_

_

Written
24th, 25th October 2016

 

"Are you sure you're ok, you look a little green," Kathryn asked.

Tuvok tried to raise his eyebrows but she had a firm grasp of his face, almost like she was framing it with her hands. "Of course I do, my blood is green."

"Oh," Kathryn blushed, "my bad!"

Chakotay tried to get up but pain ripped through his leg, bringing a scream out of him.

Kathryn swung around in surprise. "What is it?" she asked frantically. "Oh god, it's my hair isn't it? I knew I should have used the Coffee Nut method."

"My leg is broken," Chakotay muttered between gritted teeth. "And when don't you?"

Kathryn hurried down to the middle section to reach him, the stairwell groaned at the sudden movement so she had to remain on the steps. "Hang on," she told him.

"There they are!" Neelix shouted up to Tom. They quickly climbed down the steps, which he was sure was swaying the breeze.

"Oh Peekix, help me with Tuvok," Kathryn said in relief, quickly returning to Tuvok's side.

Neelix was momentarily put off, "Neelix."

"Who cares?" Kathryn waved him off.

"So rude," Neelix grumbled, but still he leaned over to help her bring Tuvok to his feet.

Tom squeezed by them all, "I'll get Chakotay."

Neelix and Kathryn guided Tuvok up the last of the steps and into the tunnel, right in time as another weapon's discharge shook the entire shaft. Rocks supporting it began to crumble away, the joints connecting the stairs to the shaft walls snapped from the strain. With it the middle section dropped like a trap door, leaving Chakotay clinging to life with only his fingers.

"Get out of here Paris before the whole thing comes down!" he shouted up at his wannabe rescuer.

Tom shook his head stubbornly. "I intend to, after I get you out of there." He edged closer to the edge carefully.

"You get on those stairs they'll collapse. We'll both die," Chakotay stammered.

"Yeah? But on the other hand, if I save your butt, your life belongs to me," Tom smirked. "Isn't that some kind of Indian custom?"

Chakotay shook his head, "there's more than one tribe."

"Is that a yes?" Tom said once he was finally in arms reach of him. He reached out his arm to clasp onto him, all while clinging to the shaky rail with his other. "You'd rather die than let me be the one to rescue you?"

"Fine, be a fool," Chakotay grunted. He dared to let his right arm go to grab his shoulder. "At least I'll take you with me."

With some shaky maneuvering, Tom managed to pull him up from the section, all while Chakotay hobbled on one arm, his arms wrapped around his shoulders and neck.

"Isn't there some Indian trick where you can turn yourself into a bird and..." Tom asked.

"Save your ignorant crap for when I'm not in choking position," Chakotay muttered.

Tom took it in good stride, he chuckled to himself.

They cleared the stairs, reaching the tunnel. It seemed to be the final straw for that flight of stairs, it snapped immediately and tumbled down the deep shaft.

Voyager:
The EMH stood over Chakotay, hovering a regenerator over his leg while he sat slouched on the biobed. His other patients still looked a bit groggy, but were sore free.

Kathryn stood around with a cup in hand, trying desperately in vain to catch up on the coffee she missed.

"Bridge to Janeway," Rollins said.

Kathryn was in the middle of a long sip, she quickly swallowed it. Unfortunately it went down the wrong way, making her splutter. "Damn it, I'll kill him," she managed to grumble in between coughs. "What?"

"Sorry Captain, two alien ships are approaching the Array."

"I really hope it's not the Hockeehehe alien, I'm still two cups behind," Kathryn said before hurrying out. "Set a course for the station then, I'll be right there."

Chakotay took that as a cue as well, he slid off the bed. "We should get back to our ship."

"But..." the Doctor protested.

Jessie wasn't too keen on that idea either, "wait, I'm not going out there looking like this." She gestured at the pale blue pyjama looking thing the Ocampans had given her, which she had insisted on tearing sleeves off and other places to look less scruffy.

"I'm sure there's a clothes shop somewhere on route to the transporter room," Harry sniggered, also getting up. In fact everyone was.

"Can we be vain later? Marquis ships don't have a dress code," Chakotay said.

"Yeah that's why she probably won't want to go back," James said.

"Wait, I strongly advice you to rest. I will not be held responsible for any consequences," the Doctor complained as they all filed to the door.

Jessie looked at the Ensign strangely, "when the hell did you get changed into a uniform?"

"Gotta go!" Harry scampered out. She chased after him.

The Doctor reached the door to hopefully stop them from escaping, only James was left though and he was already passing. "Hey, is the crew always this difficult?"

"You tell me Doc, I've only been here ten minutes," James answered as he left too.

"But... someone needs to turn me off," the Doctor complained to an empty room. "I really got to say that first before anything else," he sighed.

The Bridge:
Kathryn, Harry, Tuvok and Tom rushed out of the turbolift. Harry and Tuvok took their stations.

"Both vessels have armed their phaser banks, shields are up," Tuvok reported.

"What kind of ships do we have then?" Kathryn asked whilst making her way to the centre of the Bridge. Tom followed to stand nearby.

"Not sure Captain, they look like giant wasps flying backwards," Rollins replied.

Kathryn stared at him blankly until he slid away out of her sight, only she followed him. His only escape was the turbolift. "I swear I authorised everyone, why did I get all the fruit loops?"

Tom bit his lip to avoid laughing, "gee, I dunno."

"Put the wasps on screen," Kathryn rolled her eyes. Harry complied. She grimaced at the sight of the two ships which were an ugly yellow colour, with a vertical nose marking the front of the ship. "They look more like iddy fruit flies. Just in case, get the shields up and weapons ready Tuvok. Red Alert."

"The lead ship is hailing us, Captain," Tuvok said.

"On screen," Kathryn ordered. The ugly ship was instantly replaced by a close up of Jabin scowling at them. "Oh, not much better," she commented.

"Have you come to investigate the entity's strange behaviour too, Captain?" he asked.

Kathryn sneered at his gruff tone. "What's wrong? Did the Caretaker shoot some sand into your hovel and none of your manly men have any idea what a brush is?" She looked on in disgust, "though with your hair that's very likely."

"Stop trying to sound clever you old hag," Jabin growled.

Everyone froze, the consoles were even cold to the touch. The only sound was Kathryn's grinding teeth. "I'm sorry that wasn't clear. Did you say please shoot me, Voyager. I'm not one to ignore a request like that. Tuvok."

"Captain," Tuvok dared to protest. "We only came here to talk to the Caretaker."

"I'm sure there's time for both," Kathryn said.

Jabin cut in as menacingly as he could manage despite icicles forming on his own ship. "I won't allow you to board the Array. If it's a fight you want..."

"I'd hardly call it a fight," Kathryn scoffed. "Look, we don't care about you and your stupid wigs and fake orange tan. We only want to get home. Once we convince the Caretaker I won't have to see your ugly sexist mug again, and you get to live. Everyone wins."

"No, you dare challenge us!" Jabin snarled.

Kathryn sighed impatiently. "The only one doing that is your imagined masculinity, now shoo."

Tuvok meanwhile gave up and facepalmed.

"The only thing that is imagined is your ships ever returning home," Jabin snapped back. "I won't let a woman with your technology anywhere near the Array."

"Have you ever wondered why women scare you so much? Did mummy not give you enough hugs?" Kathryn said with fake sympathy. Jabin slammed his hand on his station to cut her off. Kathryn thought it was amusing, "nailed it."

"Captain, they are powering weapons and you started that one," Tuvok said.

Kathryn shrugged, "he came here to start a fight, they always do." The bridge lightly shook. "Fire phasers, evasive pattern delta four."

 

Voyager veered off to avoid a couple of strikes, then returned the favour as it swept past. The Federation starship dwarfed the attacking ships a few times over, its shields shrugged off the hits it did get.

The equally tiny Marquis ship danced around most of shots thrown their way.

 

"Shields holding at 90%," Jessie reported.

Chakotay glanced over his shoulder at her, "concentrate fire on the closest ship's shield array." She nodded.

"Janeway to Chakotay. Tuvok and I are going to visit the old man. Can you hold off these overcompensating ninnies?"

Chakotay smiled, just barely warding off a snigger. He wasn't the only one, the entire population of the Marquis cockpit were trying not to laugh. "Sure, no problem Captain."

"Good."

"Wait, does that entire ship stop entirely while she is gone?" James asked.

Jessie shrugged, "I'm more confused about Tuvok going with her."

"Maybe we should've updated them," Chakotay muttered.

"I'm surprised you even allowed James to come back," B'Elanna teased him.

"Meh, after Janeway I can handle anyone," Chakotay said quietly.

 

Kathryn reluctantly turned to Tom. "Mr Calais, take the helm."

Tom stared at her blankly, "you're doing this on purpose, aren't you?"

"Don't make me change my mind," Kathryn smirked at him.

"Yes ma'am," Tom smiled as he hurried forward. Before he could take the helm he was lightly slapped. "This isn't crunch time?" he whimpered.

"Barely," Kathryn muttered. She fast walked to the turbolift. Once she reached it Tuvok left his station to join her. "Maintain transporter lock on us, Tim. If things get dicey emergency beam out."

"Aye Captain," Harry responded, pointing a smug look in Tom's direction.

"Kiss ass," Tom chuckled.

 

The strange farm simulation was still running, only night had fallen. It seemed so much quieter than their last visits. An occasional dog would bark in the distance.

Tuvok and Kathryn followed his scans until he stopped beside the house. "The data processing system is behind this wall, Captain," he reported.

The silence broke with the sound of the banjo's wires being occasionally plucked.

"You take care of that," Kathryn said.

Tuvok nodded and he walked away, leaving her alone. She kept going in the same direction to the front of the house. On the front porch the old man sat, staring into space, his fingers hovering over the instrument. It didn't take long for him to stop her. He weakly laughed.

"Well, you're nothing if not persistent."

Kathryn bit her tongue, she had a job to do. Her voice softened as she crouched down beside him, "we need you to send us back home."

"That isn't possible. I've barely got enough strength to complete my own tasks," the Caretaker said.

"You have to seal the conduits before you die," Kathryn said.

"If I don't, the Kazon will steal their water," the Caretaker said desperately, his voice sounded defeated. "But in a few years when the Ocampa's energy runs out, it won't matter. They'll have to come to the surface and they won't be able to survive."

Kathryn ran through everything she knew in her head, she could only come up with one theory. "You're the reason why their planet cannot produce rain, aren't you? That's your debt to them?"

His tired sigh was her answer. "We're explorers from another galaxy. We had no idea that our technology would be so destructive to their atmosphere." His voice filled with guilt, "two of us were chosen to stay behind and care for them."

Kathryn's face lit up a touch, "there's another one like you around?"

"No, not anymore," the Caretaker groaned. "No, she went off to look for more interesting places."

"This still isn't adding up for me. Why do you keep bringing ships here, stab them with needles and then leave the ones who are infected by it to die on Ocampa?" Kathryn demanded. "If you ask me that's far worse than some accident."

"Oh, they didn't die of an illness," the Caretaker waved off any concerns like they were nothing. "They died because they were incompatible."

Kathryn frowned, disgusted by his attitude. "What?"

"I've been searching the galaxy for a compatible bio molecular pattern. Now, in some individuals I have found cellular structures that were similar but..." the Caretaker explained.

Kathryn jumped to her feet, her eyes flared. "You were trying to breed with us? Against our will. What the hell is wrong with you, you dirty old git?"

Despite his power the Caretaker still cowered under her fury. "I needed someone to replace me."

"The three you dumped on Ocampa were barely adults, two of them were male," Kathryn continued to angrily rant. "You mentioned the other you was a female so I'm not being prejudice or anything." She frowned, "why do I care what a perverted rapist thinks?"

"You're judging me based on your species' moral code, please listen, I'll explain," the Caretaker stuttered.

"Yes because ours is better, sheesh," Kathryn grunted. "What kind of civilised species thinks that this is ok? How the hell does Kim and the others have different cellular structures? We're the same damn species, what the fu..."

"Voyager to Janeway," Harry's voice intruded.

The Caretaker retreated back to his banjo and looked away from her. It angered her more. "Oh sure, one of your victims right there, shame spiral." She tapped her commbadge. "Go ahead."

"We've got problems here."

 

Voyager shot at the tiny ship chasing closely behind them, passing a gigantic ship ten times the size of them and heavily built. The shots it fired at them looked far damaging than the smaller ships'.

 

"The Kazon got some big backup," Harry reported.

Kathryn grumbled a bit, "of course they did. I need more time, can you hold them off a little longer."

"Uh, we'll try."

 

Chakotay watched as the massive ship pounded Voyager relentlessly. Their own ship shook from the smaller ships' weapons fire.

"They've targeted Voyager's weapons," Jessie said.

"Neither us have enough fire power to stop that ship," B'Elanna added on with frustration.

Chakotay quickly made up his mind. "I'll set a collision course." B'Elanna looked at him in surprise. "The guidance system is disabled so I'll have to pilot the ship manually." He turned his chair slightly to address her. "Get the crew ready to beam to Voyager. Taylor, drop shields for transport."

B'Elanna wordlessly obeyed and exited her seat. Jessie did as well in a hurry, only hesitating slightly at the doorway to wait for James. He pressed a few things on his panel before he was able to follow them.

"Paris, my crew's coming over. Tell one of your crackerjack Starfleet transporter chiefs to keep a lock on me," Chakotay said as he worked quickly. "I'm going to try and take some heat off your tail."

 

Tom smiled, "no problem. But don't think for one second this makes us even. Your ass is still mine." He flinched as soon as he said it. "Life, your life is mine."

"Nobody else but you cares, Tom."

Harry laughed quietly. "We'll have to beam them in between shots, lower the shields for brief bursts, we'll need an ace pilot to avoid getting hit. It's gonna get rough. Think you can handle it?"

"I like a challenge," Tom grinned.

 

Kathryn groaned into her hand tiredly, her wits had long since reached the end and fallen off. "Let me get this straight. The Ocampa are gonna have to leave their city anyway, regardless of what you do here. So you can't spare five minutes to send our two ships back because?"

"It's complicated," the Caretaker said, drumming the banjo again.

"If you say that again I'm gonna smash that thing over your head. Assuming you have one," Kathryn muttered.

The Caretaker stared at her blankly, "you are a very difficult creature."

"Oh I'm sorry," Kathryn huffed sarcastically. "I guess I'm still stuck on that violating three of my people, then leaving them to die when it doesn't go your way thing. I'm easy to please like that."

The Caretaker did look a little guilty at her remark. "I needed someone who'd understand the enormous responsibility of caring for the Ocampa. Only my offspring could do that, and if your three crewmembers were truly compatible they would not have suffered, or known at all. I didn't mean any harm, I'm sorry."

"I'm still amazed that was your first idea, and it didn't occur to you to let the Ocampa take care of themselves," Kathryn said.

"They're children," the Caretaker brushed it off with a weak chuckle.

"What the hell does that mean?" Kathryn snapped. "Is that all we mere humanoids are to you? That makes your breeding plan so much more creepy."

"No, no," the Caretaker grunted. "They're childlike, dependant and weak willed..."

Kathryn shook her head, "probably because you spoiled them, catered to their every need. This is like a parent complaining about a kid having a tantrum because you missed out one thing from their Christmas list, despite the hundreds of presents they got already. You brought this on yourself."

"If your plan is to convince me to send you home, you really should send someone else," the Caretaker said.

"What, clearly you need some harsh truths here. The Ocampa will never evolve into so called grown ups until they face some challenges. Their strength will come from how they deal with it. Don't get me wrong, it was noble to come to their aid after your mistake. But really, until you stop holding their hand they'll never be able to walk on their own," Kathryn said.

The Caretaker's face turned sullen, the realisation finally sunk in.

 

B'Elanna hurried out of the turbolift, frantic with worry. The rest of her Marquis comrades followed her a little less so.

"He's getting too close," Harry warned everyone.

Tom glanced up at the viewscreen, the Marquis ship was little more than a dot compared to the Kazon ship it was gunning for. "We should get him out of there."

"Not yet!" Chakotay's voice shouted.

Another hit engulfed the rear of the ship in flames.

 

Inside Chakotay watched the giant ship looming in closer, all while his bridge filled with smoke.

"You're breaking up. We're beaming you up," Harry's voice said.

"No wait," Chakotay snapped.

He waited a bit longer. Once he was close enough to see blurred figures running by the windows of the ship he shouted, "now!"

His form dematerialised barely a second before it slammed into the enemy.

 

Everyone on the bridge had stopped what they were doing to watch. A large portion of the Kazon ship erupted into a massive ball of flames. The strain of the collision knocked it off its course, making it lurch to one side.

"Transporter Room Two, do you have him?" Tom asked.

"They've got me," Chakotay's relieved voice answered.

 

Tuvok carefully approached the tense encounter between Kathryn and the Caretaker. Neither of them were speaking, and from the look on the latter's face, Tuvok figured he was mulling things over.

"Captain. I can access the system to send us back to Federation space. It will though take several hours to activate," Tuvok said.

Kathryn seemed more somber than usual, he wasn't expecting it. "Unless you help us."

"I wish I could but I have very little time left," the Caretaker said, genuinely sympathetic. "I have initiated a self destruct program."

Kathryn's eyes sprung wide, "if you destroy this station, we'll have no way to get home."

"You were right about me coddling the Ocampa, but I cannot leave them at the mercy of the Kazon. If they gained control of this installation they will kill them all," the Caretaker explained. He looked at them frantically, "in minutes this will all be destroyed. You have to go, go now!"

 

The huge Kazon ship lurched further to one side, the fires raging inside spread further. Its engines on one side pushed it directly toward the Array. It smashed into one of the branches, destroying it completely and engulfing the rest of the ship in a blaze.

 

Inside the Array the farmhouse simulation flickered and faded away, replaced by a sparkling bright and futuristic looking Holodeck.

Kathryn and Tuvok looked around to where the Caretaker had been sitting. In the old man's place; a large shapeless creature pulsating purple.

"The Caretaker?" Tuvok questioned.

"I'm kinda worried about the three crewmembers he wrongly saw compatibility with, wow," Kathryn muttered. Tuvok's eyebrow shot up. She missed it and tapped her commbadge. "Voyager, what's going on out there?"

"The larger Kazon ship collided with the Array, Captain," Harry's voice replied.

"Are you all right?" Tom's thought to ask.

"Yes we are, stand by," Kathryn said.

"The self destruct program has been damaged," the blob said, his deep voice sounded muffled, echoed around the empty room. "This place must be destroyed. The Kazon will destroy them." As he spoke his form shrunk rapidly until he was the size of a small sponge. His body hardened into stone.

Kathryn approached cautiously and knelt down to pick him up. Tuvok crouched down beside her. "Shall I activate the programme to get us back?"

"And leave the Ocampa to fend themselves against those sexist, grubby in dire need of a bath hotheads? I don't think so," Kathryn replied.

"Captain, any action we take to protect them would affect the balance of power in this system," Tuvok explained. "The Prime Directive applies here."

"Does it? We've been involved the moment the Caretaker brought us here, whether we like it or not. Our presence here likely was the reason for the Kazon ship to crash and destroy the self destruct. Or without us the Kazon may have boarded the Array before he could use it," Kathryn said. She smiled warmly at her friend, "we can't run away now, we've got to fix this."

Tuvok recognised the stubborn look in her eye, there was no convincing her. All he could do was support her decision. He gave her an affirming nod.

 

Back on Voyager, Kathryn and Tuvok stepped out of the turbolift as the ship shook from a couple of tremors.

"Lieutenant Tuvok, ready the tricobalt devices," she ordered, taking her place at the centre of the Bridge.

"Aye Captain," Tuvok said.

Almost everyone looked around in confusion, not only unsure what was happening, but didn't have a clue what devices they were talking about.

"Open a channel to the big babies," Kathryn said.

"Channel open," Harry responded.

The viewscreen changed from one of the little ships flying toward them to Jabin clenching his jaw and fists, his face redder than usual. "Be warned Janeway, I have called for additional ships."

"Yes you big tough men always have to call in your mates to help beat up one person, it's very convincing," Kathryn mocked him, making him growl again.

James struggled not to laugh, "I definitely like her better than Chakotay."

"Watch it," Chakotay grumbled.

Kathryn continued before either of them could say anymore. "I thought I'd warn you to get outta here. I intend to destroy the station."

"What, you can't do that!" Jabin hissed.

"Oh Blabbin, dumbass," Kathryn said sweetly. "You're welcome to stick around and see for yourself, but I doubt you'll have time to do more than gawk." She gestured to cut him off. He was left to stew once the viewscreen went off.

The tremors continued. "They're increasing fire, shields are holding," Tuvok said.

"Move us to within four hundred kilometres of the station, Paris," Kathryn commanded.

B'Elanna looked around with her eyes wide in disbelief. "You're serious?"

"Yes ma'Captain," Tom stuttered.

"Wait, what do you think you're doing?" B'Elanna shouted as she charged towards the Captain until they were nose to nose. Kathryn didn't even flinch, but Chakotay did as he stood nearby at the helm, almost within punch range. "That thing is the only way we can get home. Maybe we can have somebody who isn't a wacked out overgrown kid decide our fates, that'd be nice."

Kathryn tried her best not to lash right back at her. "Fine, if you want to sacrifice the Ocampa so you can go right back to thug life, or more realistically jail, go right ahead."

"We can deal with the Kazon, we can secure the Array. There is though no other way home," B'Elanna ranted.

Kathryn rolled her eyes and walked off, angering her further.

"Their reinforcements are probably more of those big ships. We don't have anymore of our own to ram it with," James said.

"What kind of clown car ship is this? I'm not the only one here with a problem with her plan, am I?" B'Elanna grumbled, she lurched forward only to be stopped by Chakotay gently clasping her shoulder.

"It's the right thing to do," he said. She looked around, a few people looked hesitant, some agreed. Defeat took over her, she held her tongue.

"The tricobalt devices are ready," Tuvok said.

"We're in position," Tom said, swallowing the nervous lump in his throat.

Harry looked on helplessly with his eyes wide, hoping for a miracle that would stop this.

Kathryn stared ahead with a fiery gaze. "Fire!"

They all watched in stunned and awkward silence as two blue torpedoes shot forward toward the Array. Where one torpedo struck a brief blue light shone and vanished, the space around it contorted. Explosions rang out, its hull buckled and broke apart. Seconds later only tiny pieces remained.

The silence continued, only now what they had done truly hit them.

"The lead Kazon ship is hailing us," Harry said in a hoarse voice.

Kathryn's defiant and cocky demeanour had melted away, leaving only grief behind. She tried to hold it together. "On screen," her voice still cracked.

Once more Jabin appeared on the viewscreen, staring her down angrily. "You have made an enemy today." He got the last word as he cut them off immediately.

Kathryn didn't really feel up to responding anyway. At least this way he didn't know that.

"They are withdrawing Captain," Tuvok reported.

 

Smoke billowed out of every orifice around the room. The man lying on the ground had to crawl on his belly across the carpet to reach the closest door, with his t-shirt over his face. The door opened and he quickly scrambled inside. The door shut, sealing most of the smoke outside.

"Phew," the man groaned, muffled under his clothes. He first pulled down his jacket hood to his shoulders before moving the t-shirt back. All while grumbling swear words.

The scruffy haired ensign from Kathryn's previous ship strolled to the window, expecting to still see the giant Array and the ships battling it out. His eyes bugged out when the view wasn't even close to what he expected. Instead what greeted him was a purple cloud, with deep darkened patches that looked like a tunnel.

"Computer, what happened to the Array, and..." the man grunted.

A computer monitor fixed to the upper corner flickered on to show a replay of the Array's destruction, mostly zoomed into the point of impact. It slowed down so he could see it better. Anger filled every inch of him.

"Again Janeway? How are you doing this?" the man cried. "I'll get my revenge, and you won't see it coming, mark my wo..." The monitor decided it had enough and broke free from its restraints, conking him straight on the head.

 

****TO BE CONTINUED****

Part Six <<  >> Part Eight