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Title: And Not Fade Away, Part 1 of 5
Author: Morgan Stuart
Fandom: Star Trek: Voyager
Disclaimer: This universe does not belong to me; I'm just an appreciative visitor. I make no profit from this fan work.
Description: When Chakotay, Paris, and Kim are stranded on a vicious alien world, Kes risks her sanity and Janeway risks her command to see that rescue eventually arrives.
Dedication: This is for Margret.
Historian's Note: The events in this story take place directly after the events depicted in the third season Star Trek: Voyager episode "Flashback."
Warnings (Highlight to Read): Graphic violence.




CHAPTER ONE

"When the bow broke in pieces we fell
we would scream and shout
almost anything
but the point is we fell dear"
-Michael Penn


Ensign Harry Kim jerked awake like a marionette, suddenly taut with one deliberate pull of strings. For several seconds he flailed about in a mental free-fall, without any reference or memory, uncertain of where or when he was regaining consciousness. It was dark and cramped. The stinging bite of singed electrical panels assaulted his eyes and throat.

Okay, Harry, pull it together now. Where are you? What do you last remember?

His last memory was of a breakfast in the mess hall. Kes had been there, smiling, perched like a pixie, feet tucked beneath her, keeping Neelix company. It was a ritual for her, that morning stop, before she was due in sickbay. Neelix had left the hushed tones of their intimate discussion to usher Kim and Tom Paris to her table. The Talaxian had fussed over the two officers, personally presenting them with their meal. An "ATB," he called it: Away Team Breakfast. He had promised that he had specially designed it to provide them with energy and stamina for their mission.

Kim remembered trying not to laugh openly while watching Commander Chakotay excuse himself from the questionable gelatinous mixture when he had entered a few minutes later with the captain. She herself had opted for her usual black coffee only. The two senior officers had chosen the table next to Kim, Paris, and Kes for their last meeting of the day. They had exchanged datapadds and quiet words, their characteristic solemnity in stark contrast with the young laughter from the other table. He remembered Kes finally taking leave of their company, a light hand on each of their backs, telling Kim and Paris to take care of themselves and come back safely. Turning back for one last look, she wagged her finger at the lieutenant and reminded her tutor of their next scheduled flight simulation. With a kiss to Neelix she was gone.

That breakfast seemed at once both instantly real and ages past. Where am I now? A soft moan directly to his left broke the unnerving silence, and a familiar voice whispered his name. Tom! I was in the shuttle with Tom, going down to that planet to investigate. What happened to us? Did we crash?

The second time Paris spoke Kim's name his voice betrayed panic. "Harry!"

"I... I'm..." Kim's voice sounded terribly fragile to his own ears. His mouth was so dry, filled with the acrid taste of ashes. He cleared his throat and tried again. "I'm okay, Tom." Everything seemed unreal to Kim, speaking into the blackness, suspended without sense of direction or context. They sat motionless for a moment, still too shocked to speak.

Then it dawned on him. "Commander?"

Silence.

"Chakotay?" Kim could sense Paris turning to face behind them, where their commander had been sitting in the shuttle. "Chakotay?"

A grunt sounded in reply from somewhere behind - or was it above? - the two. They felt him move slowly and awkwardly, trying to regain his own bearings. Then he, too, cleared his throat. "Are you both all right?"

"Yeah."

"I think so. What happened?" Kim voiced the bewilderment the three shared.

"The last thing I remember, we had cleared the atmosphere and gotten our first sensor readings. I was scanning for possible landing coordinates when -" Paris was interrupted by a violent shudder throughout the shuttle. The officers tried as best they could to brace themselves in the darkness. Kim realized with embarrassment that, in his disorientation, he clung to Tom's arm instead of his seat's. Paris returned the pressure, holding Kim back against his chair protectively.

"What the?" Paris barked at the blackness.

"Someone or something is hitting our hull," Chakotay paused as the shuttle lurched again. "I'm going to try to have a look. Paris, can you tell me anything about where we are or how we crash-landed? Do you know our physical position?"

"Our sensors are dead. It looks like all the systems are. It feels like we're on our nose, but I don't know to what degree. As to where we are, your guess is as good as mine." Kim could imagine Paris shrugging beside him. Another quake. "I think it is safe to say that we're on solid ground, though."

"Agreed. Stay put, but keep alert." Chakotay turned and slid into the back of Kim's chair. Bracing himself, he felt his way up the shuttle's side, half-walking and half-climbing. A fourth, even greater impact slammed him into burned panels and elicited an unrecognizable curse from the Amerindian. Groping his way to the familiar manual controls of the hatch door, he drew his weapon and braced himself.

This is happening too fast. You've been put on the defensive, with little information and no time to think. The irony was not lost on Chakotay. Just like a Maquis. For the briefest moment, he closed his eyes. We are on a long journey, so far from home. This is an unknown threat - we have no idea what we are facing. Spirits of my People, I need the strength and the wisdom to lead these men through this crisis and return them safely to Voyager. He was collected now. He threw his weight against the door, opening the shuttle to the blinding brightness of alien day.

***

"I would appreciate it if you would remind them to clear any foodstuffs they bring back on board with me before sentencing them to suffer under Mister Neelix's knife. We do not want another cheese incident."

"Yes, Doctor." Kes had learned to suppress her reactions to the emergency medical hologram and not laugh aloud at his personal quirks. "We aren't sure if they will find anything, though; we can't even be certain it's a Class M planet. Neelix is unfamiliar with it, and the atmospheric conditions completely disable our sensors. That's why they had to use the shuttle instead of beaming down. But if they do find food supplies, I'll be sure to remind them to let you inspect everything."

"Thank you." The Doctor returned to his terminal, the creases in his forehead deepening with concentration.

"What are you working on?" She cocked her head to one side and paused expectantly at the edge of his office table.

"Ensign Amos has been complaining of stress and fatigue. He has been exploring aromatherapy, and receiving some relief of symptoms. I would like to continue experimenting, however, to determine what smells would be most beneficial to him. It is a complex question, rooted in a synthesis of psychological and physical factors. Any analysis must also consider the individual's personal experiences and tastes to determine what scents evoke positive memories and reactions." A satisfied smile. "It is a good thing that I have such thorough programming, capable of handling such nuanced data."

Kes did not balk at his self-congratulation. Her mind followed his with the diligence of a gifted acolyte. "That's fascinating. I know the Ocampa sense of smell is not as developed as Humans'-"

"Which explains your ability to tolerate the mess hall while Mister Neelix is working."

She continued, ignoring the good-humored gibe. She alone secretly knew how kind the Doctor truly was. "But I know how comforting it is for me to be surrounded by plants and flowers, by that smell of life and growth and blooms." Her features grew wistful.

"So, if you were embarking upon aromatherapy, the scents of the hydroponics bay would be where you began."

"Yes, exactly." She nodded enthusiastically. Her smile, as it inevitably did with the Doctor, grew inquisitive. "What would you begin with? Can you smell?"

"My programming includes all five sensory perceptions: taste, sight, touch, sound, and smell." So matter-of-fact.

"Do I hear a 'but' coming?" She sank to her elbows, resting her elfin chin on interlaced fingers.

"No, not at all." He grew self-conscious beneath her wide-eyed scrutiny. "I can identify smells. I simply cannot experience the psychological identification between memory and emotion and scents. That is the function of an autonomous psyche. It is part of the uncertainty of sentient life forms' individual patterns."

Kes straightened, her entire body reflecting the excitement of a new idea. "But your program is adaptive! Would you like to experience a new scent? Something different from this antiseptic sick bay? Wait until you smell the blooms of Livadian Spredendron!"

As she so often did, Kes infected the Doctor with her enthusiasm and curiosity. Another new experience awaited him. His thin-lipped nod, brow arched in interest, was all she needed to send her on her way. Once again he marveled at how his little assistant had altered his world, given him a life to replace a program. A mixture of paternal pride in her accomplishments and wondering gratitude for her influence warred within him. It was a satisfying struggle.

***

At first Chakotay could not see. Squinting against the sudden light, he peered down to the surface, searching for the source of the blows to the shuttle. As Paris had surmised, the shuttle now sat almost directly at a ninety degree angle to the ground. It was lodged where it had tipped forward after crash-landing, between two jutting rock formations. They were effectively held vulnerable for whatever beings might inhabit this world.

Paris and Kim twisted uncomfortably to follow Chakotay's progress. He levered himself into the shuttle's opening, a dark silhouette in relief against the brightness. He stiffened as he absorbed the scene before him.

"What is it?" Kim whispered to no one in particular.

"We'll know soon enough," Paris returned. His pale brow furrowed and eyes narrowed in his characteristic look of concern.

"My name is Commander Chakotay. We come in peace." His voice was controlled, unthreatening. He was good in first contact situations, providing the dual messages of peace and power with his quiet, careful words and formidable physical presence. Another voice answered him but Paris and Kim could not decipher the words. "There is no need for hostility. We did not intend to trespass. If we can repair our vessel, we will leave you and not return. No harm will be done." A short pause. "If I may speak to your leader-" He was interrupted by the other voice, this time substantially louder and more belligerent. A moment's pause. He lowered his phaser.

Kim rolled his eyes and groaned.

Paris cursed.

Chakotay did not turn back to his men. Still formal, still loud enough for outside ears, he called to them. "Mister Paris, Mister Kim, would you please join me. Unarmed." It was an order, not an invitation.

Together the two officers began the clumsy ascent to the hatchway. Catching Kim's shoulder, Paris moved in front of him. "Whatever happens, stay behind me, Harry."

Kim caught Paris's eye before he turned completely. "You're not expendable, Tom." Paris recognized his own words from their first disaster aboard Voyager now used against him. They locked gazes for a moment. Gratitude fleetingly crossed Paris's animated features, followed by an unreadable expression Kim could not interpret. Then Paris grinned at his earnest companion and turned back toward the climb ahead.

As they reached Chakotay, he swiveled toward them and extended his hand. Paris reached for it and halted in mid-climb as Chakotay held him firmly in place. He looked at them both, then settled his gaze on the lieutenant. For their ears only he whispered, "I am not giving up. I'm just buying time for us until the odds are better. Sometimes you have to throw a battle to win a war." He glanced at Kim and registered his nod, then returned his intense gaze to Paris. He knew that Paris had problems with his leadership. His authority always felt tenuous with the lieutenant, because it was. Even when the younger man's disobedience and insubordination had been a ruse to lay a trap for the traitor on board, it had not obscured the larger issue for Chakotay. Paris had acted against his first officer because it was believable; his old feelings for Chakotay were common knowledge. His apology afterward did not ease Chakotay's conviction that the same behavior toward Janeway would have instantly caused suspicion. The clever plan had sacrificed Paris's safety to catch the Kazon spy. It had also sacrificed Chakotay's credibility. The most frustrating twist of the dilemma was that Chakotay respected Paris's talented, reckless bravery. He was alive because of it. Whether Paris returned that respect, he could not know. Too many walls, built by them both, stood between them.

In any case, the former Maquis could not afford to allow their personal relationship and past history to jeopardize their current situation. If Paris knew that Chakotay had not surrendered, he would probably follow his lead. That was all Chakotay asked at this point. If all went well, they would have many days back on Voyager to resolve their unsettled issues. He seemed to communicate this uncertainty and urgency to Paris. The blond searched his commander's eyes and then dropped his own passively, reflecting his acquiescence.

With that Chakotay hauled Paris and Kim to the lip of the shuttle where they viewed the planet's surface and inhabitants for the first time. Following Chakotay they lowered themselves to the ground. A ring of over thirty heavily armed beings encircled them, all astride beasts reminiscent of small Terran buffalo. Each appeared almost Humanlike, although more pale and broad-bodied than the average Human. One urged his mount a few steps within the ring and addressed the three officers.

"I am Nett Renoja, chief overseer of the fief of Llilegrough. You are not Phrama."

"We are Human." Paris offered. "If we could just -"

"You will be taken to Llilegrough. Save your words for him. He will decide your fate." He made several hand gestures and a few of the other Phrama dismounted and produced thick bristled cord from their saddlebags.

"There is no need for restraints." Chakotay was gentle but persistent. "We are but three strong, no match for -"

"Silence!" Renoja bellowed. "Speak no more to me." He glowered fiercely at Chakotay, as if the commander's speech were a vile insult to him. "No more."

The officers exchanged glances and stood silently as the Phrama approached them. Two of them tied Kim's hands in front of him, and he hissed with discomfort as he tried to shift his wrists against the tightly-drawn abrasive rope. Measuring a few feet of the cord, they likewise secured Paris's hands. Another Phrama moved to Chakotay and pulled his arms behind his back and tied his hands, leaving him defenseless. Chakotay fixed his unblinking eyes on Renoja, who grew unnerved beneath the commander's calm gaze. The overseer gestured vehemently and the Phrama who had tied Kim and Paris measured out another segment of their rope. They fashioned a noose from its end.

Still mounted, Renoja turned his sneering countenance to Paris and Kim. "Your leader will be tied to my wallibeve. If you care for his life you will follow. If you should falter or stumble, you will either strangle him or break his neck." The Phrama's broad smile seemed strangely mated with such chilling words.

On cue, the others moved to Chakotay. He did not resist as they pulled the coarse noose over his head. As one Phrama tightened it over the officer's bare flesh, he twisted it back and forth. Blood visibly welled up around the rope as it tore at his neck and splintered. Renoja chuckled at this subtle show of force. At his side, Paris and Kim held their breath in silent empathy with Chakotay. He himself only winced. The straining fists clenched behind him, however, betrayed his pain and anger to his officers. Another rope was fastened around his waist and tied to Renoja's saddle.

Without another word their forced march began.

***

"And, last but not least, the replicator ration usage?" Captain Kathryn Janeway stifled a yawn as she accepted the padd. Her eyes skimmed the data even as her mind wandered. Nothing appeared out of the ordinary. If it had, Tuvok would already have told her anyway. Still glancing at the figures, she reached for her coffee. Her fingers played along the rim of her mug, growing moist and warm from steam. Neelix had named this dark, slightly bitter brew for Tom Paris to commemorate his transwarp flight. The popularity of the signature flavor had outlived the viability of the technological breakthrough it honored. It was not sweet vanilla cappuccino, but Janeway found it pleasant and, by now, comfortingly familiar. "How is that new orchid?"

Tuvok lifted an eyebrow at her change in topic. "It still appears frail, but I believe it will survive." A terse, efficient answer from a terse, efficient man.

"And Kes?"

A pause. "I do not know if she has an opinion regarding my orchid's survival."

She laughed. Handing the padd back to him, she cupped the mug in both hands and curled herself around its pleasant presence. "Tuvok, my friend, when will you ever admit to having a sense of humor?"

He knew her well enough to know she expected no response. She continued. "I meant, are you still tutoring her in the use of her mental abilities?"

"Yes. She is an eager student. She is exhibiting a good deal more patience and self-control than before. This is a long process, but I believe it will be beneficial both to Kes and to Voyager."

"No doubt, Tuvok. I am glad for her. She has so much potential. I know she appreciates your guidance." She smiled fondly thinking of the delicate Ocampa. Her affection for Kes was tempered with an immense respect, knowing that one day she would grow beyond them all into an adulthood with limitless possibilities. Even knowing that her gifts far outweighed any Human's, it was still difficult not to think of her as a girl, even a daughter. The difference is, no daughter of mine could control subatomic particles with a mere thought. Her memories flashed back to an alien world and her own alien body, hyper-evolved when she crossed the threshold of warp speed. A suppressed curiosity about the offspring Lieutenant Paris and she had produced once again resurfaced, and not without a characteristic infusion of humor. Not any daughter that I know of, anyway.

"I am gratified to serve as her teacher. It is a most worthwhile experience." He rose. "If that is all, I believe that I am due in the mess hall for lunch. Mister Neelix has created a new recipe for yet another Vulcan dish and has requested that I sample it." With her nod he turned toward the door. He paused at the archway. "Of course, if there is any other business to which I can attend, Mister Neelix will have to serve lunch without me."

Janeway laughed again and shooed him from the room.

***

Although they had not been walking for more than an hour, the three Starfleet officers were exhausted. With each step they were aware that Chakotay's life was in peril and that one stumble could easily end it. Chakotay fared worst of all. With his hands bound behind him he could not maintain a sense of equilibrium, much less wipe the sweat that ran into his eyes and blinded him. The heat of this world seemed not to affect the Phrama, but the three Humans suffered. And the sun had not yet risen to its midday peak.

Chakotay tried to embrace an inner peace as the ropes pulled him in different directions. I must be prepared for what will occur when we met this Llilegrough. He could not banish his worries, however. What will become of the shuttle while we're gone? At least he had the satisfaction of knowing that their technology was at present nonfunctional. But the Phrama could still learn a great deal from dismantling the craft despite its damage. And the phasers! Just the few on board were enough to alter the balance of power here. At least he had not mentioned that they were from other worlds, or from Starfleet. Any gesture toward the Prime Directive was better than none at all. Anyway, his options had been quite limited. Maquis pragmatism chastised him. You do what you can do.

As they crested a grassy hill, Renoja reined in his wallibeve and paused to rest. "Water your mounts!" Without waiting for permission the three men sank to their knees.

"Are you okay?" Chakotay panted to his men. Kim nodded wearily.

"We'll live. You've looked better." Paris nodded toward the commander's blood-slicked neck. Chakotay accepted the nonchalant comment as the veiled inquiry that it was. Paris knew that each movement of his caused Chakotay further pain. He had spent the last hour trying to hold his hands still and keep up with Renoja's pace. Chakotay understood. His mouth twitched with the echo of a harsh smile.

"It only hurts when I laugh."

Paris had to chuckle.

"Silence!" Renoja, dismounted now, turned from his wallibeve to glower at them.

From the tail of the group emerged a slight Phrama bearing a leathery waterbag. He drank from it and, without a word, offered it to Kim. The ensign eyed it warily, then reached out and took it in his bound hands. He swallowed deeply, gratefully. Murmuring his thanks to the compassionate man he handed it to Paris, who likewise drank thirstily. Paris turned to Chakotay. He lifted the bag so the Native American could drink.

Before he could press eager lips to the spout, Renoja was there. He jerked the waterbag from Paris, nearly pulling the lieutenant over with his force. "None for this one!" He tossed the bag to its owner and returned to watering his mount.

Chakotay licked dry lips and turned his face away from his officers' expressions of concern. I can endure this. He will not break me. And I won't let him provoke me into a confrontation on his terms. He closed his eyes and calmed himself. When the moments of rest passed and Renoja called them to march, though, he thankfully accepted two pairs of bound hands as they gently grasped his forearms and helped him to his feet. In silence, they began again.

***

Pulling her floor-length cloak tightly around her shoulders, Janeway quick-stepped down the corridor from her quarters. Regardless of how accepted holosuite use was, she always felt self-conscious, even guilty, taking time for herself. With the Away Team gone to the planet for four days and Voyager peacefully in orbit, she had felt satisfied that she could spare an hour of her evening to begin a new holonovel. After reading the last report of the day it had seemed like a good idea. Now, scurrying toward the suite, peering furtively from beneath her crisp bonnet, she had second thoughts.

Once she stepped into the holodeck, though, she was glad she had come. She stood in a square hall, flanked by walls that ascended into shadows. A maid-servant stepped forward and bobbed a slight curtsey. Smiling from beneath the sandy ringlets that escaped her lace cap, she spoke. "Will you walk this way, ma'am?" Janeway nodded, returning her smile, and followed the youth through a tall oak door into a small room doubly illuminated by fire and candlelight.

An elderly woman dressed in black silk and a widow's cap looked up from her knitting. In a matronly English accent she welcomed Janeway, who clasped the chilled hand and knelt to stroke the plump cat at her feet. It responded with a disdainful burnt-orange glare. Even the holograms can tell I'm a dog person. "How do you do, my dear? I am afraid you have had a tedious ride; John drives so slowly; you must be cold, come to the fire."

Allowing herself to be led to a chair by the hearth, Janeway cleared her throat and recited the first line she had prepared for this long-awaited adventure. "Mrs. Fairfax, I suppose?" The fire crackled invitingly. It had been so long since she had watched as logs glowed and settled and burst with sparks. So long. Mark -

"Yes, you are right; do sit down."

She refocused her attention on the scene at hand. The next few minutes flew by for Janeway, quite as she had expected. When it came time for her character to retire for the night, she could not bear to tear herself away from the holonovel. She ordered the computer to fast-forward the program to the next day. Removing her cloak and bonnet, she stepped outside to walk the grounds of Thornfield in the morning light. She could smell the dew on the grass. For a moment she thought jealously of Chakotay, Paris and Kim. How I'd love to be planetside right now, my feet on solid ground. She met Mrs. Fairfax again as the housekeeper fussed over morning tea and they spoke. Soon, as Janeway had imagined, the first highlight of the program appeared.

Skipping merrily toward the two women, blonde curls dancing around her slender shoulders, the petite child hopped to a halt at Janeway's knee. "C'est la gouvernante?"

The nurse that jogged to keep up with her diminutive charge smiled at Janeway before breathlessly answering. "Mais oui, certainement."

With a frown of concentration, the child composed her query in English. "Mademoiselle - what is your name?"

They were the words she had been waiting to say to make this escape solid and real. The fingers that grasped her skirts as she walked now clenched them in anticipation. It was so cathartic, so rewarding to lose one's self in cherished stories. Drawing a deep breath, she knelt to the girl's level and gave herself a name she had loved since she was sixteen. At the time it had seemed the perfect antidote to intense hours in the chemistry lab. Now its syllables relieved the tension of command.

"Eyre - Jane Eyre."

She lost track of the hours that night.*

[*The holonovel is based on Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, first published in 1847.]

***

Tom Paris was a student of human nature. Not that he wanted to be. His experiences with Starfleet, with the Maquis, with his trial, with the penal colony, all had offered him unforgettable lessons, a parade of personalities he had learned to avoid at all costs. He knew the sneer of the sadist, intrigued with the distraction of toying with a helpless victim. And if you tried to show him that you were not helpless, that you would resist, you enticed him all the more. The Phrama were a new species to Paris, but he knew Nett Renoja's type all too well.

There was a strength that came with knowledge, however. Paris could be scared but he could not be surprised. He felt, justifiably, that he had seen it all. That could come in handy, even provide the upper hand if the situation were right. He had contemplated this as he had marched, staring ahead at Chakotay's battered neck and observing as Renoja grew increasingly unsettled by the commander's characteristic stoicism. He observed and he remembered.

They had been walking for hours. Chakotay, still without water, was stumbling now. As they entered Llilegrough's domain with its vast fields of crops and approached the first, most imposing structure of the inner compound, Renoja halted and dismounted. Turning to his force, he addressed them. "I shall inform Llilegrough of what we found. You may resume your posts." The Phrama that had tied the officers together came forward to assist Renoja with them. "Follow me. I shall secure them myself. Come, Human."

Renoja unlaced the rope from his saddle and jerked it viciously, almost pulling Chakotay off of his feet. The building was surrounded by a series of metal bars that connected legs standing about eight feet tall: large hitching posts. He led the officers to the nearest one. The Phrama, with Renoja, secured the bound wrists of Kim and Paris above their heads, high enough that they swayed on the balls of their feet precariously. With a satisfied smile Renoja tied the noose-rope to the pole as well, leaving Chakotay to stand on his toes and strain his neck backwards in order to breathe.

"Leave them now." With that final word the remaining Phrama scattered and Renoja strode toward his master's dwelling.

Chakotay squeezed his eyes shut, fighting the dizziness caused by his unnatural position. He had to stay balanced, stay motionless, or he would suffocate himself. The intense heat and dehydration weakened him. The rope ground into the open wounds in his neck. Renoja had broken his concentration. He had been far from here, in a wood, an unseen stream clothed in foliage gurgling in the distance. He had knelt there in the clearing, silently waiting for his spirit guide to reveal itself. The pungent scent of life had surrounded him. The clear, cool water of the creek had slaked his thirst. There, in the wood, he could assess the situation, seek guidance, and plan. The meditation he had maintained for these last hours was no more. But it had bought him time and provided him strength. He was stronger than he appeared, twisting here in vulnerable balance, bloodied and trembling.

When Phrama emerged from the building almost an hour later, they were not the ones responsible for discovering the officers. Wrapped in flowing toga-like robes as green as the fields around them, a dozen Phrama strode determinedly toward them. One, in the center, appeared to be older, regal. He spoke before he reached the three.

"Which of you is leader?" The tone of authority.

With effort Chakotay strained to swallow, then answered in a harsh whisper that carried by sheer force of will from his cracked lips. "I am... Commander... Chakotay."

"Cut him down! His men, as well." As the Phrama followed his orders, he bowed slightly, formally. "I must apologize for the behavior of my overseer. You have been ill-used. Please understand, he is devoted to my fief's security." Chakotay inclined his head, jaw clenched, planted solidly before the overlord. He did not speak. "Let us remove to my hall. Unbind them!" Llilegrough turned back toward the building.

Their hands freed, Kim and Paris moved to Chakotay to help him disentangle the bloody noose without causing further damage. He finally dropped his hands and let Kim ease it gently open and remove it. The two men instinctively flanked their commander as the Phrama encircled them and followed Llilegrough. "You gonna make it?" Paris whispered into his ear. He nodded tightly. All three of them were.

***

Llilegrough was not an irrational man. He was a petty overlord with fewer resources and means than many of the neighboring fiefholders, and the delicate mixture of pragmatism and imagination that allowed him to maintain his precarious position and defend himself. Lesser Phrama would have surrendered this delicate existence in favor of security or been absorbed by the hostile forces of ambitious neighbors. Not Llilegrough. Now his attention was turned to the problem at hand. The strange craft had crashed on his property. He lacked the manpower and leisure to dissect it and learn its technologies, however, although he knew they might well prove useful. Before he had mastered its mysteries his greedy rivals would know of his secret and try to take it by force. Unfortunately, and he did regret it, the only thing to do was quickly dismantle and bury the strange spacecraft. If he could not use the technology, no one would. The entire incident would be denied. The cover-up would be in place by nightfall. None of Llilegrough's men would mention again the foreign vessel from the sky.

This decision left the problem of the survivors, the Humans. He pondered this dilemma as he watched them take their seats on a wooden bench in his interview chamber. They were exhausted and hot. Each of them appeared alert nonetheless, assessing their new surroundings, taking in information about the Phrama and Llilegrough in particular. They were intelligent and wary, these men. The young one on the end seemed to catalogue in his mind the details of the room. Young, but clever. A thinker, a planner. The tall, fair one eyed the guards and their weapons. The way he held himself, both consciously and naturally, revealed a distrustful man, a defiant man, a man of action. Admiration instinctively warmed the overlord as he watched the Human leader, the dark one, the focus of a Renoja's anger, take slow, disciplined sips of the water he was offered. His body must have desperately fought to gulp liters of the precious liquid, but he controlled himself. A man of pride. A man used to sacrifice. A complex man who knew much and would reveal nothing. Llilegrough learned a great deal from simple observations. If the situation were different, if he had more options at his disposal, he would have liked to have learned from these men. Perhaps even call them allies. But that was impossible.

Chakotay's appeal to Llilegrough, when it came, was eloquent and concise. It was also irrelevant. The overlord had already made his decision.

***

"So then he says, 'Sandrine's, for example.' So casually. Sandrine's!" B'Elanna Torres shook her head in amusement and rolled her eyes as she took another bite of her pasta. Kes laughed merrily just thinking about the pub and its irrepressible owner. The combination pool critic, bartender, madam, and philosopher had far too much personality for one holodeck character's own good.

"Poor Doctor. When he's there she won't leave him alone and it drives him crazy. But when he hasn't gone for a while, he gets to thinking about her -"

"Because she drives him crazy." Torres finished Kes's sentence. "It's all too funny. I told him tonight would be fine. Tom's gone, so he won't be using the program, and he never minds if anyone else does. We've all kind of adopted it."

Kes nodded thoughtfully, remembering her own surprise birthday party at the holographic pool hall. Struck by a thought, she gasped, "Do you think he'll wear the beret?" The mental image sent them both into another cycle of laughter.

"Well, it appears that we are having a good evening." Complete with apron and chef's hat, a smiling Neelix pulled up a chair next to Kes.

"Oh, Neelix, we were just talking about the Doctor. He wants to have access to the holodeck like the rest of the crew, not just when we invite him for special occasions. I am excited for him. He is trying so many new things, and his program is adapting with every experience."

Neelix characteristically turned the tide of conversation. "Speaking of experiences, how do you like the dish du jour, Ms. Torres? Is there enough karpel fungi in the sauce -"

You promised yourself you'd never let him tell you what you were eating again. You're better off not knowing. Karpel fungi? Her stomach turned. "Really, Neelix, this is quite good. Before you told me that part about the fungi, I thought it was one of your best."

He was immensely pleased. "Really? Do you think so? I am quite gratified to hear it, I truly am. You see, I faced a rather disappointing setback with my Vulcan dish at lunch, and frankly I have been in need of some honest affirmation. Thank you! I think I will have to take an informal poll about this now." And Neelix was going table to table before Torres could register his animated words. Kes watched him, smiling fondly, then turned back to Torres, now idly considering her datapadd.

"B'Elanna? Could I ask you a favor, with regard to the Doctor?"

"Sure, Kes. What is it?"

"Could we add some scents to Sandrine's? Cigar smoke? Wood polish?" Her mind raced. How would Sandrine's smell? "Perfume, perhaps?" She chewed on her lip thoughtfully.

Torres could not help but be intrigued by the Ocampa's request. "I don't see why not. But why?"

"We have been experimenting with his program to see if he can make links between smells and experiences or feelings."

"Great idea. But he'll be going soon. We'll have to hurry to get them installed before he uses it." Neelix was bewildered to find them gone when he returned with the voting spread. He needed more affirmation. The morale officer was feeling low. According to his survey, 'none of the above' was overwhelmingly the favorite dish he prepared. He sighed. Does every civilized Alpha Quadrant culture condone the abuse of cooks?

***

"For workload purposes, you three will be counted as a kin group. If your group does not fill its quota each day, one of you will be punished. That shall be your dwelling." Renoja pointed to one of the dilapidated wooden shacks on the periphery of the makeshift village. "All you require for survival is there. Tomorrow you shall assume your duties. I will personally supervise your progress." He nudged his wallibeve into a slow turn, remarking, "Report to this common at sunrise." He left them amid the huts.

"A forced labor camp, and Mister Congeniality here is our own personal slavedriver? This makes me pine for the penal colony." Kim responded to Paris's comment with a nervous chuckle, and Chakotay tugged on his ear absently as he surveyed the structures around them. After a moment's silent contemplation, he spoke.

"Let's get to the cabin, where we can talk." The three made their way to the structure Renoja had indicated. The crudely-constructed shack would barely shield them from the elements. Mismatched wooden planks left gaping cracks on all sides. An open hole in the center of the roof had been cut to allow the smoke from the fire pit in the center of the dirt floor to escape. Simple wooden bowls, metal pots, and dusty blankets littered the ground. A few torn pieces of clothing hung on a wall. Chakotay sighed as he drank in the disheartening scene, rubbing his chin distractedly.

Abruptly, he sat down crossed-legged on the floor, a brief concession to his body's needs, and looked to his men. "We need to buy time until we know the best way to escape back to the crash site. Then we can either repair the shuttle and leave by ourselves, or we can await the rescue party - that will be the first place they search. Paris, it looked like the stream that ran through this village is the workers' source of water. Get us a few bowls." The lieutenant nodded, collected the vessels, and went on his way.

"I don't get it. Llilegrough seemed regretful about sentencing us to this camp. Why would he sic that Renoja on us if he didn't want us hurt?" Kim opened a sack of provisions, some kind of course meal, and scowled in distaste.

"I don't think he knew Renoja would follow us here and pull rank on the guard. You are right, Llilegrough didn't seem to want to hurt us. He even apologized for how Renoja treated us when he brought us here. Unless I'm wrong, he doesn't know what is going on."

"If we could somehow let him know that Renoja was waiting for us when we came out, and that he has appointed himself our overseer without Llilegrough knowing, maybe we could get Renoja in trouble and get us a little breathing room." Kim frowned in concentration. "But how?"

Paris reentered and offered each of them a bowl of water, from which they drank silently. Chakotay shook his head. "We would have to learn enough of the politics around here to know who we could trust and who had access to Llilegrough. That might take a while. If we can just get through the next day or so and keep our eyes open, I hope we can get out of here altogether."

"There's a plan. No offense to you guys, but I always imagined playing house with someone more... feminine."

"Don't worry, Paris. I wouldn't take you home to Mother, either." Chakotay smiled in spite of himself at his own rejoinder. Then he slowly climbed to his feet, stretched strained muscles, and moved to observe the clothing on the wall. "We'll need to make note of all of the routines. How many guards there are, where we work, the hours we keep, when we're most closely watched." He fingered a tattered shirt. "We haven't seen any of the laborers yet. I think these clothes would fit Phrama, though. It seems that these people might enslave their own kind."

"Enemies of Llilegrough, like dissidents, maybe? Political prisoners?" Kim offered.

Paris shook one of the blankets from the floor, and grimaced as a cloud of dust rose from its filthy fibers. "And Federation officers. All one happy family here, smack dab in the middle of the Phrama gulag. I can see it now. 'A Day in the Life of Thomas Eugenovich.'"

***

The Phrama did enslave their own kind. But not because the unfortunate prisoners were politically dangerous or economically unsuccessful. The overlords bred their laborers, and inherited their caste like the land that they cultivated. Those who worked in the labor camps had never known any other way of life. This did not mean that they were utterly content with their existence, but it did mean that they envisioned few options for themselves. The resignation, the silence, the unimaginative bleakness of these prisoners both frightened and repulsed Harry Kim.

Like Paris and Chakotay, Kim stole glances whenever he could as he worked the endless rows of crops. Renoja was never far away. The laborers at first seemed amazed and concerned that the high overseer was paying so much attention to their routine duties. In a way, the Federation officers were fortunate that Renoja was obsessed with their subjugation. His desire to keep them all in view meant that they were assigned to tasks together. Each could always see the other two. There was a small comfort in that.

Kim was down to his undershirt now, the long-sleeved portion of his uniform hanging from his waist, its long black arms flapping as he knelt and stood, knelt and stood. The temperature changes made him constantly miserable. In the sweltering heat of yesterday afternoon, the Humans could not imagine ever needing to build a fire in their meager shelter. By sundown they had kindled one in the fire pit. By midnight they had wrapped the filthy shirts around their shoulders and covered themselves with the dusty blankets. Each had taken turns keeping watch as the other two reclined by the fire, but no one could sleep well. The rising sun only renewed the cycle of extreme heat and cold.

The inefficiency of this mindless toil infuriated Kim further. His hands ached and bled where the hidden thorns of the tall plants caught his flesh. Harvesting the half-budded flowers and the oily sap-like fluid from each stalk seemed needlessly laborious to the ensign. As he fumbled and fought for some kind of rhythm, he remembered Renoja's warning that each worker must meet a quota of harvest for the day, or one member of his group would be punished. How could he learn this in a day, and yet be held as responsible as the Phrama who had labored like this since childhood? He slowed his work for a moment and stretched his throbbing back. Turning, Kim looked at the prisoner directly next to him. Guilt shot through him. She is so old, and bent over with work. If she can do this, so can I.

He attacked the stalks with renewed determination, keeping one eye on the elderly woman beside him in shame for his own weakness. Only after watching for several minutes did he notice what was happening. As the Phrama around him debudded their plants, they each tossed a bud into the old woman's bin at regular intervals. The rhythm of this choreographed throw was like music; no two workers tossed a bud at the same time, and none looked to locate her pile before they threw. The men and women acted in perfect concert with each other, performing this defiant drumbeat so expertly that no overseer, not even Renoja himself, could detect their actions. A knot formed in Kim's throat. Witnessing the workers helping one of their own offered him a real burst of hope, as well as a new respect for these seemingly complacent slaves.

For what felt like hours he labored silently. He grew to work to the rhythm of the buds as they softly hit the old woman's bin. When he had finally summoned the courage to interact with these wary aliens, he took a short step away from his stalk and tossed a bud of his own into her pile. In a lightning-quick reaction, the ancient face turned towards him and smiled. Then the scene, with its ever-present Renoja on his mount, the cadence of the buds tossed to the bin, the desperate heat and thirst, the silent and absorbed laborers, fell back into place as if he had never done anything at all.

***

It was terribly tempting to Chakotay to revisit the glade within himself and not return to the scorched fields where his body baked and thirsted. But the nearness of Paris and Kim - his crew, his responsibility - jarred him into constant surveillance and planning. He mapped in his mind the route they had taken from the shuttlecraft to the compound, and from the compound to the cabin and fields. They would need mounts to travel. The Phrama would certainly have wallibeves to follow them. They also had to find some way to prevent Llilegrough's men from learning of their flight immediately. And alternative plans, contingent upon what they found - or failed to find - when they reached the crash site. Kneel, stand. Kneel, stand. Endure this. We will be gone from here soon.

Further down the same row, Paris had only one thing on his mind: Nett Renoja. His own restless minutes of sleep the night before held images of other guards, other prisons. He knew that the biggest threat to them this day was Renoja. And Paris knew he was the one most capable of understanding it.

It came as no surprise to him, then, when Renoja announced at the end of the day that the workers must labor longer. His excuse - something about a forthcoming inspection by Llilegrough himself - was merely a means to an end. Paris could tell from the way Renoja watched them that he wanted to make an example of them. To flex his muscles of authority. To punish them from landing on his territory. To satiate his hungering ego. The light was soon too dim to illuminate their work, despite the torches that burned at the end of every other row. Renoja bellowed at the workers' insolence, their disobedience, their sloth. But they could not pick the buds or tap the resin in the darkness. Renoja would have his vengeance. He would give them an example of his wrath that they could watch and remember. He fumed and screamed and shouted. Then he looked down the rows of workers. Kim. Paris. Chakotay.

Paris could feel the older man straighten slowly a few yards behind him. He knew Chakotay knew. He also knew Chakotay would surrender himself to this torturer without a struggle. But Paris had made his own decision, back before they had been sentenced to this camp. He had made a choice as he watched Renoja sneer at them as they were bound. Renoja was a predator. If not Chakotay, then Kim. Paris would not have it. He knew what to do. It was easy. When Renoja dug his heels into his wallibeve and urged it down their row, Paris did nothing. He simply stood in the overseer's way and failed to step aside. He looked at the Phrama's face as the torchlight played upon it, as it twisted in a new, immediate anger. I know you, Renoja. Different names, same monster. This time I won't let you break me, or hurt anyone else. You're an old enemy, but I'm a new Tom Paris.

Urgent, hushed words behind him. Chakotay was trying to stop him. Ordering him to step aside. It was too late. A cry to his right, a row over. Harry, my dear friend. Better me than you. He smiled, actually smiled, at the enraged overseer then, sealing his fate. Guards appeared behind Renoja and took Paris away. He would not be killed; instead, he would serve as a living reminder to the slaves of Renoja's power. When the punishment was complete he would be returned. The cryptic foreshadowing was the only explanation the workers received. Paris looked back only once. One of Chakotay's dark, muscled arms encircled a frantic Harry Kim. Whether he was restraining or comforting the ensign, Paris could not tell.

***

The edge of Llilegrough's fief, the very boundary of his lands, was dotted with small metal cubes. The Federation officers had noted them in the distance and assumed they were territorial markers. The officers could not have known that they were also punishment devices. Solitary cubes, they were called. With only a thin patchwork of ventilation holes in the top, the boxlike cells grew chillingly cold at night and searingly hot in the daytime. Victims sat doubled-over on themselves, unable to move at all, either to create friction and stay warm or to shrink away from the burning metal sides when the sun blazed down upon them. Immobility and temperature extremes together made these cubes effective devices of torture, both physically and psychologically. Tom Paris soon discovered how effective they were.

After the first full day, as night fell on Llilegrough's lands, guards opened the cube and lifted Paris bodily onto the grass. He collapsed at Renoja's feet, unable to will strength into his trembling limbs. No one spoke. A leering Renoja produced a needle from the folds of his robe and nodded to his men, who spread Paris across the ground and held his arms and legs. The lieutenant had no strength with which to fight. His only weapon was defiance. He narrowed his eyes and lifted his chin challengingly. He had suffered a day with only this moment to anticipate. His stubbornness had kept him sane. I won't let you break me, I won't, I won't, I-

But when the syringe plunged into the side of his neck, his body exploded in an agony unlike anything he had ever felt before. In the distance, he could hear his own fragile scream. He twisted vainly in the strong arms that held him, gasping and sobbing for breaths that burned like flame. His mind danced on the edge of consciousness, his vision exploding into brilliant kaleidoscopes with every strained beat of his heart. Even as he writhed and struggled, the guards rolled him into a sitting position and dragged him again towards the cube.

He tried to speak, to ask them what was happening, what they had just done to him, to warn them that he could not breathe, that he would die if they put him back in that horrific box. He could not find or keep the breath for voice. Disjointed whimpers, staccato sobs. No, no, I don't want to die like this! It hurts, I'm suffocating, it's tearing me apart! Please, please, don't let it end like this, not another failure! No! At least let me fight, don't let me go so easily - When the lid of the box closed above him, he scratched and clawed at it with feeble hands. Tears burned in his eyes.

The cold wind obscured the sounds that emanated from that tiny metal cube.

***

Somewhere miles above the planet on Voyager, a sleeping Kes clutched twisted sheets in trembling fists and screamed.


END OF SECTION

On to Part 2