Janeway faces a life-altering decision as an enemy emerges from the shadows.
Written by Julia and Tania
Edited by Kira
Produced by SaRa, MaquisKat and Coral
Released 29 Nov 2002
It was a magnificent summer day; not a cloud was in sight. A small feather blew in the crisp gentle breeze, hovering in mid-air for a few seconds before it slowly made its descent to the waters below. Having no wind to carry it to shore, the stray feather gently bobbed on the surface of the water.
The water of Lake George was as blue as the clear sky overhead; so much alike in hue that only the long range of hills in the distance defined the skyline. The large body of water was undisturbed, precisely reflecting the view above.
Kathryn Janeway walked with slow, cautious steps down the dock, holding on to the arms that were wrapped about her shoulders. "Is this really necessary?"
Chakotay grinned and leaned forward to make sure she couldn’t see out from under his hands covering her eyes. "Yes."
"Why can’t you just tell me what you’re up to?"
"You’ll see," he replied, enjoying every minute of torturing her insatiable curiosity. The reached the end of the dock, and Chakotay waited for a few seconds before he slowly removed his hands from in front of Kathryn’s eyes. "I know your birthday isn’t for another week, but since we’ll be back in San Francisco I decided to do it a little early."
She blinked repeatedly as her eyes adjusted to the light reflecting off the water. After a few seconds, her eyes came into focus and she saw a small sailboat tied to the end of the dock. She gasped. "Oh, Chakotay "
"I thought it was time we tried the real thing instead of a holodeck program."
He nodded. "It’s all yours."
Her eyes were lit up with excitement and she stepped forward to run her hand across the rail of the boat. She walked slowly along side it, taking in every detail, but froze when she saw the flowing letters painted on the bow. She slowly turned to face Chakotay, her expression awed.
"Now you’ll always have your own Voyager to captain," he smiled.
She shook her head in amazement. "It’s perfect."
"I can’t take all the credit. It was B’Elanna who gave me the idea."
"We’ll have to take it out before we leave."
He reached towards her and took her hand, pulling her away from the boat to face him. "Not so fast." She frowned. "There are two conditions first."
"First, you’ll have to take me on as a permanent First Mate."
"I wouldn’t have it any other way. What’s the second?"
He grinned. "No fraternization policies allowed."
She stepped forward and wrapped her arms around his neck, then kissed him. As she pulled away, she smiled. "Done."
Far away from the peaceful waters of Lake George, a silhouette lurked in the darkness. Mechanical movements drummed the air with a seemingly everlasting echo. Metal platings clapped against each other in rhythmic motion, grew louder, then faded again. A laser beam occasionally swept across the darkness in the room, briefly illuminating the face of Ankin Rotor.
A sadistic smile spread across his face as the energy continued to seep into him. He was encompassing drones at an incredible rate. Soon, very soon, the entire Constructive would be under his control. They would be nothing more than an extension of his mind, his body. Nothing more than fuel. And then, it would be time time for him to move one step closer to the end. His destiny.
Joyous laughter could be heard resonating through the calm air from a ferry sailing idly on the waters of Lake George. Aboard were a large proportion of Voyager‘s crew and their friends and family. Having made reservations, the crew were on the top deck of the ferry observing a very special occasion—Miral Paris’ second birthday.
A typical two year-old, Miral was as active as ever. She ran speedily across the deck on her stubby little legs, getting in between the conversations of the adults. None of them minded, of course, and each of them interrupted their conversations to give their attention to Miral—it was, after all, her birthday.
"Hello there, Miral." Chakotay was Miral’s next victim. Like the others, he diverted his attention to the quarter-klingon, three quarter-human child who stood below him. She was at his left leg, pulling the material of his brown-coloured pants. "What is it?"
Seeing her father approaching, Miral let out a playful squeal and ran behind Chakotay, peeking out from behind his legs as Tom drew nearer.
"Miral," began Tom in his fatherly tone, "you know you aren’t supposed to be out here." Miral merely ducked behind Chakotay again with a giggle, enjoying the game of hide-and-seek she had just invented. "Who’s looking after you?" he said as he knelt down to her level and pulled her out from behind Chakotay, sweeping her up into his arms.
He saw B’Elanna round the corner of the ferry, looking around in exasperation. "There you are," she said, coming over to them, obviously out of breath. "Young lady, I told you to stay where I could see you."
"’Splore boat," insisted Miral. "Room boring."
"She a little too fast for you, B’Elanna?" asked Tom as he set Miral back down on the deck. Fortunately for Tom’s well-being, B’Elanna only had time for a vicious glare before Miral took off down the deck and her mother was forced to chase her again.
"She’ll be running the marathon at Starfleet Academy in no time," commented Chakotay wryly.
Tom smiled with a shake of his head. "I never got a chance to ask you—how was New Earth? Same as you left it?"
"I’m glad we went back there. It brought back a lot of memories."
"You know, you never really told us what happened all those years ago with you and the Captain. The entire crew was suspicious when you returned to the ship." Chakotay smiled but said nothing. "Of course," continued Tom bravely, "you never really had to tell us what happened. We all knew."
"We all had our ideas back in those days. I think we pretty much hit it on the target, judging from what developed from it after all these years," Tom teased.
Chakotay chuckled softly but didn’t respond. After a moment of silence, Tom exhaled deeply. "All this shore leave, this inaction it’s beginning to tire me. I’d do almost anything to see some excitement again."
Chakotay smiled and eyed Tom with a raised eyebrow. "Be careful what you wish for, Tom. You just might get it."
Leaning against the railing of the ferry, Seven of Nine took in the calm waters moving past the boat, enjoying the Doctor’s company.
"Marvellous, isn’t it?" he asked. "The colours, the glassy look of the water, the sand on the shores weaving like marble so many contrasting colours and textures." The Doctor stared at the view in front of him, presumably storing the images into his matrix for later use.
Seven noticed his enthusiasm for the details of his surroundings. "It would make a pleasing art piece."
The Doctor nodded. "Hmm. I think so too." Inspired by an idea as he watched the scenery in front of him, his face lit up. "Maybe I could include some parrots and tropical birds to add a bit more colour-maybe a bit of red. I could make it look more majestic."
Seven smiled in response. "It might look majestic but it wouldn’t be very accurate. There aren’t any birds in sight, and even if there were I doubt they would be tropical."
"Art is about originality and insight, Seven."
Seven smirked. "I suppose the parrots and tropical birds won’t mind changing their natural geographical habitat just for your painting."
Despite her willingness to exchange banter with him, the EMH sensed that there was something below the surface. "Seven is everything all right?"
She glanced back at the water uneasily. Before she had a chance to speak, Miral came toddling up to them and interrupted. "Pwesnts!" she announced, gleefully clapping her hands.
Seven raised an eyebrow but was obviously glad for the interruption. "I doubt your parents gave you permission to wander the ship alone, Miral."
Miral looked over her shoulder and pointed at B’Elanna, who had stopped to speak to Mike Ayala. "Mommy busy." She turned back to the pair and stepped forward, grabbing their hands and pulling them along with her. "Pwesnts now."
Doc extricated her hands from theirs. "We’ll be right behind you," he assured her.
Normally, Miral wouldn’t have been satisfied with anything less than dragging them all the way inside, but she spotted Captain Janeway further down the boat. "Ant Katwyn! Pwesnts!" she squealed as she left the Doctor and Seven and ran across the deck.
The hologram turned back to his companion, his raised eyebrow indicating he hadn’t forgotten that she hadn’t answered his question.
"Everything is fine, Schmullus," Seven assured him absently as she watched Miral being swept into Captain Janeway’s waiting arms. The pain of Harry’s rejection of her proposal was still too sharp for her to find comfort in sharing it with the Doctor. She kept her gaze focused on the happy scene playing out before her.
Some of Seven’s melancholy fell away as she watched Tom creep up behind his pre-occupied daughter, who was still safely ensconced in her god-mother’s arms. A sudden flurry of tickles to the little girls sides had her squirming in Kathryn’s grip. B’Elanna stalked up from behind her husband and pinned Tom’s arms to his sides, while Kathryn held Miral where she could best ‘tickle’ her father. Tom made a great show of writhing in laughter before the three women decided that the erstwhile pilot had had enough and moved into the cabin for the much anticipated presents.
A child represented an unbreakable bond between two people. A bond that was stronger than marriage, duty or even assimilation. Seven looked out onto the waves, thoughtful once more.
The Doctor was unsure whether he truly believed that his friend was fine as she claimed, but perhaps now wasn’t the time to pursue it. "We should head inside, Seven. We don’t want to keep Miral from her presents."
Seven nodded to his suggestion, both leaving the deck as they made their way inside the ferry where the birthday celebrations were to be held.
Admiral Ross stared out the window, taking in the San Francisco scenery. His eyes were drawn to the Golden Gate Bridge and the waters below it. At the moment, with the amount of work on his plate, he wished he was out there, sailing underneath that bridge as he normally might be on a clear autumn afternoon.
Ross put that thought aside and returned to the present as he leaned against the seat that had been his for many, many years. He smiled at his companion. "My apologies, Warren. This job is wearing me out. I tend to lose myself in my thoughts occasionally."
Admiral Hayes smiled back and folded his arms, sitting on the opposite side of the desk. "I know the feeling."
"What were we talking about?"
"You started to say something about Captain Janeway."
"Yes, Captain Janeway." Ross leaned forward and poured himself a glass of water from a pitcher on his desk. He gestured towards Admiral Hayes, but the he declined with a wave of his hand. "What’s your opinion, Admiral?"
"Of the captain?"
"I think I’ve made my opinion of her clear in the past."
Ross smiled. "Humour me."
"I think she’s an exceptional officer and a fine commander, despite some rather questionable decisions she’s made."
The water glass in Ross’ hands lingered in midair, his fingers rubbing the surface as ponderous thoughts went through his mind. He set the glass on the table, then he inclined back into his chair. "I’m going recommend Captain Janeway for promotion to the rank of admiral."
"I see," said Hayes noncommittally.
Ross’ eyes drifted from Hayes to the window—he had expected this cool reaction. "Think about it, Warren. She would serve Starfleet well as an admiral. For the seven years she was in the Delta Quadrant, she was already more than just a captain of a starship. She was the only Starfleet officer within seventy thousand light years, and she managed to make it back home in one piece. She’s had more field experience in nine years than most Starfleet officers get in a lifetime."
It was no surprise to Hayes that Ross wanted to commend Janeway’s efforts with a promotion to admiral after how he had helped Voyager‘s crew through the trial following their first return. "I agree that Captain Janeway has a great deal of experience and has been a good ambassador for Starfleet when she was in the Delta Quadrant "
"But we can’t forget that a year ago she was court-martialed for some of her actions in the Delta Quadrant. Do you think she’s deserving of the promotion?"
Ross paused. "I don’t think anyone can deny that she did what was necessary for her ship and crew. She may have been court-martialed, but I know that some will see her as an invaluable asset to Starfleet and the Federation; I certainly know a few admirals who will see eye to eye with me even if you don’t, Warren."
Hayes shifted in his seat. "Some people will see her as not morally up to it. A Starfleet officer has regulations and protocols to abide by. She broke them."
"Yes, yes. And we all know your feelings about her association with the Maquis."
"I may have been wrong about that."
"Oh?" said Ross, genuinely surprised.
"I’ve seen enough of her and her crew to convince me that she was fully justified in her confidence in them. I still don’t see why she didn’t lock them in the brig right from the start but it seems that Voyager wasn’t the worse for wear from that decision."
"Quite the contrary, I’d say, if her crew evaluations are any indication."
Hayes harrumphed grumpily. "If you think she’s not biased where they’re concerned, William, you’re a bigger fool than I thought."
"If you think any captain can spend eight years isolated with a small crew and not be biased, Warren, then you’re the fool," returned Ross with a smirk.
Hayes grunted. "I suppose she must see something in them the rest of us can’t." He sighed. "And it’s not up to me to judge her. Starfleet has already done that. Under the same circumstances, I may have done the same thing and perhaps even bent a few more rules than she did. Don’t get me wrong," he continued when Ross started to say something. "You’re going to have trouble with this one, William. Recommending her for promotion this soon after a general court-martial—"
"—won’t be the easiest thing I’ve ever done," finished Ross. "I know, I know. But I love a challenge. Besides, I don’t think you give Captain Janeway enough credit. She has a lot more supporters than you realize especially after she almost single-handedly ended the war with the Sernaix and brought down Section 31 all in one fell swoop. Add to that the fact that she and her crew returned from the Delta Quadrant with more new technology and intelligence than Starfleet has seen in decades and her pull in the media it may not be as hard as you think getting her promoted to admiral."
Hayes chuckled. "You make a good argument, Admiral."
"Does that mean I have your support?"
Hayes nodded. "You can count on it." He rose to leave but paused in the doorway. "You’re right about one thing, William."
Hayes smiled wryly. "It won’t be as hard as we anticipate getting Captain Janeway a promotion. The hard part will be getting her to accept it. I don’t think she’ll let go of her ship and her crew that easily."
"Then we have a tough mission ahead of us, don’t we?"
Hayes shook his head. "You asked for my support, and you have it. But don’t expect me to attempt the impossible. You’re on your own trying to convince her to take it."
Ross chuckled to himself as the doors slid shut behind Admiral Hayes and swivelled his chair around to look out over San Francisco Bay once more.
Miral sat on the floor, clapping her hands excitedly at the pile of brightly coloured boxes before her. Although this was only her second birthday, she was all too familiar with this part of the tradition. Before she dove in, she took a moment to study the boxes, trying to decide which one to open first.
"Go on Miral, take your pick," Harry encouraged her. "They’re all yours."
Miral’s brown eyes panned the room. Adoring eyes gazed upon her as everyone waited for her to pick her first present. The anticipation she felt in her heart was no longer able to be borne; she wasn’t going to disappoint them any longer by waiting. She examined each of the boxes that were adorned in the brightly patterned and designed wrapping paper, examining them in a way that seemed like she was trying to see through them. Of course, Miral didn’t have that sort of power. Nevertheless, in her mind, she had already set aside the ones which she was going to open last, and the ones she was going to open first.
"Sweetie, which one is it going to be?" Tom asked his daughter, leaning over her head. Miral reached for a rectangular-shaped box, apricot in colour. "Ah, the orange one. Good choice." Tom flipped over the tag on the gift. "This one’s from your Grandpa Owen."
"Gwampa Own!" Miral exclaimed excitedly. As young as she was, she used a careful hand, opening the present delicately. Each taping was carefully and patiently lifted off, one by one, not tearing the wrapping off crudely like most two-year-olds.
Tom and B’Elanna watched their daughter open the box slowly. Thinking that she was having some trouble in unwrapping it, they both motioned to help, but were stopped from doing so when their daughter threw her arms up, brows furrowed in annoyance. "Self! My pwesnt!"
The on-looking families and friends broke into laughter. Tom backed off, surrendering hands placed before his chest. "All right, all right," he chuckled. "You do it, peanut."
Miral didn’t need her father to tell her that. She continued in her quest in unwrapping. Even though this part took a while, she loved it. She loved the suspense, knowing that, after this, she was going to get to the surprise. Finally, after a few minutes of going through the maze of searching for every piece of tape, she had found them all. There were no more to pick and tear. Miral lifted off the wrapping, this time hastily, throwing the unimportant piece of paper aside.
A brown box appeared. It was plain and it had no windows for her to see through to the insides. Confused by what was presented in front of her, Miral cocked her head slightly and frowned in puzzlement. "What dat fer?" she asked, confused about the purpose of the mysterious box.
"No, no, Miral," explained B’Elanna with a laugh. "Open it—there’s something inside."
Miral’s eyes lit up and she eagerly fumbled with the lid. Tossing it aside, she thrust both hands into the box and retrieved a small toy shuttle with a remote control. She squealed with delight and lifted it up to show everyone else.
"What do you say, Miral?" prompted Tom.
Miral clapped her hands in approval of the gift. "Like! Thanku Gwampa Own!"
She lifted up the control for the shuttle, frowning as she tried to figure out the buttons and the joystick.
Tom reached over and took it from her. "See Miral, this is what you use to navigate the shuttle. This button’s to start the engine." The miniature nacelles glowed as Tom placed it on the floor. Continuing his demonstration, he showed Miral the rest of the controller. "You push this one to make it go up and fly "
"Owen, are you sure Miral’s old enough to play with this toy?" asked B’Elanna.
"Sure she’s old enough!" answered Tom before his father had a chance to speak. "This one’s to go down this one left that one right here, I’ll show you." Tom began to fly the shuttle, keeping the controller in visual range of Miral.
She watched her father and the controller intently, but gradually the controller moved further and further away from her.
"Tom," said Owen with mock gruffness, "I bought the toy for my granddaughter. Not my grown son."
Tom sheepishly helped Miral take over the controls, letting go as soon as she got the hang of it. The shuttle buzzed the heads of more than a few guests before she brought it back towards her, lowering it to the floor for a smooth landing.
"She’s quite the natural," observed Captain Janeway.
"Like father, like daughter," quipped Tom in return.
Finished with the toy shuttle for now, Miral eagerly grabbed for the next present and started to open it meticulously while B’Elanna removed the card from underneath her hands. "This one’s from " She raised an eyebrow in amusement. "Uncle Schmullus?"
Miral paused her efforts to unwrap the gift and frowned. "Shmiss? Who shmiss?"
There was muffled snickering around the room. Doc sighed and stepped forward, lowering himself to Miral’s level. "That’s me," he said with a smile.
She rolled her eyes. "You not shmiss. You Doc."
"Well, I " He trailed off and thought better of trying to explain his choice of name to a two-year old. "You can call me Doc if you like."
Miral rolled her eyes again, as if this was obvious, then returned to her present. She triumphantly pulled the lid off the box, thrust her arm in, and pulled out a toy hypospray. It took her a moment to place the object before her eyes widened and she smiled. "Jus like yus!" she announced to Doc.
"Well close enough," he admitted, preening at her reaction.
Moving on, Miral immediately started to reach for another gift. This time she chose a big blue box with balloon pictures on it.
"I wonder what’s in that one, Miral," Tom said slyly as she shook his present curiously. Just as excited as she was, he coaxed her to unwrap it. "Quickly, Miral. Open it. Do you want me to help you, sweetie?"
She nodded. As much as she liked the anticipation which came with unwrapping it, it was tedious looking for the tape, and picking them off hurt the tips of her forefinger and thumb. Besides, she managed to unwrap two entire presents all by herself so she didn’t need to prove that she could do it again. With his help it would be much quicker to see what was inside the box.
"Just one more piece," said Tom, peeling off the last bit of tape. "Okay Miral, are you ready? This one’s from me."
"No wonder you were in such a hurry to help her, Tom," teased Chakotay, standing next to B’Elanna.
Miral eagerly pulled the lid off the long rectangular box and her eyes widened in recognition. "Jus like Mama’s that no touching!"
B’Elanna, who was unaware of the contents of the box, frowned. "What, sweetie?"
Her eyes bursting with excitement, Miral proudly held up a miniature bat’leth. "Mine!"
"Tom " growled B’Elanna.
He held up his hands defensively. "Don’t worry—the edges are dulled and it’s perfectl—OW!"
"Sowy," said Miral as Tom rubbed his arm where her bat’leth had accidentally hit him.
"I take it back," said B’Elanna with a smirk as she watched Miral’s practice swings come close to Tom’s head. "Good thinking, Tom. You can play bat’leth with her from now on."
Captain Janeway, standing quietly beside Owen Paris, watched the scene with a smile. Slowly, her expression became contemplative. Miral was such a delightful child, so playful and buoyant. It made her wonder again what rewards she might be missing, not having children.
During her years in the Delta Quadrant, stranded over seventy thousand light-years from Earth, the thought of children had come up many times. Her career had always been important to her, but before she had been ripped away from her life she had considered having children someday. She and Mark had talked about it; although neither of them had been in a rush to start a family, they had always talked about it for down the road.
But then Voyager had been tossed across the galaxy and that had been that. Her responsibilities as captain had been her priority, but she had spent more than one long night alone in her quarters thinking about the life she was missing. And on those nights it was more than the realization that they would need replacement crew before they reached home that kept her awake it was far more personal than that. Her policy of keeping herself isolated from the crew and from any other romantic involvements had put children out of the question, and most of the time she had managed to bury those thoughts. But sometimes they resurfaced: Kes going through the Elogium, Naomi’s birth, finding out that Tom and B’Elanna were expecting
Now, those thoughts were upon her once more as she marvelled at the energetic Miral. She wasn’t getting any younger and she was well aware of it.
She snapped out of her reverie as she saw Miral reach for Chakotay’s gift. She glanced at him, standing a few feet away from her, and smiled when she saw that he was nervous. He had spent several weeks working on the gift, making it entirely by hand.
"This one’s from Chakotay," Tom told his daughter as she began unwrapping the present.
"Totay!" repeated Miral as she tore off the paper. She reached in and pulled out the gift, her eyes widening as she took in the vibrant colours. "What sit fur?" she asked, holding it up.
"It’s a dream catcher," explained Chakotay. "You hang it above your bed and it catches all your bad dreams and only lets the good ones through."
Miral explored the intricate webbing of thread with her fingers, an awed expression on her face.
"Look at that, Miral," said B’Elanna, kneeling down next to her daughter and pointing to the small ornament hanging from the frame of the dream catcher. "That’s Voyager." She looked up at her old friend with a smile. "It’s beautiful, Chakotay."
Chakotay smiled in acknowledgement. Reflexively, he glanced over at Kathryn. Automatically expecting her to return his gaze, he looked at her curiously when after several seconds she still hadn’t looked at him. He hadn’t noticed the unusual change in her demeanor until now. She appeared distant and detached from the birthday celebrations, almost motionless in her stance and staring blankly past Miral, her eyes fixed and only blinking occasionally.
The smile and delighted expression which Chakotay had been wearing a short moment ago was quickly replaced by a concerned frown. It wasn’t like Kathryn to be so unaware of his gaze. By now, she should have sensed him looking at her and made eye contact with him, flashing that angelic smile that made his heart skip a beat. But she didn’t. She didn’t move an inch, didn’t acknowledge anyone around her.
B’Elanna’s voice interrupted his thoughts. "Oh look, this is the last box. I wonder what’s in this one?" Miral reached out for the box and began pulling the wrapping paper off, her precision long forgotten. "Let’s see who this one’s from," said B’Elanna as she looked at the small tag which was tied onto the knot of the bow. "This one’s from Kathryn."
Janeway looked up suddenly at the mention of her name, giving a rushed smile once she realized that the attention was on her and her gift to Miral. As her attention returned to the present, she sensed Chakotay’s eyes on her and turned towards him. Startled by the concerned expression on his face and inwardly realizing how long she had been in her reverie, she smiled hastily at him and turned her attention back to Miral, who was just pulling the gift out of the very large box.
"Oh look at that, Miral," Harry called out as the stuffed bear emerged from the box. "He’s bigger than you."
Miral squealed ecstatically. It was like having a new friend, so soft and cuddly. She immediately set it in front of her and stared at it for a few seconds before she snatched it up in her arms and squeezed it tightly to her.
"Now," said B’Elanna, standing up, "who wants cake?"
"Mememe!" shouted Miral, jumping up and tearing past everyone else as she ran towards the eating area.
As the gathering dispersed into smaller groups to occupy themselves with idle talk as they waited for cake, Chakotay made his way towards Janeway, who had once again slipped away into her own private train of thought. "Penny for your thoughts?"
She turned to him, startled, and smiled after a few seconds. "Sorry, I don’t accept antique currency," she joked.
He chuckled. "Miral seemed to enjoy herself."
Pretense, she thought. He was leading up to something, she knew it. "Yes, she did."
He glanced towards Tom, B’Elanna and Miral. When he turned back to Kathryn, he saw that she had followed his gaze. "Quite the happy family."
And there it was. How on Earth had he figured out what had so distracted her? Her playful smile slowly evaporated and she became serious under his penetrating gaze. Janeway took a deep breath, gathering her thoughts, thinking about how she was going to reply to it. "Watching Miral brought those thoughts up again," she admitted.
He nodded, silently encouraging her to continue.
"My life I’m at a great place right now. My career, my ship, my crew " She smiled fondly. "And last but not least, I have you."
"But you’re missing something."
Janeway nodded. "I can’t imagine not being a Starfleet captain and that doesn’t work for starting a family."
Chakotay shook his head, disagreeing with her reasoning. "You don’t have to give that up. There are plenty of Starfleet officers with families."
She glanced around the room as she thought, then looked back into Chakotay’s brown eyes, gazing intently into them. "I remember when I was young, my father would always be away for six weeks, six months, a year at a time. He was a wonderful father. He tried to be there whenever he could—attending my recitals, my tennis matches, my birthday parties, and he tried to be there for me when I needed help but it just wasn’t enough. I couldn’t do that. I wouldn’t make my child go through that."
"Nobody said it would be easy, Kathryn."
She sighed. "I know. I just don’t think it’s right for a child to not be around both his or her parents."
Chakotay reached over and took her hand in his. "Whatever you decide, Kathryn, I’ll be there for you."
She smiled, reassured by his support, and they rejoined the party.
Sounds echoed randomly through the Borg cube. They loomed in the darkness, striking with vigor and with consternation, without warning, and from all directions.
What light sources there were flickered, giving an ominous glow to the massive structure. It appeared deceptively cold and lifeless.
Borg drones strode across the metal floor, purposeful in their objectives as the drumming beats of the metallic feet, the sounds of their mechanical build aiding their mobility, and the release of air pressure in each movement contributed to the fearful silence that permeated the dark setting.
Ankin Rotor surveyed everything with fascination. He could see through the eyes of every drone in sight, every drone on this cube, and every drone on every cube under his control. These extensions of his body, of his mind and will, allowed him to be in countless places at once. He was in all four quadrants of the galaxy at once; he could control anything and everything with a single thought. It was ironic, he thought to himself. By destroying them, he had found something more efficient than the Borg Collective. Every command executed without delay, without question, without defiance. It was intoxicating.
His eyes roamed around the interior of the vessel as he waited impatiently. He inhaled deeply, feeling another wave of drones fall under his control. He had been waiting his whole life for this yet the short time remaining before he could execute the next step of his plan seemed like an eternity.
But soon soon his time would come.
"Come in, Captain." Captain Janeway stepped inside and glanced around the plush office. "Have a seat," continued Admiral Ross, gesturing towards the chair on the other side of his desk.
"Thank you, Admiral," she said, sitting down and crossing her legs.
"How was your shore leave?" he asked as he moved across the office towards the replicator.
"Well-deserved, I’m sure. Coffee, black, right?"
Janeway grinned. "I see you do your research."
Ross moved back towards his desk and set down two cups of coffee. "I have my sources."
She chuckled and took a sip of coffee before she spoke. "I don’t imagine you called me here just to ask about my shore leave."
"No, I didn’t," said Ross. Then, immediately getting to the point, he added: "I sent a recommendation for you to be promoted to the rank of Admiral. It was given formal approval this morning."
She sat motionless in her seat for a few seconds, her coffee cup halfway to her mouth. "I’m sorry?"
Ross smiled. "I’m offering you a promotion."
"I I’m shocked," she admitted candidly. "To be honest, I was under the impression that Starfleet was unsatisfied with my performance and wanted me out."
"It’s not Starfleet policy to offer promotions to officers we want out of the ‘Fleet."
Once the information began to sink in, her mind reeled. For some reason, after all these years of aspiring to become an admiral, she didn’t feel that excitement she had always imagined she would feel. Instead, she was feeling well, she didn’t know what it was, but it wasn’t that.
As encouraging as Admiral Ross sounded, Janeway could detect the dark circles under his eyes, indicators of how much time he probably spent away from home. She also noticed the stacks of PADDs around his desk. A quick glance around the office revealed that it was at least five times the size of her ready room but would it really be worth it?
She had dreamed of wearing an admiral’s pips ever since she had seen her father in his uniform for the first time. Here was her chance to follow in his footsteps now she had to decide what to do about it.
The answer was instinctual. "I’m afraid I’ll have to decline."
Ross leaned in, not at all surprised. "You sound pretty certain. Are you sure you don’t want to take more time in considering this?"
"You don’t think maybe you’re being a little rash? You could be dismissing the opportunity of a lifetime."
"Is Starfleet offering promotions as a one-shot deal now?" she retorted calmly.
"Of course not," he admitted. "But we don’t hand them out like candy, either."
He could see she wasn’t giving an inch. "Captain, I don’t believe you’re being challenged enough," he continued. "That’s part of the reason I fought to get you this promotion. It seems that the rest of Starfleet Command agrees with me. We’ve come to the conclusion that your skills you’ve obtained through your years as a captain has surpassed your current rank."
"Thank you, Admiral, but I’m sure I’m not the first captain who’s decided to remain with her ship in spite of that."
"I think it’s time that you served Starfleet as an admiral," he continued, "and take on the role and responsibilities that come with the rank. You’ve got the temperament and expertise to make it as a Starfleet admiral—there’s no doubt about that."
"Stubborn as hell, you mean?"
He chuckled. "The Federation needs you more as an admiral than a captain. You’ve proven to us that you are more than capable to lead a fleet of vessels and coordinate combat, devise strategies on a broader scale, as well as proving that you have a talent for diplomacy. Despite being stubborn as hell," he added with a smile. "You’ve proven yourself repeatedly, and from your time in the Delta Quadrant and the Time Bubble, not to mention the Sernaix war, it’s obvious that you can manage all this at the same time and keep cool under pressure. Those are valuable assets to the Federation, especially at times like these. We need leaders of distinction to bring unique ways of dealing with certain matters, and you have that. You’re being brought in to this new level because of your ingenuity."
A heavy silence fell over the room. When it was obvious that Janeway wasn’t going to reply, Ross continued: "We’ve got wormholes stretching halfway across the galaxy, slipstream technology that enables us travel thousands of light-years in a matter of seconds. We’ve got entire realms of space appearing in our backyard, and we’re finding more and more problems to deal with. It’s getting more chaotic and complicated as time passes. We need all the allies we can get. And again, you have them. You have many contacts and allies, allies which would be of great aid to the Federation. We need you at the head to lead the way."
This time when Ross paused, Captain Janeway spoke up. "I agree with you, Admiral. Things are getting more chaotic and we need solutions to them." Before he had a chance to say anything, she continued: "That’s why I would be better off being out there on a starship. I would think that Starfleet would benefit more from having those great people you mentioned out there doing the job, rather than sticking them behind the desk."
"I’m afraid that’s not always how it works." He paused to gather his thoughts to try to find and eliminate possible reasons why she would decline so hastily. Even though he had suspected it would be a difficult task to convince her to accept the promotion, he had thought she’d take a little more time in making the decision than she had. "If you’re turning this down because you don’t think you’re qualified " Ross began, fully aware that wasn’t the reason.
"No, not at all," Janeway answered simply.
There was another trait of hers which he admired. She had confidence in herself. "Then what is it?"
"I’m not ready to relinquish my captaincy just yet," she said with a slight curl to the lips.
"As simple as that?" he asked.
"As simple as that. It’s not that long ago since the last time you people tried to stick me behind a desk." She smirked. "I’m still enjoying my freedom."
Ross chuckled to himself and glanced around his office. "I can understand that." He became serious, leaning forward on his elbows and staring at her intently. "Do me a favour—give it some more thought. Don’t dismiss this so easily—not everyone gets this opportunity."
She nodded. "I’ll give it some thought."
Ross smiled with satisfaction and rose with her. He reached across the desk to shake her hand. "You do that, Captain." He watched her leave, and as the doors shut behind her he sat down and swivelled his chair to face out the window. "You do that."
Ankin Rotor let the word hang before he turned around from the viewscreen in front of him, facing his old companion with a smile. "Ironic, don’t you think?"
Pavriqur rarely responded to his verbal jabs any more but Rotor was undeterred. "That’s what the assessment of the Collective would be," he continued as he turned back to the planet on the viewscreen. "’Irrelevant.’ Just because they don’t have ships or technology." He faced the other Sulorian again. "But they’re not irrelevant. Nothing is. They’re a part of the story, so they must be part of the ending."
Pavriqur stared malevolently at his former protege. He had long ago given up telling Ankin that he was mad. It was pointless.
"It’s all coming together," said Rotor, turning back to the viewscreen. He contemplated the primitive M-class planet below for a few more seconds before he began sending his drones to the surface. He watched through their eyes as the primitive inhabitants ran in fear and tried to fight off their attackers. One by one, they fell before the oncoming drones then fell under Rotor’s control.
He smiled. Thus begins the end.
It was early morning. A middle-aged man sat looking out his window at the city below—a sorrowing sight for the eye. Crumbling walls barely stood upright, buildings were overturned. It didn’t look like a city anymore. It wasn’t an animated, spirited vista filled with beautiful architecture, trees, or lively people that usually occupied the walkways below at this time of day. The recent earthquake had turned his home into little more than a pile of wreckage. His eyes hurt to look at the sight. What he witnessed was not the vista he once loved waking up to every morning.
Tired of looking at the doleful site, he turned away from the window and returned to his painting in the corner. Even though he did not have the city outside in front of him to aid him, he was going to complete this painting. All the images needed for this painting was in his mind—the landscape, the structures, the colours—they were all clearly and vividly painted in his mind.
The man picked up his paint brush as he placed his paint palette in his left hand and started to paint. Just before he put a stroke on his canvas, sounds of commotion from outside interrupted his concentration, shattering the images in his mind.
As he sat there in his wondering thoughts, not realising that his lingering hand which held the paint brush was only centimetres from his painting, his hand slipped. A bold lilac stroke of paint ran across the piece. In his surprise, he flipped his head around to see what he had done and his arm knocked over a can of water which he had placed on the ledge of the painting frame.
Drips of water from the splatter flowed idly down, slowly seeping through his painting, striping it. The beautiful painting he had spent so long on was ruined. The man could do nothing but stare in frustration. His city was destroyed; even his capture of the city he loved was destroyed.
The man sighed as he took a glimpse back at the rubble that laid before him through his window. He sighed again. Would this place ever be back to the way it was?
The noise he had heard earlier grew louder and he frowned. It almost sounded like people screaming. His ruined painting forgotten, he moved back to the window as the terrified voices grew closer.
"Who are they?"
"Where did they come from?"
"They just it’s unbelievable, they just came out of thin from thin air!"
"Look at them—they’re hideous."
The voices were replaced by loud shrilling screams.
"There’s no time. We have to go! Forget the toy." Wails from a child filled the air.
"They’re some kind of monsters!"
Hurriedly, the man ran from that window to another, which faced out onto a different street. Beings like he had never seen before were walking stiffly down the street as people fled in terror. Whenever one of them caught up to someone, they reached towards the necks of their victims, who immediately stopped fighting.
"It’s just no use! Get out of he—" The distressed, masculine voice was suddenly cut off as two slender tubules punctured his vocal cords.
"Somebody help me!" a female voice screamed in agony.
No one came to her aid. She was helpless as the Borg drone overpowered her. She arched back in response to an injection to the neck, eyes filled with pain and terror.
The woman looked upwards and saw the man standing at the window. Her eyes locked with his, pleading him to come down and save her from the excruciating pain she was experiencing. Pleading and pleading
In the end she could scream no longer, her energy completely drained out of her. Her eyes glazed over and she slumped to the ground as the drone released her and moved on to his next victim.
The man watched in fright. He wanted to come to her aid, rescue her out of harm’s way to somewhere safe, but he was immobilised with fear. What could he do? These beings were supernatural.
His legs eventually responded. He had to help her. He turned away from the window, preparing to head for the street, but was halted in his path when one of the beings magically appeared in front of him in a green glow.
"Where where did you come from?"
The being did not answer but merely approached him with a neutral expression. The terror he witnessed below was now in front of him. "What do you want?" he asked, voice cracked, his breathing heavy.
The drone didn’t respond to his question and continued to advance.
"D-don’t hurt me," he said, his voice staggering as he spoke. "Take anything you want, just j-just don’t hurt me."
The drone drew closer, towering over the man. Struggling to move away, he clumsily tripped over his own feet, legs tensed with fear. "Get away from me!" he shouted.
His body on the ground was an inviting position for an easy attack from this intruder. As the Borg leaned forward, he saw the door, only a short dash away. Steeling himself, he rolled over quickly and sprinted towards the exit.
He made it to the door, but his hands were perspiring and slipped on the doorknob. "Open, open, open! Damn it!" The man shook the knob furiously, trying to force it open.
He could hear the footsteps of his attacker moving closer. "Don’t do this to me," the man said, still shaking the door.
The door finally opened, but it was too late. He felt a painful jabbing sensation at the back of his neck. He could feel thoughts being intruded upon by an unknown presence.
Every thought, all control of his body was quickly taken over. It was as if there was someone inside him, pushing him over into a deep dark chasm, forever falling. He had no way of fighting back. All he could do was fall and let whoever this intruder was take over his mobility, his thoughts, his body, his vitality.
The man was now one of them.
Admiral Ross looked up from his work as the voice of his assistant came over the comm. Sir?
He wondered if Captain Janeway had made her decision already. "What is it?"
Admiral Nechayev to see you.
He sighed. "Send her in."
The doors to his office hissed open a few seconds later. "Alynna," he greeted her as he rose, motioning for her to sit down.
She ignored the chair and handed him a PADD. "William. We’ve got a problem."
"What kind of a problem?"
"Starfleet had a team of anthropologists on a duck-blind mission in the Ketral system, outside Federation territory. They were observing a pre-industrial culture. About six hours ago, they sent out a distress signal, but only part of it got out."
Ross frowned as he read the PADD. "The Borg."
"We’ll have to send a ship to investigate."
"The nearest Starfleet vessel is almost a month away." He looked up at Nechayev and saw that she had already thought of the suggestion he was about to make. "Send Voyager?"
She nodded. "Time is of the essence and they’re the only ship equipped for it."
He nodded in agreement. "We’ll commission her usual crew, but I think it’s likely Captain Janeway will accept her promotion. To take her place, I’ll bring in Captain Iversen. He has a lot of experience and should be suited for this assignment."
Nechayev nodded. "Issue the orders immediately. I want them briefed as soon as possible."
Traffic swarmed under and above the Golden Gate Bridge, but Kathryn Janeway saw none of it as she stared blankly out the window of her high-rise apartment.
Chakotay’s voice startled her out of her thoughts and she turned around to where he was sitting on the couch looking at her.
"Would it help to talk it out?" he continued, his brow furrowing in concern.
She sighed. In the three days since she had walked out of Admiral Ross’ office, she had gone from certain she should refuse the promotion to wondering if it would be a mistake and back. It was a tough decision-one of the toughest decisions she had encountered in a while. She was glad that Admiral Ross hadn’t accepted her rash answer earlier because she would have regretted the fact that she didn’t really give it much thought the first time round.
She could accomplish a great deal as an admiral There were so many challenges and so many more levels she could rise above if she were to accept. But that conflicted with her attachment to her current rank as captain and what came with it. She’d be leaving behind so many people she had become so close to over the years. She would lose what she had lived and breathed for over a decade.
At first glance, it seemed that becoming an admiral would leave her time for a personal life. Or at least, more of a personal life than she had time for as a captain. But what if it turned out to be even worse? What about Chakotay? How much would she see of him?
Once again she was startled out of her thoughts. "I’m sorry," she sighed, sitting down on the couch next to him. "I’ve been giving it a lot of thought."
He smiled. "Obviously."
"What do you think?"
He considered for a moment. "I don’t want to decide for you but if I were me, I wouldn’t accept it. I joined Starfleet for the exploration and the thrill of discovery. Sitting in an office is not a job I imagined myself doing."
"I figured as much."
"On the other hand, imagine having an entire fleet under your command. You’d be able to influence Starfleet policy, make the decisions and we all know how you love to be in control," he added with a knowing smile. "And I know how long you’ve wanted this."
"As usual, Chakotay, you’ve managed to leave me more confused than ever," she said with a wry smile, leaning back on the couch. "Every time I think I’ve made up my mind "
"I’m sorry, Kathryn. I don’t mean to—"
She cut him off. "No, no. It’s not a bad thing, Chakotay." She chuckled slightly. "I sometimes count on you to do that. I’m glad I have someone around to make me keep considering all the options. As much as I appear not to want it at times, I do value the importance of your input."
"Well, I’m glad then."
Janeway peered downwards at a fixed point on the table she was sitting at, her mind returning to her decision once again. In the next few days, she’d be back at work, and no doubt Admiral Ross would be expecting an answer by then.
She didn’t think the offer would expire if she didn’t respond in the next few days, or if she still hadn’t decided—that wasn’t the problem. She wanted peace of mind; she wanted to know that when Ross asked her she would be able to give him a definite answer.
"Kathryn," said Chakotay thoughtfully, leaning forward with his hands clasped. "There is one other thing you should consider."
Janeway lifted her head up. "Hm?"
"Taking a position at Starfleet Command, as an admiral it would be more permanent than commanding a starship."
She took a while before she replied. "I’d be stationed on Earth, in all likelihood." She sighed. "But unless you gave up your commission, I wouldn’t see much of you."
"I see you’ve given this some thought."
"I’m probably making this harder on myself than it should be."
"You’re in a different situation from most captains offered a promotion."
"You had a decade taken away from you—that’s enough to change anyone’s life. It affected all of us. Some of the crew were young and they were lucky. They returned home and essentially picked up where they left off. Some people, like Tom and B’Elanna, were lost in life, but found what they were looking for aboard Voyager. For people like you and me, time was always the main factor in life—and that was going to prevent some of the goals from being fulfilled. We lost nine years struggling to get home now we’re all trying to squeeze in everything we’ve missed. It’s not easy and it’s not an easy decision for you, I know. I understand." Janeway smiled. "Just trust what’s inside your heart. Let that guide you, Kathryn."
She smiled and rested her hand on his. She started to answer him, but she was interrupted by the chime of the nearby comm terminal. Chakotay looked at her, and she motioned for him to go see what the message was. Moving across the room, he sat down behind the desk and opened the message.
"What is it?" asked Kathryn when she saw his frown.
"Orders from Starfleet." His eyes widened and he looked up from the comm terminal to meet her gaze. "It’s the Borg."
She inhaled sharply and rose to join him at the desk. "Outside Federation space distress call "
"Do you think it’s ?"
She nodded. "I have a bad feeling about this. It could be wait a minute."
"These are your orders."
She reached over his shoulder to pull up the comm logs. "Nothing."
"Maybe they haven’t sent out your orders yet."
"They wouldn’t issue orders to the crew before the commanding officer." She turned to look him in the eye. "Starfleet isn’t sending me with you."
She turned back to the orders on the screen and her gaze became determined. It was time to choose.
An invasion: that’s what it was. The acrid stench caused by the weapons fire and burning debris overpowered the fresh air that had been apparent an hour ago. Deafening bellows and screams echoed through the air as citizens’ heightened senses alerted them to flee for the sake of their own safety as they realized that their defenses were ineffective.
Hundreds of Borg drones swarmed through the cities. Ruthlessly, each of the bio-mechanical beings walked uniformly, moving about in their world in various directions; confident in their stride and manner.
A young male, like many of his kind, ran through the forest, trying to lose his pursuer. He ran, his youthful body almost out of energy now.
Commanded by his mind, his weary legs forced themselves to pump faster. He no longer wanted to play this game. He never chose to play this game.
He reached a clearing near a cliff. Green shrubbery, rocks, boulders, and precipices surrounded him. And for the first time in the past few hours, not a metal-plated being in sight. Nor did he hear the terrifying sound of their monotone, rhythmic strides nearby. He heard nothing but the wind blowing gently and the calls from forest birds to each other in the distance.
He halted, panting slightly, catching his breath, and savouring this precious moment of peace. The moment was short-lived nonetheless when he heard the sounds of their footsteps again.
How? he thought in frustration. How were they able to follow him so relentlessly. How many were there?
He took one long breath of air before he set off again, running. It was the only thing he could do; and it was fruitless. He would lose one, but always gained another. No matter what he did, no matter how many times he doubled back or changed direction, he always met up with yet another. He had never met any being, any race as infuriating as them.
Boiling inside with rage, he was refreshed with strength and determination to escape these beings. He swiftly dodged past another set of trees, and came face to face with a trio of Borg drones.
He froze in horror and backed up, but when he spun on his heel he saw two more drones approaching him from behind.
They drew closer to him as he looked frantically around for an avenue of escape. He could no longer hear the screams of agony from the nearby town. The only sound now in the ominous silence was the rhythmic mechanical movements of the drones closing in on him and his own heavy breathing.
In one rapid movement, one of the Borg reached up and two tubules shot into the man’s neck. He cried out in agony as the tubules punctured his skin and nanoprobes began to flow into his blood stream, pulsing through the thick purple fluid in his veins. His scream echoed through the woods, but no one was there to hear it. He fell to his knees as his body slowly began to change. He reached up to his face, feeling the nanoprobes spread under his skin.
Without warning, every individual thought was gone. Trapped like a prisoner in his own body, he began to follow the orders of the one person controlling the Constructive. Like so many before him who had been taken by force, he complied to every command given by Ankin Rotor.
"We have detected increasing Borg activity over the past 48 hours," Admiral Ross explained to the gathered crew of the Voyager-A. "The situation is far more serious than we anticipated." He got up out of his chair and motioned to a wall console on the right side of the conference room in Starfleet Headquarters, pressing on a few controls to bring up a cartographic image.
"These are the reported attacks," he said, indicated the many red dots on the map. "We can only assume this is the work of the Borg Constructive. We’re sending you to investigate the first attack in the Ketral system."
As Ross continued briefing the crew, Captain Janeway stood quietly near the back of the room. She glanced around, her expression sad as she was overcome by feelings of unimportance. Everyone—her crew, her friends, her family—was sitting there getting briefed and here she was, standing alone at the back of the room. Chakotay’s occasional innocent glances in her direction didn’t help matters, but rather increased her feeling of isolation. On top of that, she was at the briefing uninvited.
She turned her attention back to the briefing when Captain Iversen, her replacement, spoke up. "Do we know why they’re doing this?"
"We still haven’t confirmed that this is the Constructive," Ross answered. "And we can only guess at his motivation in attacking these targets. Many of them have pre-warp civilizations, which is unusual for the Borg."
"These aren’t Borg." All eyes turned to Captain Janeway. "At least, they’re not the Borg we’re used to," she added.
"They’re not trying to assimilate technology?" asked Iversen sceptically.
"Rotor believes it’s his destiny to end all life in the galaxy."
Iverson raised his eyebrow in what almost seemed an expression of disbelief. He and Janeway locked eyes and stared at each other, only breaking their gaze when Chakotay spoke up.
"Do we know where they are currently?"
Ross turned to the screen once more. Gingerly, his fingers brushed across the touch-sensitive keys of the console. He activated a chart which outlined their previous course and their projected course. He moved to point on the line three centimetres from the coarse line which bordered Federation territory. "We believe they are here, about a hundred light-years from Federation space. That’s far too close for comfort." He turned back to the gathered crew. "I realize that I’ve interrupted your shore leave on short notice, but this situation is very serious and we need to call on all of you. The entire Federation could be at stake."
Many of the crew nodded their agreement, so he continued: "You’ll leave as soon as you can get Voyager ready. We have full confidence that you’ll do your best to get to the bottom of this. Dismissed."
As the crew began to file out, Ross called out, "Captain Janeway. Could you stay behind for a moment?"
"It was my intention to, Admiral," she replied neutrally, moving past the crowd towards the front of the room.
Ross waited for the last of the crew to leave before he spoke. "I apologize for not informing you about all of this. This has all happened very fast. I gave the commission to Iversen in your place in hopes that you will be working here on Earth as an admiral."
"I suspected as much."
"Have you made a decision?"
She returned his gaze with steady confidence. "Yes, I have."
The bridge of the U.S.S. Voyager-A was calm and peaceful before its launch. The calm before the storm.
Harry Kim was at his usual station at Ops. Busily, he ran analyses over and over again, checking that everything was in working order. Tuvok, across the bridge from Harry, was also doing the same at his station. Tom sat in his customary position at the helm, and Chakotay was in his usual chair.
"What do you know about this Captain Iversen?" asked Tom, swivelling his chair to face the centre of the bridge.
"Not much," replied Chakotay as he ran a general systems check from his console.
"I looked up his Starfleet record," continued Tom. "He’s barely got any experience with the Borg."
"I am sure Starfleet chose Captain Iversen to replace Captain Janeway for good reason," interjected Tuvok.
"Come on, Tuvok. Do you really think he can even come close to the captain?" asked Harry.
"That’s enough," said Chakotay. "Starfleet put him in command, and I expect all of you to treat him as befits a commanding officer. Is that clear?"
"Yes, sir," said Harry.
"Yes, sir," echoed Tom.
Several seconds passed when the beginnings of a hiss was heard from the turbo-lift door, breaking the atmosphere on the bridge.
"Captain on the bridge," Tuvok announced. Everyone stood and straightened themselves up to pay respect to their new captain.
Instead of the tall masculine figure of Captain Iversen, the same person who had stepped through those doors many times to take command of this ship walked onto the bridge. She smiled widely at all of them. They returned the favour.
Strongly and boldly, Kathryn Janeway walked past the outer section of the bridge and made her way to the captain’s chair. Her eyes roamed to all four corners of the room, pausing at each of them for a moment.
"Wouldn’t be the same without you, Captain," quipped Tom from the helm with a large grin.
"You didn’t think I’d let you leave without me, did you Mr. Paris?"
"I don’t know," he replied. "Those pips must have been quite a temptation."
She looked at Chakotay and locked eyes with him. "I’m not ready to give this up yet."
She turned back to the bridge. "Well, what are we waiting for? We’ve got a Borg Constructive to stop." She and Chakotay took their seats simultaneously.
"Mr Paris," she said, crossing her legs, "Engage."