DISCLAIMER: See Part I
There is none so blind
Kathryn heard someone approaching from behind. She picked up the scent of old leather and instantly knew who it was. She debated the wisdom of allowing the woman to come closer but her headless run from the ship had burned off most of her unchecked sexual energy. She still wore her MoQ'bara outfit, and so was not surprised when Amelia Earheart commented on it.
"So, Eastern fighting techniques have not been forgotten. In my time they only were practised by a select few in the West."
"Martial arts are an integral part of Starfleet training. We have found that every new culture, every planet has at least one version of this kind of hand-to-hand combat. My clothing indicates that I was engaged in the Klingon version when I decided to go for a walk."
The other woman didn't comment on the fact that she had seen Kathryn's flight from her ship and followed her to find out what was wrong. Out of uniform the auburn haired woman seemed to be so much younger, younger and more feminine, more beautiful. Over the last couple of days the two women had formed a fast friendship, easily bridging the more than four hundred years that separated them. They had spent hours talking about everything and nothing, and had surprisingly quickly learned to pick up on the other woman's mood.
Amelia had always followed her instincts; so, instead of speaking she bent forward and kissed Kathryn and for a short heartbeat the kiss was returned but then the other woman scrambled backwards.
"Please, don't!" Kathryn whispered. "I can't."
The pilot recognised denial when she saw it but she was a bit disappointed that the highly advanced Federation had not done away with the archaic prejudices against same-gender relationships that were the norm in her own time and she said as much.
That at least brought genuine laughter from Janeway, "No, Amelia, that's not the problem. There are a few planets in the Federation that have no discernible gender differences and others where heterosexual pairings are frowned upon."
"So, it's not just a woman you want, it's a specific woman. Is it the young one with the ears of an elf or the dark-haired one with the deformed forehead?"
"It's not deformed. She is just half-Klingon." Kathryn winced at the sudden defensiveness in her voice.
"Ah, yes, the dark-haired one. She must be really stupid to reject someone as bright and beautiful as you are."
This time she did not rise to the bait, but only with visible effort. She explained, "B'Elanna Torres is my chief of Engineering. She is a lieutenant under my command."
"So, a Starfleet Captain is not entitled to feel happiness and love?" Amelia's voice was full of startled incredulity.
"I have to stand above those weaknesses to give my crew the strength to grow together and make it home."
"There's nothing stronger than love, Kathryn. And in my time, when ships were still bound to the water, there was a saying: 'As goes the captain, so goes the ship'. Think about it and return to your ship before you catch a cold in your sweaty clothes."
"It's a warm night; I'm not in any danger, Amelia; and my clothes are made of a material that keeps me dry and comfortable on the inside, regardless of how it may look on the outside. If you don't mind I'd rather talk to you. I'd like to hear more about your life, your adventures."
"You are an extremely stubborn woman, Kathryn, but before you once again start with your childhood hero speech, I'll indulge you for a while."
A couple of hours later, the pilot suddenly changed topic. "Now it's your turn, my friend. Tell me about this chief of Engineering of yours."
"I don't think that's such a good idea, Amelia."
"I think it's a great idea. You and your crew will leave tomorrow. That makes me just about the only person on this planet with whom you can actually let your guard down without compromising the chain of command. Your secret will be safe with me and it might help you to gain some perspective."
Kathryn's instincts told her that the other woman had a point. She might never be able to live her feelings for B'Elanna but for this one night she could share them with someone else, someone she was sure could understand her and would not judge.
Kathryn returned to the ship shortly after sunrise. She felt almost relaxed though she still feared what she would find in the cargo bay where everyone who intended to stay with the colonists had been told to gather. She dreaded even more having to face B'Elanna after what she had almost done the day before, especially after running off.
So, her first reaction when she found her student's request to meet with her was to simply ignore it; but she was too much of a warrior to take the coward's way out. She agreed to a meeting at noon in her quarters.
After the door had closed behind B'Elanna she immediately fell on her right knee. "DevwI' SeQ, please forgive me!"
"Stand up, B'Elanna. You did nothing wrong. It is I who should ask for your forgiveness. I lost control, not you."
B'Elanna stayed in position but raised her head far enough to make eye contact with her teacher. "Please, hear me out, DevwI' SeQ."
"Yesterday, when I interrupted your program, I acted dishonourably. I saw the beginning of battle lust in your eyes even before I climbed in the ring. I deliberately risked our match getting out of hand. I enjoyed your reaction to my touch and my scent because they mirrored my own feelings. I was without honour when I allowed things to escalate to the point I did.
"For a few moments I forgot that you are my teacher and spiritual guide. I forgot that you are the captain and that we live by Starfleet rules. For a few moments I only saw the woman I love with all my hearts. Please, punish me for forgetting my place."
Kathryn was speechless and despite her former resolve to keep her own feelings out of this she acted on instinct. She knelt in front of B'Elanna, knowing that her gift of honesty could only be answered in kind. They had danced around each other for the last few months and Kathryn knew how much courage it had needed to say what B'Elanna had just said.
"There is no need for punishment, B'Elanna. For a few moments I also forgot that I am your teacher and your captain. For a few moments I also only saw the woman I love. I am in your debt for remembering before I did and for keeping us from making a mistake. You did your ancestors proud last night, B'El."
The brown orbs right in front of Kathryn widened in shocked surprise. "Do you really mean what you just said, K'Ryn?"
"Yes, I do," the answer was barely above a whisper. "Since we started with the lajQo' quvHa'ghachtay I have fallen in love with you, but I knew that I never would be able to live this love. I never intended to tell you but now that you know I'm feeling better."
"Now that I know that it's not one-sided I can live with fact that we will never be able to live this love, K'Ryn. Only a few months ago I would have been content with one night of passion but you have changed me. I feel so much more now. What you just told me gives me strength. Please tell me that I don't have to stop being your student and hopefully your friend. I don't want to lose having you in my life." B'Elanna knew that she was begging but she didn't care.
"No, B'El, you will not lose me. I want you in my life. I can't have you as my lover but I want you as my friend, and for as long as you'll need me as your mentor and guide." Kathryn's lips for a fleeting moment touched the other woman's brow ridges before she rose to her feet. "Stand up, B'Elanna, you're needed in Engineering to prepare for our departure. We will meet for our normal lesson tomorrow after Alpha Shift."
"Yes, DevwI' SeQ. I'm looking forward to it."
Minutes later, Kathryn had a definite spring in her steps when she walked with Chakotay at her side to the cargo bay. When the doors opened to an empty room she seemed to literally radiate happiness.
Sensing his Captain's good mood Chakotay tried to invite her to private dinner in his quarters; probably part of his on-going campaign to get back on her good side. The command mask quickly returned and she refused.
The next day there were a few awkward moment during Kathryn's and B'Elanna's lesson but the women quickly got over it and each, unknown to the other, drew an inner calm and quiet security from the knowledge of their mutual feelings.
About six weeks after leaving the planet of the '37s Tuvok, Neelix, Tom, Ensign Nicoletti, Harry, Kes, Chakotay, Lieutenant Carey, and three former Maquis received a summons to come to the conference room at precisely 1800 hours that day. The message also said that it had nothing to do with ship's business.
When they all had taken their seats Kathryn and B'Elanna entered. Harry and most of the others jumped at attention when they saw Captain Janeway though she was not in uniform. The auburn haired woman wore hip-hugging black slacks and an off-white turtleneck; her long hair in a braid completed the casual look.
"At ease, people, sit down. This is B'Elanna's show," she said while leaning against one of the walls.
The engineer in question was visibly nervous. "Thank you all for coming. I asked you, well, Captain Janeway asked you in my name to come here because everyone of you over the years or in the course of the last few months has become a friend to me."
B'Elanna swallowed and looked at the expectant faces of her audience. Carey and one of the Maquis looked surprised at being called a friend while Harry Kim beamed with quiet pride.
"You all have at one point or the other been at the wrong end of my temper and over the last couple of months, since we left Sikari to be exact, Captain Janeway has helped me to accept my Klingon heritage and taught me how to control myself better. She became my teacher and spiritual guide and has recently informed me that the ritual we followed has taught me all it can.
"On the Klingon home world it once ended with the re-initiation of the acolyte in the world of the warriors. I want all of you to be a part of this initiation ceremony. Before you decide you have to know more about it because it contains elements that do not conform to Federation sensibilities or Starfleet protocol. Captain, would you please elaborate?"
Janeway and B'Elanna changed places. "Tomorrow, after her duty shift, B'Elanna will begin with her preparations which consist of fasting and sweating and will last three days. During this purification period one of us, should you consent to participate, will be with her all the time to keep her from falling asleep, basically.
"When the three days are over B'Elanna will reclaim her place as a Klingon warrior. She will prove that she is worthy by fighting an opponent, walking through the corridor of pain, and receiving the mark of Kahless."
"Corridor of pain doesn't sound like fun," Tom piped in.
"It isn't, Tom, because it involves these." B'Elanna moved from her place at the wall and put a pipe like object on the conference table. She returned to the wall and added, "If you think that you can't use one of these on me, please don't participate."
"In case you don't know," Kathryn retook the stage, "this is called an 'oy'naQ, a Klingon painstick. The corridor of pain is formed by trusted friends or family members. Each is armed with an 'oy'naQ and will touch the skin of the initiate at least twice, once on the upper, once on the lower part of the body. The pain varies depending on the body parts hit and the goal is to get through the corridor without passing out. The painsticks don't leave any marks but in every other aspect it's similar to what on Earth in the past was called a gauntlet."
"It is similar to the Rite of Ascension," Tuvok said softly.
"I knew you would remember this, Tuvok, and in a way you are right. The nentay cha'DIch, the Rite of Ascension you witnessed with me on Qo'nos, when adolescents are accepted in the society as adults," Kathryn added for the benefit of the others, "is based on what we're about to do."
"Aside from this pain thing and sitting with the Chief what would be expected of us?" Lieutenant Carey asked.
"On the Klingon home world it would be expected that the participants of the ceremony share B'Elanna's fast or at least limit themselves to vegetarian non-replicated food and water. You are not Klingon, so we don't expect you to follow this particular custom. You also would be expected to participate in the party scheduled for after the ceremony."
"The baby shower!" Neelix burst out.
"Yes, the baby shower. I asked Ensign Wildman if she would mind if it became multi-purpose and she said she would be happy to share. She said this way at least the spotlight would not always be on her. If there aren't any more questions at the moment, we'll leave you to make your decision. We'll be in my Ready Room."
The captain turned to leave, but B'Elanna addressed the others again, "I don't want any of you to feel pressured into doing something you are not ready for. I won't feel any different for you if you decide not to participate. We just have to know in time to arrange things accordingly."
As soon as the door had closed behind the two women, Harry said, "We should have asked about the mark of Kahless."
"It's a branding in the form of a bat'leth," Tuvok answered.
"A branding? But that's self-mutilation," Harry burst out.
"It is the Klingon way, Ensign Kim," the Vulcan calmly answered. "It is meant to remind the warriors of Klingon values and virtues until they die."
"Honesty, courage, and honour," Chakotay said almost tonelessly. He could have kicked himself for his own stupidity. With using the lajQo' quvHa'ghachtay for his own ends he had done much more than just dishonour his friend and still B'Elanna had forgiven him and even honoured him by wanting him to take part in this ceremony.
"If it is supposed to last 'til their deaths, it can't be a simple branding. Over the years or decades the scar would fade and finally disappear," one of the Maquis women, a security officer with the name of Ron Rael said.
"I apologise, I should have been more specific. As soon as the branding iron is removed the wound will be filled with an especially designed ink. It's a branding and a tattoo in one. Lieutenant Torres might need a couple of hours rest after the ceremony but Captain Janeway would never consent to anything that could really harm her."
"Will Captain Janeway conduct the ceremony?" B'Elanna's second-in-command, Lieutenant Carey wanted to know.
"No, I don't think so. As Lieutenant Torres' teacher it might not be appropriate but I'm sure we will be told more as soon as we have all made our decision."
For a few moments everyone seemed to be lost in their own thoughts, so, Harry's voice seemed rather loud to the others. "I want to try it, this painstick thing. Before I consent to hurt my friend I want to know how it feels first hand."
"Are you insane, Harry?" Tom asked.
"No, I'm dead serious."
Tuvok had left his seat and activated the painstick, "Please keep in mind, Mister Kim, that Klingons and even half-Klingons have a much higher pain threshold than Humans."
The Vulcan pressed the business end of the stick against Harry's arm and the young man collapsed back in his chair with a strangled cry. Kes immediately was at his side with a medical tricorder.
"You'll be alright. There is no physical damage. It was just a reaction of your nerve endings," she reassuringly told him and herself. "It's similar to the shock a detainment anklet can deliver, no permanent harm. The worst it can do is cause a person to faint."
Harry blinked a few times and then said, "I'm in. Do any of you need more time to think or can we call them back?"
When the two women came back everyone consented to participate, even the gentle Kes, everyone but for an unassuming young woman.
"I'm sorry, Lana, but you know that I never could deliberately hurt anyone, not even if they ask me to. I'm sorry, I didn't live up to you expectations."
"You didn't disappoint me, Yllas. I'm proud that you stand by your convictions and I expected nothing less from you. I would be honoured if you would instead accept to act as my jup 'waDIch. It literally means 'first friend' and is used for the attendant to the initiate. You would be at my side the whole time and hold the bat'leth while I pass through the corridor of pain. You also would help with the preparations and the after care."
The pale green eyes of the young Bajoran glinted in surprise. "Yes, Lana, I'd like to serve as your 'first friend."
"Captain, will you conduct the ceremony?" Carey repeated his earlier question.
"No Mister Carey. To be valid it has to be conducted by a priest. I decided to use the hologram of Rel'Issa of the House of Kahless, the only Priestess ordained in the last five centuries. I will have my own role to play." The tone of her voice made it clear that she would not elaborate any further.
"Captain," Kes asked nonetheless out of genuine curiosity, "why do you know so much about Klingons and their culture?"
Kathryn was surprised that the question had not come up earlier. "I could tell you that all the pertinent information can be found in the cultural database but that would not be entirely true. When I was still a green lieutenant I lived on the Klingon home world for a few months. I lived close to the monastery of Boreth; so, I not only learned a lot about Klingon culture but also about Klingon spirituality." Then she changed the topic.
"Thank you all for your willingness to stand with B'Elanna. Enjoy the rest of the evening. B'Elanna, why don't you go with your friends and eat something? Crewman Zito Yllas would you please stay and help me to work out a schedule for supervising the purification?"
On the way out of the conference room Tom's highly amused, "Baby-sitting Belanna, that's kind of cool," earned him an elbow in the ribs from his best friend.
Tuvok and Chakotay excused themselves as the others went to the Mess Hall. Surprisingly there were only a few more questions about the upcoming event and the rest of the evening was spent getting to know each other better. Members from Alpha, Beta, and Gamma shift usually did not have much opportunity to socialise.
After one glass too many of spiced-up synthehol the helm's man asked, "Hey, Belanna, how come that little bit of a Maquis is using this nifty nickname? The Doctor told me about her; seems she has the training but not the stomach to become his assistant."
Before the young Hybrid had the chance to react Ensign Ron was right in his face; she didn't touch him but the expression on her face sobered him up considerably.
"She has earned the right to do everything she damn well pleases, Lieutenant Paris. She saved all of our lives and you will not find one single former member of the Maquis who would not do anything to protect her and that includes that cowardly snakehead Seska. So, you better watch your tongue, Mister Pilot."
"I'm sorry, I meant nothing by it."
"Apology accepted," a soft voice said from behind. "The captain asked me to stop by and remind you that Gamma shift is about to start and that you all have a full duty shift in the morning."
"I'm really sorry, Crewman Zito. That was the synthehol speaking, not me."
"I know, Lieutenant Paris. Just try to keep in mind that in the long run you can't hide from your feelings and your desires."
Before he could reply, she left the Mess Hall.
"What the hell was that all about?" Tom finally asked.
"Forget about it until your head has cleared, Tom. Zito Yllas has the gift to see behind the surface of things. What she says can sometimes be disconcerting but also very enlightening," B'Elanna answered. "And now I think we should heed the captain's advice."
Captain Janeway took the first shift keeping B'Elanna company during the purification ritual.
"Tell me about your jup 'waDIch, B'El. I somehow got the impression that she is more than just a fellow Maquis."
"You are right; she is more than just a colleague. She's wIj jup [my very dear friend]. I asked for her permission earlier, so now I'm free to tell her story to you, K'Ryn."
B'Elanna's choice of address made it clear that the younger woman wanted to keep Captain Janeway from doing anything rash when she had heard the story.
"Zito Yllas was our medic but before she joined the Maquis she was a Vedek apprentice on Bajor, the protégé of Kai Opaka herself. Vedek Winn, now Kai Winn had her dismissed, to put it mildly, for a minor infraction after Kai Opaka disappeared in the Gamma Quadrant. She could have stayed on Bajor, but she decided to work for one of the orphanages in the DMZ.
"On the way her transport was attacked by a Cardassian cruiser hunting for Maquis. When they started to hurt civilians Ron and I gave ourselves up. They began torturing us in front of the others, in front of children Yllas stopped them. She looked into their hearts and made them believe that the rebels had been killed. They left but the deception took a lot out of her; she was almost catatonic for more than four days.
"After the incident the captain of the transporter was too afraid to keep her on board, and so we took her with us. She started to work as our medic, and her ability to look into a person's mind helped her to treat us more effectively. Her abilities developed steadily but there also was a side effect. She had no way to shield herself against our emotions.
"Our feelings hurt her, our fears, insecurities, pains, our hate and need for revenge. It hurts her as we would be hurt from a physical blow. Every time she treated one of us, she felt our pain and more. Starfleet would probably call her an empath, but she is much more than that. We sometimes needed her special ability to influence others; one time she convinced the whole crew of a Cardassian battle cruiser that the ship they had on their sensors was nothing more but sensor shadows. But afterwards she was blind for almost three weeks.
"Yllas once told me that prayer had always helped her to keep the outside world at bay but with close to one hundred and fifty minds on a ship this small it's hard for her. That's why she chose the Gamma shift and why she does not want to work in Sickbay."
"In the Federation she would have been trained as a Councillor and specialists from Beta-Zed would have taught her how to protect herself against the onslaught of emotions and thoughts.
"You don't have to worry, B'El. I won't do anything to make it more difficult for her."
For the rest of the captain's shift they didn't talk but concentrated on some light MoQ'bara exercises.
B'Elanna's next visitor was Harry Kim. He was still beaming with pride that he had been asked to participate and in the knowledge that he had been the only one to know at least half of the truth about her and the captain.
Lieutenant Paris spent the time telling her about the great refinements he intended to make at the Sandrine program and she tried to talk him into creating something new instead, perhaps a joint project with Harry.
Chakotay was almost subdued when he entered the holodeck. He once again tried to apologise for what he had done to her and get her to take her retribution but she just brushed him off and told him that her current journey had nothing to do with him or with what she had allowed him to do to her. She told him that in a way his actions had made it all possible and that for that she even was thankful.
Ensign Ron was next and greeted her with as slight nod, "B'Elanna."
"Ron Rael. How did you learn to pronounce my name correctly?"
"Young Harry Kim insisted. He said that after you honoured us with the invitation we should at least be courteous enough to use your proper name. He's still a tad on the naïve side but I think he can be a good friend, not like Paris, this jerk."
The young Hybrid laughed. "Tom has a lot of rough edges but his heart is in the right place. He just has to grow up a bit and stop running to finally meet his real self."
"That's what Yllas said yesterday. But could it really be that easy?"
"Easy? No! He has not the faintest idea of what she was talking about. He does not know her as well as we do."
"You really think that he doesn't know? It's written all over his face when he thinks no one pays attention."
"It might more be a question of him not wanting to know, my friend. Just like I did not want to know that you were right about Seska from the beginning."
"So, that's why you included me."
Having expected the question the other woman answered calmly, "Yes and no. Yes, I feel bad for not at least having given you the benefit of the doubt with Seska. And no, it had nothing to do with her. We fought together and we bled together; that's all I need to know. To me it does not matter how you called yourself in your former life or what rank you once had in Starfleet. The only thing that matters is that you were always there for us when we needed you."
"How? I never told anyone." The shock in the other woman's voice was evident.
"I only spent a bit more than one and a half years at the Academy and I still can't deny my training."
"It might be a good idea to no longer try and hide what and who you are."
"I'll think about it, B'Elanna, but I didn't exactly resign my commission. I just left; that's not something Captain Janeway could overlook."
Tuvok didn't even try to talk; he gave her a choice between playing 3D-chess and Kal-toh. She never had tried her luck at the Vulcan game and after having been explained the rules it only took her twenty minutes to lose the first four games. The fifth game lasted just over ten minutes, and at the end of Tuvok's double shift she held the game for almost thirty-five minutes considerable progress but still rather unremarkable if one took into account that a match between Vulcan masters could last for days.
B'Elanna was pleasantly surprised when Tuvok declared her an acceptable student before ceding his place to Zito Yllas.
The engineer loved spending time with the former Vedek apprentice, usually. This time, however, she was slightly apprehensive because she didn't want to talk about what the Bajoran had picked up about the captain's and her feelings.
Yllas surprised her by not asking any questions. She simply pulled her in her arms and held her. B'Elanna was reluctant at first but quickly accepted that at the moment she now needed this kind of contact.
Only when her time was almost up did she speak, "Kathryn Janeway loves you as much as you love her, B'Elanna Torres. Enjoy the feeling, it will nurture you both. Love is the strongest thing in the universe; so, it's unimportant if you decide to live it or not. True love is selfless, Lana."
B'Elanna hoped that her friend was right but the better part of her knew that it would not be that easy on the other hand Yllas had never said anything about it being easy.
Lieutenant Carey passed the time by talking about their shared passion, Voyager's engines and warp drive. They even came up with some ideas on how to increase the stability of the deflector array and how to improve the efficiency of their dilithium refinery.
By the end of his shift almost half of her time was up and though she was a bit tired all in all she felt surprisingly good, especially after the shower she had been allowed to take.
Neelix was her next visitor and after about an hour he suddenly fell silent and profusely apologised for talking about food while she was not allowed to eat.
"It's alright, Neelix. I can afford to go a few days without food though I admit that what you described sounds really good. Your progress is astonishing."
"It's all your doing, my friend," he answered with a slight blush.
"You were a good student, Neelix and besides, I never would have thought that cooking and taste testing could be so much fun. And now tell me about the baby shower. Will all the presents for Samantha and the little one be ready in time?"
"Oh yes, all the small things have already been wrapped, and Ensign Johnson promised that the crib will be finished just in time. He said it only needs another layer of varnish."
Ensign Conrad Johnson was a mineralogist by trade and had a real gift when working with wood. When he had come up with the idea of building a real crib for Voyager's only child the crew had readily pooled their resources for the material and had taken over his duty shifts to give him enough time to do the work. The biggest problem had been to keep it a secret because he worked in the same department as the mother-to-be.
"And Samantha still does not know?"
"We had a close call yesterday " The Talaxian was still talking when Susan Nicoletti came for her shift on the holodeck.
The young ensign at first had been sceptical of including the Maquis in the normal ship's operations but most of them did their jobs with the same dedicated efficiency a Starfleet officer would. Working with B'Elanna in Engineering she had quickly learned to admire the other woman's skills and had been among the first to fully accept her as the new chief.
They had recently discovered a shared passion for Parises Square and played regularly. So, that's what they were talking about at first but the young ensign seemed preoccupied.
"What's wrong, Susan?"
"Nothing, B-Lana. Sorry. I just can't get this right."
"Just call me Lana. The glottal stop is difficult for Human tongues."
"Thank you. Lana, why are you doing this? The longer I think about it the less I understand it."
"I have a lot to make up for, Susan, and this is the best way." Knowing that this sentence didn't really explain anything she added, "Ever since I was a child I didn't want to be a Klingon. I didn't want to be different and I did a lot of stupid things to make myself and others believe that I'm fully Human. The kids in school and most of the teachers didn't let me forget. Some made fun of me, some were afraid, some were envious.
"Over the years I came to associate everything that went wrong in my life with my Klingon half. I didn't want to see that the Human part more often than not was just as responsible. Captain Janeway has helped me to understand that. She helped me to see that I can have both, the best of my Klingon and my Human heritage but I can't just claim my Klingon heritage without doing it right, the Klingon way."
"So, basically you're paying a debt."
"One could call it that, Susan."
"Thanks for explaining it to me and being so open and honest. I know you're normally a very private person."
"It's easier to be open when you no longer have to hide part of yourself. Don't get me wrong, I'll probably always be a mean tempered bitch when things go wrong but I no longer have to show it at every turn."
That got a heartfelt laugh from the other woman and they turned the conversation to less serious topics.
B'Elanna began to feel the lack of sleep but Kes entertained her with the newest gossip that unsurprisingly was centred around the mysterious happenings in Holodeck II where all the command staff and various others seemed to be drawn like moths to the flame.
The young Ocampa's friendly and open demeanour made it easy for her to hear all kind of things but unlike most gossip mongers with whom B'Elanna ever had to deal, what Kes chose to tell never belittled or ridiculed the persons mentioned.
B'Elanna's face lit up when the last of her Maquis' friends entered the sweat caves. He was a young man of Indian descent and counted among the crewmembers whom could be easily overlooked. He was working Gamma shift but after being named chief engineer B'Elanna had made sure that he also would head the shift by convincing Chakotay to list him as an ensign. His name was Ravi Khadifar and despite his exotic looks and dark skin he had no real fondness for heat, preferring the moderate climate of the Nordic regions in which he had grown up.
"Bella, darling, I hope you appreciate the sacrifice I'm making here. I don't even take warm showers, and now here I am."
"Ravi-baby, you really are one of a kind. And you can be sure that I'm full of awe at the almost superhuman effort you're making on my behalf."
They continued to banter for some time with B'Elanna telling him about the things she just had heard from Kes. He was easy going and good to laugh with but only with the few people with whom he felt comfortable, the few people he trusted.
In the Maquis one quickly learned not to ask about a person's past; it tended to only open old wounds. So, B'Elanna was more than surprised when her friend began to tell her about his past beyond his childhood on Earth. He told her of his father's death when he was fourteen, his mother remarrying soon after and their move to one of the rural colonies near the Cardassian border.
He told her how his stepfather had turned out to be extremely homophobic and had made him suffer for not being 'manly' enough. Then his mother died from a fever because the only doctor of the colony had been too far away at the time, and verbal abuse quickly turned into physical.
"My mother would not have fallen in love with him if he had not been a good man at heart. To me he was anything but. I was seventeen when she died and nineteen when I fought back for the first time. I expected that he would throw me out but he seemed impressed that I finally had started to stand up for myself. Our fights became a fixture in my life.
"I knew it would be better if I just left and started over somewhere else but in a way he was all I had left and the only reminder of my mother. One day he came home drunk and what started like one of our usual arguments quickly went south. He pinned me face down over the kitchen table and tried to rape me. I got free just in time and knocked him unconscious. I finally left and joined the Maquis."
"Thank you, Ravi, thank you for honouring me with the knowledge about your past."
"I know it's nothing special but since you found the courage to confront your demons I thought you deserved to hear the truth about mine," he answered with a shy smile.
"Ravi, please look at me." His dark brown orbs reluctantly found her lighter ones. "You are wrong; it's special, you are special. During everything your stepfather did you never tried to hide who you really are; you never tried to become someone else. That's incredibly brave, Ravi. I'm proud to count you among my friends."
They embraced and returned to less serious subjects such as the dating pool on Voyager.
Tuvok had volunteered for the graveyard shift and they spent the time with her once again losing at Kal'toh.
B'Elanna expected Ron Rael or Yllas next but the woman who came around the corner was a real surprise.
"Samantha, you shouldn't be here. It's not good for the baby."
"The Doctor said it would be alright if I don't stay longer than two hours. When Captain Janeway told me about the baby shower, she also told me about this ceremony of yours. She said that you would have invited me too if not for the pregnancy. Is it true?"
"Yes, it's true. It's ironic, in a way, because without your pregnancy you probably would not have ended up in the mess hall in the middle of the night with food cravings and found out about our little taste testing lessons and then we would not have had the chance to get to know each other better. What will happen at the ceremony could be hard to stomach, Samantha. I didn't want to risk anything."
"I can understand that, though I really wish you all were a bit less protective. I'm pregnant, not ill. And I'm not the average Federation citizen, I'm a Starfleet brat. My parents were anthropologists and took me on a lot of surveys. I'm not easily shocked."
"In this case, Ensign Samantha Wildman, would you do me the honour of participating in the initiation ceremony?"
"Yes, Lieutenant B'Elanna Torres, I will."
They both bowed formally and then started to giggle like school girls.
After exactly two hours B'Elanna shooed her out and made her promise to get some rest before the evening's festivities.
Her next visitor was also a surprise. The Doctor came into view with the medical tricorder held in front of him like a shield. At first she thought that he only wanted to make sure that she would be alright; but every one of his scans seemed to take longer than the one before, It took a bit of prodding to find out that Tom Paris had sent him in on a dare, proclaiming that B'Elanna would throw him out after less than twenty minutes.
B'Elanna never would have considered herself someone to respect the feelings of a hologram, but she felt with the CMO and it was more than just pity. So, she followed her instincts and asked him to participate in the ritual. In the end asking him had been easy; convincing him that she meant what she had said was much harder.
Harry chatted about Bridge operations and an ultimately boring nebula they had scanned but most of what he said was lost on her because she was beginning to get nervous.
Ensign Ron insisted on swapping Maquis' war stories and the young woman began to suspect that they had been instructed to keep her mind off the things to come.
For the last shift Kathryn and Yllas entered the holodeck together, both carrying heavy bags. Her DevwI' SeQ led her through her MoQ'bara routine while Yllas busied herself in another part of the caves.
When she stepped out of the shower the holodeck scenery had changed. They still were at the caves of the monastery but the temperature was considerably lower. She shivered slightly in her sports bra and form fitting shorts but quickly recovered when Yllas helped her into her battle dress. The young Bajoran gave her her bat'leth and told her to get warmed up and used to the armour. B'Elanna asked about the captain and was told that she was preparing in another room.
Finally the others entered the small ante-room where she had been waiting. Most commented on her attire and she was honest enough with herself to admit that without their presence she would have had a full blown panic attack by now.
The big double doors at the other side of the room finally were opened and Yllas led them inside. They were standing at one end of a well-lit, very big cavern, only half as big as the Great Hall of Honour at Qo'nos, but somehow more feral and intimidating.
The doors behind them closed and B'Elanna took her place in a red circle painted on the floor. Yllas stood half a pace behind her at her left side. The others were closer to the doors and found themselves quickly cut off from the two women by an invisible force field.
Captain Janeway came in from a side entrance. She was unarmed and instead of armour she wore an off-white tunic over black slacks, just as she would if they really were at the monastery and she in search of spiritual guidance, with the notable difference that she also wore a Ha'quj, a chain mail like sash with a family crest attached.
A woman in the robes of a priest but with an intricately carved ceremonial chest armour appeared at the other end of the room on a dais. To her right was a steaming brazier on a tripod and to her left stood a rather intimidating Klingon warrior.
Kathryn took a few steps forward and lowered herself on her right knee.
"Hear me, Rel'Issa of the House of Kahless!"
"Rise and state your identity and request."
Kathryn obeyed and her voice seemed to gain volume, "I am Kathryn Janeway, adoptive daughter of Rel'Issa of the House of Kahless, Captain of the Federation Starship Voyager. I request that you perform the muvtay HochDIch [ultimate Rite of Ascension] for my student."
"Is your ghojwI' worthy?"
"Yes, she is."
"Is your word to be trusted, Kathryn Janeway?"
"I am a warrior and I wear the mark of Kahless but I intend to prove my words with my blood."
The woman on the dais nodded with a smile but B'Elanna exclaimed, "No, K'Ryn! You can't!"
She would have dashed forward if not for Yllas holding her back. The young Bajoran had been told to expect such a reaction.
"Take me, I'll do it in joHwI' place."
"Your student seems unduly worried about you. You may talk to her before we proceed."
Kathryn nodded and walked over to B'Elanna.
"Please don't, K'Ryn, I don't want to see you hurt."
"B'El, it has to be done. It's an integral part of the ceremony. I know I told you that I would try and find a way around it but there is none. I want this to be as close to a ritual on Qo'nos as possible, B'El, for my sake as well as yours. Please try to understand."
With the last sentence Kathryn's right hand touched B'Elanna's left cheek and for a moment the world outside the blue-grey eyes looking into brown disappeared. Finally, the younger woman nodded slowly.
"May I have the honour of serving as your anchor, DevwI' SeQ?"
Kathryn turned around and looked questioningly at the Priestess, "Yes, she may."
They walked to the middle of the room. B'Elanna turned her back to the dais. She placed her left foot about one and a half feet in front of the other to gain a solid stand and handed her bat'leth to Yllas.
Kathryn slipped out of the sash and the tunic and now presented her bare back to her crew members. The program then generated a Klingon warrior with a single tail whip dangling from his right hand.
Captain Janeway stood with her feet shoulder-wide apart and put her hands on B'Elanna's shoulders. The Priestess ordered "moq![Begin!]" and the first lash landed on Kathryn's back.
Until then their shipmates had looked on in astonished silence but now there was an almost collective outcry. Tom and Lieutenant Carey tested the strength of the force field. Harry ordered the computer to end the program but nothing happened. When he tried to access it manually Tuvok stopped him.
"Trust Captain Janeway. She knows what she's doing. Without this part the ceremony would not be regarded as valid on the Klingon home world. It is the Klingon way. We accepted that when we decided to participate."
"But Tuvok, she's the Captain... It's "
"It's a great gift, Ensign Kim, an honour." Ron Rael said.
"I don't understand."
"I know; just take my word for it for now. I'll explain later."
Surprisingly the security officer's words seemed not only to calm Harry but also the rest of the crew.
They refocused their attention on the captain just in time to see the Klingon swap sides. Diagonal marks were crossing the woman's back, a few of them oozing blood but she had yet to utter a single sound. The first set of marks was systematically overlaid by a second set causing more bleeding but still there was no sound.
Kes had sought the comfort of Neelix' arms and was silently counting the strokes, 'twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-four'.
It finally stopped and the Klingon with the whip disappeared. A couple of minutes went by without any of the women moving, then Janeway took a deep breath and B'Elanna helped her to stand on her own.
B'Elanna stepped to the side and the Priestess said, "You are worthy, Kathryn Janeway, Rel'Issa pugbe' [daughter of Rel'Issa], take your rightful place at my side."
Kathryn slipped back into the tunic as if nothing had happened and repositioned the sash. Yllas and B'Elanna returned to the red circle.
"State your identity and request, student of Kathryn."
B'Elanna went down on her right knee with the bat'leth securely held in her left hand and the sharp edges turned down.
"I am B'Elanna Torres, daughter of Miral of the House of Shig'Rai. I successfully completed the lajQo' quvHa'ghachtay, and request to be re-initiated in the world of warriors."
"Rise! You carry the name of a proud and prestigious House. Your teacher proved her worthiness many years ago and again just now, but you have spent most of your life rejecting our proud heritage. Your request could be nothing more than the whims of a child."
Kathryn had not warned her that the Priestess would try to provoke her, and so she growled at the accusation but quickly brought her temper back under control and answered, "When I was a child I feared the call of my Klingon blood. When I grew up I tried to silence it but my DevwI' SeQ taught me to embrace its call."
"Courageous words, young one, but nothing but words. I need more than that. To prove that you really are worthy you now will fight my champion. This is not a Hay' chu', a duel to the death. This is a quv tob', a duel of skills. It will end as soon as you draw his first blood."
The mountain of a warrior at the Priestess' left jumped from the dais in a surprisingly smooth movement and took position in front of her, "moq!"
He didn't waste any time attacking but she used her slighter build to slip out of his reach. He relied a lot on his strength and height advantage but with B'Elanna's focus on evasive manoeuvres he could not put it to good use.
In the past she would have tried to get the opening she needed as quickly as possible, probably by forcing the issue and risking unnecessary injury to herself. Her DevwI' SeQ had taught her patience. She had taught her, sometimes painfully, to get to know her opponent first.
Sometimes killing as fast as possible was a necessity but fighting with a bat'leth was as much of an art form as it was deadly. And as the Priestess had said, today was not about killing an opponent; it was about showing skill and cunning. So, they each tested the other's defences.
The initially bored expression of the holographic warrior's face had disappeared; and after a few more minutes of gauging their respective opponent they both were smiling.
Finally he said, "That's not bad for such a half-breed but we're not here to play. qablIj HI'ang! [I challenge you!]"
B'Elanna's answer was equally as formal as his challenge, "qabwIj vISo'be! [I accept your challenge!]"
The fight now began in earnest; B'Elanna started to block his blows and followed up with immediate counter attacks. For a while it looked as if they were evenly matched, despite the physical inequality. Then the young woman left a small but visible opening but instead of exploiting it, he changed angles and cut through the chain mail protecting her shoulders and arms. The resulting gash was bleeding freely but didn't seem to impede B'Elanna's freedom of movement or the force of her blows.
The Klingon was driven back a few paces by her quick jab-like attacks. He soon found a way to keep her at bay but her movements seemed too fast for him to launch an effective offensive of his own.
She changed tactics and took his feet our from under him. He landed on his back but instead of pressing her advantage she took a step back and let him get back on his feet. The fight resumed.
They traded blows until he left an opening as wide as a barn door. She feigned an attack on the other side; he shifted his balance. She feinted again and before he had a chance to compensate completely she used his initial opening to tear through his armour at the same point her own injury was situated. B'Elanna drew blood.
He roared in surprise and anger but the Priestess' comment brought him up short, "ylmev, yap![Stop! It's enough!]" He turned around and looked at her. "Your duty is done, my champion."
B'Elanna stood at attention. "You have done well Miral pugbe'. You may now prepare yourself to walk the corridor of pain."
B'Elanna bowed and returned to the red circle. She put her weapon in Yllas' hands and began to remove the battle dress, stacking the different parts in a neat pile in the middle of the circle until she was barefoot and wore only the sports bra and shorts.
The force field disappeared and the former Vedek apprentice let the others one after the other to their assigned places marked by more red circles on the floor. They formed two lines between B'Elanna and the dais.
The rules were very specific. They had to touch B'Elanna with the activated painstick either on her legs and hips or her upper body, with the exception of her head; then they had to step back and take their next place at the end of the line and wait to deliver the second shock. On her right were Kes, Ravi, Carey, Ron, Harry, and the Doctor. Samantha, Susan, Neelix, Tom, Chakotay, and Tuvok formed the other line.
B'Elanna held herself admirably during the first half of her ordeal but Kes second touch accidentally hit her at the hollow of her right knee and she stumbled slightly but brought herself back under control before Samantha tentatively touched her left, injured shoulder.
The Doctor touched her just where the sport bra ended, maximising the effect. She sank to her knees with a gasp but was quickly back on her feet. Now she only had to get past Tuvok. His painstick hit the same spot, just at the other side, and she once again went down. Her vision blurred but she held on and slowly climbed back to her feet.
After two more steps Yllas gave her bat'leth back. B'Elanna climbed the five steps to the dais and dropped to her right knee in front of the Priestess. She held the weapon with both hands horizontally in front of her, stretching her arms forward she flipped it around and presented it to the Klingon woman.
Rel'Issa accepted her offering. "You are deemed worthy, B'Elanna Torres, Miral pugbe' Shig'Rai tug. Are you ready to receive your ghItlH [mark]?"
"Yes, Rel'Issa joH, I am ready," B'Elanna turned around and asked, "DevwI' SeQ would you honour me with your assistance?"
"It will be my honour, B'Elanna, Miral pugbe'."
B'Elanna took two steps to the side and then got down on both knees. She pulled the strap of her sport bra over her left shoulder practically baring the firm breast. She put her arms behind her back. Kathryn knelt down behind her and took both wrists in a firm grasp.
Priestess Rel'Issa pulled the branding iron out of the brazier. It was red hot and sizzling. The hiss when it hit B'Elanna's sensitive flesh seemed to echo through the whole cavern but to everyone's surprise she did not cry out. The smell of burning flesh filled the room and the eerie silence was finally broken when the ink was poured into the open wound and the young woman finally cried out.
The ink contained an antibiotic to ward off any danger of infection but it did nothing to ease the pain. The cry finally subsided and the young woman blinked her tears away. Kathryn helped her to get back on her feet and steadied her while she took a few calming breaths.
She then turned back to the Priestess and once again went down on her right knee with the mark of Kahless still oozing blood. She looked up to the older Klingon who said,
"Miral pugbe', wear the mark of Kahless with pride. It is an honour of which not many are worthy. Rise and take this bat'leth as a further sign of your renewed status as a warrior."
B'Elanna obeyed instantly and instead of her old weapon received a beautifully carved blade. She raised it over her head and said in a firm voice, "DaHjaj SuvwI' vIghes! [Today I take my place as a warrior!]"
And the Priestess answered, "pInaDqu' tuglIj wInaDqu' je [Glory to you and your house]."
B'Elanna bowed first to the Priestess and then to her teacher. Only then did she turn around and addressed the others.
"My friends, you honoured me with your presence and I hope that I will get the chance to thank you all personally later."
Tuvok answered for all of them, "It is we who were honoured to participate. We greet you, B'Elanna Torres, daughter of Miral of the House of Shig'Rai, as a Klingon warrior and look forward to empty many mugs of blood wine in your name."
As soon as they all had left, Yllas ordered, "Computer, switch to program Zed-Epsilon-Zero-Zero-One."
The hall-like cavern around them disappeared and was replaced by a sunlit room with a view of gently rolling hills and sunflower fields. The room was empty except for a sunken tub, two low couches and a small desk with a med-kit.
B'Elanna's first thought was to care for her teacher's back but the other woman didn't let her use the dermal regenerator.
"No, B'El. You can help me to take off the shirt and put some healing ointment on the welts. It will speed up the natural healing process but that's all I intend to do about it. With a bit of luck the marks will be gone in two or three days. The warrior was programmed to do no real harm."
The last sentence would have been more convincing had Kathryn not flinched when she pulled the tunic over her head. B'Elanna was busy applying the ointment when Yllas entered from an adjoining room, carrying two bowls of steaming chicken broth and a pitcher of tea on a tray.
"Eat, you need to rebuild your strength, both of you. Lana, take your bra off please. The branding needs fresh air to heal properly."
"The Captain's back is more important, Yllas, and I resent being bossed around."
"Just do as she said, B'El, as long as we're here Yllas is in command. Sit next to me, eat, and relax."
"Yes, DevwI' SeQ."
"You no longer need a spiritual guide, B'El."
"You'll always be my DevwI' SeQ, K'Ryn, just like you'll always be my Captain."
In silent accord Chakotay and the others went to Holodeck I and the comforting familiarity of 'Chez Sandrine'. Harry slumped down in the nearest chair, still visibly shaken by the experience.
"How did they do it? How did they stand the pain? And how can I feel pride in having seen my Captain whipped and my friend mutilated? It's against everything I ever learned to believe in and yet I can't help think that I witnessed something not only special but very beautiful and perfect."
"You have every reason to feel this way, Harry Kim. We all can be proud that we were chosen to participate in this ceremony. Captain Janeway and Lieutenant Torres allowed us to see a part of themselves they usually keep private and more than that. This ceremony is as old as the Klingon Empire itself. It's regarded as sacred and usually non-Klingons are not even allowed to see it," Ensign Ron said softly.
"You seem to know a lot about all this," Kes said.
"It's recent knowledge. I looked it up in our database and after I had started I was so fascinated that I dug just a little deeper," Ron Rael answered with a smile.
Tom joined them at the table and gulped down his beer in one swallow. "She should not have done this. She's a Starfleet Officer for crying out loud. She should adhere to higher standards."
"Adhere to higher standards? Your Federation arrogance is unbelievable. By what right do you look down on a culture you barely know anything about," retorted the Bajoran security officer.
Tom looked at her with disbelieving eyes. "But she's our Captain. She should stand above such things," he repeated stubbornly."
"Oh, catch a clue, Lieutenant Paris." The emphasis on his rank made it clear what she thought of him. "Captain Janeway did exactly what is expected of a Starfleet Officer. She showed respect for another culture by following its rules. And as the adopted daughter of the Priestess Rel'Issa the captain did not really have a choice but to do what she did. Anything else would have dishonoured her own name and the name of her House," Ensign Ron explained.
"This whole honour thing is overrated if you ask me," Tom grumbled while getting a refill.
"Why am I not surprised that this is coming from you, Paris?" Chakotay said. He knew that the helm's man was Janeway's special reclamation project, but as much as Captain Janeway still didn't trust him, he didn't trust the apparently easy-going pilot.
Tom whirled around and glared at the taller man, "You're my superior officer, Commander Chakotay. You can count yourself lucky or I would make you eat these words."
"Please, we're here to prepare for a party. It's too early for a bar brawl." Neelix tried to calm everyone down and refocus their attention.
"Ensign Ron, perhaps you can clear up my confusion. I always thought that Kahless was some sort of Klingon god or something but how can a god have a House?"
"Kahless was a warrior and a gifted leader. He founded the Klingon Empire more than a thousand years ago. I didn't have the time to read all the stories about him but enough to know that a lot of Klingon traditions have their origin with him.
"It is said that in a time of dire need he would return to the home world to guide his people. During the civil war, when the House of Duras fought Chancellor Gawron the monks created a clone of Kahless to end the conflict. Captain Picard and the Enterprise helped to sort everything out and end the war a few years ago. The Chancellor is still the one in charge but they made the clone of Kahless some kind of spiritual figurehead."
"And what has this to do with this Priestess adopting our Captain?" Tom asked with more genuine curiosity than aggression in his voice.
Before Ron Rael could answer, Tuvok said, "Before Captain Janeway took command of Voyager she attended the marriage ceremony of Kahless and her adopted mother and was inducted in the House of Kahless."
"Wow! That means that the captain is as high up in the food chain as one can get," Lieutenant Carey blurted out.
"Yeah, wow! But how did she wrangle herself in such a prestigious position?" Tom asked.
"Mind your words, Mister Paris," Tuvok's voice had gone as cold as ice. "It would be wise to refrain from such insinuations, or you might find yourself scrubbing plasma conduits with a toothbrush for the rest of the journey. It is a common disciplinarian measure on Klingon ships."
Tom swallowed and tried to look unimpressed; this role playing to find the new traitor in their midst was harder than he had expected.
"Captain Janeway already told you all you need to know in this matter." The tone of Tuvok's statement left no doubt that there would be no further explanation and though Ron Rael had unearthed more than that from the database she wisely kept her knowledge to herself.
Meanwhile B'Elanna tried valiantly not to fall asleep in the steaming sunken tub.
"I'm proud of you, B'El. You held yourself like a true Klingon warrior. Making the others participate was a good idea. It was very brave to show your friends this side of yourself."
"You got it the wrong way round. Thank you for going along with the idea. You were very brave, joHwI'. Aside from Tuvok all of them had known you as our Captain only, but today you showed them much more of yourself. I hope you'll never have a reason to regret this decision."
"I have no reason to hide what I am and I only did what I had to do, B'El. And even if this was an issue; for the Starfleet officers I acted within the guidelines for dealing with other cultures and belief systems. There's no reason to worry, my friend. And B'Elanna, I'm not the Lady of a House, so please don't call me joHwI'. It's inappropriate."
B'Elanna smiled, to her it was a term of endearment. It was her private name for the woman she could only love from afar. So, she said demurely. "Yes DevwI' SeQ, but," she added with a twinkle in her eyes, "I beg to differ. With Samantha Wildman's baby this ship is on the fast trek to become a household, a family; and as our leader, as our Captain you are undoubtedly the head of this household, Kathryn Janeway, Lady of the House of Voyager."
Kathryn's heartfelt laugh brought Yllas in from the room next door and they filled her in.
At Kathryn's request she told them about the program they'd used. "It's where I grew up, the private quarters of Kai Opaka. It's not as good and peaceful as the real thing but it gives me a sense of peace whenever I feel out of my depths. Harry Kim helped me to create the program."
"Thank you for opening your sanctuary to us, Yllas. It must be hard to know that the woman who forced you to leave your home now lives there," Kathryn said.
"Kai Winn has always been very ambitious. Kai Opaka would have said that the situation proves that the Prophets have a very strange sense of humour. At first I was angry with Winn but then Vedek Bareil let me be the guest of the Orb of Prophesy; that changed my mind, so, now I think that I'm where I'm supposed to be, Captain. It's true that I sometimes miss the peace and tranquillity of the monastery but being able to help people first with the Maquis and now here is worth the loss."
Both other women knew that a lot of things had been left unsaid but they respected the other woman's privacy.
"I heard about what you do for our crew members in your time off. If there's anything I can do for you, let me know," Kathryn said, alluding to the fact that the young Bajoran had become a spiritual and mental guide of her own for a considerable part of her crew.
"I have everything I need, Captain, thank you. It's time to get ready for the party."
The party was a big success. Samantha Wildman was beside herself with joy over the intricately carved crib and all the little things like knitted blankets and hand-crafted baby boots.
Neelix' culinary offerings were accepted with enthusiasm and Tuvok surprised everyone by opening a small keg of blood wine and breaking into a raunchy Klingon drinking song. When asked about his uncharacteristic behaviour he simply said that it was only out of respect for the customs of another race. Kathryn snorted in her blood wine at his words and B'Elanna decided that one day she would worm this particular story out of her.
All in all the young woman felt pretty good but she was sure that back in her quarters she would fall asleep even before her head had hit the pillow. The residual effects of the painsticks were slowly reduced to a tingling sensation and the pain of the branding filled her with pride and deep seated joy.
When she went to refill her mug the tall Vulcan stopped her, "Only one each, Lieutenant Torres. Captain's order!"
"Hey, Torres!" One of her fellow Maquis with whom she never had got along particularly well asked, "I thought you had rediscovered your Klingon roots. No Klingon warrior worth his salt could be kept away from his blood wine."
His effort to provoke her fell on deaf ears. She laughed and grabbed a glass of juice from a table nearby but before she had the chance to set the obnoxious man right the captain's smooth voice came from behind,
"I'll let you in on a secret, crewman. A Klingon warrior would have to be on the brink of unconsciousness before he would even think of disobeying the orders of his superior officer without an honourable reason."
The man only nodded and wished himself unsuccessfully to the other side of the room, at least.
One of the other crewmembers, Carter, an older ensign form the science department asked hesitatingly, "But I heard that on Klingon vessels the officers regularly kill each other, that it's a legal way to get a promotion."
"Yes and no," Kathryn answered. "No military organisation works without rules and though Klingon regulations are different from ours there are no less of them. Someone killing his or her superior officer is a rare occurrence but under certain conditions it's within the law. It even is expected.
"An officer can only be removed from duty if he or she proves to be a coward or a traitor or is a danger to the whole crew and even then it's not a free for all. One can only try to dispose of one's direct superior and has to do it in the open, in a duel. There are some other conditions to be met but it would take too long to explain for now. So, yes, sometimes a Klingon feels honour-bound to kill his superior officer, and no, Klingon ships are not without discipline and order," she concluded with a smile.
The topic of the conversation by then had attracted a lot of public and someone asked, "Why do you know so much about Klingons, Captain?"
"It's all in the database, crewman, but when I was younger I had the chance to study Klingon culture at the source, and I don't think that it will ever cease to fascinate me."
Once encouraged the crew had a lot of questions, and Kathryn and B'Elanna were happy to clear up a few misconceptions. Suddenly from among the crowd a voice asked openly about their supposed love affair, and B'Elanna was glad that she only had had one mug of blood wine, otherwise she would have blushed or flown off the handle.
Captain Janeway laughed. "Love affair, that's an interesting choice of words. It could almost been seen as an invasion of my privacy but since it seems of such general concern I'll tell you when I fell in love."
Kathryn leaned against the table with the blood wine and checked if all the eyes really were on her.
"The first time I saw her I knew that I had to have her. I decided on the spot that she would be mine, no matter what. It was in the office of Admiral Paris on Mars. He had been a friend of my father and had followed my career with interest; so, I paid him a visit to say good-bye before taking over the command of the Argonna, a small scout ship with a crew compliment of 58. A good little ship, new out of the shipyards, but then I saw her.
"I was so engrossed in studying each detail that I didn't hear the Admiral come in. He surprised me by saying, 'She's a beauty, isn't she?' I looked up into amused blue-green eyes and before I even knew how I said, 'I want her, Admiral.'
"He answered that she didn't even exist yet and that the oversight committee only the day before that authorised the building of the prototype of this new kind of ship. It was supposed to be a hybrid of science vessel and scout ship with bio-neural circuitry and a crew compliment of one hundred and forty-two."
"Voyager!" a few surprised voices blurted out.
"Yes. Voyager. The Admiral asked me if I was really sure that I wanted to command this intrepid class ship. I said yes and he arranged my transfer to his office as his aide while Voyager was built at the Utopia Planitia shipyards. I must have driven the engineers crazy with my frequent visits and the new ideas."
"You fell in love with the blueprints of a ship?" Chakotay asked incredulously.
"Stranger things have happened, Chakotay. So, B'Elanna, though I know that engineers tend to get a bit possessive about the ship they care for, I have to tell you: Voyager is mine, always has been."
In the ensuing laughter the young woman's answer was missed by all but a few of the crew, "Oh, I don't mind sharing, with you."
Tuvok studied his Captain's relaxed features and also didn't miss the answering squeeze at the engineer's thigh.
After all the years they had known each other Kathryn Janeway rarely surprised him but with her story she had. He doubted that it had been entirely planned but in a single stroke she had instilled her public with a new sense of pride in their vessel. She had made it clear for everyone that her first priority would always be the ship and its crew. Her words had allowed them a look behind the captain's mask they would not soon forget. It would make them even more protective of their Captain and "her" ship.
The party continued far into Gamma shift, and Kathryn was relieved that she had had the foresight to assign herself to Beta shift the next day. She would need the time to allow her body to recover.
About an hour after the start of her shift Captain Janeway received the request of Commander Tuvok to meet with him and a crew member in his office. She ordered them to come to the Ready Room instead. The crew member in question turned out to be Ensign Ron, closely followed by a stone-faced chief of Security. The Bajoran stood at rigid attention in front of her desk and Tuvok handed her wordlessly a data padd. She read it and then called Chakotay over the comm. system.
"Give me ten minutes, Captain. I just came from the gym and need a shower."
"Acknowledged Commander. Janeway out."
Kathryn studied the other woman who refused to make eye contact. There was no outward sign that she was even the slightest bit nervous but she seemed very determined.
"Feel free to take a seat while we wait for the Commander, Ensign."
"If it's all the same for you I'd prefer to stand, ma'am."
Janeway only nodded and turned her attention to the padd containing the woman's confession and a copy of her service record.
'Ro Laren', she had heard the name before but it took her a while to remember where.
About two years ago she had per chance met up with Will Riker, a former class mate at the Academy and Captain Picard's First Officer. He had angrily told her about a Bajoran lieutenant who had been bullied by the brass in going on an undercover mission she had not been ready for despite Captain Picard's protests. Will had been so angry at Admiral Nechajev for insisting on this plan of infiltrating the Maquis by sending a Bajoran as undercover agent. He had described Lieutenant Ro as a woman of great integrity and loyalty, and this mission had propelled her in a situation where she could nothing but lose.
The door chime brought her out of her musings.
Chakotay scanned the contents of the padd, "Ro Laren, I wanted to make your acquaintance for some time now. The raid on the Cardassian supply post you led some time ago assured the survival of the whole colony on Arbora V. Your quick thinking saved the lives of almost a thousand people. A few of them were my friends. Thank you, Ro Laren."
Ro blushed but didn't change her stance or commented on his words.
"Lieutenant Ro, knowing what you know now, would you make the same decision?" Captain Janeway asked.
For the first time since entering the room the other woman looked at the captain who was only showing her command mask. She decided to be as honest as possible.
"I don't know, ma'am. When Admiral Nechajev told me about the mission I was fresh out of tactical training and flattered to be chosen. I quickly learned that I was completely out of my depths because I really began to like the people I had been sent to betray. One of them reminded me of my father.
"After I left the Enterprise I told myself that I had done what I did because I was convinced that the Maquis was right and the Federation wrong but late at night I knew better. I also did it out of a sense of guilt. Instead of fighting for the freedom of my people from Cardassian oppression I ran the first chance I got. Instead of fighting for Bajor I joined Starfleet. Helping the Maquis was a way to make up for it."
Ro fell silent.
"Do you still feel that you betrayed your people?"
"No, Captain. I feel that I betrayed Starfleet and Captain Picard."
"Is this why you don't wear an earring even off-duty like the other Bajorans do?" Chakotay asked.
"In a way. I sent my earring to him, to Captain Picard because even then I no longer felt that I deserved to wear it."
Captain Janeway knew exactly what she intended to do about her newfound Starfleet Officer but first she needed one more question answered and then she would have to speak with the two men.
"Ro, why did you come clean? You could have gotten away with it."
"Yes, I suppose it would have worked, ma'am, but this muvtay HochDIch has forced me to think about myself and I decided that I no longer want to run away from myself."
"I understand. Please return to your quarters and consider yourself as under house arrest. I'll call you as soon as my decision is made."
"Aye Captain!" She smartly turned around and left the Ready Room.
"Commander Tuvok, do you still want to groom her as your second-in-command?"
"Now more than ever, Captain, besides, she already did a good job covering for me when I had to fill in for Commander Chakotay. I began to doubt my initial evaluation of her character when she failed to come forward after our first missions together clearly revealed her tactical training. Now, I know that she is the right choice."
"Second in command? Didn't I hear you tell me not too long ago that you don't need an assistant?"
"I do not need an assistant now but that will not always be the case," Tuvok answered with the hint of a smug smile in his voice.
"Chakotay, what would you do with Lieutenant Ro?"
"Tell the doctor to update his medical database on her and give out a ship wide announcement about the change in rank and name," he answered with a lopsided grin.
"And aside from wishful thinking?"
He sobered considerably. "Technically she disobeyed the orders of her commanding officers. She is AWOL and a member of what the Federation sees as a criminal organisation, though on this ship that last point should be obsolete. In the Alpha Quadrant she would be court-martialled and depending on the current political fall-winds she would end up demoted, discharged, or in prison."
They talked for some time until Captain Janeway entered her decision in the main database. She sent the men back to their off-duty activities and returned to her seat on the Bridge. Only two hours later did she call the other woman to return to the Ready Room.
"Lieutenant Ro, I can't accept your confession the way it is. According to an addendum to your duty file you are not sought for desertion. You resigned your commission before you started on the last part of your mission and Starfleet command admitted that they might have been hasty in giving this undercover assignment to you.
"I restored Lieutenant Paris and Commander Chakotay to their former ranks; so, I can't do any less for you."
The captain rose from her seat. "At attention!" She stepped around the desk and in front of the visibly astonished woman. She removed the Maquis insignia from the turtleneck and replaced it with the two pips of a full lieutenant.
Ro looked at her as if she had just grown a second head and stammered, "But, ma'am, that can't be right. I betrayed Captain Picard. I have to be punished, not promoted."
"That's not the way he sees it, Lieutenant. Picard pulled a few strings and had all charges against you dropped. He feels that he has let you down in not taking you off this assignment in time."
"But how could he? How do you know? I'm supposed to pay for my betrayal."
"He had a letter added to your permanent file wherein he states among other things that he would welcome you back under his command any time. And as far as I'm concerned your feelings of guilt are more than enough punishment.
"Tuvok insists that you take a few refreshment courses under his tutelage. You can see this as a chance to improve your skills or as a punishment. Dismissed Lieutenant Ro."
The other woman saluted, turned half around, stopped and turned back, "Thank you, Captain Janeway. You'll not regret it."
Addendum: Approximate translation of Klingon terms:
The Klingon I use is based on: Mark Okrand: The Klingon Dictionary. The Official Guide to Klingon Words and Phrases. New York, London, Toronto, Sydney, Singapore: Pocket Books, 1992 and Mark Okrand: Star Trek: Klingon For the Galactic Traveler. New York, London, Toronto, Sydney, Singapore: Pocket Books, 1997.
|lajQo' quvHa'ghachtay||Rite to reject dishonour|
|bljeghbe'chugh voj blHegh||Surrender or die!|
|ghe'torvo' narghDI' qu'pu||When spirits escape from Grethor equivalent to: When hell freezes over|
|Heghlu'meH QaQ jajvam||It's a good day to die traditional Klingon battle cry|
|DevwI' SeQ||Spiritual guide literally: ritualistic leader|
|pol ruv||Save/keep justice|
|qoH vuvbe' SuS'||You can't stand against a force of nature literally: The wind does not respect a fool|
|ghojwI'||Student, here: candidate or initiate|
|chaj||Denomination for a close female friend of a female; considered insulting if used by the opposite gender|
|vuv baj no'||You make your ancestors proud literally: You earn the respect of your ancestors|
|Miral puqbe'||Tochter von Miral|
|'oy'sontay||Ceremony of pain literally: Ceremony to relieve pain|
|Qopqagh HuH||Dead Gagh slime Gagh: Klingon delicacy, a worm eaten alive; dead Gagh is considered disgusting|
|bIQ'a'Daq 'oHtaH 'etlh'e'||There's no going back; it can not be changed literally: The sword is in the ocean; refers to Kahless' brother throwing their father's sword in the ocean after killing him. Kahless never spoke to him after that.|
|joHwI'||My Lady used exclusively to address the female leader of a House|
|'Iwaghargh quvHa' 'up||Dishonoured, disgusting bloodworm|
|batlh Daqawlu'taH||You will be remembered with honour|
|mevjap!||Stop! It is enough!|
|Hoch nuH qel||Consider every option, every possibility literally: Consider every weapon.|
|'oy'naQ||Painstick; also used on large animals it's basically a cattle prod.|
|nentay cha'DIch||Second Rite of Ascension; a coming of age ceremony|
|jup 'waDIch||Here: attendant during a ritual or ceremony literally: first friend|
|wIj jup||My very good friend literally: friend mine; usually only used among the higher classes|
|Ha'quj||Sash for a optical reference think of Commander Worf|
|muvtay HochDIch||The ultimate Rite of Ascension literally: the last or highest Rite of Ascension|
|Rel'Issa pugbe'||Daughter of Rel'Issa|
|Hay' chu'||Duel to the death|
|quv tob'||Duel of skills literally: to test one's honour conclusively|
|qablIj HI'ang!||I challenge you! Traditional form to challenge someone to a duel literally: Show me your face|
|qabwIj vISo'be!||I accept your challenge! Traditional answer to accept a challenge literally: I don't hide my face!|
|ylmev, yap!||Stop! It is enough! more formal form of 'mevjap!'|
|Shig'Rai tug||Of the House of Shig'Rai|
|ghItlH||Mark in everyday language only used as a verb, here used in ritualised speech as a noun|
|DaHjaj SuvwI' vIghes!||Today I take my place as a warrior literally: Today I assume the responsibility of a warrior|
|pInaDqu' tuglIj wInaDqu' je||Glory to you and your house literally: We praise you highly, we also praise your House highly; formalised expression only used in induction or initiation ceremonies|
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