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The Tattoo, A How to Remember Vignette

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“So, is it going to hurt?” she whispered the question across the instrument cluster between their chairs on the bridge.

 He smiled, turning to her, grateful for the distraction from their uneventful bridge shift. She had been full of questions all week and had fired them at him at random whenever time allowed for a bit of chit-chat. This was merely the next in her series which had ranged from choices of materials, placement, whether she would be offending his culture, and other such inquiries.

 “Everyone reacts and experiences the sensations differently, but I have heard it described as mildly uncomfortable to excruciating,” he whispered back.

 Tom didn’t dare turn around in his chair at the helm. His ears had caught her hushed question and he hadn’t been able to avoid eavesdropping on the conversation between the command team. And now, his interest was truly piqued at what they could be discussing.

 “Is it very large… you know…” Kathryn asked, her eyes darting around the bridge to see if her question had been heard. Their new relationship status, among other intimate details of her life, were among the things she didn’t feel inclined to share with the crew.

 Tom held his breath to prevent choking and to keep any sudden and unexpected vocal response from launching from his throat. He was now fully invested in this conversation behind him. And, Chakotay’s quiet laugh in reply had him swallowing hard before he slowly, cautiously released the breath he had been holding.

 “It really depends on the technique. A single, large one tends to take the longest. But there are methods that use a cluster of smaller ones and that is usually the quickest and most effective way.”

 Tom never would have admitted to the images that his curiosity here conjuring within his head. He never would admit to his casual eavesdropping, but he desperately wanted to look behind himself to see if anyone else was privy to this conversation.

 “What do you think is best?” she asked persistently.

 “It is individual taste, Kathryn.”

 “But I’ve never done this before, so how would I know what my tastes are?”

 They are clearly not talking about sex. Tom knew the Captain had been engaged to be married at least twice, plus considering the circumstances of her having been held captive on Allusia; the fact that he had a strong suspicion that she and the Commander had advanced their relationship beyond friendship following that situation, he most definitely knew that she had done it before.

 “Our shifts are nearly over. Do you want to join me in my quarters, and we can replicate some instruments so you can decide which experience you wish to have?” he asked.

 They are definitely talking about something sexual! Tom fidgeted in his chair, turning ever so slightly to catch a glimpse of his best pal, Harry Kim. He could see Harry out of his peripheral vision and the Ensign had his eyes riveted to his display as though it were the most fascinating thing he had ever seen. That and the reddish blush across his cheekbones were all the confirmation Tom needed to conclude that Harry had, indeed, overheard the same conversation.

 “That’s a wonderful idea,” Kathryn replied as their beta shift replacements began to file in right on cue.

 Poor Harry had another three hours left to his shift and, as Tom logged off his station, the Captain handed the bridge over to the Ensign and he hurried down to the command level to take his seat in the chair she just vacated. He also never looked up from the floor as he did.

 As Tom left the bridge, he suddenly found himself in the uncomfortable position of being enclosed within the confines of a turbolift with both the Captain and the Commander. Tuvok had slipped into the prior lift with Wildman and Vorik when they had left their stations.

 “So, Tom, how’s the restoration project?” Chakotay asked, attempting to break the awkward silence.

 “Pardon me?”

 “B’Elanna mentioned something during our hoverball match earlier this week. You started a holo-program restoring ground vehicles?”

 Tom smirked. “Classic Earth automobiles, actually. Well. A classic. It’s a 1969 Chevorlet Camaro and she is a beauty. B’Elanna doesn’t really get the Grease Monkey program. She said it’s too much like work but with inefficient, archaic tools.”

 They both laughed. “That certainly sounds like B’Elanna,” Kathryn agreed. “We share that preference for 24th century creature comforts and technological advances.”

 “Speaking of archaic, Captain, I think we have a date with our own archaic, antiquated equipment,” Chakotay reminded her as the lift stopped.

 Tom blushed loudly; his idle thoughts on the bridge returned to assault his brain and he knew they were plain as day all over his face which had managed to contort itself into a mess of horror, confusion, embarrassment, and unwitting curiosity.

 It took every ounce of Kathryn’s self-control to keep herself from busting into laughter at her helmsman’s face. “A tattoo, Tom. I am getting a small, discreet, tattoo,” she assured him, watching the flame of embarrassment slowly extinguish in his face as it was taken over by sudden relief that was slowly absorbed by unspoken questions as she stepped out of the way to allow the lift doors to close.

 Chakotay chortled in amusement. “I am glad you clarified things for him.”

 She laughed in return. “If I hadn’t, who knows what sordid rumors would have been flying at warp speed through the corridors of this ship!”

 Chakotay keyed in the code to his quarters and gestured for her to enter. Kathryn had been in these quarters several times, but, this time, she felt a shade of nervousness creep over her. She slid her left sleeve and gazed down at the scar that peeked out below the wrist of her uniform jacket. The little scar had come to have significant meeting and she had become accustomed to its lines. Already, it had faded from red to pink and she had strong feelings about the possibility it could eventually fade altogether.

 Several months had passed since her traumatic experiences on Allusia in the grasp of the lunatic trafficker. Several months since she had been not-Kathryn and, out of desperation to cling to the only memory she’d had left, she gouged the likeness of her First Officer’s tattoo into her arm with a shard of metal.

 During her time as a captive, it had come to stand for hope. Upon her liberation and restoration of self, it had come to be a symbol for her healing and reconciliation with her memories of what had transpired. Today, it linked her to the man she loved and who had stood by her, their feelings for one another having stood the test of time and numerous tragedies to flourish into something more profound.

 She joined him at the table when he had finished replicating various selections of tattoo equipment. Each piece of equipment looked more curious than the next and she was anxious to know more about this tradition that spanned several of Earth’s cultures over the millennia.

 “Members of my tribe who choose to be tattooed have customarily chosen one of three methods. The first is the traditional method. This involves a piece of sharpened bone or rock and using it to tap or scratch natural pigment into the skin. For our purposes, I have replicated a synthetic sharpened stone and pigment.”

 Kathryn studied the instruments: a gray stone with a sharpened end, a flat stone to tap the other end, and a jar of pigment. She recalled having read about tattooing methods years prior in one of her cultural evolution classes but didn’t recall the details. She had been far more in tune to quantum mechanics.

 “I have also replicated a length of sharpened bamboo which can be used in place of the stone. This method is often referred to as the poke method and it is not one used specifically by my tribe but comes from Earth’s Asian cultures. Pigment is poked into the skin. This is the method that has been thought to have inspired later tattoo machines, particularly the twentieth century model.”

 She watched as he picked up a metal instrument that looked like a complex writing instrument more than a tattoo implement and he began pointing to the different parts.

 “In the twentieth century, many people called this a tattoo ‘gun’, however the professionals prefer the terminology tattoo machine. It holds a small grouping of needles here, or can be fitted with a larger needle, depending on what the piece of artwork calls for. Some of it is artist preference or based on the complexity of the piece. The pigment is loaded, and the machine is operated by an electrical current. In the past, this would have been attached to a cord filled with copper wire to conduct electricity that was tapped from a port in the wall of the shop. This model has been designed to use a portable power source.” Chakotay demonstrated by flipping a switch, causing the machine to buzz.

 Kathryn studied the machine and decided that the sound reminded her of an angry beehive she had encountered in the orchard at her grandfather’s house. She couldn’t help but wondering if the needles would feel anything like the stings she had received from a couple of defensive but ill-fated bees.

 “The last method, which tends to be the preference of many tribes today, my own included, uses this.” He paused and held up a slim wand. “It is a pain-free technique and it uses light to beam the pigment between the layers of skin. Not only is it incredibly precise, it has allowed skin artists to create pieces of work that have a complexity that never would have been possible using any other method.”

 “If there is a pain-free method, why does anyone bother with the other methods?” she asked. She knew that marking of the body or taking a tattoo was a ritualistic experience, but she must have been missing something if technology had advanced enough to permit a painless experience, yet people still chose the painful methods.

 “It is all part of the experience. Some people hold the belief that you must earn the right to wear a permanent piece of art upon your body and the pain is part of the right. Others desire the authenticity of the experience of their cultural ancestors.”

 “Historically speaking, what were the requirements related to tattooing? I can’t imagine just anyone could tattoo another person.”

 He laughed, already knowing what she was leaning towards. “Initially, no, but as time went on, some governments did adapt licensing requirements due to concern related to infection and blood borne diseases and illnesses. Even today, it depends on the location and government and tribe, but with the new dermal beam technology, the concerns about contagions and infection are almost non-existent. And, if you are asking if I can tattoo you, the answer is yes. I am knowledgeable in the proper use of each of these methods and I have tattooed others of my tribe in the past.”

 “I am still not sure how to decide,” she admitted. She didn’t want to seem like a weakling, but she didn’t feel as though she needed an endurance of pain to earn her tattoo. Pain had already been part of the experience that led her to even getting tattooed in the first place.

 “I am not sure if this will make your decision any easier but, although I am sure the Doctor would disapprove of any method, I feel he would be least disapproving of the dermal beam.”

 Kathryn rolled her eyes but then admitted: “A cocked-eyebrow disapproval would be preferable to a lengthy lecture about self-harm and infection risks. He has also continued to be rather hyper-vigilant about my mental health and I don’t really want to give him reason to question my fitness to command.”

 “He is just doing his duty,” Chakotay said gently.

 “I suppose. Now, let’s get down to business.” She bared her arm, rolling her sleeve up to just below her elbow. “Let’s use the dermal beam.”

 Chakotay approved of her choice. It was the quickest, cleanest method he had presented her with. He would have her tattooed in no time and with essentially zero risk. And, the Doctor would likely never be the wiser until her next physical.

 “I just need you to hold your arm very still while I work,” he instructed. He felt privileged that she trusted him to allow him to place a permanent mark on her body. He was further touched that the mark she wanted would mirror his own. They had discussed the idea at length, and he had told her she could elect to take a tattoo of anything else over the scar, but she had insisted that nothing else would maintain the same significance to her in light of how she had come by the scar in the first place.

The beam from the device tingled and it felt almost like a constant zap of static electricity that was zipping along her skin. She watched as the first line developed under her skin, gray at first but slowly darkening as he waved the end of the wand back and forth over it. She was fascinated as the pinkish white lines under her skin changed color, making the scar/tattoo permanent in her skin. Now it would never fade away. She was surprised at how easy the process was and she almost felt like she really was missing part of the experience by not having chosen one of the more historical methods. But, as he began on the last line, she found herself fixated on his face. She smiled as she traced the lines on his forehead then let her eyes drift down along his jaw until they found his lips. She warmed at the thought of his lips as they explored every inch of her skin.

 Oh yes, she truly loved this man. After so much loneliness and agony, to have their paths diverge in a way that brought them together in union was the best thing that had happened to her during this wayward journey.

 He turned off the device, pulling her out of her musing. “All finished.”

 She gazed down at the fresh black lines on her arm where pinkish white lines used to be, and she slowly smiled. “That truly went a lot faster than I thought it would.”

 Chakotay took the instruments to the replicator for recycling. “It helps that I am familiar with the design,” he replied with a grin.

 “Is there anything else I need to know? Any type of lotion or dermal cream I should use?”

 “No. The method we used didn’t break the skin as happens with the other techniques so there aren’t any special aftercare instructions.”

 Kathryn let her fingers trace over the mark on her arm. She could still feel the raised scar that was now hidden beneath the dark lines that matched those on his forehead. Forever linked. She felt like this symbolic measure of getting the scar tattooed was the final page in what had been a terrible chapter in her life. It was a resolution to so much, not just the tragic affair on Allusia, but also of her and Chakotay’s days spent as separate individuals. Now, their way forward would be marked by togetherness.

 She felt his presence behind her, and she turned her face upward, accepting his kiss over her shoulder. A moment later she pulled her lips from his. “Thank you,” she whispered.

 “You’re welcome, Kathryn.”

 She suddenly smiled brightly, tinged with a little deviousness. “Dinner in the mess hall?”

 “We’re taking our evening public?” he asked, surprised. Since they had become intimate, that was a step they had not taken.

 She shrugged. “I just got tattooed. I suppose I am feeling a little bold. What do you say?”

 He offered her his arm, which she stood and proudly looped hers through. “I say it sounds like a date.”

 “And, we can reassure Tom that we really were discussing tattoos and not kinky sex.”

 “Of course, let’s save the kinky sex talk for after bridge duty,” Chakotay laughed heartily as they boarded the turbolift bound for the mess hall.

 Kathryn felt mirthful. For the first time in their journey, home felt less far away, and she was happy. Onexi and Allusia were the furthest things from her mind as she took Chakotay’s hand, laced her fingers between his, and they entered the mess hall to smothered gasps and looks of surprise as they took their relationship to the level of being public. The looks of surprise were quickly replaced with smiles as the diners, their Voyager family, went about their business. Kathryn smiled brightly as Chakotay led her to a table in the middle of the room, knowing they would be the subject of every bit of whispered gossip in the corridors by duty call the next morning and not caring a lick because she was home.