The River

 

By Maquis Leader

 

 

 

 

Rating PG13

Author’s note: This is the seventh story in the Song Series. Please read the previous chapters first. Endgame never happened in this world. The River lyrics by Victoria Shaw and Garth Brooks. Performed by Garth Brooks.

 

 

 

 

 

“Captain, we’re being hailed.” Harry checked his readings. “A small scout ship on the edge of our sensor range.”

 

“On screen, Harry.” Kathryn stood and focused her attention on the view screen.

 

“Captain Janeway, I am Captain Ryndr of the Alliance.” The man bowed formally.

 

“Captain Ryndr.”  She bowed in return. “What brings you this great distance?” The Slymarian home world was over three months behind them.

 

“Wonderful news for yourself and brave crew!” His green eyes crinkled at the corners as he smiled. “We have found you a way home.”

 

 

You know a dream is like a river

Ever changin’ as it flows

And a dreamer’s just a vessel

That must follow where it goes

Trying to learn from what’s behind you

 

 

“Inside the nebula was a Borg city.” Captain Ryndr changed the view on the briefing room’s display to zoom in on the structure in the center of the nebula.

 

“It is not a city.” Seven said coolly. “It is a transwarp hub.”

 

“A transwarp hub?” Something niggled at the back of Kathryn’s memory. “Didn’t you say one time that there are only five or six of these hubs?”

 

“Six.” Seven stood and walked to the display. “This is the central nexus. These other structures are where drones would work to maintain the hub.”

 

“Ships came out of these apertures.” Ryndr pointed to one of the multitude of apertures on the display. “We scanned several of them as they opened and discovered they lead to different sectors of space – including your Alpha Quadrant.”

 

“What about the Borg?” B'Elanna asked. “They’re not going to let us waltz in and use their hub.”

 

“The Borg are gone.”

 

“Gone?” Kathryn arched an eyebrow at Ryndr’s statement. “Gone where?”

 

“We destroyed their ships within the nebula in a few hours. It was glorious!” The Slymarian grinned widely. “The majority of their ships were destroyed with a single torpedo. They weren’t able to get the information they needed to adapt.”

 

“And the shields held?” B'Elanna asked eagerly. “I’ve been working on a new modification for them.”

 

“They did very well. However, some ships were lost.” His expressive face reflected his sorrow. “But their deaths helped defeat the Borg. The virus in their blood quickly infected the drones that assimilated them.”

 

“What about the drones inside the hub?” Chakotay looked over the metallic nodes and corridors on the screen.

 

“They are dead as well.” Again the grin of triumph. “We waited outside the apertures and picked off the Borg ships as they appeared. When they stopped coming out, we sent teams inside to clean out any drones that might be there. They were all dead. The virus had killed them as well, it seems. And…” Ryndr leaned forward excitedly. “We found their Queen.”

 

“The Queen?” Kathryn almost choked on her coffee. “Are you sure?”

 

“Oh yes, this one was different. The freed drones identified her for us.”

 

“Freed drones?” Seven felt her pulse jump. “Explain.”

 

“They were somehow freed from the collective sometime ago with Voyager’s help.” Ryndr told her. “They have been taking advantage of the collective’s confusion to destroy Borg ships in their areas. We have brought the Borg to their knees!”

 

Kathryn sat back in her chair. The Borg defeated? It seemed too unreal. And the Queen dead? “You’re sure one of the apertures leads to the Alpha Quadrant?”

 

“We believe so. We’re having some difficulty accessing the systems to open the apertures.” The Slymarian frowned. “The freed Borg have offered to help, but there is much reluctance in the Alliance about letting even freed Borg within our borders.”

 

“I can access the systems. If I’m allowed to.” Seven said challengingly. “However, I am also a freed Borg.”

 

“Yes, but you don’t look as they do.” He told her. “And you’re not arriving in a Borg cube.”

 

“Let’s take this one step at a time.” Kathryn looked around the table at her senior staff. With the exception of Seven, they all looked shell shocked. Even Tuvok had a distant look in his eyes. “For now, let’s sleep on it. Chell, do you have accommodations ready for Captain Ryndr?”

 

“Our best VIP quarters!” The Bolian nodded. “And I’ve taken the liberty of preparing a small dinner tonight in honor of our guest.”

 

“Sounds good, Chell.” Please God, no leola root! Standing, Kathryn bowed to Ryndr. “Captain, I’ll see you at dinner.”

 

“A privilege, Captain Janeway.” Rising, he bowed to her before following Chell out of the briefing room.

 

“Do you think it’s true?” Harry leaned forward eagerly.  “That we can go home?”

 

“It looks that way, Harry.” Kathryn turned to Seven. “This hub – the apertures are controlled from inside?”

 

“Correct. The Borg could move ships instantly from one region of space to another. The apertures are controlled by drones at different work stations located throughout the complex.”

 

“And momma Borg gave the orders.” Tom leaned back in his chair. “Except she’s dead. How do we know this hub thing will work without her?”

 

“The systems will continue to function. The Queen could direct them herself, but they are independent systems.” Seven assured him.

 

“Enough for now.” Kathryn rubbed at the bridge of her nose. “Let’s table it and discuss it in the morning. Dismissed.”

 

After the others had left the briefing room, Chakotay rose and paced to the view ports.

 

“Chakotay?” When he didn’t answer, Kathryn went to him. “Chakotay, what’s wrong?”

 

“I’m just wondering if the Alpha Quadrant is home anymore.”

 

“Of course it is.” She slid her arms around his waist. “Our families are there.”

 

“Your family.” He shook his head. “All I have left is one sister and a cousin.”

 

“Chakotay, my family is your family.” He was silent, staring over her head at the stars. “This isn’t about family, is it?”

 

“No.”

 

She watched the emotions ripple across his face. “You’re worried about the Maquis.”

 

“I’m worried about Starfleet. The Maquis.” He looked down into her eyes for the first time. “Us.”

 

“You’re worrying over nothing.” Kathryn brushed her lips across his. “Starfleet will be happy to welcome Voyager home. And the Maquis. And us.”

 

Holding her close to him, Chakotay returned her kiss, but his mind was still chewing on the fear that Starfleet wouldn’t be happy to welcome everyone back.

 

 

And never knowing what’s in store

Makes each day a constant battle

Just to stay between the shores

 

 

“Seven thinks she can operate the hub with no problem.” Harry said.  There was a collective chuckle around the briefing room table.

 

“Ensign Eager.” Tom patted him on the shoulder.

 

“Ensign Kim is correct.” Seven smiled slightly. “I believe I can access the computer systems and control where the apertures open.”

 

“Can you keep Borg ships from coming through from the other hubs?” Kathryn asked as she studied the display. “The last thing we need is a cube popping out of one of those.” Or a hundred.

 

“I believe so.” The answer was short and clipped and Seven did not turn to look at her.

 

Seven had been cool towards her once the relationship with Chakotay had become common knowledge, and Kathryn despaired of repairing the damage. “I’ve decided we’ll orbit an M class planet nearby.” She tapped a command into the display and it changed to a small, pleasant looking planet. “We can take a short shore leave.”

 

“And I might actually get to take a shore leave for once.” B'Elanna laughed. “We’re in tip top shape.”

 

“We’ll have to find some nice quiet spot and…” Tom whispered the rest in B'Elanna’s ear. She flushed and grinned in response.

 

“Our monthly communication with Pathfinder is in three days. I’d like to be able to tell them we’re working on a plan to use the hub.” Kathryn smiled. “I’d like to tell them we’re coming home.”

 

Only Harry returned her smile. Tom fidgeted uncomfortably, B'Elanna was studying the tabletop, and Seven was suddenly very absorbed in the PADD she was using. Turning to Chakotay, Kathryn saw that his face was firmly covered by his command mask. “Out with it.”

 

“No offense, Captain, but some of us aren’t sure we want to go to the Alpha Quadrant.”

 

“Tom! How can you not want to go home?” Harry looked at his friend in surprise.

 

“Because it isn’t home, Harry. This is home.” Tom thumped a hand on the table. “Voyager is our home.”

 

“What about your family?” Kathryn asked gently. “You’ve been talking to your father.”

 

“Yeah, and we’re getting along, I know. From half a galaxy away.” Tom said sardonically.

 

Remembering how nervous he’d been at first to write and later talk to his father, Kathryn decided not to force the issue. “Tom, who else feels this way?”

 

“I wouldn’t know.” The baby blue eyes were steady.

 

“Tom, you and I both know that there isn’t a whisper on this ship that you don’t hear.” She leaned forward. “Now tell me who else feels this way.”

 

He looked uncomfortable and B'Elanna covered his hand with her own. “Captain, about a third of the crew doesn’t want to go back.”

 

“A third?” Kathryn glanced over to Chakotay. “The Maquis?”

 

“It’s a little of both, ma’am.” Tom told her. “Roughly a third of the crew are like Harry, they want to go back. And the rest aren’t sure.”

 

“Aren’t sure? How – “ She shook her head. “I can’t stop anyone from staying in the Delta Quadrant if that’s what they want to do. But Voyager will be going back.” Kathryn looked around the table once again. “Dismissed.”

 

 

I will sail my vessel

Til the river runs dry

Like a bird upon the wind

These waters are my sky

I’ll never reach my destination

If I never try

So I will sail my vessel

Til the river runs dry

 

 

Kathryn sat staring out the view port of her quarters at the planet rolling by under them. How can they not want to go home?

 

“It’s not personal, Kathryn.” Chakotay rubbed her shoulders. “It’s just for some of them, there’s nothing there.”

 

“Does that include you?”

 

Sighing, Chakotay pulled away and got up from the sofa. There had been a tension between the two of them since they had realized the Alpha Quadrant was no longer some far away place.

 

Kathryn watched him walk to the replicator and order a cup of tea. Tears burned her eyes and her chest ached at the thought of losing him. Last night they had gone to bed and slept. Rarely did they not make love at least once unless they were both exhausted or it was her time of the month.

 

He had turned on his side with his back to her and it was as if a force field had cut the bed in half. She had curled up, miserable on her half, aware of him so close and so far away.

 

A wistful smile curved her mouth. They had awakened in the morning tangled in each other’s arms as always. Chakotay had kissed her very gently, and for a moment she had thought he’d make love to her, but he had rolled out of bed. The smile faded. He had dressed and left her alone.

 

The sadness on Kathryn’s face tore at his heart. Setting his cup down on the table, he knelt in front of her and took her hands in his. “I love you, Kathryn. And I’m not staying behind when you go.”

 

“Oh, Chakotay.” The tears overflowed and ran down her cheeks. “I’m so afraid I’m going to lose you.”

 

“Never.” He pulled her into his arms and tucked her head down on his shoulder. Kissing her damp cheek, he rubbed his hands up and down her back. “I’d never leave you, Kathryn, you’re my life.”

 

“I love you.” She pressed her face against his neck and breathed in his warm, spicy scent.

 

“Kathryn, if they want to put the Maquis in prison – “

 

“They won’t.” She lifted her head to look at him. “The war is over.”

 

“For some people, it’ll never be over. Admiral Nechayev hated the Maquis.”

 

“Then – then we won’t go.” She wiped the tears off her cheeks. “But they won’t do that, Chakotay, so it doesn’t matter.”

 

“I hope you’re right.” He kissed her softly.

 

“Up off the floor.” She tugged at his shoulders. “Get up here and get comfortable. We need to make up for last night.”

 

“We’ll have to add it to the list.” Chakotay grunted as his knee twinged in pain. “I’m too old to be down on the floor.”

 

“I didn’t notice you having any problems the other night.”

 

“That was different.” He pulled her onto his lap as he sat down on the sofa. “I used you as a cushion.”

 

Laughing, she kissed him, licking at his lower lip until he opened his mouth for her. Tangling her fingers in the raven hair, she held him to her as the kiss became hotter and more passionate.

 

The door chime made them groan and pull apart. “Come in!” Kathryn growled.

 

The door slid open and Tom walked into their quarters. “I need to talk to the two of you.”

 

“Come on in.” Kathryn moved off Chakotay’s lap to sit next to him on the sofa.

 

Sitting in the chair next to the sofa, Tom hesitated for a moment before speaking. “My father’s said some things that make me think that going to the Alpha Quadrant isn’t such a good idea.”

 

“Like what?” Kathryn felt a chill chase down her spine.

 

“Admirals Nechayev and Hayes have made sure the Maquis were shown in a bad light.” Tom told them. “Even when the war ended, they made sure anything good was buried.”

 

“She’s the reason the Maquis are still in prison or hiding.” Chakotay nodded. “I’m afraid we may not get a warm welcome home.”

 

“Captain, we love you. God knows we’d follow you anywhere.” Tom told her earnestly. “But I won’t watch my wife go to prison. I won’t raise my daughter alone.”

 

“You won’t.” Kathryn assured him. “I’ll ask Starfleet exactly what we can expect when we come home.”

 

Tom laughed. “What do you think they’re going to say? ‘Hey, it’s fine! Come on home!’ You don’t think they’ll lie to get their hands on Voyager?”

 

“Why would they lie?” She arched an eyebrow.

 

“You’re forgetting some of Starfleet’s tactics before the war.” Chakotay laughed bitterly. “They lied then.”

 

“Just because two admirals think that way doesn’t mean they all do.” Kathryn held up a hand to stop Tom’s comment. “We’ll tell them we need to know Starfleet’s position on the Maquis. While you ask your father if they’re lying to us.”

 

“I hope I’m wrong, Captain.” Sighing, Tom ran a hand through his blond hair. “I really hope I’m wrong.”

 

 

Too many times we stand aside

And let the waters slip away

Til what we put off ‘til tomorrow

Has now become today

 

 

“Pathfinder to Voyager.”

 

“Voyager here.” Seven made a series of adjustments to strengthen the signal and nodded to Kathryn.

 

“Pathfinder, this is Captain Janeway.”

 

“Captain, good to hear from you!” Admiral Paris appeared on the screen. “How’s Voyager doing? Any problems?”

 

“None, sir.”

 

“Good!” He smiled. “On to the real business, how’s my granddaughter?”

 

“She’s beautiful.” Kathryn laughed. “She’s sitting up now.”

 

“Already? Well, she is a Paris after all.”

 

“Owen, we may have found a way home.”

 

For a moment, Owen was silent, his mouth gaping slightly and his eyes wide. He recovered his wits quickly and smiled. “How?”

 

“The nebula we bypassed that was full of Borg ships – turns out it there was a transwarp hub hiding in there.”

 

“Kathryn, as much as we want you home, you can’t take on the Borg.”

 

“We won’t have to.” She grinned. “Remember the Alliance that traded us the transphasic torpedoes and multiphasic shielding?”

 

“Their plan worked?” Owen whistled in amazement. “I thought they were crazy for taking the fight to the Borg.”

 

“You’re not the only one.” The Alliance’s plan of sending ships to attack the Borg, even armed with special shields and torpedoes and piloted with crew carrying Icheb’s virus had seemed insane. “But it worked. And Owen, they killed the Queen.”

 

“Are you sure?” He gripped the console in front of him.

 

“They’ve identified her.” Briefly, Kathryn told him about the Alliance’s success at taking the hub and the help offered by the freed drones of the Unimatrix Zero rebellion.

 

“I still say they’re crazy – but I’m glad they are.” His expression sobered. “But I’m not sure you should use the hub.”

 

“Not use – why not?” Kathryn stuttered in surprise.

 

“The Borg might do something to stop you.”

 

“The Borg aren’t in any position to stop us.” She protested. “The hub is under the control of the Alliance.”

 

“Using Borg technology could be dangerous.”

 

“The technology itself is harmless.” She assured him. “Without the Borg – “

 

“How do you know the transwarp stresses won’t tear the ship apart?”

 

“We’ve used transwarp before, with the slipstream drive.”

 

“And look how that turned out.” Owen shook his head. “A disaster was narrowly averted.”

 

“Seven believes the conduit will protect us. Plus it will – “

 

“I think you should bypass this hub and look for another way home.” He said firmly.

 

For a moment, Kathryn stood mute. “Another way?”

 

“You’ve made remarkable progress. Just keep going.”

 

“We can travel 30,000 light years in an instant!” She gripped the edge of the console in frustration. “Don’t you want us to come home?”

 

“Of course I do.” His face softened. “But I’d rather know you were safe – even so far away – than in danger here – coming home.”

 

Before she could ask what he meant, Admirals Hayes and Nechayev stepped into view. “Captain Janeway, I hear you have good news for us.” Nechayev said.

 

“We may have found a way home.” Kathryn told her.

 

“Wonderful! It’ll be good to have you home.” Hayes smiled.

 

“It’ll be good to get home.” Smiling back, Kathryn felt an uneasy chill crawl over her skin. “But first, I have some questions I need answered.”

 

“Don’t worry!” Nechayev laughed. “We’ll give you time to get your reports in order.”

 

“Thank you, Admiral. But our reports are already in order.” Kathryn said dryly. “I need to know the status of the Maquis.”

 

“Their status?” Hayes seemed puzzled by her question.

 

It hadn’t escaped Kathryn’s notice that Admiral Paris had been watching tensely. What the hell is going on here? “Yes, their status. Our original mission was to bring them back as prisoners. I’m assuming those orders no longer stand?”

 

“Of course not!” Admiral Nechayev shook her head. “The war is over after all.”

 

“The problems with the Maquis are long forgotten.” Admiral Hayes added. “Everyone will receive full pardons.”

 

“And the Equinox crew?”

 

“They’ll be court-martialed and discharged.” Hayes said solemnly. “But there’ll be no prison sentence.”

 

“How soon until you’ll be back in the Alpha Quadrant?” Nechayev asked.

 

“I’m not sure that they should use the hub.” Admiral Paris spoke up suddenly. “It’s much too dangerous.”

 

“Nonsense, Owen.” Nechayev glared at him. “It’s perfectly safe, she said so herself.”

 

“Four months.” Kathryn pulled a number out of her head.

 

“Four months?” Hayes exclaimed. “I was under the impression you were much closer. The coordinates you – ”

 

“We have to back track to the nebula.” Kathryn wasn’t sure why she was stalling, only that something felt wrong. “Currently, we’re undergoing some minor repairs and resupplying.”

 

“Proceed at top warp to the nebula, Captain.” Admiral Nechayev ordered. “You’re not going to need the supplies.”

 

“With all due respect, Admiral.” Nechayev had always rubbed her the wrong way and distance hadn’t changed that. “We have months of open space to cross. With no starbases along the way.”

 

Admirals Hayes and Nechayev both glared at her, but Admiral Paris had a slight smile on his face.

 

“We’ll make our way there at best speed.” Smiling, Kathryn presented the picture of the perfect Starfleet Captain. “It looks like we’re losing the link. Janeway out.”

 

Seven obediently cut the signal. “The link was stable.”

 

“I know.” Kathryn looked to where Chakotay stood just out of visual pickup range. “What do you think?”

 

“I think you just lied to Starfleet.” He walked over to the console.

 

“I’m about to falsify reports too.” She turned to Seven. “Don’t send our monthly logs yet.” Seven nodded.

 

He smiled. “Guess Starfleet was right to worry about the danger of having the Maquis around. Look at what a bad influence we are.”

 

She chuckled and then bit her lip. “Owen doesn’t want us to come home.”

 

“He wants us to come home, Kathryn.” He met her eyes. “He just doesn’t want his daughter in law to go to prison.”

 

“You think they’re lying.”

 

“And so do you. Or you wouldn’t have added an extra month to our return trip.”

 

“So what do we do now?” She asked softly. “I want to go home, Chakotay. But I don’t want my husband to go to prison.”

 

 

 

 

“He’s warning us.” Tom studied his father’s image again. “The dangers of Borg technology? Pretty flimsy.”

 

“That’s what I thought.” Kathryn drummed her fingers on the tabletop. “Notice how nervous he is while they’re talking? Not a lot, but if you know him…”

 

“Come on, he’s just worried about how dangerous it might be.” Harry looked around the briefing room.

 

“It was more like he was worried about them dragging him away.” Tom shook his head.

 

“I have to agree with Tom.” Kathryn told Harry. “I served under Owen for too long – this isn’t like him at all.”

 

“So what do we do?” B'Elanna slumped back in her chair.  “Go back and risk going to prison?”

 

“We could keep going.” The EMH said. “Exploring the galaxy and meeting new people. Not cleaning plasma conduits on garbage scows.”

 

“The idea was that we were going home – now there’s nowhere to go!” B'Elanna growled. “I’m not raising my child on a damned starship!”

 

“They’re not going to put you in prison!” Harry protested.

 

“Open your eyes, Starfleet!”

 

“Enough!” Kathryn’s voice cracked across the table. “Arguing amongst ourselves won’t solve anything. We need to know for certain what Starfleet intends to do.”

 

“And then?” B'Elanna challenged.

 

“Then we decide what we do from there.” She leaned forward and met the younger woman’s glare. “I don’t intend to raise my children on a starship either.” Chakotay shot her a startled look and she patted his hand. “Tomorrow, I’ll talk to Starfleet again. Tom, I want you there with me. Your father may be able to get something across to you that I might miss.”

 

“Yes, ma’am.”

 

“Let’s keep a lid on this.” Kathryn told her senior staff. “No sense getting the entire ship in an uproar. Let’s get the facts first. Dismissed.”

 

Chakotay caught her hand as she stood up. “Are you pregnant?” He asked softly.

 

“No.” She saw the flash of disappointment in his eyes before he could hide it. “My booster still has four months. I thought I’d wait till then and see what we wanted to do. I have to agree with B'Elanna. Voyager is home, but I’d rather not raise a child on a starship.”

 

The others had left the briefing room, leaving them alone. He pulled Kathryn onto his lap. “You know I want children.”

 

Yes, and so do I.” She trailed her fingertips over a high cheekbone. “I thought you might want some honeymoon time first.”

 

“I have nothing against honeymoon time.” He captured her hand and pressed a kiss to her palm. “As a matter of fact, I’m rather fond of it.”

 

Laughing, she pulled him closer and kissed him. The full, sensual lips parted beneath hers and his tongue stroked into her mouth eagerly. One large hand settled on one breast, kneading and squeezing while the other hand tangled into her hair.

 

“Wait…” Kathryn  pulled back and panted against his mouth.

 

“No.” Chakotay nuzzled along her neck until he could kiss the soft skin behind her ear.

 

“We can’t.” Tipping her head back, she held his face to her as he nipped at her neck.

 

“Yes.” He lifted her up to the table and moved to stand between her spread thighs.

 

It would be too easy to lay back and let Chakotay make love to her on the table. His hands were tugging her jacket open and his tongue was licking along the edge of her turtleneck collar. Much too easy.

 

Putting her hands on his chest, she pushed him back. “Down, boy.”

 

Mischief twinkled in the black velvet eyes. “Just testing.”

 

“Shame on you.” She slid off the table and straightened her jacket. “But don’t ever stop.”

 

 

So don’t you sit upon the shoreline

And say you’re satisfied

Choose to chance the rapids

And dare to dance the tide

 

 

The next morning, Kathryn stood at the communications console in Astrometrics. Tom lounged against it, the picture of casualness, but her familiar eye saw the nervousness beneath the pose.

 

“Pathfinder to Voyager.”

 

“Pathfinder, this is Captain Janeway.” She forced a smile to her lips as Admirals Hayes and Nechayev appeared on the view screen.

 

“Good morning, Captain, Lieutenant.” Hayes said cheerfully.

 

“Good morning, sir.” Kathryn hesitated before asking. “Isn’t Admiral Paris joining us today?”

 

“Admiral Paris is… unavailable.” Nechayev told her. “Don’t worry, we’re fully briefed on Voyager.”

 

“I’ve no doubt of that. It’s just that Lieutenant Paris had new pictures of the Admiral’s granddaughter.” She laid a hand on Tom’s arm and found the muscles were whipcord taut. “Will he be out of his meeting soon?”

 

“Unfortunately, no.” Hayes shook his head. “Let’s talk about how quickly you can bring Voyager home.”

 

They spent the next hour discussing the return trip to the nebula and the possible scenarios for using the hub. Kathryn smiled until her face ached and her nerves were shot. Beside her, Tom was casual and joking, but she knew he was hiding the same fears.

 

Finally, the link began to degrade and they were able to sign off with the promise that the crew would be able to speak with their family members for the last day of communication.

 

“I wonder what they’ve done with him?” Kathryn rubbed her temples.

 

“He’s too old for prison.” Tom was gripping the edge of the console.

 

“They don’t have him in prison, Tom.” She patted his shoulder. “He’s an Admiral, he could be in a meeting. Maybe we’re just jumping at shadows.”

 

“No. I don’t think so. He wouldn’t miss a chance to talk to us.” He shook his head. “They’re holding him somewhere.”

 

“Captain.” Seven’s voice broke into  their conversation. “We received an encrypted message.”

 

“From who?” Kathryn turned to the former drone.

 

“Unknown. It was transmitted on top of the signal from Pathfinder.”

 

“Piggybacked?” Tom stepped over to the console she was working at. “Maybe the old man came through after all.”

 

“Can you decode it?” Kathryn watched Seven tapping at the controls.

 

“Affirmative. The encryption code is familiar to me.”

 

“Captain Janeway.” Reg Barclay’s image appeared on the display. “Admiral Paris has been arrested.”

 

Tom sagged against Kathryn and she laid an arm around his shoulders.

 

“He’s been taken to Starfleet Medical. They’re saying he’s had a breakdown. Emotional exhaustion.” Reg twisted his hands nervously. “But there’s nothing wrong with him. He’s – he’s a tough old goat.”

 

Despite his anxiety, Tom laughed. “That’s my dad, all right.”

 

“Starfleet plans to impound Voyager and arrest the Maquis.” Reg continued. “Admirals Hayes and Nechayev and some of the others have a personal grudge against the Maquis. Nechayev especially. She was embarrassed when it turned out the Maquis were right about the Cardassians.”

 

“Of course they were right.” Kathryn muttered. “The Cardassians are the biggest bullies on the block.”

 

“I’m going to leak word of what’s happening to some friends I have with the press. I have a source I trust.” Reg leaned closer to the screen. “For now, play along. Whatever they tell you – agree with them. Admiral Nechayev – well, she’s prepared to shut down Pathfinder and tell your families you’ve died.”

 

“That bitch!” Kathryn growled.

 

“I agree with Admiral Paris.” Reg smiled. “I want Voyager home, but not if it means my friends go to prison. I’ll send another message next month – hopefully with better news. Good luck, Captain.” The screen went dark.

 

“Looks like we have our answers.” Kathryn shook her head sadly. “I guess it’s true, you can’t go home again.”

 

 

I will sail my vessel

Til the river runs dry

Like a bird upon the wind

These waters are my sky

 

 

Voyager orbited the planet gracefully, the computer carefully maintaining the set course and scanning the surrounding space for other ships. Her shields were firmly in place to protect her crew as they gathered in the holodeck.

 

“Is everyone here?” Kathryn looked out over the crew. They had decided to use Tom’s theater program because of the excellent acoustics as well as the comfortable and familiar environment it provided.

 

“Even Harren.” Chakotay told her. “Ship’s systems are all on automatic.”

 

She hugged him and pressed her cheek to his before stepping up onto the stage in front of the blank screen. “Good morning.” She waited until she had everyone’s attention before continuing. “I’m sure you’ve heard the rumors that we may have found a way back to the Alpha Quadrant. Well, its true.”

 

There was a buzz of excitement. They were laughing and patting each other on the back. Some of the crew were hugging and a few looked close to tears.

 

“But there is a problem.” Kathryn hated the hush that fell over the theater. The look of despair on their faces. “It seems that Starfleet plans on arresting the Maquis. Admiral Paris has been arrested and is being held at Starfleet Medical. We believe it’s because he tried to warn us.”

 

The gasps and exclamations filled the theater. While some of the crew collapsed back into their seats, others jumped to their feet in anger.

 

“We’re going back to the hub.” Kathryn spoke over them. “If there is an aperture that leads to the Alpha Quadrant – “

 

“I’m not going back just to go to jail!” Someone shouted.

 

“Me either!”

 

“Sit down!” Chakotay’s voice boomed out across the theater. “And shut up!”

 

Laying a hand on Chakotay’s arm, Kathryn waited until the crew was silent once more. “No one is going to prison. I’m not going to force anyone to go back.”

 

“What about those of us who want to go home?” A voice called to her.

 

“Then go home and good riddance to you!”

 

“That’s enough!” Chakotay growled. “We’ve become a family in seven years – don’t let this tear us apart!”

 

“Anyone who wants to go to the Alpha Quadrant can go.” Kathryn glared out at the assembled crew. “With my blessings.”

 

“And what about the rest of us?” Ayala stood up. “What do we do? Where do we go?”

 

“The Alliance is willing to take in anyone who wants to stay. Captain Ryndr has been in contact with the Alliance council as well as the Slymarian government and they’ve assured him that any Voyager crew members that want to stay will be more than welcome to do so.”

 

She paused for a moment. “We have at least three months before we’ll be back at the hub. Everyone needs to decide what they want to do. Stay or go – this isn’t something I can order you to do.” Kathryn turned to Chakotay and took his hand. “Personally, I’m not leaving Chakotay behind. Just look at how long it took me to catch him.”

 

There were chuckles all through the theater. No one doubted that Commander Chakotay would have said yes in a heartbeat if the Captain had so much as crooked her finger.

 

“We do have friends in the Alpha Quadrant who are trying to help us by bringing the situation to the public’s attention. And I don’t believe that all of Starfleet is against us.” She sighed. “But I want everyone to have settled on a worst case scenario to be on the safe side.”

 

After she dismissed them, the crew broke up into groups and drifted slowly out of the theater.

 

 

I’ll never reach my destination

If I never try

So I will sail my vessel

Til the river runs dry

 

 

“How is Admiral Paris doing?”

 

“He’s better.” Admiral Nechayev said. “But still not well. He was under so much strain, it finally caught up to him.”

 

I’ll bet. Kathryn had hoped with the passing of two months time, that Starfleet would have released Owen. “Please tell him we’re worried about him.”

 

“Oh, we will.” The other woman smiled. “Now, how close are you to the hub?”

 

“We’re making good progress. Of course, we’re going to have to study the hub before we use it.”

 

“You can do that quickly.” Nechayev said, her eyes narrowing. “A day or two at most.”

 

“We’re not sure we can control where the apertures open.”

 

“That Borg – Seven of Nine – I thought she was able to access the systems?” Admiral Hayes frowned.

 

“We’re not sure of that.” Kathryn shifted the topic. “We also need to make arrangements for the ones who are staying behind.”

 

“Staying behind?” The Admiral’s voice rose. “Who’s staying behind?”

 

“I’m not sure yet – “

 

“Everyone has to come back!” Hayes barked out.

 

“Think of their families, Captain.” Nechayev laid a hand on Hayes’  shoulder and shot him a glare. “Surely they want to come home to their families?”

 

“Some of my crew don’t have a family to come home to.” Kathryn kept her face carefully neutral. “Many lost their family during the conflict with the Cardassians.” And you know it, you bitch.

 

“This is still their home, they’ll be welcome here.”

 

Kathryn was suddenly weary of tap dancing. “Welcome to go to prison, you mean?”

 

“Prison? Who told you that?” Hayes laughed. “That’s ridiculous.”

 

“The Maquis aren’t coming back to the Alpha Quadrant.” Kathryn said bluntly. “And I’m not bringing Voyager home until I talk to Admiral Paris and know he’s all right.”

 

“You’ll bring Voyager and your entire crew home, now.” Hayes snarled.

 

“Or what, Admiral?” She smiled. He couldn’t exactly have her arrested from 30,000 light years away.

 

“We’ll cut off your communication with your families.” Nechayev smirked.

 

“And how would you explain that?”

 

“We’ll just tell them that nothing is coming in.” The other woman smiled evilly. “Or we’ll tell them that the ship was destroyed and you’re all dead.”

 

“You’d do that? Just to put the Maquis in prison?” Kathryn hadn’t really believed they would go that far in their vendetta.

 

“They’re criminals! They deserve to go to prison!”

 

“Goodbye, Admirals.” Kathryn motioned at Seven to cut the link.

 

“Janeway! You’ll – The screen went dark.

 

“I always knew she was a cold blooded bitch.” Kathryn looked up as Chakotay walked to where she stood at the console. “But I never dreamed she’d do anything like this.”

 

“She hates the Maquis.” His mouth twisted in a bitter smile. “Keeping the peace in the DMZ was her baby. We were an insult – a slap in the face.”

 

“Hard to maintain the fiction that everything is peaceful and happy when you have freedom fighters saying the opposite.”

 

“Freedom fighters?” He grinned. “That’s maybe the nicest thing we were called.”

 

“I guess we should take another look at the planets the Alliance is offering. “She said softly.

 

“Things can still change.” Taking her arm, he guided her out of Astrometrics and down the corridor. “Barclay’s message this month said the public is starting to put pressure on Starfleet.”

 

“Will it be enough to change things? And how long will it take?” Stepping into the turbo lift, she ordered it to the bridge.

 

“It almost sounds like you don’t want to go back.”

 

“I’m not sure I do.”

 

“Computer, halt turbo lift.”  Chakotay placed his hands on Kathryn’s shoulders. “Are you serious? For the last seven years you’ve thought of nothing else but getting back to the Alpha Quadrant, and now that we can – you don’t want to?”

 

“I wanted to be in Starfleet since I was a child. Dreamed of it – worked for it. And I was so proud to be a Starfleet Captain.” She twisted her hands in the thick material of his jacket. “I worked so hard to live up to Starfleet’s standards. Out here in the middle of nowhere and I clung to those rules!”

 

Chakotay slid his hands down to her waist and pulled her closer. Kathryn was realizing the depth of Starfleet’s betrayal just as he had years ago. It was a painful thing to have the foundation of your life pulled out from under you. The fall was long and hard.

 

“And we finally – finally – get home! What do we get? They want me to hand over my crew! They threaten our families!” Tears were running down her cheeks now. “We come home and they don’t even want us here!”

 

Cradling her head on his shoulder, he rubbed her back soothingly while she cried out her heartbreak. All too well, he remembered his own despair when his bright dream of Starfleet shattered.

 

After several minutes, her sobs eased and she lifted her face to him. “I held you at arm’s length – because I was supposed to!  I almost lost you!”

 

“No, never.” He wiped the tears off her cheeks. “Shush, it doesn’t matter now.”

 

“I’m ashamed, Chakotay. For the first time in my life, I’m ashamed of this uniform.” She slid her hands up over his shoulders and along the sides of his neck until she cupped his face in her hands. “Forgive me one for being such a self-righteous bitch all these years?”

 

“I forgive you.” He lowered his head to kiss her. “I was the same way. Arrogant and smug. I knew Starfleet and the Federation were the end all and be all.” He kissed her again. “It’s a long, hard fall, Kathryn. But at least you have me to turn to.”

 

“Yes.” She stepped back as an alarm sounded. “Uh oh, the computer thinks there’s trouble in here.”

 

“There is.” He grinned. “You.”

 

“Smart ass.” Chuckling, she wiped her eyes.

 

“Computer, resume.” The lift obediently moved toward the bridge once more. “Kathryn, you know that Nechayev and Hayes may not have as much power as they think they do.”

 

“They have enough power to arrest Owen and shut down Pathfinder.” She sighed. “Who knows if anyone at Starfleet is on our side?”

 

“Reg Barclay is. And if he’s getting a message out, you can believe there are others helping him.“ He took her hand in his. “Do you want to tell the crew? Or keep it to ourselves awhile longer?”

 

“Oh, God, I don’t know.” Kathryn rubbed at her temples. “I need coffee first.”

 

“That’s a given.” As the lift slowed, Chakotay brushed back the lock of auburn hair that had fallen into her face. “Ready room – coffee – then we figure out what to do next.”

 

“Exactly.” As they stepped out onto the bridge, Kathryn headed straight for her ready room. “The Commander and I will be in my ready room. Tuvok, you have the bridge.”

 

“Captain!” Harry called out. “How did it go with Starfleet?”

 

“We’ll talk about it later, Harry.” Chakotay told him as he followed her into the ready room.

 

“Not good, Harry.” Tom said softly from where he sat at the helm. “Not good at all.”

 

 

And there’s bound to be rough waters

And I know I’ll take some falls

But with the good Lord as my captain

I can make it through them all

 

 

Kathryn found herself on the theater’s stage once again. “I spoke with Admirals Hayes and Nechayev this morning.” She hesitated and then steeled herself. “They've said they'll arrest the Maquis if we come back. And they threatened to tell our families we’re dead and cut off communications through Pathfinder if I don’t bring the entire crew back to the Alpha Quadrant.”

 

She had expected anger and arguments, not the dead silence that gripped the room. Many faces had a look that said this wasn’t a surprise, while others wore a look of total shock. Harry sat in the front row with his eyes wide and his jaw hanging half open.

 

“There is a growing support for the Maquis. The press is helping make the public aware of what some of the Admiralty is doing. We don’t know if this is Starfleet’s policy or just a few Admirals playing God. It’s possible that by the time we reach the hub, things will have changed.” Pausing, Kathryn waited for questions. Instead she found her crew waiting as though expecting her to tell them what to do.

 

“The Alliance has sent us information on several planets. Some are recently settled or sparsely populated. And a few are uninhabited.” Looking over her crew, she tried to smile confidently. “We can have our pick. Or we’re welcome to settle on any world in the Alliance.”

 

“They’re going to give us a planet?” Crewman Harren spoke up.

 

“We’re heroes, Mr. Harren.” She lifted her hands in a gesture of ‘who figured?’ “We gave them the final piece to their plan to rid this area of the Borg. Giving us a planet to settle on is a small price to pay as far as they’re concerned.”

 

There was a murmur of agreement throughout the room. The Alliance’s plan would not have had the success it did without Voyager’s help. While the Alliance might have weakened the Borg, the virus had allowed them to deal a possibly fatal blow to the Collective.

 

“The information on the planets is in our computer. Look it over carefully. We still have a month before we arrive back at the hub.”

 

“We’ll meet here in exactly three weeks to decide what to do.” She blinked back the sudden sting of tears. “I say ‘we’ because we’re a family and families make important decisions together. In the mean time – “ She gestured to where Tom was sitting on the end of the stage. “Any ideas, no matter how off the wall – forward them to Mr. Paris. I hear he likes to keep track of things.”

 

Tom flushed slightly at the good natured laughter. “Thanks, Captain.”

 

After the crew began filing out of the theater, Kathryn sat down next to Tom. “Any odds yet?”

 

“It’s a little early, Captain.” He grinned at her. “But I’d say Starfleet may be surprised at how many of us stay here.”

 

“Seven thinks it’s possible to set up a system where people can go back and forth.”

 

“So our families can come see us even if we can’t go see them?” He nodded. “That’ll make things easier.”

 

“What do you think we should do?” Kathryn smiled at his surprise. “Don’t tell me you don’t have an opinion, Tom?”

 

“Of course I do. I have an opinion on everything.” Tom grinned at her again. “I think we should settle on one of the uninhabited planets. This one.” He handed her the PADD he had been holding. “It’s nice and stable. Wide variety of terrain and temperate regions. Close to the shipping lanes but not too close. And reasonably close to the hub.”

 

“I like this one.” The blue and white planet reminded her achingly of Earth. “Good supply of mineral deposits as well. Plenty of room to expand.”

 

“Captain, we need to find out what the Alliance will supply us with. Starting a colony – “ He shook his head. “We’re not prepared for it.”

 

“We’ve run scenarios from time to time.” Chakotay looked over Kathryn’s shoulder at the PADD.

 

“Yeah, and honestly… not that impressive in the long run.” Tom shook his head. “We’d have been lucky if we hadn’t wound up back in the stone age in a few generations.”

 

Kathryn knew Tom was being honest as always. New colonies were generally started by conglomerates that backed a large number of settlers for mineral rights and other monetary recompense. And steady traffic to and from the colony that helped maintain the standard of living and technology level. “What’s your plan, Tom?”

 

“Well…” The baby blue eyes lit up as he smiled. “Right now, we’re the big heroes. Revered – practically worshipped. I say we trade on that. Play up the angle of how our own people are so entangled in politics that they don’t want us. Lay it on thick and dark that we can’t return home.”

 

“Make them feel sorry for us?” She frowned.

 

“Exactly. If Captain Ryndr and his crew is any indication, every family in the Alliance will be fighting to adopt us.” Tom shrugged. “We get them to help us out. Because on down the line, the threat of the Borg and our part in getting rid of them may not seem so important.”

 

“How exactly do you start a new world?” Handing the PADD back to Tom, Kathryn slid off the stage. “I’m going to see what we have in the computer. Tom, set up something where those of us who are staying can vote on which planet to settle and what they want to do.”

 

“Vote?”

 

“I can’t just arbitrarily pick a planet and say ‘here’s where we’re going to live’. This is a decision we have to make together.” She laid a hand on his arm. “Get whoever you need. Lay out the pros and cons of each world and let them decide.”

 

“Yes, ma’am.” Tom sighed. How exactly do you start a new world? “I’m on it, never fear.”

 

 

 

I will sail my vessel

Til the river runs dry

Like a bird upon the wind

These waters are my sky

 

 

Their arrival at the hub was greeted with fanfare and ceremony. Alliance ships patrolled the area, guarding the hub from within and without. As Tom had predicted, the representatives of the Alliance were full of righteous indignation that their heroes weren’t being welcomed by their own people. Funds and supplies were immediately offered by every member.

 

“A good choice.” President X’dian nodded as he looked over the PADD containing the information on the planet the crew had decided on. “A lovely planet.”

 

“It’s very generous of you to offer it to us.” Kathryn resisted the urge to tug at the neck of her dress uniform. “You’ve been very kind to us.”

 

“Not so!” He shook his head. “Not so at all!”

 

Chakotay bit the inside of his lip to keep from laughing. The universal translator didn’t quite catch all the nuances of a language.

 

“Without your help, we might all be drones.” The president looked around at the other council members as they nodded in agreement. “You are a worthy welcome to our Alliance. We are not kind.”

 

“Thank you, Mr. President.” I think. Kathryn handed a PADD to the president’s assistant. “We’re not joining empty handed. My Chief Engineer is developing a new type of shielding based on the Tiktean design. They create a series of overlapping hull plates to encase the ship during battle.”

 

“Intriguing!” The president scanned through the information. “And impervious to the Borg as well!”

 

“Just in case they somehow managed to adapt to the other design.” No need to mention that B'Elanna had gotten the idea while watching a movie of Tom’s about a ‘superhero’ of some kind. “We hope to be a productive member of the Alliance.”

 

“I understand.” His orange eyes twinkled with amusement. “Beggars are not family so much.”

 

“Exactly.” Kathryn shot a glance at Chakotay and he nodded in support. “We do need to ask another favor, however.”

 

“You should not even ask!” He held his arms out expansively.

 

“Some of our crew does wish to return home. But – I’m not sending Voyager back. We would need a ship for them.”

 

“And why give your ship to those unworthy? We had thought to visit your Federation.” He cocked his head inquiringly. “Would they welcome us much?”

 

“I’m sure they would. The Federation is very much like your Alliance. Different worlds all working together. Please don’t judge the entire Federation by what Starfleet is doing now. Starfleet is an – arm – a part of the Federation.”

 

“We will discuss this unkindness much of their Starfleet arm with them.” The other council members nodded and murmured in agreement. “We will take home your people and bring back any family member that does not want to stay. All as you wish.”

 

“Thank you.” Kathryn heaved a mental sigh of relief.

 

 

 

“The apertures can be easily controlled.” Seven stood next to a three dimensional display of the hub. “Currently, there are many that have pre-designated destinations. Those can be changed.”

 

“And that includes the Alpha Quadrant?” Kathryn asked.

 

“There is an opening one light year from Earth. Another one light year from Vulcan.”

 

As Seven read off a list of major worlds within the Alpha Quadrant, Kathryn felt her heartbeat hit double time. “My God, the Borg could have invaded at anytime.”

 

“After Wolf 359, the Queen decided to wait to invade the Alpha Quadrant.” The former drone said coolly. “Until such time as she had a better tactical advantage.”

 

“We can open one of these anywhere?” Tom asked. “Anywhere at all?”

 

“That is correct.” Seven nodded. “Merely by inputting the coordinates.”

 

“Captain, do you realize what we have here?” Tom jumped up and went to the display. “We can travel instantly – anywhere! And these things don’t have an entrance on the other side, right, Seven?”

 

“Again, that is correct.” She watched as Tom started keying information into the display.

 

“An aperture would have to be opened from this side for a ship to come through. So it’s a one way street.” He stepped aside as the display changed and several apertures lit up in red.

 

Kathryn leaned forward trying to see the pattern. Beside her, Chakotay grinned.

 

“Look. Bajoran spice tea is in high demand on Earth, right? We can move it from Bajor through the hub to Earth in a heartbeat.” Tom tapped two of the red lights. “And think of the Delta Quadrant items we can ship to anywhere. Earth, Risa, Q’onos.”

 

“You want us to go into the shipping business?” B'Elanna snorted.

 

“Of course not. We don’t have the ships for that.” He grinned. “Not yet anyway.”

 

“People would pay to use the hub.” Chakotay’s eyes narrowed as he thought back to his days in the Maquis and their constant bartering for supplies. “Part of the cost of goods is in the shipping. Distance, danger – “

 

“All of which the hub would eliminate.” Tom smiled. “For a small price of course.”

 

“Was your mother a Ferengi?” Chakotay had a grudging admiration of the younger man’s idea.

 

“Grandfather on my mother’s side, actually.” He winked.

 

“You’re overlooking the fact that this isn’t our hub.” Kathryn told him. “It belongs to the Alliance.”

 

“And we’re now part of that Alliance.” Tom countered.

 

“And they don’t know how to use it.” Chakotay added. “Our people are handling everything.”

 

“Exactly! Why without Seven – “Tom clapped the startled woman on the back. “They would have no idea how to operate it. They were scared to touch anything, remember?”

 

Tom and Chakotay’s enthusiasm was contagious and Kathryn let herself be drawn into it. “Get me a workable plan and we’ll go with it. As generous as the Alliance is, it’d be better if we were self sufficient as quickly as possible.”

 

“Seven, is it possible to set up communications with the Alpha Quadrant? Something similar to Pathfinder?” Tom asked.

 

“No. We would need to construct a device similar to the MIDAS Array.”

 

“Good luck prying those plans out of Starfleet.” B'Elanna muttered.

 

“I hate to think what Starfleet has told our families.” Harry looked troubled. “Do you really think they told them we’re dead?”

 

“We’ll find out in two days, Harry. But cheer up!” Tom nudged him with an elbow. “The Alliance is sending a ship to the Alpha Quadrant in a week or so. You’re almost home.”

 

“Yeah.” Harry had been among those who were most disillusioned by Starfleet’s tactics.

 

“We’ll need people on the other side.” Kathryn’s heart ached at the depression Harry had slid into. “Someone to coordinate communications and traffic.”

 

“Hey, sure, hi! I’m Harry, your cruise director!” He stood up abruptly and walked out of the briefing room.

 

Kathryn watched Harry leave. She caught Tom’s eye and he nodded. “I’ll talk to him later, Captain.”

 

“Captain, there is one issue we must address.” Tuvok broke into the silence following Harry’s departure. “There is the chance that Starfleet may arrest the crew members that return to the Alpha Quadrant.”

 

“Not while they’re under the protection of the visiting Alliance delegation.” Kathryn assured him. “I doubt that Nechayev or Hayes will risk an interstellar incident over the Maquis.”

 

“They may try to stop them from coming back.” Tuvok pointed out.

 

“I don’t think that will happen, Tuvok.” Chakotay shook his head. “They’re being short sighted thinking they can hide all the bodies.”

 

Tuvok arched an eyebrow at the phrase. “An odd, if accurate assessment.”

 

With a sigh, Kathryn turned to the next item on her list. “B'Elanna, if I can get those plans, can you build us our own Pathfinder?”

 

“I can build anything.” The Engineer said confidently. “With some of the things I’ve seen in the hub complex, I can build us one even better.”

 

“Seven, how complicated is it for an aperture to be opened somewhere?” Chakotay was studying the display once again.

 

“It’s a fairly simple procedure.” She assured him.

 

“Can you make it look more complicated?”

 

“Why would I wish to do that?” Seven arched an eyebrow at his question.

 

“Because an invasion fleet could use this just as easily as a trading caravan.” He told her.

 

“Chakotay, the Alliance isn’t likely to invade the Alpha Quadrant.” Kathryn frowned.

 

“Maybe not. But think of someone like the Kazon or the Devore getting their hands on the hub.” Chakotay turned to look at her.

 

“I see your point.” Kathryn said dryly. “And now that I think about it, we’ll have to set something into place to keep a war fleet from following a trading caravan through from the Alpha Quadrant.”

 

“I will set up a system that is more complicated.” Seven nodded. “One that requires a certain security clearance as well.”

 

“Chakotay, you have the list of the crew members that are leaving?” Kathryn guided the meeting back on track.

 

“There are seventy five going back to the Alpha Quadrant with the Alliance delegation.” He told her. “However, twenty six are coming back after they visit their families.”

 

“That’s more than I expected.” Starfleet was in for a surprise at the number of resignations they were about to receive. “Even so, we’re going to be a small colony for a long time.”

 

“That brings up something several of the crew have asked me about.” He tugged at his ear. “They want to know about bringing back family members.”

 

“Of course.” She reached out and pulled his hand away from his ear. “And what else?”

 

“My sister has told me that our people have been unhappy with where the Federation council has relocated them.”

 

Trebus and Dorvan were both uninhabitable due to the near destruction of their environments. It would be decades before anyone could settle on either planet again.

 

“They were settled on one of the Bajoran colonies.” He continued. “But, it’s crowded due to the amount of refugees the Bajorans were kind enough to take in.”

 

“And you’d like them to come here?” She asked.

 

“Yes. I think this is a good place. There’s plenty of room and it’s very similar to what our home is – what our home was.”

 

“I don’t think that’s a problem.” She bit her lip. “We’re going to have to set up some type of government – a charter.”

 

Chakotay caught her hand before she could tug on her ear. “Bad habit to get into.” He winked at her.

 

“I will put together a charter based on the Federation charter and those of successful colonies.” Tuvok volunteered. “The majority of the senior staff will be remaining; they will be able to serve as a provisional government until such time as elections are an option.”

 

“I have a headache already.” Kathryn joked.  “Anything else?”

 

“We need a name.” B'Elanna said. “We keep calling it ‘the planet’, if we’re not careful, it’ll stick.”

 

“Well, there’s always New Earth.”

 

Kathryn rolled her eyes. “We’ve already used that one, Chakotay.”

 

“That didn’t work out too well, come to think of it.” There was a flash of sadness in his eyes.

 

“We need something catchy.” Tom leaned back in his seat. “But not schmaltzy.”

 

“Schmaltzy?” Kathryn arched an eyebrow. “I assume that means trite?”

 

“Exactly! No New Hope or anything like that.” He nodded.

 

“Let me guess.” B'Elanna growled. “Risa II?”

 

“Please! That tourist trap?” He patted her hand affectionately. “Not, of course, that I’ve ever been there.”

 

“Add it to the list of things to do, Tom.” Chakotay told him. “We need to decide on a place for our first settlement.”

 

Our first settlement? Kathryn smiled fondly at Chakotay. “Sciences has studied the weather patterns and geological stability, and they’ve given us four possible locations.”

 

As they reviewed the different locations, one place drew a unanimous vote. A river curled and curved down one continent before pouring into an ocean. A section of land on either side of the river at one point was marked in blue as the best location.

 

“It’s beautiful.” Tom leaned forward. “Wouldn’t you love to sail that river?”

 

“If I can get someone to build me a boat.” Putting her hand over Chakotay’s, Kathryn intertwined her fingers with his.

 

“I seem to remember seeing plans for a boat somewhere.” He leaned forward and whispered in her ear. “Sure you don’t want a bathtub first?”

 

Kathryn couldn’t hide a smile.  “Any other business?” When no one answered, she stood up. “Dismissed.”

 

“Madame President?” Chakotay bowed and clicked his heels. “May I have the honor of escorting you to the mess hall?”

 

“You are such a smart ass.” She laughed. “B'Elanna, first thing we do is build a jail to put our husbands in when they irritate us.”

 

“I’m way ahead of you.” B'Elanna grinned. “I’m thinking stocks in the town square.”

 

Both women left, leaving Chakotay  and Tom trailing behind and wondering if they were joking.

 

 

I’ll never reach my destination

If I never try

So I will sail my vessel

Til the river runs dry

 

 

The planet turned slowly on the screen. Information scrolled along the bottom of the display. Kathryn took a sip of her coffee and grimaced at the cold, bitter taste.

 

“Your face is going to freeze that way.”

 

“I don’t think I’m in danger from one frown, Chakotay.” She looked up and met his amused gaze.

 

“You’ve been staring at the data and frowning for the past hour.”

 

“Have I?” She set the coffee cup back on her desk. “No wonder my coffee’s cold.”

 

“Maybe if you told me what you were looking for?” He laid the small wooden piece he was carving down on the table.

 

“The holy grail.”

 

“Well… I’m not Merlin, but I’ll do my best to help.”

 

Getting up, Kathryn crossed the room to sit on the sofa with Chakotay. “You have your own mystical qualities.”

 

“I was tops in my class at the Academy.” He pulled her close and kissed her.

 

“I feel so torn, Chakotay. I want to go home.” Sighing, she laid her head on his shoulder. “But the challenge of creating a new world? It’s seductive.”

 

“Kathryn, you said you’d get the crew home – and you have.”

 

“Not everyone’s going home.”

 

“That’s not your fault.” Laying his cheek against hers, Chakotay stroked the auburn hair that spilled over her shoulders. Kathryn had been restless for the last several days and experience had taught him that she was caught between what she wanted to do and what she felt she should do. “You can always go with those returning to the Alpha Quadrant and then come back.”

 

“I could.” Sighing, she nuzzled at the soft skin below his ear. “But I don’t want to.”

 

“And you feel guilty.” It wasn’t a question.

 

“Very. I promised to get them home.”

 

“Kathryn, life is a river.” He traced a finger down her side. “We can see it flowing in front of us and we think our path is clear. Then there’s a sudden twist or bend and our path changes.” His finger turned and curved over her belly. “We watch our earlier dreams be replaced with new ones.”

 

“That was very mystical. Would have been more so if your hand hadn’t ended up on my  boob.” Kathryn chuckled.

 

“Just trying to illustrate the point.” He squeezed her breast. “It looked like I was heading for your hip.”

 

“I thought we’d sail right up to Starfleet Headquarters.” She sighed again. “The return of the triumphant heroes.”

 

“I’m sorry.”

 

“Don’t be. You didn’t do anything wrong.” Kathryn sat up and leaned on his chest to look into his eyes. “You sacrificed your ship for us – gave up your command. Put back on a uniform you hated. All for nothing.”

 

“Not for nothing.” He shook his head. “We both had a crew to take care of. You’d have done the same.”

 

“Would I?” Smiling, she traced the indigo lines on his brow. “Would I have served under you?”

 

“You’ve done pretty well so far.” Amusement twinkled in the black velvet eyes.

 

“You’re such a cad.” Laughing against his lips, Kathryn kissed him.

 

 

 

 

“Have you changed your mind, Admirals?”

 

“Certainly not.” Admiral Nechayev glared. “Have you?”

 

“’Fraid not.” Kathryn lounged against the console.

 

“Then there will be no communication with your families again this month.”

 

“That’s all right, with the hub, we’ll be able to send people back and forth with letters. And of course, we can build our own Pathfinder.”

 

“Those plans are classified.” Admiral Hayes growled.

 

“I’m sure they are.” Hoping that Barclay was somehow monitoring the conversation, Kathryn continued. “But even classified plans have a way of leaking out.”

 

“How’s my father?” Tom had tired of the political posturing. “Still locked up?”

 

“The Admiral is still recovering from his exhaustion.”

 

“Recovering?” Tom looked thoughtful. “When I was in prison it was called ‘incarcerated’. Of course, I wasn’t an Admiral.”

 

Seven nodded to let them know the encoded signal piggybacking the Starfleet signal had ended. “I’ll contact you tomorrow, Admirals.” Kathryn smiled sweetly. “With a list of who is coming back to the Alpha Quadrant under the protection of the Alliance delegation.”

 

“The what?” Nechayev looked startled.

 

“You remember the nice people who killed off the Borg?” Tom said. “They’ve decided to come visit the Federation council. Better get your stories together.”

 

Kathryn motioned and Seven cut the link. “Let them chew on that. What did we get?”

 

Lieutenant Barclay appeared on the display. He looked considerably happier than he had in the previous month’s transmission.

 

“Captain Janeway, so good to see you again. The good news is there’s a huge public outcry at the treatment of the Maquis. The Federation council has decided to review the current policy. The bad news –“ He frowned. “Is that Admiral Paris is still ‘hospitalized’. No one has been able to get word to him or see him. I’m not sure if he’s actually being held at Starfleet Medical or somewhere else.”

 

Tom moaned softly and B'Elanna hugged him.

 

“I’m sure they’re treating him well, he is an admiral after all. They wouldn’t dare harm him. Mrs. Paris has been quite – vocal – that her husband is being held against his will and there has been a lot of talk in the press about wanting to see him.” Barclay continued. “I’ll be sending a second transmission tomorrow. I’ve made some improvements to Pathfinder’s original specs – we may be able to communicate more than once a month from now on.”

 

“That would be wonderful.” Kathryn murmured.

 

“And don’t worry about your families. The official story is that we’re having trouble with Pathfinder. They’re anxious to hear from you but not worried.” He smiled nervously. “Well, no more than usual, that is. Only a few know the real story. I hope – I hope, when this is all over, to meet with you Captain. I – I feel almost a part of Voyager’s family. Barclay out.”

 

“He’s something else. We should make him an honorary crew member.” Kathryn said with a smile. “I’ve gotten rather fond of him.”

 

“He gets us the Pathfinder specs and I’ll marry him.” B'Elanna waited for Tom to say something and when he didn’t, she pulled him close. “Your father is fine. Barclay’s right, they won’t hurt him.”

 

“My father – Starfleet is everything to him. The Paris tradition and history.” He rested his forehead against hers. “This must be killing him.”

 

“There are letters included with the transmission.” Seven turned and handed Kathryn a PADD. “One from your mother and one from Lieutenant Paris’ mother.”

 

“My mother?” Kathryn stared at the PADD. She keyed open the message.

 

“Kathy, I know you.” The small screen couldn’t hide the twinkle in Gretchen Janeway’s blue eyes. “You’re driving yourself crazy trying to please everyone but yourself.”

 

Hearing Chakotay smother a laugh, Kathryn shot a glare at him.

 

“Starfleet, your crew, Owen, me – “ Her mother continued. “And you’ve put yourself at the bottom of the list. Listen to me. Do what’s best for you and Chakotay.”

 

“I like your mother.” Chakotay whispered in her ear.

 

“Hundreds of years ago, our ancestors took a chance and settled in the New World. There’s plenty of us here, Kathy.” A smile crooked Gretchen’s lips. “Too damn many of us! Start your new world.”

 

Tears prickled her eyelids and Kathryn drew a shaky breath. A weight lifted from her shoulders, leaving her feeling light headed.

 

“Phoebe and I will come visit as soon as we can. Reg tells me this hub will let us go back and forth.” She arched an eyebrow in a too familiar fashion. “I better have a grandchild on the way when I get there. Get that big boy in bed and get busy.”

 

“I really like your mother.” Chakotay laughed.

 

Kathryn’s face reddened as Tom and B'Elanna laughed along with her husband.

 

“Your father would be proud of you, Kathy.” Gretchen said. “And so am I. So very proud.” The image disappeared as the message ended.

 

A sense of peace filled her for the first time in months and Kathryn turned to Chakotay. Wrapping her arms around his neck, she held him close. Strong arms cradled her to his chest and his heartbeat was strong and steady against her breasts.

 

 

 

 

“You have the pictures?”

 

“Right here.” Harry patted his duffel bag.

 

“And the letters?”

 

“And the letters. And everything else.” He put a hand on Tom’s shoulder. “Relax.”

 

“And you know how to get to my parents’ house?”

 

“I found my way home from the Delta Quadrant, I think I can find your parent’s house.”

 

“Yeah, but I was the one piloting.” Tom pulled him into a quick hug. “I’m going to miss you, Harry.”

 

“I’ll be back in a month.”

 

“You can send back a letter before that.”

 

The Alliance had three ships preparing to journey to the Alpha Quadrant by way of the hub. A schedule had been set up for the aperture to open on a weekly basis to retrieve letters and other information from the Alliance delegation. That it was also a way for those of Voyager’s crew who were staying to communicate with their families was unspoken.

 

“I’ll make sure to send a letter with each transport.” Harry hugged B'Elanna and kissed Miral’s forehead. “Don’t worry.”

 

“Take care of yourself, Starfleet.” B'Elanna handed Miral to Tom and hugged Harry fiercely.

 

“I will.” Brushing back tears, Harry turned and stepped up onto the transporter pad beside Tuvok. The Vulcan nodded solemnly as they vanished.

 

 

 

 

“Admiral Hayes, is it true that Starfleet is keeping Admiral Paris under house arrest?”

 

“What about Voyager’s Maquis crew?”

 

“Admiral! Has Pathfinder been shut down?”

 

“No comment!” Admiral Hayes forced his way past the reporters grouped around the doors to Starfleet Headquarters. “What the hell is going on?”

 

“That’s what we’d like to know, Admiral.”

 

Hayes stopped. Fleet Admiral Tanaka and Fleet Admiral Vesser flanked the Federation’s President.  Lieutenant Barclay hovered just to one side. Behind them, Admiral Nechayev stood under the watchful eye of two brawny Starfleet Security officers.

 

“Lieutenant Barclay assures us that you know Admiral Paris’ whereabouts.”

 

 

I will sail my vessel

Til the river runs dry

Like a bird upon the wind

These waters are my sky

 

 

“Thomas.”

 

Looking up, Tom squinted into the setting sun. A man was silhouetted by the golden light. “Yeah?” He dropped the sanding block and jumped down off the side of the boat. “Dad?”

 

“Thomas. I – “Owen Paris found himself caught up in a bear hug. They stood that way for several minutes.

 

“You okay? You’re – they didn’t – “ Tom let his father push him out to arm’s length. The old man looked grayer and his face was lined.

 

“They kept me in a very nice locked hospital suite.” Owen ran a hand over his son’s shaggy hair. “You look – scruffy.”

 

“I guess I do.” He looked down at his canvas pants and blue t-shirt. “I’m living a little simpler these days.”

 

“B'Elanna tells me you’re building a boat.” He blinked back tears. “I know how you always loved boats and the water.”

 

“I love space, too.” He remembered their fights over his wanting to join the Federation Navy. And how he’d finally caved in and joined Starfleet. “It all worked out.”

 

“I suppose it did.” Owen hesitated. “I ought to retire someplace nice like this.”

 

“Mom would like it. We’re building a house overlooking the river. Kathryn and Chakotay are just on the other side.” He laid an arm around his father’s shoulders. “I could use a little help, if you’re up to it.”

 

“Let’s take a look at this boat of yours.”

 

 

I’ll never reach my destination

If I never try

So I wll sail my vessel

Til the river runs dry

 

 

“Chakotay! How about fish for supper?” Kathryn bent and tugged on the line to one of the sunken fish traps. “I think this thing is full.”

 

“Fish? I dunno…” He smiled as he admired the way her skirt clung to her bottom. “With company coming?”

 

“Company? Tom and B'Elanna aren’t company.” She huffed as she hauled up the trap. “They’re family.”

 

“I said I wanted grandchildren, Kathy. Not more children.”

 

“Mother?” The trap splashed back into the river. Kathryn spun around. “Mother?”

 

Gretchen Janeway held out her arms to her daughter. “Welcome home, baby.”

 

 

Yes, I will sail my vessel

Til the river runs dry

Til the river runs dry

 

 

 

The Finale: I Could Not Ask For More



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