Tuvok could feel that there was something different in the air. Although he was of Vulcan descent, his senses were still becoming somewhat human as he observed his crewmates interacting on this voyage. Surprisingly, his Captain and her new Commander were getting along quite well despite a few minor hiccups over the past couple of years. Tuvok walked through the mess hall, and out to the turbo lift. As he walked, he supposed that Chakotay and Lieutenant Torres were no longer new, but had been widely accepted by almost all the crew, and as much as he hated to admit, Commander Chakotay had proven to be a worthy ally and a surprisingly good resource as times got tough. Tuvok entered the turbo lift, and as the doors closed he muttered, "Bridge".
His arrival at the Bridge for his shift went unnoticed as the crew charged with these important positions were used to him being reliable, and even early. He relieved a security officer of their position and took his rightful place behind his controls. Captain and Commander were both seated in their normal places, and speaking quietly as they discussed what seemed to be an inventory issue as they were referring to their PADDs. Tuvok was brought out of his internal reverie as a proximity sensor began warning him that they were coming up on something that seemed too large and too long to be any kind of asteroid or space waste.
"Captain, our sensors are picking up an anomaly about half a kilometer away." Tuvok announced in his even, nearly monotone manner.
"Readings?" Janeway responded, looking back at him as she stood. Chakotay laid down his PADD and took Kathryn's as well. He stood as he waited for Tuvok's reply.
"Biological life signs are detected, however, there are high levels of radiation present as well. It seems to be a mode of transportation of some type." Tuvok was plugging away attempting to get more readings while Janeway turned to Chakotay.
"Radiation? Way out here? How could it be that a biological organism can survive in that way?" She asked as she took a couple of steps away from Chakotay, turned, and came back. Chakotay knew the scientist in her was curious, and admittedly so was he. Just as he and Janeway turned to start asking questions, Tuvok interrupted, "Captain, Commander, it seems that there are forty-one life forms on board and each one is emitting roughly four thousand RAD. Janeway and Chakotay, Harry and Tom looked back at Tuvok in near shock. "You're sure it's four thousand?" Chakotay asked to verify what he had heard. "And you are sure it is per life form?" Janeway added also verifying what she had heard. Tuvok was quiet for a moment, and the silence hung in the air. It wasn't a good silence. It was heavy and weighted.
"Yes, those numbers are correct." Tuvok responded as Janeway and Chakotay turned, Janeway fired off the command, "On screen!" What they saw next was commonplace in this quadrant, but the radiation levels had Janeway and everyone else on the bridge worried. "Chakotay," Janeway said softly. "Four thousand RAD is three times what any humanoid body is prepared to handle." Chakotay looked at her silently for a moment."Yes, that is true, but how many humanoid life forms have we found out here?" Janeway nodded, admitting the truth in Chakotay's statement. She was glad however that he agreed to step up as her commander. "Other than Q?" she mused, "Not many." Chakotay replied, "Q is not human. At least I hope he is not. Could you imagine dealing with that on Earth?" Smiling, he turned to the screen and watched in silence as a ship appeared.
The ship was a little smaller than Voyager, almost a blue hue to it's black surface. To be honest, Janeway would have flown right by had it not registered as biological. Chakotay was taken aback for just a second. He had a distant memory of seeing a ship remarkably similar right after joining the Maquis. He and B'Elanna were the only survivors in that battle. Without even thinking, Chakotay ordered, "Shields up, red alert, Tuvok, what weapons do they have?!" Chakotay could feel Kathryn's confusion, but in his soul, Chakotay knew what was coming, and they needed to be prepared. Just as Tuvok began to answer, the ship was his with such force it knocked the ship back a quarter of a kilometer. As the crew scrambled to their feet, Janeway began giving orders, Chakotay disappeared into the smoke to Tuvok's station and they both worked frantically to get a read on what they were hit with.
Damage reports began to flood into Tuvok. Whatever this was, it was bad, and they wouldn't survive another hit. Remembering that Harry, Tom, and B'Elanna had been working on a project called "Space Erase", Kathryn turned to Harry. "Mr. Kim, have you tested your Space Erase yet?" Kim looked back at her surprised she had remembered. "No Captain, not yet." Kathryn quickly weighed the options in her head, and replied, "Well, now is as good of a time as any. Load it, and let me know when it is ready to go." Janeway turned her attention to Tuvok and Chakotay. "What the hell was that?!" She asked, putting her hands on her hips. Chakotay looked up at her and knew by her posture she was livid. "It was a radiation burst. We have damage on five decks, and we are sealing them off now. The radiation will spread if we don't!" Kathryn knew that meant loss of life. It was a part of her mantle that she hated. "How many are on those decks?" She asked, weighing more options. Tuvok replied this time, and caught Kathryn off guard. "twelve crewareon those decks." As Kathryn played numbers in her head, she still didn't like losing crew. "Chakotay, how long can we give them to evacuate and give them a chance to survive before you seal them off?" In the chaos around her Kathryn dound that there was an eerie silence as Chakotay and Tuvok ran numbers. "Captain, they would have 5 minutes and thirty-seven seconds." Tuvok replied, then Chakotay added, "That started four minutes ago."
Just as Kathryn began to give the order to send an evacuation notice to the affected decks, the EMH hailed her. "Yes doctor?" she replied in her usual fashion. "Captain, I have ten crew members in sick bay with severe radiation burns. Are you aware of a radiation leak?" Over the open comms, Janeway heard one of her crew weeping in pain. "Doctor, we were hit witha high radiation blast. We are sealing off the decks now. Only ten crew? Are you sure?" Kathryn asked wanting to verify the count. "Yes Captain, ten crew. Should there be more?" The doctor's voice reeked with curiosity, and was it fear? B'Elanna had been adjusting the EMH's programming to give him more humanity. She acknowledged silently that B'Elanna was doing a masterful job. "Thank you doctor, please send me the names of the ten that you have." She replied stoically. Turning her back to Chakotay and Tuvok, she said the words she had never wanted to say. "Commander Chakotay, sever life support to those decksand seal them off." Before she could feel anything, she stood next to Tom who had just gotten his bearings back, "Mr. Paris, get us the hell out of here!" "Captain! Space erase is loaded, and ready to go!" Came a strong reply from Harry over her left shoulder.
What happened next, she didn't really remember. Tom had turned to her and told her to sit down. Chakotay had magically materialized beside her, and then there was a flash of white. She remembered hearing Harry and Tom talking about speed and projections. When the white faded, there was nothing on screen but the darkness and stars that she was so accustomed to seeing. Coming back to her senses, she remembered there were two of her crew that had just lost their lives. That fact hit her like a ton of bricks. This was the part of the title she hated. Even though she couldn't break the news to their families, she would have to make a record of it for whoever found the ship later on. Without saying a word, she picked up her PADD and walked to her ready room. Her steps seemingly grew heavier, and as the door whooshed shut behind her, she took a deep shaky breath and moved to her desk to read the names who survived the hit. When she compared the EMH's record to the names assigned to those decks, she immediately figured out who was missing, and her heart sank. The two youngest crew members she had. They had just graduated from Starfleet and were anxious to get underway. She had admired that in them, and happily made sure they made it aboard Voyager.
The minutes seemed like centuries as she recorded their deaths and the cause of them. She recorded all she knew about the vessel they came upon, and how much radiation was on board. She hated that they had ran from it, but they would have all died had they stayed. Kathryn called out to the computer and activated her music file. As the deep cello sound filled the room with its warm and melodic sound filled the room, she paced. She was reevaluating her choices lately and was lost in thought, and hadn't noticed she was gazing out the window into the darkness. She didn't care where they were in the Delta Quadrant. She felt alone and lost. She wanted to get her crew and herself home. SHe wanted to be back in San Francisco where she could relax and read a book while she sipped coffee in a coffee shop. She was so lost in thought that she never heard Chakotay enter the ready room. She felt him though. She refused to turn around. He would see how weak she felt then.
Chakotay stopped and watched her as the door closed behind him. He knew she was reflecting, and he didn't want to interrupt. Her posture told him she was hurting, but she was keeping it under wraps. All she wanted was to go home. He broke the silence gently, "Can I do anything to help you?" he asked expecting to be dismissed. She didn't answer right away, and he saw her wipe tears away. In a way, he was surprised. In a way, he wasn't. She was strong, but he knew even the strong ones broke after so long. "No, I've done the death reports and the incident reports. I even included a personal letter to their families. She was still facing the window as she spoke again. "I hate parts of my job. I hate that I feel so damn alone. I'm afraid. But I can't show that out there." She tilted her chin towards the door to indicate the bridge. She turned and faced Chakotay briefly, he had taken a seat at her desk, she looked into his eyes. What she saw there, was not what she had expected. What was it? Empathy? Respect? Admiration? Her mind drifted for a split second to a book she had read by Deanna Troi. It had been about communication using many different forms of language. Whether it was body language, words, or emotions. She had lost herself in thought again and turned back to gaze quietly into space.
He watched her as she stared out the window, and something in him broke. She had said she was alone. What he had heard is that she was too scared to not be alone. He moved to her side, and with the tips of his fingers, he gently turned her face to him. He saw in her eyes in that moment the flash of unguarded emotion she actually felt for him, and that was all he needed.
He kissed her then.. startling them both.. his kiss started out gentle, giving her the chance to refuse him. Her kiss in return was rough, hot, needy, and it consumed him like fire. When the kiss broke and they were both slightly out of breath, he gently caressed her face in his hands, and said, “Damn it, Kathryn, you’ve never been alone, I’ve been right here. You will never be alone again” As he kissed her forehead, Kathryn whispered, “What took you so long?” He chuckled, kissed her again, this time pulling her into his embrace, and then whispered into her ear “fear of rejection”.