Given the nature of the Delta Quadrant I suppose it was about par for the course, though I still have trouble dealing with that sort of extravagance. Our trip to the World of Veils ended with pirates, epiphanies, and renaissances; and began, like all good quests, with uncertainty and hope. In between there was grief and conflict; a few rather seductive holy men, if your taste runs to such things; and, most of all, births. And like all births, there were the requisite labor pains; and newborns, both literal and figurative; and, of course, lullabies. Which is as good a place as any to start.
The room was dim to keep the glare from the baby's eyes, and quiet, barring the soft bip and ping of the monitors. Kes' baby stirred on my chest, restless. She was happy enough, but hadn't dropped off yet. I settled back in the big armchair B'Elanna's maintenance people had dragged in, and started the lullaby again, wrapping my voice around the vaguely middle-eastern melody.
"To my baby's cradle at night
Comes a sweet little goat, all snowy white;
The goat shall run to the market,
While mother her watch will keep,
To bring back raisins and almonds:
Sleep, my little one, sleep"
I nodded, not needing to look up. After two years I know Chakotay's voice. "Mmm. I think so. My grandmother used to sing it."
"How's she doing?"
"Kes or the baby?"
"The baby's going to be all right. The baby-holding seems to be working, there haven't been any more problems, and we have plenty of volunteers to snuggle her, so she should be fine. It's a good thing Kou noticed she only had the attacks when she wasn't being held. As for Kes.... not so good. Situation stable, if you define stable as 'getting worse at a steady rate'. "
Which said it all pretty succinctly. I patted the baby's back, glad she didn't know the tragedy shaping up around her. "You here to take a shift with the baby?"
"No. Tuvok's handing over the bridge to Chin when second shift starts, and wanted to tell whoever was doing cuddle detail that he'd be down to relieve them soon. I guess that means you're off-duty as soon as he gets here."
"He could have just opened a link and told me over the com system."
"I guess he didn't want to wake the baby with that beep the link opens with."
"I suppose. Hold her a minute, will you? I think she needs a new diaper, and I used the last one earlier, when I came in."
"Tell me where they are, and I'll get one."
Chakotay'd been hovering around sickbay ever since Neelix had crashed the party at Sandrine's a week before, but had never come so close to the baby, so far as I knew. He was shy as a deer about it; memories of Seska's death, and the loss of 'his' baby pressing in too heavily, ghosts at what was looking more and more like a deathwatch. I wasn't the only one who'd ached for him. He has come to be cherished on Voyager, and not by the Maquis alone. But he has his silences. I suspect I wasn't the only one with no idea how to give him any comfort. I handed the baby over, ready to save them both if he froze, hoping he wouldn't.
"Easier if you hold her."
I'll say one thing for him—he knew what he was doing. He supported her neck without having to be told, settled her in the turn of his arm like an old pro. I slipped into the next room, rummaging in cupboards for spare diapers, leaving him alone with her, and came back to find him gently running a finger over the funny, fuzzy, roached hair-ridge that makes her look like a little, palomino-dappled foal. He looked up, and grinned, and shook his head. "I can't decide if she's the silliest looking thing I ever saw, or the prettiest. Where do you want her?"
I nodded my head towards the rolling supply table we were using as a changing stand. I was relieved to see the smile. I'd missed it.
He let her hang on to his finger while I unwrapped her; blew softly across her mane, and grinned as she squirmed and blinked. She gurgled, and wriggled like a little pollywog, gazing up at him in clear delight.
They made a pretty picture, the two of them: the baby with her dapples and blue eyes, Chakotay dark-eyed and olive-skinned, with the bridge of his nose peeling from the burn he'd picked up on Egypt. I had to hide a smile watching the two flirt with each other. He seemed to have decided that, whatever else he felt, he liked little 'Kes jr.'.
It only took a minute to swap the soaked pad for a dry one. Chakotay collected the wet one, and had it down the disposer before I'd finished sealing the new diaper. I picked the little one up and was about to settle her back on my shoulder when Tuvok arrived.
He's too Vulcan to admit it, but he loves babies. He reached out for our little pony-child with a determined certainty. He rested her on his chest, head nestled in the turn of his neck, and murmured to her in Vulcan. It sounded like a camel clearing its throat, but I followed just enough of it to know he was telling her she was all right now—Tuvok was there to save her from all the crazy humans. It reminded me of how he'd been when T'Pel gave birth to their last.... He finally looked up from her to us. "How is she?"
"Fine. The doctor says that unless something else goes wrong she seems to be over the worst of it. The holding seems to be triggering the hormonal and chemical responses she should be having, so it's working as a substitute for being a pouch-baby. She took 80 ml of replicated milk, we just changed her, and she ought to settle down and sleep soon."
Tuvok arched an eyebrow at Chakotay. "We?"
Chakotay gave a sour grin. "Don't look at me.... Mama Janeway had that well in hand. All I did was watch."
"I am relieved. The child has suffered sufficient trauma already, without exposing her to further stress."
Chakotay snorted. "At least with me she won't think she's landed in the wrong starship. I smile, once in a while."
"Precisely my point, commander. How is Kes?"
I tried to find a way to give the bad news. I was spared the necessity.
"She's dying." The holodoctor had materialized like the bad fairy, his face tense and anguished. "I've done everything I can think of. None of it works. She's dying."
The better our medical technology is the harder it seems to be to accept the implacability of death.
Chakotay crossed the room to look into the main bay. "How long?"
The doctor looked hungrily towards the room beyond, as though he could see through walls to his patient beyond. "I can't say for certain. I've succeeded in slowing the progress of the systemic collapse, and the hormonal surrogates and synthesized antigens I prescribed are performing some of the correct functions to stand in for her own, but there's no sign that her body is going to start producing the substances again naturally. Her immune system is still fluctuating wildly: sometimes she appears to have no resistance at all—other times too much. Her body is self-destructing. Nothing I've done has done more than delay the inevitable."
I reached out, put my hand on Chakotay's arm, feeling the tension bunching his muscles into burls. "Commander.... he doesn't know."
He relaxed slightly, nodding, and looked back to the doctor. "Sorry."
The doctor nodded bleakly. "Apology accepted, Commander Chakotay. I understand. If I could answer your question I would."
Tuvok shifted the baby in his arms. "Perhaps it is better that you cannot. It has been my observation that the only thing undisciplined minds find more perturbing than imminent death is the certainty of when it will occur. Have you told Mr. Neelix?"
The holodoctor's mouth tightened, bitterly. "Mr. Neelix isn't answering my calls on the com system, and hasn't chosen to enter the sickbay since she went into coma three days ago. At the time he called me a charlatan, a quack, and a murderer." He lowered his head. "It is unfortunate that he appears to have been correct."
I stepped away from Chakotay, approaching the doctor. "Don't. You've done all you could. You're a doctor, not a miracle worker."
"I would prefer to be a miracle worker. I might be of some use then."
Sometimes it seems cruel to me that we create beings in our own image, and spare them so few of our own pains. Children, androids—Emergency Medical Holograms. I suppose it goes along with the better gifts we give. If he weren't able to love Kes so, he wouldn't grieve at losing her. But his pain was almost too clear.
Chakotay spoke again. "There's nothing more to do?"
The doctor shook his head. "I may be able to extend her life to a limited degree. But I've taken every action open to me, given the knowledge compiled in my memory banks. There is simply too little information available to me regarding Ocampan medicine to hold out any hope that I will be able to find a solution to her problems before they become terminal."
"If you put her in stasis? Maybe then you could buy the time to cure her...." Chakotay was clutching at straws, but at least they were logical straws. His face fell when the doctor shook his head, though.
"I don't know what would happen. She's responded atypically to several actions on my part already, and given the peculiarities of her metabolism, and her psychic abilities, and the speed of her aging cycles I'm not sure what the effect of placing her in a stasis field would be. It would be easier if she were already dead.... at least then I wouldn't have to worry about how her energy fields would interact with the stasis bed."
Tuvok cleared his throat, rocking the child slightly, his eyes locked to her face. "In that case perhaps it would be in the best interests of all concerned if you were to hasten her demise, rather than delay it."
Chakotay's outburst was no more than the doctor and I would have said if he hadn't beaten us to it.
Tuvok looked up from the child, brows up in cool reproval. "You misunderstand. Stasis technology is imperfect; but if I understand correctly, the revival rate for individuals who die of simple injuries and who are promptly placed in stasis is high. If the doctor were to kill Kes at this time, and place her in a stasis field, we would in that way acquire time to search for a cure for her physical ailments, and would have a better chance of reviving her than we would if we allowed her condition to deteriorate to the point at which she would die naturally."
Chakotay looked like he'd taken a hard blow to the head—totally dazed. The doctor was merely blank. I don't know what I looked like, but as the shock wore off I could feel the idea beginning to stir around; dangerous, but tempting. I looked at the doctor. "Can you estimate the probability that you'll find a cure for Kes before she dies?"
"Less than 12.37%"
"And the odds of your being able to revive her if you were to kill her in a simply repairable way, and place her in stasis?"
"Difficult to compute with absolute accuracy, for many of the same reasons that I am unable to cure her at this time. However, there are certain techniques used in the old cryogenic sciences that bring a body to an approximate condition of death. If I were to use those before attempting to place Kes in stasis.... that might work where the extreme answer of literal death and revival might not. I would be able to bring her to a state mimicking death under controlled conditions before attempting to place her in stasis, avoiding the problem of the interaction between her metabolism and the stasis system."
"And if you had the time she was in stasis to look for an answer.... do you think you could find a treatment for her?"
He shrugged. "Revival rates improve the briefer the time spent in stasis, and under the circumstances I'd want to leave her under for the briefest possible time. If one were to assume an optimal period of three months in stasis, I would estimate the odds of my finding a treatment at better than 23%"
"That's assuming I'm unable to acquire new information concerning Ocampan physiology and medical practice. Were we to find a source of information regarding Ocampan medicine the odds would increase substantially. Given the right information, I might even be able to declare it a practical certainty. That is a large condition, however: it is quite possible that we would find no such source, or that any source we found would merely confirm that her condition is beyond treatment, or that it is so novel that even those familiar with Ocampan physiology would be at a loss to treat it
"You're really thinking of going through with this...." Chakotay was deeply unhappy. I had to admit it was a big risk, and one that, after Egypt and his distress over the death of Jorland, was sure to be setting off unhappy associations for him.
Tuvok gazed calmly at him over the baby's head. "It is logical, commander."
My two senior officers locked gazes; something unresolved and possibly irresolvable passing between them. The intricacies of the relationship between those two have always been convoluted. They're even more so since the Great Maquis Strike, and Egypt. Chakotay swung his gaze to me unhappily. I gave him an opening:
"Commander, do you see any better options?"
He shook his head, mute. I nodded. I honestly hadn't expected more. The situation was too far into disaster to allow for many choices. I turned to the holodoctor, extending the question to him. "Doctor?"
"While the proposed course is radical, it has hope in its favor. I'd like to run some tests to try to determine Kes' probable response to stasis, and make a final evaluation of the current situation as it affects my chances of reviving her. But, unless I discover something unsuspected in her physiological makeup, this appears the best answer to an otherwise hopeless situation."
"How long to run the tests, and make your evaluation?"
"Perhaps three hours. Possibly more, depending on whether I can test Kes directly, or I'm forced to design a computer model to safely evaluate her responses without placing her at further risk."
I nodded. "Good. You do that, and I'll see what I can find out from our data banks about possible sources of medical information in this area of the Delta Quadrant. It shoots dinner, but that's standard around here. Commander, join me? I could use a systems-crawler on my team right about now." He nodded, and I turned back to Tuvok and the doctor. "In that case, gentlemen, I think we'll be on our way. Doctor, contact me as soon as you've finished your evaluation. Tuvok, have fun with the baby."
Tuvok sent me a thoroughly disgusted look. I've never been sure whether he admits to himself just how much he enjoys children or not—but I am sure he's not about to admit it in front of others. "I will endeavor to provide sufficient care and nurture to the infant, and will do what I can to ensure her continued well being. I will not have 'fun'."
I grinned, and collected Chakotay with a glance. As we left the room, I called back, in my clumsy conversational Vulcan: "Just don't let her mix with the crazy humans 'Uncle Tuvok'—we're a bad influence".
Chakotay turned to me as we headed down the hall. "I didn't know you spoke Vulcan."
I shook my head. "I don't. Not really. I can handle a simple conversation in a pinch, and I've got a great science vocabulary, at least as a reader. Vulcan is the language you have to know these days, if you want to keep up with scientific developments. I couldn't get through the more important professional journals without some proficiency. But I'm at my best with their logic symbology. Actual speech patterns are nearly beyond me."
We stepped into the turbolift, I ordered it to the bridge, and it started up with that smooth, stomach shifting slide. He looked over at me, with a speculative, curious expression. After a moment he risked a probe. "Tuvok says he knew you when you were a kid."
The turbolift stopped, and we moved out onto the bridge. Before Chin could scramble out of the seat I waved him back. The second shift crew watched as we came through, heading for Chakotay's office.
"You didn't know that?"
He looked at me from the corner of his eye. "No one ever told me."
I thought about it. "I assumed you'd read my records. You have access to everything but the really private material, and the restricted files. It never occurred to me you hadn't read them."
He shook his head, and started collecting his desk terminal. "I didn't have the option in the Maquis." He folded the terminal shut, picked it up, and headed for the door. "And I figured you'd take my head off if you found out I'd been messing around in your files for anything less than an emergency. Seems like an invasion of privacy, somehow."
We didn't say any more as we crossed through the bridge to my ready room. Once there Chakotay linked up the terminal so that it sat on the outer side of my desk, pulled up a chair, and keyed the computer on, slipping out the manual command pad.
"So—how did you and Tuvok hook up? When his wife was dancing in New Delhi?"
"You really have been getting better acquainted with Tuvok. No, that was before my time. If I remember the year correctly, I was at conception minus a few decades then. That was after Tuvok's first hitch, with Sulu. When I was 13 my father got an invitation to lecture at the Vulcan Science Academy for five years. Mother arranged to transfer over to the Vulcan branch of the Terran Diplomatic Corps, and we all ended up in ShiKhar, living in the diplomatic compound. Tuvok had been assigned to diplomatic branch and was doing guard detail for the Embassy. It let him stay on Vulcan with his family for awhile, but it was a slow job. Those of us living there had diplomatic immunity, so he was really there more to protect us from wild alien militants, and the rare Vulcan with a loose enough interpretation of Surakian philosophy to allow for a bit of political terrorism. I think he found a bored, miserable kid a bit of a relief from his own boredom. And I fit in the gap between his second child and the one T'Pel was carrying at the time. So he more or less adopted me. Coffee?"
He shook his head, his attention beginning to drift as he pulled up files on the screen. "No. I haven't been sleeping too well the last few days. If I start on the caffeine this late, I might as well not even hope to get my eyes shut."
"Firelios strain?" I asked, naming a gene-tailored varietal that didn't have the caffeine.
He made a face. "No. Maybe a cup of jago?" That one was a sour brew from Altair III.
I got cups of coffee and jago from the replicator, reminded myself I had to check the status of my replicator account soon, and sat down, keying on my own terminal.
Chakotay took a sip, and looked at me. "Are you really going to let the doctor do it?"
"The other choice is to let her die."
He ducked his head over the cup. "Logical."
"No wonder you and Tuvok work so well together. 'Great minds think alike'. He trained you well."
"You don't sound like you entirely approve."
He shrugged. "Just not the way I tend to think about things. I don't think I could have made that choice."
Egypt again, and maybe Seska haunting him. But I've seen his records, both those from when he was in Starfleet, and those bits Intelligence had picked up from his years in the Maquis, and he was underestimating himself—badly.
"Yes, you could have. You've made harder calls."
Which was true enough, but not his fault. The situation hadn't left a lot of room for him to make the kinds of calls he'd made as captain of Crazy Horse. The calls he'd made out here? There'd been some bad ones; but there'd been some good ones too, and he'd done better than I could have expected. It wasn't an easy situation for him.
He shrugged again, attention lost in the jago cup.
I started setting up my screen, opening directories and files. "How do you want to divide it up?"
"You're asking me?"
"You are the web monkey. Might as well get some use out of that."
"I was a web monkey. It usually got me in trouble of one kind or another." There was an edge of unhappiness, and bitter anger in the quiet line.
"It got you into the Academy."
I let it pass. 'Command unity' was proving a pain, in some ways—we weren't quite close enough for me to feel safe asking nosy, probing questions that might let him tell me where it hurt. I returned to my original question. "So, what end of the search do you want to take?"
"General files, I think. Can you take the stuff Stellar Cartography's compiled?"
I nodded, and soon we were both too deep in our work to talk further.
Back home in the Federation a search was a relatively simple thing. Not easy. Mastering any information system is an art, and the more complex the system the more mastery you need. But in the Federation there were entire battalions of folks sorting, evaluating, and cross-referencing materials.
Out here we're getting in over our heads. We're undermanned, over-worked, with too few people on board with archival science training. 'Memory Alpha' we aren't. Chakotay and I had a hell of a job on our hands. For awhile all you could hear was the patter of our fingers on the control pads, the occasional creak of a chair, the odd sigh or grumble of frustration as a promising lead turned out to be a dead end.
About an hour and a half into the search I'd completed a first cruise through the material in Stellar's files. I had a few hopefuls, and I needed to try again from another angle; but my eyes were tired and I needed a few minutes to let my brain cool off before diving back in. I stretched, picked up a cup of coffee that was cold as stone, and leaned back in my chair, looking over to see how Chakotay was coming.
He was still going strong, focused tight on his work. He'd taken the larger, and more miserable job: the general files that hadn't even had the sort and evaluation that most of the material in Stellar had been through. Fair enough. I was a good science officer once, but I know my limits. A good web monkey can climb places in a computer I can't, and make it cough up information in ways a more linear mind might not. Chakotay was playing the terminal like a master playing a Strad. Watching, I found myself caught.
He's a beautiful man.
'Shibui': it's a Japanese term for the kind of beauty that's as much a matter of unstated silences and subtle textures as anything. The word can mean a lot of different things: astringent; understated; bitter; endowed with the beauty of age. Simple beauty with depth, and evocation; beauty which has survived its way into grace. Weathered wood gates, river polished stones, bonsai trees, ancient raku tea services. That's Chakotay. His skin is looser than in holos of him as a young man; the crow's feet and wrinkles are beginning, the line of his jaw isn't as clean-cut and hard. He doesn't have the lithe resiliency that shows in the film records of him in sporting events back when he was in the Academy. But it's balanced by a grace he didn't have then, a sense that he's more at ease, less worried about who's watching. And I've found as I grow older myself that there's an odd tenderness I feel for faces that look like they've actually seen a few things. And beautiful eyes, and a smile to die for if you can get him laughing. He sends me into red alert if I let myself notice.
The last two years it's seemed wiser not to notice—or try hard not to let it show when nature flags me down in spite of my caution. Reality has never allowed for more than flirt and dream, though, and there's always been the needs of the work or the next crisis to come around the bend to burn away any romantic haze before it's done more than start to develop. But in the quiet of the office, with him locked hard into his work, it seemed safe enough to let myself feel the little shudder of "nice.... very nice" that I don't allow myself normally. A small indulgence: to let myself admire a man I'd come to admire in more ways than one. And it's not as though he hasn't paid me the same compliment a time or two. So I looked, and enjoyed—and worried.
He looked too tired.
I sighed, finished the cold coffee, rubbed my eyes, and returned to the terminal. I'd try to deal with it later. For the time being there was enough on my plate with the question of Kes. I pushed it to the back of my mind; another problem to be dealt with on the day the Delta Quadrant gave me the time and stability to take it on.