by E. L. Zimmerman
Standing at the head of the conference room table, Captain Kathryn Janeway laid her hands, palms down, on the tabletop. She felt the cool metal under her soft skin. Sighing, she leaned forward, closing slightly the gap between herself and her officers. Displaying an almost symbiotic response, the group countered, leaning forward, all with expectant expressions on their faces.
"This decision has been six month's in the making, people," she stated definitively. Then, she pursed her lips, lost in concentration. "I've considered your requests. All of them. I've heard your arguments. All of those, as well." Gesturing toward the Maquis-rebel-turned-commander to her left, she added, "I've even carried on a rather heated debate with your first officer, Mr. Chakotay, over here."
She lifted her hands from the table, stood upright, and crossed her arms tightly across her chest.
"But," she offered, "try as I might, I'm afraid I have succumbed to the inevitable."
If they could have, the crew would've leaned forward even more.
"Shore leave it is," she announced.
A childlike roar of delight went up from what she had once believed were senior officers. Janeway wouldn't have been surprised to learn that the uncharacteristic outburst was heard on the bridge.
"People, people, people!" she tried, raising her hands to calm them down. "Can we at least hold off the celebration until everyone's arrived?"
At that very moment, as if on cue, the conference doors parted.
"Sorry we're late, Captain," Kes's lilting voice said.
Slightly disheveled and with a smile, Neelix followed his Ocampan mate into the room. Janeway glanced over and noticed that Kes, as she walked, was straightening the soft, pastel outfit that snugly fit her lithe Ocampan frame.
'I don't want to know,' was all Janeway thought.
"Captain," Neelix began eagerly, running his hands across the tufts of his hair to slick them either back or down, "I offer the most heartfelt apologies! I'm terribly ... just so terribly sorry that we're late!"
"Terribly sorry," Kes repeated.
Quickly, nervously, Neelix flashed a smile around the command crew. "We were ... ah ... unavoidably detained."
'I don't want to KNOW,' Janeway repeated inside her mind.
Stepping forward, ignoring the curious glances from the crew, the Tallaxian took a chair opposite his lovely companion. "We were ... uh ... indisposed ... for the time being." Quickly and curtly, Neelix locked his hands together, dropping them on the tabletop, sighing nervously. For a moment, he shuffled uncomfortably in his chair. "Terribly ... terribly sorry, Captain. It won't happen again."
As raucous as the crew's outburst had been, the room had fallen completely silent.
"Err," Neelix tried, "what are we talking about?"
Janeway narrowed her eyes at the Tallaxian morale officer. Briefly, she glanced over at the demure Kes, who looked up, looked away, looked back, brushed her hair down, and smiled weakly at the senior officer.
Stifling a smile, Janeway remarked, "Mr. Neelix, if I didn't know any better, I'd say this was the first time I was witnessing a Tallaxian blush."
The crew burst with laughter.
Nervously, Neelix smiled in response to his shipmates' jest. "Not at all, Captain. Tallaxians never blush! I assure you!"
"Thank you for joining us," Janeway finished. "Better late than never."
Reaching over, Ensign Harry Kim patted Neelix on the shoulder. "Bringing you up to speed, Neelix, the Captain has just announced that we've earned a bout of shore leave."
Neelix smiled, clasping his hands together. "Outstanding news, Captain! As morale officer, I can tell you that the crew will be thrilled."
"Since our arrival in the Delta Quadrant, we've logged six months of serious spaceflight time without any kind of layover," Chakotay cut in. "I, for one, think a rest stop is in order, at least for a couple of days. Relaxation, or meditation, helps everyone to get back on basics."
"With all due respect, I couldn't agree less," B'elanna Torres continued to argue her point. "Captain, our efficiency ratings are at an all time high." She stared intently at Janeway. "I think the crew is poised and focused. I say, let's get a bit further through this sector and then take a break."
Tom Paris couldn't stand it any longer. "Well, with all due respect to our chief engineer, the ship's efficiency rating is through the roof in Engineering. That's because she's doing all the work!" Fearing an full Klingon assault, Tom cautiously turned to her. "B'Elanna, the Alpha Quadrant isn't going anywhere. Quite frankly, at this speed, we're hardly going anywhere! I agree with the Captain. A pit stop might do the entire crew, including Engineering, a world of good."
"A pit what?" the half-Klingon-half-human seethed.
"Never mind," Tom answered, sitting back, momentarily fearing for his safety. He'd been subject to many of B'Elanna's barbs, and she could argue with the best of them. "Bad analogy."
"At ease," Janeway ordered mildly, "the both of you."
"I say," Chakotay continued, "we take two days vacation, some old-fashioned rest and relaxation." He waved his hand in B'Elanna's direction. "If you're that intent on maintaining your efficiency rating, with the Captain's approval I'll have the warp core beamed down to the planet's surface with you. Some people take a book. You can take a warp core."
"B'Elanna," Harry interrupted, "do you realized how much time we've spent lately on extravehicular repair efforts on the sensor dish alone? The Delta Quadrant is full of microscopic debris that, for whatever reason, just slips through our shields and muddies up the ship!"
"Muddies up the ship?" B'Elanna chirped. "Is that a technical term I missed during my short stay at the Academy?"
"Doctor," the captain sternly interrupted, hoping to get the meeting back on course, "what's your diagnosis on this?"
From his position on the conference room viewscreen, the Doctor sat behind his desk, his expression grim.
"Frankly, Captain, I think your crew is bantering like children. That, in and of itself, suggests that a modest distration might be in order. However, I appreciate your invitation. Considering the topic of conversation is the psychological well-being of the crew, and considering that my role is to serve as the ship's chief physician and all -"
"Doctor," Janeway pressed, placing her hands on hips, "on topic, if you please."
Curtly, he replied, "Yes, Captain." His expression was one of mild annoyance. "My opinion, after all, would be the only one formulated under the precepts of medical observation."
Impatiently, Janeway asked, "And your opinion would be ...?"
Holographically, the Doctor harrumphed. "I believe the crew is suffering from the accelerated stress factors of remaining almost universally shipbound. Coupled with the knowledge of being 70,000 light years from home, spacesickness has taken on a whole new meaning in the Delta Quadrant."
"Thanks for your support, Doctor," B'Elanna spat. "Captain, if we set the precedent of backing down at every sign of fatigue or duress, we're never going to make so much as a negligible 'dent' in our trip home."
Calmly, Captain Janeway glanced around the table at all of the faces staring back at her, taking in their expressions one by one. She saw anger. She saw confusion. She saw frustration. She saw indifference. It all concerned her.
Her command crew had fallen silent. Janeway was pleased with finding the ability to keep this meeting under control for as long as she had. The last few staff meetings hadn't gone as well, and their outcomes had put her on the course of debating a bout of limited shore leave. This particular set of circumstances was one of those rare occasions, she realized, wherein a captain made decisions for the health and safety of a crew. Arguably, under these circumstances, they were in charge. She was just vocalizing what they wanted or needed. Regardless of the role she served, Kathryn Janeway suddenly couldn't help but feel as if she were reduced to playing the role of a puppet on a string.
"So," she sighed, "I guess it comes down to me."
They hung anxiously on her every word.
She rapped the conference table with her knuckles.
"Shore leave it is," she declared. "End of debate. Chakotay, I want four rotations of equal staff spending equal time wherever we can find to stop along the way. Mr. Kim?"
"What's available on the long-range sensors?"
Kim smiled, once again pleased with opportunity to offer his professional opinion to command. Being catapulted 70,000 light years from Starfleet had its advantages ... for an ensign.
"There are three habitable systems within four hours travel, Captain," he explained, reading from the PADD before him. "To our good fortune, all three are M Class planets. Unfortunately, two of them appear uninhabitable. They're giving off some high levels of radiation. Perhaps the civilizations went to war with one another and, inevitably, wiped one another out of existence." He leaned back in his chair. "However, the last planet has a complex satellite network. The long-range scans have picked up faint traces of what could be warp signatures, but we're too far out to tell. The good news is that the signatures don't even remotely match anything from the Kazon directory I've been cataloguing." Finished with his report, he set his PADD on the table. "My guess would be that the civilization there is relatively advanced."
Janeway smiled. "It sounds like someone has been doing his homework."
Collectively, the group around the table smiled at the ensign.
"When we're within range, open a hailing frequency," Janeway ordered. "Mr. Neelix can serve in his role as our ambassador. Let's establish first contact, and let's find out if there's a spa available for public use. It may not be Risa, people, but it may be the next best thing."
The command group laughed.
"Allow me be perfectly clear," Janeway cautioned. "This bout of shore leave lasts two days ... maximum. Not a minute longer. We all have families and friends waiting up for us."
Smiling at her crew, she concluded with, "Dismissed."
On command, the staff stood up, herding toward the doors, with Tom Paris heartily patting Harry Kim's back.
"Chakotay?" Janeway called.
The first officer turned back. "Yes, captain?"
"Hold up a moment."
After the crew had vacated the conference room, Janeway walked around the table to the commander. "When we arrive at wherever it is that Mr. Kim has on his itinerary, I would like you to be in the first rotation off the ship."
Confused, he furrowed his brow. "Have I ... done ... something wrong?"
She smiled at the man who had become her 'right arm.' At first, when selecting a first officer from the ranks of the Maquis, she felt some concern about how the decision would affect the Starfleet crew. Almost immediately, Chakotay had taken up the stride, seized the reins, and behaved as if Starfleet had been as much a part of his life as it had hers. To her delight, the Starfleet contingent of her crew embraced his authority immediately. Perhaps it was his dedication to duty. Perhaps it was his respect for others. Perhaps it was his ...
As of late, however, Kathryn Janeway had been feeling ... somewhat ... fonder of her first officer than she felt was appropriate.
"This isn't about having my way," she replied. "Consider it ... a gift. A privilege of rank. And, for Pete's sake, remember that shore leave is meant to be enjoyed!"
"What are you saying, Kathryn?"
With a slight laugh, she patted him on the shoulder. "Chakotay, I'm telling you to have a good time!"