Admiral Blye had their full attention.
Together they leaned forward into the table, like partners in a tensely choreographed dance. Well-practiced in spatial harmony, his elbow just barely brushed against hers as they folded their arms in front of their chests. Seven years was a lot to unpack, and they'd been at it for months. They were exhausted and, putting it honestly, a little traumatized from recounting their life in the Delta Quadrant. Chakotay knew that most of this preamble was protocol, a cursory inspection before the dissection, as it were. And as he watched the Admiral shift uneasily in his seat, he wondered if the knife had just been unveiled.
"For your privacy," the Admiral began, "we've decided to speak with you both alone, apart from your officers. The Doctor, Ensign Kim, Lieutenants Paris and Torres, and Lieutenant Commander Tuvok will meet individually with Admiral En'Kor." Then with some levity, he added, "...if all goes well, they'll be dismissed by week's end."
"It was my understanding, Admiral, that we would be talking about our involvement with the Quarra today," Kathryn's firm voice took on a pedantic tone.
"And we will," the Admiral nodded stiffly, clearly uncomfortable with the intensity of Voyager's command team bearing down on him.
"Any fraternization that may have occurred during our time in that sector happened without any knowledge of Federation policies and regulations." She raised her chin defiantly, "Our minds were altered, suspending any memories related to Starfleet and Voyager."
As Kathryn spoke, an image of Jaffen floated through Chakotay's mind.
"Alright," the Admiral acquiesced. "So, let's start there. Computer," Blye picked up his PADD and thumbed over the screen. "Begin recording." After dating and coding the log, he had everyone state their name and rank for the record before moving on. "Your PADDs have all relevant information, logs, sensor data, operations and tactical information from the point of your away mission, Commander, that commenced on star date 54572." Blye looked at Chakotay while gesturing to the table in front of them, and simultaneously he and Kathryn reached for their PADDs. "As always," Blye offered a weary smile. "Let's start at the beginning."
And so, they did; Chakotay outlined his away mission and its objectives. Kathryn recounted the moment Voyager encountered the subspace mine, the crew falling ill with tetryon poisoning and their subsequent evacuation. Slowly the atmosphere in the briefing room shifted as tensions dissolved and all thoughts of fraternization faded. It took the rest of that day and most of the next to review the crew's experience with the Quarra. Humouring the Admiral's attention to detail, they suffered frequent interruptions to answer leading questions, which often led to speculations as they indulged him with their insight.
The afternoon sun was high in the sky, sending beams of sunlight cascading through the windows, painting the table with a blinding glare. Kathryn had just finished affirming the Doctor's report detailing the techniques used to alter the crews' memories and the methods used to revert the changes. "Fascinating," Blye murmured, clearly astonished. "While completely unethical, the Quarran's use of this technology was purely self-advancing." He continued, "But if it was to fall into the wrong hands..."
Chakotay finished his thought. "It could have devastating effects."
Beside him, Kathryn nodded while forging ahead, "I suspect Commander Chakotay recovered much quicker than the rest of us because he only underwent the initial engrammatic resequencing, where the rest of us received daily inoculations of memory suppressant.
"Which is why you, Commander," Blye looked across the table, squinting through the rays of sunlight, "assumed command of Voyager first. Relieving your ECH on star date 54622.4."
"Yes," Chakotay answered.
Admiral Blye nodded as he rubbed his hands together, forcing his knuckles to crack unnervingly. Sitting up a little straighter, Chakotay watched the Admiral tap the PADD in front of him; a cut was coming.
"First Officers Log Star Date 54624.6." The sound of his voice filled the room. "With the help of the Quarrans, repairs to the ship are underway, and we plan to depart as soon as they are completed. As a gesture of good faith, the Quarran ambassador has supplied us with a generous supply of Tylium, with hopes that it may be a viable power source for the ship. The crew is slowly returning to duty. The process of resequencing their memory engrams is taking considerable time and, in some cases causing significant distress, which has resulted in a slower but necessary reintegration process. I am told that Kathryn is doing well and is expected to return to duty active tomorrow, at which time I will hand over command of the ship."
And there it was. Chakotay swallowed tightly. In an official log, he addressed the Captain by her first name, with only a hint of her rank—a first cut indeed, into an already deep wound.
There was no mistake, she heard it too, and he could feel the tension radiating from her. Desperately he wanted to look at her, to offer some sort of silent apology but knew that would have even bigger implications; and besides, she hadn't looked at him in months. So instead, he kept his eyes focused on the table in front of him, but in his periphery, he noticed the subtle shake of her head as Admiral Blye let the log playback lapse.
"Computer, halt recording," he ordered, taking their proceedings offline. He picked up the PADD next to him.
"Regulation Four. Paragraph 3. Fraternization amongst Starfleet personnel can have detrimental effects on operational principles, posing threats to security, morale, cohesion and discipline." He glanced up at them before continuing. "Paragraph 4. Fraternization amongst Starfleet personnel risks an adverse effect on the chain of command. All commanding officers are prohibited from engaging in personal relationships that may be considered inappropriate, including but not limited to those of an intimate nature." He set the PADD to his side and looked over to Kathryn. "Being addressed by your given name, Captain, by a subordinate could be interpreted as a violation of Starfleet's code of conduct regulations." He looked back to Chakotay. "I have met with every member of your crew, read every report and listened to nearly all your logs; research, operations," he rolled his hand in midair, "navigation, tactical, and other than the assumptions of a few misguided crewmembers, this was the first hint of a conduct issue I uncovered, until…" he reached for his PADD, and Kathryn's head snapped to attention.
"First Officer's Personal Log," Chakotay's voice surrounded them. "Star date 54627.1."
"That's private," Kathryn raised her voice to be heard over the recording, "and has no bearing on these proceedings!"
"The transition has been hard... for us all. I see it when I look at the crew, at the sadness and fear in their eyes. And I see it when I look at Kathryn." The tone of his recorded voice softened. "I know, right now, she's grieving. Not only for the life she had built for herself on Quarra but for everything else she's lost. I can only imagine how difficult her memory resequencing has been as she comes to terms with life onboard the ship again. And as much as I might try to help ease her burden and the pain of her sacrifice, I know she'll refuse. Kathryn's pride in her convictions has always been admirable, but ….those convictions are damning her to a life of solitude, distancing her from the crew ...and from me."
"Freed from the weight of her responsibility, I watched her experience an unrestrained happiness I haven't seen in years. A happiness that I'm certain she will never allow herself on board Voyager, as much as I might hope. It's clear that she needs companionship, which is the first thing she let go of when we got stuck out here in the Delta Quadrant and the first thing she found on Quarra." Chakotay sighed. "As difficult as it may be, perhaps it's time I encourage her, as her friend, to seek out other meaningful connections for the sake of her wellbeing."
Chakotay hadn't lifted his eyes from the same glistening spot on the table, but he could feel her eyes on him and could imagine the look of suppressed shock on her face.
"Perhaps it's time that I take a step back, so we can both find some semblance of fulfillment—if not happiness."
Admiral Blye danced his finger over his PADD, and Kathryn's voice filled the room within seconds. "Captain's personal log."
"Stop!" She turned on Blye, slamming her hand down on the table.
"Star date 54628.5. I've been back onboard Voyager for six days, reclaiming command of the ship this morning." There was a long, thoughtful pause. "It's been difficult," followed by a tremulous sigh. "I'm finding it hard to come to terms with everything that has happened. I'm grateful to be back on the ship and to have my people back, but my time on Quarra (willingly or not) awoke something inside me, forcing me to realize just how lonely I've been."
"Disinhibited, I'm not at all surprised by how quickly I settled into a new life or how eagerly I was swept off my feet. And, I must admit, I'm a bit envious of that Kathryn, freed from the ties that bind me to my commission and this monastic life I have created. But I was only a fraction of myself ...and I belong here, with someone else."
Chakotay's eyes widened as he listened.
"He asked me today if I was sorry that he came looking for me…." Kathryn's voice broke with emotion, and there was another long pause before she sniffled. "Chakotay grounds me; he brings peace and a sense of safety to my life, and looking back, that comfort was always missing on Quarra."
"I remember the struggles I faced when we entered the Delta Quadrant; how to Captain this crew, how to support them and guide them while maintaining my distance and control, and I know now that some things just aren't feasible for them or me. Perhaps it's time I re-evaluate my perception of Starfleet conduct regulations. Given our circumstances, are they really necessary, or am I hanging on to ideals that will realistically go unchecked? Goodness knows we've had to bend to the Delta Quadrant on many occasions, and," the chirp of a comm badge signalled the end of her entry.
The colour was high in her cheeks as she gazed up into a beam of sunlight that hung in the air. Emotion pooled in her eyes, a blink away from release. Chakotay stared, incredulous. The urge to touch her was strong, but instead, he laced his fingers together on the table in front of him and watched as her pulse fluttered in her neck while he considered what she had said, what she was implying.
"I find it remarkable that these logs were entered on the same day," Admiral Blye commented softly. "Forgive me, Captain," he looked remorseful as he passed a look between them, "Commander." And Chakotay watched as Blye fidgeted with his PADD. "I-We had to know, and based on your reactions here today, I am satisfied that your relationship, while incredibly complex, did not breach any conduct regulations." He sat back in his chair, "I am so terribly sorry, I.."
Kathryn held up her hand, dismissing the Admiral's feeble apology while silently pleading for a moment to collect herself.
"Computer. Resume recording." The Admiral's voice had regained its official tone. "Commander, do you have any reason, to your knowledge, why you would refer to your Captain in such a casual manner?
Defeated, Chakotay shook his head, and remembering they were back on the record, he answered, "No."
"I see." Blye glanced sympathetically at Kathryn. "Is it fair to say that memory lapses occurred even after engram resequencing?"
Furrowing his brow, Chakotay answered truthfully, "Yes."
"Would it also be fair to say that because you were on a first-name basis with Captain Janeway while on Quarra? That this slip may have resulted from a memory lapse?"
Sitting up straighter, he considered the Admiral's rationale, "I suppose it's possible."
Blye looked down at the PADD in front of him and then moved on without another word on conduct or fraternization. "I've read the report from Lt. Torres, the Tylium was unsuitable and could not be converted to a usable energy source for Voyager," he thumbed over the screen.
Beside him, Kathryn found her voice. "That's right. But we were able to trade it for Dilithium at a trading post in the next sector."
"And you departed Quarran space on star date 54627?"
Chakotay cleared his throat. "Correct."