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The Captains' Dance

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Captain Kathryn Janeway sat surreptitiously observing the man beside her, the near-stranger she must now trust with the lives of all her crew. She had understood him the moment he spoke the words “Captains’ Dance.” The practice dated from the earliest days of space exploration, long before humans entered the game, although human captains had engaged in the practice from time to time. Starfleet considered it part of the mythology of space travel and took no formal position on its propriety. Janeway had first heard it explained during an Academy training exercise led by a Vulcan professor named Sunek. They were simulating first contact situations at an Arizona training site when another cadet raised the question of a mysterious ritual known as the Captains’ Dance.

Sunek had hesitated, then suspended the simulation to sit the cadets down on a rock outcropping for some impromptu instruction.

“The Captains’ Dance,” he said, “is a highly risky maneuver attempted only in survival situations where trust must be forged quickly. It is possible in first contact situations, and therefore relevant to today’s instructional goals. A Captains’ Dance takes place in private between two starship captains. During the encounter, the goal is to share the maximum degree of physical and emotional intimacy, to share personal secrets that will allow each captain a rare degree of insight into the other’s character.”

“Exactly what kind of physical intimacy are you talking about?” asked the cadet who had brought up the subject, a Bajoran named Chalan Morio who specialized in awkward questions. “Do you mean sex?”

Sunek, being Vulcan, did not stumble over his answer. “For Vulcans, who are physiologically incompatible with many Alpha quadrant races, the Captains’ Dance typically consists only of a deep mind meld – the deepest form of intimacy for a Vulcan, but not quite the full physical expression of the traditional Captains’ Dance. For sexually compatible captains, the ritual means sexual intimacy, an expression of trust and mutual vulnerability that can cement a shaky alliance.”

Janeway had ventured a question. “Do the crews know what’s going on?” Although she had difficulty imagining circumstances in which she would consider a Captains’ Dance, she had far more difficulty imagining how she would explain it to her crew, let alone hold her head up around them afterward.

Sunek gave one curt head shake. “A Captains’ Dance must be kept strictly private between the two leaders involved, and never mentioned after its conclusion,” he said. “I warn against it for humans, although I must confess that my one experience with the ritual was a transformative moment in my life. My knowledge of my counterpart added greatly to my own comprehension of her species and the success of our joint endeavor.”

“What species was that?” Chalan Morio wanted to know.

“I cannot speak of it,” Sunek answered.

Young Ensign Janeway tried to ask more questions about the practicalities of the ritual, but Sunek changed the subject to a discussion of the next set of tactical challenges in their training exercise. She remembered being very disappointed. She'd come across mentions of the Captains’ Dance here and there in histories of space travel – Captain Kirk seemed to have been an enthusiastic practitioner – but until this day, she'd found nobody willing to discuss what exactly the ritual was. Her father had reacted as if she’d asked about his own sex life and told her she had no reason to know about such things.

Then at the end of the exercise, as they were flying back to the starbase, Sunek had taken a seat beside her and said in a voice only she could hear: “You must only consider a Captains’ Dance with a worthy partner, someone with whom you would consider intimacy under less urgent circumstances. Consider carefully, but do not dismiss it out of hand. The value correlates highly with the risk.”

Sunek moved off quickly to finish his report on the training exercise and Janeway was left with a sense that a door had opened on a dark and dangerous region, with no proper training on how to navigate. Aboard Voyager, faced with a dangerous new quadrant of space ahead, the memory came back to her as fully formed as if Sunek had spoken his warning the day before.

Janeway had few officers to consult about staff choices. The decisions ultimately rested with her alone, when she would have appreciated Commander Cavit’s absurdly detailed and humorless staffing analyses – were he not lying in a morgue cooler in Sickbay. Tuvok had given his wise counsel about the need to integrate the crews while maintaining Starfleet standards, and his opinions about the merits of the senior Maquis crew. He approved of Chakotay, Torres, and Ayala, but suggested that a Bajoran woman Janeway hadn’t met yet was a treacherous loose cannon (not his term, but Janeway got the point) who should be settled on the nearest M class planet.

The ship’s database held the full service records of all the candidates for bridge crew, including Captain Chakotay. Janeway had studied the file before the mission, and now she returned to it with greater interest. Before resigning Starfleet to join the Maquis, he'd been an exemplary officer, marked for the highest command. There could be no doubt about his qualifications as first officer. But trust was the essential thing. Given his Maquis past, would his loyalty really be to her and Voyager’s entire crew, or would he seek a different agenda? Would he undermine her? And what kind of man would throw away a Starfleet career to join a group so many labeled terrorists? There was no guidance but gut instinct on these critical questions.

Without the luxury of much time for contemplation, Janeway made the command decision she'd been trained to make. While the Starfleet crew were still making repairs and the Maquis crew confined to a cargo bay, she called Chakotay to her ready room. Without prelude, she offered him the position of first officer. He was standing in front of her desk, only a few feet from her, not at attention but not fully at ease. He still wore his Maquis clothing, not so much a uniform as a collection of comfortable clothes that probably hid stains, burns, and dirt better than hers. At her words, he gave a few short nods, as if he had been expecting this conversation.

“Are you really comfortable with a Maquis sitting next to you on the bridge?” he asked. “Wasn’t your mission to arrest me?”

Janeway stepped out from behind the desk. He was tall enough that she strained to stand as straight as she could, almost on tip-toe in the high-heeled boots she used for what little increase in stature they could provide. She stayed a few feet from him, where she wouldn’t have to crane her neck quite so hard to look him in the eye.

“It was,” she said. “But as you know, everything’s changed. I have no new orders from Starfleet and I don’t expect more any time soon. We’ll have to make this up as we go along. My only condition is that we do it as a Starfleet crew.”

Chakotay looked her over, from the tight bun, to the uniform that she'd kept crisp in spite of everything, to the polished boots. Janeway's expression hardened. She knew how she looked. The more buttoned-up she was, the better crewmen listened and the higher they maintained their personal standards. It wasn’t her job to look approachable. When his gaze reached her eyes, she met it with a defiant glare. Judge her, would he? She’d teach him a thing or two about running a starship before all this was over, she was sure of that.

“I’ll do it on one condition,” he answered. “I’ll be your Starfleet first officer, and I’ll help you incorporate the Maquis into a Starfleet crew, but first I need to know exactly who I’m dealing with.” Chakotay straightened a little, dramatizing the difference in their sizes. Even antagonized as she was, she felt not so much that he was trying to intimidate her, but that he wanted her to know he would defend his crew. As her first instinct had been when he appeared on her bridge, she found herself liking him in spite of herself. He seemed steady and earnest, nothing like the cocky space cowboy she’d pictured sparring with Tom Paris.

Janeway tilted her head. “Okay. What is your condition, then?”

Some expression she couldn’t identify passed across his face – part anxiety, part shadow. “I want a Captains’ Dance,” he said, in the same bold tones with which he might have demanded parley with a pirate captain.

At first, she was so surprised she nearly laughed out loud. An instant later, the significance of his words gripped her fully. The keen look on her face drained away like water from a sieve. She swallowed. She knew that her Captain’s mask had fallen and left her face blank with shock. She struggled to regain the appearance of control.

To be continued…