Are You Now or Have You Ever Been
"What I am asking you, Lieutenant, is very simple: Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of, or affiliated in any way with, the terrorist organization known as the Maquis?"
Lieutenant Chakotay sat very still. The ramrod line of his posture an eloquent expression of repressed outrage. He studied the review panel looking down on him from their elevated bench, judging him, making assumptions he'd given them no reason to make.
"I was under the impression," he said finally, his voice fiercely calm, "that this review was for the purpose of examining my service record and determining my qualifications for advancement to the rank of Lieutenant Commander. I was not told I was under investigation for treason."
"No one's investigating you, Lieutenant," Commander Shelby assured him placatingly, "for treason or otherwise. In fact, your record's quite impressive. Captain Logan speaks highly of you, and I'm sure you're already aware that your handling of the incident near the Nellis Cluster makes you a prime candidate for promotion."
"Then why am I being interrogated about the Maquis?" he demanded.
Shelby arched an eyebrow. "I would hardly call it an interrogation," she said after a beat. "It is merely a question. A simple question requiring a simple yes or no answer: Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of, or affiliated in any way with, the terrorist organization known as the Maquis?"
Glaring into the ice blue eyes of Commander Elizabeth Shelby, he said plainly and coldly, "A simple question for every promotion candidate, or only for the Dorvanian ones?"
A murmur circled the review panel. Several officers made notations in their data logs. Ignoring them as if they no longer existed, Chakotay focused solely on Shelby, meeting the vague censure of her critical gaze with unapologetic directness.
"This has nothing to do with you being Dorvanian," she said.
"No," she assured him. "It doesn't."
"Then the other candidates were also asked about their past, present or future intent to affiliate with the Maquis?"
The challenge was direct, unbuffered by political civilities. It chafed Shelby's patience. Irritation bled though her normally implacable composure. "What questions the review board chooses to pose or not to pose to other candidates is none of your concern, Lieutenant," she informed him warningly. "What is your concern, are the questions the board chooses to pose to you. If you hold any intentions of qualifying for a rank upgrade, I would suggest you answer them to the best of your ability."
"And I would suggest," Chakotay said, pushing to his feet, "that the review board refresh itself on Ethics Committee rulings concerning cultural and/or species bias as it relates to promotion evaluation." He glared at the panel of senior officers, his body all angles and anger. "I am a Starfleet officer," he announced. "If you suspect me of collusion with the enemy, then relieve me of duty and put me in the brig, but don't drag me behind closed doors under the pretense of a rank review then question my loyalty in veiled innuendos."
"No one is questioning your loyalty," Shelby said.
"You are questioning my loyalty," Chakotay countered. "Permission to leave."
"We're not finished here, Lieutenant."
"We were finished before we began."
"We are finished when I say we're finished. Now sit down."
It was an order, so he obeyed; but he obeyed truculently, rebellion rife in every line of his body.
"Now I'll ask you again," Shelby said calmly. "Are you now, or have you ever been ..."
Chakotay drank pajuta and stared at the barroom wall. It was a crowded place, as were most venues of entertainment located within the radial sanctioning of Starfleet Command, and loud with the celebratory exuberance of officers on leave; but Chakotay chose to sit alone, to drink alone, to ponder his fate alone.
"Mind if I join you?"
The voice was familiar, and not entirely unexpected. Chakotay looked up. Captain Logan stood less than a meter to his left, a drink in one hand and the expectation of a commanding officer addressing a subordinate in his eyes. Because the question was less a request than a notice of intent, Chakotay acquiesced with a simple inclination of his head.
Logan took a seat. He made a perfunctory study of his Dorvanian helmsman, then said, "Can I assume from your expression that the review didn't go well?"
Chakotay sipped of his pajuta. "It went fine," he muttered.
Logan took a swig of syntha-whiskey. In a conversational tone, he said, "You realize, of course, that it's against regulations to lie to a superior officer?"
"Yes, sir. I realize that."
Logan shook his head. His gaze wandered the room for several moments. He said nothing during that time. Neither did Chakotay. "I made a few inquiries, Lieutenant," he allowed after almost a minute. "Summing up that rank review as 'fine' is a bit like calling the Nellis Cluster Incident a patch of bad luck, wouldn't you say?"
Chakotay said nothing.
Watching his helmsman closely, struggling to read a man who was notoriously difficult to read, Logan prompted, "Do you want to tell me what happened?"
Chakotay took another sip of pajuta. "I'm sure Shelby covered the high points."
"Shelby's an officer on a mission. I want to hear your side of the story from you."
He shrugged. "Nothing much to tell. They asked me a racially biased question. I refused to answer it."
"And you understand that by doing so, you've taken yourself out of the running for another pip?"
"Some things are more important than a pip collection."
"Like pride?" Logan demanded.
Chakotay looked up, met his captain's gaze. "Like honor," he said.
"They weren't questioning your honor, Lieutenant."
Chakotay's expression flexed. In the adjustment, the dark veneer of rage wearing itself just beneath the surface of his skin showed for a passing moment. "Begging the captain's pardon," he corrected coldly, "but that is exactly what they were doing. Questioning my honor, my loyalty, my word ..." He shook his head, abridging the preamble to a tirade back into a response with an effort. "No disrespect intended, sir," he concluded after a long beat, "but when I want those things questioned, I'll go back to Dorvan for a refresher coarse in tribal discommendation."
Logan studied the younger man for several seconds. "It was a simple question," he said finally. "And -- considering the circumstances -- a relatively logical one to ask."
"The circumstances?" Chakotay laughed bitterly. "And what circumstances would that be, sir? The circumstances of my planet of birth, or the circumstances of my father's avocation?"
"You're the son of one of the most visible agitators in the demilitarized zone conflict," Logan reasoned. "In Starfleet's eyes, that's cause for concern."
"My father is not an agitator," Chakotay snapped. "And I am not my father."
"No, you're not. If you were, and I ran into you outside the protective jurisprudence of Dorvan, I'd have to arrest you."
Chakotay leaned into the table. "My father is doing what he thinks is right to protect his people and his heritage."
"I understand that."
"Do you?" The bitterness of Chakotay's tone was mirrored in his eyes. "Do you understand that, in the eyes of my people, he's a hero, and I'm the traitor?"
"I didn't say traitor, Chakotay. I said agitator."
"He isn't an agitator; he's a patriot. And while I don't agree with every stance he's taken, I am proud of him. I consider him a man worthy of respect."
"I respect Kolopak," Logan said. "Just as I respect Kolopak's son."
Chakotay grunted. Looking away, he resumed his interest in the mug of pajuta cooling between his palms. "How do you respect a man whose loyalty you question?" he asked.
"I've never questioned your loyalty, Lieutenant."
A long beat of silence passed, and then another. A third charged the air between them with expectation.
"Not directly," Logan said finally, "and not indirectly."
A tangible resentment tainted Chakotay's expression. "You set me up." he said.
"How did I set you up?"
"You put my name in for rank review. You put me in front of a panel that can ask these questions without requiring any evidence to back them. Was that Shelby's idea, or Admiral Vhorlin's?"
This time, it was Logan who leaned into the table. He was angry, and he didn't try to hide it. "I put your name in for a promotion because of the way you handled the Nellis Cluster Incident," he said sharply. "And because I consider you one of my most promising officers. You have a future in Starfleet, Chakotay. I'd hate to see you destroy it over a point of honor that has nothing to do with a fight that isn't yours to fight."
"You think the demilitarized zone isn't my fight?"
"I think the demilitarized zone is an unfortunate travesty that, as a Starfleet officer, you are sworn to uphold."
"What about as a Dorvanian?"
Logan hesitated a beat too long before admitting, "As a Dorvanian, I can see where your loyalties might be split."
"Split enough to consider joining the Maquis?"
Logan's eyes narrowed. "That's a dangerous thing to throw in the ring, Lieutenant."
"I didn't throw it in the ring. The review board did."
Logan studied a man who studied him back, well aware that his Dorvanian helmsman was much better at this game than he was. "Are you saying your loyalties are split?" he asked finally.
"Are you asking me if I'm a traitor, Captain?" Chakotay voice was cold. "Are you asking me if I am, or have ever been, a member of, or affiliated in any way with, the terrorist organization known as the Maquis?"
"I'm not your enemy, Chakotay," Logan said in lieu of a direct response. "I'll support you with the review panel or with anyone else to whatever degree you allow me to support you."
"I appreciate that, sir. I'll let you know if I need the support of a captain who isn't sure where my loyalties lie."
Logan sighed. Leaning back in his chair, he said, "You do need my support, Lieutenant; and you need it now. Whether you realize it or not, your career took a death blow in that review hearing today. Unless you do something to address the situation, you can count on retiring in lieutenant pips."
"And what would you suggest I do, sir?"
"I would suggest you answer their question. I would suggest you re prioritize your agenda and realize that taking a stance on the review board's right to ask you a question -- any question, even one that may possess a marginal cultural bias -- is a little like shooting yourself in the head with a phaser."
"May posses?" Chakotay challenged quietly. "A marginal bias?"
"According to Starfleet regs, what they asked is only culturally biased if there is no evidence and no extenuating circumstances to justify it. Your father's involvement with the Maquis whether that involvement has anything to do with you or not is just enough grounds to throw the ethics ruling into question."
"So you're saying they had a right to question me about the Maquis?"
"I'm saying it's a grey area," Logan returned. "And that you'd be a fool to bet your future on the Ethics Committee's ability to see your side of the black and white of it. Because when it comes right down to it, we both know the Ethics Committee is Starfleet, and Starfleet doesn't have much of a track record in situations like this."
"Are you're advising me to answer the question?"
"I'm advising you to keep your commission. This is a battle you cannot win, Lieutenant. Don't fight it if you don't have to."
Chakotay studied his pajuta for a long, long time. "I'm not sure the opportunity to answer that question still exists," he said finally. "I didn't leave a lot of room for reconciliation."
"If the opportunity didn't still exist, I wouldn't be here."
Chakotay looked up. "Is this an official invitation to re address the review panel?" he asked.
"I don't pull that kind of weight with this review panel, Chakotay. If I did, that question would never have been asked. But it was. And while I understand your anger at the injustice of that, you need to understand you don't have any choice in this if you want to stay in contention for an eventual command of your own."
"If this isn't an invitation, then how does the opportunity still exist?"
"It exists if you ask for it," Logan said. "The review panel knows that questions walks a fine line. They won't hold your initial response against you if you ask for a second chance to address it." Because he could see Chakotay's resistance to that advice, he added, "I'm not the only one involved who sees your potential. I'm not the only one who thinks the service would be well served to see you captaining your own ship one day. It may not feel like it, but you do have advocates on that panel. But they can only help you if you answer the questions that are asked."
"And that's what you came here to tell me," Chakotay said.
"That's much more than I came here to tell you." Logan stood. "This ..." he gestured to the drinks between them, "is nothing more than an unofficial drink in an unofficial bar. It's a captain talking to his helmsman about a poor career choice … a captain who hopes his opinion carries as much weight as his orders."
"Your opinion carries a great deal of weight with me, sir. I appreciate your concern on my behalf."
"You're too valuable an officer to lose to inappropriate aspersions cast by an over zealous contingent within our own ranks," Logan said grimly. "And whatever the presiding political climate of the day may be, many of us understand the difference between moral discord and disloyalty. I have no doubts at all about your commitment to the service."
"And yet my commitment is being challenged. If not by you, certainly by Starfleet Command."
"Old habits die hard, Lieutenant," Logan said. "For a species that prides itself on learning from the past, we have an unfortunate habit of repeating the same mistakes over and over again.
"And that isn't a battle worth fighting?"
"It isn't a battle you can win," Logan said. "And, as your captain, I feel an obligation to keep you from booking passage on the Kobiashi Maru if I can."
"I don't believe in the no win scenario, sir," Chakotay said.
Logan's expression darkened by several degrees. "You're still a lieutenant, Lieutenant," he said quietly. "Give it a couple of years, and you will."
The room was deadly silent, a void of expectation waiting to be filled.
"Are you now," she asked, "or have you ever been, a member of, or affiliated in any way with, the terrorist organization known as the Maquis?"
Chakotay stood stiffly, his eyes straight ahead. "No," he said.
"Are you now, or have you ever been, privy to the details of your father's involvement with the terrorist organization known as the Maquis?"
Chakotay closed his eyes.
"You look like you could use some R & R in a holosuite at Quark's." Darin Henderson reversed a chair at Chakotay's table and dropped into it from behind. "What's the problem? Not enough action in mapping the Tibikis system to interest the hero of the Nellis Cluster Incident?"
Chakotay glanced at the tactical officer, his eyes circumspect with their expression. "Long week," he said.
Henderson grinned. "You say that like a man who hasn't spent six of the last seven days at Starfleet Command, enjoying the fruits of victory and the spoils of superior problem-solving skills." He plucked a grape off Chakotay's plate and popped it in his mouth. "So when do we have to start calling you 'sir'?"
"I didn't get the promotion," Chakotay said.
The quiet statement stunned Henderson, jarring him out of his jocular mood. "What do you mean, you didn't get the promotion?" he demanded. "Of course you got the promotion. Everybody knows you saved the whole damned ship at the Nellis Cluster, and probably prevented another Tholian war, to boot. How could you not get the promotion?"
Chakotay shrugged. "I didn't get it," he repeated.
Henderson studied his friend for several moments, finding the anger and outrage he expected of Chakotay's voice hiding in the line of his posture: a tense, tight-shouldered hunch that belied the calm indifference of his tone and expression.
"You want to talk about it?" Henderson ventured.
"Do you know what happened?"
"I know what happened."
Henderson waited a full fifteen seconds before asking, "Are you going to tell me, or do I have to guess?"
Chakotay shrugged again. He pushed the pasta on his plate around with a fork.
"Fine, I'll guess. You told Shelby she was a tin plated Regillian blood worm with delusions of "
"They asked me if I was affiliated with the Maquis," Chakotay interrupted quietly.
"They what?" Henderson was stunned, outraged. "Do they even know you?"
"What did you say?"
"I said no."
Chakotay looked up. He met Henderson's gaze with a level, even stare. "And then they asked me about my father's involvement with the Maquis."
"Ah, crap. Son of a bitch." Watching his friend's eyes, Henderson saw something he'd never seen there before. Something beyond anger, beyond even rage. "Those stupid bastards," he swore quietly. "What did you say?"
"I said my father is a representative of the colonies in the demilitarized zone, and I'm unaware of any affiliations he may have with the terrorist organization known as the Maquis."
Henderson waited. Chakotay didn't elaborate. After a long beat, he looked down again and went back to pushing his pasta around his plate.
"Are you going to make me pull every tooth individually, Chakotay?" Henderson asked finally.
Chakotay shrugged. "Not much more to tell. They asked me about Dorvan's involvement with the Maquis. They asked me if I know now, or have ever known, anyone with ties to the Maquis. They asked me if I suspect now, or have ever suspected, anyone I know of having ties to the Maquis."
Henderson shook his head in disbelief. "Why you?" he asked finally. "This promotion was about the Nellis Cluster Incident, not the Maquis. What are they trying to prove?"
"That I'm a traitor," Chakotay said quietly.
"But you're not."
"That doesn't seem to matter. All that matters is that I'm Dorvanian."
"So? I'm Irish, more or less. What does that have to do with anything?"
"Ireland isn't at war with the Federation."
"Neither was Dorvan, last time I checked."
Chakotay smiled slightly, bitterly. "Check again," he said. "Dorvan is the Maquis as far as Starfleet's concerned.
"So what if it is?" Henderson challenged. "What's that got to do with you? Starfleet officers are Starfleet first. That's the first thing you learn at the Academy."
"Evidently, it doesn't apply to Dorvanian Starfleet officers."
"The hell it doesn't!" Henderson leaned forward, his body animated with outrage. "You're not going to let them get by with this, are you? You're going to call for an Ethics Committee ruling based on racial prejudice, right?"
Chakotay looked up again. For the first time since they began talking, Henderson saw the full depth of his friend's rage. Chakotay's eyes were no longer trying to hide the fury, no longer trying to pretend it didn't exist. Rather, they burned with a ferocity that reminded Henderson in a way he was rarely reminded that Chakotay's ancestors were warriors who once bathed in the blood of their enemies.
"The Ethics Committee feels the Maquis threat is substantial enough to intergalactic stability to warrant concessions in the strict interpretation of prejudicial review," Chakotay said.
Henderson deflated. Stunned, he leaned back and whispered, "You're kidding."
"No," Chakotay said, returning his gaze to his plate. "I'm not kidding."
Silence set up housekeeping in their conversation. It squatted long enough to qualify for residency. "Are they going to take your commission?" Henderson asked finally.
Chakotay shook his head. "Too obvious. If they take actionable steps without evidence of collusion, I might have a civil case; and they don't want this going to open court."
"What about Captain Logan? Can't he do anything?"
"He did what he could. It wasn't enough."
For several minutes, Henderson didn't say anything. Staring at the man who'd saved his life and the lives of every crewman on the Durant a dozen times over, he couldn't think of a single thing to say that didn't sound ludicrous in the face of the facts.
"What does this mean, then?" he asked finally.
"It means I'm still a lieutenant," Chakotay said.
"Until I do something they can work with."
"They actually said they were laying for you?"
"They didn't have to say it."
"That's blacklisting, Chakotay. They can't do that."
"They can, and they have. They denied Logan's recommendation for promotion. They denied his recommendation for commendation. They would have transferred me to Deep Space Six if Logan hadn't fought the transfer order."
"He fought it? How?"
"Refused to sign it. Told them if they wanted to ground me, they'd have to ground him, too."
Henderson shook his head disbelievingly. "I can't believe this is happening," he said. "This is so incredibly unfair."
"Haven't you heard, Darin?" Chakotay said. "Everything's fair in love and war."
"Bullshit," Henderson snapped. "You're one of us, Chakotay. You're one of the good guys."
"I'm Dorvanian." Chakotay returned.
"That doesn't matter."
"Obviously, it does."
Michael Logan studied the admiral's face, looking for any glimmer of indecision in his superior's stone faced expression. "This is prejudicial, Admiral," he said finally. "You can't do this to him just because he's Dorvanian."
"That's where you're wrong, Captain," Admiral Vhorlin returned calmly. "I can do this to him for any reason at all or for no reason at all, if I so choose. Think of it as containment measures. Damage control, if you will. In a way, we're protecting him from himself."
"Lieutenant Chakotay doesn't need protecting from himself."
"You may be right."
"I am right. I know this man. He isn't a traitor."
"No yet, anyway."
"Do you hear yourself, Admiral?" Logan's frustration sharpened his tone almost to the point of insubordination. "Can't you see how unfair it is to assume that an officer of Lieutenant Chakotay's caliber would compromise his oath just because he's Dorvanian?"
"We have to protect ourselves."
"Yes, we do. But not from Chakotay."
"In your opinion," Vhorlin said.
"Whose opinion is more relevant?" Logan demanded. "I'm his commanding officer. I've watched him handle life or death situations that would have crushed a lesser man."
"I have no doubt Lieutenant Chakotay is an acceptable officer," Vhorlin granted as if it were a concession undeserved. "However, at this time, he also represents in the opinion of Starfleet Command a significant risk to the continued security of the Federation. So once again, I'm telling you that I want his access to sensitive materials strictly monitored at all times."
"You're asking me to spy on one of my finest officers," Logan argued.
"No, Captain," Admiral Vhorlin said, his voice flat, intractable. "I'm not asking."
Logan glared into the monitor. "And if I refuse?" he demanded finally.
"Then the security council will overrule your objections to Lieutenant Chakotay's transfer. His new posting will be Deep Space Six -- as far away from the demilitarized zone as we can get him without subletting him to the Romulans."
"I already told you: If you ground him, you'll have to ground me."
"That is something we are willing to do, if we have to." The statement stunned Logan to absolute silence. Vhorlin waited almost a minute to let the clarity of the threat soak in before he added, "Starfleet Command has no desire to ground you, Michael; but this isn't a battle you are going to win. I can't advise you more strongly to step away from it while you still can."
"This is wrong," Logan announced angrily.
"This is war," the Admiral corrected.
"You'll drive a loyal officer right into the arms of the enemy."
"If he can be driven, he isn't very loyal."
"You're making a mistake, Admiral."
"Your objections are duly noted, Captain. I'll expect a surveillance file to be started immediately. Any and all pertinent information will be forward directly to Commander Shelby or myself. Regular updates will be posted on a weekly basis. Am I making myself clear?"
"Very clear," Logan said grimly.
"Good." Vhorlin studied his subordinate for a long moment. "I know you don't want to hear this, Michael," he said suddenly, "but I'm going to say it anyway, because if I don't, I will always feel I didn't give you enough warning of where you must be on this issue. Don't get too attached to Lieutenant Chakotay, and don't appoint yourself his advocate. The circumstances of the times are weighted heavily against him. I would like to limit the collateral damage if I can." He waited a beat, then said, "Vhorlin out."
The monitor faded to black.
"Access denied," the computer informed him pleasantly. Chakotay frowned. He re entered his clearance code and made the request again.
"Access denied," the computer repeated.
Chakotay looked up from the helm. "Henderson," he said calmly, "I'm having some console problems. Access the coordinates of the iridium mine on Selirin Prime, will you?"
Across the bridge, Henderson entered the request into the tactical console. A series of numbers flashed obediently across his monitor. "Coming at you," Henderson announced. The numbers came up on Chakotay's console.
"Thanks," Chakotay said, his hands going cold at the ends of his arms.
The monitor remained blank for a long, long time. Slowly, almost grudgingly, it came to life, arranging millions of white noise pixels into the colors and shapes and planes of a familiar face.
"Chakotay, my son." Kolopak smiled, his eyes alight with pleasure. "I thought Johona was toying with me, but I see now that he wasn't."
"Hello, Father," Chakotay said.
Kolopak tilted his head to one side. His brow wrinkled slightly, and his smile faded. "Ah," he said. "I see."
"What do you see, Father?" Chakotay's tone was tolerant of his father's mystic ways. "What about me is so transparent that I need only say hello for you to see it?"
"You're my son, Chakotay," Kolopak said. "And a man sees his son's pain with his heart, not his eyes." He waited for a moment before asking, "Do you want to talk about it?"
"Are you sure?"
"They're punishing you for my activities," Kolopak surmised after a long beat. "I feared this time would come. Tell me what I can do."
Chakotay stared at his father, then shook his head. "I'm sorry," he said. "I shouldn't have bothered you."
"You're no bother to me, Son. You never have been."
"I just ... I wanted to hear your voice. To see your face." He hesitated, then said, "I miss you, Father."
Kolopak smiled sadly. "And I, you, Chakotay," he answered.
Silence stretched between them. In it, lay all the things that could not be spoken of between men on opposing sides of a rift.
"I should go," Chakotay said finally.
"Perhaps you could come for a visit," Kolopak countered.
"You know Dorvan is off limits to Starfleet personnel."
"Somewhere other than Dorvan, then."
Chakotay shook his head. "No. It isn't safe for you anywhere but Dorvan. You could be arrested."
"They can only arrest me if they can find me."
"No," Chakotay said unequivocally. "It's too risky."
"Life is risk. It can't be lived from the safety of mother's womb."
"No," Chakotay repeated.
"I miss my son," Kolopak said. "I barely remember what it is to sit with him and speak of things that matter." He smiled. "Tell me where we will meet, Chakotay."
Chakotay averted his eyes. "This isn't a good time," he murmured.
Disappointment reflected sharply off the older man's expression. Understanding the difference between a wish to protect and a refusal to meet, he acquiesced. "Another time then perhaps."
"Another time," Chakotay agreed. Then, as if he hadn't already said it, he said again, "I miss you, Father."
Kolopak read his son's eyes. Seeing in them things no other man would see, he said, "I'm proud of you, Chakotay."
"Thank you, Father," Chakotay whispered.
Between them, the screen scrambled to white noise, and then, once again, to black.
"Did you hear?" Henderson asked anxiously.
Chakotay looked up from his dinner. "Hear what?"
Henderson slid into a chair across the table. "About Dorvan," he clarified. "About what happened."
Chakotay's belly went cold. His hands cramped, and somewhere, deep inside his skull, the distant presence of a Spirit Guide he was wont to consult in times of crisis began to keen. "What about Dorvan?" he asked calmly.
"Dorvan V was hit last night," Henderson said quietly. "The Cardassians raided a Maquis stronghold and bombed several suspected weapons caches."
For a moment, Chakotay didn't react. When the moment passed, he took another bite. The food was concrete in his mouth, but he chewed it, swallowed it. "Were the casualties heavy?" he asked finally.
"Yeah," Henderson verified. "Real heavy."
Chakotay nodded. He took another bite.
"I'm sorry, Chakotay," Captain Logan said quietly. "I'm afraid your father didn't survive."
Chakotay didn't move. He didn't blink, didn't speak. For a long moment, he didn't even breathe. "I see," he said finally. And then he stood.
The ready room was smaller than it had been a moment before. The walls were closer, more confining. The ceiling fell slowly from above.
"Thank you, sir," Chakotay said, his voice distant, without inflection. "I appreciate you telling me yourself."
"If there's anything I can do ...?" Logan offered.
Chakotay didn't answer. He stood, his body a training demonstration on maintaining the protocols of attention under duress. His expression gave away nothing; and, to his credit, neither did his eyes.
"I assume you'll be attending the funeral," Logan said after a long beat. "Take whatever time you need."
"Dorvan V is off limits to Starfleet personnel," Chakotay responded flatly.
Logan folded his hands on the desk between them. "Under the circumstances," he said, "I'm sure something can be arranged."
"Thank you, sir."
Logan sighed. "Why don't you sit, Lieutenant," he offered gently. "You favor pajuta, don't you? Hot? And if I recall correctly, strong enough to choke a Klingon?"
Chakotay shifted slightly in his stance. Though his eyes lost their determination to reflect, the emotions coiled in their depths like cold snakes in winter remained grimly, resolutely dormant. "I appreciate the offer, sir," he said, "but I think I'd prefer to be alone right now."
Logan shifted a stack of reports on his desk and straightened a data pad that didn't need straightening. "The urge to isolate is a natural reaction," he noted without looking up. "Especially considering the events of the past few days. But I'd urge you to remember that you're not at Starfleet Command now. You have a number of friends on this ship, and a number of superior officers -- myself among them -- who value your contribution to this crew."
"I understand that, sir."
"Do you?" Logan pressed.
"Yes, sir. I do. I would still prefer to be alone."
Logan sighed. "Very well, then," he agreed grudgingly. "If you change your mind, my door's open ... for that cup of pajuta, or for whatever else might be on your mind. Dismissed."
Chakotay left without another word.
The bridge waiting for him on the other side of the captain's ready room door seemed alien somehow ... too small, too confining. A handful of men and women he considered friends and a few he considered a waste of skin watched his every move. A fish in a fishbowl ... a bug on a pin ...
His position at the helm had already been filled. Commander Barislovkia nodded slightly, dismissing him from duty without requiring that he ask. Chakotay headed for the turbolift, ten meters of gauntlet between notification and grief.
Ensign Durba touched his wrist as he passed Science three. Her fingertips were sympathy burns on his skin. Volker, then Ramirez muttered condolences from their stations. Fiori watched him side-eyed from navigation as if he expected a rampage, or perhaps a burst of wailing histrionics. Barislovkia granted him the simple respect of turning away.
"You okay?" Henderson asked from tactical, his voice low, worried.
Chakotay didn't answer. Fiercely determined to keep the wasp wing cocoon of emotional armor holding his bones in their joints intact beneath the barrage of well-intentioned consolation, he walked to the lift and waited the twelve second eternity for it to arrive without speaking, without thinking, without breathing.
The doors hissed open with a heavy pneumonic sigh. He stepped across the slight rise of the threshold and said calmly, "Deck six." The doors closed. The lift began to move.
It was dull and grey and cold on a planet that rarely pitied itself enough to be dull and grey and cold. The chapel was crowded, and the people were hostile, and Chakotay, son of Kolopak, was utterly alone.
He hesitated near the entrance, loathe to cast off into the sea of angry faces that stood between the door and his father's casket. Women and elders glared at him from their places on closely packed rows of wooden pews. Men studied him with open hostility from three-deep clusters that lined the walls. Even the children gazed at him as if he was the enemy, their small, dark eyes accusations in the innocence of their guileless faces.
He'd left his uniform on the Durant out of respect for his father, but it was with him now, branded on his flesh by the condemning eyes of his people.
"You're Kolopak's son," someone said. His tone was a challenge; his eyes, more of a dare.
"Yes," Chakotay allowed, letting the confrontation pass unengaged.
A murmur rippled through the crowded chapel. Those who hadn't known, knew now; but there were few who didn't already know. Few who didn't know he was Starfleet. Few who didn't know he'd been asked to return to defend Dorvan against the invaders; and few who didn't know he had refused.
Kolopak's funeral spoke well of him. He'd been a respected man, a man of wisdom and vision and conscience who would be missed by all who knew him. Several members of the Dorvanian ruling council sat in proximity to the casket. More than half of those present wore the cautious expression of Maquis.
"Your father was a good man," an aged woman sitting near the aisle informed him as if he'd intruded upon the funeral of a stranger. "He deserved more in a son than you turned out to be."
Again, the murmur. Like waves eroding the sand of the north shore, the acid wash of their condemnation lapped at his feet and pooled beneath his boots.
Chakotay squared his shoulders slightly. He looked at the woman, met her scorn. "My father was proud of me," he said to her and to the rest of them. Then, shouldering through the breakers, past the reef and into a vast ocean of Dorvanian sharks and piranha, he forged his way doggedly down the narrow aisle toward the casket that held the bones of his father.
They watched him swim, watched him drowning. The faces were faces he knew -- men he'd grown up with, children born of women he'd pursued through his restless youth, elders at whose feet he'd listened impatiently to myths and legends bearing little applicability to the life he was determined to live -- yet none of them offered the simple reprieve of a moment's compassion.
The lid of his father's casket was closed. The metallic veneer gleamed coldly under artificial lights. As Chakotay neared the front of the chapel, a man who had been his father's closest friend slid to one side of a rough-hewn pew. He touched the empty place, inviting the son of Kolopak to join him in his mourning.
Chakotay met the old man's eyes, acknowledging the invitation without accepting it. He kept walking, stopping only at his father's side, only at the brassily copper coffin that dominated the room as Kolopak himself would have dominated it had the gathering of his people been to speak of demilitarized zones or of Cardassian strongholds.
The casket was expensive, but the metal was cold. It warned him of Cardassian consequences as he laid a hand flat against the slightly domed surface. His palm slid across the satin texture of burnished metal. Fingers well versed in the intricacies of a galaxy-class helm console found the recessed closure mechanism and disengaged the hermetic seal.
Pressure escaped from the casket like the hiss of a stirred serpent. The whisper of an ancient wind fingered the distinct stench of scorched flesh through the ponderously silent chapel. Chakotay closed his eyes. He inhaled the scent of death, recognizing in it the safe, familiar smell of a man he had thought would live forever.
He opened his eyes and swung the lid of the casket up.
Kolopak lay in structured repose on a bed of champagne satin. Wrists crossed serenely over a chest crushed by the impact of a structural support beam, he was little more than bones and blackened flesh. Beneath a sheath of paper-thin skin, his skull gleamed yellow-white. A dozen strands of coarse grey hair clung stubbornly to a scalp more gone than not, and his mouth was a toothless seam of jaws and gum. Hollow sockets sewn shut, his eyes made of his once vibrantly expressive face a macabre mask. Still visible beneath the char of Cardassian carnage, the geometric lines of the Rubber People's mark was all that remained of the man Kolopak had been.
"Father," Chakotay whispered.
The world around him began to spin. His skin flushed to fire as his mind filled with the agonized chorus of a dozen wolves mourning the passing of the moon. Night fell across his soul. The adobe walls of the safe haven in which he knew himself crumbled to dust.
And still, they watched.
They judged him and condemned him and damned him for all he had not done.
Chakotay let their enmity fill him, let it consume him. He let the depth of their rancor seep into the marrow of his bones and welcomed the recrimination never voiced by the only man on Dorvan with the right to judge him a disappointment and a failure. Their voices were the voices of his ancestors, and for the first time since he was a child, Chakotay listened.
"Father," he repeated, his voice barely tangible as it passed his lips. The eyes of Dorvan upon him, he bowed his head. One hand on metal and the other on heat-brittle flesh, Chakotay of Dorvan, Son of Kolopak, let the rage take him.
Alone and empty, Chakotay drank pajuta as solace and listened to the shadows of his memory. The tavern was dim and inviting of isolation. Though filled to near capacity, poor acoustics afforded privacy to the restless currents of conversation, holding in the strictest of confidences the muttered derisions of Dorvanians hunched over drinks.
He was the subject of their predatory discourse. They spoke of him in whispers and curses, watching him with a roiling boil of hostility that seethed just below the thin skin of forced civility. This had been a sanctuary once -- a familiar refuge for both he and his father -- but it was enemy territory now. Glaring at him from a dozen tables scattered throughout the tavern, Maquis unafraid of their outlaw designations took his measure in anticipation of an inevitable confrontation.
Chakotay responded by monitoring his surroundings with a circumspect wariness he'd learned on his first shore leave to Risa and drinking his cooling pajuta.
An elder broke ranks to approach him. It was a man Chakotay recognized, a man he very nearly loved. His father's closest friend for longer than he could remember, Johona was a member of the Dorvanian ruling council. He was also a Maquis, and the only man in the village willing to offer the son of Kolopak a place to sit at his own father's funeral.
"Do you mind if I join you?" Johona asked when his presence was not acknowledged.
Chakotay studied the mug between his palms. Steam rising off the surface of pajuta too rich and not strong enough reminded him of early morning mists greeting the dawn over Chambata Lake. He took a drink, and then answered: "The friends of my father are always welcome at my table."
Johona nodded. Settling a lanky frame grown impliable with the flirtations of age into a chair with a caution that belied the dangerous man he could be when he so chose, he noted, "There was a time you considered me your friend as well, Chakotay."
Chakotay sipped again of his pajuta. "Times change," he said quietly.
Johona smiled. "Time remains the same," he corrected. "Only men change."
"Then nothing changes," Chakotay said.
Johona's smile deepened. It took on the resonance of a father watching a son, of a mentor observing a favored pupil. "You have changed," Johona said. "You're no longer the young wolf your father and I set free from the cage of Dorvan. You are no longer the angry youth who rails against the Sky Spirits and bloodies himself in a quest to prove his worth to those who already know it."
"I needed to prove my worth to myself."
"And did you?"
Chakotay stared into his pajuta. "I proved I can turn my back on my father," he said quietly. "That I can turn my back on my people."
Johona shook his head. "Your father would have unseated any man who spoke of you in such a way," he said. "He would have grounded him and pinned him until he spoke the truth of the son of Kolopak."
"The truth," Chakotay muttered bitterly. "Which truth would that be, Johona?"
"The truth that Chakotay of Dorvan followed his own path: That he learned what he was to learn and saw what he was to see, and that one day the same path that led him away would bring him back home again."
"Home," Chakotay repeated quietly. He shook his head, noting a gradual seep of Maquis from darkened corners that lacked structure but not intent. Like a noose tightening around the neck of a condemned man, they shifted and shuffled and shouldered through the crowded tavern to more advantageous positions. Posting themselves strategically, they formed a trap baited by the one man on Dorvan he could be expected to trust. Choosing not to comment as if he hadn't noticed, Chakotay returned his gaze to Johona. "If I had come home when he asked, my father would still be alive."
"Or you would be dead at his side," Johona said.
Chakotay shrugged a one-shouldered shrug. "Perhaps," he allowed. "Perhaps not."
"The way of the Sky Spirits isn't ours to question, Chakotay," Johona offered after a beat. "Your father, more than anyone, understood that."
"The Sky Spirits didn't kill my father," Chakotay said. "Cardassians did."
"Yes. Cardassians did. But the Sky Spirits brought you back to us to take his place. That would have pleased your father. He would have rejoiced to see his son once again on Dorvan soil."
Chakotay smiled bitterly. He studied the aging Maquis as if he didn't feel the coils of his own people tightening around him; as if he didn't know the old man's words were nothing more than placations designed to distract him until it was too late to run.
"I didn't come to take my father's place," Chakotay said.
"Didn't you?" Johona returned mildly.
"I came to say goodbye."
"You came because your path led you here."
"I came because my father's blood led me here."
"Perhaps, in this time of war, your father's blood is the path you are to follow."
"I'm a Starfleet officer, Johona. That is the path I follow."
"That is the path behind you," Johona corrected gently. "The path you follow forward is the path home. It is the path your father traveled; the path he left to you."
The trap was complete. No longer secreting their intentions amid tables and chairs and the trappings of the familiar, they stood boldly close, their gazes tangible weight against his skin.
"My father was a leader," Chakotay said. "The people loved him. They trusted him." He glanced around the bar, acknowledging only now the grim-eyed stares of people who no longer granted him the one inalienable right he had always taken for granted: the right to be Dorvanian. "They see me as the enemy," he said. "I could never be to them what my father was."
"You already are, Chakotay," Johona said. "It is only you who does not see it."
"I see everything, Johona," Chakotay said.
"You see nothing, Chakotay," Johona returned. "Open your eyes. See yourself as we see you."
Staring into the unblinking gaze of his father's closest friend, Chakotay saw himself clearly in the flickering reflection of ancient eyes.
"I see a traitor," he said quietly.
"We see the son of Kolopak," Johona returned.
"You've come home," a voice said to his left.
Chakotay flinched. Glancing up, he found Two Bellies, a boy he'd protected from bullies in the third grade, standing behind the observation.
"Kolopak said you would," another voice ventured. Medeja, the pharmacist who sold neural regenerant on the same shelf as yabba root, nodded approvingly. "He said you'd return when the time was right."
A hand fell to Chakotay's shoulder. Rather than the blow he expected, it was a gesture of acceptance ... of welcome. "We missed you, Chakotay," Ted Little Horse said. He smiled, still missing the teeth Chakotay knocked out over Selena Katerra more than two decades earlier.
"Yes," Walking With Silence agreed. "We missed you."
Chakotay looked around the gathering of Dorvanians. They were watching him with a sense of expectation, as if he was a promise to them only now being kept.
"Are you going to stay with us this time, Chakotay?" Red Ribbons asked. Her words were slurred by the Cardassian disrupter scar that disfiguring her otherwise delicate features, but the question in her eyes was clear. "Are you going to stay as Kolopak said you would?"
Chakotay turned back to Johona. Johona smiled. "Your path has led you home, Chakotay," he said quietly.
Closing his eyes, Chakotay nodded.
"Captain Logan," Durba called over the ready room comm. "You have a priority communication, scrambled and encoded. Should I put it through?"
"Go ahead," Logan agreed. Setting aside his daily reports, he steeled himself to once again face the admiral.
To Logan's surprise, the emblem that formed on his screen was neither Starfleet nor Federation, but it faded to a calm and familiar face. Wearing native Dorvanian clothing and sitting in a room devoid of anything that might give the location a specific identity, Chakotay looked tired, as if his father's funeral had taken more out of him than he had to give. Engraved into the flesh and stained dark with an indigenous form of henna, the geometric tattoo Kolopak wore in honor of their ancestors now adorned the left temple of Kolopak's only son. Seeing it twisted Logan's belly to a knot of anticipatory dread.
"Hello, Captain," Chakotay greeted quietly.
"Lieutenant," Logan allowed.
He announced it without preamble, his voice calm and level and informative: "I've decided to stay on Dorvan. My people need me. I need them."
"Don't do this, Chakotay," Logan said grimly. "It would be a mistake."
"A mistake?" Chakotay smiled slightly -- a deeply bitter smile. "No, sir," he said. "I don't think it is a mistake. I think the mistake would be to return to Starfleet, where I am already regarded as a traitor."
"I don't regard you as a traitor," Logan argued. "And out on patrol, the only opinion that matters is the captain's opinion."
"My opinion matters, sir. My opinion of myself. Effective this date, I am resigning my Starfleet commission. I trust you'll inform the appropriate parties."
"At least take some time to think about it," Logan suggested.
"I have thought about it, sir. I appreciate your efforts on my behalf. I apologize if I've proven unworthy of the risks you took."
"I don't want to lose you, Chakotay. You're a fine officer. You'll make a fine captain one day."
"I already am a captain, sir."
Logan took the information like a blow. "The Maquis?" he asked, already sick with knowing.
Chakotay nodded once. "Tell the review board 'yes' for me, sir," he said. "Tell them the answer to their question is 'yes'."
The image faded from the screen. An emblem took its place an emblem Logan hadn't recognized before, but one he recognized now.
Logan stared at the screen until it went black. Dull with a sense of defeat, he shifted in his chair and picked up the data pad he'd set aside to take the call.
The content menu required a security code to access. Among other things, it held a recorded conversation between Lieutenant Chakotay and his father. The brief communication had taken place on a secured, private channel; but it had been recorded nonetheless by the computer's proprietary programming parameters addressing comm activity initiated under the helmsman's access code.
Logan studied the file indicator for several seconds. He didn't know what the three minute conversation held, only that, from the time code encryption, it must have been the last time Chakotay ever spoke to his father.
It might well be the proof the review board was looking for. Or it might be a quiet moment of solace a son who's future had betrayed him sought from the father he couldn't afford to visit.
Deleting the file and setting the data pad aside, Logan went on about the repetitive nature of his daily duties.