by E. L. Zimmerman


Kathryn Janeway studied the mural before her.

In her own past, she had visited Zell, for a conference once on stellar cartography. To her good fortune, the conference planners had scheduled an afternoon open for the conference participants to do as they wished. Young, adventurous, perhaps brazen with that indomitable Starfleet spirit for exploration, Kathryn Janeway had declined an invitation to join several colleagues in a tour of the Zellian Planetary Ministry. Instead, she endured a two-hour hike across the Zellian plains outside of the sponsoring city. Now, inside Ishanti's quarters, Janeway closed her eyes, breathing deeply, and she imagined the tall, waving auburn Luppa Grass that stretched from the blackened soil to her waistline. She had walked through it, brushing her hands along the grass tips as she roamed. She imagined the popcorn-shaped Nysh Ferns. The tall and slender chocolate-colored Bo'balla Plants. The winding, green Insy vines stretching, rumor had it, for miles upon miles. Janeway imagined the vista, the Zellian plains before her, and she had no doubt that Ishanti Arelldo was feeling incomplete, stranded not only so far away from the place she called home but also so distant from another Zell mate with which to 'mindprint.'

Opening her eyes, the Captain absorbed the mural again, and she realized that, amongst her crew, she was blessed with a Zell ensign possessing a true artistic gift. Without question, Ishanti had a talent for capturing the pristine beauty that was the Zellian outback. Beyond every Zellian city stretched countless miles of plains, all robust with Luppa Grass, all beneath a cloudless, cerulean sky. While Janeway's counterparts at that conference long ago raved on about the Zellian buildings, archways, dwellings, and monoliths, Kathryn Janeway had found a rare kind of psychological beauty and emotional tranquility in the broadest sense of architecture ... that which transforms an entire planet from simply being any other world in the galaxy into a lavish, nourishing, unforgettable paradise.

"Ishanti," Janeway muttered to herself, "come and bring your brush."

"Ensign," Janeway began, approaching the bed in Sickbay, "we have a problem."

"Captain?" Ishanti asked, propping herself up on her elbows. The neural stimulator had done the trick, even on Ishanti. The Zell was behaving normally.

Conceding, Janeway held up a hand. Turning slightly, she leaned her hip against the medical bed. "I've been to your quarters. I've seen ... what shall we call it ... your work of art?"

Embarrassed, Ishanti Arelldo lowered her head.

"What is it?" Janeway asked.

Struggling to find the words, all she could reply was, "Captain, I'm so sorry for the trouble I've caused. You have my word -"

Again, Janeway showed her a palm. "Don't apologize, ensign. What was happening to you, and everyone else for that matter, was completely beyond our control. But ... I failed to realize something that turned out to be critically important to the events of these last few weeks." The Captain stared intently at her crewmate. "I had completely forgotten that you're a Zell."

Slowly, guiltily, Ishanti nodded.

"Zells travel in pairs," Janeway explained. "Even I know that. It's ... safest that way, psychologically, of course. I understand the uniqueness of your physiology."

"I have been ... isolated for quite some time, Captain," Ishanti admitted. "It has been a cause for ... personal concern."

"Agreed," the senior officer replied. "That's why I'm giving the Doctor a Priority One Medical Alert. I've asked him to devote as much time as is possible to create some kind of ... well ... I'm not quite certain what you'd call it. I guess that an empathic receptor is about a good a term as any."

"An empathic receptor?" Ishanti asked.

"Yes," Janeway answered, standing upright. "It would be an instrument that would properly stimulate the neurotransmitters in your brain ... in hopes of making you feel less ... incomplete."

Uncertain of what to say, Ishanti grinned, obviously pleased with the attention she would be receiving. "I ... I don't know what to say, Captain. Thank you."

"Understand that I can't conjure up another Zell here in the Delta Quadrant," Janeway added, "but I'll ensure that the Doctor provides you with the next best thing."

With that, the Captain crossed her arms. "I have one last favor to ask of you."

Eagerly, Ishanti replied, "Anything, Captain."

Smiling, Kathryn Janeway leaned forward, making sure that what she shared was just between the two of them: "Once you remove your landscape from the wall of your quarters, as it's specifically a violation of ship's regulations ... I'd ask you to recreate me a landscape personally ... on canvas, if you don't mind. Something with a Zellian cityscape in the background ..."

The turbolift doors opened, and Captain Janeway came face-to-face with her first officer.

"Going up?" he asked, with a smile, reaching out and touching the lift controls to hold the door open for her.

Grinning back at him, she stepped aboard the lift.

"Bridge," she ordered.

After a moment of silence, Chakotay asked, "How's Ishanti?"

"Surviving," Janeway replied. "I'm having the Doctor perform an advanced study of her physiology. I hope that he can manufacture or replicate some instrument that'll respond to the Zellian need for a neural companionship."

Chakotay chuckled lightly. "That'll keep the Doctor quite busy."

"Well, you know our EMH," Janeway agreed. "'Challenge' is his middle name. And, if it isn't, it ought to be."

The two officers stood in an uncomfortable silence for several seconds.

"Halt," Janeway suddenly ordered.

The turbolift immediately complied, humming on its external girders to a safe, nearly soundless stop.

Turning to face her, Chakotay asked, "Captain? Is everything all right?"

Janeway followed suit, turning politely to face her first officer.

"Commander," she began, bringing one hand up to poke nervously at the hair pulled up into a regulation bun along the back of her skull, "you and I said some things ... aboard the shuttlecraft."

Nodding, he agreed. "We did."

Sighing, she added, "I think ... I think we need some closure."

Against her better judgment, she stared deep into his dark eyes. Her mind told her that those eyes were her sacred place, much like the beliefs of his people he had talked so eloquently about when they chatted privately in her ready room ... but her heart told her that Chakotay was more like a book, waiting to be opened and read ...

... by her.

Smiling, the first officer shrugged. "If memory serves, we were both under the influence of the Rintellan energy signature, Captain." Glancing down, shuffling his feet slightly, he added, "As far as I'm concerned, what we discussed could be brushed under the carpet as the result of our mutually failing neural transmitters." Taking a chance, he peered deeply back into her eyes, adding, "It was nothing more than psychological confusion."

"Commander," she said, firmly, placing her hands on her hips, unable to pull herself away from his penetrating stare. "Chakotay, you know as well as I that we need closure."

Patiently, he considered her expression, and he couldn't tell if she was saying what she truly meant. "When I was a child, my father used to tell me a fable. There was this place, in the forest, a temple, where my people would go when they had questions needing answers."

"A vision quest?" she asked.

"Not so much a vision quest," Chakotay replied. "The quests are more about finding who you are. Knowing your one true self through the aid of your spirit guide. What I'm speaking of ... well, I'm speaking more of matters of existence and more about ... matters of the heart."

He grimaced briefly, obviously struggling to find the words to convey what he had on his mind. "Less of a quest, and more of ... a sacred place."

His eyes.

"Your eyes," she replied.

Curious, he glanced at her with a confused expression. "I'm sorry?"

"Your eyes," she said. "I just had the same thought ... about a sacred place. I associated it with your eyes."

Smiling at her, he concluded, "Then you already have closure, Kathryn. I think what you're struggling with is that your sacred place happens to be in my eyes."

Lowering his voice, he took a single step forward, edging closer to her. Reaching down, he took her soft right hand in his. Slowly, he raised it to his face. Indulging her needs briefly, she touched his warm skin, and she traced the edge of his bottom lip. His mouth was open slightly, and she felt the heat of his breath whisper across her fingertips. She shuddered, suddenly feeling warm and tingly all over her body.

"So, when you're struggling with matters of the heart," he explained, softly, "you now know where to look." After a moment, he released her hand, adding, "Zells aren't the only specie in the universe at their best when traveling in pairs, Captain."

"Commander," Janeway tried, sweetly, with a smile, "I believe you're flirting with a senior officer."

He shook his head. "Just making an observation, Captain. Like any first officer would."

Suddenly flushed, Janeway fanned herself.

"Resume," she ordered the turbolift.

"Captain," Chakotay tried, turning away from her, diligently facing the lift doors, "are you all right?"

Smiling, Kathryn Janeway hoped the warm feeling igniting her insides subsided before the lift reached the Bridge. The last thing she wanted to do was have to explain rosy cheeks to Tuvok.

"Nothing a bout of shore leave couldn't solve, Commander," she replied.


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