DISCLAIMER: Star Trek is the property of Paramount, this story depicts a loving/sexual relationship between women.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I made up a room on Voyager for this story.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Murder One
By alastria7

Part 1

The group of eight, two females and six males, looked around the circle at each other in the small private room, before closing their eyes. One of their number then led them through an 'exercise', the reason why they were all in attendance.

Nearing its completion, every forehead displayed intense concentration. "Now, take that energy from the centre of you," their leader told them, "and bring it up to your head, concentrating on the target in your mind. Be prepared to release that energy on my mark. See the target. Know that you can and will reach that target. Know that you can do this. Together, now... do it!"

Every occupant of the small room felt their skin tingle, prickling with the energy force they had just released, and they opened their eyes, eager for proof of the expected result. One small rodent-like creature was lying on its side in a box in the centre of the circle. From being a fully alive and moving creature before the group had projected their energy, it was now quite dead.

Kathryn Janeway, captain of the Federation Starship Voyager, felt as alone as ever as she drew the latest daily meeting of her command staff to a close. Today, as was sometimes the case, she felt the weight of the whole lost-in-the-Delta-Quadrant-far-from home situation resting heavily on her shoulders.

'How good it would be, occasionally, to be able to contact Starfleet Command for orders or clarification before moving into a situation' she thought, but she had no such luxury. Total command had been foisted upon her by their unique situation and she raised her brows in an 'Oh well' expression before glancing briefly around the Conference Room. "Any other business?" she asked. Receiving no replies, she then added her usual "Dismissed" and watched as the room began to clear.

The captain's first officer, Commander Chakotay, felt his superior's restraining hand on his arm as he rose from his seat. He sat back down again and waited, studying Janeway as she watched the last person move away from the door and out into the corridor before turning around to face him. Her look was serious and intense.

For the next 30 minutes the two officers were deep in an often-heated conversation, at the end of which Janeway sat back and sighed. "Well, Commander," she concluded in a sombre voice. "I think that about sums it up. Any questions?"

Chakotay found it hard to speak. He realised that, with the time restrictions placed upon them by the urgency of the situation, nothing else would work as well as this plan. He looked down at the table for some time before simply shaking his head. "Alright then," she continued. "I'll do this as efficiently as I can. You'll be monitoring me at all times so... any problems, before completion, pull me out of there. OK?"

"I don't like it, Kathryn, any of it. Besides, it breaks with protocol to send you down there alone."

"And it would ruin the mission to do otherwise," she said carefully. "I thought we'd already established that?" Chakotay hesitated only slightly before he nodded his reluctant approval. "Chakotay?" she prompted, wanting to hear what else was on his mind.

"If you consider this to be the only way, Captain, then you have my full support. You know that."

"But you don't approve?"

"I neither have to approve nor disapprove, since you are the captain and any decision rests with you." He paused, wondering how far to push her. "Although I'm uneasy about the consequences, should you be caught before..."

A softness came to Janeway's eyes as she looked at the man she had come to rely on so much over the years. "Then I'll have to make sure that doesn't happen, won't I?"

He sighed. "When do you leave?"

"One hour," Janeway replied. "Wish me luck? With their security, I'm going to need it."

"Torres to the Bridge."

"Tuvok here."

"Tuvok?" questioned the engineer rather redundantly, since it was obviously the Vulcan on the other end of the comlink. "Where's the captain?"

"She is not here, Lieutenant," Tuvok offered, giving no further explanation.

"I gathered that," retorted B'Elanna, reigning herself in. "Chakotay, you'll have to do."

"Commander Chakotay is not available either," Tuvok continued. "The captain is on an away mission and the Commander is monitoring its progress from the Ready Room. He asked not to be interrupted, except in an emergency. May I assist you with anything, Lieutenant?"

"What away mission?"

"One of 'diplomatic negotiations,' I believe," replied the Vulcan.

B'Elanna was confused; it wasn't a state she enjoyed but it was clear she would learn no more this way. "I guess it can wait," she told the Bridge crew. "Torres out." Following those words with a mental grumble of 'Diplomatic relations, my eye,' she walked into her office in engineering to sit down and think. 'We've been in orbit around Rogen 5 for less than four days. How the hell could we have got ourselves wound up in anything as starry as 'diplomatic negotiations' without the captain bringing it to the command crew first? It just doesn't add up.'

B'Elanna was pretty bright but she couldn't get this puzzle to unravel. She replicated some herb tea to help calm and focus her thoughts and sat back down, cupping both hands around the hot beverage, staring at the steam on its surface. 'Perhaps she's acting as a mediator in some dispute or other? But if that were the case, she would surely have told us about it.' The Engineer was going around in circles.

Being a naturally inquisitive creature, B'Elanna decided to snoop. Oh, not a big snoop, really, just a little snoop; one that she hoped would bear fruit and supply a few answers. Although she understood that the term 'classified' meant just that, something about all this felt wrong, so wrong that she decided to risk the consequences of finding a console and attempting to ascertain where the captain's party had beamed down to. Voyager had been in orbit for about 190 hours and they had Rogen 5's main areas plotted very well by now.

'I don't even know why we came here in the first place. I know the Rogens hailed us, but no one thought to tell me why.' "God! I sound like the Doctor!" she said aloud, but the smile that had begun was turning into a frown at her first finding. It seemed that, in trying to find out where the captain had beamed down to, she had discovered something very amiss. She slapped her comm. badge. "Torres to the Bridge."

"Tuvok here."

"She went alone, didn't she," stated the Engineer, staring at her findings. "Why?"

"It was the captain's express wish that..." began Tuvok but he was rapidly interrupted.

"But that's unprecedented! You just don't have the captain of a starship going on an away mission all by herself. What was she thinking?"

"I'm sorry, Lieutenant," Tuvok replied, "I cannot explain her reasons for breaking with Starfleet protocol, but I am certain the captain knows what she is doing."

"Well, I hope you're right." The comm. link broken, B'Elanna dug a little deeper into the landing area. It appeared that Janeway had put herself down in Rogen 5's main political area - but why? It took a lot more skilful tapping on a console before the screen above it suddenly rewarded the engineer's determination by throwing up a moving picture.

The camera was clearly secreted on a person because, as she watched, the badly framed image was moving in conjunction with someone walking along a corridor. Suddenly she gasped as a left wrist appeared in shot, wearing a signalling and communications device that she recognised as Federation. The small hand was clearly a woman's, the sleeve black. 'Captain?

The image steadied, coming to rest in front of a closed door and the hand came back into shot again as it reached up towards the chime. The screen had a display, at its base, stating whether or not something had been pre-recorded and B'Elanna found herself holding her breath as she realised that, whatever this was, it was happening right now, on the planet's surface.

As she watched, the door opened, gingerly at first and then wider as the occupant of the room clearly recognised the woman requesting entrance. She appeared to pose no threat to him because he threw back the door to admit her. It was the last mistake he would ever make.

With eyes widening, B'Elanna watched as a small hand came into sight of the camera, holding up a Federation phaser which she fired at the man who fell backwards immediately, his body collapsing lifelessly onto the floor. As B'Elanna continued to watch the scene she realised that the surroundings in the room were blurring and that the woman was being transported out of there. That meant that someone else knew what she was doing and was working with her, as an accomplice! Almost unwillingly, she tapped into the computer and verified that one person had just beamed aboard Voyager. It wasn't a leap of the imagination to consider that that person might be Kathryn Janeway.

"Torres to the Ready Room."

"Go ahead, B'Elanna."

The engineer was shocked and temporarily thrown as her brain took in the voice of her captain. She was trying to contact Chakotay, having been recently informed that he was in the Ready Room, but now... 'Quickly, come on,' she urged herself, frantically trying to calm her voice so that she wouldn't arouse suspicion. "Captain? I was told you weren't on the Bridge."

"I'm not, B'Elanna." The engineer could 'hear' the frown in Janeway's voice. "I'm in the Ready Room. Is there something I can help you with?"

"Uh, tell you the truth, Captain, there was, but it's just gone completely out of my head. I'm sorry." She forced herself to laugh lightly. "I'll get back to you when I find my mind, OK? Torres out."

Immediately she knew the comm. link had closed, B'Elanna asked the computer to locate Commander Chakotay.

<Commander Chakotay is in the Ready Room>

Janeway turned to face her first officer. "She's on to it," she warned him.

"I told you she was bright, Captain. In fact, we're relying on it." After a few more minutes work at the console, the two officers sat talking about the mission until Chakotay said, "All that's left now is for me to delete all records of your transmission and transports; then there'll be no proof left in Voyager's computer whatsoever." The captain sat quietly, watching while the commander's fingers danced over the control board, deftly covering her tracks of the past half an hour.

B'Elanna Torres was still working on the information before her. She hadn't hesitated. Before Chakotay had finished his clean-up operation, she'd managed to save a copy of both the visual images and the transporter activities, both damning evidence, she knew, against her captain.

The leader held aloft the small rodent-like animal in triumph before passing it around to those present, as proof. Its lifeless form was shaken, poked, prodded, but nothing that was meted out to its small corpse had the effect of bringing it back to life. The last group member stood up and placed it back in the box on the floor and joined in the verbal celebrations.

"Yet again!" declared the male leader, smiling around at the eager faces. "Time to practice on the next stage again. I have every confidence in our continued abilities." He stood up and took another small box from the nearby table. "I shall place this in position and join you shortly," he told them as he left the room.

Holding up the small device up in her hands, Torres studied the copy of the captain's apparent 'crime' with a mixture of triumph and fear. She didn't like what it implied at all. Hell, if it hadn't been such a point of honour, she would have considered her captain beyond reproach and just shrugged and destroyed the record. But something wouldn't allow her to do that; besides, this couldn't be how it appeared, could it? 'Janeway wouldn't... she had no reason to...' she thought as she hid the small record of events in the back of her drawer in the engineering office, deciding to at least sit on it for a while and see what transpired on Rogen 5. She wouldn't have to wait very long.

"Have you heard?" asked Harry Kim in the Mess Hall as they both queued up at Neelix's counter for food.

"Heard what?" The dark-haired lieutenant hoped she hadn't jumped on Harry's words too enthusiastically and she tried hard to look disinterested as she awaited his reply.

"Teglan Jansius, the Prime Leader of Rogen 5; he was murdered this morning by 'person or persons unknown'. The Rogens have ordered that Voyager be detained for now, and they have broken off the supplies talks we'd scheduled for later on today. It's all in chaos down there, apparently. This man was a key figure in reforms to their laws, the first of which were to have been implemented later on this afternoon."

Harry had given some pretty juicy information to the excitable half-Klingon, not least that there had been a murder and Voyager was detained for some reason. He'd expected a little more from her than her eyes glued to the table in response. "Well?"

"Huh?" B'Elanna looked up at the friend she called 'Starfleet'. She was busy thinking, putting two and two together and coming up with the same story she had formulated earlier, that Janeway had killed this man, Jansius, although she now had far more questions than before.

Why would her leader murder a key political figure on a world they were simply visiting? Could she? And where did that leave the Prime Directive? "I'm sorry, Harry," she apologised with a half smile, "I just remembered that I promised to... look, I gotta go now, OK?" She picked up a helping of what resembled a quiche from her plate and left Harry alone, his mouth gaping slightly at his friend's odd behaviour.

In the turbolift, having asked for Deck 11, Main Engineering, B'Elanna changed her mind and headed instead for her 'sanctuary', a room attached to the Aft Torpedo Launcher on Deck 4, an area which assured her of privacy, as the maintenance crew only entered it once a week. It was a place she often visited to think things through, her concentration aided by the stark surroundings which were in direct contrast to the many creature comforts and distractions in her quarters.

B'Elanna entered the room. There were two storage units along the far wall and three metal storage containers on the floor, of differing sizes. A 'station'/desk with a console and a screen built into it, together with two chairs, was on one side of the room with a door leading off beside it, through to the torpedo room. The engineer exhaled loudly as she found her usual spot, sitting down on a small container to nibble at her food. She didn't need long, just time enough to sort through all the information and try to make sense of it. She knew her captain, or thought she did, and that meant there had to be a logical answer, if she could only...

'OK, let's pull it all together,' she thought. 'Janeway went down to Rogen 5 this morning, pulled a phaser on their most prominent political leader and fired, killing him. Now why the hell would she do that?' She took another nibble of her meal, holding a hand under it to catch the crumbs. 'Throughout, she transmitted her progress back to a colleague, in both audio and visuals, who then transported her out of there when the 'mission' was completed.

Retrieving a crumb from her trousers, she continued, 'Tuvok, on the Bridge, said the captain was on an away mission this morning and mentioned something about 'diplomatic relations', which made no sense, and still doesn't. Then I go snooping around and find out that only one person transported from Voyager to the main political building. I tackled the Bridge about Janeway going alone and they didn't deny it.

'Chakotay was said to be in the Ready Room,' she thought, opening her mouth for the last piece of food, 'which is where he must have transported the captain, pulling her out right after she'd killed Jansius.'

The engineer chewed the remnants of her lunch, swallowed and then stood up to pace around the room. She brushed a few stray crumbs off her uniform. 'I don't like this,' she grumbled, taking a break from thinking for a moment while she moved into reacting. 'Why?' she asked in her head. 'She'd never kill anyone in cold blood. Would she? And what could possibly be in it for her, killing this man, anyway?' The room was silent and her questions went unanswered.

B'Elanna had never felt so ill at ease about anything. She sat back down on the container and leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees and knew what she had to do. Even though she hadn't worked everything out yet - and had found nothing in the way of a motive at all - she did knew this accumulated information shouldn't rest with her. It was time to tell someone.

Her first thought was Chakotay, having worked with him for so long and considering him a friend, but he was clearly implicated in this crime, if indeed a crime could be proven. That left one trustworthy soul she could take this to... Tuvok. She hoped to goodness he wasn't in on it too. But then, she reasoned, if he had been, they would all have known, surely? It would have been some kind of command decision.

It was a safe bet that Tuvok would be her port in this storm. He would be objective and no doubt he'd challenge Janeway through the correct channels and allow her to explain her innocence in this matter. She tapped her comm. badge, "Torres to Chief of Security."

"Tuvok here."

"There's a little matter in Engineering, Tuvok. I could use your assistance."

"On my way, Lieutenant."

As the security officer left the Bridge, Janeway and Chakotay, who had returned to their positions, held each other's gaze. The captain looked resigned and a little fearful and Chakotay returned a worried look, his sympathetic eyes telling her he would be there for her, no matter what. No one else noticed.

As she'd planned, B'Elanna made it back to Engineering before Tuvok arrived and she led him into the privacy of her office. Slowly, deliberately, and with the supporting evidence of the recorded 'proof', she told him all she knew.

Tuvok sat in silence throughout and afterwards, his logical mind searching for a reason why his captain and friend might have done such a thing as this, as the proof certainly indicated her guilt. He was surprised that this information had upset him deeply and he sat struggling to re-establish the Vulcan 'force-field' around his emotions before speaking. "You will tell no one of this," he ordered, rising from his chair. "Do you understand?"

"Yes, sir." 'My God, he looks so sad,' she thought as she watched him walk away. 'He believes she's guilty.' Torres hadn't allowed herself to be convinced of the captain's guilt, even in light of the evidence. She had been shrewd enough to copy the evidence, produced in reply to a niggling feeling that if anyone had guessed about the original, they might have chosen to destroy it, leaving her with nothing. For all she revered her captain and (up to now) had trusted her, she couldn't allow that to happen.

Tuvok took the copy and left, and B'Elanna wondered what his next move might be. The pit of her stomach was clenched so hard that it made her feel nauseous as she sat back, alone in the office. 'Will he keep this to himself and tell no one?' she thought. But she knew that, regardless of what anyone might or might not say, the fact was that a man was dead. That made her think things wouldn't stay quiet around here for much longer.

She sat back and waited for the shit to hit the fan.

The group members had just finished their present session, a repetition of the same process as before with one slight twist... that their 'target' was not in the room with them. Their leader nodded towards two group members who took their cue and left to collect the spoils from a room two floors above them.

The selected pair looked around cautiously before entering the new room and then walked inside, opening the door of a small storage cupboard. A box was retrieved, the lid removed, and the expected smiles spread across the two faces as they both stared into it at the dead form lying there.

"It is time to find the next target," said the leader over the verbal pleasure and congratulations of the group, having seen further proof of their abilities. "Attention everyone, please. There isn't much time."

Suddenly the leader found his efforts to attract the group's attention interrupted by a member of another group, running into the room, without even a knock on the door. The man pushed his way straight into the centre of the circle, looking around wildly. "He's dead!" he told them all. Jansius is dead!"

It was strange how a room full of noisy people could become so quiet so quickly.

In the Ready Room, Tuvok, closely followed by Chakotay and Janeway, whom he had summoned, went directly to the captain's desk and sat himself down, loading the evidence while the others stood beside the desk, watching.

"What's this all about, Tuvok?" asked the captain, betraying her nervousness. Receiving no reply, she displayed a strange expression as her security officer played out the evidence against her. When the visuals ended, Tuvok ran through the copied transporter records, proving beyond any doubt that the captain had been in the same section of the political establishment as the Prime Leader, at the same time as the assassination.

Before confronting his Captain, Tuvok had done a little more research. He had beamed down to the spot in question and had found further evidence - of a residual Federation phaser signature, fired at the time of the assassination. The accumulated evidence was now overwhelming. Janeway knew she was beaten and she met Tuvok's gaze, tilting her head back slightly as she adopted a proud stance. "You figure this out all by yourself?" she asked.

"It was Lieutenant Torres who brought it to my attention, Captain. I then found the additional phaser information and presented you with the collective findings."

Janeway smiled. "We should never underestimate her."

"Do you, either of you, deny what is indicated here... that you did, in fact, cause the death of this man?"

"You have the evidence," said Chakotay. "It would be foolish to deny anything when you're holding that."

The captain stared at her trusted friend. "Well, Tuvok, what happens now?"

"I was given this information before I heard that the Prime Leader had been assassinated. After that it became obvious what kind of evidence I was holding. You will understand, Captain, that I have to do my duty?" he told them, moving towards the door, where he paused.

"The pair of you will remain in the Ready Room while I contact Rogen 5; I shall return directly with their orders. I assume I do not have to order an armed guard?" His eyes displayed hurt as he looked upon his friend, who shook her head sadly in response.

Three days had passed. The trial had been fair in the extreme, surprising the Voyager crew who had almost expected a lynch mob stringing their captain up immediately, as the outsider who had caused them so much pain. The full evidence had been presented and Janeway and Chakotay had denied nothing; neither offering a motive, although both opportunity and proof were there in abundance.

At the end of the trial, the Rogen's found Janeway guilty of murder and charged Chakotay with the lesser crime of being an accomplice. However, according to the seriousness of the crime, it had been decided that the punishment for both officers was death.

The verdict was announced by Tuvok over the ship wide comm. and a collective gasp went around Voyager, nobody quite believing that their two most senior officers could have done such a thing, let alone that they were about to die for it. Like a silent plague, a feeling of hopelessness spread quickly throughout the crewmembers, affecting minds and work, and outrunning all of Neelix's Chief Morale Officer efforts to pull it all around.

Maybe one person aboard Voyager felt worse than all the others.

B'Elanna Torres sat in the Mess Hall, staring out at the stars, which included Rogen's satellites 2 and 6 in orbit around Rogen Prime. Looking sideways, she could see down onto the surface of Rogen 5 but she chose not to, locking her eyes onto the stars instead, almost fooling herself that Voyager was under way again, heading for the Alpha Quadrant, its crew intact.

The pain inside the chief engineer was great. She'd tried to stay in Engineering, tried to concentrate on her work but in the end she'd left Carey in charge before wandering off around the ship, ending up in the Mess Hall. Mr Neelix, a man who usually jumped in head-first whenever he saw someone who was down, had had the good sense to let her be. He'd held back, watched over her, almost.

B'Elanna stared at the stars, ignoring the Talaxian's concerned face. 'I should have sat on the evidence,' her tortured mind suggested, although her honour would not have let her do so. 'I set this whole thing in motion... I'm killing them!' She buried her head in her hands. 'Oh Kathryn,' she cried within, squeezing her eyes tight shut, trying to block it all out. 'I have to see you; I have to know. If you're going to die for this, I have to know why!'

Seven of Nine glared at her regeneration unit, her hands clasped tightly behind her back. She had not yet learned how to deal with painful human emotions and was undecided how best to handle them - should she shut the feelings out by regenerating, she wondered, or think the situation through, in the hopes that a solution might present itself?

In rescuing her from the Borg, her captain, who was now condemned to death, had arguably given Seven a life. Although Seven hadn't shown much in the way of gratitude at the time, she had come to love her liberator and it was too painful for the young ex-Borg to think that her mentor and guardian would soon no longer be a part of her life. There had to be something she could do.

As Seven glared at the green glow of the Borg alcove, her mind sifted again through all the knowledge she had of the assassination of Teglan Jansius on Rogen 5. Try as she might, she could find no loophole; nothing they could work on or use as an appeal - nothing at all. The case against Janeway and Chakotay was legally sound and there was nothing anyone could do to save them at this late stage. Unless...

With that last thought, Kathryn Janeway's face appeared in Seven's mind. 'Seven!' it said sternly. 'What have I always told you?' The young woman didn't want to hear it, but the mental image persisted, 'That you are to respect other races' truths; respect them and honour their laws and traditions, even if they go against us.'

"Yes, Captain," said Seven aloud. Clearly distressed, she climbed the step to the regeneration unit and activated it. Mercifully, she entered her usual 'sleep'-induced state as her eyes closed and her mind blanked out - a single tear on her, by now, unconscious cheek.

There was every chance their meeting was being recorded, Janeway knew, as Lieutenant B'Elanna Torres was allowed through the force field holding her captain prisoner in a cell on Rogen 5.

B'Elanna looked briefly around the single cell, as basic as they all seemed to be, before resting her eyes on her superior. Uncertainty, about how to react, emanated from the tough engineer before she gave in to the dictates of her heart and approached the forlorn woman, wrapping her tightly in a lengthy hug, trying to convey in it her deep concern and sorrow for the situation. "It's good to see you," she said, her voice catching in her throat.

"You too," the captain replied hoarsely, disentangling herself and moving backwards to sit on the bunk. She patted it in invitation, with an air of calm that belied her circumstances.

Still standing, knowing what she had to do, B'Elanna confessed sadly, "It was me. I found the records and I told Tuvok about it... although I wish to God I hadn't right now." Her captain smiled weakly, nodding in acknowledgement, saying nothing.

"They're going to kill you, you know," accused the engineer, staring down at her captain, dark eyes filling with anger and a frustration that she could barely hide. Janeway didn't answer. "You care?" challenged B'Elanna in an offhand manner. "'Cause from where I'm standing you don't seem to give much of a damn."

"B'Elanna, I..."

"Don't." The engineer held up her hand to halt the words. There was something amiss in those blue/grey eyes, something she had seen at other times aboard Voyager when the captain was 'bending the truth' a little with an alien species, usually for some reason that suited Voyager. It wasn't always prudent, in command, to speak the truth, and B'Elanna could always tell when her captain was being less than honest. "Whatever lies you were about to tell me, I don't want to hear them, OK?"

Remaining silent, Janeway continued to look at B'Elanna for a while until she asked quietly, "Have you come to shout at me, Lieutenant?"

A small gasp escaped from the standing woman as she decided to accept the earlier invitation to sit. Carefully she chose her words, staring at her interlocked fingers resting on her knees. "I've come here to understand," she began, looking sideways into the calm eyes of her captain, which seemed in direct contrast to her own mood. Barely controlling her confusion and the resultant anger, she continued, "My words exposed you and tomorrow, damn it, you'll die for your crime and - for the life of me, I don't know why you did it. It doesn't make any sense. Help me, here!"

Understanding was not to be B'Elanna's gift today as the time passed and the captain remained silent before taking in a deep breath and sighing. Janeway turned slightly and placed a hand on her friend's arm. "You trust me?" she asked quietly.


"Do you trust me, Lieutenant?" repeated Janeway, urgently, causing B'Elanna to turn and look her in the eye, wondering what she would find there to help explain what she was hearing.

"I always have. What's going on?"

Keeping eye contact, the captain chose her next words very deliberately, speaking slowly. "I killed a man, an important man as it turns out. I knew fully what I was doing and I am prepared for the consequences of my actions. Now, I need you to trust me on this," she concluded, emphasising the word 'trust'. "Ah uh," she warned as the lieutenant opened her mouth to ask 'why?' once again. "Just understand that events will soon come to light that will fully justify my actions. You'll have all your answers then, I promise you."

"But I won't have you, will I?"


"OK, look, you do the martyr thing," shouted the warrior unfairly, her anger rising to heights she couldn't contain. She got up and strode towards the door with her back to her captain, calling out for the guard. "But don't ask me to watch because I can't stand it."

The engineer felt a hand on her shoulder, a soft and gentle pressure that broke her resolve to be strong, and she turned immediately, wrapping her arms around a startled captain and kissing her before she could react. When she pulled back, she looked into eyes that displayed a sizeable amount of amazement as she whispered, "I wanted to explore my feelings for you slowly, to find out what you felt, and now..." She brushed Janeway's cheek with her hand just as the guard arrived. "This is all so wrong," she said as she took one last look into surprised eyes and then turned and left.

The captain watched her go. She saw her turn around by the outer door and look back, eyes overflowing, mouthing the words, 'I love you' before following the guard out.

Alone again, Janeway cast her eyes up to the ceiling and sighed heavily, rubbing her forehead as she began to pace the cell. Eventually, she came to rest beside the door, as close to the force field as she dared, and stared hard at the memory of B'Elanna and those last mouthed words.

'Oh, God,' she thought, trembling deeply. 'That wasn't part of the plan.'

Part 2

Tuvok stared at the official. The Vulcan had spent the past hour in the man's office, on Rogen 5, trying to find a way to save his captain and Commander Chakotay from execution this morning. Of the many avenues he had tried to explore, it had become apparent that he was no nearer achieving his goal. Not that he really expected to make a difference as the case was

obviously clear-cut and the protagonists had professed their guilt - but he had to try, even though it was a forgone conclusion that the officers would be put to death.

He looked from the security camera, recording his every word, back to Taloc Crisn. "How is the sentence to be carried out?" he asked, in a voice that struggled to be emotionless. He didn't want to hear the answer at all.

The official, a stocky individual with kind yellow eyes and the slightly scaley skin that his people bore, gave Tuvok the answer as gently as he could. "We have a mine here on Rogen 5, a mine that was sealed some revolutions ago due to an accident. The whole excavation was filled with a poisonous gas that we don't know how to neutralise and a decision was made to write the mine off and seal it for all time. These gasses are so toxic that if they escaped into our air, it would cause us severe problems for a long time to come." Crisn paused, hoping the Vulcan would take the conversation. He didn't.

"With the mine as it then stood, it made an ideal way of executing certain prisoners, by beaming them into it." He saw no judgement on the face of his guest but still felt the need to qualify his world's actions. "Please understand that only a very few of our prisoners are put to death, Commander. Their crime has to be truly worthy of such a drastic solution... public opinion has to be running so high that it demands it. In this case, the people are outraged. The murdered political leader, Teglan Jansius, was a light of hope for so many people, not only Rogen 5 but also for our other worlds. I'm sorry but this is the only course of action we can take."

"I understand," concluded Tuvok, realising he would do no good for Janeway or Chakotay here today; he could not save them. "If you will excuse me, I should return to my ship."

"Of course."

"...and they'll be transported down to the mine at 11.06 hours, our time. My plan is to..."

"There will be no plan, Lieutenant," reprimanded Tuvok, staring at the startled engineer across the Conference Room table. "We have found no evidence whatsoever that this case is not exactly as it appears to be. For whatever reason, it seems that the captain did indeed murder the Prime Leader of Rogen 5, with the help of Commander Chakotay; the sentence is therefore just. The Federation has no jurisdiction, Lieutenant, to interfere with this world's laws."

B'Elanna stared across at Seven, then to Harry Kim and on to Tom. "But you can't just let this happen. We have to do something!"

"Tuvok's right, B'Elanna," Tom said in his soft voice. "As unbelievable as this is, we can't interfere with their legal system. We don't have a leg to stand on."

"But there must be some loophole we can find, something definite to base an appeal on."

"There is nothing, Lieutenant," contributed Seven coolly. "I have reviewed all given facts in this case and it appears a just sentence. That we disagree with their choice of executees is irrelevant."

The words stung as they hung in the silence that followed them; no one choosing to argue with the truth they all recognised. It was hopeless. The execution would take place this morning, on schedule, and Voyager (the Rogens had informed them) would be allowed to leave the following day.

A general melee of voices permeated the Mess Hall, everyone with their own solution to the imminent execution and many swapping verbal annoyances at Tuvok's impassive stand.

The large screen, hurriedly erected as soon as the Rogen's had promised them visuals, had a growing crowd around it. Most of the audience refused to believe this was Janeway's and Chakotay's last day; they fervently hoped to be able to watch as a better conclusion played out, but it was not to be.

Behind a force field, in a large room inside the main courtroom-style building, stood the two condemned officers. Surprisingly they appeared very calm as they were asked if they wished to say anything to the Rogen's and to Voyager.

Janeway coughed into a closed fist and looked up at the monitor. "First I wish to speak to my ship. I must urge anyone on Voyager who may be trying to counteract what is going on here, to stand down. You are not to interfere in any way with this sentence, which is the consequence I expected if caught."

The assembled crewmembers watched in the Mess Hall as Janeway paused before continuing. "Captain Tuvok? I have every faith in your leadership abilities. Your orders are to resume your journey towards the Alpha Quadrant and home. Crew, embrace your new Captain, and give him the unquestioning dedication you have always given to me. And good luck to you all."

Janeway looked sideways to urge Chakotay to speak but he simply shook his head and looked down. With a comforting pat on his arm she continued, "To those of you from the Rogen system, I deeply regret your suffering today. I want you all to know that." Then she looked around at the Rogen assembly and clutched the Commander's sleeve before nodding to Crisn, who was standing by to initiate transport, to convey her readiness.

Tears and audible sounds of disbelief swept around the Mess Hall as their beloved captain and Commander Chakotay began to fade in the transporter's beam. Everyone in the room knew the officers were going to their certain death in the poisonous atmosphere of the mine.

Everyone except Janeway, Chakotay and two others.

As planned, the captain and Chakotay materialised in a deserted office on Deck 4, a room that led into the Aft Torpedo Launcher. Instantly the commander moved to the closed door and listened very carefully before pulling back into the room. Somehow, Crisn had managed to do as he'd promised: beam them both to the safety of Voyager, using Rogen advanced technology to ensure that their transport would not be detected by their own ship. Crisn had also beamed food in for them; some fresh supplies plus some dried rations and fluids. Janeway moved quickly to secrete it away in one of the two storage units.

It was imperative that they should not attempt to use the computer or replicator, or anything that could show up as a power surge in a disused office; it was far too soon to reveal themselves to the rest of the crew yet. If they were careful, there would be little or no chance of their detection.

The two officers looked at each other, both registering anxious faces. "Well, Chakotay. Now we wait," the captain said, receiving a nod. They both sat down in silence, settling themselves as best they could, keeping their ears open for any sounds that might foretell their discovery.

So far, the plan was working.

Leaning against Neelix's counter, Harry Kim looked around the Mess Hall. The room had been successfully cleared of the large screen and restored to its former usage, with the tables and chairs now back in place. There was no trace of the crowd that had stood there earlier, watching the 'execution'. Now, just two people were sitting eating, separately.

Tears appeared in the young man's eyes as he recalled his brave captain's face as she'd spoken to them for the last time but, beyond sadness, he felt anger. Janeway had always advocated truth and right behaviour, both for herself and for the ship and its crew, so why break with her own rules and kill someone in cold blood? And why was the ship being refused permission to leave until the morning? Harry couldn't understand it. 'None of this makes any sense,' he thought.

He'd tried talking with his best friend, Tom, but Tom had been too upset to speak. "Leave it, Harry," he'd said roughly, fighting his emotions as he'd brushed past the ensign and out of the Mess Hall, leaving Harry to dine alone. But the young ensign decided he wasn't much in the mood for eating as he looked across to where the big screen had been earlier. His mind's eye saw the faces of his two senior officers once again. 'You let me down,' he accused. 'Both of you' and in his isolated grief, he turned and left the room.

They'd been secreted in the room now for the afternoon and well into the evening. The only obvious place to sleep had been on the floor. Tucked up in a corner, with his back against the wall, Chakotay held his sleeping captain in his arms, having agreed to take the first watch while she gained her rest. She would then look out for the two of them while he slept.

The turbolift had been very active earlier as the Deck 4 crewmembers had returned to their quarters for the night but there had been no footfalls in their direction, until now. Unsure at first, the Commander strained his ears and then roused his Captain as he became certain of a threatened intrusion. "Kathryn. Wake up, Kathryn, someone's here."

"Wha..." groaned the captain before remembering the situation and snapping widely awake, her adrenaline flowing.

"Shhh," Chakotay urged. "Listen." They strained to hear and, as the sound became louder, they gave thought as to how they might escape unseen. It was obvious that someone was approaching but highly improbable that the intruder would enter their chosen refuge; the maintenance team wasn't due for another five days and anyway they wouldn't come at night, and certainly not just one of them. As the footfalls came nearer, the captain inclined her head towards the door that led through to the torpedo room and Chakotay nodded, following her as she went through it, closing the door behind them.

"The jacket!" whispered Janeway urgently, referring to Chakotay's jacket that he'd draped over her while she slept; it was still lying on the floor in the outer room, where it had fallen during their escape.

"Too late," the commander whispered back. He then placed a finger across his lips in a 'shush' warning as they heard the outer door open. They tensed and waited.

Lieutenant B'Elanna Torres had worked late. She'd tried hard to lose herself in her work and her fellow crewmembers but she had become too tired and too emotionally drained to concentrate. Finally she'd left Engineering for the night, wondering how she might quell the terrible emotional pain that ran through her heart and mind.

In the corridor outside Engineering she had tried to consider going back to her quarters but feared that peace would not find her there, so she had taken the turbolift to the one place she knew she could go to be alone.

Heading for the sanctity of her favourite room, she would allow a partial vent of her perceived guilt-of-the-betrayer feelings to surface. No doubt she would ask a few questions and throw a few curses to Kahless for her losses, especially her captain, the woman she loved. Sniffing back tears, she opened the door to the chosen room and froze at what she saw... a command red jacket was lying on the floor and somehow she knew it belonged to Chakotay.

The two officers were not at all surprised when the door opened slowly onto their hiding place, revealing them both. Strangely, no one spoke. One of the three was in severe shock as they all looked around at each other, wondering what to do next, although that was decided quite nicely when B'Elanna Torres fainted.

Crisn looked around the morgue, his eyes sweeping it one last time for possible witnesses before approaching the stasis chamber. There was a failsafe for the dead in this room; when the room was empty, the computer scanned for heartbeats, the idea being that if someone came back to life miraculously, as had happened on several occasions (following a state mimicking death) an alarm would be raised. Because of this, it had been imperative that Teglan Jansius' heart be silenced, temporarily.

Now that a moving, living person had entered the storage area, the computer would override the failsafe until such time as the room was cleared of the living once more.

Crisn activated the lid to the cryogenic casket. With a whoosh, it slowly raised, revealing the politician lying within, to all intents and purposes dead. Quickly, Crisn moved the hypospray into position and injected it into the inert figure's neck, watching the miracle of life returning to the man, who began to move. "Lie still, old friend. We have a few moments," he reassured and then began taking readings with a hand-held device, similar to a tricorder. "You'll be pleased to know you're in good shape," he informed Jansius.

"Thanks to you, Taloc. I won't forget what you've done for me over the past few days," responded the Rogen, who was beginning to feel a little stronger. He sat up and rubbed his head, feeling like he'd drunk a little too much Valgeion wine.

"It's not over yet, my friend. A little more indignity to go through and then you're home free. Then we can announce our deception to Rogen 5 and explain exactly why it became necessary."

"This 'Voyager'... is it safe for me to be there?"

"Safer than it is here, that's a certainty. Are you ready?"

The still-groggy Rogen nodded and stood as Crisn's fingers moved over the portable transporter device. It was important to get Jansius off Rogen 5 quickly before it was discovered that he was still alive. Although he could be announced as such later on, right now the timing was incorrect; his discovery would ruin all of their carefully laid plans.

Crisn watched his leader disappear.

The two senior officers had carried B'Elanna's unconscious body out into the larger office, where there was room to tend to her. "Is she alright?" asked Janeway anxiously as she crouched on the floor next to Chakotay, who was lightly slapping the prone engineer's cheek.

"She's fine. Just fainted."

"Well it must be the day for it," the captain quipped as Teglan Jansius materialised next to them and his still-weak legs buckled, crumpling him in a heap on the floor beside a fast-waking engineer. Janeway moved around her officers to reach the man and help him to a chair. She unhooked the medical tricorder-style instrument from the Rogen's belt, thoughtfully beamed in with him, and began checking him out, pleased with the results. "You're doing very well, Prime Leader" she soothed. "How do you feel?"

"Thirsty and tired," answered her 'patient', "but glad to be alive. Really, I can't thank you enough for all your help and kindness. You've taken such risks to help me and my people."

"Would someone like to tell me what the hell is going on here?" grumbled B'Elanna as she sat up and then stood, supported by Chakotay. "I thought you two were dead," she accused, burning her look directly at Janeway. "That was a terrible thing to make me believe."

"Do you remember me telling you it would all become clear later and to trust me, Lieutenant?" questioned the captain softly, reading the mixture of emotions in those dark eyes. B'Elanna nodded, also remembering her declaration of feelings for this woman, and wondering how that might change things between them now. But Janeway was as professional as ever. "I'll be blunt. You shouldn't be here, B'Elanna. You shouldn't know anything about this, but you do. And now I have to ask you not to tell anyone else, is that understood?"

"Looks like it's your turn to trust me?" smiled the lieutenant, slowly adjusting to this bizarre turn of events.

"And I do." Janeway had to break the eye contact as she saw a tear attempting to escape the smaller woman's right eye. Tears had a habit of being contagious and emotion was a luxury she couldn't afford right now with so many lives at stake. She patted the Rogen's arm and then walked over to the storage locker to find a drink. Taking it back to Jansius and holding it out to him, she told him, "Crisn said you would need plenty of fluids after your ordeal."

The prime leader smiled up at her and took the offering. "Thank you," he replied as another mass of sparkles brought three bedrolls into the room.

"Crisn," smiled Janeway, shaking her head. She put them to one side and then the three of them took about fifteen minutes to tell B'Elanna all about the mission she had stumbled upon. They told her how the captain had originally answered an encoded distress call, which was for Captain's Eyes Only. That call had put her in clandestine contact with Taloc Crisn, who quickly weighed up whether or not he could trust her. He'd felt he could and had proceeded to ask for a strange kind of help from her.

He'd told her about new laws that were due to be passed on his world, good laws that would change people's lives for the better, but that a rebel faction was against change and he'd stumbled upon plans to assassinate the prime leader. Effectively that would put the much-needed changes on hold until the state funeral and the business of electing another leader was completed.

All the rebels wanted to do was to stop the changes. All Crisn wanted was to catch the rebels, and he'd hatched a plot that would also ensure the safety of the man the rebels planned to kill. "If someone assassinates Jansius first," Crisn had explained, "the rebels will terminate their efforts. I plan to successfully fake an assassination by another party, to fool them."

Crisn had gone on to make the incredible suggestion that Janeway be that other party. "If one of our groups takes on the responsibility for the faked death," he'd said, "it could start more bloodshed between our peoples; whereas if an outsider, an off-worlder even, was blamed, the people could do nothing in the way of major retaliation, especially if the perpetrator was put to death."

The captain of Voyager had then given Crisn a potted history of the Prime Directive, which inhibited her from helping them in this way, but Crisn had been ready for something like that. "All I ask is that my people believe their great leader has been murdered, so that we can fend off a genuine assassination attempt and a subsequent war."

"And if I should say yes to this fantastic plan, to prevent this death and a war," the captain had asked, "how do you capture the original 'assassins' at the end of it all, to ensure they won't try again?"

"By leaking information to them, setting up the entire reforms programme, that was about to be implemented by Jansius, as a trap. Our computers are tamper-proof but it was known that Jansius also kept his information on a small disc that he carried around with him. If it could be leaked that the disc was being held at a certain location, all we'd have to do would be to wait."

"I then decided to share the information with Chakotay," Janeway told B'Elanna. "There followed several meetings with Crisn and Jansius on Rogen 5."

"I think, in the end," added Chakotay, "they convinced us that this would be a mission bringing peace; that if we didn't take part, it would bring about not only the assassination but the inevitable war that would have taken place between Rogen 5 and Rogen 2 in response to events."

B'Elanna frowned. "If you were aware of the original assassination plot," she asked Jansius, "why couldn't your people have increased your personal security, to ensure your safety?"

"The first question we asked," interrupted Chakotay who then fell silent to allow Jansius to answer.

The Rogen was clearly upset as he struggled with the concept that anyone would want to kill him for trying to improve things for his people. "There is a select group on Rogen 2," he explained, "who have been experimenting with the mind and its powers. They have created the perfect 'assassination', whereby the assassins are nowhere near the victim. It's all done by the power of the mind."

The lieutenant's mouth dropped a little at the idea. "Amazing."

Jansius continued, "We have discovered that a group of eight specially trained people must come together to combine their thoughts, the same thought – 'seeing' their victim die. They then project that thought to the victim and it has the collective power to kill."

"How did you find out about their abilities?" B'Elanna asked, totally enveloped in the whole situation by now.

"Intelligence. We have operatives who got to know about it, not directly, but close enough to help us verify it later. So you can understand why these people needed to truly believe I was dead. Only then would they cease their communal attempt to kill me."

The engineer turned to Chakotay and the captain. "Why couldn't you have let us all in on it? Why did you put us through thinking you had died? You didn't think that was a little cruel?"

"You had to believe it," answered the commander. "If you hadn't, it would have been seen. Apparently, everything is monitored in the Rogen system – let's just say it'd make our 20th Century Big Brother look like a kid looking over another kid's shoulder at school, looking for the test answers!"

The captain took over. "Crisn warned us, in a secure place, that the would-be assassins would tap in on all our communications, everywhere. I'm sorry, B'Elanna, but it had to be believable. Tell me, would you have spoken to me as you did in the cell if you'd known I was faking?"

"No," replied B'Elanna quickly, almost ashamed of her answer. Janeway gave her a 'you see?' look. "Who else knew?" the engineer asked.

"No one," answered Chakotay. "Not Tuvok, not Seven, not Tom, Dick or Harry," he smiled.

"Just you two?"

"Yes, together with Crisn, and Jansuis here," the captain explained. "We are now being asked to lay low on Voyager while the trap is set to expose the Rogen 2 group. Crisn is certain that will occur tonight, and so we wait."

"Not until their entire group is captured and they are separated can I return," Jansius said sadly. "Crisn is confident this is a one-off group and that catching them should be an end to it. As they all have to be in the same room to effect their assassination attempt, they will be individually exiled to different sections of space to split them up. They will be surgically altered to blend in with their new home's inhabitants, and placed on pre-warp worlds. In this way we can hope to be troubled no further by their knowledge."

"But, Prime Leader," Chakotay warned, "each individual can teach many others. Could the day dawn when they will try to effect a result of such knowledge, even from such a distance?"

"By that time we'll be ready for them. Our top scientists are devising a defence against this kind of Projected Mental Power group; we call them PMP's. It will take the individual faction members time to train new people; by the time they are ready to try, they will find their powers quite ineffective."

The captain was quite caught up with the challenge facing the prime leader and people like him - political figures that were always in danger from the minorities. "You never considered doing something to the people concerned - changing them in some way so they could no longer do this?" she asked Jansius.

"There's nothing physical about PMP, captain. There's nothing we can 'tweak' within them to stop them being able to pool their thoughts and project them, short of a 'mind blank' to take all their thoughts, and therefore their political beliefs, away. We are not barbarians."

"Hmm," the captain replied. "We call it 'brainwashing', but it's the same thing. It reduces people to a blank state of mind where they then have to be retrained in the simplest of matters. It's considered barbaric on our world too."

"On Rogan 5, we are working on a device which may be fitted under the skull in the future, it would be activated when the individual tried to project a large amount of mental power, to scramble the output. But it's a long way off, captain. Our scientists have quite a job ahead of them."

All four people fell silent for a while and B'Elanna's brain used the lull as a chance to sift through all the information she had been given. Deep in thought, she suddenly frowned. "Hey," she said to the captain, "How did you know your 'assassination' would be exposed? After all, every shred of evidence was deleted from Voyager's computer."

"Not before we knew you'd downloaded it," Chakotay answered. "It had to look like we'd tried to destroy all records on Voyager, but we needed that evidence recorded independently. By you." He sat back to watch the reaction to his words. He knew B'Elanna well - it wouldn't take long.

"You used me!" she accused.

"To save a man's life, and possibly many other lives too - yes, we used you," the captain told her. "And I'd do it again, given the same circumstances."

The engineer felt a little bitten by the reply. She paused, thinking it through. "But how did you know I'd call the Bridge and realise you were gone? How did you set me up so I'd follow the chain of events?"


"Huh?" B'Elanna asked stupidly, staring at her captain.

"Remember? When I threw in the comment that, 'the best time would be to catch me on the Bridge in the morning?'"

"Yeah, now you come to mention it... that was sneaky."

"The power of auto suggestion," her captain laughed. "And it worked, didn't it?"

"Very well. But I still feel used."

"You'll get over it," smiled the commander. "If it's any consolation, you played your part efficiently and made the captain's prosecution possible."

"Did you have a contingency plan, in case I failed you?" the engineer asked them sarcastically.

"A copy was made at the time," Chakotay told her. "But we hadn't got around to working out how we were going to have it 'discovered', without it looking like a set up!"

The captain got up and moved towards the bedrolls that Crisn had thoughtfully provided. "Fortunately, we didn't have to worry," she told B'Elanna as she began to open the first roll out and then smiled as the engineer came to help her. The two men were talking at the table as Janeway asked, "Anyone see you come here?"

"No one. I'm sure of that. And anyway, I come here so often that nobody would think twice about it if they had seen me. I've never been disturbed here. I think they know in Engineering that I like to be left alone sometimes. Even if they had seen me, they'd respect my privacy."

The two women sat on a bedroll each and looked across at the men for a minute, who were locked in conversation about Rogen 5's political system. "I didn't realise anyone used this room as a temporary escape hatch," Janeway ribbed. "To be honest, apart from the occasional manual launch of a torpedo... which hurts!" she laughed, "I'd forgotten about this room being part of the ship. It might be a place to come to myself, later, when all this is over."

"If you ever find you want some company..."

The captain studied the smaller woman's face intently, wanting to speak freely to her and yet very aware of the close proximity of the others in the room. "I want to thank you for your visit yesterday," she said quietly. "Your words gave me a lot to think about."

"Was it expected?" pushed B'Elanna nervously.

"You need to be very sure about one thing - that you wouldn't have heard those words from me," the captain replied, looking at the men again, checking they were still locked in their conversation, which they were. "For a start, I hadn't realised the truth of what you said until after you'd spoken. After that, a lot of things seemed to make sense to me, a lot of the feelings I'd..." she stopped, feeling self-conscious with the men there. "Suffice it to say, Lieutenant, I shall be looking to explore the subject further when we get clear of this."

B'Elanna knew the captain was choosing her words carefully. She gave the woman a look that that said, 'I've crossed the line with you, haven't I? What's next, I wonder?' in reply to which she received an equally intense expression, although she couldn't read it. "Well, Captain," she shrugged, "It's time I left the three of you alone to get some sleep."

Janeway nodded her agreement. "Probably a good idea."

The engineer studied Janeway's face. "I believed it all," she said sadly. "I believed you were being executed - had been executed. You know I'm still in a mess about that, don't you?" The lieutenant's words touched her superior deeply as she continued in a whisper, "If you feel even half of what I feel, you must know I've been through hell."

Janeway shot a look over to the men but they were locked in their own conversation and not listening. "I'm so sorry but the whole plan hinged on believability." She checked the men again. "In the cell? When you visited? They had observation cameras set up in there. Crisn warned me about them - said the Rogen's would probably record any verbal exchanges too. I couldn't take the risk. I couldn't tell you, can you understand?"

"My mind does; I'm not sure about the rest of me!" The engineer stood, holding out a hand for the captain, to help her up too. "I hope we can expect business as usual tomorrow," she smiled, meaning that she hoped Voyager would be back to normal once they were allowed to leave.

The look in Janeway's eyes told her that not everything would be the same.

"Well, goodnight," she said shyly, giving her captain a slight hug in the current company. Interrupting the men, she spoke to them briefly, saying her goodbyes, and then left.

A pair of blue/grey eyes watched her go, their owner wondering how her life may be about to change due to this largely unexpected turn of events.

The group members looked at their leader, Yarhlan, as he cast his eyes around the circle. "What happened here today was a surprise to everyone," he told the gathering. "And while it has saved us the job of disposing of the prime leader, it leaves us with a situation that needs to be rectified as soon as possible. I refer to the Record that Jansius was carrying around with him, the Record that contained all the details of his work.

Chee'a was trying to concentrate on the group leader's words but her mind was elsewhere. She looked across the circle at Iak, the man to whom she would soon be joined. Unbeknown to their colleagues, Chee'a and Iak had decided that, after this mission, they would give up the uncertain life they now led in favour of a more suitable environment in which to raise their children. Iak looked her way and she gave him a cautious smile before looking back at Yarhlan.

"I don't have to tell you," Yarhlan continued, "how important it is that we obtain this Record. It will give us advance information as to political reform proposals; it may even name names. If we can locate the other people involved in Jansius' work; we can hope to 'silence' them in the same way we had planned to 'silence' Jansius."

"Except that, in Jansius' case, someone did it for us," commented the eldest member of the group, Joranen, a male in his last quarter. "Don't you find it more than a little odd that a female captain of an alien race, who has only been in our system for a matter of days, could have done this thing... and seemingly without a motive? Surely someone, other than me, has to find that a little suspect?" He looked around the room but was met with guarded reactions.

Yarhlan frowned at Joranen, wondering yet again what to make of this rebel faction's mixed fortunes; the death of the prime leader was perfect for them but not having his Record in their possession was not. "I must admit," he said thoughtfully, "it's given me a few incredulous moments but it doesn't feel like a set up. Anyone?" He looked around the table and, with the exception of Joranen, the others were all shaking their heads. "So I think we should accept the gift that fate has dealt us and concentrate our efforts on retrieving the Record."

Chee'a knew she was taking a chance but she'd felt the need to question and she had to ask, "Are we absolutely sure that the reforms in the Record would be that bad for our people? I mean, are we slandering them simply because they come from the 'opposition'?"

Yarhlan's eyes narrowed. Iak burned his gaze into Chee'a's eyes and she understood the command. She cleared her throat. "I'm sorry, Yarhlan," she said politely. "I sometimes think that people can become so caught up in fighting that they can forget what they're actually fighting for. This 'argument' has been going on for so long now, I didn't want to think we were just acting on a gut reaction." She looked back at Iak, who warned her further with his expression. "I'm sure that's not the case here," she conceded.

"Then, with your permission Chee'a," the leader said pointedly, "we shall continue with this meeting." Yarhlan looked around at all the other faces and continued, "We have spies on Rogen 5, as you know. One of them has learned that the Record is being held in an office in Section 65, subsection 4a of the Chagrel Building.

"Crayl, Doffen, you are to penetrate that section tonight and retrieve the Record, and we'll all meet back here to discuss the findings. Now, here's the plan..."

B'Elanna was not seen returning to her quarters. She let herself in and sat straight down on the couch, finally allowing her mind the chance to process the enormous changes of the past few days.

Only a short time ago she had been led to believe that her captain, with the help of Chakotay, had committed murder and that the two of them had been put to death for their crime. It was almost too much to bear. She'd allowed herself to show no more despair in public than any other member of the crew had demonstrated.

Then it seemed that her emotions were just coming around to accepting that Janeway was dead, when she discovered her alive and well, on the ship! Again, she had managed to screen her real emotions, even managing to make it back to the privacy of her quarters without breaking down. However, 'not breaking down' was not a state that would endure for many more seconds.

Kathryn Janeway... B'Elanna couldn't pinpoint a definite time when her heart had shouted, "This one! She's the one!" In fact it felt as though she'd known Janeway all her life, and loved her even longer.

Emotions in overdrive now, the engineer let go.

The footsteps could be clearly heard, coming up the corridor and then into the room. Crayl and Doffen entered, fresh from their mission of retrieving the Record of the deceased Jansius. Sweeping his eyes around at the other group members, Crayl held aloft the prize with the cry of, "I have it!" as his eyes settled on Yarhlan, awaiting praise from his leader. Doffen, took his seat amid noisy congratulations as Crayl and Yarhlan remained the only two standing. "A simple task," declared Crayl. "We encountered no troops, in fact no trouble of any kind."

"A little too convenient, don't you think?" Joranen commented, having made no secret of the fact that he suspected a set-up on behalf of the authorities.

"When will you stop questioning and have a little faith in our abilities?" chided Yarhlan, a little tired of hearing the constant caution from the elder. "Tonight has gone well, and that is testament to my operatives' skill."

Crayl smiled as he sat and looked at the leader expectantly, waiting for the contents of the Record to be revealed to all present. Yarhlan looked around the room. The faces of those present were turned towards him expectantly, and he was a happy man. He had no idea of what was about to happen.

Outside in the corridor, sixteen elite soldiers were tiptoeing quietly into position on the other side of the door, having followed Crayl and Doffen back to Rogen 2. Anxious faces looked around while the last of their number joined them and then the order, "NOW!" was given as the door was forced open and the troops entered.

In one moment the eight triumphant and joyful faces of the group members became eight faces filled with confusion and fear as the soldiers burst into the room and efficiently overpowered them. The rebels were quickly apprehended, their strength and training no match for the elite force.

Chee'a looked around the room in horror as two of the soldiers sped up to her and held her firmly. "Iak!" she screamed, stretching out a hand to her young lover in desperation, knowing that her attempts to reach him could not possibly succeed. "Iak," she cried again and she just had time to see his tortured eyes looking into hers before she watched them flicker and then close, a white pad held over his nose and mouth. His body slumped, unconscious, into his captors' arms.

She struggled, knowing it would have no effect against the strength of the guards, but it was all she could do to show them her mixture of fear and anger as a similar pad was introduced over her own nose and mouth. She held her breath, hopelessly, but the instinct to survive grew until she greedily gulped in a deep breath. Almost immediately, her head began to swim and her vision blurred. She didn't even remember closing her eyes.

It was now imperative that Crisn and his men move quickly to split these people up before they could cause any more mayhem. Alone, they could not project enough power to kill anyone. Together, however...

"Come on!" urged Crisn of his men as he watching the Peace Force, two on one, dragging their prisoners off down the many corridors, scattering them in all directions. They would be shipped out to different planned locations rapidly, on other worlds, from which they would never be able to find each other again. It was known that the group's combined mental powers did not extend to individual one-to-one telepathy, so the leaders of Rogen 5 felt confident that the group would have no form of contact with each other at all once this mission was completed.

Executing these people had not been an option, although it might have been the easiest way to ensure the security of the future. As it stood, their only crime had been stealing the Record; there was no proof of their assassination plans at all, so scattering them was the only option.

It was mid-way through the next morning when, waiting in his office, Crisn received word that the group had been dispersed successfully. Each one of them had been basically abandoned on a strange world, to live out the remainder of their lives away from all they had known.

It was now up to Crisn to complete the plan, to inform Jansius that he was safe and that he could now return home to continue his work. He reached for his transporter device.

Janeway was getting bored. She had tried to stay with the conversation between Chakotay and the prime leader of Rogen 5, but she really had no interest in it, thinking only of escaping this 'prison' and getting back to where she belonged, on the Bridge. She was anxious to tell her people that she was still alive and to explain the past few days to them. Ship's morale concerned her greatly and she knew it would take a while to win back the crew's confidence. 'Every moment spent in here,' she thought, 'is solidifying a 'truth' that is a lie.'

The captain began pacing and was half way through thinking, 'and then there's B'Elanna...' when Crisn abruptly materialised among them, smiling. "Crisn," greeted the captain warmly. "I trust you bring us good news?"

"I do indeed, Captain." Crisn addressed the group in general. "I'm happy to tell you that the offenders have been apprehended and separated. Everything went exactly to plan and it's now safe," he said, looking now at Jansius, "for the prime leader to return to us."

Jansius and Chakotay smiled at the news and began to discuss the situation but Janeway held up a hand. "Gentlemen, excuse me," she interrupted. "Crisn, are you absolutely sure there are no others who know what this group knew, who could maybe take over where the others have failed?"

"We've had our spies out for a long time now, Captain. I think we'd have known, had there been other groups," answered Crisn. Returning his glance to the prime leader he continued, "We are confident that we have them all. Each has been surgically altered, to resemble their new host world's inhabitants, and then carefully beamed down on pre-warp planets which, logically, they will never be able to leave." Crisn looked at Janeway. "It's time to tell our people that Jansius lives, and how you have helped us in keeping him alive."

Janeway's internal red alert twitched somewhere within her mind. From the first meeting, between herself and Chakotay about the original coded distress call from Rogen 5, she had battled with the idea that this 'mission' came pretty damned close to breaking the Prime Directive. It had only been the insistence of Crisn, telling her of the wide scale death and violence that would follow the prime leader's death if they did nothing, that had swayed her.

But here were those same misgivings again... nagging away at what should have been her joy and satisfaction at a job well done. She pushed them to the back of her mind as she frowned at Chakotay, considering the best way to break the news of their deception to her crew.

"Alright. Everyone ready to depart?" she asked the three men, receiving affirmative nods. "Right then. Janeway to computer, initiate site to site transport..."

Tom Paris hadn't understand why, when the captain and Chakotay had been executed the day before, Voyager had been required to remain in orbit above Rogen 5 for another day, until given permission to leave. He was about to find out.

Janeway thought that her command staff might handle the sight of two 'dead' officers suddenly materialising in front of them better than the rest of the crew. And so she had ordered the site to site transport taking her, and the other occupants of the room on Deck 4, directly to the Bridge.

"Captain!" shrieked Harry Kim, not daring to believe his eyes. The word 'captain' had Tom thinking something was amiss with Tuvok and he spun around to be met with the sight of his 'dead' superiors and their guests, his mouth flapping.

The chief engineer, who was on the Bridge at the time, just smiled her silent welcome and that left Tuvok's and the two temporary officers' reactions. Tuvok considered there would shortly be a logical explanation given and decided to suspend his questions until he'd heard it, although he did allow himself an expression that very slightly betrayed his pleasure at seeing his friend alive.

The expression was lost on Janeway, who was already heading for her command chair with her eyes locked onto B'Elanna's en route. Sitting, she activated the shipwide comm.

"All hands, this is the Captain," she began. "Yes, that's right, Captain Janeway. Reports of my death were greatly exaggerated," she quipped. "I am alive and well. It was necessary to fake the assassination of the prime leader on Rogen 5 to save him from a planned attempt on his life. Suffice it to say the prime leader is safe and will shortly be returning to his people. We shall then be free to leave this system; I estimate departure in about a half an hour.

"Finally, I apologise to you all for this deception. I assure you it was necessary for the success of this mission. Janeway out." Throughout the ship, an enormous hubbub of conversation went up immediately following the transmission, as crewmembers excitedly discussed the information they had just received.

On the Bridge, the two replacement crew found themselves detained a while longer as the captain and Chakotay moved into the Ready Room, together with their guests, to say their goodbyes.

"I cannot tell you how much your kindness has meant to me and my people, Captain," said Jansius warmly. "The supplies you listed have all, by now, been beamed to your Cargo Bay 1 and, needless to say, there is no charge for anything we have been able to supply you with. In fact, you may find a few more items among them, to show our gratitude."

"I'm glad we could offer our assistance," Janeway heard herself say, although the Prime Directive issue still kept nibbling away at her mind like fish nibbling on bread.

Crisn bowed smartly to Janeway and Chakotay in what was obviously a farewell salute. "Now we must take our leave. I wish you well and hope you have a safe and speedy journey back to your own home world." The captain inclined her head in response and watched as the two Rogens activated their transporter device and shimmered out of the Ready Room and back to their home.

"Well Commander," sighed the captain. "That's that. I don't know about you, but I'm more than ready to get out of here. Let's get this pigeon flying towards home again, shall we?" She held her hand out, indicating the direction of the door and the two officers returned to the Bridge, dismissing the relief crew and giving Tom Paris the order his ears had been waiting to hear. "Take us out of here, Tom. You know where we're going."

"Yes ma'am," he said gratefully.

About 20 minutes after leaving orbit and heading away from Rogen 5 at high warp, the captain of Voyager was sitting alone in her Ready Room, where she had gone to wrestle with her demons. The Prime Directive 'problem' still weighed heavily on her mind and she was heading through the facts for the second time when the door chime interrupted her and she frowned. "Come in," she called to the closed door.

Janeway's frown disappeared as she looked up and saw her chief engineer coming across the expanse of floor with her hand held out, a comm. badge lying on it, the original badges having been destroyed at the time of their so-called execution. "I thought you'd need this," she grinned. "Chakotay already has his."

"How thoughtful," said the captain, tilting her head up to look at the woman before her.

"What's wrong?"

"Wrong? What could possibly be wrong?" the captain replied, exaggerating the words just enough to allow her frustration to show. "We've just completed a very successful mission, everybody's happy and..."

"Except you."

Janeway levelled her gaze at the two dark eyes before her. "You read me well," she said dubiously, wondering whether to share her thoughts. She decided to open up. "I keep seeing the words 'Prime Directive' in my head and they won't go away."

"You believe we stepped over the line here?"

"That's just it, I don't know. It doesn't seem so, on the surface, but I can't shake the feeling that we should have refused the Rogens, in the first instance, and gone on our way."

"Then why didn't you?"

Looking up at B'Elanna, Janeway frowned. "We were asked to lend our assistance in such a way that it was implied we would be responsible for a major war and loss of life if we didn't help them."

"And that was true, wasn't it? Your action did save many lives, according to Jansius."

"I know, I know," sighed the Captain. "Chakotay said the same thing. But even so..."

"Gut feeling, huh?"

"I've tried to talk myself out of it, but..."

"Kim to Janeway," interrupted the comm. "Subspace message coming through for you, Captain. It's Crisn. Shall I patch it through to the Ready Room?"

"Please." Janeway tapped the console in front of her and invited B'Elanna to move round slightly, to view the screen also. Crisn's face burst into life in front of them. "What is it?" asked the captain, her foreboding of moments ago making her instantly alert to the possibility of trouble.

"Jansius is dead," Crisn said in a flat voice, acknowledging neither of the faces he saw. Reacting to a sound, he looked nervously around at the door before continuing. "Seems they had a back-up group after all. Jansius was assassinated by the new group projecting mental power, the same way the dispersed group had planned to do. I should have listened to you, Captain." The nervous man looked again towards the door and then back at the screen. "When word got out, it was as I'd feared; Rogen 5 retaliated by launching an attack on Rogen 2 and war has broken out." The man looked helplessly at her. "All our work, Captain..."

Janeway's eyes held her sadness. "I'm so sorry, Crisn. What will you do now?"

"I'd hoped you might help us. With Voyager's superior firepower, I thought you might..."

"I can do nothing; the Federation's laws prevent it," the captain told Crisn firmly. "In fact I've already done more for you than perhaps I should have. It gives me no pleasure to say it, but I'm afraid you're on your own now."

"I didn't expect more, but I had to ask." The noise outside the room from which Crisn was speaking increased and the worried man looked around yet again, tension clearly defined in his body. Quickly, he turned back to the screen. "It's not safe here any longer, Captain. I have to go. I hope you don't hold the plea of a desperate man against..." But the desperate man never finished his sentence.

Janeway and her engineer watched in astonishment as at least half a dozen men stormed into the room behind Crisn and dragged the frightened man to his feet. One of the men plunged a large knife into his prey and Crisn spluttered, ceasing in his struggling as he became limp. As the life faded from his body, one of his attackers reached across the table, towards the screen, and everything went blank. The link had been severed.

Part 3

"My God," murmured B'Elanna as she stared, with Janeway, at the blank screen before them. It was a while before either of them spoke after that, both women seemingly mesmerised by the small square, with the images of Crisn's murder still haunting the now blank screen.

Finally, Janeway sat back in her chair and looked up at B'Elanna with such a desolate look that the engineer felt the need to placate her – almost angrily she said, "You did all you could! Come on, none of that was your fault!"

But the captain was numb, almost. Her mind was with the caring Jansius, remembering conversations she had had with the man who held the hope of a new and better world of unity for his people. She was also thinking of gentle Crisn, who had done everything he could to protect and support his leader. But there was something else – as she looked up at B'Elanna, the captain realised that she'd let her command mask slip, allowing B'Elanna to see right into her soul. It made her feel exposed, uncomfortable, and she struggled to hide once again behind her position.

"Hey, it's me," soothed the lieutenant as she saw the transition taking place. "Hide it from the others, but not from me, OK? You don't have to." As she slid an arm around her captain's shoulder she added, "I'm the one who loves you, remember?"

"I don't have the luxury of giving in to feelings," replied Janeway coldly. "Lord knows, I probably wouldn't have survived this long if I'd allowed myself to focus on 'Kathryn' and not 'Captain'." Despite the engineer's best efforts, the mask crept back in place as the woman with all the decisions and their consequences on her shoulders stood and walked over to the stars, standing in front of the window. B'Elanna allowed a long silence, remaining where she was until she heard, "You know what's funny here?"

"No, what?" she asked quietly, keeping her distance.

"Jansius still died. The war still went ahead. For all our help, nothing really changed, did it?"

Alarak, a pre-warp planet, far from Rogen 5, was moving into its night as its two moons continued their ascent from the horizon, one chasing the other. Chee'a looked at them silently, grateful that her mind had at last ceased remembering the terrible circumstances that had brought her to this. Since her abrupt arrival here, she had gone over events endlessly: her capture; the surgery on her face and body, designed to help her to blend in; her exile to this world...

She had been transported to this deserted beach with no personal belongings and with only a little food, to get on with a new life here; dumped, unceremoniously, as a punishment for her part in the assassination attempt on the Prime Leader, Teglan Jansius of Rogen 5. It was a just sentence, she decided, but it was intolerable. How could she even consider living without Iak - without her love?

Following scans of the local area, conducted from the ship in orbit, Chee'a had been told of a small colony a short walk away from where she would be transported. She would be safe there, they'd told her, but she'd stayed on the beach long after the ship had departed. After pacing along the shore, going through the rough and abrupt events in her mind, she decided there was something she had to try before she even thought about what might be next. She sat down on the still-damp sand, facing the water, and closed her eyes.

It was said to be an impossibility, to try to contact other group members individually; they were assured their powers only worked as a group projection of intent. But Chee'a and Iak were very much in love and about to be joined, and she felt that the strength and the power of their love would unite them on this day of new beginnnings.

Almost immediately, after initiating the link, she heard her lover's voice in her head and she fought back the tears - to cry would have weakened the link with unstable emotion. It didn't take the two of them long to reach the only decision they felt they could make.

What the soldiers of Rogen 5 didn't know about this group was that they each had a small pill inserted just under the thin skin on the outside of the right ankle. Chee'a scratched that area hard now, drawing blood as she broke the skin and retrieved the small white object, which she held between her fingers, staring at it.

As she switched her blank gaze to the waves, she thought about her unborn children, her unborn grandchildren. What kind of difference might they have made in the future? She had no idea... but it was all gone now; the happiness she might have shared with her new joined partner and the family they'd hoped to have – all gone.

Bringing the pill up before her face, she held it out before her so that it eclipsed one of the two moons. It was strange but the fear had left her now and all she could see was the face of the man she loved as she brought the pill to her mouth, accepting it almost greedily. With the pill in position, she telepathically signalled her readiness to Iak and was rewarded with a flash of him, standing in daylight on another world, thinking of her and smiling. They both smiled, their two faces completely at peace, as they brought their teeth down hard on their pill and swallowed.

The shift had appeared much longer than usual and the captain's shoulders were visibly in trouble with the day as she looked at her first officer. "Commander?" she asked, in the manner of, 'walk with me?' as their replacements showed up. Chakotay smiled and stood, and they stepped into the turbolift together. "Deck 3," the captain told the computer. She appeared troubled.

"What's on your mind, Kathryn?"

"A few things, Chakotay. A few things." The turbolift doors closed and it began its short journey. "The Prime Directive, mainly." She paused, watching the doors. By this time the turbolift had reached its target of Deck 3 and the door began to open. "That last mission. I can't help feeling I 'lent assistance' beyond Starfleet's idea of right and wrong," she told him as the two senior officers disembarked and walked towards their quarters to freshen up before making their own preparations for food.

"The Prime Directive," mused the commander, aloud. "It'll drive you mad if you let it."

"Then, today, I guess I let it."

Chakotay looked sideways at Janeway. "You think you broke it?"

They reached the captain's quarters and she stopped at the door, turning to face him. "I think I might well have done."

"I see." The commander looked into her eyes and then up and down the empty corridor. "I must admit, it's worried the life out of me today, too. So, you think we did the wrong thing, back there? Back when it all started?"

"I wish to God I knew. I've been over it a thousand times." She showed no signs of wanting to enter her quarters as she rested a hand against the wall and leaned her body on it. "I thought earlier, when Crisn's message came through, that we'd probably changed nothing on Rogen 5 by our actions, just postponed it, because it all seemed to happen just as Crisn originally predicted, but then..."

"Yes?" he prompted as the silence stretched out.

"Sitting up there on the Bridge, I started to really think. And you know something? I screwed up, big time!" The commander was surprised as he watched his captain open her door and step through, turning back to look at him, although not inviting him in. He waited.

"How do you figure that?"

"All those people, the original group." She waited for him to get it. "We were told they'd been dispersed to other worlds, remember? Pre-warp civilisations where they could offer no further threat to Rogen 5? That's my fault, Chakotay. That's where I stuck my neck out and changed their world's natural course of events. They're there because I interfered."

"Who's to say it wouldn't have happened anyway. And we agreed between us, if you recall. It wasn't only your decision."

"But it rested with me. I'm the captain. I'm the one big on decision-making around here, remember?" He'd seen her in this mood before, a dark Taurean self-reproaching mood, and he knew there'd be no reasoning with her. He felt the best thing would be to terminate this conversation – let her take herself into her quarters and work it through alone.

"Are you going to let me in, so we can talk about this?" he asked, unfairly, as he knew what the answer would be.

"No, Chakotay. That's all right. I'll see you tomorrow, huh?" she replied as she retreated into the sanctity of her private space with a weak smile.

It had worked. He felt a little guilty as he headed for the shower in his quarters but then he knew he would have been as much use to her as an insect on a rice pudding. The captain didn't need help right now, she needed mental punishment. And she would see that she got it.

It had been three hours since Janeway had retired to her room for the night, but she couldn't settle, and it wasn't only the Prime Directive that robbed her of peace. The name of her other 'concern' was B'Elanna. She took a risk with her tired and overwrought emotions. "Janeway to Torres."

There was a slight delay and Janeway considered the lieutenant had taken off her comm. badge for the night. However, it wasn't late enough for bed, so she felt OK about the interruption.

"Go ahead, Captain."

"B'Elanna. Am I interrupting you?"

"Definitely! I was going over some work at the console, so I hold you personally responsible for..."

"Can I see you?"

The voice surprised the lieutenant. It was coarse, needy. It was most unlike the woman she thought she knew. "Of course; right away. Shall I come there?"

"Would you?"

"On my way."

"Thank you for coming," greeted the captain, silently appraising the casual sweater and jeans B'Elanna was wearing as she entered. They were unsure quite how to greet each other since their declaration of feelings. In truth, neither had had much opportunity to even think about getting closer since then, with all that had transpired. Nervously, the two women seemed to have the same thought, which they acted on together: that a small hug and a kiss on the cheek would suffice. "B'Elanna, I could use someone to talk to, if that's all right?"

"Sure, shoot," answered the engineer, refusing a drink and taking a seat. She crossed her legs, and waited, trying to look casual about being in the quarters of the woman that she loved, late at night.

The officers talked at length about the question of a violation of the Prime Directive but to Torres something was different about this conversation: for the first time she was privy to the captain's doubts here, doubts about her authority decision of some days ago. The lieutenant didn't know what she'd expected when she'd hoped to get to know her captain more intimately, but this open and courageous show of insecurity surprised her greatly. It was not quite what she'd expected of her strong-minded leader.

Across the gap between them on the couch, Janeway looked into the lieutenant's eyes and felt suddenly uneasy. Although it had made her feel entirely too vulnerable, she had allowed her command mask to fall completely for the first time, believing that if she were to have any kind of relationship with B'Elanna, it would have to start with being more open somewhere. Right now she wondered if she had made a mistake. Kathryn Janeway was very perceptive and she felt as though her revelation of doubts was causing her friend some discomfort.

She allowed a long silence before saying deliberately and with some difficulty, "Look. I don't think I can do this."

"Do what?"

"Open up to someone like this – show my weaknesses. I thought I could, but when you look at me like that..."

"Like what?" B'Elanna felt a little uneasy as she recalled her private so-recent judgement.

"Like you're doing right now. It unsettles me. I might be wrong but you look like you're thinking, 'Listen to her! And I thought she was stronger than this. I thought she had more inside her!'"

Caught, B'Elanna shuffled and showed in her face that the captain was right in her assessment. "Look, I won't deny it's a hell of a surprise to find out that the 'you' inside is very different to the front you put on in public. But, hey, I love you, Kathryn, and I want to know who you are... everything about you. I think we'll probably surprise each other a lot in the first few months until we get to know each other better. Tonight, it's been a peek under the veneer, a first step. OK, it surprised me but it doesn't change how I feel about you, it just helps me to know who it is I'm loving, is all. You understand?"

"I thought I'd go down in your estimation if you saw my weaknesses; I thought you'd be disappointed and run. In fact, I'm waiting for it now." The captain broke eye contact and stood, walking over to the window, looking out at her old friends, the stars.

"It takes courage to open up, no doubt about it. But you've proved you possess that kind of courage, Kathryn. And I'm still here. So what are you afraid of?"

The captain stood with her back to B'Elanna, every line of her body showing how uneasy she felt right now. Slowly she turned and studied the engineer's face for a moment. "You want the truth?"

"Beats the alternative."

"There's always been something inside of me... I've never been able to nail it. It's like a personality that tries to tell me that it's mine, but it isn't, really." The captain watched as the lieutenant got up off the couch and slowly walked towards her. "This 'personality' would have me believe I'm not really as good or as competent as people think I am. In the past, if I considered someone was getting a little too close, lieutenant, I'd take off. Either physically or mentally, I'd run."

"Is that what you're trying to do now?"

"Mentally, yes."

"I see. Permission to speak freely, Captain."

Janeway smiled. "Was there ever a time when you didn't?" she asked, grinning in spite of herself.

"I've never been a good person. I screw up, repeatedly. I think my whole life to date has been just one big argument. And why is that? Because I have to 'get them' before they 'get me'. Hell, I expect them to come get me! It's why I took off from the Academy, because I thought they were closing in on me, trying to throw me out, so I got out first." She reached out and touched Kathryn's cheek. "Do you understand what I'm trying to say, I wonder? I'm trying to tell you I have it to. Whatever this thing is inside of you, it's inside me too. I understand. And if I was judgmental earlier, then it was only the newness and the surprise of it. And you're no help – you gotta admit you hid this indecisive side pretty damned well."

B'Elanna slipped her left hand around the smiling captain's waist and pulled the taller woman's body up close to her own, using her right hand to reach up and stroke down the length of the auburn hair. Looking from the hair into the blue/grey eyes she spoke softly. "Look, whatever's inside that head of yours, I want it, OK? Surprise me, shock me, I can take it," she smiled. "Now, I'm going to do what I've wanted to do for a long time - I'm going to kiss you properly, for a change, and then we can talk some more about your misgivings. Deal?"

Kathryn drew in a breath and tried not to show her nervousness. "Deal," she agreed, looking from one eye to the other and down to the mouth that was moving closer towards her. She closed her eyes and, in the wonder of the kiss, she allowed everything else to leave her mind temporarily as she let herself go. Clutching B'Elanna to her, she surprised the engineer all over again.

Parting, B'Elanna pulled back and stared into the eyes she loved. "I guess I didn't expect that!" she smiled.

"Expect what?"

"You were so responsive, demonstrative."

The lop-sided grin crept up on the left side of Janeway's face. "You complaining?"

"Not yet," smiled the lieutenant, taking hold of Kathryn's face and kissing her again. When they both came up for air, B'Elanna said, "You know I said we'd talk next?" She was met with a cheeky grin. "Well, I was wondering if perhaps we could talk la..."

Janeway's pupils dilated rapidly as she felt a surge of energy travel though her body. "The hell with talking," she growled as she pulled B'Elanna to her once more, searching for the buttons to her shirt while she was kissing her, feeling hands roaming freely on her own body at the same time, creating sensations long forgotten.

"Chakotay to Janeway."

This was really not the best time to interrupt Kathryn Janeway. Her body was being taken the edge of control by the intimate attentions of her chief engineer and it took every ounce of reserve to pull herself around enough to be able to speak. B'Elanna sat up and looked at her with a mischievous grin as Janeway took a deep breath to steady herself. She reached for the comm. badge lying on a table beside the bed, hoping her voice wouldn't betray her. "What is it, Commander?"

"I've just come from Seven and I have proposition to put to you."

"I have a better one," whispered B'Elanna wickedly, leaning in to snuggle into the captain's neck as she spoke.

"About what?" Janeway couldn't have cared less. She reached her hand out and touched B'Elanna's bare shoulder tenderly.

"Since you told me of your misgivings about the Prime Directive, I've been thinking about it."

"Go on."

"I asked Seven if we could find the residual warp trails, this long after they had been made. She thinks she can enhance the system to pick up the degraded signatures. What do you think?"

"You mean go back?

"To find out where the original group were shipped out to and return them to their home. Yes."

"I don't know if that's... Chakotay, I'd let it go."

"At least hear me out."

B'Elanna knew the seriousness of the situation and she pulled away, knowing that their moment, for now, was lost. Looking at her partner with a genuine apology in her eyes, Janeway said, "Give me 10 minutes, Commander. Assemble the command staff in the Conference Room. I'll join you there. Janeway out."

Leaning back against the pillow, Kathryn rubbed a hand over her eyes and sighed, looking around at her lover. "Is it always going to be like this? Because if this ever happens again, I swear they can get someone else to run this damned ship and make the decisions around here!"

"C'mon, get ready," pushed her lover. "This is important. I'll have to wait to make your toes curl."

"Damn," cussed the captain of the Starship Voyager, as she slid off the bed, naked, to find her clothes.

"But is it ethical?" asked Janeway, looking around. "I mean, we've already teetered too close to the Prime Directive for my liking. What further damage could be done if we do this? And, please, let no one here forget that this group, once reunited with others with the same 'gift', have the ability to kill again." The captain drew breath as she looked around thoughtfully and then continued, "However, if we hadn't intervened in the first place, this first group would have been successful in killing the prime leader. The war would have broken out, yes, but the group would have remained on Rogen, having never been relocated in the first place. It is that, people, that disturbs me. We interfered. Do we do it again to set the matter straight?"

"It comes down to one question, ultimately," offered Tuvok. "Whether you feel you broke the Prime Directive with your first involvement with Rogen 5 or not."

"Seems to me that's a grey area," Chakotay told the room in general. But if we think we overstepped it, surely it's our duty to try to put it right?"

B'Elanna chipped in, "We need to project the kind of reaction we could cause by trying to clean this up."

"That's what worries me." Janeway looked around the room at those gathered. "If we find these people, we would have to return them to the Rogen system during an all-out war, repeating the exercise eight times in total. I don't know that we could get away with that without being drawn into their hostilities. My gut reaction here says 'leave it alone'."

"And if you do so," asked Seven, "can you live with the fact that you have caused eight people to live out their lives on alien worlds."

Janeway looked stung. Seven had hit upon the very thought that had been eating away at her since the news of the assassination and subsequent war had reached her ears. "I don't know, Seven. I don't know." She betrayed her anger at the situation to the room and looked around at the faces. "Damned if we do, and damned if we don't, huh?"

"Well, we need to decide pretty soon," cut in Tom Paris. "Every moment you leave it you're getting further away and those warp trails will soon be gone forever."

No one spoke. The captain looked at her lover with an expression that said, 'You see? You see where being in command gets you?'

B'Elanna showed the trace of a smile. "I say we leave well alone," she told Janeway. "The first time we went in, we were invited. This time... we stand to make things a whole lot worse." The captain showed, without words, that she wanted more of the hybrid's thoughts.

B'Elanna continued, "You can't just go riding off to each of these planets and pull these people out without expecting some kind of incident. Yeah, you can lock onto their specific lifesigns and beam them out of there, but what if we're seen? How's that going to look to a pre-warp, pre-transporter society? And then there's still the question of a safe return, for them and for us. It's pretty risky."

"And if you were an abandoned Rogen on a strange planet, Lieutenant," asked Seven with her usual disdain. "Would you consider a rescue too 'risky' then?"

The room fell silent as Seven's point moved their compassion.

"I don't see there's a right choice here, people," the captain told them sadly. "And I don't see how we're going to reach a decision. Looking at it one way, either choice is correct; from the other, they're both wrong. I feel very uneasy about this, either way."

"Just keep talking," reminded Tom, "and it seems to me the distance will make your decision for you."

"Perhaps that's what I'm hoping," Janeway said ruefully. "OK, let's find out what you all think. Chakotay?"

"We got involved through an act of compassion. We'd go back for the same reason."

Janeway interrupted, "Does that make it right? Maybe it does. But until we can answer that, I don't know that we should just push ahead." She studied the first officer's face for a moment, knowing there was more going on in his mind. "Commander?" she asked gently. "Could your need to retrieve these people have anything to do with the forced relocation of your own people, way back in history?" She had found the spot, she knew, by his look.

"Maybe. But does that make it less correct here? I don't think so."

Janeway frowned and moved on to the next person. "B'Elanna, your thoughts?"

The Engineer weighed her words. "If Crisn had discovered the whereabouts of the first group on his own, without our help, he would still have scattered them to prevent their assassination attempt. If Voyager hadn't happened along, their scattering would still have happened without our intervention. I say leave it alone."


"It is illogical, Captain, to let your compassion for these displaced persons allow you to break the Prime Directive for a second time. Assuming, of course, it was broken once."

"So you're saying don't go back," clarified Janeway.

"That is what I'm saying, Captain. Let's not forget that these people are not blameless. They are in their current position due to the planning of a criminal act, for which they were caught and punished."

"Tom?" sighed Janeway.

"No one on Rogen 5 knows that these people were shipped out?"

"Crisn and Jansius. And they're both dead," answered the captain. "And the soldiers who relocated the individuals are on the 'other side', so they're hardly likely to go looking for them, are they?"

"I guess I was thinking that the Rogens might scan for warp trails themselves," Tom clarified. "But you're right. It's unlikely that anyone who would want to help the rebels would make the connection; they wouldn't have a clue where to look. I don't know that's a strong enough reason to make us turn Voyager around though."

"Seven, your views?"

"I can only state the facts, Captain. I have made it possible for you to find the residual trails, but only if you return quickly. You can, in all probability, rescue up to five of the group, thereafter the trails will have disintegrated beyond tracking."

"So we can't get them all if we do go back?" Chakotay asked.

"Time is passing, Commander. The trails are disintegrating as we speak," replied Seven as Janeway watched her first officer's face fall. There seemed an overwhelming feeling in the room that Chakotay's suggestion of returning to retrieve the group members was a non-starter, but she needed to count up the votes. She asked each one for a simple 'yes' or 'no'.

"It seems to me," she said carefully, "that the two people who are urging us to return are the two people in this room this issue affects most. I wonder if they are seeing this situation clearly, or recalling their own past. With her staff frowning at her words, the captain looked at Seven. "Seven. Voyager – I – rescued you from a place you ultimately decided you were glad to leave, the Collective. And you, Commander," she switched her gaze. "We've already touched on the American Indians' early and subsequent treatment, meted out to them unfairly. Need I underline it?"

Chakotay looked down. He knew his captain's voice and he knew there'd be no return trip to Rogen 5. A smile broke out on his kind face as he looked up again and glanced around the room, resting on Janeway. He shrugged. "I had to ask."

"I understand," she told him before addressing the rest. "But it really wouldn't be wise to go back." She paused, thinking. "I can't say I agreed with this meeting, but I must say I find myself glad of it. Perhaps it will save me from my incessant personal questioning about the rights and wrongs in this case." She drew in a deep breath, rising from her seat and leaning forward to spread her hands out on the table before her.

"I shall be making a full report on this whole situation in my log, and I urge you all to do the same. Then it'll be up to Starfleet Command to make the final judgement, when we get back to Earth." Everyone in the room picked up the emphasis on the word 'when'. "And now, thank you for coming, but we need our rest. Dismissed."

B'Elanna watched as the room emptied before standing next to the captain's arm and leaning in to whisper in her ear, "I couldn't say the same about you... 'thank you for coming.' Not yet, anyway."

Janeway shot a look towards the door, checking that her staff had indeed left and then looked back into a pair of dancing chocolate eyes. "We should take that comm. badge away from Chakotay," she laughed. "He's proving to be far too much trouble with it. His timing...!"

B'Elanna's eyes and face had taken on a strange look, a look that the words 'seriously sexy' might well have covered. "You wanna come home with me? Right now?" she asked, her voice low.

The Captain play-acted her reply in a Southern drawl. "Why, Lieutenant, I hardly know you!"

"This should help." B'Elanna moved closer until her lips brushed over Kathryn's lightly. Twice, three times she repeated the gentle movement before drawing back to look into blue/grey eyes. "Remember me now?"

"It's coming back. You do seem familiar."

"Oh, I can be familiar," promised B'Elanna as she drew closer to the lips and broke the surface of them this time, hearing a low moan escape from the captain's throat. Soon she was exploring lazily, and being explored, as their lips and tongues worked a slow magic. Enthusiastically, they increased the level of their passion, a passion that could not ethically be answered in the Conference Room.

Janeway broke the lengthy kiss eventually and tilted her chin upwards, exhaling slowly through lips pursed in a silent whistle. "We need to relocate, don't you think? And when we get there, there's a little something I want to do to that uniform of yours. Like, remove it."

"You don't look good in my lipstick," whispered B'Elanna, uncharacteristically coy, reaching out a thumb to tidy the smudged lips of her lover. "It's too dark for you."

Kathryn caught hold of the retreating hand and kissed the fingers thoroughly. "I need to get you out of here, now, or I may do something in a public area most unbecoming of a captain. It's not the sort of example I'd intended setting for this crew. Let's go."

As they walked along the corridor to the turbolift, the engineer was silent, thoughtful.

"What?" asked Janeway.

"I was just thinking - what you said earlier? About how Jansius had died anyway and the war went ahead, so nothing had really changed? Well, apart from the group being shipped out to other worlds, something else did change, didn't it? I told you I love you because I thought you were going to die and I wanted you to know before you did. So something good came from all this."

They moved into the lift and gave the command to start it. Kathryn frowned at her love. "In the cell, you said you wanted to take your time to explore your feelings for me and mine for you. B'Elanna, tell me? Are we moving too fast here? Should we get to know each other more before...?"

The engineer pulled her commanding officer close for another kiss. "I can still taste you, Kathryn," she purred, remembering earlier when Chakotay interrupted them. "I can still hear your sounds, remember your movements in rhythm against me. I'd say I was getting to know an aspect of you pretty damned well earlier, wouldn't you? Unless YOU feel we're moving too fast?"

Neither officer seemed to realise that the lift doors had long since opened and they would be on display to anyone who happened by, although no one had. Janeway looked deeply into B'Elanna's eyes and shook her head silently in reply before the two women shared a kiss that told of the depth of their feelings for each other. Still undiscovered, they walked hand in hand to B'Elanna's quarters.

The Rogens were a long-lived people. The average life span, in a healthy specimen, was about 120 years, if you measured it in Earth years.

Frin Yarhlan was a clever and resourceful man, a man well educated in the area of the technology required to plan and create a warp-capable vessel. When he'd discovered how innocent and pliable his new hosts were, on the planet Ceros, he had set about 'educating' them. From that decision onwards it had been trial and error, with some guesswork. The resultant vessel had taken many moons to refine and test but now the ship was finally ready for an actual flight. At first light he would discover if he could go home.

Yarhlan looked around the room at the other seven members of the group, feeling very satisfied. Chalen, a young recruit, stood in the centre of them, holding a small box high in triumph before taking it to his leader who checked it, smiling. "That was very good," Yarhlan encouraged. "Very good indeed." Passing it around the circle, the members exchanged excited comments on the success of their most recent achievement. The small rodent-like creature within the box was quite dead.

"When do we try it on a Cerosian?" Chalen asked eagerly.

"Soon," smiled their leader. "Soon. And then we'll be ready..."

Part 4

Ceros was a sleepy pre-warp civilisation. Oh, they had space flight and they had successfully reached their world's three moons but, although some Cerosians claimed that they might one day travel further into space, it hadn't seemed a possibility, until recently.

Anonymously, plans had arrived at the Cerosian Space Centre, giving a hint of a vessel faster than anything they had so far dreamed of. Where the information had come from they didn't know; their best efforts had failed to expose the source. But experts had agreed it was certainly worthy of study and they had scratched their heads and given the plans their undivided attention.

At last, some while later, they were beginning to make progress.

Chalen was an enthusiastic male Cerosian. Throughout his young life, he'd kept his mind searching for a new and exciting future; something more rewarding, hopefully, than he'd already known. Today, he felt he was a step closer to achieving his goal.

The anticipation emanating from the other seven members of the group was tangible as Chalen got up from his seat and walked into the centre of the circle. Squatting down, he picked up a small box and briefly checked the contents before holding it aloft with a victorious cry. He looked around at the other faces in triumph.

Their leader, a man without a past, who had simply come out of nowhere one day, beamed a look of pride towards Chalen as he beckoned the young recruit to him, taking the offering.

Yarhlan looked inside the box at the small rodent-like creature within. It was quite dead. He glanced around at all the expectant faces, so eager for the next stage. "That was very good," he encouraged. "Very good indeed."

"When do we try it on a Cerosian?" Chalen asked eagerly.

"Soon," smiled their leader. "Soon. And then we'll be ready..."

Crisn knew he didn't have much time. With any luck he could get a message through to Voyager before the troops closed in, and ask Janeway for assistance. At least, he hoped he could. Sitting at a console, he initiated a subspace link to the ship.

"Come on, come on," he urged the technology as it took its time. There were sounds from the corridor outside and he looked around, surprised that the invading force had penetrated this far so soon. He thought about barricading the door against any possible breach but his idea was interrupted by a reply from Voyager. Soon he was staring at the face of Kathryn Janeway. There was no time for pleasantries.

Crisn's face told Janeway of the urgency of his transmission. "What is it?" she asked.

Crisn watched another female move into frame beside the captain. "Jansius is dead," he told them in a voice devoid of emotion. Another sound, louder than before, distracted Crisn and he looked round nervously, his body flinching - the enemy was getting closer. Turning back, he told the women, "Seems they had a back-up group after all." He paused, an ear clearly trained on the door before continuing, "Jansius was assassinated by the new group, projecting mental power in the same way as the dispersed group had planned to do. I should have listened to you, Captain."

Although trying to concentrate on speaking, Crisn again flicked his eyes towards the door, clearly nervous, before looking back at the screen. "When word got out, it was as I'd feared - war has broken out. Rogen 5 retaliated by launching an attack on Rogen 2." Crisn paused again, betraying his helplessness in his face. "All our work, Captain..."

"I'm so sorry, Crisn. What will you do now?"

"I'd hoped you might help us. With Voyager's superior firepower, I thought you might..."

"I can do nothing; the Federation's laws prevent it. In fact I've already done more for you than perhaps I should have. It gives me no pleasure to say it, but I'm afraid you're on your own now."

'Damn,' he thought. "I didn't expect more," he replied politely, "but I had to ask." The noise outside the room increased greatly and he glanced at the door to reassure himself that he was still alone in the room before continuing, "It's not safe here any longer, Captain. I have to go. I hope you don't hold the plea of a desperate man against..."

Crisn had no time to finish his sentence. Troops burst into the room and he felt himself being dragged to his feet, his body powerless to resist against the strength of the opposing forces. His mind became confused, remembering his youth, when a wild creature had bitten his leg during a walk in the countryside: he had walked too close to its lair and the lair had been blocked, leaving the creature nowhere to run to, so it had turned and attacked.

Crisn's brain, in the present moment, felt that same stinging pain, just as his leg had once felt, but this time the pain was located in his body. He winced, realising he was having difficulty in breathing. His mind saw the frightened animal of the past retreating, as his body in the present surrendered to the fatal damage that the enemy knife had inflicted.

Crisn's last thought was of his partner – Talina; he could see her in his mind, with her beautiful long hair flowing in the breeze. She was smiling at him and holding out her hand, beckoning to him. 'Talina,' he cried within as he reached out to her, but her image faded to be replaced by blackness. He could still feel the muted sting of his ripped skin but now his ears no longer worked. All was silent. Dark and silent...

"This one's dead," called out Kersalin (a soldier from the Rogen 2 force), roughly retrieving his knife from the victim. Jorn, another of their number, disconnected the link to Voyager as Crisn's body slid to the floor.

"So much for him asking Janeway for help," spat Jorn, remembering the alien captain's face from the screened coverage of the supposed 'execution'. "She refused him. I heard her." Jorn then plunged his own knife into Crisn's unresponsive body. "Just to be sure," he said.

"Out here!" called out another soldier excitedly from the corridor. "We've found the troops." Quickly the room emptied as the soldiers raced outside and joined their numbers in killing as many of the Rogen 5 Peace Force as they could. Crisn's forces fought back bravely but they were greatly outnumbered.

In that attack, only four of the twelve-strong elite Peace Force escaped. During the next small eternity, the soldiers of Rogen 2 spilled out onto the streets, killing the private citizens of Rogen 5, together with some of the forces attempting to protect them, but it soon became apparent that Rogen 5 was slowly gaining the upper hand.

Eventually Rogen 5 restored a shaky peace to the Rogen system and, with every new day, it looked like it might hold - the new Prime Leader of Rogen 5, Karuq Lassen, hoped it would. In fact, he began taking steps to ensure that Rogen 5 would never again be threatened by the extraordinary mental powers of the assassins.

Voyager had been clear of the Rogen system for almost two weeks and, from the couch in her Ready Room, Janeway realised she had gone almost two days without recalling those recent events. She finished her coffee and went back onto the Bridge and took her seat, about to acknowledge Chakotay when a huge jolt threw her aside.

"All stop!" She dusted off her uniform after a brief brush with the floor and looked around at the Bridge officers, frowning. "Everyone OK?"

It seemed that, bar the odd cut and bruise, the command crew had come through the sudden and enormous jarring of the ship intact. "Engineering, report," barked Janeway, as Voyager seemed content to remain still for a while.

"Best guess is that we hit a quantum filament, Captain. Seven and I are both scanning. We'll be able to confirm soon. Torres out."

"Computer, damage report," asked Chakotay of the ship.

<Hull breach on Deck 5...> intoned the computer, going on to detail the other areas of damage, although nothing as serious as the first.

"Doctor? Is everything alright down there?" asked Janeway worriedly.

"Sickbay is intact, Captain, but I believe the nearby crew quarters sustained damage."

The captain finally felt reassured enough to take her seat and she glanced across at her first officer. It took the two of them a few minutes to discover that casualties had been surprisingly light and that no one had been killed.

"I don't need that happening every day," Janeway grinned cautiously. "I have a feeling we'll have a few lengthy repairs to make."

As if in reply to Janeway's words, B'Elanna came through on the comm. from Engineering. "Captain, it was a filament; miniscule, but big enough to do quite a bit of damage to the starboard nacelle. Are you sitting down?"

"Go on, Lieutenant."

"It's practically wiped the nacelle out. I recommend a meeting. I'll find out all the information I can and bring it with me. But I gotta tell you, at this stage it isn't so much a repair job as a rebuild."

There was a brief silence from the captain as she took in the information. "How long do you need before you have something to bring to us, Lieutenant?"

"An hour ought to do it."

"Then I'll see you in one hour in the Conference Room. We'll organise the other repair teams from here. Janeway out." She looked around at Tuvok and Kim. "Let's have constant scans of the area; I don't want any surprises while we're playing at being sitting ducks."

"If we were in the Alpha Quadrant, this would be easy," the captain told her assembled command staff. "We could just hop into a garage and get a new big end fitted," she said, smiling at Tom. "That's what you call it, isn't it?"

"Yes ma'am."

"Big end?" questioned Seven.

"Cars," explained Janeway. "Automobiles. Never mind." She continued, "But as it is we're going to have to work shifts around the clock to painstakingly rebuild the nacelle, bit by bit. We have the schematics, we have the knowledge between us, and we have the replicators. It'll have to do. I don't want to stay here a minute longer than we have to. Let's hope we're not in anyone's space, and that we'll be left alone for the duration."

The officers went on to discuss the organisation of shifts. They also discussed the possible cannibalisation of other non-essential parts on Voyager, which could be modified for use in the rebuilding of the nacelle. "By tomorrow's meeting," said Janeway, "I want some idea of how long this is going to take. And I want no heroics; I urge you all to get your proper rest and not to overrun your shift. A tired crew makes mistakes and that's no good to me, or to Voyager."

A few other items of business were discussed before they all heard the familiar word, "Dismissed."

Despite the captain's warning, there had been little sleep among those crewmembers actively involved in the estimation of time and materials needed for the rebuilding and repair of the starboard nacelle.

Janeway looked around at the many tired faces and gave a trace of a smile. These were good people, giving their very best for the ship and each other, she thought. She wouldn't reprimand them; they would pull Voyager through this. Even so, the Conference Room had a vague feeling of depression hanging over it this morning.


B'Elanna chose to answer. "I've talked to crewmembers about the extent of the damage and the time it might take to rebuild components. The programming of the replicators alone (perhaps for one single item) could take weeks, especially for the trickier components, and I have to say there's going to be a little guesswork, a little trial and error occasionally, to fill in the holes in our knowledge. No one, outside of the correct facility, has ever had to do anything like this before."

"You have the schematics and the undamaged nacelle to work from. Don't they automatically ensure the success of this?" asked Harry.

"Yeah," replied the engineer. "We know what and where, but the guesswork surrounds the making of some of the new components."

Janeway didn't want to hear about guessing, but she recognised the truth of B'Elanna's words. "How long?" she asked dubiously.

"Its not like this is standard procedure; it's hard to give you an estimate but I doubt it can be done in under three months, and that's with crews working around the clock."

The captain exhaled sharply and rolled her eyes as worried faces looked around at each other. "OK, people. There's two ways to look at this... it can either be a problem or a challenge, and I'd rather see it as a challenge. Let's just keep our eyes open and our weapons ready." Looking around, Janeway saw the dubious expressions, realising that each person saw this as a serious threat to them continuing their journey at all.

"You're all capable people," she told them, "and we can do this. It's a blow, I know, but at least we haven't lost Voyager. Home will have to wait a little while longer."

Ceros was buzzing with interest along the immediate area surrounding the Space Centre. Today, the converted space ship would be tested. The Centre still had absolutely no idea where the technology had come from that had suddenly appeared in their computers one day, but they had taken it and worked with it and now the moment had come to test it. The launch was being covered on Home Monitors, to ensure that those citizens who could not be in attendance could also share this triumphant moment in Ceros's history.

Checks were completed and the signal was given to launch the ship. Amid a deafening cheer, the large ship lifted slowly off the ground, vertically rising into the air. The spectators watched as the landing gear retracted and the slim ship then banked gracefully to the left in a wide arc, taking it high into the sky. Soon it was lost to sight as it cleared the atmosphere of Ceros and entered the cold, dark space above.

The crowd began dispersing slowly, celebrating the success of the launch. Suddenly an arm was raised, a hand pointing upwards towards the sky and the nearby Cerosians raised their heads to disaster. The ship appeared to have exploded, the light of the explosion showing up clearly, even in the daylight and at such great height.

From his Home Monitor, Yarhlan watched the broadcast, shouting, "No!" as the ship disintegrated. "Fools. Didn't you follow my plans, my instructions? I couldn't have made them simpler." He watched in annoyance, knowing his plans were not going to move forward as quickly as he'd hoped.

Needing to find out what had gone wrong, he contacted Tekla, from the Space Station. He had befriended the small Cerosian male a while ago - Tekla having no idea that Yarhlan was their warp-schematics donator. Yarhlan had arranged a forced meeting, 'innocently bumping into' Tekla, away from the Centre one day. He had then displayed just enough knowledge on space flight to have the Cerosian chatting happily with him and it hadn't been difficult after that to befriend him.

Tekla answered his call immediately. "What happened?" asked Yarhlan.

"We're still trying to find that out. It doesn't make sense here; no one understands it."

Sitting in readiness by his computer, Yarhlan suggested, "Bring up the schematics and study them. Chances are the Centre wrongly interpreted some piece of information you were sent. It's a start, anyway."

"We've been checking our equipment here, but your idea is plausible. We may have misinterpreted the original material. I'll do it." Tekla terminated their link and Yarhlan smiled, tapping into the computer in Tekla's room and the information it now displayed.

It didn't take long. To Yarhlan it was a glaring error and he wondered how the Cerosians could have been stupid enough to have made it. Quickly, he highlighted part of a schematic, underlining the section where the mistake had been made. 'It should be easy enough for a child to follow now', he thought as he made arrangements to send the information to his 'friend' by hand... anonymously, of course.

He knew from Tekla that there were other ships available to work on, as the Cerosians ran a number of ships to and from their local satellites. It shouldn't take long to convert another one with the modifications he had supplied. He fervently hoped they would do it properly this time.

He was eager to get home.

After the war between Rogen 5 and Rogen 2 had ended in his favour, the Prime Leader of Rogen 5, Karuq Lassen, had called the surviving members of the original Peace Force to him. He knew that these four men were the only people left who knew the relocation sites of the exiled prisoners.

Lassen was especially interested in two of the exiles, Iak and Yarhlan, having recently discovered that both of them possessed warp knowledge. Lassen did not intend to be threatened in any way by these rebels and he worked carefully with technical wizards to ensure his future protection. If either Iak or Yarhlan ever tried to set foot near Rogen 5 again, he wanted to know about it.

The Watching Station, as his policing device had been named, had been in operation for only two cycles, but it gave him reassurance. It was continually manned by trained teams, keeping a watch over the two areas of space where Iak's and Yarhlan's new worlds were located. If a warp signature appeared in the area surrounding either world, it would set off alarms. Should that happen, Lassen would be ready for them.

Yarhlan was hopeful. His experiments were about to move forward with the killing of a Cerosian, using nothing more than the collective power of eight minds. Finding a person to donate to this experiment had not been too difficult - there was a drinking house near the group's room, and young males were known to become extremely off balance after imbibing some of the local brew.

With a quick look around, to establish they were not being watched, two group members walked out of the shadows of evening and linked arms with a youth, whose difficulty with walking had shown him to be under the influence.

Later, as the unfortunate Cerosian fell to his knees, clutching his head in the midst of the circle members, Yarhlan's mind cried out, 'This is for you, you interfering bitch.' With Janeway's face firmly in his mind he watched his prey die after which he praised his group heavily. The shining faces he saw, as he looked around, told him they were more than ready for the next stage. All he needed now was the transport.

Kathryn Janeway shuddered. "Someone's just walked over my grave."

"What?" questioned B'Elanna.

It was evening and the captain was sitting on the couch in her quarters, B'Elanna sitting with her legs across her. Kathryn put her book down and looked sideways at her. "I just felt cold, all over, for no reason."

B'Elanna smiled. Discarding the PADD she has been working on, the Engineer deftly swung her legs around and ended up kneeling on them, beside her lover on the couch. She scooped Kathryn up in a hug that was part protective and part suggestive. "You know? I have a cure for 'cold'."


"Uh huh. Care to find out what it is?"

Kathryn smiled, her uneasiness leaving her rapidly. "I might like to."

"Oh, I think you'd enjoy it, besides there's something new I'd like to try."

Kathryn pulled back, looking up slightly at the kneeling B'Elanna. "In that case I'm glad I pulled you out of Engineering. I thought you were planning to run every shift until the nacelles are repaired."

At the reminder that the ship was dead in the water and that repairs were being carried out around the clock, the engineer frowned.

"Hey, Carey and his team are on it. You can go back tomorrow, but tonight is ours."

B'Elanna relaxed her frown and then gave her lover a serious look. "Has it gone?" she asked.

"Has what gone?"

"That feeling you had." B'Elanna straightened her legs out and slid back down to sit properly. Kathryn went with the movement and pushed B'Elanna over sideways, and the two settled down to lying on the couch.

"What feeling?" Kathryn growled as she took hold of B'Elanna's face and kissed her. It was never long between the two of them before they became a little wild in their approach to lovemaking. Kathryn loved the half-Klingon's energy and a few minutes later she was sitting atop the engineer, looking down into the small and pretty face which was flushed with their activity. "Now," reminded Kathryn, "What was it you wanted to try out with me?"

B'Elanna's eyes lit up and she pushed Kathryn off her, getting up and turning back to offer a hand before leading her lover off to the bedroom.

On a beach, looking out at the two moons of Alarak, a young woman stood, shivering slightly in the night breeze, buying her hands deep into her pockets. Since the discovery of the alien woman, found on this very beach, she had come here often, to ask questions of the stars.

Not too many parts of Alarak were habitable, due to the planet's extremes; the equator proved too hot and the poles too cold to support life. Yayla hailed from the Krethan Homesteads, a large collection of dwellings in the South Section of Coryt, not far from where she now stood.

Among her other duties in the morgue, Yayla carried out autopsies, piecing together the truth of how people died. But nothing she'd seen before in her young life had prepared her for... Back in the past once more, she stood remembering.

The young woman was brought in, apparently unharmed except for a patch of dried blood on her ankle. There was also blood on the fingers of her right hand and a trace of it on her lower lip, so, whatever story might later unfold during the autopsy, those three areas were undoubtedly linked.

The visual part completed, Yayla then moved on to the internal organs. It was then that her eyes had widened in shock and she had raised the alarm, calling in both the hospital officials and the Coryt Policing Force. The CPF immediately issued a Secrecy Order, instructing Yayla, her assistant, and the hospital officials, to tell no one of their strange and disconcerting discovery.

The dead woman was undeniably alien; although she looked like one of them, she certainly was not. And no amount of birth defects could account for what they had found inside her. She was not from Alarak.

Yayla, obviously shaken by the experience, went on to complete her autopsy in the best way she could, being completely baffled by the strange anatomy. She suspected something had been introduced into the mouth of the dead woman, and she traced the path down into the next section of what she considered a digestive tract. Here she found the remains of a husk; the shell of some kind of tablet. It was only a small leap from there to suggest that the woman had died of some kind of poison. The blood on the ankle, fingers and mouth suggested to Yayla that the poison might have been self-administered, especially as the ankle had shown signs of the body continually trying to reject a foreign object that had been implanted there.

Yayla shivered again as she recalled that night. On the whole, her people refused to consider that there might be life on other worlds; it was dismissed as fanciful nonsense by anyone who heard such suggestions. However, seven people on Alarak now knew, beyond a doubt, that there WAS life on other worlds, or at least one other world.

"Where are you?" Yayla asked aloud, looking at the points of light in the dark sky. "I always knew you were there. I'm so sorry that she died." As always, the conversation was one-sided. There was no reply.

It had been two months since the quantum filament had destroyed the starboard nacelle of the Starship Voyager. Those aboard had settled easily into a pattern of shift work, split into two main types – 1, to cannibalise available material for remoulding, or replicate new components and 2, to slowly rebuild the nacelle, with the crew working outside in their pressure suits.

Regular checks were being made in the surrounding space but, thankfully, they had been left alone. It had been decided that a distress call would be ineffective, as the Voyager crew knew more about rebuilding this nacelle than outsiders would. They had also dismissed the idea of a distress call to cover materials and were doing well with converting what they had. They could restock elsewhere, at a later date.

The crew had become inventive. Parts of the Cargo Bay containers were being remoulded; Mess Hall seating metals had proved useful, although happily there were still enough remaining for the crew to be able to sit for meals. In fact, all was going very much according to schedule.

As the days settled into a new routine for the crew, the captain started to relax. Nothing, regarding the repairs, was proving too difficult for them or too much trouble, although there were many challenges. The feeling of extreme vulnerability about being adrift in space, however, could not be expected to leave her.

The chime, which seemed suddenly loud in the captain's quarters, made Kathryn jump. B'Elanna was right on time. Impressive. "Hello," she greeted as the smaller woman entered. "What would you like to do... go out or stay here?"

The chief engineer wrapped her arms around her captain and grinned. "If you can trust me with it," she twinkled wickedly, "I've arranged something for us on Holodeck 2 for tonight."

"And I don't suppose it'll help to ask you what it is?"

"Not at all. Have to trust me."

Throughout the kiss that followed, Kathryn's mind was questioning the surprise, like a little kid given a present to hold and prod, without being allowed to open it. "Very well," she said when the kiss was over. "At least tell me how to dress."

"I can do that. Come as you are. I've programmed the computer to provide all you'll need when you get there."

During their meal, Kathryn tried a few more times to find out what the surprise was as B'Elanna grinned at her, thinking, 'Who'd have thought that this excited person was the same woman who ran a starship?'

"Computer, run programme BLT-42A."

<Programme running>

They entered Holodeck 2 and immediately Kathryn's face lit up.

"It's not complete yet, not until..." B'Elanna requested the previously programmed clothing and took Kathryn's to her, draping the dress over her partner's outstretched arms.

Kathryn looked down at the low cut, sleek ball gown with accompanying long white gloves, and then up to the décor – a beautiful ballroom with chandeliers, with dancers elegantly swishing around the dance floor. It was beautiful; perfect. "Darling, thank you," she managed as B'Elanna collected her clothes and they both started to change.

Harry Kim had tried. All evening, in Holodeck 1, he had been hopeful of things progressing between himself and a pretty young ensign called Charelle, but the young woman had just refused him a second date. In his frustration he asked, "Why?"

"You're too cute, Harry... like a brother. It would feel wrong to kiss you. I'm sorry."

Ouch. It was time to break up the evening. Charelle left first and Harry stayed behind to lick his emotional wounds before finally shrugging and making his way through the arch and back into Voyager's corridor. Passing the second holodeck suite, a movement drew his eyes and he looked in to see his captain in a beautiful satin dress, and the chief engineer in an American Naval officer's period uniform, complete with sword. They had obviously opened the door to exit their programme but had lingered to share a passionate kiss.

Harry let out a sound of surprise, causing the women to break off and look at him. "I'm sorry," he mumbled as he took off at speed down the corridor.

"Well, we're out of the bag now," said Janeway, thoughtfully, watching him go.

Yarhlan, together with three of his group members, tiptoed silently along the corridor. Their passage into the Space Centre had been easier than expected, with security clearly lax. It seems no one expected a break-in.

"This way," whispered Doka, a young female Cerosian. Her skills were exceptional when it came to gaining entry into locked areas, Yarhlan knew, as he had caught her in his residence one night, attempting to steal from him. He knew then that her moral code would be just perfect for his plan.

They followed Doka and waited while she opened the door for them, looking around cautiously. "Anyone thinking this looks too easy?" queried Chalen. "It's almost as if they were letting us get in here." Chalen sounded worried, and his words disturbed Yarhlan, whose mind went straight back to the elder, Joranen, in his first group, who had spoken much the same warning. He recalled how, shortly after Joranen's words, the guards had broken in and arrested everyone, changing their lives. He chose silence, hoping that history would not repeat itself.

Now that the warp trials had been successfully completed, they were about to steal a ship but first, Yarhlan and his operatives needed to release the ship from its moorings. This, he had learned from Tekla, could only be done from the main computer. But the computer room was not empty.

"Yarhlan?" asked Tekla with a confused look on his face at seeing his new friend at this location. "What are you doing here?" Tekla rose from his seat and started towards the intruders and Yarhlan watched approvingly as Doka took out her weapon and fired. Tekla slumped to the ground, dead, a look of puzzlement frozen on his face.

The three looked around at each and nodded and then Yarhlan went to work. Minutes later, they were in the air and were heading for the Rogen system. At the very last moment, they had been seen by a handful of other Space Centre workers, but that didn't matter now.

They jumped to warp.

Karuq Lassen, the Prime Leader of Rogen 5, didn't usually expect calls at this time of night and had been gently dozing in his chair. But the fact that the hail was from The Watching Station gained his complete and rapid attention. "Go ahead," he said.

"Long range sensors have detected a warp trail in Spacial Grid 9327, Prime."

"Yarhlan," breathed Lassen, instantly knowing who it was who was coming to kill him. "Is the ship close enough to detect life signs yet? Do we know how many of them there are?"

"No, Prime. But they'll be in range soon. I will inform you."

"Very well."

As the room returned to silence, Lassen started shaking. The events surrounding the assassination of his predecessor had weighed heavily on his mind for a long time. He didn't want to earn a place in the history books for the same reason. Yarhlan had to be stopped – would be stopped - but, for now, he was out of their range.

"Ensign," greeted the captain as Harry Kim entered the Ready Room and came over to her desk. She regarded him. That same look; slightly annoyed, slightly evasive. "While I'm grateful that the entire ship isn't buzzing with the news of my relationship, nearly three weeks after being discovered, Ensign, I am less pleased with your attitude towards me lately."

Kim looked at her sulkily, stubbornly refusing to explain himself. It wasn't that he didn't want to speak, more that he was embarrassed.


"I apologise, Captain," he answered, staring at the wall behind her and avoiding eye contact.

"Is that it? You're sorry?" He still refused to look at her and she softened her approach, realising this must be awkward for him. "What is it, Harry? Please."

Finally he looked at her. "Permission to speak freely, Captain?"

Janeway nodded.

"Look, don't take this the wrong way but... well, I look on you as... as a... mother figure," he blurted out, needing to see her reaction before continuing. She was wearing the hint of a smile and he relaxed a little. Then his brain engaged the next piece of proposed dialogue and he blushed, staying silent.

"I might as well hear all of it, Ensign."

Harry shuffled, darkening further. "Look, this is hard for me, OK?" Janeway waited. All in a rush, the embarrassed young man let out a sentence where all the words melted into one, "It's-difficult-enough-thinking-of-your-mother-having-sex,-let-alone-thinking-of-her-having-it-with-another-woman!"

He looked so comical that the captain burst out laughing and it was infectious enough to take Harry right along with it. Soon Janeway was wiping tears from her eyes. "Thank you, Harry," she laughed. "You've made a dull day at the office seem so much brighter."

When the young man had composed himself he looked sincerely at his commanding officer. "I'm happy for you, really. Both of you. It's just taken some getting used to."

"You told no one?"

"No one, Captain. Are you planning to?"

"Another week and we're expecting to be under way. I think we'll tell them then." She continued to regard him. "Not many people would have kept this to themselves. I thank you for that. And, Harry? I've missed you. Are we OK now?"

His smile made his words redundant, but he said them anyway. "Yes, ma'am. We're OK."

"The ship's coming around," said Doka, her voice clear and sure, showing no sign of fear at all. "Wait," she added, "there are more of them... we're surrounded Sir."

Yarhlan slammed his fist on the console before him and cursed heavily before turning around to face four freshly-transported Rogen 5 guards, heavily armed with their weapons aimed right at them. Before his brain could say, 'but there's only four of them and eight of us,' more troops appeared and it was obvious that the fight would not even begin. One exiled Rogen and seven Cerosians surrendered.

The prisoners were divided between the four ships; two on each, with enough guards watching them to ensure they would cause no harm. Behind their various force fields, the prisoners could do nothing but wait. Their captors knew, from arresting and interrogating the second group some time ago, that there was a limit to the group's mental projections - they were certain these people could not harm the Prime Leader from this distance away. For the moment, Lassen was safe.

The four ships eventually arrived at a small planet in the Trasollian System, far away from Rogen 5. The planet, Orius, was uninhabited and, back when The Watching Station had been set up, equipment had been brought out to Orius and stored in readiness for this anticipated day.

A jamming device had now been attached to the head of each group member. The devices had been designed to confuse their brainwaves temporarily although, given enough time, they would be able to adjust and override it. But they would not be given the time.

The group members were pushed into a large room, with eight couches set up on the floor space, and restrained securely. Staff, who had been sent out from Rogen 5 when the alert had sounded, now advanced towards the prisoners, who watched them with fearful eyes.

One by one the prisoners were given a hypospray to render them unconscious and then, methodically, the medical team worked to insert chips deep inside their brains.

"And you're sure we're safe from them now... I am safe from them now?" asked Lassen anxiously.

"Prime Leader," Officer Teo answered, "the chips have been inserted into their brains. If any of them sets foot within a sizeable radius of the Rogen System, the chip will detonate, killing the operative without harm to nearby people or property." To a still-wary face, the officer reassured, "It has been tested extensively, Prime. This works, you have my word."

"What?" prompted the leader in the silence that followed, sensing something from his trusted officer.

"I still say we should kill them, Prime. It's the only way to ensure they won't cause havoc elsewhere."

"You know our policy on that, Teo," said Lassen sternly. "They have, as yet, committed no crime that warrants our death sentence."

"So we wait for them to kill you before we can neutralise them?"

"I'm afraid, Teo, the decision is not mine. Had it been, they would be dead already."

The setting was Indiana, on a grassy bank near Kathryn's home. She and B'Elanna often came here to talk, to play, or to make love. Today it had begun with the former and looked like ending up with the latter.

"We'll tell them right after the meeting, tomorrow morning. Are we agreed?" Kathryn pushed playfully into her partner, knocking her gently onto the springy grass and ending up astride her. "Agreed?" she asked again, tickling.

"You know I'm nervous," laughed her partner. "It's facing them, once they know."

Kathryn stopped trying to tickle her favourite engineer and looked seriously at her for a moment. "You embarrassed by 'us'?"

Seeing a flicker of hurt, B'Elanna retorted, "No. I'm proud. It's just that... well, you know our crewmates' Tom especially. It'll take a while before the dust settles."

"And you, a proud Klingon warrior?" Kathryn gibed with a smile on her face. "Don't worry. I won't tell them you're a coward."

"Who's a coward?" pouted the warrior in protest.

"So, tomorrow. Yes?"

B'Elanna hesitated for a split second before laughing, "Yes, damn it. Alright, yes." She rolled Kathryn over and sat astride her instead, pinning the woman's hands gently above her head and leaning down over her face.

The whole change-of-position thing had happened very quickly and Kathryn's excitement was heightened by the obvious energy passing between them, instinctively bringing her mouth up to B'Elanna and biting her cheek, hard. It wasn't a conscious decision but she knew, as she looked into a pair of shocked and happy eyes, that it had been the right one.

"Well, that does it," B'Elanna told her in a stern voice. "You'll HAVE to marry me now!"

Officer Teo had lined the prisoners up in his office and was explaining to them about the completed surgical procedure that they had just been forced to undergo. To the seven Cerosians and their leader, Yarhlan, he continued, "You must be very clear on this; if you attempt to move anywhere near the Rogen System, either together or separately, the chips that have been implanted in your brains will detonate. You will be killed. Do you all understand that?"

This meant very little to the Cerosians, who's only connection with Rogen 2 was that it was the home of their leader. Yarhlan, however, looked crestfallen.

"Any attempt to remove them," continued Teo, "will result in death. The chips have been buried deeply and they are resting too near to vital areas of the brain to be safely removed." Satisfied that the three women and five men understood what had been done to them he continued, "Rogen 5 wants nothing more to do with you, Yarhlan - you or your friends. Certain persons would have preferred to see you dead, but I have been ordered to release you. You will therefore be allowed to return to your ship and be on your way."

Officer Teo looked along the line of prisoners and tried to control the sneer he felt trying to form on his face. 'Scum,' he thought, as he walked away and left his assistant to 'escort' the group members to their ship.

Yarhlan was smiling: he had managed to steal a device, with which he could physically alter the appearance of himself and his crew. With this new acquisition and some earlier information, he was fast forming a plan. The morning that Voyager had been allowed to leave Rogen 5, Yarhlan had overhead someone speaking of the direction the ship had taken. As he entered his ship he thought that if Voyager's chosen warp speed hadn't been set too high, he might be able to catch up enough to send a long-range message. He intended to change the appearance of both himself and the crew along the way, and then fabricate some tale to gain the captain's sympathy and get aboard Voyager.

With the chip embedded in his brain he couldn't go home now, but he could surely catch up with and kill the woman who had ruined his original plans. The Rogens had not managed to tamper with his mental ability, only to stop him using it where they didn't want him to.

"Soon, bitch," he promised. "Soon you'll die." Yarhlan took the helm and headed out of the Trasollian System. He was a well-travelled person; he knew where he was going, without star maps.

"We're being hailed, Captain," informed Harry Kim.

"On screen." Janeway hadn't seen Yarhlan before. Had she done so, she would have seen through his attempt at facial disguise and ordered a red alert. "I'm Captain Kathryn Janeway of the Starship Voyager," she told the stranger pleasantly but efficiently. "How may we be of assistance?"

"Asylum, Captain. We're requesting asylum."

Janeway frowned and stood, looking back at Chakotay who shrugged. She raised her eyebrows at him and then faced the screen again. "And you are?"

"My name is Corlen," said Yarhlan. I and my seven other crewmembers are freedom fighters. I'm afraid our brand of talk doesn't go down too well..."

As the man on the viewscreen continued talking, alarm bells began to ring in Commander Chakotay's head. 'Corlen? Seven other crewmembers, making eight in total? Corlen... Corlen... Yarhlan!'

With the subtlest of movements, Chakotay ordered the link broken and the captain found herself talking to a blank screen. Her confusion lasted only a moment.

"Captain, I remember Crisn, from the Rogen System, mentioning the leader of the assassination group. Yarhlan, his name was. Could this be Yarhlan from Rogen 2? Corlen/Yarhlan, and seven others? The original group had eight members. It's just a gut feeling, but I advise extreme caution."

Janeway's eyes betrayed her concern. "I felt something was wrong about this too. All right, supposing this is Yarhlan, with a new group. What are they doing here?"

"Perhaps, Captain, they have already returned to Rogen 5, to wreak havoc, and are now coming to settle an old score with us. We were, after all, the ones who ruined Yarhlan's original plans."

The Captain frowned. "Let's proceed on the assumption that this is Yarhlan. Caution everyone." She nodded to Kim to re-establish the link. The screen immediately showed 'Corlen', together with a small amount of fake static to look as though Voyager had had problems. "I'm sorry, Corlen," Janeway explained, "we're having difficulties here; I think this link should hold. Now, will you please tell me why you are requesting asylum? From whom or what are you running?"

The captain was interested to see what this man would say. If it was Yarhlan, he seemed unaware of her knowledge of him. The man fabricated quite a story, which let itself down many times, underlining that he had something to hide and soon Janeway was sure of his true identity. "Yarhlan," she said, interrupting his lies, "do you really think we're that gullible? I know who you are. It was only a matter of time before one of the original eight exiles made it back to Rogen 5. I'm surprised you did it this quickly though."

Cornered, Yarhlan looked at Janeway and sighed. "Then I'd better give you the truth, Captain, hadn't I?"

Janeway remembered something Crisn had once said about the range of these assassins and she relaxed somewhat, realising the group was well outside of it.

"As you know my history, Captain, it would be foolish to lie to you now," began Yarhlan. He then went on to tell her everything that had happened since his exile from Rogen 5. He told her everything except his hatred of her, for interfering in the original group's work in the first place. He would tell her that only when he was ready to kill her, and not before.

"And so you see our difficulty, Captain," he continued. "The Rogen system has banned our return, by way of these chips in our brains, and we cannot return to Ceros as we were seen by a number of people, stealing the ship."

"But you could go back to Ceros to live... if you are prepared to face whatever punishment they may give you?"

"Not an option, Captain. I'm not spending my days rotting away in a detention facility. Not when I can be free out here."

"I see. Isn't it about time you clarified what it is you want from us?" the captain asked coldly.

"Our ship is not equipped for deep space flight and we want to make a new start, far away from both Rogen and Ceros. We wouldn't make it in this ship. It's too limited. I'm simply asking you for a lift."

Janeway looked at Chakotay, who had joined her, standing in front of the viewscreen. Her look betrayed nothing of what she might be thinking before replying to Yarhlan, "You'll have my answer by 07:00 hours tomorrow. Until then, please maintain your distance or we shall be forced to fire upon you. Is that understood?"

It was.

The meeting had been going on for two hours and still no concrete decisions had been reached. The command staff had talked at length about beaming the group members directly into a contained dampening field, set up in the transporter room, within which their collective mental abilities would not function. Next the doctor proposed introducing a mild amount of toxic gas, just enough to render them unconscious.

"Doctor, are you absolutely certain it will work?"

"I'm certain, Captain," the EMH promised. "When I have them unconscious, I can then beam them to Sickbay and direct the Kratolitic Pulse to the section of the brain that becomes active during the projection of high mental activity."

"But they're aliens, Doc," cut in Tom, "from two different planets. How will you know how their different brains work?"

The EMH gave Mr Paris a withering look. "The area of the brain in question, in any species I have thus far encountered, usually emits a certain reading, which varies from the rest of the brain activity. All I need to do is locate this energy and, hey presto." He looked around, pleased with himself. "Once the pulse has been introduced, it will effectively part-damage the area, making it impossible for these people to reach the elevated levels of mental output they had before."

"But they'll retain all of their normal mental faculties?" asked Janeway, concerned.

"Yes, Captain."

"Well, that sounds safe," commented Tom.

"Once it's done," said B'Elanna, in a pleased voice, "we could leave them on the next habitable planet, without fear of them using their skills on their unsuspecting hosts." It was a sound idea, but B'Elanna knew Kathryn would find it hard to act on it so she prompted, "Unless you feel the Prime Directive prevents it?" She had voiced what every other member of the Conference Room knew would be the sticking point.

"You've got it," answered Janeway. "It would be interfering again, wouldn't it? And again we'd qualify it by saying it's for the good of peace. I don't like this decision any more than I liked the last one. The only thing we can make sure of is that we drop them in a warp society. They can't pollute that."

Chakotay saw a chink in the captain's armour. "Then we go ahead with the plan?" he asked carefully.

"As I see it, we really have no alternative. To put them off at the next planet, with their current mental ability to kill, would be unthinkable. And it would be unethical to just leave them out here, now that we're sure we can neutralise them as a threat to others."

Everyone nodded and the captain continued, "The only thing to consider now is how to keep them at a safe distance and yet beam them aboard. If we hold them at arm's length, they're outside of our transporter's range."

Everyone thought about that. "I recommend sending out a buoy, Captain," suggested Tuvok. "We could position it half way between the two ships and pick-a-back a signal off it. The other ship would not have to move closer."

"Tuvok, you're a genius." Janeway took a final look around the room. "Anyone objecting to this?" With no answers she said, "Then let's do it."

Everything had gone according to Voyager's plans. When the eight group members awoke from their surgical procedures, they were told what had been done to them. Furious, they immediately demanded to be released from Voyager and returned to their ship.

Yarhlan knew he could still pose a threat to Rogen 5, albeit a different kind of threat now, if he could just get home. He knew of only one place where they might find help in removing the chips – a planet called Alarak. His people had repeatedly monitored the planet as they'd passed by it on their various trade routes. It was his best bet. He knew, from the data gathered on the inhabitants so far, that they were very well versed in micro-technology.

"We'll have to be careful," Yarhlan told his crew as he set about creating ridges on their cheeks. "They're a pre-warp society. I'm not even sure they have space flight - they never threw any readings into space worth investigating so Rogen always left them alone. It's imperative that we land the ship where it won't be seen."

Alarak was coming into view. There were no artificial satellites, or bits of 'space junk', littering the darkness surrounding the small world, so it was a good bet that they didn't yet have space flight.

Using the onboard sensors, Yarhlan detected extreme heat at the equator and extreme cold at the poles. Many other areas of Alarak seemed uninhabited which, while it might have been fine for the safe landing of the ship, would not serve them when it came to finding food, shelter and the help they desired. The decision was taken to land on a stretch of beach some way from a small collection of dwellings.

"It'll be quite a walk to find the locals," said Yarhlan, "but we have food to last, and the ship will be safe from prying eyes. Plus it'a their mid-afternoon here, which means we can walk most of the time in daylight."

The landing was perfect as the slim ship touching down with some elegance near the deserted shore. They had come down to rest beside a small forest of trees, which would make the ship less conspicuous from the air than it would have been on the shore. That is, if anything actually flew here at all.

They collected up their meagre belongings, plus some food and water, and set off towards Alarak's version of civilisation.

"There. Over there. I see lights," called out Chalen with his usual exuberance. Agreeing with him, the other seven members of the group began to cut across country, in the half-light, heading for a place they would soon know as the Krethan Homesteads, in the South Section of Coryt.

They had been walking for a while, the lights of civilisation appearing no nearer, when Doka suddenly yelped in pain. "I've been bitten. Something's bitten me," she whimpered as she dropped to the ground, suddenly very unsteady. "I feel..." she began, but she never finished her sentence.

"Doka!" called out Chalen. "Doka!" He slapped her cheek, hoping to see her eyes open again.

Yarhlan used what was left of the daylight to study the unconscious woman's body and, sure enough, he found some blood on her leggings, in her mid-calf. "Here's something," he told the others. He ripped Doka's leggings and it became clear there were two large puncture wounds in her flesh.

"If we were on Ceros," offered Chalen, "I'd swear those were the bite of an seponen, but here? Who knows what we're facing on this alien world."

Yarhlan stood up slowly, his head down. "Well, it acts fast, whatever it is. She's dead."

It was a while before they hid the body and continued towards the Krethan Homesteads.

Yayla unwrapped the leg. It had been someone's crude but effective way of hiding the truth but now, looking at the revealed puncture wounds displayed there, the truth was all too obvious. The blood was the wrong colour.

"Green?" marvelled her male assistant, Saish.

"Let's not jump to conclusions yet. Such local discoloration may have many causes." Neither one of them looked convinced but there was one way to be sure. She picked up her knife and cut into the body elsewhere.

Confirming their fears, Yayla looked up at Saish and requested quietly, "Seal the doors and alert the CPF. We have another one."

The young assistant's eyes widened as he struggled to believe what his brain was telling him. He looked down into the incision Yayla had just made, an incision which was sporting green blood. It was undeniable. "Right away," he replied.

The Coryt Policing Force, having received the agreed upon code, were very quick to arrive at the scene and were soon talking with Yayla and the hospital officials, in the sealed room, about the second alien to have appeared in their midst. "You're sure?" questioned the Police Chief, of Yayla.

"Absolutely. And they're not the same. This one has different organs."

"Dear Loxshol," the Chief said, calling upon his deity. "So what are you saying here – these beings were from two different worlds?"

"Yes," she confirmed. "The first body might have been a fluke of nature – Alarak's nature, but... two? Two bodies; their anatomy different from each other as well as from ours, it has to mean there's life on other worlds, don't you see?"

A hospital official voiced the fear of everyone in the room. "The question is, how many others are here – on Alarak – and what do they want with us?"

It had been a while since the second alien body had been discovered, and Yayla had taken herself to the beach once more, in the darkness, to stare out at the stars in her usual ritual. She called softly to them, "Where are you?" and then suddenly she heard a sound.

"Here," answered the man. "I'm here."

Visibly startled and embarrassed, Yayla had turned around to see an older but handsome man, whose eyes were smiling at her.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to frighten you," he said. "It's just that I've been watching you for a while now. You come when the moons are chasing each other across the sky and you talk to the stars. What is it that you want?"

Yayla considered, in a split second, that if this man had planned to attack her he'd have done it before now, if he'd been watching her, as so she relaxed, deciding to trust him. She wanted to answer his question directly but she was sworn to secrecy about the alien bodies and, as far as the other inhabitants of Alarak knew, there was no life on other worlds. "I guess I want to know if there's anyone else out there?" she answered, sweeping her hand up to the sky.

"You think there is?" asked the man.

"You'll probably think I'm mad, but yes, I think there might be."

The two of them had talked for so long that the first strands of light were pushing into the dark sky when they finally parted. They arranged to meet again the next evening and Yayla felt a spring in her step as she walked home. 'Such a fascinating man,' she thought. 'And I didn't even think to ask his name.'

"There's something I want to tell you," said the man, looking into Yayla's eyes in the moons' light. He saw the love shining back at him.

"Yarhlan, my love, everything you say fascinates me. Go ahead."

There was no shred of decency in Yarhlan; he didn't even feel ashamed about watching this young girl fall in love with him – he was actively encouraging it, although he felt nothing for her in return. "I think we've known each other long enough now for me to be able to trust you," he said.

"Trust me? With what?"

Slowly, to an amazed face, he told Yayla about his home planet, together with a fabricated lie that incorporated the chip in his brain. She learned nothing about his mental ability or his friends. She learned nothing about his exile from the Rogen System. She learned nothing about how blinkered he was when it came to getting something he wanted. "And so I need your help," he concluded. "My enemies placed this chip in my brain to punish me, to keep me from going home, from seeing the ones I love. If you could find me someone to remove it, I could go back," he told her truthfully.

It had been a lot to take in and Yayla was silent, still turning it all over in her head. She looked at Yarhlan and brushed her palm down his face, lovingly. "You let me stand here night after night, talking about aliens, when all the while you..."

He just smiled in return, hoping it hid his impatience. "So, do you know anyone... someone with the necessary skills to help me?"

"Oh, darling... so much at once." But his look was persistent and she was forced to focus her mind. "I might know someone. Let me make a few enquiries and we'll meet back here tomorrow night."

Laeren Jal was emphatic. "No, no, no," he cried, startling Yayla with the force of his words. I will not do this thing. You cannot ask me."

"But why, Jal? Surely you can see..."

"I can see a group of aliens that I do not trust. Twice I have spoken with this man of yours and it's very clear, my dear, that your love has blinded you to him - it won't let you see."

"See what? What can't I see?"

"That he's lying. I'm very sorry Yayla but the man is clearly using you to get what he wants. But what does he want? That's what I'd like to know."

Yayla narrowed her eyes at her friend. "What do you mean?" she asked him, still believing in her lover.

"My dear, I have a feeling... there's got to be a very good reason why those chips were implanted in..."

"There is," she interrupted. "His enemies put them there. Yarhlan said that they..."

"Yes, yes, I know what he said. But I don't believe it, not one word of it. If you ask me, that chip is some kind of security device and, if I go removing it, who knows what it might enable him to do? And why does he want me to only operate on him, when there are seven of them? That doesn't make sense either. I tell you, I won't do it."

At that point, there was a noise over by the door of the barn in which Jal and Yarla stood. Slowly, two figures entered the barn, one leading the other in at knifepoint. "Oh, I think you'll do it," snarled Yarhlan spitefully, holding Jal's adult daughter, Owari, securely, the knife making a dent in the flesh at her neck.

Yayla was confused and started forward towards her lover. "Yarhlan?"

"Stay back. He's right; your part is done, girl. Now stay away from me!" Yayla looked into the terrified eyes of the captive and backed off, afraid. Yarhlan watched her retreat and then looked across at Jal and jabbed the knife lightly into Owari, causing her to scream out as a thin trickle of blood appeared.

"For pity's sake, man. Let her go!"

"Will you do it? Will you operate on me? Oh, and by the way, your daughter will be held until the procedure has been successfully completed. I die, she dies. Say no and she dies anyway."

Jal looked into Owari's eyes as he said, "You leave me no choice. Be at the homestead tomorrow, at first light. I will be ready." The unhappy man watched as his daughter was dragged back through the barn door and vanished. "I'll be ready, all right," he added under his breath.

Jal's daughter was brought in, gagged and with her hands bound, pushed along by Chalen. Yarhlan followed, passing them as he walked up to Jal, threatening, "If I don't make it through the surgery, she dies. Remember?"

Jal nodded and then led the aliens up the stairs in front of them. Jal's life-partner, who had let the strangers in, watched helplessly as her daughter was half-dragged up behind the two men. All she could do now was wait.

Jal didn't remove the original device, the one that prevented a return to Rogen without certain death. He left that undisturbed. What he did do was place a capsule inside Yarhlan's brain, a capsule with a thick shell. Slowly, the brain fluids would begin to erode the shell and release the poison held within, but it would be slow. The man would die, but not right now. It was fortunate that Chalen was squeamish and had not watched as his friend's skull had been opened.

"Where is it?" demanded Yarhlan when he awoke from the operation. "I want to see it."

"The device was large. I created a small entry wound to reach it but dragging it back through your brain matter would have killed you, certainly. I disintegrated it where it lay. There's nothing left to show you."

"You'd better be telling me the truth," threatened a man who had no way of being sure of Jal's words. He moved his head around, testing it for pain; there was none. He nodded at Chalen and ordered, "Let her go."

"But leader, shouldn't you stay and rest a while longer?"

It was lucky that neither alien had been looking at Jal's face at that moment. They would have seen fear in his eyes, as he had no idea now long the coating on the capsule would remain intact.

"No, I want to be off. There's a lot to do. I'll be fine."

Outside, Yayla approached the two men as they were walking away. "Take me with you," she begged of Yarhlan, but the cold-hearted leader didn't even favour her with a look. He brushed past her and left her there.

Chalen and Yarhlan finally approached the ship and the other five remaining members of the group moved towards them, excitedly. They had been tipped off by Chalen, the night before, about his operation and their impending departure. They'd unquestioningly accepted their leader's explanation that, as they had no wish to go on to Rogen, operating on them would have been pointless.

But Yarhlan was growing impatient; these people now stood in the way of his plans. "Step away from the ship, all of you," he snarled. "I'm not taking you with me this time; I'm going alone." The Cerosians argued, reminding him that he'd agreed to put them off at the Trasollian System on the way through to Rogen, but it was to no avail. He pushed them back, drawing his weapon. "Get away," he warned as he moved towards the door of the ship. Then a sound distracted him as the door began to open and soon the area was filled with members of the CPF, all heavily armed.

"Fools. You think you can stop me?" challenged Yarhlan, brandishing his weapon.

Three of the Cerosians saw the hopelessness of their situation and surrendered, walking nervously towards the CPF. Behind them, the other three Cerosians tried, in panic, to board the ship but Yarhlan opened fire on them, killing all three. Instantly, the CPF responded by trying to bring down the main protagonist and, in the crossfire, two more of the Cerosians were killed before Yarhlan finally boarded, closing the door. A deafening noise from the ship told the forces to back off.

The only surviving Cerosian, Taq Kale, stood and watched helplessly as the ship rose high into the air, hovered and then banked right, moving away at great speed. "No!" he cried, the hand on his shoulder almost comforting as the ship jumped to warp.

Yarhlan was singing. He was heading back towards his beloved Rogen 2 to see his friends and his family and nothing was going to stop him. In a while, he would be crossing the boundary, a boundary that would have been impossible to cross without the removal of the chip. Yes, he was happy.

And he died that way, the capsule finally releasing its poison into his system. Seconds before the boundary was breached, his brain exploded.

Yayla stood on the beach in the night air, looking out into the darkness, trying to find the star. "Near those?" she asked. "The four that look like a straight line in the sky?"

"Just this side of them; that smaller star. There," Kale pointed, "that's the Rogen System; Yarhlan showed us."

"I see it. And where's your home, Kale?"

"I don't know," replied the Cerosian sadly, hurt ripping through his emotions as he remembered his promise to the CPF to remain silent as to his origins and live out the remainder of his life as an Alarkan. The authorities had decided that neither killing him, nor incarcerating him would sit well with their humanitarian policies and so the deal of trust had been struck. Kale shook himself out of it and continued telling Yayla, "Ceros plotted the stars, of course, like you do, but we never got to see how the star clusters looked from other ways around. We were never able to go far enough from Ceros to see that."

"You think they will, now? With Yarhlan leaving them the schematics for... what did you call it... warp travel?"

Kale nodded. "I hope so," he answered sincerely. "I'd want them to see what I've seen. But I wish I could warn them of the evils they could face ahead, people like Yarhlan and his kind."

"With every good there's usually a little bad to overcome," answered Yayla, shivering slightly in the chilled air. "Your people will soon learn who they can trust and who they cannot."

Kale took his jacket off and draped it around her shoulders and she leaned into him a little, the two friends looking out at an infinity of white dots in the sky, each one a sun, each one possibly surrounded by planets.

So much life. So much joy. So much heartache.

Kale hoped, as he looked out, that the people on those other worlds knew how to truly appreciate what they'd got. He had learned, from listening to Yarhlan, that war made little sense. With all his sadness, he hoped they were happy.

"Life," he said softly into the silence.

The End

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