Chakotay welcomed the sun as it rose over the canyon. Not that it was a
spectacular sunrise, it was just a relief to have another sleepless night over with.
He'd come to these parched Australian canyons after Sara threw him out.
Perhaps the solitude would help him meditate, to help him understand Kathryn's
hold over him .. to help him understand why, again, he'd managed to make a mess of his relationships...
But after nearly a week of hiking and attempted meditation, he had nothing.
His spirit guide was of no help. It merely stood quietly, ignoring him.
And now it was time to leave. Go back to Starfleet -- Kathryn's territory -- and
prepare for another mission.
He busied himself with the fire, more to ward off the chill in his heart than the
morning cold. As he sipped his tea, he plotted the distance; a short climb to the
top, then a day's walk should take him back to town. He would be back in San
Francisco in time for dinner tomorrow.
He shrugged into his pack and set off, carefully picking his way through the
red rocks. But the thoughts continued to follow him: memories of Kathryn, memories of Sara, followed by her taunt: "If you want her, then go to her. But unless she's an accomplished liar, I don't think you stand a chance. So you'd better find a way to make peace with that."
Sara certainly hit the nail on the head. Peace .. something that had
eluded him most of his life. He'd found it once, standing next to the most
remarkable woman he'd ever known.
But that was a different time. Kathryn had obviously moved on, thanks to him. So why couldn't he?
A sudden softness under his feet yanked him from his thoughts. Weak ground? Loose rock? He tried to step back to solid ground. But it was too late; in a second he was out of control, tumbling down the canyon wall.
His pack protected his back and head in a fashion, but he could do little to stem the force of gravity that was slamming him against the rocks. He heard his leg snap a split second before the searing pain registered ....
He awoke for just a moment at the base of the canyon, hazy and battered.
He knew instantly what had happened, but at that moment, he didn't care.....
The sun was high when he awoke. Noon, by his reckoning. He ignored the aches and tried to move, only to be rewarded with white-hot pain through his left leg and hip. He gritted his teeth and raised up on his elbows to assess the situation.
Fortunately, he had fallen into one of the canyon's shallower areas, not all that far from the entrance. And, thank the spirits, his pack, which was torn off in the last jolt, had landed nearby.
Painfully, he edged toward the pack, managing to snag a strap and pull it back. Propping himself against the wall, he dug inside to check its contents..
He still had water, and a bit of food. He had a med kit, but right now, he desperately needed a medical tricorder to assess his injuries. This much he knew: his leg hurt like hell.
He dug into the pack again, and came up with the emergency beacon. Maybe he could signal help.... After a moment, he switched it off. No signal. He'd fallen too far into the canyon.
He lifted his head and yelled. Maybe there was a day hiker, another trekker who might hear him.
Damn. Only one thing to do. He was going to have to get to the mouth of the Canyon, or at least close enough to get a signal out. He took a swig of water, then dug back into the med kit for the hypospray of painkiller. He measured a small dose and pressed the device to his neck. No sense in this being any more painful than it had to be..
Sara Connoly answered her vid call to see a familiar face.
"Dr. Connoly, I'm Kathryn Janeway. I know we haven't met ..."
"I know who you are, Admiral," Sara said, formally.
Kathryn raised an eyebrow. This wasn't exactly the reception she expected.
"Well, I look forward to meeting in person," she said softly. "I'm calling because we're looking for Chakotay. He was expected back at headquarters
nearly 24 hours ago, and he hasn't shown up. No one has heard from him. I was
wondering if you knew where he might be?"
"He's not here, Admiral, if that's what you're getting at. He left more than a week ago."
Kathryn's gut tightened in alarm. "Did he say where he was going?"
"No," Sara replied. "But I assume he was returning to San Francisco, all things considered. I suspect he’ll be coming to see you."
"Why is that?" Kathryn asked, "I'm not sure I understand."
"I'm sorry, Admiral. But I can't help you."
The frosty reception was making Kathryn very uneasy. "Dr. Connoly, is something wrong?" she asked kindly.
Sara just looked at her sadly. "No, Admiral. I'm just seeing things for what they are."
With that, the screen went to black.
He was in the desert ... not the Australian desert, though. He looked around, trying to get his bearings ... then he saw her.
His spirit guide stood quietly, expectantly, just a few feet in front of him. He understood now: He hadn't called for her, but given his current state, she had come to him.
"Now you decide to show up?" he asked. Disrespectful perhaps, but he wasn't feeling all that conciliatory.
The wolf merely tossed its head and trotted down the trail. He followed her to a clearing where a campfire burned, surrounded by a circle of rock. The wolf circled the fire once, then sat quietly at attention.
He was about to speak when a noise to his right distracted him. It was a lizard ... a very familiar lizard ... which had scurried to the top of a pile of rocks. Somehow, just seeing it made him feel better. "Hello," he said softly.
It merely looked at him, so he took a step toward it. Mistake. It took a defensive position and hissed .. louder and more harshly than he thought such a small creature could be capable of. He saw movement then; two young lizards' heads popped up above the rocks .. eager to see what the fuss was about.
He backed off, raising his hands. "It's all right. I'm leaving."
He turned back to the campfire, only to find another animal had joined them. A fox, small and sleek, sat near the wolf, which was lying down with her head on her paws.
"And who are you?" he asked softly.
"Perhaps I can be of some help," a familiar voice said.
Chakotay stood rooted for a moment in shock, unable to reply. But finally, he turned. "Father?" he asked shakily, not sure if his mind was playing tricks.
Kolopak smiled and opened his arms. Chakotay went to him then, enveloping him in a firm hug. But his joy evaporated at the realization of why he could be enjoying this reunion.
He pulled back. "Am I .....?"
Kolopak shook his head. "No, son, you aren't. Let's just say I was asked to come because you were in trouble."
Chakotay glanced quickly back toward the wolf, who was pointedly ignoring him.
"Well, Father," he said as the two sat down by the fire. "I am in trouble. On several fronts."
"I gather," Kolopak said gravely. "You are in physical trouble, no doubt. But I suspect that something else has troubled you enough to land you in this ...."
"Mess?" Chakotay asked.
The older man shrugged. "Tell me what happened."
"I fell in love," Chakotay began, ignoring his father's raised eyebrow. "We couldn't be together .. for many reasons. Then finally, the day came when we were both free."
Chakotay took a deep breath. "I sent her away."
Kolopak considered this for a moment. "Why?" he finally asked.
"I thought that my feelings had died. That Starfleet would say I was taking advantage of her to get a promotion and a ship." He shook his head. "I realized later that I was being prideful. That I was just denying what I felt."
Kolopak laid a hand on his son's shoulder. "So, why can't you tell her this?"
Chakotay sighed. "It's too late. She married someone else. In fact, she just had a baby."
Kolopak just nodded.
"I met another woman, Sara, and I care for her very much. But I can't let go of the first woman. Sara realized this and threw me out."
Kolopak didn't reply, but noticed that the fox was standing and staring intently at Chakotay. Very intently.
"Sounds to me that you're being prideful again," Kolopak said quietly.
"Because I can't accept that I made a mistake?"
His father looked at him sadly: "Do you still love this first woman?"
"I always will," Chakotay said, miserably.
"But not enough to want the best for her?"
"What? Of course I do," Chakotay said.
Kolopak nodded. "Sometimes, son, the things we think are mistakes really are not."
"I'm not sure what you mean, Father," Chakotay said. But something was wrong. His father was fading from view.
"Father!" he called, and with a start, realized that he was back in the canyon.
"So you think he's still in Australia, then?" Gretchen Janeway asked as she handed her daughter a towel.
"Has to be," Kathryn said breathlessly as she stepped off the treadmill.
"Don't push too hard, dear," Gretchen admonished. "That baby weight won't come off all at once."
Kathryn decided to ignore the comment. "I think he's still there. None of the continental ports have any record of him returning."
"How about the Australians?"
Kathryn sighed as she leaned against the machine. "We know he arrived in Melbourne City. After that, nothing. Unfortunately, it's a big country, and there are a lot of ways to travel. We're looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. Unfortunately, the one person who can help doesn't seem inclined."
"That would be his lady friend?"
Kathryn just nodded; Sara Connoly wasn't exactly her favorite subject right now.
Gretchen noted the tightness around her daughter's eyes. "Think it could be a lover's spat? That might explain the reception you got."Kathryn smiled thinly. "The thought crossed my mind. But I don't think a lover's quarrel would be enough for Chakotay to go missing."
Gretchen weighed her words. "She may not be worth it. But maybe you are."
Kathryn's head snapped up, and Gretchen could see ice forming in her gaze.
"Think about it, Katie," she continued. "What did she say? That he’d be coming to see you?"
"That doesn't mean ...." Kathryn started to protest, but Gretchen cut her off.
"Excuse me if I'm wrong, but this is the same Chakotay we talked about? The one you had feelings for?"
"Who turned me down," Kathryn reminded her.
Gretchen nodded. "What if he's changed his mind?"
Gretchen didn't answer, just kept looking at her, one eyebrow slightly raised.
Kathryn finally sighed. No use arguing with the master. "The thought has crossed my mind," she admitted. "He came to see me in North Beach ... before Jack proposed. I had the feeling that he wanted more than a friendly visit."
"What happened?" Gretchen asked softly.
"Not much. We started to talk about that night .. and, well, Jack came home."
"Ah," Gretchen said, "I suppose that was awkward."
"Yes, it was," Kathryn said. "He did ask if things were serious with Jack; I’d told him they were. I'd also told him that we needed to talk. We didn't though ... guess I was a bit of a coward."
"I’d hardly call you that, Katie."
Kathryn shrugged. "It certainly didn’t seem right to pursue it. I was married, I ssumed it was settled."
"And what if you have to settle it now?"
"Getting at something, Mother?" Kathryn's voice was soft, but there was no mistaking its edge.
"Let's just say I'm protecting my grandson's interests."
Kathryn shook her head. This wasn't about Will. Truth was, her mother adored Jack. The feeling was mutual; he called her "Mom," much to his stepmother's chagrin.
Kathryn lowered herself into a chair as she formulated her answer.
"Is the question, 'Do I still have feelings for Chakotay?'" she asked, a bit more lightly. She stretched out her legs and considered. "Short answer: Yes. And Jack knows that," she said. "We got through seven years of hell. He saved my life too many times. He's still my best friend in many ways. How could I not care for him?"
"I would expect you to care about him. But are you in love with him?"
Gretchen asked gently.
Kathryn shook her head. "No, I'm not ... if I ever was," she admitted. "In some ways," she said, looking at the ceiling now. "I think of him the way I think of Mark. A lot of fondness, some regret," she said softly. "But things have changed. Though I suppose," she waggled a finger at her mother, "I have you to thank for that."
"You're welcome," Gretchen quipped, "But I think your willingness to move on had a lot more to do with it."
"You know, Mom," Kathryn said as she hauled herself out of the chair, "it's quite possible that this is just an exercise in flattery. Chakotay could be missing for reasons that have nothing to do with me. Right now, I’d like to find him and worry about the rest later.
"Planning on a trip to Australia?" Gretchen asked.
"No," Kathryn replied, almost absently. "But there is one card I haven't played yet."
Sara looked up in surprise at the Starfleet officer framed in her office door."Dr. Connoly?" he asked, smiling. "My name is Jack Herrick. I'd like to talk to you about Chakotay."
While good-looking officers didn't grace her office every day, the intrusion wasn't welcome.
"I'm sorry....." she began as she tried to read his uniform insignia. "Mr. Herrick, but I'm not sure I can help you."
"It's Admiral, but I prefer 'Jack'," he said affably, helping himself to a chair.
"Are you with security?" she asked suspiciously, wondering how quickly she could call the campus police.
"No," he admitted. "I'm here on behalf of my wife and Chakotay's other friends. They're very worried."
The word "wife" jogged her memory, and with a start, she realized who this man was. "Your wife wouldn’t happen to be ....?"
"Kathryn Janeway? That's right," he replied, and she couldn't help but notice that his eyes lit up at her name.
"So she sent you?"
"Ah, no. She actually asked B'Elanna, but I got wind of it and decided to come long.
B'Elanna's at the zoo with Miral. She'd come by if that would help."
Sara shook her head. Maybe he didn't know. "Well, Admiral, I don't understand why you're here."
"Chakotay saved my life. If he's in trouble, well, I owe him one." He shrugged, "And to be selfish, my wife and I have a new baby. I'd like to enjoy the moment without Kathryn being distracted."
Sara raised an eyebrow. "I see ... well, as I told your wife, I suspect he’ll be visiting her."
"Ah," Jack said, leaning back in his chair. "I suppose you mean that Chakotay will show up at my house, profess his undying love for Kathryn and carry her off into the sunset? Hasn't happened," he said, ignoring her gasp. "Besides, my mother-in-law can handle a phaser."
Sara unconsciously straightened. "You .. you knew?"
He just smiled ruefully. "More or less. I knew Kathryn had feelings for him when we met. I never asked what happened, but," he flashed the gold band on his left hand, "it worked out." He sighed. "Though I've had the distinct impression that Chakotay regretted the outcome."
"He did," Sara said after a moment. "He admitted that he was in love with her, and I threw him out."
"I'm sorry," he said simply. "That has to hurt."
"It does. A lot," she said sadly. "This doesn't bother you?"
He smiled again. "You might say that I've learned to live with a ghost in my marriage." He rubbed the back of his neck. "Chakotay ever talk to you about Voyager?"
"A little, He'd tell me stories."
"I've read some of Kathryn's mission reports. There was a lot of nasty stuff ... a lot of brutality out there. They only had each other to rely on ... hell, they probably saved each other's life a hundred times over. Makes for a complicated relationship."
"But she married you."
He smiled. "Yes, she did. But I know that she cares about Chakotay, and always will." He leaned forward. "I can either be threatened by that, or I can trust Kathryn and cherish the relationship we have. I'd rather trust."
Sara sat back in her chair and regarded him. "You're being remarkably candid with someone you just met."
Jack just smiled. "I had a feeling we might have something in common."
She kept silent, unsure how to reply.
"Which brings us back to the matter at hand," he said, breaking the silence. Look, I realize this is none of my business, but do you care about the man?"
"You're right, it's not your ...."
"Doesn't it bother you at all to know that he's missing?" he interrupted.
"Yes, of course, but ..."
He cut her off again. "And if something has happened to him, could you live with yourself knowing that you didn't try to help find him?"
"Yes, I mean no," she said, clearly exasperated. "But he didn't exactly tell me where he was going."
Jack stood and leaned toward her, his hands on her desk. "Kathryn is sure he's still in Australia. And she and the rest of the crew would happily tear the country apart to find him. But it would be a lot easier on everyone if we had a place to start. Is there any place he could go to think things over?" he asked, his voice urgent. "Any place he talked about? Any place that caught his interest?"
She took a breath and tried to think. "We'd talked about touring the country ... I've never seen the West .." She stopped. "Maybe ...."
"He was interested in the photos of the Pilbara region. Out west. Said it looked a lot like Arizona ...."
Jack straightened and nodded. "It's a start ... may I use your vid?"
The shade, Chakotay decided, really wasn't much help against the heat, which pressed in from all sides.
He leaned back and gauged his progress. The news wasn't good. In nearly three days of inching toward the canyon's opening, he still wasn't close enough to get a signal out.
Not that it mattered, he thought ruefully. He hadn't told anyone where he was going, save the outfitter near the canyons. Starfleet would have no idea where to look.
He painfully took another short swig of water. That was running low, too, despite his rationing. His painkiller had run out last night.
He closed his eyes. No use expending more energy in the heat. Best to wait until things cooled down a bit...
He was standing at the campfire again. His father and the wolf were there, still sitting near the fire.
"You're back," Kolopak said.
Chakotay merely nodded, and sat down.
"Have you considered what I told you?" the older man asked.
"That a mistake isn't always a mistake?" He looked his father in the eye. "Are you telling me that my rejecting Kathryn wasn't a mistake?"
Kolopak smiled indulgently. "That, my son, is up to you to decide."
"So what do I do, father? Not that it may matter if I'm stuck out here much onger."
His father stood and extended his hand. "You need to let go, Chakotay."
The meaning hit him with physical force. "Let go of life? No, father. I'm not ready."
Kolopak looked amused. "Good. That's the answer I wanted. But you do need to let go and embrace your life......"
Chakotay was about to ask what he meant when a sound startled him back into consciousness. He opened his eyes and listened intently. There it was again. A voice no, several voices, calling his name.
Was he hallucinating? He'd find out soon enough. He yelled back, as loudly as his tortured voice could allow, and pressed the emergency signal again and again.
Before he passed out, he heard footsteps…..
He awoke to the sight of B'Elanna's face. "What?" he asked, confused and foggy.
"It's all right, Chakotay. You're safe now. Not that I appreciate you scaring the hell out of us."
"How did you know where to find me?"
"Had some help from a friend," she said, nodding to his left.
He turned slightly and saw her. Sara took his hand and whispered. "I'm glad they found you."
He smiled at her and closed his eyes again. .....