EMPATHOGEN
by E. L. Zimmerman

CHAPTER FIVE

Second after the shuttle's rear entry hatch whined down and kissed the metal of the Rintellan landing pad, Kathryn Janeway knew she had reached the perfect decision in authorizing shore leave, here and now.

Brilliant sunlight poured through the entryway and warmed her face. Squinting, she brought one hand up to shield her eyes, glimpsing out at the world awaiting her. Beyond the low shuttle port walls, tufts of cottony white clouds sprinkled across the crystal blue sky, its air thick with the welcome scent of orchids. She could make out, in the distance, the sounds of civilization so vastly, so sadly taken for granted ... ground transports maneuvering through the hum of traffic, the chatter of people walking along together down a busy city street, the click of their heels on solid concrete as they walked toward their eventual destination. Rintella was not only populated, but it was alive. Peacefully, she hoped that the simple, everyday 'signs of life' would breathe new hope into her anxious and space-weary crew.

Almost instantly at peace, Kathryn Janeway couldn't refuse a smile.

"Shuttlecraft secured," Tuvok announced, rising from the pilot's console. "Welcome to Rintella, Captain."

Slowly, she stepped from the craft, followed by Chakotay, dressed in his off-duty Maquis fatigues. Tuvok, who had enroute slipped into a Vulcan meditation robe, quickly followed.

Janeway hadn't planned it that way. But, when the rotation rosters came around for her approval, her resolve crumbled. Against her own better judgment, she scheduled her own R&R time compatible ... with her first officer's.

'What was I thinking?' she wondered, standing transfixed on the shuttleport deckplates, torn between the planet's natural beauty and her own jumbled thoughts. 'What possessed me to consider pursuing even a casual relationship would be appropriate? What possessed me to put myself in such a compromising position? Stay focused, Janeway. Stay the course. You've got a crew relying on you to get them home ... and here you are off playing the lead in an unwritten romance novel -'

She angrily berated herself, until a voice pulled her from the self-induced trance.

"Kathryn?"

Glancing to her left, she peered into the eyes of her first officer.

Swallowing, shaming herself for feeling like an Academy cadet with a crush on a senior classman, she replied simply but expectantly, "Yes?"

He half-smiled at her. "Are you all right?"

She studied him for a moment, searching his eyes for the slightest indication of interest in her.

'Was that smile,' she thought, 'a touch more than polite? Was he ... could he possibly be thinking what I'm thinking? And ... come to think of it, why am I having these thoughts anyway?'

"I'm fine," she replied with forced authority. "I was just ... I was just taking in the view."

"Magnificent," he agreed, "isn't it?"

With some irony and frustration, she retorted, "You don't know the half of it."

"I beg your pardon?"

Catching her mental slip, she held up a single hand to him and adjusted her Starfleet satchel with the other. "Apologies, Commander," she said. "I'm lost in thought, like the rest of the crew."

"I guess even a captain needs shore leave occasionally," he remarked.

'If you only knew,' she concluded.

"The Rintellan ambassador is waiting," Tuvok explained, nudging his captain in the direction of the crowd gathered on the shuttleport causeway. "I believe he's expecting a formal dialogue."

Quickly, she turned and faced two of her closest confidants.

"Make me one promise? The both of you?"

After glancing at one another, Chakotay and Tuvok replied, simultaneously, "Agreed."

Wryly, she smiled at them. "When the universal translator fails to decipher whatever Brall'tor's saying to me, find some way to rescue the damsel in distress, would you?"

The three of them laughed as they walked in the direction of the small throng.

"You, Rintella bids fancy, Captain Shaneway!" Brall'tor bellowed from the head of the crowd, and the Rintellans around him raised their arms and repeated what now she understood must've been a gesture of physical greeting.

"And, Voyager bids fancy," Janeway replied, quickly moving into the crowd that waited.

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