Series: Star Trek: Voyager
Janeway and Phoebe talk.
Paramount owns their bodies, but their souls are free.
The real friendships among men are so rare that when they occur they are famous. Clarence Day
"It's been ten years," Phoebe said to her sister, who was sitting on the couch reading a PADD. Admiral Janeway was home in Indiana for the holidays - she insisted on calling Christmas 'Prixin' now, but seemed otherwise unscarred by her seven years in the Delta Quadrant.
"What?" Kathryn answered, startled. "Sorry, Phoebe, I didn't hear you come in."
Phoebe had been standing in the doorway for a quarter of an hour, trying to figure out the puzzle that was her sister, the Admiral. She drew a deep breath and tried again.
"It's been ten years since Voyager disappeared in the Badlands. Don't you think it's about time you told someone what happened out there?"
The Admiral looked equally puzzled as she answered, "Everyone knows what happened out there, Phoebe. Spirits, there's even a holovid series about us. Any ten-year-old in the Federation will be happy to recite my logs for you."
"Not your personal logs," Phoebe challenged her.
That was when the Admiral started to get annoyed. She glared at her curious sister, but Phoebe had been immunized against the Death Glare by repeated exposure in childhood.
"Tell me about Chakotay," she said.
"He's a very private man," the Admiral answered in a tone of voice that would have convinced a Klingon to drop the subject - today wasn't such a good day to die, after all.
"Then tell me about you. Did you love him?"
Kathryn looked away, out the living room window. Phoebe had once known her sister well, and hoped she had finally pressed the right button. For three years this woman had deflected all such questions, from friends, family or courts martial, with an agility that had earned her the moniker 'the Teflon Admiral'. She was more than the heroine of the Delta Quadrant; she was a demigod no one dared question, except the girl who had played with her long ago in that backyard which the Admiral found such an engrossing sight.
Phoebe was surprised when the Bane of the Borg suddenly lashed out at her: "Do you have any idea how impossible it would be for me to sum up ten years of my life in a simple yes or no?" Her eyes blazed - they almost glowed green.
Perhaps the EMH left a few nanoprobes in there after all, Phoebe thought. "So tell me the whole story. You have two weeks' leave," she prompted her.
"You would never understand."
A man must eat a peck of salt with his friend before he knows him. Cervantes (Don Quixote)
Phoebe expected her sister to rise to the challenge, but something seemed to break in the Admiral's eyes. She fell to the challenge instead, as though she really were the demigod the holovids and publicity made her out to be, and her mortal sister - her one tie to humanity - had just proven to be her undoing.
"You have no idea what it was like - seven years in a small space with 150 people, many of them my friends but only one of them truly a friend. I'd never thought much about friendship, you know - my friends were good for a few laughs or the occasional deep conversation, and then it was back to doing science and leading people. Some of those 150 souls thought I was cold and withdrawn, but I was just uninterested. Give me a promising nebula and I'm good for weeks. I wasn't emotionless, only low-maintenance.
"There were plenty of nebulae to keep us occupied, plenty of angry aliens and Borg, even a few wretched time paradoxes, but our most dependable source of amusement was leola root jokes. Some painted, some sang, some played instruments, some wrote holoprograms, but everyone criticized leola root. Neelix always played the straight man, yet I think he seized on the potential of leola hatred as a unifying and morale-boosting force very early on. Talaxians are clever that way. We raised leola jokes to an art form - the holovids hardly do it justice.
"Such communal amusements would have been enough of a social life for me. Imagine my surprise, then, when I found I had made a true friend in my first officer - a friend out of ancient stories and classical philosophy, a Jonathan to my David, and unfortunately, sometimes an Ishmael to my Ahab. I didn't believe I had a soul until I found the other half of it in the most unexpected place.
"He and I were from two different worlds; ideally, he would have spent a week or two in my brig and that would have been the sum of our acquaintance. I would have said only three words to him in my life: 'You're under arrest.'"
The Admiral searched Phoebe's eyes, but saw only eagerness for the meat of the story to start.
"You'll never understand the rest unless you get this one point: Chakotay and I were two people who never should have met.
"Everyone lives in their little worlds, worlds of Starfleet friends or colonist buddies or freedom fighters or tribal traditionalists, and most of them manage to avoid dealing with anyone from another world. Oh, we say we're friends with a Vulcan or a Bolian, but really our lives are as sterile as a sickbay, as compartmentalized as any medieval caste-system. Most people spend their whole lives never realizing other people's worlds are out there. But, now and then, a Q sneezes in the Continuum somewhere and way down here two of those worlds collide. Then anything can happen.
"You know my world, Dad's world - Starfleet. I know you watch the holovids; you probably think you know Chakotay's world, too. You think he was the strong, silent type, the noble Starfleet officer who reluctantly turned Maquis and reluctantly killed Cardassians." Kathryn glanced at her sister, who nodded silently.
"Well, you're wrong. He was more his father's son than even he suspected. He spaced Cardassians like Geronimo on the warpath, and smiled as their scaly hides popped. He was a very, very dangerous man - that's why Starfleet risked and lost a brand-new Intrepid-class ship trying to haul him in.
"But if he was on your side, you knew you were safe. I tried to keep out of trouble - I knew any alien that somehow managed to kill me would have become an endangered species. Chakotay would have done something to make Starfleet deserve the unfortunate reputation it had in half the Delta Quadrant."
"How could you let yourself be assimilated, then?" Phoebe wondered aloud.
"Who would mourn the sudden demise of the Borg?"
"But the Starfleet crew wouldn't have followed him, wouldn't have committed genocide just to avenge you. Tuvok--"
The Admiral interrupted her in that gravelly voice they took such pains to reproduce in the holovids. "You don't know what you're talking about, Phoebe. He was a very dangerous man, and a natural leader."
For without friends no one would choose to live, though he had all other goods. Aristotle (Ethics)
Kathryn tone lightened as she changed the subject; "He never belonged in Starfleet - he was a creature of a different world. He joined up to run away from himself, and, like so many before him, he found out that that's a race you never win."
"It took him a long time to realize it, but the rest of us caught on more quickly. He played the model officer next to me on the bridge, but his silent, smiling condescension showed through clearly enough. Sam Wildman put it well once when she said she didn't mind his contempt because it wasn't personal - he knew he was superior to all of us, and looked down on us equally."
"I never thought of him as contemptuous," Phoebe mused.
"He wasn't. Sam didn't choose the best wording; it's a hard thing to explain. If you'd asked him about it, he wouldn't have put it that way. It's possible he never realized he was laughing at us rather than with us. He played the ideal Starfleet officer, but he was too good at it. He was only imitating us - he could never be one of us because he was always something more. For instance, he thought very little of our amusements, and when he agreed to go to one of Tom's holoprograms, you could tell he thought the whole thing an enormous waste of time.
"His was a world of ideals, of strength and self-reliance and unity with nature and terrible vengance for terrible wrongs. Our Starfleet ideals - our incessant nebula-watching and the moral cowardice embodied in the Prime Directive - seemed like children's games to him. He knew the tribal culture that he had tried so long to escape was more meaningful in its light moments than the deepest passions of us Starfleets could be.
"Don't scowl like that, Phoebe. You don't understand. His world was suffused with meaning, from little signs left by animal guides to the hand of the great spirit moving the stars. For him, every action sent out ripples of significance. That's why he was so much better than the rest of us, because he knew that he was accountable to his ancestors, to his descendents, to the very stones of an uninhabited world, for all his deeds.
"He cared little for the semi-human types on the crew - our holograms, our Borg drones, our Vulcans - or for the button-pushing Starfleet rank-and-file. He preferred the company of B'Elanna, the Bajorans, the Bolians - people with some vestige of a culture, some stories to tell him."
"I heard he preferred your company," Phoebe contributed.
"I've heard that, too. I don't tell good stories, but I was a good story - the woman captain lost and adrift, trying to bind together two angry tribes and bring them home. He put me on a pedestal, because that was the only way he could understand me. I was like an elephant on its hind legs in his world - never mind that he'd known female captains before. It's one thing to hear about them, and another thing to be stranded tens of thousands of light years away from home for years on end serving directly under one.
"And the truth is, he was a circus animal in my world as well. When I chased his ship into the Badlands, everything was black and white to me: Starfleet was good and anyone who went against Starfleet principles, in thought or deed, was bad. I hunted the Maquis as ruthlessly as I would have pursued the Borg. How Chakotay could be such a good bad man remained a mystery to me for a long time.
However rare true love may be, it is less so than true friendship. La Rochefoucauld
"The Delta Quadrant was a grey place, and I ended up making friends with the Maquis and with the Borg. At first we just had to get along because we were thrown in together, as the saying goes. But when you live with just 150 people for seven years, you find yourself getting to know them - their dreams, their fears, their inner natures. And the mystery of Chakotay cleared up a bit for me. I saw through his eyes, as though I'd walked a mile in his moccasins. Sometimes I feel like I walked the whole 70,000 light years in his moccasins.
"Anyway, I began to understand the life he'd left to join Starfleet, the world he'd left Starfleet to preserve but had lost forever in Dominion war. He was too far away to help, or even to know it was happening. His people were scattered, his homeworld destroyed - and inside he began to give up, somewhere along the line. It was a long trip."
It was a long story, too, and Phoebe looked like she was going to burst. When the Admiral paused, her sister blurted out, "But were you in love with him?"
"Love," Kathryn echoed, tossing the word off like a cowpie from a pitchfork. "I loved Mark. I loved a Delta Quadrant nazi called Kashyk. Spirits, I even loved a hologram! I suppose I got around to loving Chakotay in there somewhere, but that's not the point. You still don't understand."
"You're not the first to accuse me of being in love with my first officer. We were a staple of Voyager's betting pool. Neelix never stopped trying to set us up - as though we didn't already spend more time together than most couples. Of course, the crew all thought it was protocol keeping us apart, even though the first thing I did in the DQ was violate the Prime Directive. A little protocol wouldn't have gotten in my way, if I were determined to do something.
"I suppose the real obstacle was Mark. If I hadn't been engaged when I met Chakotay, anything might have happened. In that sense you could think of Mark as the biggest mistake of my life, but at the time I was 'in love' with him. You use that phrase reverently, Phoebe, as though my love for Mark were more than the hollowest echo of my friendship with Chakotay.
"Then again, maybe nothing would have happened if Chakotay and I had met as a single man and an unattached woman. Maybe Mark was the chance accident that made it possible for Chakotay to become my friend instead of just another crewmember serving time on Voyager. Maybe he felt safe opening up to me because I had a fiance, and I slipped into his soul between the cracks of his psyche, and went where no single redhead would have been allowed. I prefer to believe that version: if we had met under other circumstances, we would have sized one another up and written each other off because of our cultural differences. We lived for different things; I wanted to visit all the stars and he wanted to build one little house..." The Admiral's steady voice faded to a whisper as she added, "Then again, maybe anything might have happened."
Friendship is a single soul dwelling in two bodies. Aristotle
"Instead," Kathryn continued in her former tone of voice, "we spent more and more time together - we ate dinner together in my quarters, we met for breakfast and games of velocity, we sat on my ready-room couch and wrote reports together. We danced the night away at Prixin parties. We went on shoreleave together, and aliens were always asking whether he was my mate, or I his."
"I mentioned before that he gradually gave up on the future, on his people, after we heard about the decimation of Dorvan. When I saw the change coming over him, I acted. It was almost unconscious at first - I think I must have a feminine side after all, and the feminine bit of me got me started, and once I pick up a project--"
"Like Seven of Nine - she's even married now," Phoebe thought aloud.
"Yes, like Seven. Seven was human underneath, and I did my best to bring her own nature to the surface. Chakotay was a tribal elder underneath - he was meant to live on Dorvan, close to nature, near the bones of his ancestors. So I encouraged him. I asked him about his world. I used my personal bandwidth on the Pathfinder communiques to negotiate with Starfleet about war refugees and tribal survivors. I chided Chakotay if he ever mentioned re-enlisting in Starfleet when we got home, and encouraged him when he spoke of resettling Dorvan.
"It took a few years, but I finally got through to him - or so I like to think, anyway. When we returned, he was let off with 'time served' - such poetry from the mouths of the Federation Judiciary - and he went straight to Dorvan to begin the resettlement.
"Maybe he would have done it without my nagging. Maybe I had very little to do with his decision - but of all the things I've done in my life, I'm proudest of that. I've seen half the galaxy, witnessed supernovae and downright miracles; I've held the fates of entire races in my hand. I've been a scientist, a captain and an admiral, but for those too, too brief years, I was a woman. I was a woman, because I made Chakotay into the man he was meant to be."
Phoebe sounded a bit riled as she responded, "He just walked out of the Federation, hardly pausing to say goodbye to his friends, and you call that the proudest moment of your life? Has he seen B'Elanna's baby? Was he at Seven and Harry's wedding?"
"No, but they understood. He was never really with us, deep down."
"What about you? How could he just leave you like that? Whatever you may say about just being his friend, rumor says he loved you."
The Admiral cocked her head at that, as though the birds outside the window were singing soft answers to her sister's angry questions. "Sometimes I wonder about that myself, Phoebe," she answered quietly. "But the truth is, even love means different things in different cultures. For me, romance was a matter for shore-leave - a few brief weeks of passion with Mark, and then back to my first love, the stars. A little of this, a little of that, and I could have it all."
"For Chakotay love meant something more, and less. Starfleet wouldn't have allowed us to serve on the same ship, and he wouldn't have settled for the shore-leave Kathryn. A native wife is always there for her husband. He may go out hunting, or fighting Cardassians, but she keeps the home fires burning, nurses the squealing babies, grinds the corn by hand to show how much she cares.
"Now try to imagine me on Dorvan, raising tomatoes and babies, painting sand-paintings, communing with my animal guide, and teaching native children astrophysics in a one-room schoolhouse. It wasn't meant to be. There was no place for us here at home - there was more room for love on the narrow decks of Voyager than in the vastness of the Alpha Quadrant.
"For all that, I considered it. I considered it more when it was too late than at the time. At the time, I said no instinctively, believing I could never be a back-to-nature woman. I was afraid we were too different - that we wouldn't have enough in common on a farm, not like we did on our starship."
Phoebe recovered her fallen jaw enough to ask, "He proposed to you, and you turned him down - is that what happened?"
"I guess you could say that. He didn't exactly get down on his knees, and I didn't exactly say no, but after seven years together you understand what the other person is getting at. I didn't want him to wait for me, and he didn't."
Between friends, there is no need of justice. Aristotle
"So he went back to Dorvan alone," Phoebe inferred. "But it's been three years now - haven't you reconsidered since then?"
"I did, now and again, until it was too late. I never changed my mind, though. If I'd thought he needed me, I would have gone to him, but he could always get along with just my friendship, and I was always happy enough just being his friend."
"What do you mean, 'too late'?" Phoebe asked.
"Chakotay got married last year to a nice native woman, a war widow."
"Not many people know. He invited Tom and B'Elanna, but they couldn't go because she was having a difficult pregnancy. So I was the only one of the crew who attended the wedding. It was very nice: small, traditional, spiritual. He looked nervous, but he was glad to see me there.
"It's an odd feeling, to be happy for your friend at his wedding, and yet to think, 'it could have been me,' and wonder whether it ought to have been. Mostly, I was happy for him.
"The wedding guests were die-hard traditionalists, some of whom had never seen a holovid. One of them asked me how I knew Chakotay. I told her I'd met him in the Delta Quadrant. 'Oh, you were one of his crew,' she said. I just nodded."
"I met his wife, and I knew from the polite questions she asked that he'd never told her about us. Then again, what was there to tell? We were friends, and how could she understand that when my own sister doesn't? Men and women aren't friends in their culture, and now that he's married, he's not really supposed to associate with other women."
Phoebe wasn't chuckling anymore. "So that's it? Ten years of friendship all ends like that, with some stupid native tradition?"
The Admiral's eyes flashed Borg green again. "It's not stupid, Phoebe. I respect his traditions, and if we never spoke to each other again because of them, I would still be his friend, and I wouldn't want anything more - that's what true friendship is like. Still, it means the world to me that he sets tradition aside to keep in touch with me - he calls now and then to chat with me about the crops or DMZ politics. I don't think she knows about it, but then, she's just his wife. I am his friend."
To Phoebe, who still didn't understand, the strangest part was that Kathryn was clearly content with her lot.
Friendship is Love without his wings! Byron (L'Amitie' est L'Amour Sans Ailes)