Liberty For Wolves
By Maquis Leader
Author’s note: I always wondered how the Hirogen got their hands on Voyager before The Killing Game…
Für Cress, mein süsser deutscher Lakai, die immer noch an die wahre Liebe glaubt. Möge sie sie eines Tages finden.
“Then my sister has this brilliant idea – she throws a rock at the beehive to scare the bees away.”
“Oh, my God…” Kathryn covered her eyes.
“Oh, wait – “ Chakotay warned her. “It gets worse.”
“How much worse can it get?” She reached out and laid a hand on his arm. “You’ve got a swarm of angry bees after you!”
“My father was hunting nearby and – “
“Captain.” Harry interrupted. “We’re picking up a distress call.”
“On screen, Harry.” Kathryn ordered.
“No visual, Captain.” He frowned at his board as he made adjustments. “Audio only.”
“Well, then – let’s hear it.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Harry keyed open the comm system.
“To any ship within range. We need help. The magnetic seals on our warp core are failing. Please assist us.”
“Are we within scanning range?” Chakotay opened the console between the command chairs.
“We will be in scanning range in five point two four minutes.” Tuvok reported.
Kathryn chewed her lip for a moment, looking at Chakotay. When he gave her a slight shrug, she turned to Harry. “Hail them.”
“Yes, Captain.” Harry keyed a control on his board. “Alien vessel, this is the Federation starship Voyager. We have – “
“You must help us. We have made some repairs – but we are unable to complete them.”
The voice was urgent, but not panicked. Kathryn wondered if she would sound as calm if she were in the same position. “This is Captain Janeway. What is your status?”
“There was an imbalance that was detected in time to prevent a core breach, but not before many of our systems overloaded.” The voice continued. “The core is locked down – the magnetic clamps are failing and the equipment needed for full repairs was destroyed.”
“Within scanning range, Captain.” Tuvok said quietly.
The scan appeared on the console between the command chairs. A ship slightly smaller than Voyager. One large area of the ship flashed red.
Chakotay tapped the image. “He’s right about the magnetic clamps.”
“We should be able to help with your repairs. We can reach your position in – “
“Thirty two minutes.” Tuvok supplied.
“Approximately thirty minutes.” Kathryn continued smoothly. “Do you have injured crew? We can help with medical care if necessary.”
“Your assistance is appreciated.”
“We’re glad to help out, Captain…” She let her voice trail off in a question.
“Captain Trev. We will await your arrival.”
“We’ll be there as soon as possible. Janeway out.” Gesturing at Harry to cut the connection, she turned to Chakotay. “What do you think?”
“There’s damage in these sections – “ He pointed out the areas around the red section. “They’re consistent with a near core breach.”
“But we should be cautious.” It was in both their natures to help someone in need, but that had been used against them in the past. “Keep our shields up and our weapons ready.”
“We can’t go in with our phasers locked.”
“No, but we can go in prepared to defend ourselves if necessary.” Chakotay sat back in his chair. “Remember how the Ferengi used to lure in ships.”
“We’re hardly a fat cargo ship, Chakotay.”
“No… I’d say we’re quite…” He let his gaze slide down her body and back up. “Trim, as a matter of fact.”
“Chakotay.” Kathryn smiled and reached out to swat his arm playfully. “You’re a worry wart and a flirt.”
“That’s my job.”
“Worrying or flirting?”
Chuckling, she turned to Tuvok. “Keep the phasers at the ready – but not locked. Tom – “
“Don’t I always?” He grinned over his shoulder at her.
“I don’t mean your wit.” Kathryn held her own grin in check until he’d turned back to the helm.
“Harry, let B'Elanna know we may be helping with repairs and alert the Doctor to possible casualities.” Chakotay ordered as he picked up a PADD and began scrolling through the duty roster.
“Yes, sir.” Harry nodded.
“Setting up the roster for the away team?” Kathryn leaned over to look at the PADD.
“Uh hmm…” He frowned, creasing the dark lines on his temple. “And no, you’re not on it.”
“Did I ask?”
“Not yet.” Chakotay kept his eyes fixed on the roster he was working on. If he looked up at her, he’d end up smiling. “There’s too many questions right now. When they’re answered – and if it’s safe – then you can go.”
“I suppose you’re going to hold the regulations up?”
“I could.” This time he did look up, letting the smile show.
The black velvet eyes told her his reasons were more personal than business, and Kathryn smiled back at him. “Damn regulations anyway – they spoil all my fun.”
Chakotay bit back a laugh as her cheeks turned red. He could let her off the hook – pretend he hadn't caught the double meaning. But he was tired of the constant dancing around the issue. “Maybe it’s time to refine the regulations? After all, we are a long way from Starfleet.”
“Perhaps.” Maybe it was time to make some changes. “We’ll discuss it over dinner.”
“Poisoning your first officer is one regulation we won’t be changing.” He kidded. “Your being limited to coffee and desserts, however – that’s a regulation that needs to be added.”
“At last – a regulation we can all agree on.” She laughed.
Voyager dropped out of warp a safe distance from the crippled ship. Tuvok looked up from his board after a moment. “Scans remain consistent, Captain. Their shields are minimal, and their weapons are powered down.”
“Good. Harry?” She turned to look up at him.
“There are fluctuations in the magnetic clamps – “ He frowned at the readings. “They appear to be failing. I estimate about five hours. Life support is shut down in several sections.”
“Possibly to conserve energy.” Chakotay studied the information on the console once again. “I’m only counting twenty lifesigns here – Harry?”
“That’s what I have as well, sir.” It was unlikely the data would be wrong – but double checking was always a good idea. “I’ll run another scan.”
“Twenty people?” Kathryn studied the ship on the screen. It was just slightly smaller than Voyager, and she would have assumed there was a crew of at least one hundred. “They’re seriously undermanned.”
“They did say there were casualties.” Chakotay reminded her.
“But three fourths of the crew?” She shuddered at the idea of losing so many people.
“The new scan confirmed the readings, Captain.” Harry reported. “Still reading only twenty life signs.”
“Thanks, Harry. Open a hailing frequency, please.” She faced the screen out of habit, not certain there would be a visual. “This is Captain Janeway. We have arrived at your position, and we’re ready to help.”
“We have a list of repairs that must be made and the equipment we will need.”
“Transmit that to us and we’ll do everything we can to help.” Kathryn assured him. “Do you need help caring for your injured crew members?”
“No. We need help with making the repairs. We do not have enough – ” There was the slightest hesitation. “Technicians.”
If they’d lost three fourths of their crew, they were probably short at every position. “We’ll be happy to help you out in any way we can – my chief engineer will bring an experienced team with her.”
“We await your arrival.”
Tom maneuvered Voyager closer, eyeing the other ship as he did so. Something felt… off. The ship was damaged and obviously in distress. But something about the situation made him edgy. Ah, you’re just being paranoid, Tommy.
There was movement beside him, and Tom looked up to see Chakotay standing next to the helm console. Or maybe not… “What do you think, Chief?”
“I don’t know.” Chakotay crossed his arms over his chest. “Something feels… not quite right.”
“I was just thinking the same thing.”
“Tuvok – “ Chakotay turned to the security chief. “Have our people beamed over yet?”
“No, sir. There are two minutes remaining until transport.”
“Send a security team with them.” Chakotay looked at Kathryn. She raised an eyebrow but didn’t question the order. “Tell them to be discreet – act like they’re engineers – but keep their eyes open.”
“Aye, sir.” Tuvok quickly relayed the order to the transporter room. “I will accompany the team.”
“Good idea.” Kathryn agreed. First contacts could be tricky, and Tuvok was a veteran they could depend on. “Something worrying you, Chakotay?”
“I’m not certain.” He studied the ship again. There were holes in the bulkheads, and scarring along the hulls. “A little caution never hurts.”
That was true enough. Kathryn moved to stand next to him, resting a hand on the back of Tom’s chair. “We’ve seen too many things out here not to be cautious.”
“Commander Tuvok reports that the repair team is ready to beam over.” Harry spoke up from the Ops console.
Turning, Kathryn nodded. “Tell B'Elanna I want a status report as soon as possible.”
They were probably worrying over nothing – on edge because the Delta Quadrant had been too quiet in recent weeks. Tom leaned back in his seat. Yeah, that was it. Too much good luck made a person look for bad luck everywhere.
And yet… He sat forward again. Something about this ship bothered the hell out of him. The holes in the bulkhead looked more like they’d been blown in – not out.
“Captain – “ Tom magnified a section of the other ship’s hull. “The damage looks more like battle scars than internal explosions.”
“Who knows what this ship may have been through, Tom.” Kathryn studied the image. Then again – she knew what Voyager had been through out here. “Mr. Ayala, keep the weapons at the ready just in case.”
“Yes, ma’am.” He did a quick check of the ship’s weapons status. “Weapons online and at the ready.”
At the helm, Tom smiled grimly. One thing they’d learned by now was to not let anything surprise them.
“Captain!” Ayala shouted from the tactical console. “Six ships have just dropped out of warp!”
“Status?” Kathryn whirled around.
“Hirogen – weapons powered and – “ Ayala grabbed the console as Voyager rocked under multiple phaser blasts. “Our shields are still down!”
“Raise them!” She picked herself up off the deck. Her left wrist ached, and she cradled it in her other hand as she ran for the command chair.
Voyager lurched under her again, sending Kathryn to the deck once more. “Tom – get us room to maneuver!”
“Yes, ma’am!” Tom ignored the blood running down his face from where he’d hit the helm controls and keyed in commands to bring Voyager around the injured ship. “They’re trying to box us in!”
“Don’t let them!” She held out her good hand to Chakotay as he staggered toward his seat. An ugly bruise was already forming on his cheek. “Return fire at will!”
“Aye, Captain!” Ayala clung to the console, struggling to get a lock on the enemy ships and stay on this feet. “They’re targeting our shield generators!”
“Harry! Status!” Chakotay barked the order over his shoulder as he pulled up a systems check on the console between the command chairs.
“Shields down forty percent – “ Harry blinked. He’d hit the back of his head on the console behind him in the first attack, and his vision was blurred. “Hull damage on all decks – aft side – shields failing on decks 6 and 7 – aft side.”
“Over the damn shield generators!” Kathryn growled. “Has the damaged ship made any hostile moves?”
“No, ma’am – “ He checked his report carefully, blinking away the double images. “They’ve hailed us – their weapons are down – they’re defenseless.”
“Tom – use them for cover.” She ordered.
“Yes ma’am.” Tom rolled Voyager until her injured back was away from the attacking Hirogen vessels.
The Hirogen ships changed their strategy, coming in for strafing runs down Voyager’s belly. Their size and speed gave them an edge over the larger ship’s phasers.
Kathryn glared at the ships on the screen. Behind her, she could hear the damage reports coming from all over the ship. Normally, the Hirogen weapons weren’t strong enough to do any damage – normally, Voyager wasn’t at half strength.
On screen, a Hirogen ship took a face full of Voyager’s phasers and pinwheeled off into space, flaming debris shooting off in all directions. A grim smile curved Kathryn’s lips. Voyager might be wounded, but she was far from defenseless.
“They’re targeting the engines.” Chakotay told her. “They’re trying to disable us.”
“All the better to hunt you with, my dear.” At Chakotay’s startled look, Kathryn continued. “They don’t want to blow us up, Chakotay – they want to hunt us down through the ship and kill us off one by one.”
He nodded. “Hunter versus prey.”
“We’re nobody’s prey.” She turned back to the screen again.
“Captain – shields down to twenty percent!” Harry reported after another teeth rattling shake. “Engineering reports damage to impulse and warp systems!”
“Do we still have warp drive?” Kathryn hated leaving the other ship behind, but it was quickly coming down to a matter of self survival. “Our team never beamed over – correct?”
“That’s correct, Captain – the attack came just as our shields dropped.” Harry looked over the information from Engineering. “We can make warp two or three at best.”
“Tom – plot us a course out of here on my word.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Tom had been limited in Voyager’s maneuverability due to their proximity to the other ship. Now at least he could get them the hell out into open space. Carefully, he plotted a course that wouldn’t cause the other ship to be caught up in their impulse wash. “We’ll get out where there’s more room and show those hunters a thing or two.”
“We’ll be going to warp as quickly as possible, Mr. Paris.”
For a moment, there was total silence on the bridge. Tom swiveled slightly in his seat to look at her.
Chakotay leaned toward Kathryn. He kept his voice pitched low, for her ears only. “We’re going to abandon them?”
“I am, Chakotay – not we.” She softened her tone. “We’re about to lose our shields – our propulsion – Chakotay, you know what these hunters do to their prey. What they’ll do to the crew.”
He nodded and reached out to touch her hand for a quick moment. “I do – and we are making this decision.”
The understanding and support in the black velvet eyes settled her final doubts. “Harry, hail the other ship.” Kathryn wasn’t going to simply cut and run. The other captain deserved an apology at the very least. She rose to her feet.
“Aye, Captain.” Harry reached for the command on his console.
“Captain!” Ayala shouted. “The other ship is powering – “
His words were lost in the clamor of alarms and explosions from panels all over the bridge. Voyager pitched violently to starboard, throwing the bridge crew from their stations.