A deadly encounter with hostile aliens has left Captain Janeway's crew separated from the Starship Voyager and slowly starving to death in a disease-ridden alien prison camp. To keep up their determinations as they plot their escape, the crew shares with each other the unlikely paths that brought them all to the U.S.S. Voyager and the Delta Quadrant.
They began as individuals, following very different pathways, but together, under the leadership of one remarkable woman, they have become one of the finest teams in the known universe -- the crew of the U.S.S. Voyager.
About the Author
Jeri Taylor is the co-creator and former executive producer of Star Trek: Voyager®. She also served as an executive producer for Star Trek: The Next Generation®. She lives in California.
Read an Excerpt
Tom Paris was well aware that bringing a shuttle into a planet's atmosphere was easy if you followed procedure; it only became challenging -- and interesting -- if you deviated from Starfleet's carefully regulated system.
He had developed a number of ways to cheat the routine, but the only one that consistently provided what Tom wanted -- the ineffable thrill that accompanied danger -- was what he had termed the Yeager maneuver, after an ancient but renowned pilot of the twentieth century. Now he had the chance to try it again.
Captain Janeway had deposited an away team, including the ship's senior officers, on an unoccupied M-class planet that promised abundant foodstuffs as well as time off their starship, Voyager. She then took the ship on a diplomatic mission to a nearby system where she hoped to secure safe passage through a part of space rumored to be rife with danger.
Tom had requested shuttle time during the away mission, not an unusual request. Logging shuttle time was required duty for every pilot, a necessary means of keeping one's skills honed. First Officer Chakotay hadn't hesitated when Tom suggested he use this downtime to log a few hours on his file.
The request was legitimate, of course, and Tom had no pangs about making it, even if he did have an agenda that had gone unspoken. The two functions weren't mutually exclusive, and he saw nothing wrong with combining them.
Now, at the controls of the Starship Voyager's shuttle Harris, he saw the planet looming before him. It was a watery sphere, much like Earth, and the marbled blue-and-white orb gave him a few pangs of nostalgia -- a fact which surprised him, for he usually found himself far happier in the Delta Quadrant than he had been at home. He shoved the feelings aside and made the necessary preparations for entering the atmosphere, which, his instruments told him, would first be encountered some thirty thousand meters above the surface.
First would come the mesosphere, where molecular structure was thin and porous, bleeding into the stratosphere, where atmospheric pressure heightened and friction became a genuine concern; finally, the descent into the full oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere and the landing. The Yeager maneuver was accomplished just at the transition from mesosphere to stratosphere.
Atmospheric flight was always done under thruster power, and as such was accomplished much as it had been with pre-warp vehicles. There were safety mechanisms in place now, of course, that hadn't been available to earlier craft, but safety systems could always be taken off line. That was the first thing Tom did as the image of the planet filled the window of his ship, growing larger by the minute.
At the point where gravity began to exert a substantial pull on the shuttle, Tom tilted up the nose of the vessel and cut the thrusters, so that the ship began sinking toward the surface tail first, without power.
And that's when his body went into an autonomic response: pulse rate increased, blood pressure heightened, and adrenaline was released. These systemic reactions were biochemical and as old as man's earliest ancestors, but to Tom Paris they provided a state of crystalline awareness that was almost hallowed. All his senses sharpened as endorphins flowed into the brain, creating a mix of fear and pleasure that were mysteriously and inextricably linked.
He stared only briefly into the black sky, which, he knew, would soon begin to change color, becoming more blue as the atmosphere thickened. From now on he had to keep his eyes down, locked on the control panel. Because very soon the shuttle would be pulled into a violent spin, and a glimpse out the window would produce instant and disabling vertigo. Then he'd be doomed.
The only way to restart the thrusters now was to get the ship into a dive, nose-down, so that air was forced through the intake manifolds, which would start the magnaturbines spinning and build up the RPMs. Atmospheric oxygen would then combine with fuel from the shuttle's tanks in a supersonic combustion chamber, providing power for the thrusters.
The ship snapped into a flat spin, whirling right over its center of gravity, like an ancient pinwheel. The force of the spin drove Tom back against the seat, his head on the outer edge of the circle.
This was the moment he'd waited for.
He could pull out of this if he functioned perfectly. He needed every sense, every instinct keen and chiseled, responding with diamondlike clarity. And that's what the fear gave him -- intensified awareness that would allow him to make the moves to save himself.
The trick now was timing. He had to gauge -- through a combination of skill, experience, and luck -- just the right time to maneuver the nose of the ship down. Too soon and it would throw him into an end-over-end tumble from which it was almost impossible to escape. Too late and the atmosphere would be dense enough to keep the shuttle nose-up and he would continue to spin out of control, screaming into the atmosphere at a speed that would incinerate him.
His body was being slammed against the seat with increasing pressure, his head filling with blood from the centrifugal force of the spin. He forced his eyes to bore into the control panel, watching as the altitude was displayed. He was falling about fifty meters a second, three thousand meters a minute. He estimated he'd have to engage his emergency drogue field at an altitude of about thirty thousand meters, and that was coming up fast.
At thirty-one thousand meters, he realized he was in trouble. His vision was darkening and his head throbbed as blood sloshed through it. He'd better engage the field now...but he knew it was too soon. He'd go tumbling into an endless somersault until he and the craft became a hellish fireball.
He had to wait...until it felt right. But how would he know when it felt right? Maybe his judgment was becoming impaired by the unnatural rearrangement of his bodily fluids. Go ahead, something told him, the altitude's close enough...engage the drogue field. His fingers slid with practiced ease to the controls.
But no! screamed through his mind, and his fingers responded, poised over the panel, refusing to enter the command. The ship was now under thirty thousand meters. Was he heading for dangerously turbulent atmospheric levels?
Darkness was overtaking him, and the panel was nothing more than a dim arrangement of lights that swam in his field of vision. Much longer and he wouldn't be conscious to enter the field engagement command. Hang on, Tom...hang on...
Suddenly, the startling image of the incident from long ago -- another time when he had told himself to wait...wait...wait -- ripped through his mind like a phaser, and he cried out involuntarily. He thought he was over that, had long ago purged himself of those awful sights, but there they were in his mind's eye, brilliant and indelible, shot through with colors...colors of fire, colors of death...
The shock of the memory cleared his vision briefly and he saw that he was under twenty-nine thousand meters above the surface.
His fingers danced on the controls and the drogue field engaged...within seconds he would feel the tug as the ship nosed down and fell out of its spin. He drew great gasps of air because now he felt light-headed and dizzy -- had his eyes flicked for a half second to the window? He was sure they hadn't, and yet he was unaccountably queasy...why wasn't the nose pitching down? Had he entered the wrong command? The beginnings of panic crackled in his mind like arcing plasma.
That wouldn't do. Can't panic. Think. Nose down...why not happening...think...
He had just promised himself that if he got out of this, he'd never flirt with danger again -- when the long-awaited tug pulled at him and he felt the shuttle pitch downward. In a flash, he realized that nothing had been wrong, after all, except his perception of time, distorted by his biological responses. Everything was going as it should.
Air flooded the intake ducts and the thrusters began to respond. Tom regained control and drew the shuttle into a vectored descent, then looked out to see the ripe blue sky of the alien planet, familiar and welcoming. Soon he was dropping to the surface, searching for a landing spot, telling himself that his promise not to try things like this anymore should be nullified because nothing had really been wrong, after all.
Beneath him, he saw the figures of the Voyager crew, tiny as dust motes at first, then gradually increasing in size as he descended.
He wasn't sure when he realized that something was wrong -- maybe when he saw that several people seemed to be running in unnatural patterns, as though they were driven by some urgent need but couldn't quite figure out what they were supposed to be doing. Then he saw that a great number of them were lying on the ground, motionless.
"Paris to away team. What's happening down there?"
There was no answer. For the first time since he began his descent, Tom checked his sensors and realized the Voyager crew wasn't alone on the planet. There were alien life signs, dozens of them. Where had they come from?
He quickly put down the shuttle and opened the hatch, hurrying to reach his friends and find out what was happening and where those aliens were. But as soon as he stepped outside he became dizzy, and found himself lurching, staggering as though drunk. Vaguely he noted a certain sick sweetness in the air and knew it was responsible for his rubbery legs. Ahead of him, most of the away team was now slumped on the ground, though whether dead or just unconscious he couldn't tell. He saw Chakotay, the last person standing, sink to his knees, and then Tom, too, succumbed, wondering for an instant if he had survived the dangerous descent through the atmosphere only to die in this cloying poison.
When Chakotay regained consciousness, he didn't know exactly where he was. Inside a structure of some kind, for he could see walls and a low ceiling by virtue of a few lights spotted on the walls of the room; they emitted a dim yellowish light that cast small pools of illumination before being absorbed by a foreboding darkness. He raised up to a sitting position and realized the rest of the away team was in the room as well, some still lying unconscious, others sitting in a kind of groggy stupor.
His head throbbed and his mouth was parched. He couldn't seem to produce saliva. Where were they? What had happened to them?
He spotted B'Elanna Torres nearby, sitting perfectly still and staring at nothing, dark hair a matted mass and dirt smudging the Klingon ridges on her forehead. Chakotay struggled toward her on hands and knees.
She turned to him and stared dully. She seemed remote and uncomprehending. "Do you know where we are?" he asked.
Several seconds passed before her eyes flickered in understanding.
"Chakotay..." she whispered hoarsely, her throat as dry as his. "What happened to us?"
Only when she'd asked the question did he realize he didn't know. The last memory he possessed was of being on the bridge of Voyager -- and then he woke up in this strange, dark room. "I don't know," he answered.
"I was on Voyager...and then suddenly I was here."
Around them, others were beginning to stir, moving out of their curious sleep like drowsy bears emerging from hibernation, ponderous and heavy. It occurred to Chakotay that he should get up and search the room, but his legs felt unequal to the task. He turned back to B'Elanna and saw that the Vulcan tactical officer, Lieutenant Commander Tuvok, had crawled to join them, looking as stuporous as everyone else.
"Where are we?" rasped Tuvok, and Chakotay had a moment's amusement at the thought of the disciplined, controlled Vulcan reduced to the same confused state as everyone else.
"We're trying to figure that out. What's the last thing you remember?"
Tuvok's upswept eyebrows rose and his dark forehead knotted in concentration. "Being on Voyager. At my station on the bridge. But I have no idea how we got here."
Chakotay felt as though his head were beginning to clear slightly, though it still ached. There were things they had to do. "We have to count heads -- see who's here. Ask them if they remember anything about what happened to us."
The three struggled to their feet and moved off through the languorous bodies, each in a separate direction, exhorting their crewmates to wake, to sit up, to try to remember anything they could about their strange predicament.
A few minutes later a head count had been taken, revealing that fourteen members of the crew were present. Presumably the others were still on Voyager, wherever the ship might be now.
Suddenly Neelix spoke up. The orange-tufted Talaxian was wearing one of his typically garish outfits, but it looked unusually subdued in the darkened room. "A picnic," he said tentatively.
Everyone turned to him. "Picnic?" echoed Chakotay. He sensed this was important. "Are you saying we were on a picnic?"
Neelix looked momentarily confused. "I think so...I can almost remember the captain telling me I should pack food for... " He trailed off vaguely, unable to come up with anything more.
But it had triggered others' thinking. "On a planet," called out Harry Kim, the black-haired operations officer. "We all went to the surface of a planet."
"He's right," chimed in Seven, the beautiful blond human woman who had lived most of her life as a member of a Borg collective, and who had been on Voyager for less than a year. "The captain said we all needed to get out and stretch our legs. I remember thinking that was an odd thing to do."
Several people smiled at that. Seven had made remarkable strides in her return to humanity, but some of the nuances still escaped her. Her memory, however, fueled that of several more people, and as they all began tossing out the bits and pieces they recalled, the story began to emerge.
It was Tom Paris who remembered the sickly-sweet smell in the air, as soon as he'd opened the hatch of the shuttle, and when he mentioned it, many of the group added their similar recollections.
"It started suddenly," said B'Elanna pensively. "One second it wasn't there, and then it was overpowering."
"It must've been a gas of some kind," speculated Chakotay, "but did it occur naturally? Or were we purposely attacked?"
"The fact that we're here -- wherever here is -- tells me someone did it to us," offered Tom. "We were gassed and then dumped into this room."
They had found no evidence of any entrance or exit to the room -- no doors, no windows, no control pad. Nothing but the bare walls and the few weak lights, nothing to give them any clue as to their location. They could be anywhere.
It was Tom, through his pilot's feel for such things, who correctly surmised where they were, although his guess wouldn't be verified for many hours, when they were finally released. "We're on a spaceship," he announced, "I'd bet anything on it. It just feels like a ship flying at warp speed."
This was disheartening. If they were being taken away from the planet where they had succumbed, then they were probably being taken away from Voyager. They had no ship and no captain, and didn't know the fate of the crew who had remained with the ship. They were boxed into a cramped, dark room with no apparent way in or out, and at the mercy of whoever had attacked them.
And they were all wildly thirsty. The gas had left them with aching heads and parched mouths, and every one of them craved a cooling drink of water, but they all sensed that was unlikely.
What none of them knew was that this was the most comfortable they were to be for a long time.
Chakotay was having a vivid and frightening dream involving a forest fire from which he was trying to escape, when a sudden lurch jolted him awake. He sat up and saw that Tom had felt it, too. "We've entered an atmosphere," said Tom. They both felt the sensation of a descending ship.
At almost the same moment, a disembodied voice filled the room, rasping and harsh. "Prepare to disembark," it announced, and then was silent.
They weren't sure how long they had been on this mysterious ship. The effect of the gas they had inhaled was enervating, and soon after the head count, most of them had fallen asleep, though for how long they couldn't be sure. Chakotay hoped that some of the mysteries were soon to be solved.
The vessel seemed to slow, and soon after there was a heavy impact which they could feel in their bones. Then nothing.
They waited, disciplined and alert, for whatever was to come next. Most felt anxiety to one degree or another, but were experienced enough not to manifest it. They stood poised, wary, ready to do whatever was expected of them when that time came.
Chakotay heard a grating noise, soft at first, but rising in volume and intensity; then one wall of their enclosure separated at the ceiling and began to lower. Intense sunlight immediately flooded in, assaulting their dilated pupils, and they all squinted or threw up a shielding hand.
Finally the top of the wall lay on the ground, providing a ramp into the hot glare of that ferocious light, so bright they couldn't yet make out what awaited them.
"Exit slowly," said the same voice as before.
Chakotay led the way, followed in an orderly fashion by the others. Gradually his pupils were contracting in the light, and he lowered his hand to see what environment, what terrain, they were walking into.
What he saw astonished him.
A vast meadow stretched before them, filled with what looked like thousands of the most miserable beings he had ever seen. Many alien species were represented, all of them emaciated and filthy, most wearing nothing but rags. Small fires burned here and there, creating an acrid, smoky haze that didn't quite serve to mask the unbelievable stench of the place.
Chakotay noted that the meadow was surrounded by a high wall of what looked to be a dark, burnished metal. At various points along the wall there were openings, each of which was manned by a humanoid figure whom he couldn't see closely enough to distinguish any features.
Beyond the wall, on three sides, rose a glowering forest of huge trees, dense and foreboding; on the fourth side a steep cliff of rocky shale loomed beyond the wall, bearing the unmistakable striations of a mining operation. And beyond the forest, which stretched nearly as far as one could see, lay a distant mountain range. This walled meadow was isolated by hundreds of kilometers of wilderness.
Stockade was the first word that came to Chakotay's mind. He turned and saw that the crew had all left the spaceship, which loomed behind them like a huge and vengeful monster, a ship that wasn't familiar to Chakotay and that bristled with armament. A ship of war. The ramp was now rising, emitting the same shrill whine of metal on metal that had accompanied its path downward.
It snapped into place, and immediately the ship trembled, then rose swiftly and almost silently into the air, where it quickly became too small to see.
Chakotay and his group watched it go, somewhat stunned that they had been dumped so quickly and unceremoniously in the middle of this stockade without so much as a word of explanation.
"What do you make of it, Commander?" asked Tom.
"It looks like a prison of some kind. From the look of the people here, not a very benevolent one."
Chakotay looked around at the mass of wretched individuals who were watching them, some with curiosity, others with dull eyes that evinced no interest in these newest arrivals. He saw one humanoid with greenish, scummy scales and pale yellow eyes. The eyes seemed alert, and he looked to be in slightly better condition than some of the others. Chakotay walked over to him, hoping to get some answers. The scaly man watched him warily as he approached.
"What is this place?" Chakotay asked in as friendly a tone as he could summon. The man's lemon eyes darted around as though looking to see whether it were safe to answer. Finally he looked back at Chakotay and said in a guttural voice, "You don't know? It's the war camp of the Subu. We're all prisoners here."
"We don't know anything about the Subu, or their war. We were abducted and brought here while we were on a peaceful mission."
"That's true of many. You must have strayed into Subu territory. They'll take anyone who does."
"Who's in charge here?"
The yellow eyes flitted here and there again. "You'll see soon enough," said the man, who turned and scuttled away. Chakotay looked around for someone else to question, but no one else would make eye contact with him.
He was moving back toward his group, which was milling about uncertainly, when he noted a perceptible shift in the mood of the prisoners, as though an electromagnetic current had suddenly run through them. They turned away from the Voyager crew, seeming to busy themselves with various occupations, but Chakotay got the definite impression that they were simply trying to look busy.
Then he saw what had caused this mood swing: a door had opened in the smooth, metallic wall of the stockade and several figures had emerged from it, moving toward the Voyager crew. Along their path, the prisoners averted their eyes, seemingly too preoccupied to look up, but Chakotay sensed a palpable terror.
He watched the approach of the figures. There were three of them, one in front and two slightly behind, the latter two holding what looked to be weapons of some kind. They were larger than Starfleet's phaser rifles, with huge muzzles. He couldn't be sure whether they were projectile or energy weapons, but whatever delivery system they used, they were intimidating.
The three beings were equally so. He would have to characterize them as humanoid, in that they walked on legs, albeit three of them, and had heads, although they were gray, swollen, and gelatinous, with no ears, no discernible nose, and tiny faceted eyes. They reminded Chakotay of whales' heads. The beings had two appendages, like humanoids, but those were long and tentacle-like.
The trio came to a stop in front of Chakotay, who could see now that they constantly oozed a sticky slime, which coagulated quickly, coating their bodies -- a function Chakotay surmised had to do with regulating body temperature. They were probably much more comfortable in the baking heat of this place than any of Voyager's crew except for the Vulcans, who were accustomed to a desert climate.
An orifice opened on the head of the lead figure, and a voice spoke with the same harsh raspiness they had heard in the spaceship. "You will receive rations once a day. Water from the stream. Do not cause problems or punishment will be severe." And with that he turned to move away.
"Wait," Chakotay called out. "We don't belong here. We're travelers trying to get home, tens of thousands of light-years away, and we aren't involved in any dispute with you or your people."
The creature didn't respond, just kept moving away on its three legs, which gave it a rolling gait, a kind of trot. "Who can I talk to about this?" yelled Chakotay.
The creature stopped and turned around, and suddenly one of its tentacled arms snaked out and struck Chakotay on the neck. An instant, agonizing pain erupted on his face and he fell to the ground, pawing at his neck.
Tuvok and Tom Paris were immediately at his side, Tuvok using the cloth of his uniform to wipe away the coat of slime the tentacle had left on Chakotay's neck. As he did so, the pain began to subside, and Chakotay sat up again. "I guess I asked too many questions," he said dryly. They watched the retreating figures making their way back to the formidable metal wall, watched the studied indifference of the other prisoners, still furiously occupied with make-work activities.
The trio paused at one of the lean-to shanties, where four pitifully scrawny humanoids were busily cleaning the area, a process that seemed to involve picking up something and putting it down somewhere else, over and over. As the three Subu watched, none of the humanoids looked at them or acknowledged them in any way.
Suddenly the leader's tentacle snaked out once more, wrapping itself around the torso of one of the prisoners, who immediately began to scream and beg for mercy. "I didn't do anything! Don't take me!" But the leader plucked him off his feet and trotted off once more, with the man writhing and pleading, the two armed guards close behind.
It was a chilling event, and the Voyager crew was sobered, witnessing it. Chakotay turned back to the crew and set about doing what he had to do: seeing to their survival in these harsh conditions and making plans for escape.
"The first thing we need is water," he announced. Chakotay was dangerously dehydrated and he knew the same was true of the others. "Whalehead said there's a stream -- everyone fan out and see if you can find it. Once we've done that, we'll start laying plans."
The others nodded and spread out. Chakotay noted that there seemed to be a vague organization to the place: it was crisscrossed with several broad paths, upon which no lean-tos rested, creating roadways of sorts. He set off down one of them, looking for anyone who might be willing to answer a few questions, and spotted a young man, barely more than a boy, cruelly thin, yellow skin shrunken around his bones, sitting on the ground. The boy looked at him with huge, sad eyes. Chakotay squatted in front of him. "Can you tell me where the stream is?" he asked quietly.
The boy stared at him, eyes reflecting a misery so profound it could not be uttered. He didn't speak, but turned his head slightly to his right, down the path Chakotay was on. "Thanks," said the commander, but the boy didn't reply.
Chakotay stood and turned to proceed down the path, but saw that his way was barred by four humanoids. These were huge men, better fed than anyone else he'd seen, but equally filthy. They had a distinctly human look except for the size of their heads, which was about twice as big as his own, giving them a fierce, ogre-like appearance.
"Shoes. Give," said one of them tersely, gesturing toward Chakotay's boots. "Clothing."
"Good morning," said Chakotay jovially. "Wonder if you could tell me where the stream is?"
The four exchanged glances and then the speaker moved forward, confrontational. Chakotay smiled at him and then quickly, coming off his back foot with a thrust up the legs, whipped his head forward and head-butted the man right in his nose. The man's legs crumpled under him and he sank heavily to the ground, nose and cheekbones crushed.
The three others started forward but suddenly Tuvok, Harry, Tom, and several of Tuvok's security guards were there with him. The three paused, uncertain. "Take him with you," said Chakotay, nodding toward the fallen man. Two of the men grabbed the fallen man's legs, and they dragged him unceremoniously off, casting dark looks at Chakotay and his friends as they went.
"I think you sent them a pretty good message," said Harry. "They'll think twice about bothering us." Chakotay wasn't sure they'd seen the last of them, but agreed that in a place like this, it was important to establish one's pecking order. A strong show against bullies would make things somewhat easier for the Voyager crew. At least for a while.
"The stream is supposed to be this way," said Chakotay, and saw Tom nod agreement.
"That's what I was told, too," Tom said. The group proceeded down the path, taking in the foul sights of the prison camp. Chakotay estimated that the enclosure encircled a total of about forty hectares, laid out in a roughly rectangular pattern. The camp was a long strip between the huge trees, inhabited by some ten to twelve thousand prisoners. All were undernourished, and many were ill, as well. He saw one person lying on a scrap of cloth, hawklike features shriveled and burned from the sun, skin dotted with open sores upon which insects buzzed and fed. Another lay in a soup of his own vomitus, too weak to lift his head.
Everywhere he looked, there were further examples of misery and suffering, more appalling than anything Chakotay had ever seen. Even the treatment of his ancestors on government reservations was more humane. The sun was relentless, baking them from a cloudless sky. The overwhelming stench of the place was nauseating, and he could hear a chorus of moans from the sick and wounded. It was a vision of hell.
Some eighty meters down the path the ground dipped, taking them down a slope which led to a lower level of the prison yard. There they found the stream.
It was a foul, muddy affair which stretched from one side of the stockade to the other, flowing from their left to their right, where it disappeared under the imposing metal wall. An iron grating at either end prevented anyone from getting under the barrier. The stream was surrounded on both sides by a swampy morass through which anyone wanting water would have to wade.
The real problem was that the prisoners had used the downstream portion of the stream as a latrine. A foul mass of excrement assaulted their noses, and insects buzzed heavily over it. Each member of the group felt his stomach churn at the sight.
"At least they had enough sense to use the downstream side," said Tom.
"It can still contaminate the upstream water," replied Chakotay. "That stream isn't flowing swiftly enough to prevent a backflow."
Still, they had no choice. Not to drink the putrid water was to invite sure death. They moved to their left, toward the upstream side of the creek, aware that their every step was watched curiously by nearby prisoners.
As they approached the stream, Chakotay noticed what appeared to be a blanket stretched on the swampy bank of the creek, and for a moment he thought someone had spread it there to make the crossing to the water somewhat easier.
When they got closer, however, they made a chilling discovery. "Commander," said Harry uncertainly, "I think that's a person."
It was. A scrawny body lay on the swampy surface, head completely submerged in the turgidly flowing waters of the stream. Tuvok waded toward it and, with one strong arm, lifted it from the watery grave.
It was an old woman, face lined with her years, hair a dirty gray, caked now with mud. Her eyes were open but sightless, and her mouth hung open in the slack-jawed grimace of death. Beneath that was another mouth, or so it seemed, until Tuvok said, "Her throat has been cut," and they saw that was true, her neck yawning with a gaping wound, out of which her life had bled.
They pulled the body to dry ground, and no sooner had they done so than it was set upon by several people who quickly stripped it of clothing and shoes, even though she wore little more than threadbare rags and the shoes were worn through at the soles. After that she lay naked, shriveled and bony, dead eyes staring up at the sun. Insects soon found her.
Chakotay noted that Harry was looking a little pale. "We have to drink," he reminded them all, and led the way to the stream from which they had just removed a dead body. He knelt down on the muddy bank and scooped water into his mouth. It was brackish and sour, but it would hydrate him, and that was the important thing.
The others did the same, reacting to the unpleasant taste but drinking nonetheless. But one of the security guards, Brad Harrison, hung back. "I don't think I'm that thirsty, sir," he said to Chakotay.
"Drink it anyway, Ensign. That's an order. We can't afford to let ourselves get weak. We have to drink what we have available, eat anything we have to in order to keep up our strength. The energy you lose from one missed meal can take you weeks to recover."
Harry smiled wanly. "You sound like Commander Nimembeh," he said. "He was my survival instructor at the Academy."
"Mine, too," said Chakotay. "Except he was Lieutenant Nimembeh when I was there. All right, go get the others and tell them to come and drink. Then we'll think about where we're going to camp."
Harry trotted off with Tom, and Chakotay tried not to look at the body of the old woman, now almost completely covered with insects.
Three hours later, spirits somewhat restored by the slaking of their thirst, the group had found a reasonably bare patch of ground, which they chose as a campsite. Soon after that an alarm sounded, numerous doors in the walls opened, and hover vehicles emerged from them. The prisoners all rose and stood alongside the paths that crisscrossed the meadow, and the vehicles moved among them, dispensing rations.
Taking their cue from the others, Voyager's crew did the same, and were each handed a crumbling cake of something resembling baked grains, shot through with dirt and small bits of rock. They stared at it, dismayed. Chakotay once again led the way, breaking off a small portion, putting it in his mouth and chewing carefully to locate the stones.
"Eat up," he said as cheerfully as he could, and the group sat down and had their first meal as Subu prisoners. The torturous sun finally went down, and as night came on, the temperature cooled, bringing blessed relief. Tomorrow they would see about shelter, which might require bartering for materials, and about fuel for a fire. And they would reconnoiter the camp even more carefully, assessing the possible escape routes and methods, in preparation for what they now believed was a perfectly plausible effort. Food and water, no matter how unappetizing, had restored their optimism, and made them think that all things were possible.
"Commander," said Harry after they'd eaten and stretched out on the ground, weary after the events of the last two days. "How'd you get along with Commander Nimembeh?"
"Get along with him? Fine, I guess. I only had him during prep squad, before my freshman year started. He was tough, but everyone respected him."
Harry looked a little sheepish. "I had quite an experience with him," he said. "It wasn't a lot of fun."
"No one would ever call Nimembeh fun," agreed Chakotay. A silence fell on them, but Harry seemed to be pondering something. After a few moments, he turned again to Chakotay.
"Sir...if I'm prying or anything, you don't have to answer. But how was it... that you quit Starfleet, and joined the Maquis? I mean, to go through the Academy, and be a Starfleet officer...and then to give it all up -- well, I just wondered how that happened."
Chakotay drew a breath. It was something he had spent a great deal of time contemplating, and he wasn't entirely sure he had an easy answer. "To tell you that, I'd practically have to tell you the story of my life."
"If you're willing to tell it, I'd sure like to hear it."
Chakotay looked around at his group. Several people were listening to the conversation, and seemed intrigued by the prospect of learning more about their first officer. It occurred to him that this might be as good a way as any to pass some time. "All right. If anybody gets bored you can go to sleep. I won't be offended."
He paused a moment to think how to start, and looked up at the night sky, dotted with stars. Suddenly an image shot into his mind, one he hadn't thought about for some twenty years, and he knew that was the beginning of his tale. "When I was fifteen, my father and I took a trip together, and it was a turning point in my life."
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