Part 14

Pablo Bateheart was having a difficult time concentrating on the helm controls. It just felt indescribably different on the Bridge.

Not just because the first officer, among the other Maquis Bridge officers were gone.

Even the tone of the silence that dominated the Bridge had changed. Before it had been respectful and professional, with brief occasional friendly banter between stations. Now the silence was just chilly and cautious.

Cautious because making Captain Janeway's face turn any darker would definitely be a bad thing, if even possible.

So, distracted as he was, Pablo didn't let it affect his performance.

The change in the Bridge atmosphere, disturbing as it was, was significantly better than it had been when the Maquis had been on it last.

It had been mildly surprising to hear the acid exchange between the Captain and Chakotay; that kind of thinly veiled aggression was common between Maquis and Starfleet crew, but the rumor mill had Janeway and the first officer sleeping together.

The rumor mill was very wrong, for shortly after the exchange, Chakotay took it upon himself to shoot the Captain.

Pablo's recollection ended shortly after that, having been hit in the back by someone firing either at Chakotay and missing, or deliberately aiming at him. He'd woken in Sickbay, with many injured colleagues, among them Janeway herself and even Tuvok.

A good number of the Maquis, including Chakotay, had escaped in shuttles, apparently.

They had a good head start, but left easily traceable ion trails.

Janeway had made it unquestionably clear that the escaped Maquis would be captured, no matter what.

Pablo had his doubts about whether they'd be able to bring the Maquis back, even if they caught up to them.

It was while he was thinking what Janeway would probably consider heresy, that sensors reported they were approaching a vessel.

Janeway ordered a full stop and the vessel appeared on the view screen. After a tense pause, Janeway asked if the image was magnified.

It wasn't

In fact, Janeway had to have the image compressed, just so the whole ship would fit on the screen. Tuvok quietly ticked off the sensor readings.

Its capabilities certainly matched its size. Predictably, its maneuverability and speed were impeded by its size, and Pablo thought that if it proved to unfriendly some quick flying might save them. Still, he hoped the Maquis hadn't picked up any alien allies during their flight from Voyager.

He was too immersed in analyzing the helm data to notice who initiated the comm link, but suddenly it was open.

The Captain's typical introduction had already begun, as Pablo raised his head to look the view screen. The alien listening to Janeway was human-sized and gray, with a brown ridge where Pablo had a nose.

Janeway continued speaking. When he was bored and sure he wouldn't get caught-and now was certainly not the time-Pablo sometimes mouthed Janeway's introduction speech right along with her. He knew exactly what she was going to say.

She was doing it now, identifying herself and Voyager, assuring the as yet unidentified alien that they were peaceful explorers. Janeway did, however, have an unusually hard edge to her voice.

The alien spoke then, identifying himself as the rear quadrant defense minister of Pelora. He wanted to know their purpose in Peloran space.

What Janeway said next, Pablo couldn't have mouthed along. If one forgot the situation, it was truly bizarre.

Captain Janeway had been preaching tolerance, understanding, and unification with the Maquis since the beginning. After what had just happened it was predictable that her feelings might have changed, but it was still surreal to hear the words coming out of her mouth.

Janeway rose from her seat and stalked across the Bridge, stopping behind the helm chair and resting her hands on its back.

Pablo felt her grip his chair, rather tightly at that.

"We are pursuing several shuttle craft which escaped from Voyager a week ago."

She started drumming on the helm chair with her fingertips.

"They contain fugitive mutineers. They were a terrorist group we were forced to integrate into our crew and staged an unsuccessful violent attempt to overthrow my command. We believe them to extremely dangerous and wish to take them into custody for our own safety as well as the security of whomever they may encounter in the future."

The alien on the screen reacted to this information.

"Several shuttlecraft entered our space hours ago." The Minister seemed deeply perturbed. "How did this terrorist group identify themselves?"

"They're called the Maquis."

The Minister had definitely heard that word before.

"Minister, may I invite you to come on board Voyager, where we can more intimately discuss the situation?"

"There is nothing to discuss," replied the Minister. "One shuttle is already in custody for firing upon this ship. The occupant claimed to be unaffiliated with the others, but clearly was. We will return that shuttle to Voyager and the others will follow shortly."

"Let us assist you," Janeway said, steadily drumming her fingers near Pablo's neck.

"Unnecessary, Captain. This region was once full of conflict and the Peloran government is dedicated to preserving the current peace. We will not allow foreign conflict to enter our space for it could potentially escalate. I would not have allowed the shuttlecraft to enter, had I known. Once these Maquis are returned to Voyager we would ask that you detour around Peloran space."

Janeway was now tapping the heel of her head against Pablo's shoulder. The rhythm had altered slightly, and Janeway was oozing irritation, if well disguised.

"Thank you, Minister."

The comm channel blipped off, and the Bridge was left in the cold silence.

Janeway removed her hand from Pablo's shoulder, returning to her seat.

"Now," she said softly. "We wait."

Part 15 | Index page