PART SIX

"And after that, you tried to fly out alone into the void in the shuttle," Chakotay provided, looking as if he suddenly understood something that had baffled him for a long time. "You tried to strand yourself in the void."

Janeway didn't answer him. Anger and embarrassment shadowed her expression. "I wasn't thinking clearly; you were right to stop me."

I had no right to die then, she added silently. I hadn't gotten the crew home.

"You had a rough year," Chakotay said.

She smirked. "Understatement of the century."

They sat for a while in a heavy silence before she spoke up again, "It was like something was clouding my thinking--something that didn't clear up until after Ransom died."

Chakotay tensed. The Equinox incident was still a prickly issue between them.

"I saw him, Ransom, violating everything I'd tried so hard to preserve, doing everything I resisted even in my darkest of times," Janeway reflected. "And I was angry. No, I was furious. I saw in him everything I'd been veering towards for over a year. And then," her voice grew harsh, "he robs my ship of its only defense mechanism against his enemy, kidnaps two of my crew, and leaves us to the wolves." Her voice fell deadly quiet. "I wanted him dead."

Her dark expression suddenly faded. Her voice was lighter when she spoke, "I saw how far I'd gone, afterwards. I recognized how irrational I'd been. After we'd recovered from the Equinox incident, it was like a weight lifted from my chest--I felt clear-headed for the first time in a year." She stared off into the distance, and marveled, "A hell of a year that was, our fifth year in the quadrant. Tom-- I demoted him. B'Elanna-- I made her undergo that procedure. Harry--I took him away from that Tal woman he fell in love with. You--I relieved you of duty. Tuvok--I threatened to relieve him of duty. The Doctor--I nearly erased his memories again when he had the nervous breakdown. Seven--" She fumbled for a second, then shrugged. "Well, I always managed to get Seven angry. I thought about all of this, after Ransom died, and I realized that I had burned so many bridges. I didn't think I could repair all of those fractured relationships."

"But you did."

"I did. only to have them fall apart again." Janeway glanced sideways at him. "Did you see the crew, after they learned the about my mission?"

Chakotay took a deep breath. "Yeah."

Kathryn looked down at the floor. "I didn't. I couldn't face them." A pause, then she asked meekly, "Were they very angry?"

He didn't reply. Kathryn felt her heart wrench in her chest, and she clenched her hands fiercely to hold her emotions in check.

She had to ask, "Are you. still angry?"

He didn't reply. Kathryn felt a sudden strange sense of urgency.

"Do you hate me, now?" She asked him forcefully.

He thought about it longer than she would have liked.

Finally, he said, "I really can't decide yet. I understand your reasons, but--" he broke off, suddenly overcome with some emotion. He continued unevenly, "You didn't trust me enough to tell me. Why, Kathryn? You could have told me anything."

"It wasn't an issue of trust--" she reached out a hand towards him, but he merely stared darkly at it. She withdrew the hand. "Please, Chakotay. Is there any way you can forgive me?"

He didn't reply.

Kathryn felt tears sting her eyes, and she turned her head away from him so he wouldn't see. "Do you think the crew will ever forgive me?"

"Do you really want me to answer that?"

No. No, she didn't.

Kathryn clenched her fists tighter, and felt her knuckles begin to ache. She wasn't going to cry. She'd been through so much in the last seven years, and nothing had hurt her more than the realization that her crew hated her. Most of them hated her once they found out about the mission. Some had always resented her for stranding them in the Delta Quadrant, and never got past it. Some began to along the way. One of them hated her in retrospect.

"I'm surprised you haven't asked me yet about Kes," Janeway spoke up. "I never did explain that to you."

He looked up. "You were distraught, after she left. I guess I never found the right moment." He shrugged his shoulders. "Since we're clearing the air, now."

* * *

Do you remember the day when we were nearly taken by the Vidiians? They had clamped onto the hull, even begun to board the ship, and I rushed off the bridge to take care of something? That something was Kes. She'd returned to destroy us. She claimed to hate me for opening up her mind to exploration. She hadn't been ready for the evolved state. It happened to her too soon; it drove her mad.

The part you know about happened almost six years later, when she rammed us with her shuttle, and attempted to utilize our warp core to go back in time. Tuvok and I showed her a hologram we'd asked her to record, explaining just why she'd come with us on Voyager, and how much she cared about us, and she had a chance of heart.

I didn't tell you about the first incident because Tuvok and I worried that you'd think I had just let Kes go down the path of insanity, that I didn't care about her enough to intervene. Nothing could be further from the truth. I was haunted by what I'd seen of Kes, by killing her in the cargo bay only a few months into our voyage. I ordered Tuvok to find every opportunity to work with Kes on developing her telepathic powers. I was determined not to stymie her growth in telepathy, and I thought Tuvok would be able to help her control her powers when, or should I say if, she ever acquired them.

I couldn't have been more in error. Instead of helping Kes to control her powers, Tuvok's instruction brought her to that state of evolution more rapidly than either of us could have predicted. When Kes evolved to the higher plane, Tuvok and I could only hope, pray, that she could handle it this time. Two years later, we realized that our hopes had been in vain.

* * *

Kes's piercing eyes caught Janeway's, and Kathryn quickly looked away. She'd been finding herself staring at the ravaged Ocampan's appearance--so worn, so haggard. The younger, or was it now older? woman looked to have lived a whole lifetime in the last two years.

Kes now sat at a table in the darkened mess hall as Neelix gingerly doled out food. He seemed hesitant, uncertain. Being Neelix, he attempted small talk, which was met with monosyllabic answers on Kes's part. She seemed preoccupied with something else.

Neelix glanced over at Janeway at one point, and the pain she read in his eyes made her heart wrench. She felt terrible for the poor Talaxian; the one woman he loved had returned in such a pitiable state. He didn't know the full scope of what had transpired; he knew, only by rumor, that Kes had returned with some ill design, and been talked out of it by Janeway and Tuvok. He couldn't comprehend what had happened to his love to turn her into this wretched, old woman. He didn't realize how close she'd come to going back into time and consigning the crew to a fate worse than death.

He seemed to be trying to coax Kes into trying something, and after a moment, the pale woman nodded her consent. A delighted smile broke across Neelix's face, and he ambled over towards the galley.

"I'm preparing Kes's favorite--Talaxian pudding. She's always loved it," he explained as he passed Janeway. Kathryn had been lingering back by the galley, sipping a cup of coffee, keeping her distance. Whenever she approached Kes, she was struck by the overwhelming sense that Kes she wasn't welcome.

Now Kes sat with her side to Janeway, motionless, staring out into the darkness of space. Kathryn leaned back to get a more comfortable position against the counter. Neelix had disappeared behind the partition, and the clash and rattle of pans was the only sign of his presence. No one else was in the mess hall; Janeway had given specific orders for the crew to clear out, in fear that Kes would become agitated.

Kathryn suddenly began to feel something, something strange. It was like someone was touching her mind, telling her something. She felt like Kes was speaking to her, telling her to approach, and when she looked at the other woman, she could see her eyes looking meaningfully towards Janeway. She understood the message.

Kathryn set her cup of coffee down on the counter, and walked slowly across the mess hall to take the seat across from Kes.

The other woman's eyes flickered up to Kathryn's, glowing with a fascinating intensity.

"I thought about you, sometimes," Kes began slowly as Janeway lowered herself into the chair. "I pictured you every time the pain began to overwhelm me. I wasn't accepted on the other plane; the others tormented me because I wasn't as powerful as they were. Through it all, I'd remember you, and Voyager, and it would always make me feel happy." Her tone grew softer, and her eyes showed some emotion other than the darkness that Janeway had seen since Kes returned. "You were always an inspiration for me. Even in the darkest times, I remembered you, how I admired your fortitude, your courage. You'd sacrificed everything for the sake of my people--your fianc?your home. When I was in that other place, the memory of you was the only thing that kept me going. The thought of all you had to endure made my suffering seem light, and it made my doubts seem trivial."

Her voice shook a little as she forged on, "Then I escaped. I mastered enough control to return to this existence. I sought out Voyager, urgently. I knew you were here, and that you would make everything all right again. You always seemed to make suffering into something noble. You were the most genuine person I knew."

Janeway felt tears sting her eyes, both touched by Kes's words, and unnerved by them.

Kes's eyes began to glitter. "And then when I finally cast my thoughts to Voyager again, I could sense the crew. Especially you. I felt your emotions, I lived your memories. And I truly saw you, Captain Janeway, for the first time. You weren't a noble person; you weren't even a good one. You didn't save my people because you cared about them, or because you had a higher purpose. You saved them because you were compelled to do so, and you've regretted it every day since." Her voice began to shake. "I believed in you; I always believed in you. and you--you were more selfish than anyone else. You were nothing like I thought you were."

The emotion suddenly left Kes's voice, and her face. She continued in a near whisper, "I came to Voyager again, determined to destroy it. I wasn't going to allow myself to be deceived again by you and your pretensions towards humanity. You instilled ideals in me that you never believed yourself. You led me down the wrong path. Knowledge of the true Kathryn Janeway accomplished what two years of constant pain and torment never could--it shattered me.

"When I saw the holo-recording I'd made," Kes continued absently, "I remembered everyone else I had on Voyager--Neelix, the Doctor, Tom, Tuvok. all my friends, all my colleagues. I saw everything Voyager offered me beyond the lie that was you, and the fury that had enveloped me lifted somewhat, at least enough for me to think again. That's why I didn't travel back in time to destroy Voyager. It was they who brought me to myself. Not you."

Janeway had looked away from Kes at some point, unable to keep eye contact with the other woman as her words brought more and more pain. Now, Janeway sat there, shaken, not looking at the Ocampa. The first clear, fearful thought that surfaced in Kathryn's mind was, Is she going to tell the crew about the mission?

Kes suddenly laughed, a harsh laugh. Kathryn realized suddenly that Kes had heard her thought as soon as Kathryn had thought it. The contempt on the other woman's face was devastating.

"I truly misjudged you, Captain. I had thought you could sink no lower in my esteem." Kes looked at her with a reproachful gaze. "You needn't fear me telling the crew. You'll get what's coming to you without my help."

All this coming from Kes. dear, sweet Kes. Kathryn gaped at her; no one had talked with so much contempt to her, not in a long time.

Not since Seska.

"Seska?" Kes said suddenly, in tune with Kathryn's thoughts, and cocked her head at Janeway, staring at her with dispassionate eyes. "She's the measuring tool, isn't she, Captain? All evil you encounter, all wrongs, you compare with Seska." Kes rose to her feet. "Kathryn Janeway, you are Seska."

Then Kes turned and walked to the galley. She told Neelix she was leaving. He put the pudding in a container so she could eat it on her flight back to Ocampa.

Janeway stood in the transporter room, and bid Kes goodbye with as much formality and strained affection as the situation called for. After Kes dematerialized, the words still rang inside of her.

You are Seska.

As she thought about herself--her darkest thoughts, her most ghastly deeds, Kathryn began to wonder if Kes wasn't right.

* * *

In San Francisco, a year and a half later, Chakotay glanced at his chronometer.

"I have to go," he said suddenly.

"Go?" Kathryn looked up at him in surprise.

He looked at her wryly in the half-light. "The Starfleet detention facility will be missing my sanguine presence. It's almost 0700."

"Of course," she said quietly. Too quietly.

He seemed hesitant. "Well, goodbye."

"Bye."

He stood up, and walked towards the door, then hesitated. He raked a hand across his head, and turned back towards Kathryn.

"I need to--I have to think about all of this. I guess we'll talk later." Then he added, "Maybe."

Kathryn sat alone in the room for a long time after he left. She hadn't expected him to just leave like that. Or maybe it was for the best.

It was about mid-afternoon by the time she ventured out onto the street. Her stomach rumbled, and her throat felt dry. Her eyes refused to tear up.

She wandered aimlessly around the city, ducking her head in hopes that no one would recognize her from the news. When she was too exhausted to walk any longer, she sank down into a chair by a sidewalk café.

She could hear a woman's voice coming from a nearby view screen. It was the Federation News Network. She heard the reporter's voice like through a fog, ".former Maquis have been acquitted due to their service. were released from the detention facility less than an hour ago. Captain Kathryn Janeway has not been located for comments."

There was a man, sitting in a nearby seat. He peered at the view screen, then looked at Janeway. He called to her, "Hey, lady!"

She looked up at him wearily.

"That you?" He jabbed a big thumb towards the image of herself--taken just days earlier upon stepping foot upon earth.

Janeway shook her head numbly.

"Aw, sure it is. It looks just like you."

"You're mistaken," she said hoarsely, but he was already turning away to call to someone inside the caf?br

"Hey, Rudy! We got that Janeway woman out here--the one everyone's talking about. Yeah, the Voyager lady!"

She somehow managed to get her feet under her, and fled from the caf?Kathryn walked further, and daylight faded into the blackness of night. Her steps led her to the Bay Bridge, now used only for recreational purposes and hiking since the support beams buckled in 2241. Tears trickled down her face as she walked further onto the bridge, then leaned her elbows onto the side railings.

She felt an empty pit inside of her, and, as she stared out at the cold, black water beneath her, she realized that she'd never felt so alone, so horrible, so abandoned as she did now. The wind chilled her as it whipped her hair into her face, and brought more tears to her eyes.

* * *

Elsewhere, things were happening.

Admiral Hayes wanted to give her a medal. Admiral Nechayev was opposed to it; regardless of the mission, it would bring bad publicity to reward a captain who had stranded her crew in a distant quadrant. Janeway was aware that they had this disagreement between them, but was unaware that, even now, as she leaned on the railing of this bridge, that they were arguing about it over a cup of coffee.

She was unaware that Chakotay had left the detention center with her in mind. He wanted to get a cup of coffee with her. Maybe he'd be angry with her, maybe they'd have to sit there and heal, but they'd do it together. He needed to see her again. As he'd passed the hours in the processing center of the detention facility, brooding on their conversation, the look on her face when he left came back to him. Something about her expression had shaken him, and haunted him even now. He felt a sense of urgency about finding her again.

He'd been wandering around the city the last hour, and had even resorted to whipping out a tricorder to scan for the trail of her DNA signature, starting from the room they'd occupied early that morning, then to the caf?and now farther.

* * *

Kathryn stood, looking at the long drop, regretting every mistake she'd made in the past seven years. She'd been depressed in the void, but she'd had a crew to get home then. She'd felt ashamed of many of her actions, but she had a purpose, a quest to complete. Now, she had completed it. She had nothing left to do, nothing left to accomplish in her life, no one left to take care of. She didn't deserve anything more.

I am Seska. She'd deceived everyone around her. She'd lied, she'd cheated, and she'd stolen. She'd traded technology; she'd made alliances with evil races. All the distancing she'd done in sentiment from Seska, early on, she later rendered useless as she became more and more like Seska in action, in heart, in soul.

And I killed Seska. Seska had been serving her government, her people, too, hadn't she? She'd been doing her duty as a Cardassian soldier. Kathryn had been doing her duty as a Starfleet Officer.

I killed Seska, sentenced her to death for doing no worse than I had done. With all the wrongs she'd committed the last seven years swirling in her head, and the pain threatening to overwhelm her, Janeway reached a decision- - a decision, truthfully, that she'd been pondering, albeit half- heartedly, even before Chakotay had grabbed her.

Starfleet had installed a force field around the bridge, due to the traditional high number of jumps that took place every year. Kathryn hacked through the security precautions easily enough, and disabled the force field.

* * *

Chakotay looked up from his tricorder and saw her then, gazing forlornly out into the dark waters. He called out to her. The wind drowned out his voice.

* * *

Kathryn's world seemed to slow around her, and she raised first one foot then the other to stand on top of the railing. She loomed there, the long expanse of blackness before her. The wind wavered her balance slightly.

She heard a distant shout. It sounded like a ghost. She smiled to herself, and stepped forwards into the infinite blackness.

She could hear Chakotay calling her name as she fell towards the water. Her mind flitted rapidly back through the last seven years. The last thing she could draw from them was that she'd been a good Starfleet Officer.

THE END

I decided to leave the ending ambiguous; she could be dead, she could be alive. It's depressing, I know. I'm a fan of "Mother Night"-- so sue me. :- )