DISCLAIMER: Yes, Paramount owns it all - I am just having some fun
with their characters.
SERIES: This story is third in the R series, following Resistance and Retribution
WARNING: This bit is dark! Even by my standards. It's not graphic but the undertones, well - let's just say 'disturbing' is probably not strong enough. However it's not gratuitous, and it is to develop the story.
FEEDBACK: Yes please, I wouldn't post otherwise.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
The tension on the Bridge of USS Voyager was palpable as the ship continued to close in on its required destination. Captain Kathryn Janeway sat rigidly in her chair, staring at the view screen almost motionlessly. The only indication that the atmosphere was having an effect on the auburn-haired woman was the rhythmic tapping of her fingers on an armrest. She knew that due to the planet's protective shielding, the view screen would not show its location, but it didn't stop her from scanning the image for anything abnormal that might indicate its presence.
Silently she willed her beloved ship to hurry. Seven of Nine and B'Elanna Torres, two of her most valued staff, had been ambushed and abducted by the Moderator. During their first encounter with the man, B'Elanna had been tortured mercilessly in the hope that Janeway would provide technology from Voyager. Eventually, they had escaped his clutches, but not before B'Elanna had lost the baby she was carrying. His treatment had scarred them all psychologically.
Janeway knew that the Moderator was evil, but had no idea that he would be so dedicated in his hunt for retribution. He had coerced an Administrator to lure Voyager into helping the port with repairs and then formed an elaborate ruse to abduct Seven and B'Elanna and at the same time, send Janeway chasing a different vessel on a wild goose chase. Once her crew was safe, Janeway vowed to ensure that the Moderator would not have the power to torture anyone else, ever again. If that meant destroying him completely, then so be it.
The Captain allowed her anger to bubble inside her. It would take every ounce of self-control not to simply obliterate the planet, but she had to remind herself that somewhere on the surface, there would be people who had no knowledge of the Moderator's actions, along with those who fell victim to him. Her fury would give her an edge, a sense of purpose and focus. Her goal was to take out the Moderator. She would not leave this area of space until she was certain that happened.
The tension on the Bridge was difficult for the rest of the senior staff present. Chakotay, seated on Janeway's left in the First Officer's chair could easily pick up his captain's mood and it made him edgy. He knew Kathryn had a propensity to hit hard, sometimes too hard, especially when her pride had been wounded. He knew that she relied on him to be a steadying influence, to provide the reasonable alternative and keep her actions tempered. But he was having difficulty feeling reasonable. B'Elanna was one of his closest friends. She was certainly the oldest friend he had on Voyager.
The tall Native American had seen what the Moderator did to B'Elanna the first time round. He witnessed her breakdown and depression. He was relieved and delighted when she turned the corner and began to live again. He knew that Seven had a great deal to do with that. And he wasn't so naïve as to be unable to recognise what was developing between the two women. It was small relief that both Seven and B'Elanna had been captured together. At least they could feed off each other's strengths. But their bond could equally be exploited. That the Moderator had the audacity to go after them and abduct them galled the First Officer.
Chakotay wasn't sure he could remain reasonable and dispassionate for Janeway. He wanted the torturer punished. He wanted the captain to destroy him. And he knew that it would take someone with a greater strength of character than his to stop her.
Tuvok silently monitored his station, making minute adjustments to the various scans Voyager was currently undertaking. He was well aware of the Captain's propensity to adopt a gung-ho attitude, particularly when members of her crew were threatened. Captain Janeway had not even attempted to hide her feelings about the Moderator and it was clear what her intentions were. Tuvok knew that it would fall to him to remind Janeway of correct protocol and procedure, though he could predict the answer he would receive; probably to the wording used. He was not unaffected by the abduction of Lieutenant Torres and Seven of Nine. He respected both women and knew that they were possibly the two people closest to `indispensable' on board, discounting the Captain herself. The chances of successfully returning to the Alpha Quadrant without their presence diminished dramatically.
Tuvok was also concerned at the breach of security. He had already worked on a number of strategies to improve personal safety for away teams during future missions. The Chief of Security knew that the dangers could never be totally eradicated, but was certain that had more stringent measures been in place, Voyager would not currently be on a rescue mission.
The tall, dark-skinned Vulcan monitored the sensors for any indication of the planet they were headed for. He would lead any rescue attempt, if it came to a physical retrieval and had already memorised the sketchy layout of the prison where the women had been held before. He knew that the Captain would state that failure was not an option. Even so, Tuvok could not help but calculate the odds of successfully retrieving Seven and Lieutenant Torres. They did not make good news and he elected to keep the figures to himself for the time being.
Tom Paris stared resolutely at the Helm controls. He had put all thoughts of vengeance against Seven to one side, knowing that B'Elanna was in danger. Personally, he knew it wouldn't bother him if Seven failed to survive the abduction and forthcoming rescue attempt.
Tom was determined to win his way back into B'Elanna's affections. Improving the odds would simply be part of the process. In the few days the two women had been missing, Tom realised that he loved B'Elanna deeply. He had been a fool to drift along in their relationship. He was determined to have a second chance at making things work – but that could only happen if B'Elanna was here with him.
As he made minor adjustments to Voyager's flight path, Paris contemplated ways to use the current situation to his advantage. He just hoped that he got there in time to save B'Elanna.
Harry Kim, the other usual member of senior staff to occupy the Bridge, currently sat in Engineering, working frenetically with a team to provide a counter to the Moderator's planetary cloaking system. His isolation from the Bridge did nothing to lessen the tension he too felt. He was frustrated with himself at the progress of the cloak detector. He was sure that B'Elanna or Seven would have already cracked the problem by now but he had only partially succeeded. It was his work that would determine if they could even locate the two women. The young Asian ensign carried the arduous burden of that responsibility heavily, and endured his own private torture as he continued to work.
On the Bridge, Tuvok looked up from his console behind Janeway. "Captain, according to sensors, we should be approaching the planet in three minutes."
Janeway stared at the screen. There was no indication of any planet in the space ahead of them. "Mr Paris, adopt a high orbit projected on sensor readings taken from the last time we were here," she instructed curtly.
"Yes ma'am," the sandy-haired pilot complied, his fingers punching in a set of commands rapidly.
"Bridge to Engineering." Unconsciously, the captain looked up. "Ensign Kim, we need that cloak sensor online," she told him.
"Captain, our results are sketchy at best. I've got no guarantees that this will work," Kim warned, hating to admit his failure to have a sure-fire method of smoking the planet out.
Janeway heard the tension in the young man's voice and responded to it immediately. "Let's just try what we've got and take it from there."
"Yes ma'am." The Ops officer's dismembered voice sounded relieved just in those two words. "Stand by."
Immediately, the dark orange planet shimmered into view.
"Good work Mr Kim. It seems like your project is a resounding success," the captain praised, even as she steeled herself for the initial contact with the Moderator. She glanced over to the Ops station, about to order the ensign to open a channel when Kim spoke again.
"Captain, we haven't started yet."
Immediately, Janeway stood up. "Yellow alert," she ordered abruptly. "Ensign Kim, are you sure you've done nothing?"
"Yes Captain," his disembodied voice confirmed. "Whatever's happened, it was nothing to do with the cloak sensor."
Janeway frowned as she stared at the forward visual screen. Why would the planet reveal itself on their arrival when they had gone to so much trouble to abduct her crew? Ensign Stirling, Harry's stand- in at Ops, interrupted her reverie.
"Captain, we're being hailed," she told the auburn-haired woman coolly.
"Hailed? By whom?"
Kathryn sat back down in her chair and composed herself mentally. "On screen," she finally ordered.
The viewer immediately displayed an image sickeningly familiar to Janeway. The Moderator smiled almost warmly at her. "Captain Janeway, you're looking well," he commented affably.
"Forgive me if I don't exchange pleasantries," Janeway growled back, feeling her hackles rising. "I'm here on business."
The tall blond man cocked his head to one side in understanding. "You wish to retrieve your spies I take it," he surmised.
"My spies?" Janeway was astounded. "You *kidnapped* two members of my crew. I want them back."
"Captain, I have no idea what insidious game you're playing, and I certainly do not like your tone. I've kidnapped no-one." The Moderator's voice became steely.
"Are you denying that B'Elanna Torres and Seven of Nine are on your planet?" Janeway asked in disbelief.
"No, I am not. They are here. I have them in holding cells."
"I want them back right now," Janeway interrupted, standing as she spoke.
"I'll consider your request, but you will have to submit an appeal to their sentence."
"Sentence?" Janeway was perplexed. "How the hell can they be charged with anything? You kidnapped them." Her anger became evident as her voice began to strain.
"Captain, I must ask that you cease these accusations, or the board will not convene at all. They were found hiding amongst a cargo haul. They smuggled themselves onto the planet. They were here either to spy and report back to you prior to an attack, or were undertaking terrorist activities of their own." He held up a hand to forestall Janeway's interruption. "Either way, they were here illegally, and have been sentenced to that effect. Now, as I have a certain," he paused a beat, "history with you, I have been tolerant so far of your aggressive behaviour. But if you continue this line of accusation, I will shut down communication altogether and will return your crew members at the end of their sentence, which is currently set at," he glanced down at a screen for confirmation. "Six years."
"They did not come here covertly. They were abducted. And we have proof," the Captain stated calmly, though inwardly she seethed. This was not the sort of confrontation she was expecting and she felt somewhat stymied by the Moderator's behaviour. "Now I demand that you return them immediately or I will have no alternative but to use force."
"I suggest you save your arguments for the appeal, Captain." The Moderator's reply was sharp. "What you need to remember is that this planet does not follow your rules. Nor will we be browbeaten."
"I know that you're fully aware of the capability of this ship," Janeway cut him off. "I will not leave here without my crew."
"You are correct. I am aware of your power. But should you elect to use it at this stage, I will send Sector wide transmissions of this conversation and declare that you are out-of-control pirates who deserve to be hunted down and eliminated. How long do you think you'll survive in a totally hostile environment?"
Janeway controlled her response carefully, ignoring the Moderator's last statement completely. "How long will it take to appeal?"
The alien's dark-blue eyes twinkled. "It is always difficult to predict the timing of these proceedings. I will contact you shortly as to what happens next." He made to close the comm. link.
"Wait. Are they okay? I want to see them," Kathryn demanded. Her heart was pounding at the thought of what might have happened to them. She knew that she shouldn't be exhibiting signs of weakness that could potentially be exploited, but needed to know that they were still alive.
"They were interrogated on arrival, and have been questioned periodically since. You will see them if they are released. I am afraid it is not possible to allow you contact at this time," the Moderator replied smoothly. He cut the channel before Janeway could respond.
The instant the link was broken, Kathryn spun to look at Tuvok. "Can sensors detect their signatures?" she asked, knowing that Tuvok would have been scanning for them during her negotiations.
"Sensors detect Borg material and Klingon DNA, but the signals are not strong enough to lock onto and initiate a transport," the Security Chief replied, answering Janeway's unasked question.
The Captain sighed frustratedly. "Well, that wasn't what I was expecting," she announced to the Bridge crew in general. "Suggestions anyone?"
"I can't see that we have any other alternative but to wait," Chakotay reasoned.
"What?" Tom exploded. "We just busted a gut to get here and now we're going to wait. That's ridiculous."
Kathryn found herself nodding with the pilot.
"Captain, Starfleet is quite clear on issues involving alien law," Tuvok stated.
"Well, we pretty much blasted the Prime Directive the last time we were here. I don't think it counts second time round," Janeway dismissed, still angry with the Moderator.
"Nevertheless, I would counsel caution. It would be prudent to wait and see what develops. If the Moderator fails to contact the ship after a reasonable time span, further considerations for retrieving Seven and Lieutenant Torres can be discussed."
"We shouldn't be waiting now. We have the power to out-gun them. I say we get a force down there and get B'Elanna out," Tom stated firmly.
Janeway looked at her senior officers carefully as she came to her decision. "He gets one hour. If he hasn't contacted the ship by then, I'm going to get them. Chakotay, work on the sensors and see if you can pinpoint their location. Tuvok, assemble and brief your teams. I want them in total readiness should we need to get them out. Tom, maintain high orbit, but be ready to leave in an instant." She looked round the Bridge one last time. "I'll be in my ready room. Commander, you have the Bridge." She pivoted on her heel and strode towards the ready room purposefully, not waiting for Chakotay to acknowledge her decision.
The redhead did not stop until she reached the desk in her ready room. As soon as she heard the doors swish close, she relaxed her shoulders and leaned heavily against the desk. The whole situation felt out of her control. What was worse was the fact that she felt out of control too. If it hadn't been for Tuvok and Chakotay reminding her to exercise caution, she would have been leading a party and blasting her way to the Moderator in order to prove a point. Janeway knew she wouldn't relax until B'Elanna and Seven were safely back on board, but she wasn't sure how much longer she could maintain control. She was fully aware of her responsibilities as a Starfleet captain, but at this present moment she didn't give a damn. Frankly, the Moderator was lucky she allowed an hour.
Janeway pushed herself away from the desk and over to the replicator and ordered a black coffee. It might only pass a few minutes, but the Captain could use every single distraction possible as the clock ticked. She forced herself to sip the drink slowly and made herself savour the flavour. Kathryn fully expected to endure a whole hour of waiting, so was surprised to hear Chakotay hail her over the comm. "Go ahead," she allowed.
"Captain, the Moderator is back in touch.."
"I'm on my way," she interrupted immediately, almost sprinting towards the door.
Janeway propelled herself onto the Bridge and lowered herself into her chair before speaking. "Well, that was unexpectedly quick," she commented to her First Officer. "Shall we see what he has to say?"
"No time like the present," the Native American agreed and nodded to Stirling at the Ops console. "Open the channel," he ordered.
"I take it you've managed to arrange an appeal." Janeway spoke first, wanting to get the upper hand.
"There is no need," the longhaired man replied serenely.
"No need? What the hell sort of game are you playing here?" Janeway growled, rising from her chair instantly.
"There is no need, as it has been decided to return your crew to you," the Moderator continued as if Janeway hadn't spoken.
"There are conditions, however," the Moderator continued.
The captain narrowed her eyes and she could sense the rest of the Bridge staff tense. "Conditions?" she prompted.
"We know you have technology to instantly transport your people to your ship. We will allow this to take place on the proviso that you leave our space immediately and never return. There is to be no attack on our people due to your perceived injustice. If you cannot agree these terms, your crew will have to serve their full sentence."
Janeway narrowed her eyes. This was too good to be true. There had to be a catch somewhere. Yet the only thing she could think of was that she would be unable to take revenge on the Moderator, and that all her vows to ensure his demise would amount to nothing. But it was a small price to pay if she could get B'Elanna and Seven back on board safely. She took several seconds to answer though, as she weighed up her options. The pause escalated the tension on the Bridge exponentially. But Janeway didn't need to seek assistance with her decision. Without even looking at the rest of her crew she gave her answer. "Done."
The Moderator nodded curtly. "The two women were held separately. I will give you the co-ordinates of their locations. Leave as soon as they are on board." The timbre of his voice changed as he spoke the last sentence, and the threat was quite clear.
"Captain, I have a lock on them both," Stirling announced. "Life signs are weak," she added.
"Tuvok, get down to Sick Bay," Janeway ordered quickly. "Bridge to Sickbay, expect two casualties imminently," she raised her voice slightly as she used the comm. link to speak with the Doctor. "Thank you for your co-operation," she ceded to the Moderator.
"Oh, the pleasure has been mine entirely," the Moderator replied mellifluously, making the whole crew shudder.
Janeway could only guess at what horrors he had inflicted on B'Elanna and Seven. "Transport them directly to Sick Bay," she told Stirling. "And cut that link. I've had enough of his face," she continued nastily.
"Transport complete," Stirling informed her a moment later, switching the link off at the same time.
"Mr Paris, get us out of here," Janeway ordered.
"That's it?" Tom couldn't believe it.
"Yes, that's it. Now resume course for the Alpha Quadrant." Her tone brooked no argument.
"Yes ma'am," Paris replied sullenly.
"I'm heading down to Sick Bay Chakotay. Do you want to remain on the Bridge or..." Janeway was cut short by a frantic sounding Doctor.
"EMH to the Captain. You're needed in Sick bay immediately."
"What's wrong, Doctor?" Janeway was almost too frightened to ask.
"Lieutenant Torres has gone berserk. She's trying to kill Seven."
To Be Contiuned
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