The moment the bridge lights returned to normal intensity Tom let
out a cry of victory. Voyager would not be fated to spend its
remaining days drifting through space, a willing trophy waiting to be
claimed by the Kazon or any other scavenging race. He set co-ordinates
directly out of the system, eagerly awaiting the captain's return to the
bridge to give her quintessential orders. He should have suspected
trouble when Chakotay walked out of the turbolift with Neelix instead. There was a certain urgency in the commander's voice when he ordered him
to break orbit that put Tom's hackles on end.
"We'll be in full view of the planet in a few seconds," Tom announced, carefully monitoring his navigational instruments. "Their orbital sensor net has picked us up. They're scanning the ship." An alarm chirped. "We're being hailed."
Chakotay didn't hesitate. "On screen."
The peaceful view of Alsauria dissolved to black, replaced with the image of a dark, intimidating figure. "I am Third Magistrate Augris of the Mokra Order."
The commander didn't sound the least bit intimidated, however. "Commander Chakotay, of the Federation starship Voyager."
"May I assume you're seeking permission to conduct business with us?"
"No. Some of my crewmembers have already been to the surface. We've lost contact with them."
That explains why he sounded tense earlier. Tom had a feeling things were going to get worse before they got better.
Augris didn't look the least bit surprised by Chakotay's information. "I see. You must have been unaware of our regulations. I'll transfer a complete copy for future reference."
"I have reason to believe they're being detained." There it was. Tom silently cursed himself for the accuracy of his own pessimism.
"Detained? That's possible. I'll look into it for you. I'll contact you shortly."
"Thank you." Chakotay closed the channel.
"He's not like any Mokra I've ever met," Neelix said suspiciously. "I can't believe he'd really help us."
Chakotay had to admit that his first impression of the magistrate could have been better, but Augris really hadn't said anything to indicate an ulterior motive. Despite his gut feeling, he had to give him the benefit of a doubt. "If there's any chance for a diplomatic solution we have to pursue it." Still, there was no sense in turning a blind eye. He moved to the command pit and began accessing the file of Mokra Order regulations. Studying their ordinance structure was always a good way to learn about a society, and the more he knew of their laws the better chance he had of getting the away team back. "In the meantime I want continuous scans of the surface. Standard search pattern."
"Aye, sir," the officer manning Ops acknowledged.
Tom was no Betazoid, but he had to agree with the Talaxian. There was just something about Augris that didn't fly right. Their away team was in trouble.
Leena listened uneasily to Chakotay's talk with the magistrate. She paled as she realized what scene probably lay behind Augris'
bureaucratic facade. She considered what Neelix had said about the
Mokra Order and felt her gut clutch. She had seen missions go wrong
before. A tight, simple plan could come suddenly undone by some trivial
error. The away team couldn't have been down there for more than an
hour; plenty of time for a quick stop and go, but not so long that they
would arouse much suspicion, much less a response. So how did the
Mokra Order know where to find them so quickly? What wasn't Augris
telling them? If they had the officers in custody they could be
interrogating them now, maybe even torturing them. Conversely, the
government might just want Voyager to think they had the crewmen. Leena couldn't see why, though, unless they were buying time to organize
a retaliatory attack. Perhaps Augris thought they would make some sort
of panicked call to their resistance contacts, and he wanted to discover
who those were? The worries chased themselves in circles around her
head. You're making this too complex, she admonished herself. There’d only been time for some snafu, no time for the plots within
plots she was imagining. What was logical?
The captain might have been spotted with a known rebel. If the Order was as paranoid as Neelix claimed she might even have been picked up for jaywalking. The reason really didn't matter: with such an active resistance on the planet, the authorities would likely link any unusual event to rebel activities, including a group of trespassing aliens. Interrogation of the away team would result for details of their association with the resistance. Of course, having absolutely no information to give them, the away team would be branded as uncooperative and subjected to punishment, even death. It was only a matter of how long the inquisition would last before that judgement was reached.
If she could trust this line of logic, what would become of the ship? Was Chakotay capable of captaining a Starfleet vessel? Granted, the man held his own as a leader. He had a friendly air of authority and a charisma that helped him bond with the crew. His ability to evade the Cardassians for such a long time with an antediluvian craft showed that he knew how to survive. He had even sacrificed his own ship to prevent Voyager's destruction. Chakotay had proved himself under Janeway's command, upholding Starfleet standards.
Still, that must have chafed him. He had been a Maquis captain. With no one to countermand him, why shouldn't he be a Maquis captain again? There were no Cardassians out here to fight, so perhaps the crew wouldn't notice the subtle shift away from Federation restraint. The Maquis were brash, bold and stubborn. Voyager was a single ship lost in the midst of unknown peoples. An overbold misstep could easily plunge the ship into more than they could handle. It had chilled her to listen to Chakotay negotiate with Augris. She just didn't trust his finesse and control the way she did the captain's. What would it be like to have to go through this sort of situation again and again, worrying whether Chakotay would take the decisive action rather than the wise one? Her mind dredged up case studies from her Advanced Tactical Strategies course at the academy. Decker, Hilton, Kirk, Sulu: all former ship commanders who flew in the face of Starfleet, making up their own rules whether or not the situation truly deserved it. She remembered how disturbed she was reading those case studies - more precisely, how often the captains escaped the review board with a minimal amount of punishment. Her professor had explained that times were different back then; starship captains were given more leeway in such command decisions because the Federation was still going through a delicate adolescence. That wasn't such the case anymore, though. Starfleet would be less forgiving of Chakotay's brand of leadership today, even barring the fact that he wasn't even a legitimate candidate to captain one of their ships.
And what would become of her? She could follow the line of command, obey orders, but how could she function in a crew that didn't hold her loyalty - if she even had a place at all, that is. Officers surround themselves with people they can trust. Usually that meant people who were like them, whose actions and words seemed right to the commander. How long would it take Chakotay to see her caution as cowardice, her reserve as arrogance?
The doors to the captain's office whooshed open, breaking Leena out of her trance. To her indignation fifteen minutes had elapsed since Commander Chakotay had severed communication with Augris, and already he had commandeered the captain's office.
He went straight to Ops. "Any progress, Harry?" Leena heard a genuine note of concern in his question.
"Not yet, Commander," came the grim reply. "We still haven't been able to pick up any kind of transponder signal from their communicators. The sensor net might be interfering with our scans."
"Do what you can, but keep trying. Augris will be coming aboard in less than two hours for a personal meeting. I'd feel a whole lot better about talking to him if I knew we could pull our people out of there in case things fall apart." He turned and looked stone-faced at Leena. "While we're on the subject, Lieutenant, assemble a security detail to escort the magistrate's party from Transporter Room 3 to the conference lounge. I've invited him aboard as a gesture of good faith, but I want an eye kept on him. I don't want him looking at anything he shouldn't see."
At least he was smart enough to worry about their visitor. "Aye, sir."
Leena reviewed Augris' transmission while making her selections. She didn't trust that shady looking figure. Her stand-by replacement could cover the bridge. Leena put her own name in the last entry, following Lt. Karlock's. She knew Karlock well, having worked extensively with him in the past. Karlock had a knack for catching details, even when it looked like he wasn't paying attention to what he was guarding. Tuvok would agree, nothing less than the best would be appropriate for this particular assignment.
Harry still had not located the away team by the time the
magistrate arrived. Uneasily, Leena looked on as Chakotay greeted
Augris. The official seemed to ignore his surroundings, but she
distrusted his arrogant air of nonchalance. Chakotay seemed not to
notice the way the official walked around the room as if he owned it.
"I know we can work out an arrangement that your superiors will find reasonable," Chakotay said congenially. "As you say, I'm sure this has all been a misunderstanding."
"I truly hope so, Commander." Augris continued to lazily scan the room, seemingly not paying attention to anything in particular, including Leena and Karlock. Then he looked evenly at Chakotay. "Tell me, Commander, if your Federation is as open-minded as you claim, perhaps you can explain the presence of your guards in this discussion? I'm beginning to get the impression you don't trust me."
Chakotay's lips tightened. Of course, Neelix had said the Mokra Order was very paranoid. "Of course not, Magistrate. This is Lieutenant Calloway, our head of security on Voyager. Ship's protocol dictates that she be present during all diplomatic affairs."
"And what of him?" Augris threw an intimidating glance at Karlock, but the guard did not react. "What rationalization do you have to explain his presence?"
"Mr. Karlock is Ambassador Neelix's personal guardian."
The Talaxian decided to contribute his own voice to the commander's falsehood. "That's right, and I must insist that he stay. I'm sure you can appreciate the desire to feel protected, having brought your own attendant."
Augris' eyes flicked reflexively to his bodyguard, then afforded himself a hint of a smile. "That's understandable, I suppose. However, that does not change the fact that you have surrounded me with your sentinels, Commander."
"I would hardly call Lieutenant Calloway and the ambassador's escort 'surrounded', Magistrate."
Augris looked down his nose at the first officer. "Really, Commander, I won't stand to be mocked or insulted. I came here in the interests of helping you find your missing comrades, nothing more. If you do not intend to afford me the respect I deserve, perhaps I should take my leave of you."
Chakotay frowned. It seemed that Augris was taking full advantage of their situation. The magistrate well knew how important it was for them to recover the away team, and that he was their only source of assistance. "Surely we could work out some type of compromise?"
Augris sat there feigning serious contemplation of Chakotay's appeal for a minute before responding. "The ambassador may keep his assistant, but the woman must leave the room. I could never trust a woman to keep a conversation confidential."
Leena felt her cheeks burn with fury, but checked herself before she could say anything to antagonize the magistrate. She reminded herself that tolerance for the cultural beliefs of alien races was one of the tenets of Starfleet. Despite his chauvinistic attitude, Augris was a guest, and one who knew the whereabouts of Captain Janeway and Lieutenant Tuvok. Leena was afraid, though, of what holding such a bargaining chip would mean.
Chakotay looked at her sternly. She could only guess what was running through his mind. He couldn't seriously consider Augris' suggestion. At the very least he should comment on Augris' unhealthy, sexist attitude toward women.
The commander stood up, not giving Augris even a sideways glance, and faced her. "It looks like I'll have to ask you to leave the room, Lieutenant."
A muscle in Leena's jaw twitched. The commander wasn't putting up much of a fight to keep her there. He had chosen the quick fix over caution, without a hint of disapproval. She could tell that Augris was up to something, but it wouldn't do any of them a bit of good if she wasn't there to find out. "Sir, I wouldn't advise that course of action."
"We'll be all right, Lieutenant. You have your orders." His face was set and cold, but his eyes flashed a sincere apology.
Leena scowled, ignoring his olive branch. "Yes, sir." Sending a commanding look to Karlock, she made her way out. Leena caught Augris' leering grin and shot him a withering look. If only she'd had a phaser handy, she would have shot him with that, too.
The minutes ticked by. Leena gnawed on the bitter pill Augris had fed her. He'd played her and Commander Chakotay for suckers, and he delighted in letting her know it, too. He had practically dared her to defy the commander's orders, knowing full well that it would provide him more ammunition in the negotiation for the away team. Leena imagined he wouldn't scruple to drive a dirty bargain if he could let down his official face.
Still, the commander had capitulated too much to Augris. He could have made some excuse to keep her in there. He probably could have found a way to keep Lieutenant Tuvok. It reinforced the idea that Chakotay hadn't accepted her as chief of security, even temporarily. She glared at the conference room doors. Not knowing what was going on behind the bulkhead drove her mad. What rash concessions might the commander make? Or would he push the magistrate too hard, dooming the away team?
Leena almost jumped when the doors snapped open. The magistrate had concluded the meeting and decided to make his leave, his bodyguard in tow. Like finely tuned machinery, Leena's team stepped into position and led the way back to the transporter room. Leena noticed the magistrate's look of smug satisfaction as they passed and her anxiety climbed another notch. Whatever happened in there, it seemed that Augris had them in a corner. She stopped Karlock as he exited the conference room. "Let's take a trip to the security office, Karlock. I need to know everything that went on in there."
Leena felt the muscles between her shoulders clench as she walked
back onto the bridge. Somehow it didn't sound right. The room was
mostly quiet, save for the padding of hurried footfalls and the low
tones of rushed conversations. The trilling of an electronic control
pierced her ears through the relative silence, making her flinch.
She quickly assessed the bridge. Tom sat at the navigation console looking completely stressed. A couple of engineers milled about, busily attending to minor repairs. Ensign Harry Kim and Neelix, the ship's morale officer, looked busiest of all in the oddest of collaborations, totally absorbed by the data on a science console. Commander Chakotay, she noted with a twinge of bitterness, was nowhere on the bridge. She could only guess what he was up to. As she watched the activity, irritation suddenly stabbed her. She had no tasks assigned her.
Reassuming the tactical station, she immediately queried the computer for the commander's location. As she suspected, he had returned to the captain's office. He sure has some nerve. Does he think no one's noticed his little manoeuvre? The chair is still warm, as they say. She would have to enlighten the commander about this oversight, but first she had to attend to a higher priority. She quietly made her way behind the bridge to the captain's ready room and pressed the chime. After a brief eternity, the door slid open.
Commander Chakotay sat cross-legged on the floor over in the captain's lounge, gathering up an assortment of trinkets placed in front of him. Leena had long since heard about the commander's meditation rituals. 'Vision quests' as it had been put. She wondered what sort of visions he was actually looking for, though. The fact that he had already made himself at home in the ready room didn't inspire any reassurances about his intentions.
Chakotay finished packing up his spirit bundle before focusing his attention on the entrant. "Hello, Lieutenant." He pushed himself into a standing position and presented her with a congenial smile. "I trust that our new 'friend' the magistrate has left?"
"Yes, sir. Magistrate Augris and his attendant were escorted to the transporter room and beamed off the ship without incident."
The commander sat down behind the captain's desk and sank into the back of the chair until it tilted. "Thank you, Lieutenant. That's one burden I'm glad to get rid of, at least for the moment."
"Permission to speak, sir?" Leena ventured. The mention of Augris' name brought back a memory of their unspoken disagreement. Might as well have that out now.
Chakotay's smile evaporated. He suspected what she wanted to talk about. He shifted his weight and casually leaned over the captain's desk, folding his hands in front. "What's on your mind?"
"To be candid, sir, I think you should have tried bargaining with Augris a little more before throwing me out of the conference room. He had an agenda for that meeting."
"I know you're weren't happy with that decision, Lieutenant, but I didn't think it would be wise to provoke him. We couldn't have afforded the time to forge a compromise if he had walked out. If anything, it was probably better that we got him to stay. After you left he started making veiled accusations that we have been in league with the local resistance movement. I would guess that he's been interrogating the away team the entire time also."
"Yes, sir, I know. Lieutenant Karlock already debriefed me on the meeting. That raises another question, though. Since we now have a reasonable idea of what Magistrate Augris is up to, why does the bridge look as though the captain's already back on board?"
"We're doing all we can at the moment, Lieutenant. If you've got any ideas for a rescue plan, I'd be happy to entertain them."
"Not at the moment, sir, but if there's any way to get the captain off the planet you'll be the first person I see. You can count on that."
Chakotay stiffened at the subtly threatening tone. He nodded, perhaps finally understanding the cause for her attitude. "Dismissed, Lieutenant."
Leena pivoted and marched out of the office. If the commander couldn't provide her with any useful work, she'd just have to find it on her own.
On to Chapter 4...
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