Part 3

There was nothing like the atmosphere in craft fleeing the scene of defeat. It felt like deja vu to Chakotay. He'd experienced it with many of the same people, back in the Alpha Quadrant. The difference was defeats by the Cardassians and occasionally Starfleet and other anti-Maquis Federation allies weren't nearly as disheartening as being defeated by Janeway. That woman triumphing over their efforts was an enormous blow.

He was glad, though, that his people weren't acting as if this was a crushing situation. They were acting pissed, bitter, and wounded-which many of them were-but not vanquished.

Henley was stomping around the small craft, pretending to be checking on the wounded that she had already treated days ago, but really, Chakotay could tell, only pacing restlessly. She occasionally stopped to swing open the Medkit and remove an instrument and swipe it over someone. Then she returned to her path, winding around the legs and other extended limbs of the other passengers. Finally, getting more than a little annoyed with her incessant wandering, Chakotay sent her a fierce glance, communicating that she should plant herself somewhere.

Henley received the look with the smoothest of reactions; a quirked eyebrow and a small, temporary pout. She slowed her stride to a stroll, without disrupting her determined walk, and slid nonchalantly into the seat beside Ken Dalby. Her Medkit swung with the motion of her body, falling forward and striking Dalby in the knees.

Dalby yelped softly, scooting away from her and nearly falling off the bench.

"Sorry," muttered Henley, hauling the Medkit to the side of the seat.

Chakotay watched Dalby deliver an irritated look to Henley-who barely managed to look apologetic-as he moved back into the center of the bench. Dalby's eyes dropped then, to scan the sensor readings before him. Henley craned her neck, peering over his shoulder.

Chakotay found it slightly amusing that upon having her roaming shut down, Henley would turn to Dalby's method of distracting himself from whatever frustrations he was feeling. All the Maquis were, of course, frustrated and trying their damnedest to keep it from seeping into the atmosphere, making the already uncomfortable feel of the craft completely unbearable.

Dalby, it seemed to Chakotay, was feeling considerably worse than the others were. The stricken look on his face, tight lips and hunched brow communicated far more than just disappointment at losing, or even sadness at the loss of so many of their comrades.

He looked heartbroken.

Well, he looked like he was trying desperately to avoid looking heartbroken.

For all of Dalby's beseeching for Sam and Naomi Wildman's safety, it had always seemed like a nervous performance to Chakotay. Perhaps it wasn't. It appeared Wildman was more to Dalby than a warm body to bed, and her daughter more than just the offspring of the warm body.

Chakotay made a small mental note to keep an eye on Dalby. He had never given any indication of disloyalty so far-his failure to kill Tom Paris appeared to be incompetence not disobedience. They were in pretty deep for Dalby to suddenly decide that he'd made the wrong choice. Still, relationships had odd effects on normally reliable people.

Ironically, Dalby's distress seemed to be improving his performance. He was watching the sensors like a hawk, focusing on the small blip that was the other shuttle.

It had launched with the Maquis, but taken a slightly different course and gone to warp instantly.

At first, Chakotay had hoped fervently that it was B'Elanna-who hadn't been heard from since she reported that she needed to get to Sickbay. He had full confidence in her ability to escape, but it was not to be, at least on that shuttle.

They'd hailed the shuttle, but received no response.

Dalby wasn't even able to read any occupants before the other shuttle raised its shields, and he promptly wanted to blast it to pieces. After it didn't respond to their hail, that want grew.

That was the general desire of most of the Maquis, fresh from battle and not ready to stop fighting.

Chakotay overruled them all, knowing that whoever was on board would certainly be able to retaliate with the improved weapons systems of that shuttle.

A battle so close to Voyager could only lead to the Maquis shuttles getting damaged, and even if the other shuttle was destroyed, he couldn't risk the chance that one or more of their acquired vessels would be lost or harmed.

They just didn't need to give Janeway the additional advantage of damaged ships.

That wasn't even considering the other options, like Voyager suddenly coming alive and taking part in the battle.

No, it was better to put as much distance as possible between them and Voyager, while planning their second attempt to take Voyager.

An eye, of course, was kept on that mystery shuttle.

It didn't do anything to identify it as friend or foe.

It didn't do anything, period.

With only a slight difference from their course, it stayed steady.

Dalby watched it, and Chakotay found it easy to believe that despite their cloaked ships, whoever was inside that shuttle was watching them.

Part 4 | Index page