Series: Star Trek: Voyager
Shore leave on a planet full of wily matchmakers.
Copyright has expired on the works of Paul the Apostle, Shakespeare and William Morris excerpted herein. Paramount apparently retains a nebulous legal right to some of the characters mentioned below. I don't know anything about that - I just saw them on UPN.
to Jim Wright, who believes that the exact nature of J/C is irrelevant
The staff meeting was as dull as could be, until Captain Janeway asked Tuvok and Seven to report on likely planets for restocking Voyager's depleted stores. Seven rattled off the statistics of several worlds on or near their path, among them one called Ymn.
Neelix piped in excitedly, "Captain, you can't leave the Delta Quadrant without visiting Ymn - the legendary Planet of Love! Ah, the endless days and longer nights of Ymn! The poetry, the starry sky, the wedding banquets..." This last sent him into a reverie, and most of the senior staff into an ill-concealed giggling fit.
The Captain interrupted, "Are the Ymnians peaceful?"
Neelix awoke. "Certainly, Captain. They have no starships, no wars, not even a fistfight."
Tom wondered what the Planet of Love was doing in the Quadrant of Peril, but he was bucking for a promotion so he toned it down to, "Why is it called the Planet of Love?"
Neelix answered, "Their main occupations are matchmaking and writing love poetry. People travel there from half the quadrant for advice and help."
"But do they produce any of the supplies we need?" the Captain asked, trying to bring order to the encroaching snickers.
Tuvok replied. "Apparently they do not live solely on love, Captain. My information, while not as colorful as Mr. Neelix's, does indicate that they produce the raw materials we need. Also, his report notwithstanding, Ymn appears to be an ideal location for shore leave."
Chakotay grinned as he said, "Shore leave on the Planet of Love - that should boost morale."
Janeway dismissed them before they could hurt themselves trying not to laugh.
Two days later, Tom was pulling Voyager into a standard orbit around Ymn when Harry Kim announced, "Incoming communication from the planet, Captain; audio only."
"Let's hear it, Ensign."
"This is Agril, the husband of Perde. I welcome you to Ymn."
"This is Captain Janeway of the Federation Starship Voyager. We are explorers--"
Agril interrupted the Captain's standard introduction with a question no Earth woman had tolerated for four hundred years: "And who is your husband?"
Janeway flashed her First Officer an 'aren't aliens cute?' grin that, back in the politically correct Alpha Quadrant, would have gotten her a month of reeducation at Tom's old place in New Zealand.
"I'm not married," she answered.
"Ah, then you've come for our unique services. Let me put you through to--"
It was Janeway's turn to interrupt. "No, thank you. We seek only supplies and rest on our long journey." She waited for a response, but the silence suggested a bustle of matchmakers already at work on her difficult case.
Tuvok had an idea. "Captain, if I may..."
"Please," she acceded with a grin.
"This is Tuvok, the husband of T'Pel of Vulcan, Security Chief of the Starship Voyager. We would like to purchase supplies and visit the surface, if possible."
"You are most welcome to Ymn, Tuvok. We would be happy to provide whatever aid we can."
Tuvok arranged to bring a small landing party to the surface to meet Agril, then closed the comm channel. A surge of long-suppressed giggles swept the bridge. Janeway would not be alone in New Zealand.
Tuvok raised an eyebrow at the commotion, but said only, "Captain, I believe it would be prudent to select an away team of married persons." A nod from the Captain amid general snickering was all the reply he got.
Four hours later, the return of the away team was celebrated with another staff meeting. To avoid small talk and quash merriment, Tuvok dove straight into his report: "The Ymnians have the resources we require, and are also willing to host shore leave parties." There was a general sigh of relief - apparently this was not going to be another 'episode', as the crew liked to call their more harrowing Delta Quadrant adventures.
Tuvok continued. "Ymnian culture is fascinating, but will require some sensitivity on the part of Voyager's crew." More sensitivity, his raised eyebrow seemed to say, than had yet been shown. "The Ymnians' occupations are much as Mr. Neelix described - married persons spend much of their time writing love poetry, while the unmarried busy themselves with remedying their condition through matchmaking and wedding feasts. Ymnians refer to married persons as 'adults' and the rest as 'children', regardless of their chronological ages.
"The two sectors of society live apart; adults do not normally speak to children unless they are their own biological offspring - that is why Agril would not speak to the Captain once she admitted to being unmarried. Children cannot make purchases or form contracts, though they do much of the manual labor and run the profitable matchmaking services for offworlders.
"Due to these unique restrictions, I will need to return to the surface with my original away team in order to make the purchases we need. A separate party of unmarried persons will be needed to arrange shore leave accommodations for the bulk of the crew. Agril has graciously offered his bachelor son as our - or rather your - host."
Tuvok was laying it on thick, so Chakotay counterattacked: "Ensign Wildman, do you have anything to add to Mr. Tuvok's report?" He had seen a glimmer in her eye that he'd thought was promising, and Samantha did not disappoint him.
"It's just about the poetry, Commander: when the Ymnians discovered that my husband was 40,000 light years away and that I might well die of old age on the long trip back to him, they said such a sad tale would generate many sonnets." She looked anywhere but at Tuvok as she continued, "Then, when it became clear that Commander Tuvok was longer-lived than myself, and that his wife back on Vulcan was prepared to wait patiently for him for seventy years, and with all that he claimed that they felt no love for one another and that on his return they would pick up where they left off with hardly a 'live long and prosper' - well, the Ymnians grew deathly silent for several minutes. Then Agril said it was a tale to rival the Lay of Anardil and Anarde, that they would set their best poets to it immediately, and that the love of Tuvok and T'Pel would be famous throughout the sector as long as the sun rose over Ymn."
"Anardil and Anarde?" Janeway inquired, trying to change the subject and wondering how Chakotay had seen this one coming.
"The city we visited is called Anardis; apparently it was named after a legendary couple," Tuvok cut in, looking green around the ears. "May I make some recommendations for the second landing party?"
Chakotay was not surprised to hear his name on the list. Like the locals, he didn't buy Vulcan impassivity; rather, he knew Tuvok was getting back at him for his successful interrogation of Sam Wildman. If it took four hours for the Security Officer to extract a promise of shopping out of the adults, how long would he be stuck on the Planet of Love?
A small reception was arranged for the first child-representatives from Voyager: Janeway, Chakotay, Tom, Seven and Harry. The Captain preferred not to scare new species with her pet Borg, but Agril had made a special request to Tuvok - the first of many.
A male Ymnian, Tamril, struck up a conversation about human recreational activities with Chakotay. A female, Tilme, asked the Captain about the crew's preferences in housing, bedding, eating and the like. Seven and Harry stood with several natives around a table laden with local delicacies, while Tom found himself chatting lightheartedly in a corner with a male named Thivil.
"So why do they call it the Planet of Love?" Tom asked.
"We make matches, mostly among ourselves but sometimes for visiting aliens. Word gets around," Thivil shrugged.
"How do you do it?"
"That's a trade secret, I'm afraid. Is there someone you would like matched up? I see you have a Borg - we've heard of them but we've never had one on Ymn before. It would be a great coup to set up your Borg-"
"Her name is Seven," Tom interrupted.
"Seven what?" Thivil asked.
"Seven of Nine."
"Nine Borg drones."
"That's what I said, your Borg."
Tom cursed the Universal Translator, while Thivil went on, "As I was saying, it would be a great challenge for us to set your Borg up. Who's that standing next to her?"
"Harry Kim. Forget Seven; if you want a challenge, see if you can get those two together." Tom inclined his head slightly toward the Captain and First Officer, standing some distance apart on the other side of the room.
Thivil eyed them professionally for a few moments, sending a sudden chill up Tom's spine. It was soon dispelled, though, as Thivil remarked, "I see. She loves him but he won't have her."
"I think you've got it backwards," Tom corrected.
Thivil glanced at them again. "No, my diagnosis is correct. Aliens have such odd ideas about love; I suppose that's why you have to come to us to have these things arranged. Consider it done." Thivil smiled professionally. "Now, if you'll excuse me..."
Dazed, Tom nodded his assent and watched Thivil walk over to Chakotay and Tamril. Tom joined Harry and tried to fill the sinking feeling in his stomach with Ymnian pastry. "Is something wrong, Tom?" Harry inquired politely.
"Name, rank and serial number, Harry; name, rank and serial number. When will I learn?"
Thivil left Chakotay and Tamril for a few moments to introduce himself to Captain Janeway and to convey certain instructions to Tilme, couching them in obscure literary references beyond the capacity of the Universal Translator. He borrowed Harry Kim from a jittery Tom, brought him back to Chakotay and Tamril, and suggested a hiking trip into the countryside, even insinuating that the Captain was willing to go along.
Here Chakotay made a tactical error - he half-believed Thivil. He should have known Janeway would never agree to a camping trip, far from bathtubs and coffee. He should have known his judgement was still suspect in her case, no matter how long he had considered it a hopeless one. He would have agreed to go hiking in any case, but his yes was a millisecond too quick and a hair too eager - the error - and Thivil knew he had his man.
By another pastry-laden table, Tilme was assuring the Captain that everything necessary for her shore leave parties would be arranged soon. "We would greatly appreciate it if you and your friends would return to Anardis and be our guests. Don't get caught up in your work and forget to visit Ymn along with your crew, Kathryn."
The Captain wasn't quite sure how she had gotten on a first-name basis with Tilme, and she hadn't wanted to make the promise Tilme was now extracting from her, but she agreed. Soon after, the reception broke up and the away team returned to the ship.
The Captain was surprised to start her next shift beside an empty seat. Commander Chakotay, as executive officer, was in charge of shore leave rosters and it seemed he'd put Harry and himself on the first one. He hadn't quite told her he was leaving, though the night before he had asked her a cryptic question about whether she was planning to go out on the first wave.
Tuvok was also down on the planet, shopping, but Tom was still at the helm. When the interminable shift ended, she asked him to join her and Seven for dinner.
They found Seven already seated, efficiently assimilating a tray of Neelix's latest leola root creation. The chef was honored by the Captain's rare appearance in the mess hall - lately she'd taken to dining privately with her First Officer - so he joined her unexpected party.
"What do you think of the Ymnians, Captain?" Neelix asked, always one for small talk.
Janeway smiled. "They were very sweet and accommodating."
"They made me a little nervous," Tom volunteered unexpectedly.
"B'Elanna getting on your case, eh?" Neelix whispered, glancing about for angry half-Klingons.
"No, no, that's not it." Tom hesitated.
"Well, if Ymn is anything like I've heard, then the shore leave party will be paired up and married off in no time," Neelix said cheerfully. "You didn't let B'Elanna go down there alone, did you?"
"She's still at work on the engines. Thanks for the warning, though."
Seven looked up from her leola root pudding. "Do you expect B'Elanna to marry someone else in your absence, Tom?" She was meticulously following the Doctor's advice to use first names in off-duty situations. Unfortunately, she didn't have the tone down right - it only reminded Tom of Thivil's disturbing friendliness.
The Captain, trying to save Tom from what appeared to be embarrassment, shifted into Pedantic Mode. "Seven, what is your opinion of Ymnian culture so far?"
"I am mystified by the Ymnians' determination to elegize the love of Tuvok and T'Pel, though he must have explained to them--"
"At great length, no doubt," Neelix inserted.
Seven gave Neelix a look that could kill billions, and probably had. He shut up as she continued, "--that Vulcans do not indulge in such inefficient emotions."
"Well, Seven," the Captain lectured, "to the Ymnians, Tuvok and T'Pel's actions are inexplicable except by an epic love. We cannot blame them for filling in the details for themselves."
"What if I were to see two people whose actions were inexplicable except by an epic love - should I then fill in the details for myself?"
Tom grinned. The Captain gave him a look that could kill Helm Boys, and probably would soon. He grew suddenly grim as she answered the ex-drone, "No, of course not, Seven. You would take Tuvok at his word because you know more about Vulcans than the Ymnians do. It is a simple case of cultural misunderstanding."
Tom was still grim, but growing fey. He risked the Captain's wrath with, "I'm sure the Ymnians would say that they know more about love than we know about Vulcans." Neelix nodded sagely, but the ladies ignored them both.
Seven quibbled on: "I also find the activities of the Ymnian 'children' inexplicable. Marriage is irrelevant."
Neelix bristled, but the Captain patted him on a furry shoulder and contradicted Seven herself: "Marriage has its uses, Seven. For example, it provides a stable environment for raising children." She could see that Seven thought an incubator on a Borg cube, even if the cube were in flames and headed into the nearest sun, would be a more stable environment for children than the inefficient cooing of human parents.
Janeway tried a different tack: "Marriage provides a safe outlet for certain urges which might otherwise impair a person's ... efficiency." Seven still looked sceptical. "It is a human instinct to form such pair bonds," she added.
"You have not done so and you are one of the more efficient members of the crew," Seven countered. Tom studied his leola root casserole intently and Neelix began to back away from the table, but the Captain remained surprisingly calm. Seven continued, "Samantha Wildman, on the other hand, is often distracted. I have come to the conclusion that her absent husband is the cause of her inefficiency. She should divorce him."
"Seven!" Neelix exclaimed, aghast.
"I have yet to see a purpose to marriage, Mr. Neelix," she replied. "All the suggested functions - reproduction, 'urges', pairing - can be performed just as efficiently without the benefit of a marriage ceremony."
"There is one benefit, Seven," Tom said, carefully phrasing what might well be his last words. "You know that Starfleet regulations and customs frown on fraternization." Seven nodded in agreement with the sentence and with Starfleet. "Well, if two people were concerned about fraternization, they could get married. Marriage is by definition not fraternization."
Tom was grateful for the stringy remains of leola root on his plate; he pushed them around with a fork to avoid looking up at the Captain. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Neelix backing farther away from the table. Suddenly, the cowardly Talaxian made a dash for the kitchen, mumbling about something burning.
Seven ignored Neelix's odd behavior. "You have a point, Tom, but it is a mere technicality. Marriage is otherwise irrelevant."
Tom was still waiting for the death blow to fall when his communicator chirped, "Torres to Paris." A reprieve - but how had she known?
"Sorry, B'Elanna - I lost track of the time. I'll be there right away." He tapped his badge off, stood up and pushed in his chair in one fluid, not to mention panicked, motion. "Pardon me, Captain, Seven," he said without meeting their eyes, and fled.
Once in the hallway, he asked, "Computer, state the location of Lieutenant Torres."
"Lieutenant Torres is in Engineering."
He ran all the way, and kissed her in front of her staff like a man who'd just been saved from a violent, redheaded death. "Tom, what did you do? Neelix said if I ever wanted to see you again--"
"Don't ask. It's safer for you if you don't know." He glanced back at the door nervously. "Can you hide me? You're not using that Jeffries tube over there, are you?"
The EMH accessed his best bedside manner as Janeway stormed into sickbay. "Thank you for coming, Captain. There's something I'd--"
"Have you seen Crewman Paris?" she interrupted.
"Captain, your blood pressure," he replied, waving a medical tricorder at her from a safe distance. "Seven reports that you turned blue during an 'idle dinner conversation'. When you refused medical treatment, she called me. Please sit down."
"I'm fine. If that's all--"
"No, Captain; I did have something else to discuss with you. You have been on edge for several weeks. This last incident of mass-flight from the mess hall does not come as a complete surprise. I'm afraid you may have to reduce your caffeine intake."
"Not the coffee!" she pleaded.
The Doctor had her where he wanted her. "Well, there is another option. You could go on shore leave. Tuvok tells me that the Ymnians are eager to play host to our senior staff for what he described as 'cultural reasons'."
"I did not detect a culture during my time on the planet, Doctor."
"All the more reason for you to go back and try again."
As soon as they had reached the surface, Chakotay and Kim had joined Tamril and seven other male Ymnians. Equipped with native garb and canteens, they split up into pairs and set out on the hike, arranging to meet up in the evening to make camp.
Chakotay and Tamril trudged along in silence for a few hours, until Chakotay said, "The other way, Tamril."
"Why?" Tamril asked, surprised.
"I don't know why you are trying to pick out the most difficult route, but in this case you are mistaken - the other way is worse."
Tamril was impressed. This was the first sign of intelligence he'd seen in the aliens. He'd liked this one from the start, anyway. "The other way, then," Tamril said, and backtracked. His admiration increased as Chakotay made no further inquiry into the matter. Tamril's hand was being forced and he smiled impishly to himself.
At the top of the ridge, Tamril spoke. "I will be married soon. An adult must be willing to follow the harder path, to take risks."
"Who's the lucky girl?" Chakotay asked.
"Time will tell."
Chakotay aimed wider: "Do you marry complete strangers here?"
"Occasionally, but that is not my intention." Tamril gave him an odd look which Tom would have recognized as professional appraisal. "Here, as everywhere, the woman may decline the offer, so we do not go about saying 'I will marry so-and-so at such-and-such a wedding.' But in his heart a man should not doubt of success."
"They can sense doubt," Tamril continued. "Your doubts become her doubts."
He paused in his lecture. Chakotay started down the other side of the ridge, picking out the most difficult path. Tamril was satisfied, for the moment.
When B'Elanna got a desperate call from the Doctor about backing up his program to a safe medium, Tom knew that the Captain's wrath had moved on, but he was taking no chances. He decided on a tactical withdrawal to the surface.
"Paris to Chakotay," the latter's communicator chirped.
"Permission to start shore leave early, Commander?"
"Do you have someone to cover your shifts?" Chakotay asked.
"That must've cost you a fortune in replicator rations, Tom. What's up?"
"Actually, the rations were a gift from some of the Maquis crewmen. They said they'd never seen a Terran turn that shade of purple before."
"Purple? I'm sorry I missed it."
"It was just an innocent discussion with Seven and the Captain about marriage and frat--"
"This channel is not secure, Lieutenant. Beam down to the children's quarter and ask Tilme where you should stay."
"Thank you, Commander. Paris out."
"Pardon me for overhearing, Chakotay," Tamril said, "but did that young man just say your Captain turned purple at the mention of marriage?"
Chakotay was surprised that Tamril had filled in Tom's elisions so accurately, despite the vagaries of Universal Translation. "I suspect it was the suggested mate, rather than the mere mention of marriage, which upset her," he answered wryly.
"Ah. The like of Anarde has not been seen in Ymn for a thousand years," Tamril said reverently. "I am glad to hear that true romantics still wander among the stars."
"Who was Anarde?" Chakotay asked.
"She was a woman who refused to marry, but especially refused to marry a certain man."
"What became of her?"
"It is a long story. I'm sure you'll hear it in full during your stay on Ymn."
At sunset, Tamril and Chakotay met up with the other hikers and made camp. Thivil was not among them - he had left the case in Tamril's able hands. Harry and his hiking partner Pomil had spent the day at a lazy walk, debating the necessity of a moon for romance. (Ymn had no moons.) To entertain the others that evening they summarized their discussion, Pomil arguing for unadulterated starlight and Harry describing the eerie landscape under the rushing moons of Mars.
The Ymnians slept through the night, but Chakotay, tired as he was, could not sleep for all twenty hours, and even Harry woke up after fourteen. The latter took a PADD out of his pack and read for a while - how long he could not quite tell under the strange stars. As he wondered where Chakotay was, the Commander walked silently back to the camp and sat down beside him.
"Are you sure you want to spend your shore leave hiking 20 hours a day and sleepless half the night?" Chakotay asked Harry.
"There's something about an open sky that can't be reproduced on the Holodeck. The city is like a starship without ceilings, but here in the countryside I don't feel so ... trapped."
Chakotay smiled. "All it needs is a moon. There are too many stars up there."
Janeway, armed with a well-stocked PADD, a coffee machine and bath salts, beamed down to the children's sector of Anardis and found Tilme. They chatted about nothing as the Captain unpacked in her assigned room in one of the girls' communal homes. Tilme asked to hear the story of Tuvok and T'Pel and the Captain tried to explain about Vulcans. Tilme only sighed like a character out of one of the Victorian novels Janeway had downloaded to her travel PADD.
"Tell me, Tilme, what do you find so romantic in Tuvok's marriage? He would be quite embarrassed by all the attention, if Vulcans felt embarrassment."
"They must feel embarrassment; otherwise, why would they hide their love?"
The Captain resisted the temptation to spend her entire shore leave debating Vulcan impassivity. Tilme cherished her small victory and went on, "This city is named for a famous couple, Anardis and Anarde, who refused to admit their love for one another even after they were married. She said she had been tricked into marrying him and was only staying with him for the sake of the children. He said he had married her out of pity because she was a such a shrew no one else would have her."
"Are all your stories so enchanting?"
Tilme smiled. "Of course, they loved each other desperately, but they had denied it for so long that they had to save face. They could never adequately explain how they kept producing children, if they hated each other so much.
"Concealed love is the favorite theme of our poets, and so Tuvok's story is the best we've heard in a long time. But Anarde's like will return to us, someday - or so we hope."
The next day's hike was much like the first. Tamril drove Chakotay hard, and in return the Commander asked only a few lessons in the Ymnian language. Love songs dominated the evening's entertainment. Harry, after a permissive nod from his senior officer, serenaded the Ymnians with songs from all over the Federation. Chakotay didn't recognize most of them and contributed nothing himself. Harry's big hit of the evening was a very old Terran song, 'Strangers in the Night.' He had to reprise it several times for the Ymnians, who thought it was an ideal wedding song.
When she hailed them, the skeleton crew wouldn't chat, so Janeway settled down in a romantic arbor - they were all romantic - with her PADDfull of Victorian novels. She even read aloud to Tilme's little sister, a gratifying audience of one who sighed and gasped in all the right places, even those at which modern Terran readers could only laugh inappropriately.
The Captain found herself sleeping through the long Ymnian nights. She hadn't realized she had become so dependent on the ship's computer to get her out of bed. Now she dreamt fitfully until Tilme collected her for breakfast. She could remember only a few of the dreams and would have preferred not to.
She saw Naomi and Samantha Wildman, apparently in their quarters, talking. Naomi asked her mother, "Why won't the Captain let us go back to the Alpha Quadrant?"
"She doesn't want to go back, dear."
"Why not? I thought everyone but me and Seven wanted to go back to Earth."
"She wants to stay here with Commander Chakotay. He's the reason we all came to the Delta Quadrant, back before you were born - she was chasing Commander Chakotay."
"But she has him now."
"He's a criminal, dear. When we get back to the Federation, he has to go to a penal colony. He killed a lot of Cardassians."
"I thought the Federation and the Cardassians were at war," the child protested.
"Yes, but that was after we came to the Delta Quadrant. Commander Chakotay was ahead of his time, so the Captain has to bring him back and throw him in prison."
"Mom, there she is!"
Suddenly, she found herself in the mess hall. Naomi and Sam were turning away from her. She looked around - the room was much bigger in her dream. The whole crew was there, but she couldn't see Chakotay anywhere. Everyone was either staring at her or looking pointedly away. B'Elanna scowled at her from across the room. Harry sat with his head down and Tom looked up at her sadly. She spoke to the air, "Computer, state the location of Commander Chakotay."
The tinny voice replied, "There is no such officer on Voyager." She went up to Tom, the closest thing to a friendly face in the room, and asked him the same question.
"You can't see him. He's your shadow."
She argued, "There are no shadows on a starship. You called it 'mood lighting' once, remember?"
"Captains can cast shadows anywhere, anytime, Ma'am."
She was glad when Tilme woke her.
By the fourth night it was a tradition. Harry would wake up ten hours into the night - midnight - and read, then talk quietly with Chakotay when the latter returned from wherever his nightly wanderings took him. That night Harry was lying on his back, gazing at the stars. Chakotay lay down beside him and asked what was on his mind.
"Do you really want to know?"
Chakotay considered the odd question and its unusual tone before answering "Yes."
"It's something B'Elanna said to Tom a few months back. Tom argued the whole time, said he'd give up on humanity and join the Borg if such a thing ever happened. He can be such a romantic, though he denies it."
"What did she say?"
Harry took a deep breath, feeling every little stone now digging into his back. "She said, 'I think he's over her. He doesn't laugh the way he used to - now he's laughing at us, not with us. You don't notice because you didn't know him before he met her. He was so alive in our Maquis days. Now there's a smile on his lips but a shadow in his eyes. So you owe me a lot of replicator rations, Tom - you swore he'd never stop loving her.'"
After a long pause, Chakotay said, "I think I know whom she was talking about. I remember them, back when we first came to the Delta Quadrant - she was so beautiful, and he was so strong. Or was it that she was so cool, and he so angry? It was a long time ago.
"She planted a spy on his ship, she chased him literally across the galaxy to drag him back to a Federation jail for defending his home against the Cardassians, and what did he do when she found him? He destroyed his own ship to save hers and let her blow up their only way home, just because she wanted to save the Ocampa. She never saw the irony of it, either - that it was noble of her to defend the Ocampa against the Kazon, but it was criminal of him to defend colonists and Bajorans against the Cardassians.
"The Maquis needed that ship, Harry. They didn't have starships to spare like Starfleet, and they didn't have captains like him to spare, either. He should have concerned himself with saving the Maquis from the Cardassians, not the Ocampa from the Kazon. Instead, he gave her his crew that she'd come to arrest and he kept them in line for her besides. It would seem Tom is not the only hopeless romantic on Voyager.
"You don't understand him because you're Starfleet, as B'Elanna used to put it. This is just a five-year mission gone a bit awry for you, like in the old days. You know in your heart you'll get home sooner rather than later, to a big party, commissions and promotions, family and friends. Even Tom will be respectable then. She'll be famous.
"But for him, the Alpha Quadrant holds no promise except that of a jail cell. His world has been ravaged by the Cardassians. Almost all the Maquis were killed in the Dominion war. He has no family or friends left to go back to. He resigned his Starfleet commission to join the Maquis, and now there are no more Maquis. He's a captain without a ship, a warrior without a war, a man without a home.
"So he won't mind when she drops him off on the first Federation penal colony we reach. She'll manage to get his crew pardoned, and that's enough. After all, he's the reason Voyager got stuck here in the Delta Quadrant - he's the one she was after, and she caught him. Someone has to pay for this mayhem besides her."
Harry, Chakotay and one other camper stared up at the countless stars of the Delta Quadrant. After a very long pause, the former Maquis spoke again.
"They were stranded together on a planet for a while. He planted a garden, she talked to the monkey. He made her furniture, she searched for a cure so they could get back to drifting through hostile space on Voyager. It was paradise for him, everything he could possibly desire, but it wasn't enough for her - she itched to get away."
Harry felt a pang of guilt for aiding that getaway. Maybe he should have listened to Tuvok, after all.
Chakotay continued, "That was when he knew she could never want what he wanted. But he could want what she wanted. She wanted to flirt, so he flirted. She wanted to ask his opinion and then ignore it, so he wasted his breath. She wanted someone to lean on, so he stood still. Then she wanted to be just friends, nothing more. So he was nothing more. The shadow B'Elanna saw was him being nothing."
When it was clear the Commander had nothing more to say, Harry spoke up. "I wonder how Tom knows these things."
They watched the stars silently. A tear crept unnoticed down Tamril's cheek to the stony ground.
Having grown tired of her PADD, Janeway spread herself out on her favorite bench, closed her eyes and tried to enjoy the warmth of the summer sun. Something was missing. In six years she had never been away from her XO for this long - not in peacetime, anyway. Always before she'd had the luxury of worrying about his welfare when he was gone, but now, if she didn't nip this train of thought in the bud, she might have to admit to herself that she missed him.
She tried to think about something else. Getting back to Earth, now there was a good topic. Getting home would be like ... just another shore leave. Chakotay would wander off to Dorvan, the other colonies, Bajor. Earth was not his sector of space. She would find herself trapped behind a desk in San Francisco, at least until Voyager was refitted, if not permanently. And she would feel this way - this strange, empty way - not for a week but for a month, a year, always.
Earth couldn't be too far away for her now. Funny how over the years the less she'd cared about getting home, the more determined she'd become to do it. It was as though she were trying to punish herself for her loss of interest in the Alpha Quadrant by getting there sooner.
She was her own worst enemy, but space couldn't be trusted either; at any moment, a wormhole could open up off the port bow. They could all end up back at Deep Space Nine with little to no warning. Chakotay would slip back to Dorvan without telling her, just as he'd disappeared on that interminable hiking trip without a word.
No, that wasn't fair. He had told her, in that subtle way she'd forced him to adopt, and she had ignored the unwanted information, in that obtuse way he'd forced her to adopt as a countermeasure. That's exactly how it would be: he would be halfway across the Alpha Quadrant before she could admit to herself that he had said goodbye.
The worst part was that she couldn't prevent any of it from happening. She was trapped in a prison made out of every word she had never said to him - every missed opportunity, every taboo, parameter and protocol was another brick in the wall, and she couldn't quite get the leverage from here inside to knock the whole thing down.
This maudlin contemplation of life without Chakotay - a fate not unlike life without coffee - was interrupted none too soon by the sound of approaching footsteps. She opened her eyes and said, "Seven."
"Captain. The Doctor has ordered me to waste my time on 'shore leave'."
"Join the club," Janeway empathized.
"You have been on Ymn for several days now. You must be very bored."
"How did you guess?"
"You are one of the more efficient members of the crew. I believe you would react to enforced idleness as I do, with irritation."
The Captain smiled merrily. "Perhaps we should join forces to reduce our ... irritation."
"We could recalibrate the Doctor's subroutines."
Janeway chuckled. "That's a bit drastic, Seven. I was thinking of finding something constructive to do here on the planet - pick up an instrument, learn a craft, find out more about Ymnian culture."
Seven made it clear that she didn't think much of the Captain's ideas: "I suggest we consult one of the natives. Perhaps there is a more useful function we could serve."
Tilme was more than willing to be helped. The wedding preparations had not officially begun yet, but it was never too early to start cooking. She sent them to the largest communal kitchen of the children's quarter to work on the pastries.
"I know your world moves faster than ours does. You do not sleep the night here - what do you do under our stars?" Tamril was hoping to hear a bit of Chakotay's speech the night before, this time without the necessity of eavesdropping. Instead, he got something even better than what he'd fished for.
"I meditate. I contact my animal guide."
"What does it do?"
"She tells me I do not catch my prey because I do not chase." Or maybe that was you, Tamril, Chakotay added to himself, ever the sceptic about his own beliefs.
Although the Borg feel no fear, Seven waited until the Captain's hands were full of heavy flour sacks - charitable adults in the marketplace had donated them for the wedding feast - to ask her a question.
"Captain, I have detected a discrepancy between your words and your actions. I would appreciate it if you would resolve it for me."
Janeway had been daydreaming and had caught Seven's words only in part. "Sorry, Seven, I'm not sure what you're referring to."
"You have defended the institution of matrimony to me, yet when Tom suggested that you--"
"I recall the conversation."
"It disturbs me when you are ... inconsistent. If you think so highly of marriage, you should get married. I am sure Commander--"
"It's not that simple, Seven," the Captain said quickly. "People don't get married just to relieve loneliness or reproduce," she added, adopting a clinical tone to match Seven's probing Borg inquiries. "Those are the benefits of marriage, not its purpose."
"What is its purpose?"
"Marriage is the concrete expression of love between two people."
"Then you do not 'love' Commander Chakotay," Seven concluded, her inflection showing how little she thought of the four-letter word.
The Captain was unprepared for Seven's logic. No other member of her crew, not even the subject of conversation himself, would have dared to share such speculation with her. It was a question she'd never had to answer, an accusation she'd never been forced to confirm or deny.
Nor would she this time, for Seven changed the subject: "I have been unable to understand the human emotion 'love'." Again the distaste - the former drone disliked anything she couldn't analyze, categorize and preferably number. It seemed Emotion 26 was proving difficult to assimilate.
"I have assimilated many megabytes of love poetry and romance novels, but I cannot 'pin down'" - she used the Doctor's suggested slang terms clinically - "this thing called love."
"Do you have any theories?" the Captain asked, gladly encouraging this turn in the conversation.
"At first, I thought the term 'love' denoted merely the conglomeration of several more basic emotions: friendship, affection, concupiscence, and so forth. However, the literature seemed to indicate that the whole was more than the sum of the parts."
"Like the Borg," Janeway observed.
Seven's eyebrow reached for the sky at the Captain's words. Her analogy between the ill-defined human weakness called love and the Borg quest for perfection was quite intriguing. "I must reevaluate the literature in light of this new information," she concluded.
Back at one of the communal homes of the children's section - 'youth hostels', Tom called them - Tilme and her friends had cornered the Captain, Seven and their newest guest, B'Elanna. The Ymnian girls were trying on gowns and asking each other how they looked in that way humanoid women do across the known galaxy (except on Ferenginar and Betazed, that is). They were particularly curious about what humans wore to weddings.
B'Elanna informed them that the guests' wardrobe depended on personal taste, the formality of the wedding, the time of day - she even tried to explain the ancient myths of Memorial Day, Labor Day and white shoes. "Only the bride wears something unique," she concluded.
"That's what we mean," Tilme said. "What does the bride wear?"
"Even that varies from place to place, but white dresses became prevalent in the 20th century and are still the most popular choice. Usually there's also a long train of material dragging along the ground behind the bride."
"A scarf?" one of the girls asked, all bemusement. That was no way to treat a scarf, not on Ymn.
"No, no, no," B'Elanna answered, "here, let me show you."
The Captain was surprised to see this side of B'Elanna. She wondered if it portended Voyager's first shipboard wedding. Her mind drifted; she pictured a great crowd in the mess hall in dress uniforms, wondered if the Maquis crewmen even had dress uniforms and how they would look in them if they did. She was roused from her reverie to find a lacy white dress being held up to her shoulders for Torres' approval, while the half-Klingon herself was busily trying to simulate a train with a wad of loose cloth.
"Hold on a minute!" Janeway ordered. "Only the bride can wear white."
"We don't make the distinction between brides and guests that you do," Tilme tried to reassure her. B'Elanna looked helplessly at the Captain.
"I don't look good in white," Janeway protested.
"Are there any other colors that a bride can wear?" Tilme asked.
"Any color they like. In fact, the bride, groom and guests can wear their dress uniforms." This outburst was a serious mistake on the Captain's part - B'Elanna had no interest in a Starfleet dress party, so she immediately defected to Tilme's cause.
"The bride can also wear off-white or ivory," B'Elanna encouraged the girls, but they were confused.
"Why are you saying the bride can wear white, white or white? Is it a joke?"
While the traitor B'Elanna was cursing the Universal Translator, Janeway retook control of the situation. "No, sorry, it's just a translation problem - we make distinctions between different shades of white. Blue is supposed to be a lucky color for the bride. Do you have anything in blue?"
She looked quite relieved as the girls dug several blue dresses out of the piles of clothing they'd borrowed from indulgent parents in the adult quarter. They insisted, however, on attaching a train, a feature which the Captain accepted once B'Elanna promised to help her pin it up properly.
Seven frowned at the merriment. "May I remind you two that marriages contracted on alien worlds are binding under Federation law?"
"This isn't our wedding, Seven," B'Elanna laughed.
Janeway asked, "By the way, Tilme, whose wedding is it?"
Tilme blushed vigorously to distract them from Seven's warning. "Actually, Kathryn, Thivil and I are--"
B'Elanna congratulated Tilme, and the Captain hugged her. Seven remained silent.
The hikers returned, a bit ripe and dusty, and gravitated to the doorway of Tilme's youth hostel, where an apparently impromptu poetry recital had just been started on their account. The native hikers were careful to block the doorway, concealing Harry and Chakotay's presence behind them for the time being.
Tilme had asked for a little alien love poetry to pass the time while she and her cohorts fussed over the dresses. Seven's contribution had been a curt "Poetry is irrelevant," but in the interest of efficiency, she had settled down to help with the alterations.
Now, with a nod from the Captain, B'Elanna began. "When my Klingon mother started reciting the Lays of Kahless to me as bedtime stories, my human father counterattacked with Terran literature. This is something he made me memorize:"
If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way, is not easily provoked, thinks no evil, rejoices not in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails. But as for prophecies, they will fail; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away.
When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I felt as a child, I reasoned as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. And now abide faith, hope and love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
The audience was perfectly still. Even Seven had stopped working to listen. B'Elanna looked sheepish, but Janeway whispered, "I think they liked it." She turned to Tilme, who silently gestured for the Captain to speak.
She began in Pedantic Mode, describing Shakespeare as so famous a poet as to be called merely 'The Bard', telling how he claimed in his sonnets that they would last forever, and agreeing that they would.
The audience remained quiet except for some rustling outside the door, where the conspiring hikers were shuffling themselves in such a way as to shift Chakotay into the doorway. The Captain's eyes fell on him, but he was camouflaged in native garb and she didn't fully recognize him until she'd drawn breath to begin the sonnet. Usually she strove to keep flirtation with her First Officer to a minimum, but this time, for the sake of her audience, she chose to take inspiration where she found it. She directed her recital across the room to him:
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand'ring bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
Rumors of the great love of Tuvok and T'Pel had spread throughout the children's' section of the city, and in that light the audience found the recital quite moving. Harry soon broke the silence with strangely enthusiastic clapping, even for him. The Captain's gaze slipped to the floor.
"I believe your guests would like a hot bath," Tilme hinted to Tamril, who was standing beside Chakotay with an unprofessional tear in his eye. Tamril took the Commander's arm and herded the dusty group away to Thivil's youth hostel.
Though the conspirators' tactics were somewhat heavy-handed, their guests, for the most part, so underestimated the unique talent of the Ymnians that they took these events as chance. It helped the plotters that B'Elanna was uninterested in the technologically backwards society around them, Janeway terminally bored and Harry painfully ingenuous.
Chakotay, however, noticed some of their machinations, if only subconsciously - the signals, the pauses, Tamril's pointed lectures and the diffuse chatter meant to dull suspicion. Perhaps he sensed that their intent was benign, or perhaps he appreciated Ymnian culture and its stated aims more than his shipmates; in any event he said nothing.
Thivil knew that the Commander was more sensitive than the rest, that he was not entirely fooled. He was glad of it, for complete stupidity in aliens was often a greater hindrance than help, and Thivil as Cupid had other concerns than the crossbow bolts he slung at his alien victims. The wedding was to be large, and he had native pairings to make besides. The arrangement of messengers, signals, poetry and plots which on their surface revolved around Janeway and Chakotay must also serve to ignite couples among his and Tilme's helpful friends. These friends were not nearly so malleable as aliens were; they knew all the tricks, so new tricks must constantly be found.
Thivil made little attempt to hide his doings from Tom Paris, the one who had first prompted them. Tom paid little heed to the cryptic progress reports he overheard, but the feeling grew on him that some big dike nearby had sprung a small but significant leak, and that it was, as usual, all his fault.
Seven observed that the crowd of children formed a primitive collective. Their actions were organized and complex, their communication rapid and subtle, but their purpose eluded her. She assumed it was the stated intent of matchmaking, but she could have accomplished that objective much more efficiently with the aid of a genetic database.
She could not for the life of her understand why the crowd was now, a few hours after the disturbing poetry recital, functioning to keep the Captain away from her First Officer. Yet that was clearly the case. The Captain had made several attempts to approach the Commander, and each time one or the other had been rerouted by random Ymnian drones.
Now the Captain seemed to be giving up. She chatted politely with the latest drone, then wandered out of the open square in which the crowd of idle youth had collected. No drones followed her, so Seven turned her attention back to the Commander. Had he noted her departure? He walked over to an unoccupied bench, but instead of sitting down he tapped his communicator. He listened for a moment, then walked away in the direction he had been headed.
Seven noted that several drones were dispatched to follow him. She assumed the drones would continue in their inexplicable but harmless task of separating the two, so she turned her attention back to the crowd. The interactions between the Ymnians themselves were even more complex than their odd behavior towards Voyager's officers. She hoped to assimilate more information.
"Janeway to Chakotay," she whispered when she had cleared the crowd.
"Can you meet me at the main plaza of the city?"
The escapees proceeded in furtive silence to the city limits. In the open fields beyond, the Captain thanked her First Officer for saving her from utter boredom.
"The Doctor grounded me on this unusually dull planet for the duration of our stay. Just when I thought things couldn't get worse, he forbade Tuvok to discuss ship's business with me except in an emergency."
"I'm afraid that order extended to the entire senior staff," Chakotay chided.
"Then consider this an emergency. Very bad things may happen if you don't make a full report this minute, Mister."
"Can we at least sit down somewhere?" he asked with a grin. Having become well-acquainted with the local vegetation on his hiking trip, the Commander soon found a comfortable bed of vines in the shade of an outcropping.
In an officious tone he began, "Mr. Tuvok and his all-adult landing party have completed their mission, acquiring all the supplies and raw materials we expected to find on Ymn. Most notably, Neelix's kitchen has been restocked. Tuvok was thoughtful enough to buy sufficient prepared Ymnian food to relieve Neelix of the duty of cooking, and the shipboard crew of the duty of eating his food, for the duration of our stay here.
"The warp core was restarted three days ago, ship's time, and is functioning within normal parameters. Most of engineering is now on shore leave. The crew seems to share your opinion of Ymn - Neelix had them geared up for something along the lines of Rigel IV or Risa. Thus Anardis had few fans, and shore leave parties have congregated at a seaside resort."
"I didn't know there was a sea," she remarked wistfully.
"It's small and on the other side of the planet. Watersports are reportedly not quite the same on a world with no moons, but the crew has made the best of it. I recommended that the ship move to a stationary orbit over the Sea of Ymn, to facilitate transport of shore-leave parties."
The reader may be interested to know that there is a Ymnian word for 'the witnesses have been eliminated.' It is not a native term; they'd picked it up from visitors from what Neelix might well have dubbed the Planet of Mobsters, who appreciated Ymnians for both their matchmaking services and their conspiratorial skills. It is not clear whether Tamril had taught Chakotay this word.
The First Officer continued his report: "It was a special request of Thivil's father Agril to our father Tuvok that the few of us left in Anardis - Seven, Paris, Torres, Kim, ourselves - stay for the upcoming wedding. We are out of scanning and transport range, but we have communications. Tuvok wished to accommodate his host and I decided that the natives were harmless enough. Shore leave rotations will be done in four or five days, local time, at which point Voyager will return for us." As an afterthought, he added, "Oh, and there's a small party out with a shuttle surfing the solar winds."
"Maquis, I presume."
"Yes, mostly, but the solar sails were provided by Ensign Bronowski."
She turned the discussion to star charts, the distribution of raw dilithium across hostile worlds in the Delta Quadrant, optimal crew rotations for shore leave, and the like. Every word was a reprieve from the inanity of the children's quarter, but the conversation drifted imperceptibly back to it, to the Ymnians, and to their quaint social structure.
"I feel as though I'm in a Victorian novel of planetary scale, waiting to see who will marry whom in the last chapter and live happily ever after. What do you think of their ideas - are we only half-people because we are unattached?" she asked.
"I think we are childish for not getting married, yes. After all, what proof do we have that we're adults?"
"We've suffered, we've learned from our mistakes..." she suggested.
"A child of two learns more in a week than we do in a year, especially from his mistakes. Children also suffer more than we do; suffering wears on us and we can't do it as keenly when we're older."
He paused for a moment to organize his thoughts. "It is not suffering but joy that separates children from adults. Children have small, manageable joys - playing games, hearing stories, stepping over cracks in the sidewalk - they live in a box. Adults have great joys - true love, timeless poetry, ineffable sunsets. Adult joys are unmanageable, consuming, overwhelming."
When she didn't respond, he continued, "How often do we run from joys that would complicate our lives? Instead, we so-called adults retreat into a child's rigid boxes, refusing to step on cracks, refusing to take risks."
"Is it kind to point out such deformities?" she asked angrily.
He turned to face her. "Childhood is not a sickness, Kathryn, it's a stage. A child's fears, his preoccupations are all appropriate enough at the start, when he knows so little about the new world he's been thrust into. Afterwards, children find it hard to let go of the mindset that brought them so far in life, that worked so well." He paused again. "But if no one tells us that there's more to life, we may go on stepping over the cracks forever. The children's ghetto must be a constant reminder that there's more we should be aiming for."
She fumed over this for a few seconds, then accused him, "You're not a child, Chakotay; you're not afraid."
He leaned back, gazing at the blue of the sky as he answered, "I am afraid. I see joy, but I do not reach out for it, for fear of losing what little I have."
Here, two conspirators, with a sense of timing honed over millennia and no need of Universal Translation for the expression of a face, interrupted the tete-a-tete. Disguised as passing hikers, they struck up a particularly insipid conversation. Once it was clear that there was no getting rid of them, the escapees conceded defeat and headed back to the city in the hikers' company.
But fortune, or rather the conspiracy, smiled on the refugee couple. The pseudo-hikers left them at the doorway of Thivil's youth hostel. Little did they know they were being transferred to the custody of Thivil himself; they felt only the reprieve and wandered off silently, down the road to Janeway's favorite spot, a little park bench in a quiet corner of the youth quarter on which she had spent many hours reading her PADD.
All benches on Ymn have room for two. They sat in silence until the shadows of the low bushes had moved perceptibly; that takes quite a while on a planet whose days are forty hours long, but then again, you lose track of the time in such a place.
She broke the silence and the circles of her thought with a question: "Wouldn't we be compromised? What if you were lost - would I go traipsing across the Delta Quadrant looking for you?"
"No, you wouldn't. Your first duty is to your ship - you would bring the crew home. I know you, Kathryn - you cannot be compromised."
She wasn't so sure of her integrity as he was, but she let his assertion pass. "Can you be?" she asked.
"I already am. I would scour the galaxy in a shuttlecraft to get you back, and the Spirits help anyone who got in my way. It's several years too late to prevent my being compromised, but you knew that already. Whom else would you ask to disobey the Doctor's orders just for your amusement? Who else would dare indulge you?"
His last words were more than she wanted to hear about herself. She turned suddenly to face him, unaware that he had been practically whispering in her ear, and thus finding his face much closer to hers than she'd expected. An irritated retort died on her lips; she merely stared at him for several seconds. (Seconds are also longer on Ymn.) "No one else," she finally answered.
In ninety-nine out of a hundred cases, such a scene would have ended in a kiss, but Chakotay sensed something and turned to look behind them. The Captain turned as well, to see Thivil and Tom Paris strolling nonchalantly towards them, apparently lost in their own conversation.
The truth of the matter was otherwise. Thivil and Tom had already spotted them. Surprised at their unmistakable proximity, Tom had blurted out, "Thivil, I've got to hand it to you. I never thought you could pull it off."
Thivil knew that Tom had spoken too loudly - he had only a millisecond to look innocent before Chakotay spotted them, so he held Tom's gaze as he replied, "They're not married yet."
"I hope that's just a figure of speech," Tom said, wondering at the intensity of Thivil's expression.
"They've seen us," Thivil instructed him quietly; "Try to look surprised." Tom paled, but obeyed, turning and waving as spontaneously as he could to the Captain and Commander, who stood up and walked over to meet the head conspirators.
Thivil told them, "Tomorrow we begin formal preparations for the wedding. It would honor us greatly if you would help us prepare."
The next day found Seven and the Captain back in the kitchen. B'Elanna had been dragged off to the main plaza of the children's section, the site of the quickly-approaching wedding, in order to solve some low-tech engineering problems involving precarious piles of pastry and the optimal configuration of tables. The boyfolk, native and otherwise, were nowhere to seen.
Half the day later, Seven's catsuit and the Captain's hair were white with flour. Tilme's little sister was sent to fetch more spices, and the native cooks began decorating the pastry. The human's fine motor skills and the Borg's aesthetic sensibilities were judged insufficient for this delicate task, so the alien helpers did the dishes instead - the Captain washed and Seven dried.
"The Borg," Seven began unexpectedly, "would sacrifice a trillion drones, ten thousand ships, a thousand species - star systems, galaxies, even the Universe itself if need be, in the quest for perfection." The Captain believed her, recalling Seven's quasi-religious reaction to the Omega particle.
"The literature indicates," the former drone continued, "that an individual would make similar sacrifices, on the personal level, for love." Janeway wondered what she was working up to.
"If this is the human quest for perfection, why did the crew of Voyager laugh at the Ymnians?" Seven asked. "Theirs seems the logical approach."
The Captain laughed again at the Ymnians for good measure, then said, "The Ymnians are a little obsessed. There are other 'perfections'."
"I did not find any others recorded in the literature. If you will not seek your own perfection, it would be better if you were assimilated by the Borg and forced to seek theirs. Existence is futile without the quest for perfection."
The Captain was no longer amused; she turned Seven's barbs back at the insightful drone: "So will you see human perfection now, Seven - will you seek love?"
"As I understand it, love cannot be attained through a direct approach. Love assimilates whom it will and rejects those who are unworthy."
"Like the Borg," Janeway reflected, fascinated despite herself.
"Resistance is futile. I," Seven said pointedly, "would not attempt to resist. But I am afraid that--"
"You might be unworthy."
"Perhaps I am insufficiently ... human."
"Seven, you are one of the most human members of my crew. I'm sure love will assimilate you, when the time comes."
Harry had been out late playing the Ymnian penny whistle with Pomil; when he came back to the youth hostel he fell asleep immediately. Chakotay, however, had been tossing and turning for an hour already and at the sound of the oblivious Ensign's snores, he gave up in frustration. He picked up his medicine bundle and tiptoed out of the communal bedroom.
Downstairs in the common area he was surprised to find Thivil, Tamril and many of the other men still busy with wedding preparations.
"You're up early," Tamril said. "It's not midnight yet."
"I couldn't sleep," Chakotay said, wondering how many of his late night chats with Harry had been overheard.
"That is an auspicious sign," Thivil commented, and motioned for the Commander to join them at their task. They seemed to be carding wool, but Thivil explained that the fibers were of vegetable origin - a rare seaweed, in fact, from the far side of Ymn.
After a few hours they had produced large quantities of coarse yarn in various shades. Thivil asked whether Chakotay knew how to weave. He answered that it was an important traditional skill on his homeworld and that he knew his way around a handloom. Some of the men began whispering at this, but Tamril turned a cold eye on them and they quieted.
"The scarf," Thivil was saying, "should be yea wide" - he held his hands half a meter apart - "and at least four times a man's height."
"What sort of pattern should it have?" Chakotay asked.
"Please, use a pattern from your own world. We like to learn about alien cultures."
Harry was still snoring at midnight when Tom awoke. He grunted at the starry Ymnian sky outside the window and got up to find a glass of water. Out in the hallway he heard voices; he went downstairs to investigate.
He found a crowd of Ymnian males with Chakotay in their midst, looking spiritual with five meters of scarf hanging off a small loom. He could have sworn that Tamril was humming "Strangers in the Night".
Tom sighed in relief. He must be dreaming, he thought; only one other person in the Delta Quadrant knew that old tune and it was Harry, not a mad scarf-weaving Ymnian. He remembered the 20th-century holovid they had watched together back when--
"Did Harry's snoring wake you up, Tom?" Chakotay asked.
That was odd. Chakotay never spoke in Tom's dreams - he was supposed to be the strong, silent type.
"Tom? Are you all right?"
"Chakotay? What are you doing?"
"What for?" Tom asked, pinching himself to confirm that he was awake.
"For the wedding," Thivil answered dismissively, giving Tom a 'Get lost, Helm Boy,' look of which the Captain herself could have been proud.
Tom glared in return for a moment, but quickly backed down. "Don't let me interrupt," he said acerbically as he continued on to the kitchen, now hoping to find something a bit stiffer than water.
At dawn, Tilme roused her female guests. There was a wedding-like, if brief, bustle of dressing, primping and preening, and then what seemed like the entire female population of the children's quarter converged on the central plaza between the two halves of the city.
The pastries had been stored nearby; now, under B'Elanna's technical supervision and Tilme's artistic direction, they were set out in precarious and tempting arrangements. Seven assisted; with her perfect balance and reinforced exoskeleton, she could carry twice as much as anyone else.
The Captain sat on the sidelines sipping a mug of coffee she'd brought along. Tilme had assured them the ceremony would be over well before sundown; not even Janeway could face a fifteen-hour diplomatic event without a heavy prophylactic dose of coffee.
Out of earshot across the plaza, B'Elanna breathed a sigh of relief when Tilme reduced the sentence: "Please feel free to leave the ceremony at any point after the meal. Our ceremonies are usually too long for the tastes of aliens and the younger children. You'll see them leaving early as well." Seven acknowledged the new information with a raised eyebrow.
"They're coming!" shouted some of the younger girls, far from bored with the ceremony now at its start. They dragged their offworlder guests to the doorways and pointed down the streets at the procession of men, flowing in and out of cross-streets, waving long scarves above them. The effect was ... alien, Janeway thought - ludicrous, B'Elanna whispered. Seven remained silent.
Thivil was at the head of the line and swept in the largest doorway with a flourish of his scarf. The others followed him up to the wide dais against the far wall of the plaza, and deposited their scarves on a few empty tables which had been left there for the purpose.
After their majestic entrance, the men broke up and mixed among the waiting female crowd. Janeway observed as the mood quickly changed from high drama to the familiar inanity of the children's quarter. She watched the children fall on the pastries like Neelix on leola-root stew. They continued to chatter and munch on this strange wedding breakfast for a few hours.
She kept an eye on her crew - B'Elanna seemed restless and Tom looked like he was already suffering the consequences of the half-Klingon's boredom. Harry talked amiably with a Ymnian boy. Seven - well, who could tell what Seven was thinking? Her first officer was thick as thieves with Thivil and Tamril, but then he always had a way with the locals, she thought. She wished she could take as much interest in Tilme, who was very kindly, if not so successfully, trying to keep her entertained.
Fortunately for Tilme, the official entertainment was about to begin.
When little more than crumbs remained of the biggest repast the Alpha Quadrant natives had ever seen, a young man stood up on the dais. The crowd immediately quieted and sat down on the ground or the nearest benches, which until now had been used more as tables than chairs. Chakotay was up on the dais with Thivil and Tamril when the general silence fell, while Tom, B'Elanna, Seven and Harry were near one another, and the Captain was some distance away, talking to Tilme and her little sisters.
The young man began to speak in a hypnotizing singsong, "This is the History of Love:"
Once upon a time, when sea of Ymn was larger and more perilous than it is today, all the people of Ymn lived on its shores. They called the sea 'the sea' and they called the land 'earth' or 'clay' or 'dust', as aliens do, until our lady Ymne came into the world.
Before our lady came on earth
Little there was of joy or mirth;
About the borders of the sea
The sea-folk wandered heavily;
About the wintry river side
The weary fishers would abide.
Alone within the weaving-room
The girls would sit before the loom,
And sing no song, and play no play;
Alone from dawn to hot mid-day,
From mid-day unto evening,
The men afield would work, nor sing,
'Mid weary thoughts of man and God,
Before thy feet the wet ways trod.
Unkissed, the merchant bore his care;
Unkissed, the knights went out to war;
Unkissed, the mariner came home;
Unkissed, the minstrel men did roam.
Or in the streams the maids would stare,
Nor know why they were made so fair;
Their yellow locks, their bosoms white,
Their limbs well wrought for all delight,
Seemed foolish things that waited death,
As hopeless as the flowers beneath
The weariness of unkissed feet.
No life was bitter then, or sweet. 
B'Elanna snorted and asked Tom where, in that case, all the proto-Ymnians had come from. Tom leaned over to Harry, who was sitting next to Seven in the row in front of them, and asked, "Are you buying any of this?"
Harry glanced for a moment at Seven, looking well-wrought in a low-cut white catsuit, and answered, "Sure - why not?"
"I see your point," Tom agreed, and turned his attention back to the story.
Ymne was a pastry chef, and Emnil was a mariner.
Emnil the mariner sailed on the sea, and brought goods and news from one village to another. Every summer he brought colorful weavings from far away to Ymne's village. In return, Ymne and her friends gave him pastries, with which he sailed on towards the sunset, and they heard nothing of him until summer came round again.
And though no one had heard of love in those days, Ymne yearned the whole year for she knew not what, until Emnil came again. And she was content for a few days, until Emnil sailed away again.
So the years passed, until one year Emnil did not return. The summer came, the summer went, the villagers ate the pastries and went without new weavings that year.
"I am ill," said Ymne, and she went to the healer, complaining of a strange feeling in her stomach, her head, her chest. The healer could find no illness in Ymne and he sent her away again.
She asked every passing traveller, had they seen Emnil the mariner in their villages that year? No, they all answered Ymne. Some said he had drowned, others believed that he had returned to his home village and sailed the sea no longer, and still others whispered rumors of a mysterious island in the sea from which none ever returned.
Ymne sighed, but her friends reassured her - next summer, they said, Emnil will surely return. She baked twice as many pastries as she had before, to make up for the missing year; they were the finest pastries ever baked on Ymn.
At this point the tale degenerated into a long account of pies, muffins, popovers, eclairs, cheesecake, fried dough, and countless more kinds of pastry. The Universal Translator was hard at work, but the alien audience was hardly listening.
"I can only take so much of this, Tom," B'Elanna complained.
"What are you suggesting?" he asked.
"A Maquis operation - I was particularly good at prison breaks in my day."
"You never came for me," Tom complained.
"You were expendable."
"I love you too, dear."
And Ymne went to the seashore every day and watched for Emnil's ship, but again he did not come.
On the last day of summer, her friends found her staring out to sea and said "Come away, Ymne. Who is Emnil that you behave thus over him? Let us eat the pastries ourselves. The harvest is coming - do not sit here by the sea."
"I will find Emnil," she swore. "Why?" they asked her, and "How?" for they were not mariners and had no ships. "You will see," she promised them, as she turned away from the shore.
She joined in the harvest, and if she was sad no one noticed, for they knew neither joy nor sorrow in those days. And the winter came, and it was cold, colder than any winter before or since. The sea turned hard - great ships of ice sailed captainless from village to village.
And Ymne said goodbye to her friends, and walked out on the sea to find Emnil. "Who is Emnil," they called after her, "that you seek him on the icy sea?" "Emnil is a mariner," she answered, and they were struck with wonder.
Harry noticed that Seven seemed rather pensive and unusually attentive to the irrelevant proceedings around her. She turned to him suddenly and asked, "Harry, do you wish to marry me?"
He hadn't thought anything could faze him more than her occasional propositions, but Seven always had a new surprise up her form-fitting sleeve. "Please elaborate," he mimicked her to buy time.
"I have assi--learned about Ymnian culture during this inefficient period of shore leave. I believe that this is a communal wedding ceremony and that any couple who wish to can get married. If you assent, we will participate. Then I believe you will be more willing to--"
"That's not a good reason to get married, Seven," the flustered Ensign interrupted. He did not see her disappointed look - his attention had quickly turned to the figure of Commander Chakotay beside Tamril on the dais. "In fact," he said distractedly, "we should leave now before anything untoward happens."
"I will inform the Captain," Seven said sadly, pining after elusive perfection.
"No - uh, could you please get B'Elanna and Tom? I will speak to the Captain."
And Ymne rode the ice from village to village, always asking whether anyone had seen Emnil the mariner. No one had any news of him, but everyone she visited was struck with wonder. They asked one another, "Who is Emnil, and who is Ymne that she seeks him on the frozen sea?" And the women looked at the men in a new way, and the men were very nervous.
B'Elanna was nodding from boredom - she jumped at Seven's suggestion that they leave, but Tom wanted to stay. He muttered something about seeing what they did with all those scarves. She was adamant.
Harry interrupted the argument, saying that the Captain wanted to hear how the story turned out and then she would join them back at the hostel. Seven perceived that he was lying - in fact, he hadn't spoken to the Captain at all - and opened her mouth to correct him. He cut her off, saying, "Let's blow this joint already."
As they left the plaza, Harry turned and waved to Tamril. If she had not already been on her guard, the former drone might have taken this gesture at face value. Although little of the Ymnian conspiracy had escaped her piercing bionic gaze, Seven was shocked by Harry's lie and his hand signal, the latter clearly intended to inform Tamril that 'the coast was clear', as humans say. In just a few days, she realized, the primitive Ymnian collective had accomplished something she had been unable to do in the space of three years - they'd assimilated Ensign Kim.
Until this day a man brings a woman weavings, and a woman gives a man pastry, in honor of Ymne and Emnil, the first lovers in Ymn.
Chakotay also saw the signal and the departure of his crewmates. He was seated in a place of honor among Thivil's relatives, where he was able to hear the entire story without interruptions from his irreverent friends. The History of Love had cleared up a few of the more puzzling aspects of Ymnian culture and weddings for him.
Now Tamril turned to him and told him to go down to her and bring her back to the dais by the end of the third story, if he could. So Chakotay walked over to the Captain, sat down beside her and struck up a conversation. If he was nervous, it didn't show.
Half an hour later, having walked B'Elanna back to the hostel and annoyed her with his paranoid talk of scarves, Tom found himself free to return to the wedding. He was stopped, however, at the entrance to the square by juvenile guards, who informed him that no one could go back in. "Why not? What's going on in there?" he demanded.
"Didn't you leave because you were bored?" one of them asked. "It is now time for the Lay of Anardil and Anarde, after whom this city of Anardis is named. It goes like this:
"And this is the tale of Anardil and Anarde, who lived [predictably enough, the Universal Translator's tone seemed to imply] in Anardis long ago. Anardil hated women and Anarde hated men. She swore that she would never marry, but especially that she would never marry Anardil. Likewise, he swore that he would marry a lemming (or so the Universal Translator put it) before he would wed Anarde. Anarde responded that a [houseplant] would be a more entertaining husband than Anardil.
"And it came to pass that the brother of Anardil planned to throw a wedding, and Anardil must be a groomsman..."
"Not another half-hour description of wedding food!" Tom was beginning to share B'Elanna's view of Ymnian storytelling, but he would not abandon his quest so easily. "Please, I've never seen a Ymnian wedding. I didn't know I couldn't go back in after a breath of fresh air. I want to see the ritual," he prevaricated.
The young conspirator decided that taking the upset alien literally was the better part of valor. He offered to bring Tom to Anardis Central Surveillance to watch the events on the remote cameras. "There will be no sound," he added, once they were well on their way.
"That's OK," Tom assured him. "I don't think the Universal Translator can handle any more love poetry today."
Sitting by the Captain, Chakotay observed the continuing egress of guests and noted that no one came back in. He turned his attention to the new story.
And it came to pass that the brother of Anardil planned to throw a wedding, and Anardil must be a conspirator. Vardil his brother wished to outdo the Great Wedding of 402, so he assigned Anardil the most difficult task of all: Anardil must make a match for Anarde.
So Anardil sent a friend to Anarde, to ask her what sort of a man she would marry. She answered that she would marry no one, but especially not Anardil, that [gerbil, interpolated the Universal Translator after a contemplative pause].
So Anardil sent another friend to ask what specifically she hated in Anardil, hoping to find an opposite sort of a man for her. She answered that she did not hate his broad shoulders, or his golden eyes, or his lithe body, or his ready wit. These things were good things enough, when they appeared in another man, but in Anardil they were insufferable.
Anardil was at his ready wit's end...
"If this thing makes another crack like that one I'll smash it," Janeway threatened.
"Maybe the puns are in the original," Chakotay suggested.
...but he began to suspect that Anarde had no reason to hate him. 'Baseless hatred is a virtue,' she had quipped revealingly to one startled minion. If she only hated him because he hated her, and he only hated her because she hated him, then there was hope that they were meant for each other.
"Funny they didn't pick that up from their names, eh?"
So Anardil went back to Vardil his brother, and Vardil came up with a plan to fool Anarde into marrying Anardil. Anardil would go to the wedding in a mask. So as not to arouse suspicion, all the men would go to the wedding in masks.
"So as not to arouse suspicion?"
And so the first costume wedding was held in Ymn. When the women saw the men parading into the square wearing masks, they were confounded. They almost dropped the food, which consisted of two hundred full...
"Here we go again - wedding food," Chakotay complained.
"I think the Universal Translator is glossing over the deep symbolism of the food."
"I'm serious. There's something about these people - I have the feeling there's a hidden meaning to every gesture and word, especially the dull ones. Only I can never quite make it out. You seem to have hit it off with them," she added inquiringly.
"I take them at their word."
This puzzled her, but she let it go. "You have a way of seeing through people. They warned me about you when I first went hunting you in the Badlands; 'He's a dangerous man, Kathryn - don't let your guard down.'"
"So when did you finally let it down?"
"It was when you began to wonder whether there were any actual Maquis on your Maquis ship."
"You felt sorry for me," he said wryly.
"It wasn't that. I realized I was more likely to betray you than you me, though you were a wanted terrorist and I was a Starfleet captain. You shed this light on everyone around you, a steady, revealing light like that of the long Ymnian day. It shows me things I wouldn't have wanted to know about myself under other circumstances, yet somehow it doesn't disturb me when you are nobler, stronger or wiser than I. And when you are gone, the world seems dull and gray."
She'd spoken the last words half-unconsciously, as though she had forgotten both him and her surroundings. Now, she met his eyes, thereby making a subtle tactical error for which there is a specific word in the Ymnian language and from which few ever recover. All that went through her mind, though, was 'He's a dangerous man, Kathryn, and you let your guard down.'
When the last [boysenberry] was eaten, older, longer tales than this one were told at Vardil's wedding, while the guests sorted themselves. Full of trepidation, Anardil left Vardil's circle and sat down beside Anarde. Anarde asked him how he happened to come to the wedding. Anardil, speaking with the accent of a distant city, told her that he was a relative of Vardil, who wished to bring together those who were far apart, to rival the Great Wedding of 402.
And Anarde saw that he was tall and lithe and golden-eyed like Anardil, and she thought 'What the heck,' and agreed...
"That's definitely a malfunction."
"Epic Mode is difficult to sustain."
...to return to the circle with the mysterious stranger. And they approached Vardil and Varde, who took the scarf Anardil had woven and wrapped it around Anardil and Anarde.
And the wedding of Vardil and Varde was great, rivalling the Great Wedding of 402, and the guests filled the other side of Anardis to overflowing, and the children's quarter was emptied for many years.
"Are you following this?" Janeway asked.
"I think so."
The narration of the third story began, but Chakotay was looking at his Captain instead of listening, so she quipped, "I suppose you even know what the Ymnians mean when they say 'Thank you for the sugar' in that pregnant way they have."
"I'm sure it has something to do with matchmaking."
"Is that what you meant by taking them at their word? They said they were matchmakers, and the Captain smirked, and the crew laughed, but the First Officer believed them. I've got a damn fine First Officer."
"You'd better keep me around for the Planet of Cannibals."
"Do I have a choice?"
"Yes, you do. Will you come up to the front with me?"
She hesitated. He sallied: "The crew have all left the ceremony. No one need know." He wondered if he had ceded too much to her fears, and how he would conceal such a thing.
The blow had been mortal, but she feinted nonetheless: "It's a small, small ship."
"The crew laughed," he quoted her. "Who would imagine it?"
She grinned in that mischievous way she had. "What the heck."
"Are you sure you know what you're getting into?" he asked.
He stood up to offer her his arm, and they joined Thivil on the dais.
Tom had begun to wonder whether his guide, Nandil, was leading him on a wild goose chase when they finally reached their destination. Anardis Central Surveillance was housed in a nondescript building on the outskirts of the children's quarter. Nandil led him to an interior room with blank walls, a few chairs and a control console. They sat down and the Ymnian began to manipulate the controls.
The walls sprang to life with images of the various streets, parks and two-seater benches of the children's quarter, which faded quickly as Nandil brought up scenes of the central square and the still large wedding party.
"What is all this for?" Tom asked, gesturing at the equipment and remote pictures.
Tom blanched. The screen before them showed Thivil and Tilme standing before a small but growing group of guests - couples, Tom noted nervously - on the dais. Glancing away to the other two walls, Tom saw the figure of a woman in a blue dress with another familiar form unusually close beside her. Turning subtle as a Ymnian, or at least as a visitor from the Planet of Mobsters, Tom forced his gaze onward to other guests and other angles, then asked Nandil innocently, "Can I try?"
Nandil relinquished the console and gave Tom a few pointers. Soon the latter was working the controls like a shuttlecraft, zooming in and out of the wedding crowd and making poor Nandil spacesick. "Can you record with this?" Tom asked.
"Why would you want to do that?"
"Where we come from, it's traditional to take pictures at weddings," Tom answered. Few Ymnians could have resisted such an argument, and Nandil was already afraid of the fey alien in whose voice he kept hearing undertones of 'if she ever finds out it was me, she'll strap me to the outer hull for the rest of the trip.'
With a shrug of resignation, Nandil reached under the console, brought forth a small, transparent cube and plugged it into a square socket. Then he showed Tom how to take stills, recommending that he stick to them because the cubes didn't hold much data.
Nandil pointedly ignored him as he swooped in on his friends to snap his first picture, of Chakotay offering the Captain his arm. Taking a late lesson from the Ymnians, Tom eyed the ceremony with the professional disinterest of a holophotographer. Nandil relaxed slightly.
They watched the Starfleet couple join the crowd forming around Thivil. They were neither early nor late. Couples continued to go up to the dais as the third story went on, while other children, in groups or singly, left the plaza. None returned.
When the storyteller was finished, he, too, left the hall with the last stragglers. Thivil and Tilme walked to the wall bordering the adult quarter and stepped through a low doorway.
"Where did they go?" Tom asked.
"To see their parents," Nandil replied.
They weren't gone long. They reemerged through the same doorway, arms around one another and wrapped curiously in a scarf. Tom knew, though they all looked the same to him, that this was the scarf Thivil had been weaving the night before. The couple took up a position between the door and the crowd, beside a table laden with scarves. With their two free hands, they beckoned to someone.
Tamril and a girl came out of the crowd and stood shoulder-to-shoulder before Thivil and Tilme. The latter pair selected a scarf, lifted it over Tamril and his companion's heads so it draped across their backs, and wrapped the ends around their free arms, letting them hang loosely from their wrists to the floor.
As far as Tom could tell, not a word had been spoken. He'd gotten a few shots off, though, and had his angles under control.
Thivil beckoned again to the crowd, and Chakotay emerged with the Captain. Tom recognized the scarf Thivil selected, and remembered to breathe and photograph as it was draped around the pair of officers then wrapped around their arms four or five times. The now inseparable couple joined Tamril, who was standing behind their hosts.
The same process was repeated for every couple on the crowded dais. Tom yawned. What were they thinking, standing there for hours wrapped in a scarf? He saw her nod off once or twice, and took his favorite shots, one of the Commander with a big, stupid grin on his face, and one of the Captain rolling her eyes as he whispered something in her ear.
Tom was dozing off when the next part of the ceremony began. Nandil poked him; he opened his eyes to a stately march of the couples around the plaza in complex criss-crossing patterns. He had no trouble keeping track of the Captain and Commander - the Native American design of their scarf stood out brightly against the crowd. The aliens made a few false steps, but the rest of the marchers compensated seamlessly for their offworlder guests.
Finally, Thivil and Tilme ducked through the low door, followed by the couple behind them in the march, and thus the entire crowd gradually disappeared from view.
Tom stared vacantly at the deserted plaza - only pastry crumbs and the long shadows of sundown remained. Nandil pulled the cube out of its socket and handed it to him. This seemed to revive Tom, who asked "What just happened, Nandil?"
To Nandil's sensitive ear this was a plea for plausible deniability. He strove to aid the distraught alien. "It was a great honor for Thivil and Tilme to have your friends participate in their wedding ceremony. There will be a small reception in the adult quarter and afterwards your friends can go their own way. Maybe they'll return to your ship..." he hinted, hoping for a clue as to what kind of cover story Tom needed help telling.
Tom filled in the gap: "The ship is on the other side of Ymn and won't be back for a few days still."
"Oh, then Thivil will find them a place to stay - he wouldn't neglect such important guests. Speaking of which, why don't I bring you back to your quarters? You're looking tired." Tom agreed.
The next morning, on his way back to Voyager, Ensign Bronowski swung the shuttlecraft round the sealess side of Ymn to pick up B'Elanna, Harry and Seven. Due to a fortunate mix-up, Tom was still down on the roster for his original shore leave dates, which had extended to the end of Voyager's planned stay on Ymn.
"You could at least come see the other side of the planet," B'Elanna chided him. She had her engines to attend to; still, she preferred to keep Danger Boy on a short leash.
"I've grown accustomed to Anardis," he answered. "Anyway, someone's got to keep an eye on the Captain."
"She's probably back on Voyager already," B'Elanna countered. Ensign Bronowski could neither confirm nor deny the speculation.
The children's quarter was a bit thin after the wedding. Tom had borrowed a holoimager from Bronowski - he spent two days pacing around Anardis filming his next great holoprogram. He even taught Nandil to play poker.
When Tom hailed Voyager for his third daily check-in since the departure of his friends, Harry was back at Ops. Tom lowered his voice as he asked, "Are Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay still on shore leave?"
"They just checked in from Anardis - haven't you seen them?" Harry responded.
"Then they must be--"
"This is not a secure channel, Harry. Paris out."
Tom Paris spent his last hours on Ymn in search of Commander Chakotay. Voyager had returned; his informant at Ops used the ship's sensors to narrow the Commander's location down to the marketplace of Anardis, which Tom now searched on foot. The place was full of adults, and after more than a week - two weeks ship's time - in Anardis he was starting to feel uncomfortable around the other half of Ymnian society. He found several promising gifts for B'Elanna, but couldn't bring himself to ask Daddy Tuvok to beam down and purchase one for him.
He glimpsed the Commander's red and black a few times, but it seemed Chakotay was actively avoiding him. Eventually, though, he managed to corner him.
"Chakotay, where have you been? I haven't seen you in days."
"Thivil found me a quieter place to stay," he replied.
"And the Captain?" Tom implied.
"I think she's in the marketplace somewhere, if you're looking for her."
"I had enough trouble finding you." An uncomfortable silence ensued. "So you're out shopping," he insinuated, but the Commander would not respond. Subtlety getting him nowhere, Tom upped the stakes; "Chakotay, what happened at Thivil's wedding?"
"You were there."
"B'Elanna dragged me out in the middle of the History of Love. They wouldn't let anyone back in afterwards."
"Well, it went on in the same style - more stories, more scarves..."
"Did you stay till the end?"
"What are you getting at, Tom?" Chakotay asked, a slight edge creeping into his voice.
"Maybe you can explain these to me." He handed the Commander the picture cube he'd brought with him. "When I couldn't get back into the wedding, one of the other children felt sorry for me and brought me to Anardis Central Surveillance to see visuals of the ritual. There was no audio and I wasn't sure exactly what was going on. Anyway, he let me take those."
Chakotay found the appropriate button and slowly paged through the images, fighting a smile and losing badly. He didn't look up as he quipped, "Like I said, more scarves."
Somewhat annoyed, Tom risked a last rhetorical question: "You're not going to tell anyone you're married, are you?"
The gleam left Chakotay's eyes and his grip on the cube tightened. "Listen to what you're saying, Tom. What would marrying a Maquis do to the Captain's career, never mind her security clearance? Even a rumor-"
Tom interrupted, "Relax, Chakotay - your secret is safe with me. I doubt anyone would believe me if I told them, anyway. Still, we're half a lifetime away from Starfleet - it seems like a high price to pay..." Tom's train of thought petered out.
The Commander didn't seem to be listening, anyway. Tom followed his gaze down the street to the uniformed figure of Captain Janeway, leaning in a shop window to haggle, adult-like, with the proprietor.
"She would be a bargain at any price," Chakotay said quietly.
Tom looked back at him, wishing for a moment that he hadn't let B'Elanna escape from the wedding. With an effort, the senior officer likewise turned to face Tom. "Now, about these pictures..."
"Please, accept them as a wedding present from an unwitting conspirator." Tom offered his hand. "Congratulations, Commander."
"Thanks, Tom," Chakotay said as he shook his hand.
When the Captain turned towards them, Tom waved nonchalantly and walked out of the marketplace to the transport coordinates. He wondered how he would participate in the below-decks betting pools with a straight face ever again.
The Captain brought the Commander back to the merchant for haggling reinforcement, and together they managed to acquire a small vase. They gave it to Thivil, explaining that it was a human custom to give a present to one's host, and that a human wife would want it kept full of red, red roses, but Tilme could use it for the traditional liquids if she preferred.
Thivil said in parting, "On Ymn, a man is considered fortunate when he has brought together couples who were far away or far apart. None have ever come from such as distance as you have to be married on Ymn. You have made me the richest of men." Chakotay responded in kind.
Afterwards they walked to the transport site outside the city limits. Kathryn wondered aloud whether she had violated the Prime Directive once again, by interfering in the political structure of Ymn. Chakotay reassured her that Thivil was destined for greatness; all they had done was provide a new story to be immortalized in poetry throughout the sector.
"That's not comforting, Commander," she said. "Try again." He just took her hand, but it seemed to suffice.
A Borg padded stealthily through the dimness of ship's night. When she reached her objective, she spoke: "Lieutenant Paris, step away from the access panel."
He started, but played it cool. "Hello, Seven. What's up?"
"I detected your amateur attempts to reprogram the internal sensors."
"You really know how to flatter a guy, Seven."
"What is the purpose of your illicit activities?"
"Go fly a kite."
"Am I to assume the Captain took your advice?"
Tom gave Seven his best Bewildered Helm Boy look as he asked, "Whatever are you talking about?"
"Fifteen days ago in the mess hall you advised the Captain to marry Com--"
"Seven! Lower your voice, please."
"Answer the question."
"I am unable to comply."
Seven took a different tack. "Computer, state the location of Commander Chakotay."
"Commander Chakotay is in Captain Janeway's quarters."
"Is this the function you wish to impair?" Tom didn't answer. "Step aside," she ordered. Seven's fingers flew across the computer terminal for several minutes. Next, she leaned over to rearrange the isolinear chips in the panel Tom had opened. Finally, she returned to the terminal to erase her tracks.
"Computer, state the location of Commander Chakotay," she ordered.
"Commander Chakotay is in his quarters," the tinny voice responded.
"Seven, I didn't think you were capable of deceit."
"Deceit is inefficient. If the Captain and the Commander are married, then their quarters are joint property. I have corrected the computer's responses to reflect this new data. You may wish to inform them of my alterations."
The party atmosphere lasted long after the departure from Ymn. Neelix found his mess hall full of hopeful faces asking after Ymnian specialties. Even the Captain and First Officer deigned to dine in public, and of course Neelix gave them his full attention.
"So, Captain, did the crew succumb to the starry nights of Ymn? Will I be using my new Ymnian wedding recipes soon?" he asked eagerly.
"I believe that's a question for my XO. I was off-duty," she shrugged. As the Maquis of the family, Chakotay had insisted on handling all details of the covert operation personally.
"Well, Commander?" Neelix oozed with anticipation.
"I'm sorry to report that although the morale of the crew is markedly improved, no one seems to have any wedding plans for the near future."
"Well," Neelix harrumphed, "I'm sorry to report I'm very disappointed in this crew. Two weeks in the most romantic spot in the quadrant and not a single love affair to show for it. Is everyone from the Alpha Quadrant this dull?"
"Look on the bright side, Neelix," the Commander answered. "At least Voyager boasts the legendary, undying love of Tuvok of Vulcan."
When Voyager came within communication range of Starfleet, Captain Janeway sent an inquiry about the fate of her Maquis crewmembers along with her logs. The Federation Judiciary was at work on the case for some time, deposing the crew remotely and gathering evidence from the sulking Cardassians, gloating Bajorans and few surviving Maquis of the Alpha Quadrant. When Voyager was seven months from Federation space, Admiral Paris sent the Captain a personal communique informing her of their decision.
She called Chakotay to her ready room to tell him the news. "A year in New Zealand, with reinstatement in Starfleet at your current rank afterwards, if you wish. Full pardons for the rest of the Maquis crew, and instatement for B'Elanna at her current rank if she desires. The others may petition for entry into Starfleet; Admiral Paris said they would have a good chance, though he didn't seem to think they'd be interested."
Chakotay was silent, so she continued, "Voyager will be docked at Utopia Planitia for several months for a full refit. Afterwards, they want me to go out on the scientific expedition for which she was originally intended."
He grinned in that wry way he had. "It's kind of the Admiral to give me six months to cut and run."
"Will you visit me in prison?"
"I'm not going to let them throw you in a penal colony."
"I don't mind. I expected worse."
"I'm not going back out on Voyager without you. Tuvok can have her."
She didn't want to argue with him - she had her own plans and he wasn't going to approve of them, not that that ever stopped her. She changed the subject to one that was sure to distract him. "I think it's time we had that little Maquis we've been talking about."
The months passed all too quickly for the jubilant crew. They stopped at a few anomalies, but nothing would eat them, open fire or in any way harsh on their mellow, as Tom put it. Chakotay had informed the crew of the pardons and reinstatements, but at the Captain's request he'd omitted mention of his prison term.
The Captain glowed - with pride in her accomplishment, the crew assumed, and gained weight - on account of the end of replicator rationing, they speculated.
Three months from home, Admiral Paris came to meet them. Janeway was impressed - he must have set out almost as soon as the judgement was handed down. He'd brought civilians: T'Pel of Vulcan, Samantha Wildman's husband and a few others. The reunions were private, and Admiral Paris postponed seeing his son until after he debriefed the Captain.
In her ready room, he started with small talk. "I expected you to look a little more grizzled after reading your logs. It must have been a rough trip."
"I would never have made it back without the help of the crew, especially my First Officer." She wanted to make him squirm as much as possible before she laid down her trump card.
"Was Commander Chakotay upset by the Judiciary's decision?"
"No, but I was."
"Is that a request for clemency?" he asked. He'd come here largely because of this problem, though the Judiciary had left him little discretionary power.
"No," she drawled, "he wants to serve his time, and return to Starfleet afterwards."
The words themselves seemed reassuring, but the Admiral was still nervous. He changed the subject. "You're the heroes of the quadrant." She glared at him; he had to retreat farther. "What will you do while Voyager is in drydock?"
"I will need a year's leave of absence. Tuvok can handle Voyager in the meantime. He's done it before." The Admiral missed the deeper significance of these words, though he'd read her logs, and thus the story of New Earth, many times on the long trip out to meet her. At least he understood that she was asking for a promotion for Tuvok, and that much was in his power to give. He relaxed somewhat, answering lightly that he wouldn't have thought she could stay away from Voyager for so long.
"You leave me no choice," she said, in an alarming tone of voice which he figured had kept her half-criminal crew in line for seven years. This debriefing was not going well for him, nor was he looking forward to the next three months in deep space with the angry redhead who ate Borg for breakfast.
He tried again to lighten things up. "What will you do Earthside for an entire year?"
"I'll be spending the year in New Zealand." She smiled. Half the Delta Quadrant had learned to fear that particular expression, but the Admiral had yet to learn. It would only take him a few more minutes.
"You're not going to make a scene, are you? You were never the sort for civil disobedience, Kathryn." He pictured the crew of Voyager chaining themselves to the gates of the New Zealand penal colony, and frowned.
Her voice grew husky. "I don't think you quite understand me, Admiral. I will be staying with Commander Chakotay." Set and match.
"You can't do that, not unless you..." The Admiral choked on the word.
"I already have." She smiled that smile again.
"There was nothing in your logs, or Tuvok's - not even in th--" The Admiral caught himself in time, or so he hoped.
"In the what?" Icicles were forming rapidly on her voice. Even the bridge crew outside felt a sudden chill in the recycled air.
"In the Commander's logs, but I suppose that's obvious," he bluffed smoothly.
Her expression clouded over; she knew what he had been about to say, but she forced herself to remain calm. The thought of Starfleet picking over the internal sensor logs to see who slept in her bed infuriated her.
Chakotay had been particularly insistent about the internal sensors, though he claimed not to know who'd 'adjusted' them so fortuitously. It had taken her a week to notice, and then she was the one who insisted they had nothing to hide. She'd wanted to tell the crew, but he warned her Starfleet might try to use them against each other. He said it was his responsibility to protect the crew, herself especially, and in this case that meant providing 'plausible deniability'.
"Tuvok doesn't know," she denied. "We were on shore leave. It's perfectly binding under Federation law." The Admiral looked doubtful. She smiled her most superficial smile. "I'll show you the pictures sometime, Owen."
She was good, too good. There was no way he could have seen this one coming. But he wouldn't admit defeat quite yet. "You'll be running the penal colony in six months."
"Maybe I'll scrape together my next crew."
Admiral Paris went straight from Janeway's ready room to the mess hall, where his son was waiting for him. It wasn't a mealtime, so the room was almost empty. He wondered absently why Tom had chosen such an impersonal spot - but then perhaps it wasn't impersonal to him.
Tom hugged his father and said a few of the things he'd been dreaming of saying for the past seven years. They spoke about his mother, his future, B'Elanna, and some of his wilder experiences in the Delta Quadrant. Still, a part of Tom eyed his father with a professional dispassion he'd been unable to shake since his experiences on Ymn. "What's wrong, Dad?" he finally asked.
"It's the Judiciary decision. I'm afraid your Captain isn't taking it as well as I'd hoped she would."
Tom was nonplussed. "What about the decision? I thought all the Maquis were pardoned."
"Didn't she tell you?"
"Tell us what?"
This was bad, very bad. The Admiral realized she still had something up her sleeve, that she had been saving his face by not telling the crew about a decision she believed wouldn't stand. He looked at his estranged son, the closest thing to an ally he had on this suddenly hostile ship, and confided in him. "The Judiciary decided to reinstate Commander Chakotay ... after a year in New Zealand. The other Maquis were fully pardoned."
If the look on Tom's face was anything to judge by, he thought, he should call for an emergency beam-out right now. "What else?" his son demanded.
The boy was even quicker than he remembered. "The rest appears to be confidential," the Admiral answered him.
"Ah, she told you."
"I was there. In fact, I took the wedding pictures." Tom smiled at the memory, but the Admiral remained silent. "You shouldn't have crossed her, Dad. Only he can do that, and he never wins, either."
After a few minutes of thought, Tom spoke again, "Let me guess. She threatened to go to New Zealand with him - conjugal rights and all that." The Admiral nodded. Tom whistled in disbelief. "Dad, you're in it up to your pips. It'll be the public relations debacle of the century when you toss the heroic returning captain of Voyager, her husband, and their baby into a penal settlement."
"Baby?" the Admiral choked out. No wonder she'd glowed even as she'd glared at him.
"Did I mention I'm a medic now? She can refuse to see the Doctor, but she can't hide the signs from me."
The Admiral sighed. She was going to win, after all.
"So tell me how you became a medic, son."
The End. (Really.)
 Excerpt from "The Hill of Venus" by William Morris.
The other excerpts were Shakespeare's 116th sonnet and the thirteenth chapter of the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians. The translation of the latter is my own amalgamation of the public-domain English versions.