Captain Kathryn Janeway, commanding officer of the newly commissioned
USS Voyager, stepped out of the shade and into the blistering sun of
an Australian outback high noon. She gazed around the dry and dusty
airfield, feeling the shimmering heat beating against her. Red dust
blew across her boots, clinging to the bottom of her uniform pants
leg as she shaded her eyes against the brilliant sunlight. The shack
she had stepped from was the highest landmark for miles around, the
desert stretching to the shifting horizon.
Janeway brushed a loose strand of her piled-high auburn hair from her face and turned in a slow circle, fascinated by the landscape that was almost alien in its desolation. Reds and oranges dominated against the background of the bluest sky she could remember.
Looking up she spotted, thousands of feet above her, a spiraling speck dancing across the cloudless sky in a sweeping pattern of aerobatics. In it, she knew, was the reason for her visit to this rare, wild land.
Lieutenant Cassandra Lansdown. Her personnel file had told Janeway all she needed to know about the young officer. Lansdown was a gifted pilot but that was secondary. She was also one of an elite number in Starfleet - young, with genius-level intelligence, and a graduate of the highly secretive and selective Special Forces training course. It was Janeway's biggest reason for recruiting the lieutenant, even though some aspects of Lansdown' s profile made the captain distinctly uneasy. But then, trained killers with a knack for sabotage and counterespionage usually have that effect on me, she thought wryly.
Nevertheless, Lansdown was perfectly suited to the Starship captain' s needs. This trip to the Badlands was a mop-up operation, tracking down Lt Tuvok, Janeway's chief of security, who was currently working undercover as a member of the Maquis, a rebel group causing Starfleet no end of trouble on the edges of the Federation's influence. Having Lansdown along gave Janeway some options if something went pear-shaped. The young maverick had a few ... unorthodox ... skills which could be handy if things needed banging back into shape.
And if this ð Janeway looked up again, tracking the small plane - was any indication of Lansdown's personality, then it was going to be a wild ride.
Janeway smiled to herself, watching the small aircraft spinning through another series of maneuvers far above the desert.
It' s so quiet up here, Cassie thought happily. Nothing but the rush of cool air filled the void left by the silence of the once-blatting propeller. Cassie pulled back a little further on the joystick and waited for the tiny plane to tell her when it was ready. She focused on the tip of the motionless prop blade and held her breath as the nose pointed toward the sun.
Gravity let her go for an instant and she pushed the nose forward, feeling the biplane slide backwards before dipping toward the red-brown landscape beneath her.
This moment never ceased to make her wide-eyed, regardless of the thousands of flying hours under her belt, nor the certain trust she had in her plane and the laws of aerodynamics. Screaming wind whipped her long, raven hair back from her face and a sudden awareness of how high, and how fast, filled Cassie' s consciousness. She grinned wildly.
The engine coughed and spluttered to life, the sheer force of the air rushing through the propeller blades sparking it again, kicking it back into a smooth rhythm. Cassie throttled back, pulling up the nose and guiding the plane to level flight. She looked down over the side of the cockpit and laughed at the proximity of the little airstrip. Climbing again now, she ran through the next maneuver in her mind, calculating altitude and vectors even as she gazed over the desert in awe.
Space is too big to appreciate, but this ð this is just big enough to be breathtaking, she thought as she swung through a 360-degree four-point roll. Hot reds and oranges swiveled through her field of view, blurring with the rich blue of the cloud-free sky.
" Alice Springs field to Red Avenger. You reading me, Cassie?"
Startled by the sudden intrusion, Cassie quickly flicked the comm switch on the top of the joystick.
" Yeah, Harry, m' here. What' s up?"
" Someone down here to see you, mate. Looks kind of official."
" Awww shit Harry, I' m just getting warmed up here. What did I do, fly over Maralinga by mistake?"
Harry Morgan, Alice Springs airfield' s traffic controller, mechanic, chief cook and bottle-washer, dropped his voice conspiratorially.
" No kidding, mate. Uniform' s got red shoulders and a big gold badge on it. Better park it, kiddo."
Lt Cassie Lansdown, fresh from a two-year tour onboard the Federation Starship USS Moonshadow, cursed a blue streak into the stratosphere as she dipped the port wing and pointed the biplane home.
" Six months off, my arse," she muttered.
Three weeks into her promised shore leave, Cassie had thought the Australian outback would be a safe bet when it came to getting away from Starfleet and anything that looked like Federation protocol. The 12-pub, one-transporter town of Alice Springs was just what she had needed after two years on a starship in deep space with 400 other people in close proximity. And the Alice had the cleanest, emptiest skies she' d ever seen - perfect for indulging her passion for aerobatics.
Still muttering and cursing, Cassie circled the airfield once, getting a feel for the crosswinds and waiting for Blue, Harry' s ancient and rheumy cattle dog, to get off the one and only runway. And there was another figure standing just outside the corrugated iron shack that passed for Alice' s airport.
" Holy shit, he wasn' t kidding," Cassie muttered to herself as she saw the red and black command uniform of a Starfleet officer. Female, by the curves.
Cassie lined up the runway and made her final approach, the show-off in her grinning at the prospect of a little hot-dogging. Once more she cut the engine and felt the crosswind take hold of the plane as she glided down towards the ground. Cassie yawed the tail into the breeze and the Red Avenger drifted silently and smoothly to the ground, straightening up as Cassie taxied down the runway towards the shack and the Starfleet officer, who was waiting, hands on hips.
As she drew closer, Cassie drew in a quick, sharp breath of recognition. Captain Kathryn Janeway was every bit as impressive as the reputation that preceded her. Diminutive, but even from a distance, Cassie could see the woman oozed command presence.
" Oh, I have a bad feeling about this," murmured the dark-haired woman to nobody in particular as she shut down the plane and swung her long legs over the side of the cockpit, sliding quickly to the ground. She dusted her hands on her jeans and sauntered over to the Captain.
" Impressive, Lieutenant," said Janeway huskily.
Niiiiiice voice, thought Cassie.
" Captain Janeway, ma' am."
Cassie extended her hand and Janeway shook it firmly, a smile lighting up the face that was framed by auburnhair piled into an austere bun.
" Captain will do nicely, Lt. I always feel horribly old when people call me ma' am. Save that one for the crunch."
Cassie nodded and smiled slightly, preferring to keep her thoughts to herself as she waited to see what news it was Janeway had traveled to the middle of nowhere to deliver. When in doubt, stay quiet, and wait for them to make the first move, she mused. Rules to live by.
" She' s a beauty." Janeway gestured toward the Red Avenger. " I didn' t know they made them anymore."
" I had her custom-built just before I joined the Moonshadow," said Cassie, allowing a little pride to show in her voice. " Harry' s kept her running, crop-dusting and joy flights ð that kind of thing. I' ve just been getting used to her again. Blowing out the cobwebs."
" I' m sorry we don' t have more time. I' d talk you into taking me up for a quick flight," said Janeway, looking faintly wistful.
Cassie cocked an elegant eyebrow at the «we' .
" No persuasion necessary, Captain. I' d be happy to. On your next visit, perhaps."
Janeway returned to business with a smile.
" Is there somewhere we can talk, Lt?"
Damn, where does she get that voice, thought Cassie, as she tucked her flying gloves into her back pocket and began walking beside the officer.
" Well, the pub' s probably the best bet, Captain. My truck' s this way." She gestured toward the only other vehicle in sight, parked by the shack. As she walked toward the truck she ducked her head inside and tossed the Red Avenger' s key to Harry.
" I' ll be back, Haz, keep her safe for me."
" She' ll be right, Cassie. Take care."
She strode to the truck, sliding in behind the wheel as Janeway clambered into the passenger seat. They sat in silence for a while as Cass drove, the captain taking in the dusty red landscape as they headed back into town.
" I' ve never visited this part of Australia before," said Janeway. " I' ve been to the reef of course, and Sydney, but never this far inland. Is this your hometown, Lt?"
" No. I' m from Brisbane. That' s just south of the end of the reef," said Lansdown, clarifying as she saw Janeway struggling with the geography. " I lived there with my parents until I went to San Fran to join the Academy. And since then ... well, it' s been a Starfleet life."
" I know what you mean. My home is in Indiana, but it' s been a while since I got back there. Perhaps at the end of this next tour."
Cassie decided not to ask just what that next tour was, having the bad feeling she was about to find out way more than she really wanted to know. Instead she pulled the truck into a parking space in front of the Drover' s Dog, the first of Alice' s famous 12. She showed the captain into the lounge bar, which was thankfully deserted, save for old Morrie, the resident drunk, propped on his usual stool at the far end of the bar, roll-up dangling from the corner of his mouth.
" Care for a drop of the local brew, Captain?" she asked as Janeway commandeered a table near the front of the lounge.
" Yes, please. Just nothing that' s going to knock me on my ass. I always seem to get into trouble in bars."
For the second time in less than half an hour, Cassie raised an eyebrow at the Captain' s manner. Oh, this one' s good, she thought. Just personal enough to make her accessible, but I get the feeling she' s no soft touch. Lansdown propped a foot on the running rail and an elbow on the bar top as the bartender approached.
" G' day Cass. What can I get you?"
" Two pots of VB, Charlie. Thanks."
She made her way over to the Captain' s table, two ice-cold beers in hand.
" To be honest, Lt, I was surprised you recognized me. I know I didn' t give ð what was it? ð Harry? ð my name." The captain accepted the glass and took a long swallow of ale. " Mmmmmm, that' s good."
" Two things Aussies know how to make, Captain. One is athletes. And the other is beer. Cheers." Cassie drained her glass and placed it on the table. " As to recognizing you, even in deep space on a two-year mission, news from Starfleet travels fast. And sometimes we even got pictures." She smiled, waiting for the Captain to get to the point.
" Ah. So my reputation precedes me. Scary thought." Janeway quirked her eyebrow. " I' m guessing that three weeks out here has taken you out of the loop somewhat, however, and you have no clue why I' m here."
" I' m hoping you' re looking for tips on how to while away a hard-earned six-month leave," said Cassie pointedly.
" Sorry, Lt. I wish it were so. Actually I' m putting together a crew. I' m taking Voyager out to the Badlands to deal with a ... situation ... out there. A mop-up job, really. It should take a few weeks, maybe a month."
" And you took a look at Moonshadow' s logs, and noticed we spent some time cruising the Badlands a while back, and figured you could use someone with some experience out there," finished Cassie, trying not to let her irritation show.
" More or less, yes. I' m looking for three top-draw pilots to cover all three shifts. I' ve already found one in New Zealand, and I' m hoping you' ll be my second."
" New Zealand? You' ve rescued Tom Paris from himself, then, I take it?"
It was Janeway' s turn to raise an eyebrow. She hadn' t realized the younger Paris' situation had been such common knowledge. But then, she was also getting the impression Lt Lansdown was quite the newshound. A beautiful, blue-eyed, statuesque killer newshound, she added to herself.
" Something like that, Lt, yes," she said quietly, but firmly, making it clear she wasn' t about to speculate further on the subject of Tom Paris. " I want to be sure you understand this, Cass. This is totally voluntary. As you said, your leave is hard-earned and overdue and you are free to spend it as you wish. But you will be well-compensated if you decided to take up this post, and Voyager is brand new and by all accounts, a treat to handle."
Cassie tilted her head slightly and looked Janeway in the eye.
" Tell me something, Captain. Is it really a No.2 pilot you're looking for, or does your interest in me have more to do with my security rating?"
Janeway found herself in an unusual situation for her. Pinned by the young lieutenant's startlingly blue and intense gaze, the captain suddenly felt like she had momentarily lost control of the conversation. But not for long. Grey eyes met blue ones with renewed confidence.
" We're going in to clean up what has essentially been an undercover infiltration of the Maquis, Lt. I want versatile, skilled people along for the ride. You more than fit the bill."
" And it wouldn' t do my career any harm either, eh Captain?"
Janeway chuckled at the younger officer' s self-confidence.
" There is that, yes."
Cassie sighed. The bottom line was she was already intrigued. The USS Voyager was an Intrepid-class scout ship, the first of its type. Smaller and far more maneuverable than the Moonshadow, it sounded like just the kind of flying she liked. The unspoken implication that her ... darker ... skills might come in handy was also one which captivated her interest. And the chance to work with Janeway ... well, it was too good an opportunity to miss, frankly. She sighed and put away any annoyance over the short-circuiting of her vacation.
" So. When do we leave?"
" Excellent." The captain stood and shook Cassie' s hand again. " Welcome aboard, Lt. We leave in 24 hours."
The return journey to the airfield was spent discussing logistics. Janeway was off to recruit her third helm officer, and Cassie was heading back to Brisbane to tidy up some loose ends before transporting to San Francisco to receive her kit and official orders. Starfleet was nothing if not steeped in protocol. Then it would be a quick transporter hop to the orbiting McKinley Station where Voyager was presently docked.
Cassie watched the captain disappear in a shimmering shower of gold sparkles, then turned to Harry, who was leaning on the counter, reading a newspaper.
" Well, Harry, it looks like the Red Avenger needs you again for a while," said Cass, reaching down to scritch the grizzled muzzle of old Blue, who wagged his tail slowly but appreciatively, making half a dust angel on the dirt floor.
Cassie slung her backpack over her shoulder and stepped up onto the transporter pad.
" Point me toward Brisbane, Haz, and push the button."
" Rightio, mate. Hang on while I figure out the sums, here."
Cassie smiled at the old coot and waited patiently.
" And Harry?" He looked up. " If I' m not back in a month, she' s all yours."
Cass tossed her carryall onto the nearest chair and looked around the empty living area. Nothing stirred. Not even a certain boy-cat who used to be almost sentient when it came to knowing when she was about to walk in the door.
" Mother?" Cass called out. She wandered slowly around the spacious one-storey house, reacquainting herself with a home not visited in over two years. When she came to her own bedroom, she had to smile. A suspicious lump under the covers drew her closer and she lifted a corner of the bedspread, crawling in to meet the small, furry ball in the middle of the mattress.
" H' lo, sweet boy, remember me?"
A small, sleepy meep followed by a long purr was her answer and the black cat crept towards her and curled up in her arms, vibrating softly under her chin. Cass buried her face in his fur, fighting back sudden and unexpected tears. It never ceased to amaze her how this little creature could do that to her. Leaving him on a regular basis was almost the hardest thing she had to do. Coming home and finding him again was always one of her life' s small joys.
Buried under the bedspread with her backside in the air wasn' t the most dignified way to greet her mother, but it was somehow appropriate, given their relationship.
" Is this any way to say hello?"
Cass chuckled and backed out from under the bedclothes, leaving the boy-cat to his dreams.
" Hiya." She smiled as she stood up and faced her mother. The shorter woman had almost snowy white hair and timid blue eyes that didn' t quite match the intensity of her daughter' s. I don' t remember her being this old, Cass thought as she and her mother sized each other up. As usual there was that awkward moment when she knew her mother wanted to be hugged and her mother knew Cass didn' t want to hug her. She covered it, as usual, by babbling.
" I would have called, Mum, but it was as quick to just get here, and I decided to walk from the transporter station ... reacquaint myself with the town," she said as they walked back to the living area.
" Well, your father will be pleased to see you. You know, he was quite hurt by your decision to go out west without even coming home to say hello after two years away." Her mother picked up Cass' bag. " I suppose there' s dirty laundry in here you' d like me to do for you."
Cass decided to ignore the barb about her father ð it was so much easier than pursuing that line of conversation right now. She took the bag from her mother and tossed it in the general direction of her room.
" Actually, Mum, I have managed to learn how to run my clothes through the replicator myself, thanks." Already Cass could feel her irritation building. Why isn' t this ever easy?
" So, how long can you stay this time?"
Cass plopped herself into the nearest comfortable chair, tossing aside her father' s padds and an old-time hardbound book she guessed was her mother' s as she did so.
" M' afraid only until the morning. I have new orders and I have to be in San Fran for a briefing at 0800. Will dad be home for dinner?"
" Yes, he should be." Her mother began pottering about the open kitchen area, preparing lunch for them. " By the way, his contract has been renewed for another three years. It might be nice if you congratulated him about that."
" I didn' t realize he wanted it to be extended," Cass replied. " Last I heard he was planning on retiring next year." Her mother glanced up at her quickly. Uh-oh, thought Cass. Here it comes.
" Perhaps if you had kept in touch more, or visited home more often, then you would be more up-to-date."
" Mother, do you really want to have this conversation now?" She stood and walked over to the counter. " I' m a Starfleet officer. I go where I' m told to go, when I' m told to go there."
Her mother turned her back, busying herself with programming the replicator.
" You had your choice of several missions before you decided on a two-year tour on the Moonshadow," the older woman retorted. " Missions that were shorter and closer to home."
Cass breathed deeply, trying to chase away the beginnings of what she was sure would be titanic headache. There was no way she wanted to get into her real reasons for accepting a deep-space long-term assignment. That was a conversation she had locked away deep inside her and had no intention of blowing the dust off it at this point, if ever. Instead she wheeled out her standard response.
" I didn' t join Starfleet to be a courier, or a diplomat, Mother," she snapped, walking to the replicator set into the wall. " Coffee, double-double," she muttered. " I joined for that whole boldly-go-where-no-one-has-gone-before thing. As an explorer. That means I' m going to go far, and go long. It goes with the territory."
Her mother turned back to her wearing a smile that, over the years, Cass had learned to recognize. Usually it meant her parent had figured out something that made her think she knew Cass better than she knew herself. Her daughter had come to loathe that look.
" Can you honestly tell me that box under your bed has nothing to do with why you disappeared for two years?" Her mother folded her arms and looked slightly amused.
Cass fought the overwhelming urge to scream. Instead she employed a new trick, one two years of purgatory had taught her well. She switched off.
" Enough, Mother," she said quietly, picking up her coffee and turning away from her parent. " One day it might occur to you that the contents of that box were none of your business. But for now, I don' t want to talk about this any more."
Cass walked back to the chair, slumping into it and wishing fervently that she' d gone straight to San Francisco, loose ends or no loose ends. She rubbed the bridge of her nose, the nascent headache already starting to throb. Let it go, Mother, please let it go. She took a sip of the sweet, creamy coffee.
No such luck.
" You treat this place like a hotel. We store your belongings, look after your damn cat, and you expect it of us as if it' s just going to happen without question. I needed to do some cleaning, so yes, I went through your things, to see if there was anything that could be discarded."
Cass looked up sharply.
" You didn' t throw anything out, did you?"
" Just some old magazines. Nothing from that box."
Fury welled up in Cass' chest again and she swallowed hard.
" Fine. Mother, it' s just for a few more weeks. This next mission will take a month at the most. Then I' ll come back, find my own place and get my stuff and my damn cat out of your life, okay?"
Suddenly her mother was not quite so sure she liked where this conversation was heading.
" Don' t be silly, Cass. There' s no need to be so defensive. But we told you a long time ago we didn' t want the cat permanently, and you basically just ignored that until it was too late to find another home for him. You took advantage of us."
Cass admitted to herself that that was true, at least.
" Forget it, Mum. I' ll figure something out for the cat before I leave in the morning."
Her mother was backpedaling hard now.
" No Cass, you don' t have to do that. It' s only for a few more weeks."
Cass sighed again. Christ, it' s going to be a long evening.
The handsome grey-haired man glared at his daughter from across the dinner table.
" You' re going to do what?" he growled, putting down his knife and fork and leaning forward on hands placed flat on the table.
For what felt like the millionth time since she' d walked through the door of the family home, Cass sighed.
" I' m joining the USS Voyager tomorrow morning," she muttered, unable to meet her father' s unblinking stare.
" You' ve only just got home after two years in space, Cassandra," he protested. " What happened to six months off?"
" Order are orders, Dad," she replied quietly, opting not to tell him that the mission on the Voyager had been offered to her as a voluntary assignment. He' s never going to understand that, she thought.
Her father picked his eating utensils up again and began stabbing his food fiercely before shoveling it into his mouth.
" I' ve never understood why you would want to join that organization," he said around a mouthful of steak. " There are plenty of companies that work in space. You didn' t have to sign up to a goddamn military force to do that." He waved his fork at Cass. " I run one of those companies, for god' s sake."
It was an old, old argument between them. Her mother sat passively at the end of the table, content, as usual, to let the running verbal jousts between her husband and her daughter continue. It had taken Cass a long, long time to figure out that the best way to deal with her father' s penchant for arguing about everything was to just disengage.
So now, she said nothing. She could have explained how Starfleet wasn' t a military force, but was just organized like one. She could have said that she wasn' t interested in making money, but in exploring space and maximizing her own special talents. She could have even said that the last thing in the universe she wanted to do was work for her father. But after almost three decades of hard lessons, Cass knew better than to throw kerosene on a fire.
She sipped at her wine and looked at her father over the edge of the glass, waiting to see whether he would push the discussion or let it drop. He continued eating and she breathed a sigh of relief. But the blissful silence was painfully short.
" How much of this has to do with that woman?" her father asked abruptly. Cass' stomach went into a tailspin as she realized her mother had done a lot more than rifle through her belongings. She glanced at her mother quickly, noticing that the older woman did have the good grace to look uncomfortable.
" Excuse me?" she said quietly, replacing her wineglass on the table, momentarily stunned that her usually distant father was willing to wade into uncharted waters this way.
" What were you thinking?" he went on, not once looking his daughter in the eye. " I would have thought we had brought you up better than to get involved with a married woman, Cassandra."
Cassie' s heart was pounding wildly in her chest. God, why do I come back here. It' s always like this. Carefully, and as calmly as she could given the adrenalin pumping through her system, she placed her hands on the table and pushed herself upright.
" Dad, I know that you' re only speaking out of care for me," she said quietly, trying with everything she had to keep the shake out of her voice. " But I really don' t think that subject is any of your business." She was aware of the heightened tension in the room, both parents grim and silent as they stared at her. " And now, if you' ll excuse me, I' ve got to contact the Voyager to make some arrangements and then I need to get a decent night' s sleep." She picked up her glass, and the half-empty bottle of red wine, and spun on her heel, marching as quickly and as quietly as she could to her bedroom and the sanctuary behind the closed door.
Lis Dayton, unusually, was less than happy with her lot in life as she strode across the Starfleet Academy compound towards the living quarters she shared with her husband, Nick Standish. Generally the most optimistic of souls, Lis was currently experiencing a growing sense of doom at the imminent changes that loomed in her life.
She had been content for the last four years as a member of the teaching staff at the Academy, finding a level of stability in the position that was welcome. Other aspects of her life - her marriage, for one - were less than consistent, and the Academy had been the rock on which she'd built her sanity.
But all that changes tomorrow, she thought uneasily as she entered her quarters and dropped her jacket and padds on the nearest chair. Tomorrow we say goodbye to all this.
She wandered into the bedroom, stripping off her Starfleet uniform as she walked. After unclipping her three pips and placing them carefully on the bathroom counter, Lis tossed the uniform into the replicator. Pensively she stood with hands on hips and gazed at her reflection in the mirror.
Green eyes stared back at her out of a pretty face framed by shoulder-length shaggy blonde hair. Dispassionately she swept her gaze up and down her short, slim frame. Not bad, not bad, she thought. Quickly she shucked off the sports bra and mid-thigh undershorts and stepped into the shower.
For once she opted for the hydro version, preferring the feel of the hot water flowing over her rather than the keening of the sonic attachment she usually used in the mornings. Weary, and more than a little disconsolate, Lis turned up the temperature and leaned against the wall, letting the pounding water ease some of the tension knotting up her neck and shoulders.
After four years on Earth as a research scientist based at Starfleet Headquarters, Nick had put in for space duty in a bid to boost his stalled career. Lis had agreed to go along with him as a ship's counselor, even though, as part of an Intrepid-class crew, his assignments were likely to be of relatively short duration. Their marriage, rocky enough at the best of times, would be hard-pressed to survive the separations and Lis had decided that giving up her teaching career was a small price to pay.
I've worked so hard to regain his trust, she thought as she poured shampoo into her hand and began working it through her hair. I can forgive him for not even asking me if I wanted to go back into space. Their marriage had always felt like it was built on shifting sand, at least to her, and there had been plenty wrong with it even before ... Lis shoved her head under the spray, rinsing away the shampoo and the stab of pain she always felt when she thought of Cassandra Lansdown, an image of piercing blue eyes floating across her mindscape. Yes, there was plenty wrong before Cass came along, she thought, chasing away those memories. But cheating on him surely didn't help matters. It was a stick she had beaten herself with many times since she had ended the relationship with the tall lieutenant over two years earlier.
I wonder where you are, Cassie? Lis turned off the water and waited as the drying warm air began to circulate in the shower unit. For the first six months after she had broken off with Cass and the pilot had accepted a place onboard the Moonshadow, Lis had kept track of the ship' s whereabouts almost on a daily basis. But it had become harder and harder to do, especially as she tried to mend the rift between herself and Nick, and eventually she had surrendered all her emotional energy to her marriage. Where it should have been in the first place, she reminded herself for perhaps the millionth time since she had met Cassandra.
She stepped out of the shower and pulled on a robe before walking back into the bedroom. Most of their belongings had already been put in storage or transported to their new ship so the apartment was empty and barren, with the hint of a lonely echo.
Just then the door slid open and Nick Standish walked in. A slight man, with a receding hairline and high forehead, the exobiologist looked every bit the reserved scientist he was. Tonight, though, he had an air of excitement about him which made Lis smile.
"Hi," she said as he tossed the padd he was carrying onto the dining table. "How was your last day earthbound?"
A grin creased Nick's face.
"Just great," he replied. "The admiral took me out to lunch to celebrate. How did things go with you?"
"Pretty much the same," Lis replied with a shrug, moving around the kitchenette as she put dinner together. "The Dean hosted a lunch for me and the cadets smuggled some champagne in for the last period of the day." She grinned at the memory. "They were very sweet." I' m really going to miss them, her mind added.
But Nick was already beyond her response to his question and was talking a mile a minute about his own day and the mission ahead of them. I wish I could explain to him how unsettling this is for me, Lis thought as she brought their replicated meal to the table. But it would only set him off on one of those rants about how I never want to do anything with him anymore. She handed Nick a glass of wine. Even though I' m giving up something I love for him. Again. She sipped her own wine thoughtfully, trying to respond in all the right places as her husband continued to chatter excitedly.
Midnight rolled around and it had indeed been a long evening. Evenings alone with her parents always were. But the good news was Cass had contacted Voyager and after much hard talking, had gained permission to take the cat along with her. It hadn' t been easy, but apparently she had a little more pull onboard this new ship than she had on the Moonshadow. She found that gratifying, and had come away from the conversation with the First Officer feeling a little better about the next few weeks.
Right now, though, she felt a long way from good. Sitting against the wall of her bedroom, tucked between the bed and the bookshelves, she was surrounded by the detritus of her past life. The boy-cat lay sleeping between her knees, his claws flexing and curling against her skin as he dreamed his feline fantasies.
A cardboard box sat open in front of her ð papers, letters, trinkets and souvenirs of a relationship that had meant everything to Cass were spread around her in a semi-circle. A semi-circle of memories and a well of loneliness.
She hadn' t looked at any of these remnants in over two years, but then she hadn' t needed to. Each one, every word, every fiber, every atom, every sentiment was scorched on her memory. The only difference was that being amongst them again brought everything to the surface, achingly.
Elisabeth Dayton. Cass turned the photo over and over in her hands, running a fingertip lightly across the image of the older woman' s face.
Blonde. Gorgeous. Blissfully sensual with the greenest, sexiest eyes she' d seen. Without doubt the kindest, most nurturing woman Cass had ever met. The love of her life.
Cass had made it a life rule not to meddle in the relationships of other people, but somehow those rules had evaporated the moment she met Lis Dayton. Perhaps that was what happened when you encountered the one person in the universe you were meant to be with. Rules ... good sense ... didn' t matter any more.
They had met in San Francisco, at Starfleet Headquarters. Dayton had been a psychologist with the ' fleet, teaching at the Academy. At the time Cass had been briefly earthbound, attached to HQ between off-world missions as an attach' to Admiral Paris.
Their affair had been brief ð barely five months ð but life-changing for them both. A revelation. It had been deeply passionate, more than either had ever experienced before. On all levels ð spiritual, physical, emotional, intellectual ð Lis Dayton was everything Cass had ever wanted or needed in a partner, and more.
It had been magical, a time of promises and deep connections. Cass had never felt so safe, nor so loved. The love she and Lis shared became the bedrock she built her self-confidence upon and it proved to be a solid foundation. She felt whole for the first time in her life.
It had all fallen apart the day Lis' husband had found out. Trapped between her love for Cass and the commitment and care she held for her him, Lis was eaten alive by guilt and the fear of causing pain. Things dragged on a few weeks more ð weeks of tears and disbelief that ended the day Lis told Cass to leave. The day she told Cass she would stop believing in their love if she had to.
It didn' t take much persuading to convince a deeply hurt and angry Cass to join the Moonshadow for the oblivion of deep space when the opportunity arose shortly afterwards. She saw it as a chance to forget, or at least a chance to get as far as possible from any concrete reminder of Lis Dayton.
She hadn' t forgotten, but slowly the pain had been buried deep, cocooned in a void as cold and as empty as the space the Moonshadow floated in. She had learned how to keep it there and only took it out and held it close on rare occasions.
Part of that process had been throwing herself into a succession of affairs with various shipmates on the Moonshadow. They weren' t exactly meaningless, because she cared for all those women ... well, most of them anyway ... but they were unsatisfying, short-lived, and ultimately desensitizing. She hated herself for them.
Now she sat in the dark of her childhood bedroom, surrounded by teddy bears and train sets and baseball gloves, the old pain pounding hard and deep against her breastbone, tears slipping slowly down her cheeks. She was just surviving the hours between one mission and the next, waiting to find a way, a reason, to bury the pain down deep again.
The USS Voyager might only be a short-term solution, but she had learned that each experience led to another - infinite possibilities in infinite combination. She smiled through the tears at that thought then frowned as she tried to remember who had taught it to her. It sounded Vulcan.
Infinite possibilities in infinite combination. She just prayed that combination never again included Dr Elisabeth Dayton.
Cassie grimaced as another plaintive meow emanated from the cat-box hanging from her right hand. Bagheera was a notoriously bad traveler especially when it came to being transported. He' d already suffered through the jump from Brisbane to San Francisco this morning - not to mention the indignity of being left in a storage room while Cass received her official orders and briefing.
The Starfleet officer was not looking forward to the short hop up to McKinley Station, and if the pathetic yowling he was producing was any indication she was going to be spending most of the next month making it up to him.
She stood in line for the transporter wishing fervently that the next few hours would be over and done with. Settling into a new ship was always unnerving and she longed to get the formalities squared away so she could sink her teeth into her new assignment.
" Next!" the transporter chief shouted and Cass stepped forward. The grizzled veteran glanced up at her. " Morning, Lt," he said. " Where to?"
" McKinley, Chief," she replied, handing him a requisition slip for the hop.
" Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiaooooooooooow," came another sad wail and Cass rolled her eyes.
" Baggieeee," she pleaded. " It' s okay, boy. We' ll soon be there."
The transporter chief looked over his high desk at the cat-box in her hand. " Ah, glad he made himself known, Lt. I wouldn' t want to leave him behind by mistake."
Cass smiled self-consciously. God please don' t let anybody be meeting me at the other end, she prayed. I just want to get to my quarters and get him settled. And get me settled, she admitted to herself. It had been a rough 24 hours with her parents in which they' d succeeded in pushing just about every one of her hot buttons. Cass was feeling completely off-kilter as a result ð grumpy and short-tempered.
" Step up Lt," said the cheery chief. " We' ll have you both there in no time."
Cass picked up her guitar case and slung it over her shoulder, then did the same with the one small bag she had packed. Then she and the boy-cat walked up the two steps onto the transporter pad. " Ready when you are, Chief," she muttered.
Cassie' s world dissolved in a waterfall of golden sparkles. In the few seconds it took for her atoms to fly through the ether she felt the familiar disconnected sensation and heard another scared meow from Bagheera. As she started to form the words to calm the feline, though, it was all over and they were safely on the transporter pad in McKinley Station.
And there waiting for them was Captain Kathryn Janeway.
Damn, thought Cass, forcing a polite smile as the diminutive officer stepped forward in greeting. Since when does the captain personally welcome a junior officer?
" Lieutenant," Janeway nodded, offering a hand. Cass swapped Bagheera into her left hand and returned the shake, wincing as the cat began another series of yowls.
" Captain," she muttered in embarrassment. " Sorry about this. He hates being in the cage."
Janeway smiled disarmingly and bent at the waist to look into the cat' s box.
" Think nothing of it Lt. I' ve been looking forward to meeting our first passenger." She reached forward with a well-manicured finger and gingerly scratched the unhappy feline under the chin, a move which immediately quieted him. " Hello there, young man," she crooned, eliciting an unseen raised eyebrow from her new pilot. " I imagine you' re looking forward to getting out of there and stretching your legs, aren' t you? What' s his name, Cass?"
" Bagheera," the lieutenant replied, wondering at this starship captain who took time out of her busy schedule to make friends with a strange cat.
" Ahhh Kipling," responded Janeway, continuing to scratch the animal, who was now purring loudly. Oh Baggie, you are such a tart, thought Cass. " The black panther. Well, it certainly suits him." The captain straightened up and smiled at Cass again. " Come on, Lt. Let' s get you two onboard Voyager and then you can get your bearings."
An hour later Cass sat on the sofa of her new quarters on the starship, long legs stretched out, feet resting on the coffee table. Bagheera was curled in her lap, purring sleepily. He had spent the past hour exploring his new home while Cass had unpacked and tried to make the standard Starfleet living space more personal. She looked around, vaguely satisfied with what she' d done with the furniture and the limited amount of her own belongings she had brought along. Absentmindedly she scratched the top of the boy-cat' s head.
Not bad, she thought. Bigger than the quarters I had on the Moonshadow, by a long way. I wasn' t expecting that on a smaller ship. Guess I' m moving up in the world.
Cass knew she had about five hours before she was due at a senior staff meeting. I could spend that catching up on the sleep I missed last night, she pondered. Or I could go exploring. The cat made the decision for her by stretching out and falling asleep bonelessly across her lap. She smiled affectionately. Time for a catnap, she agreed, resting her head on the back of the sofa and closing her eyes. Just for an hour or so.
Lis Dayton surveyed her new office with satisfaction. So far Voyager had been a very pleasant surprise and suddenly she could begin to see that space duty was going to have its challenges. And that pleased her. The office was spacious and appropriate for a counselor' s room, the color tones cool and neutral, calming. Along one side was a panoramic window which, at the moment, afforded spectacular views of Earth and the outer ring of McKinley Station. The office was situated well forward on the Voyager' s hull, and the effect was going to be amazing once the ship was on the move, Lis knew.
She wandered around placing a few personal knick-knacks and wall-hangings, all the while thinking about the adjustments she was going to have to make over the coming weeks.
It' s been a long time since I was responsible for the mental health of an entire ship' s crew, she thought as she slid the picture of herself and Nickon honeymoon onto her desktop. Like the entire faculty in the Academy' s psychology department, Lis had taken her turn manning the student counseling center a couple of times a month. But there was a big difference between dealing with the day-to-day traumas of the young adults in school and the very real, sometimes catastrophic events on board a deep-space starship. It' s a whole different mindset, Lis mused.
She had to admit she was a little daunted. There were only 140 onboard Voyager, but it was Lis' job to get to know them all, to try and anticipate trouble before it happened. Better get started, she sighed.
" Computer, how long until the senior staff meeting?"
" One hour, 17 minutes," came the gentle feminine tones of the ship' s computer.
" Okay," muttered Lis as she sat down at her desk and pulled her terminal closer. " Computer, access ship' s personnel for USS Voyager, personal security code omega, three, two, two, one."
She watched as the crew manifest appeared on her screen, a long list of names, ranks, and accomplishments. Lis sighed.
" Might as well start at the top," she murmured, pulling up Captain Janeway' s file. She settled back in her seat and started to read.
Lis stared at the name on the screen.
LANSDOWN, Lt. Cassandra P.
Cold dread prickled up the psychologist's spine and she slapped her hand against a forehead suddenly damp and clammy.
"Oh my god," she murmured aloud. This cannot be happening. Quickly she scrolled through the particulars of Cass' recent past, realizing with astonishment that the young lieutenant had been handpicked by the captain for this assignment and would be acting security chief for the first part of the mission. Lis covered her eyes with both hands, fighting a rising tide of panic that threatened to make her stomach rebel. "Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god."
With a further jolt she calculated that she would be coming face to face with the object of her consternation in less than 10 minutes. And that won't be all, she thought as she tried to bring her anxiety under control. She's a senior staff member. It's a small ship. We're going to be running into each other almost every day. She swallowed hard. Nick's going to be running into her almost every day. She squeezed her eyes closed against the nausea.
And there was something else. A glimmer of something else she didn't want to look at too closely. A spark of feeling that she thought shut away forever. Twenty-six months, she thought. It's 26 months since I told Cass I would stop believing in our love if that's what I had to do to survive. But was that for my benefit or for hers?
Cass had been very angry, very hurt by their break-up, she knew. But maybe that made it easier to let me go? Have I really stopped believing?
Lis shook her head and gathered her thoughts. Stop it, she berated herself. Now, more than ever, you have to stop this. No doubt Cass has moved on. You can't go back there. She stood and unhooked her uniform jacket from the back of the chair. She slid her arms into the garment as she walked towards the door of her office.
God, Nick is going to be devastated, she thought, suddenly sorry that her husband's hard-won excitement was going to be spoiled by the knowledge of Cass' presence at close quarters. She tried to still her mind as she stepped onto the turbolift. I wonder if she's as beautiful as I remember her ...
Cass came awake with a surge that left her gasping for air and sent the cat scurrying for the safety of the bedroom. She struggled for several seconds to remember where she was as her heart threatened to pound its way up into her throat. She had no idea how long she been sleeping or what had woken her. The sick feeling in the pit of her stomach told her there was every chance she was already late for her first Voyager staff meeting. Quickly she scrambled for her uniform jacket and boots which had fallen on the floor.
" Computer, how long till the senior staff meeting?" She pulled on a boot, hopping across the room as she tried to maintain her balance.
" The senior staff meeting begins in three and one half minutes," intoned the computer.
" Shit," Cass muttered. Finally the boot and its partner were on and she ran for the door, brought up short by a sudden realization. " Computer, where is the goddamned senior staff meeting?" she asked in exasperation.
" Conference room one on the bridge level."
Cass burst out of her quarters and into the unfamiliar corridors of her new ship. She searched left and right for the nearest turbolift. Spotting one at the far end of the corridor she took off at a jog, grateful when the doors opened as she approached, allowing a young ensign to disembark. Cass slipped inside and leaned thankfully against the bulkhead.
" Conference room one," she muttered, knowing the turbolift would get her as close to her destination as possible.
Janeway looked around the room at her assembled staff. They were a relatively young crowd, with the exception of her First Officer, Cmdr Cavit, a wily veteran who had put in a special request to join Voyager. And you, Katie, she reminded herself, ironically. You surely can' t call yourself a rookie in this company.
Bright-eyed enthusiasm greeted her gaze as her eyes swept the room. The captain had opted to make this gathering a more informal affair and a young ensign was acting as waiter, passing around trays of drinks and hors d' oevres.
Captain' s Cocktail Hour, Janeway thought with self-deprecating humor. Maybe we should do this on a regular basis. She looked around again. One missing, she noted with slight irritation. Who ... ah ... Lt Lansdown came through the door at speed, dark hair flowing wildly in her wake.
"My apologies, Captain," the young officer muttered, lowering her striking eyes in embarrassment. "I got a little held up."
Janeway dismissed her tardiness with a wave of an elegant hand.
"Don't worry about it, Lt," she said casually. "We're all feeling a little disjointed as we settle in." She led the officer by the elbow to a group over near the window. " But the bottom line is we' re four hours from launch and it would be helpful if we got to know each other in a hurry." She came to halt in front of a tall, distinguished-looking man with serious brown eyes. " Cass, meet our First Officer, John Cavit. John, this is Cassandra Lansdown, our acting security chief until we recover Lt Tuvok. Then she' ll be one of our helm officers."
Cass shook hands with the senior officer.
"Sir." The dark-haired woman was feeling a little disconcerted by her sudden wrenching from sleep and all the new faces around her. But she'd learned from experience that looking confident was half the battle. Being taller than just about everybody in the room doesn't hurt either, she reflected, smiling and shaking the hands of the other officers standing in Cavit' s group.
"And this is our ship's counselor." The captain moved Cass round. The taller woman laughingly finished an exchange with the First Officer before swinging her eyes around to the next person in the captain's introduction line. "Lt Lansdown, meet Dr Elisabeth Dayton."
Cass would look back on it later and be amazed that she hadn't fainted dead away. Steady, but sorrowful, green eyes had looked up at her and a small hand that was all too familiar had wrapped around her own in a firm handshake. Inside Cass was dumbfounded, her thoughts and emotions in turmoil. But two years in deep space alone with her pain had not been completely wasted.
Cold, ice-chip blue eyes devoid of even the barest glimmer of friendliness gazed back at the psychologist.
My god, Lis thought as she shook the tall lieutenant's hand quickly. What have I done to her? " It's nice to see you again, Cass," she said hesitantly, dropping her hand back to her side.
"Doctor," Cass replied curtly.
"You two have met before?" asked Janeway, vaguely aware that things were not altogether cordial between her two officers.
"Yes, Captain," the taller woman said. "When I was between missions I was attached to Admiral Paris at the Academy briefly." Cass looked over the commanding officer's shoulder and spotted the younger Paris talking to Lt Stradi, Voyager' s third pilot. "If you'll excuse me, I need to have a word with the other helm officers." Before either woman had a chance to protest, Cass backed out of the conversation and headed for the safer waters of the more junior officers.
Janeway turned to her ship's counselor.
"It will certainly speed things along if you two already know each other," she said pleasantly, offering Lis another cocktail as the waiter passed.
"Thank you," Lis murmured, taking the glass. "I'm not sure that it's going to be a great help, Captain. But I promise you it won' t be a hindrance."
Janeway raised an elegant eyebrow and fixed the blonde with a steely grey-eyed gaze.
"Do I want to know the details, Dr?" she asked.
Lis smiled sadly but looked her new captain in the eye confidently.
"No ma'am," she replied firmly. "I'm certain it's not going to an issue."
Janeway nodded, dismissing the matter from her mind, knowing the professionalism of the two Starfleet officers would take care of whatever history was between them.
"How is your husband settling in?" she inquired, noting that Lansdown was making her way back over.
Lis followed her gaze and steeled herself as she watched Cass cautiously approach. God, she is every bit as gorgeous as I remember her, she thought wistfully. The dark, lanky form stopped by the captain's left shoulder, studiously avoiding eye contact with the psychologist. Answer the question, Lis, the blonde reminded herself.
"He's very happy, thank you Captain," she said quickly. I have a bad feeling that's not going to last very long though, she admitted to herself sadly.
"Excuse me Captain," Cass murmured. "If you don't mind I'd like to go meet with the various security teams before we launch."
Janeway nodded, again noting the odd frisson of tension between the two women. She sighed to herself. Nothing is ever easy.
"Of course, Lt," she replied. The taller woman turned on her heel and left the conference room without as much as a glance at Lis. Janeway turned back to the blonde and smiled at her. "That one's going to go far, I think," she said. "At least, I have high hopes."
Lis nodded, feeling a strange twinge of pride at the older woman's compliment towards Cass.
"She's a very special person, Captain," she replied softly.
Grey eyes held hers for a few significant seconds.
"I'm getting that impression, Doctor," the captain said quietly.
Cass sat in the gloom of her office, elbows resting on the desk, face buried in her hands. She trembled from head to foot, the effort of surviving the Captain' s cocktail hour without batting an eyelid finally catching up with her.
" I' m trapped in a goddamn nightmare," she muttered to nobody in particular. How the hell did this happen, she wondered. And if what I overheard is correct, he' s here as well. " Isn' t that going to work out just peachy?" Cass felt sick and she knew that much of the shaking in her hands was shock.
And anger, she acknowledged. Two years down the track and she' s reduced me to a quivering wreck in the space of five minutes. I' m still angry with her after all this time. " How is that possible?" she beseeched the empty room. Damn it, how the hell is this going to work?
The soft audible chime announced the arrival of someone on the other side of the office door.
God, please don' t be her, Cass found herself wishing. " Come in," she called out, hoping she didn' t sound as shaky as she felt. She pushed her fingers through her unruly black locks and sat back in her chairas the doors opened, admitting one of the young ensigns assigned to her section. Thank you.
" The security teams are here, Lt," said the eager ensign.
Cass sighed and reached for the hair-band tucked in her pocket. She stood and began gathering her hair into a more manageable ponytail as she followed the ensign out into the security department' s main briefing room. Pull yourself together Lansdown, she told herself firmly. Get the job done. She glanced around at the group of officers, all of them her responsibility, at least until the formidable Lt Tuvok was back on board. Survive the next month, get the job done, apply for a transfer, and get the hell off this ship and away from her.
" Okay, let' s go over the shift rotations," she said, gesturing to everyone to sit down as she walked to the front of the room. " Then we' re going to talk about just what is waiting for us in the Badlands."
Damn you to hell, Lis Dayton.
Lis paced nervously across the floor of the quarters she and Nick had been assigned. Any minute now her husband was going to walk through the door and she would have to tell him that Cass was onboard. There was no point trying to hide it, she thought as she rearranged some ornaments on the dining table.
Look at me. Realizing just how anxious she was, she picked up a padd and walked over to the sofa under the window. Voyager had launched a couple of hours earlier and the warp field surrounding the ship distorted the star field into streaks of silver light. She stared at them pensively, trying to let their rushing motion soothe her.
What a mess, she sighed. Cass is still furious with me, Nick is going to go back to watching me like a hawk and suspecting everything I do, and Janeway already knows something's up. She laughed quietly at the irony of it all. And I didn't want to be here in the first place. She rubbed her face with a tired hand. I can't win.
She heard the hiss of the door and turned to greet her husband. One look at his face and she knew the good news had already reached him. He stepped into the room, arms limp by his side, all the day's excitement gone from his eyes.
Lis stood and walked towards him silently.
"Did you know?" he whispered hoarsely, putting his arms out to deflect her when she sought to reach out for him. Lis stood helplessly in front of him, shaking her head.
"Not until about 10 minutes before the senior staff meeting," she replied. Big brown eyes stared at her, brimming with tears. "Nick, I swear. How could I have known?"
He continued to gaze at her until she was forced to drop her eyes, the old familiar guilt gnawing away at her. Finally he stepped past her and walked listlessly into their bedroom without another word.
Now what do I do? Lis wondered, watching her husband fall onto their bed. He curled into a fetal position, his back to her. Nothing I can say is going to make him feel any better. I can't change anything about this, neither what I did two years ago, or the fact that we're stuck on this ship with Cass for the next month.
Quietly she walked into the darkened bedroom and crawled onto the bed, wrapping herself, spoon-like, around the slight body of her husband.
"I'm sorry," she whispered. "I'm sorry I hurt you, and I'm sorry it's come back to haunt us." She slid her arms around his waist and rested her forehead against the back of his head. "I don't know what else to say, Nick."
She knew he was crying, the sound of his breath hitching a stab into her heart.
"D-do you still love her?" he stammered.
Oh Jesus, Nick, don't ask me that, Lis groaned internally. How do I answer that without lying or hurting you? She sighed deeply.
"I don't know how to answer that, love," she replied as honestly as she could, knowing it wasn't what he wanted to hear. "You know how I felt about her at the time and to be truthful, I've tried very hard not to think about it all since then. You know that I ... that I don't ..." She struggled to find the words for the emotions.
Nick sighed, a deep, shaky exhalation.
"I know you don't fall in love easily," he whispered, feeling her nod her affirmation behind him. "God knows it took me long enough to persuade you to have me." She squeezed him quickly.
"Don't do that, Nick," she said.
"It's true though," he replied and she could hear the sad note of resignation in his voice. "And I know how you feel ... felt ... about her." He emphasized the word with a sting of bitterness. "I don't stand a chance."
"That's not true," Lis said fiercely, pulling him around by the shoulder till he was on his back. She looked down at him, brushing the tear streaks from his cheek. "I'm here aren't I? I broke it off with Cass and I stayed with you because I do love you and I do want our marriage to work. I care about what we've built here."
"But she's who you really want to be with," he persisted.
"How can you say that?" she implored. "It's coincidence that we're on the same ship, Nick. Coincidence. And it's only for a month. Then we can get a transfer as far away from Cassandra as possible. Though judging by how angry she still seems to be with me, I'm guessing she'll put in her transfer papers long before we do."
Nick wasn't about to be so easily appeased, however.
"Angry? What the hell does she have to be angry about?" he spat out, rolling off the bed and stalking to the chair in the corner. He threw himself down into it. "She got what she wanted."
Lis shook her head slowly, wishing she could explain how there had been no winners in the situation at all.
"She didn't. None of us did." She moved to the end of the bed and sat opposite her husband, resting her elbows on her knees. "I hurt her very badly, like I hurt you." She glanced up at him, noting his set jaw and creased brow. "And she's angry, just like you are," she said softly.
He turned to look at her, his eyes red and baleful.
"I don't give a good goddamn what she feels, Lis," he muttered.
"I understand that," she answered quietly. "But the fact is we have to co-exist for the next month. I wish I could tell you that we can stay away from each other, but we're both in the senior staff and it's a small ship." She paused, knowing the difficult part was about to come. "You have to trust me, Nick."
Her husband said nothing. Finally he stood and walked into the bathroom. After a while Lis could hear the shower running.
"That went well," she muttered to nobody in particular. Exhausted by the roller-coaster emotions of the day, she stripped off her uniform and threw on an old t-shirt she used to sleep in. With a shock she remembered it had once belonged to Cass. I don't think I'd better tell him that, she thought as she slid between the Starfleet-issue blue cotton sheets.
The sounds from the bathroom subsided and Nick padded in, a towel wrapped around his waist. Lis watched in silence as he readied himself for bed, pulling on a pair of pajama pants. He climbed into bed and lay on his back, hands clasped behind his head.
Lis didn't know what to do. They had never been the kind of couple who slept wrapped around each other so it would not have been normal for her to cuddle close. Instead she lay on her side, waiting for him to say something.
"I'm not sure I can trust you," he eventually said, the emotion making his voice quaver. "That's been the hardest thing. I used to believe you about everything and anything. If you said it was so, it was so." Lis stayed quiet, recognizing that this was the most they had ever said about this subject since the day she told Nick she had broken off her relationship with Cass. "I've tried since ... since that time ... to trust you again, and I thought things were okay." He swallowed and she watched his Adam's apple move. "But finding out that woman is on this ship today ..." He shook his head. "Now I have to wonder how long it's going to be before ..." Again he swallowed. "Before being with her is way more attractive to you than being with me."
Lis closed her eyes against the pain that washed off the slight figure next to her.
"It's not going to happen, Nick," she whispered. "I know you have no reason to believe me, but all I can do is keep saying it and proving it every day."
"I know. I'm sorry."
He rolled over onto his side, turning his back on his wife. A few minutes passed and Lis realized he was crying again, his sniffles giving him away. She reached out slowly with one hand and gently began rubbing circles between his shoulder blades. Eventually she felt him start to relax and she kept up the motion until she was sure he had finally drifted into the oblivion of sleep.
I'll never be able to make it up to him, was her last thought before she too slid into slumber.
"You want to do what?" It wasn't often Captain Kathryn Janeway was caught by surprise by anything, but Cass could see that she had certainly jolted her commanding officer. "Two days into your first mission on this ship and you're telling me that you want to put in for a transfer?" Steel-grey eyes bored into Cass from the petite but intimidating figure sitting behind the ready room desk.
Cass shifted from one foot to the other, painfully aware that she was pushing the limits of the captain's patience. Janeway took one more look at the padd her acting security chief had handed her and then tossed it onto the desktop.
"Sit down, Lt," she said, her already distinctive voice low and dangerous.
Hesitantly Cass dropped into the indicated chair.
"What's going on?" Janeway deliberately softened her tone, knowing instinctively that there was something more to this than a new officer's inability to settle into an assignment. She had a nagging suspicion she knew what was behind the young lieutenant's request. But she waited, wanting to hear what Lansdown had to say. The dark-haired beauty had already proven to be a more than competent security chief and Janeway was anxious to keep her in the Voyager fold if there was a way.
Cass dropped her eyes.
"It's personal, Captain," she said quietly. "Nothing to do with the ship, or you, or the mission." Long, elegant hands fidgeted in her lap.
"Not good enough, Lt," Janeway growled. "You are vital to the success of this mission. Transfer or no, I need your mind on the job. Clearly, if all you've been able to think about for the first two days of this assignment is how to get off this ship, then perhaps I made a mistake in appointing you in the first place."
That stung and Cass raised her eyes quickly to the challenge in the grey ones opposite.
"Captain, with all due respect, that's not fair." That provoked a raised eyebrow from the officer, and Cass quelled the urge to backtrack. "Everything is ready for the Badlands. The teams are in place and training, and I'm doing everything I can to make sure we're fully prepared."
Janeway said nothing but stood and walked around the desk, casually tapping the lieutenant on the shoulder and hooking a finger at her.
"Come with me, Cass," she said quietly, turning and walking up onto the highest level of the ready room where a long sofa lined the bulkhead under the window and a low table held a coffee pot and two empty cups. Janeway sat down and patted the cushion next to her. "Sit down and relax."
Cass couldn't imagine a less relaxing request but complied anyway. She felt a growing sense of doom surrounding the thought that the captain was going to extract the truth from her whether she liked it or not. She tipped her head to one side as she watched Janeway pouring two cups of steaming coffee, nodding when the captain raised an eyebrow over the sugar bowl.
She certainly has a unique command style, thought Cass. She had discovered that being around the captain always made her feel awkward and gangling, like a giraffe let loose in a doll's house. But there was no mistaking the woman's presence.
Janeway handed the lieutenant her coffee and leaned against the sofa, her left arm draped along its back. She watched as the young woman juggled the cup and saucer gracefully. She's a riddle wrapped in a mystery wrapped in an enigma, the captain thought. So elegant and calm but there's a steel-trap mind and killer instincts under there. Beautiful.
Again the younger woman seemed content to let the captain lead the way. Janeway decided it was time to be direct.
"This is about Lis Dayton, isn't it?"
Startled blue eyes widened at that, but Lansdown quickly recovered her outer calm, at least. "Was it that obvious?" she murmured.
Janeway smiled. "You went from bright and cheerful with other members of the staff to being cold and abrupt in the space of half a minute during the staff meeting, Lt." She noted Cass' discomfort and patted the younger woman's knee. "I don't usually involve myself in my crewmembers' personal lives, Cass," she said gently. "And I'm not about to start now, but surely whatever is between you two is something that can be laid to rest. After all you have been out in deep space for two years." She leaned forward. "I didn't recruit you just for this mission, Lt. You're good. And we need you here."
Cass carefully placed her cup and saucer on the low coffee table and sat back, fixing her captain with a steady gaze.
"If I don't go, Captain, Lis and her husband will. I guarantee it. Even if she could tolerate being around me, he certainly won't put up with it." She felt the flush rising up her neck and across her face, aware that her body was giving away the strength of her feelings. "You may need me, Captain, but not at the expense of two other valuable officers."
Janeway sipped her coffee while she contemplated the situation. Then she too placed her cup on the table.
"I have a lot more faith in you than you seem to, Lt," she said. "I know you - and our ship's counselor - can learn to work around each other. The bottom line is you have to. We're already out beyond Federation space and I'm not about to dump you off at some outlying port just because of some ancient history." She paused and held Cass' gaze with a steady gaze. "It is ancient history?"
"Yes Captain," Cass replied quietly, trying to ignore the twisting pain in her guts. She saw Janeway's expression soften.
"I'm going to take your transfer request under advisement, Lt," the captain said. "We've got a month ahead of us. We're going to wait and see how you feel at the end of that time. And if I hear from either Dr Dayton or Dr Standish, I'll tell them the same thing."
It was the only viable solution, Cass knew. She nodded slowly and stood, the captain following suit. The younger woman towered over her superior officer, but it didn't stop Janeway reaching up and putting a reassuring hand on her shoulder.
"Patience, Lt. And perseverance. Who knows what the next month might bring."