protest.  “I only need a few minutes to speak with her and then she can have all the time she needs to recuperate.  I believe I can safely speak on Samantha’s behalf when I say that she would want to help us.”  She needed to calm down and she took a deep breath. “Can you wake her?”

The Doctor was clearly affronted but he began running a tricorder over his patient’s head.  “It won’t be safe to wake her until the intracranial swelling has been mitigated.”

“How long, Doctor?”

He frowned.  “An hour and then only for a few minutes.”

“Fine. Contact me as soon as I’m able to speak with her.”  She turned on her heel and headed towards the door.  “Commander, you’re with me.”

Chakotay waited until they were in the turbolift to speak.  “Do you think Naomi is still alive?”

She immediately glared at him but then relented. “I don’t know. I can’t not believe she’s alive, but…it’s cold down there, Chakotay.  If we don’t find her soon, I don’t think she’ll survive the night. Not if she’s been left somewhere that’s at all exposed to the elements.”

“And Kyla didn’t give any indication about where she might have left her?”

“No, not really.  Kyla’s husband and daughter died somewhere in the mountains when the landslides hit. The best guess is that she took Naomi there, but that’s a lot of ground to search in a short amount of time.” They entered her ready room and she walked straight to the replicator. “We need to narrow down the search area, but naturally, our sensors can barely penetrate the area because of some damn mineral in the mountains.”

Chakotay’s eyebrows shot up in surprise at her comment about the sensors, but he quickly schooled his features.  “And what did the magistrate have to say before you left?”

She sat down behind her desk, coffee in hand. “He has his officers scouring the city for Kyla’s vehicle. If we can find it, we may be able to get its recent travel coordinates and narrow our search area that way.”

“Is that what he wanted to talk to you about after your second interview with Kyla?”

“No.”  She placed the coffee down on the desktop and sat back in her chair.  “He doesn’t approve of how I handled the interview.”

Chakotay frowned.  “Did he think you were too harsh with her?”

“No, just the opposite, in fact,” she said, drumming her fingers on the arm of her chair.  “As far as the magistrate is concerned, Kyla’s mental state is not a concern of his.  Her guilt in the matter has already been decided.  Under their law, the magistrate can use whatever means of coercion he deems fit in order to receive full cooperation from the condemned.”

“Torture?”

She nodded.  “The magistrate believes that with the proper persuasion, Kyla will lead us straight to Naomi.”

Chakotay slumped back into the chair opposite hers, stunned. “What did you tell him?”

“What do you think I said, Chakotay?  I told him the Federation does not condone torture as a method of acquiring information nor do we abuse or cause harm to our prisoners as a method of coercion.” She looked down at her hands.  “He wasn’t impressed.”

“What did he say?”

“He told me that when tomorrow comes, or the day after, or even a week from now when we find Naomi’s cold dead body, I should take great comfort in my protection of the woman that caused her death.”

Chakotay absorbed that with an indrawn breath. 

“Yeah,” she said, acknowledging the difficulty of refuting the statement.  “The magistrate also went on to inform me that if he and his men were conducting the questioning of their prisoner, the onus of responsibility was really not on me at all.”

“How did you respond to that?”

“I recalled Tuvok back to the magistrate’s office and had him sit with Kyla while I returned to Voyager.”

Chakotay nodded in agreement with her decision.  “He won’t let anything happen to her.”

“I know.”

“What about a mind meld?”

She shook her head.  “Not compatible.  Unfortunately.”

“Well, we’ll just have to keep searching the old-fashioned way.” He got to his feet.  “I’ll check with Harry and Seven and see how they’re doing on the sensor modulations.  Knowing those two, they’ll find a way to scan those mountains.”

When she didn’t respond, he stopped before he stepped through the door.  “You did the right thing, Kathryn.”

She looked up, startled almost.  She gave him a quick nod of her head.  “Thank you, Commander.”

“We’ll find her.”

“I know,” she said and watched him depart the ready room.  “I just hope it’s in time.”

^~~^~~^

3:00 PM

Janeway was tempted to run down the corridor to the cargo bay, but she tempered it.  The magistrate’s officers had found Kyla’s land vehicle parked in an alley in the middle of the city’s commerce section.  It was apparently an older model and Mussr’s techs quickly determined that it held no evidentiary value that they would be able to access without a week’s time. 

Janeway didn’t have a week and quickly gave the strong suggestion that Mussr allow her engineers to look it over. He’d agreed and she knew by the time she walked through the cargo bay doors her three best engineers would already be crawling all over the vehicle. 

What she hadn’t expected to see when the doors opened was Mussr himself, leaning against the transport console, watching the Voyager engineers work.  Upon seeing him, Janeway altered her course.  She’d been ready to jump in and help with the investigation, but felt she should, at least, acknowledge the magistrate’s presence. 

“Captain,” he greeted then gestured at the land vehicle.  “You’ve got quite the motley crew. I barely got out of their way in time.”

She watched as Vorik sat inside the vehicle, meticulously scanning with a tricorder and making adjustments to the readings before scanning again.  B’Elanna had already removed a large section of the front vehicle assembly and was elbow deep inside of the engine.  All she could see of Joe Carey were his black-clad legs sticking out from under the rear section. 

“If there’s anything there to find,” she said confidently, “they’ll find it.”

Mussr rubbed at his chin. “The little female one advised me to start helping or get out of the way.”

“That’s usually what she says to me as well,” Janeway offered, hoping he wasn’t too offended.  “I’m sure she meant it politely.”

He shrugged and didn’t seem bothered by the half-Klingon’s rudeness.  “I figured the best help I could give was to get out of the way. So, here I stand.”

“Speaking of that,” she said, looking up at him.  “Why are you here?”

He leaned back against the console, frowning when B’Elanna yanked out some sort of wiring and threw it to the deck.  “Our newer vehicles have navigational computers up front, easy to find, easy to operate, all the latest programming.  That’s why the techs like them.” He gestured at the vehicle with a thick finger.  “These older models aren’t as fun. They’ve got navi-boards installed within them, mostly to track the vehicle’s use so it can alert the owner for maintenance schedules and such, but the techs don’t like to work with them. They’re too difficult and require more effort; they claim the information isn’t worth the effort.” He looked back to Janeway. “I’m hoping for your little girl’s sake that my techs are wrong and that your people can find out what they need to know.”

“My chief engineer will have that vehicle in tiny pieces before she gives up looking,” she said. 

“Uh huh, that’s the impression I got,” he said.  “I also thought that if they do find something, my being here might help quickly determine whether or not you’ve got what you’re looking for.”

Her hands were still itching to join the search, but as she watched Vorik surgically remove an interior panel she had to admit the vehicle was well covered.   All she could see of Joe Carey now were the bottoms of his boots.

“How’s the mother?” Mussr asked. 

“She’ll live,” she said.  “Our doctor had to perform some major surgery to a few of her wounds, a skull fracture and some broken bones, but she should make a complete recovery.”

“Have you spoken to her yet about what happened?”

“Not yet,” she admitted.  “She’d only just come out of surgery when I came back to the ship.  She was still unconscious.”

He nodded.  “Is the little girl her only child?”

“Naomi is the only child on Voyager.”

If he was surprised by the news, he didn’t show it.  “That’s unfortunate.  It’s always difficult to lose one so young.”

“We haven’t lost anyone yet, Magistrate.”

*Doctor to Captain Janeway.*

“Excuse me, Magistrate.” Mussr hadn’t reacted to her declaration one way or another, but she was happy to have a good excuse to walk away from him.  “Go ahead, Doctor.”

*Ensign Wildman is stable enough that I can safely wake her for a few minutes.*

“Understood, Doctor,” she replied.  “I’ll be there shortly.” She tapped the line closed and approached the vehicle.  “B’Elanna, have you found anything useful?”

“We’ve located the navigation control boards, Captain.  It’s just a matter of getting to them.” She banged the heel of her hand down on a tool, causing it to move fractionally.  “It’ll probably take us another five minutes or so.”

“I approximate fourteen minutes, Captain,” Vorik said, removing another bit of paneling from inside the vehicle. 

Janeway and B’Elanna both glared at him before B’Elanna continued, “Once we get them out, we can download them and start analyzing them.”

“There may be a Borg algorithm that could help with that part of the process,” Janeway suggested.

The chief engineer stilled for a second before nodding.  “You’re probably right about that, Captain.  I’ll contact her when we need her.”

“See that you do,” she said. “Magistrate Mussr will also be on hand to help determine the usefulness of whatever information you find.”

B’Elanna grunted in reply.

“I need to go speak to Samantha in sickbay,” Janeway said.  “Keep me informed, Lieutenant.”

“Aye, Captain.”

^~~^~~^

4:00 PM

Janeway stood at the side of the biobed, watching as Ensign Wildman’s eyes began to flutter open.  She glanced at the Doctor who was monitoring the Ensign’s vitals from the opposite side but he only frowned at her.  She was well aware of his reluctance to wake Samantha, but what choice did she have.  They were running out of time.

Ensign Wildman’s warm blue eyes opened only to close almost immediately as she groaned.  The EMH pushed a hypospray against her neck.  “This will help with the pain, Ensign,” he said then looked up at Janeway.  “You’ll only have a couple of minutes at best, Captain.”

“Captain?” Samantha’s eyes opened again and saw her commanding officer standing at her bedside. “Is there something wrong, Captain?  Is Naomi all right?”

She should’ve expected that to be the young officer’s first concern.  She should’ve thought of some delicate way to answer it. “That’s something I need to talk to you about, Samantha.  What’s the last thing you remember?”

“We were going into a store with Neelix,” she said, frowning.  “I was telling Naomi not to run in the store and I bumped into a lady. I apologized but she never even looked at me.  She was staring at Naomi.”  Her eyes widened as she looked at her captain.  “Where’s Naomi?  Is she safe?”

Janeway glanced at the Doctor then back to Samantha. “Naomi is missing.” She put a hand on the ensign’s shoulder, keeping her from sitting up. “We’ve got the whole crew out looking for her. We’ll find her.”

“You’ve been injured, Ensign. You need to stay calm or I’ll have to sedate you,” the Doctor said also putting a restraining hand on the woman. 

“Samantha, please, I know you’re worried, but the best help you can give right now is to try and remember what happened,” Janeway said.  “Is there anything else you remember, anything at all, about the store or the woman?  About Naomi?”

She took a shuddering breath and her brow wrinkled as she stared at the ceiling. “We were, I don’t know, looking at toys.”  She shook her head.  “Then it was…cold.  We were outside a house, I think.” She looked directly at Janeway.  “Yes, we were at a house. Naomi was with us.  My hands…” she looked at her hands, rubbing her fingers over her wrist. “My hands were bound, and there were stairs in front of me…”

“What kind of stairs?”

“They went down into a dark space…something like a basement.  The woman was prodding me towards them…I saw Naomi standing behind her. I told her to run…I told Naomi to run and I lunged at the woman…”  She shook her head. “That’s it…that’s all I remember.  Oh God, Captain, where is Naomi?”

Janeway smoothed her hand over Samantha’s hair, seeing the Doctor fill a hypospray.  “Don’t worry, we’ll find her.  But I need you to think back, Samantha. Did the woman say anything about where she might go?  Do you remember if she said anything to Naomi?” 

She shook her head again.  “No, I don’t…she just kept muttering and shaking her head.  She said uh…flin-something.  Uhm, flenenmore.  I don’t know…”

“Ensign, I need to sedate you. Your injuries need time to heal.” 

Samantha grabbed Janeway’s hand with unexpected strength.  “Please, Captain, you have to find her.  She’s all I have.”

“We’re doing everything we can, Samantha.  I promise.”

“Please, do anything…” The medication flowed into her bloodstream and her grip loosened as her eyes closed. 

Janeway inhaled deeply and held her breath in her chest before slowly exhaling.  “Doctor?”

“She’ll be fine,” he said, still scanning his patient. “Her injuries could very easily be attributed to falling down a flight of stairs.”

“Thank you, Doctor.”  She tapped her comm. badge as she made her way back to the cargo bay.  “Janeway to Torres, report.”

*We’ve got the navigation boards removed and are in the process of adapting them for download now.*

“Good work, B’Elanna.”  She boarded the turbolift. “Is the magistrate still there?”

 *Yes, Captain.*

“Ask him if the word ‘flenenmore’ means anything to him.”  She could hear B’Elanna asking as she paced the small circumference of the turbolift.

*He says there are two possibilities.*

The turbolift doors opened to deck eight.  “Have Vorik bring up a map.  I’m almost to your position now.”

*Aye, Captain.*

A few minutes later she walked back into the cargo bay.  Mussr acknowledged her and pointed out a mountain ridge on the map as soon as she reached his side.  “We have a ridge of mountains over here on the west known as the Flin Moren Pass.” He glanced at Vorik who scrolled the map eastward.  “We also have the Lyn Norem Lake.  Both sites are popular camping parks.”

“And were both affected by mudslides in recent years?”

He nodded. “According to records, Kyla was found wandering and incoherent around here.”  He indicated a southerly point that could have easily been traversed from either the lake or the pass.

Janeway studied the map.  “Fifty kilometers of wilderness to cover in less than two hours.”

Mussr folded his arms over his chest. “Even with your people, we don’t have enough time or people to search both sites before dark.”

“We could question Kyla again,” Janeway suggested.  “She might be willing to tell us if she spent time at a lake or not.”

“I’m quite sure we could jog her memory,” Mussr agreed. 

She eyed him but didn’t comment on his insinuation.  “B’Elanna, report.”

“Nothing so far, Captain,” she said, not bothering to look up from the console she worked at. “Seven is on her way from Astrometrics to try a few Borg tricks to open it up.”

“Alert me as soon as you have something,” Janeway said. “The magistrate and I are returning to the surface.”

B’Elanna grunted a bare acknowledgment and Joe Carey gave the captain a sheepish smile. 

“Magistrate, if you’ll come with me, please.” She headed out of the cargo bay and towards the transporter room.  She hit her comm. badge again.  “Janeway to Tuvok.”

*Go ahead, Captain.*

“I’m returning to the surface. We have a lead on two possible geographic areas that we need to concentrate our searches in.” She glanced at Mussr walking at her side.  “I want you to return to Voyager and orchestrate the search efforts accordingly.”

*Aye, Captain.  And what about Ms. Starst?*

“I’ll be with her in a few minutes.  Janeway, out.”

^~~^~~^

5:00 PM

As soon as the transporter beam effects wore off, Janeway saw Tom’s surprise at her arrival. She waved a PADD at him.  “We’ve got a better fix on Naomi’s location.”

Tom used his teeth to pry off one of his thick, cold-weather gloves and scrolled through the data on the PADD. “This is great.” He studied the nine square grid area that the Fline Moren Pass had been narrowed down to. “Grids one through three have already been searched, and we’ve got teams starting in the areas marked as four and six.”

She felt the cold sinking through her layers and into her bones.  Tom’s ears were a painful red and she thought about how he’d been out here all day.  “The four of us,” she indicated Ayala and Fitzpatrick that had arrived with her, “are going to search grid five.  Tuvok will beam the lake teams over to search the southern three grids.”

Tom looked the three of them over quickly and nodded.  The four of them spread out and began trudging forward, tricorders out scanning.  “Tom,” she said, adjusting a frequency on her scanner, “you’re going to have to be treated for frostbite.  Where is your ear protection?”

“Couldn’t hear as well with them on.” He shrugged.  “Didn’t want to miss hearing something that might be important.”

She couldn’t argue with that.  How loud could a young girl yell, after all?  If she was even in a position to be able to call out.  She could see they had a few hundred feet of forest to get through, but then they’d be at the base of a very steep cliff.  It hadn’t even occurred to her to ask Mussr about any natural predators in the area. 

“How were you able to narrow down the search area?” Tom asked, almost shouting to be heard from his position to her left.  “Did B’Elanna figure out the navi-boards?”

“No, the technology isn’t compatible with ours,” she said, ducking a low hanging tree branch.  “The magistrate’s office received a tip that brought us out here.”

“Must’ve been one hell of a tip,” he called back.  “Maybe we should offer a reward.”

She ignored him as she carefully inspected a large fallen tree.  It had been there for quite some time and the crawl space it provided would be a perfect shelter for a small child. 

“Captain!”  Ayala called out from her right. “I’ve got something!”

“Tom!” she yelled at him even as she scrambled back to her feet and began running towards Ayala’s position. 

They arrived at Mike’s side at the same time sliding slightly in the red dirt. He turned his tricorder towards Janeway, pointing out the erratic readings.  A life sign had spiked the scanner twice right in front of Mike’s position, but the looming cliff wall was the only thing in sight.

Tom’s scanner pinged on the life sign as well when he held it up to the smooth rock face.  He looked back at his captain.  “Maybe there’s a cave.”

“We have to find the entrance,” she said, scanning the rock.  Tom started moving off to the left, running his hand along the rock as Ayala moved right. “Janeway to Voyager. Scan the mountain directly in front of me. We’re reading life signs, but we need to find an opening, a cave entrance, or an outcropping.  Something!”

She stepped backwards, craning her head to look directly up the sheer rock face.  If the entrance to some cavern was upwards, it would be a difficult climb.  Not impossible as she saw a few ledges that could be used as handholds-

*Harry’s got a thermal variation one hundred meters east of Ayala’s position.*

She called for Tom again and saw Ayala already running ahead of her and disappearing around a slight outcropping.  Her boots skittered rocks as she made the turn and almost ran into him.  He was looking up at a crevice about three meters above them.  “I can give you a boost, Captain, but I don’t think I’ll fit.”

She eyed the dark crack in the rock face; he was right.  Ayala would probably get stuck at the shoulders. 

“I’ll do it,” Tom said already beginning to shuck off his coat. 

She stopped him. “No, I’ll go. I’m smaller.”

“Captain, if she’s in there, she might need a medic,” he said quietly but firmly.  “We have the same build, Captain.  If you can fit, so can I.”

Every fiber in her being wanted to argue with him, but he had a point.  And he was taller; if he had to lift Naomi out of there those few inches more might be important.  She nodded and took his heavy coat from him.  Ayala braced his back against the wall and cupped his hands together to give Tom a lift up. 

She watched as Tom pulled himself up to the crevice ledge and then slithered his way in through the dark opening.  She tried scanning but the mineral in the rock face wouldn’t even let her determine how deep the cave traversed.  She glanced at Ayala but he didn’t notice as he too was busy watching the cave for any sign.  She counted to one hundred three times and was just about ready to tell Mike to boost her up when they heard him.

“I’ve got her, Captain!”  Tom’s voice boomed out from the cave opening.  “She’s a little banged up and cold, but she’s all right.”

The sense of relief at hearing those words bottomed out her stomach and almost made her knees buckle. She put a hand against the rock wall to steady herself.  “That’s-” her voice was choked up and she ignored Ayala’s grin as she tried again, “that’s great news, Tom.  Do you need help to get her out?”

“There’s a bit of a drop off in here,” he said. “I can boost her up to the ledge, but she’ll need help getting down.”

They heard someone running towards them and saw Fitzpatrick skid around the corner. 

“Mister Fitzpatrick, you’re just in time.”  She pocketed her tricorder and took her coat off.  “Tom, I’m coming up.”

She was head and shoulders deep inside the crevice, peering into darkness, when she finally saw Naomi’s young face appear.  She had some scratches and looked more tired than Kathryn had ever seen her, but she was moving under her own power. 

“Oh Naomi, it is good to see you,” she said and thought it was quite possibly the most wonderful feeling in the world when the little girl reached for her. 

“I-I tried t-to f-find sh-shelter, Captain,” Naomi said between chattering teeth. 

“You did wonderful, Naomi,” she managed as she wrapped one arm tightly around the little girl, feeling how cold she was.  “Hold onto me, honey.  We’re almost home.”

She wasn’t quite sure how she was going to get down until Tom appeared out of the darkness, sliding towards her on his belly, and helped Ayala and Fitzpatrick lower her and her precious cargo to the ground.  Fitzpatrick immediately moved to drape the heavy coat over both of them while Ayala helped Tom get down. 

Janeway couldn’t quite get to her comm. badge so she nodded to Tom. “Mister Paris, if you would, please.”

Tom grinned and hit his comm. badge.  “Paris to Voyager.  Five to beam up.”

She tucked Naomi’s head against her shoulder as they heard the bridge erupt in cheers. 

^~~^~~^

6:00 PM

“I know what you did, Kathryn. I know why you went back down to the planet by yourself without telling me, without telling anyone. I can’t condone your actions, but I understand why you felt you had to take them.”

“What is it exactly that you think I did, Commander?”

He sighed.  “You told Tom the magistrate’s office received a tip and that’s how you knew where to look for Naomi.”

“That’s right,” she said evenly.  “We did.”

“Did that tip happen to come from Kyla Starst?”

Her chin came up. “You think I questioned her again.”

“Did you?”

“Yes.”

“Did Mussr?”

She dropped her arm back to her side and crossed over to the two steps leading down to her desk.  “He was in the room with me.” She stopped in front of him, looking up at him. “Kyla isn’t where we got the tip.”

He frowned. “Then where-”

“A couple of hikers in the area spotted a set of child-sized footprints near the cliff where we found Naomi,” she said, moving past him. “They were unaware a child was reported missing in that area until they’d gotten home.  They called in as soon as they saw the report on the local newsfeed.”

His shoulders relaxed. “I’m glad to hear it. I’m sorry I jumped to conclusions.”

“Don’t apologize,” she said. 

“But, Captain I-”

Please, Chakotay. Don’t.”  She looked up at him from her desk.  “It isn’t necessary.”

It wasn’t usual for either of them to admit when they were wrong.  It was even less common to offer actual apologies after the fact. The idea that she didn’t even want to hear his apology made him suspicious.  He leaned on the back of one of the chairs that sat in front of her desk.  “Why did you recall Tuvok back to the ship?  You knew I could have coordinated the search parties just as easily as he did.”

She held up a PADD from her desk.  “The Doctor’s initial report on Naomi’s condition.  She’s going to be fine. A bump on the head from where the woman knocked her out before laying her out to die in the middle of a mountain range and a slight case of hypothermia.” She shook her head. “We’re lucky Naomi was smart enough to look for shelter. She could have easily died before we found her.”

He considered pressing her. She usually employed much more finesse when evading questions she didn’t want to answer. This was a particularly blunt deflection. He imagined her official report on the incident would be sparse in the details as well, but he straightened up.  Some things were better left unsaid. “I’ll give Tom the order to set course for home.”

She almost let him leave.  He was about two steps away from triggering the door to open when she spoke.  “I promised Samantha that we were doing everything we could to find Naomi.”

He turned back to see her, but she wasn’t looking at him.  “We were doing everything, Captain.”

“No. We weren’t.” She shook her head. “Not everything.”

He looked down. “You were going to let Mussr interrogate Kyla, weren’t you?”  It wasn’t really a question. “It’s why you sent Tuvok back to the ship. He never would have allowed it.”

She watched her thumb stroke over the ends of her fingernails. “Thank you, Commander.” She turned away from him and powered up the computer terminal on her desk. “That will be all.”

She heard his acknowledgment and the sound of the doors opening and closing when he exited.  Within minutes, she felt Voyager’s engines engage and saw the planet slide out of range of her viewport. She stared at the blank mission report she had pulled up on her screen as Voyager leapt to warp six with its entire crew on board and accounted for.  In a few hours, it would be a new day and maybe home wouldn’t feel quite as far away as it did today.


Thanks to Audabee for giving my words a home!

 



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