His door chimed.
Fumbling with his rank insignia, Commander Chakotay turned and yelped, "Come!"
The doors hissed, parting, revealing an expressionless Captain Kathryn Janeway, dressed in Starfleet formal attire. She stepped through the archway. Glancing across the room, she found her first officer and managed a weak smile. "As you're always arriving while I'm in the process of primping for ceremonies, I thought I'd return the favor and pick you up for a change. It's a pleasant surprise to see that turnabout is fair play."
Warmly, he returned the smile. He abandoned the mirror and approached the woman. His palm extended, Chakotay showed her his Maquis-designed command insignia. "Captain, can I ask you to keep a secret?"
Considering him, she arched an eyebrow. "You're finally going to tell me where you hide that cider we've been sharing?"
"No, no," he admitted, "but, in over five years, I don't think I've ever been able to pin this on straight." Extending his arm to her, he held out the PIP. "Would you mind?"
She stared at the PIP. "It'll cost you."
"Name your price."
Leveling her eyes on him, she demanded, "Two glasses of cider."
He shrugged, grinning. "Well, you're a cheap date. You should have asked for three. I do have plenty to spare, you know."
"That means you're storing it somewhere with lots of space but relatively limited access, otherwise it would have been discovered years ago." For a moment, she indulged herself in other thoughts, stroking her cheek as she thought aloud. "Astrometrics? No. Seven wouldn't tolerate that. Engineering? Could be. B'Elanna and you do have a personal history." Suddenly, she gripped her chin and stared at him intently. "A cargo bay, perhaps?"
Smirking, he concluded, "With all due respect, ma'am ... keep guessing."
As she stepped forward, the doors closed behind her. She took the insignia from his hand and reached up to his collar. Squinting, she placed the PIP where she thought it looked best and pressed it firmly to his dress uniform.
"Task complete," Janeway admitted.
"I'll expect two glasses of cider in my ready room by the day's end," she concluded. "You can join me, if you like."
Noticing her expression had gone unchanged throughout their playful banter, he tried, "Permission to speak freely?"
Shrugging, she replied, "Your quarters. Your rules."
"Kathryn," he said, clasping her gently by the shoulders, "we're not attending anyone's funeral today."
Nodding, she turned, forcing Chakotay to drop his arms. Slowly heading to the chair and tables inside the entrance, she dropped into a seat and gestured for him to do likewise. Quietly, he walked over and followed suit.
"The Trakill," she explained.
"What about them?"
"I can't stop thinking about them." Leaning forward slightly, she clapped her hands together, gripping. "They didn't deserve this, Chakotay. They were nothing but a society of harmless farmers! They lived with an existence of simple nobility. All they wanted to provide food for any species that came calling on their doorstep." She sighed, the memories swimming inside her head. "But, as this ship's crew can certainly profess, Fate throws a mean curveball. We were there to cry foul, and we couldn't stop it."
"You weren't there," Chakotay corrected.
Again, she raised an eyebrow at him. "What do you mean?"
"You weren't there," he repeated. "On the planet. In the end. Kathryn, I was there." He sat back, prepared to take the news. "You're upset with the choice I made as commander?"
Defensive, she immediately held up a single hand. "Chakotay, please. This isn't about you. Granted, we've had our intellectual sparing, as any good captain and first officer should, but you know how deeply I trust your judgment. In case you can't find it, the word is 'implicitly.' I have faith in your judgment as much as I do my own."
"Then," he pressed, leaning forward, "what's the problem?"
Quietly, she studied his expression. "You're ... okay with this? All of what happened? A world died back there, and we couldn't stop it."
Shaking his head, he answered, "Not exactly." He drew his lips tight, searching for the words to say. "Captain ... Packell, Aulea, all of the Trakill ... they were, and will always remain, a spiritual people. They committed their lives to very basic principles, ones that had been provided to them by their own spirit guide. You said so yourself by mentioning that they aimed to do little more than grant food to whomever was hungry in this little corner of the universe." He closed his eyes, steadying himself with the words he trusted he had to say. "Granted, I don't think that the Trakill expected the One, the Borg, or even Voyager, for that matter, to play as significant a role in their world's end as history played out ... but those last few Trakill in the Grand Hall believed that they had reached the end of a cultural journey. Simply, they had arrived at precisely the point where they were destined to be. It was their deliverance. It was their rest. It was their ... Amuhlachi, I believe they called it."
Sighing, he stared at an indistinct spot on the floor before peering deep into her wanting eyes, and he melted. "What kind of officer would I have been if I had deprived them of the chance to, finally, be at peace?" Shaking his head, he added, "Even if you had ordered me otherwise, captain, I couldn't have done that. If the roles were reversed, there isn't a soul in the galaxy who could talk me out of the decision to step into my own spiritual afterlife."
"Chakotay, I'm not blaming you," she offered, placing her hand on his nearest forearm. "I'm ... upset."
"Can you keep another secret?" he asked, the corner of his mouth slowly turning up into one of his now-famous wry smiles.
"Two secrets?" she asked incredulously. "In one day? You're feeling generous."
"I've never ... I've never fully believed in the Prime Directive," he admitted.
"I beg your pardon?"
"As a matter of fact," he continued, "it was, ultimately, one of the reasons that helped influence my decision to leave Starfleet."
Curious, she tilted her head. "How so?"
"I've always thought of the Prime Directive as the impossible dream," he explained, again relaxing in his chair. "How can we, as Starfleet officers, be expected to fulfill our role as explorers in a galaxy that's proving ... every day ... every mission ... to be fuller of life than our ancestors could ever have imagined when they drafted that guiding principle?
"By virtue of erecting duck blinds to witness cultures as they evolve, haven't we - in some small way - actually taken a role in their development ... only without their knowledge? Let's say something went awry. Let's say that the planet was facing a catastrophe only we could avert. Let's say that, with Starfleet's blessing, we agreed to avert an asteroid on a collision course with that world. I, for one, couldn't stand by and watch them die, knowing that I had access to the technology that could save their planet. Under that set of circumstances, I'd be forced to violate the Prime Directive, and, the moment that duck blind came down, I'd be viewed as gods to an inferior culture that never knew we existed."
"Say you could avert the catastrophe," Janeway challenged, "without sacrificing the duck blind?"
"Then the events I influenced could still be written into that culture's history as the results of a benevolent god," he answered. "In either case, I've still affected the evolution of that culture." Shrugging, he glanced nonchalantly around his quarters at nothing in particular. "Of course, I could follow one of the several emergency protocols. If I were discovered, I could try to convince those who discovered me that I wasn't a god. But, who's to say that their reaction wouldn't one day compose the myth of the day when the god's folly was to be mortal?"
He shook his head. "I remember debating the Prime Directive with instructors back at the academy. I used the same example with them that I used with you today." Finally, he turned back to his captain. "I believe, much like you do, that there are times when the Prime Directive is nothing more than a fool's pursuit. Like I said, it's the impossible dream."
"Isn't that why we're all here, Chakotay?"
Rising, Janeway never took her eyes of her first officer.
"Isn't that our natural tendency," she continued, "to dream the impossible dream? It drives us. It fuels our imagination. It pushes us to achieve heights that we previously thought were unattainable." Shrugging, she added, "Prime Directive or not, Voyager's circumstances aren't exactly textbook. We've been thrown on the other side of life as we know it. Granted, the first rule - survival - has forced us to bend the rules every now and then, but that doesn't mean the rules are bad, does it?"
He rose. "As usual, it looks like we've reached a stalemate."
"Yes," she agreed, smiling, "and the fact that we can reach a stalemate only underscores the level of debate our ancestors must have endured when deciding to enforce the Prime Directive." Turning to leave, she tried, "So, let's you and I agree to stick to arguments where I come out the winner."
Following her, he chuckled. "Are those your orders, captain?"
"Call it captain's prerogative."