A Different Man by D.A. Kent


E-mail:

D.A. Kent

Date:

August, 2000

Series:

VOY

Rating:

G

Summary:

Whatever happened to Inspector Kashyk after he left Voyager and allowed Captain Janeway to continue on with her journey home?
(Note: I wrote this story as a submission to the Strange New Worlds IV contest, but it was not chosen for the book.)
And, no, it certainly isn't necessary to like Kashyk. In fact, I don't much like him myself.

Disclaimer:

Paramount owns the show and the characters, who in turn own too much of me.

Feedback:

I'd love it! All constructive criticism welcome.



"Fire at will," he said evenly into his communications device, then watched for the inevitable explosion from the viewport in his quarters. Though he stood calmly, his heart was thundering in his chest, as he stared at the disarmed and now-vulnerable Anakian freighter standing dead in space a short distance away. He waited for the powerful explosion that would incinerate the vessel and destroy the thirty-two telepaths aboard in slightly less time than it would take him to draw a fresh breath.

Suddenly, there was a burst of white light, then yellow light followed, then soft hues of green and blue and pink erupted behind them, and his own ship rocked gently with the aftershock of the destruction.

But he felt nothing inside.

He ached to regain the lost sense of purpose that once drove him in his duties to his people. But he felt no sense of victory, nothing. He no longer took pleasure from destroying his enemies.

The spectacle was over too quickly; only a few remaining bits of debris wafted through space, minute reminders of what had been there only moments before. Minute reminders of what a telepath's life really meant. He calmly closed his eyes, recreating the explosion in its full glory, seeing the colors explode vividly in his mind's eye. But still he felt nothing.

He abruptly slammed his fist into the wall next to the viewport, hard, unaware of the several other indentations of similar shape and size that were already there. He had been trying for months now to regain his momentum, to feel that surge of raw power rip through him once more, to be the man he was before. But, truth be known, he was beginning to doubt he would ever be that man again.

He slammed his fist into the wall a second time, and then a third.

Damn her!

Once, Kashyk was a pride of his people, one who protected his race at the expense of everything and everyone else, who destroyed or incarcerated any telepath, or other dangerous entity, who might try to harm them first. He eagerly sought after, and was directly responsible for, the eradication of more telepaths, the primary enemy of the Devore people, than any other man his age, and in his lucrative profession and position.

He reveled in this power once, and the pleasure quickly became addictive. He had sought after the miserable telepaths with a passion he'd known for nothing else. He was a man who loved his vocation. He was highly skilled, and had risen to the rank of Inspector quickly through hard work and fortitude. Rumor once had it that, because of the exemplary manner in which he performed his duties, he would one day be hailed as Grand Inspector, which was a rare honor indeed. There were only a handful of Grand Inspectors in the history of the Devore people, and this was a title he would win at any cost.

But now it would take a great victory to recover his past status, to erase the mistakes he had made in recent months. Somewhere along the way he had lost heart. He had lost the drive that had propelled him this far. He felt it inside, though he would deny it to his death, and he saw it reflected in the eyes of the people who worked for him.

And it was all her fault. Damn her!

But, another truth be known, and one he would also deny, he did not hate her. He wished he could. If he could hate her, perhaps he would be able to regain that cherished feeling of power that the taking of his enemies' lives had once awarded him. He closed his eyes again and tried to recreate the image of the explosion of only a few minutes ago in his mind. But all he saw was her image.

He opened his eyes. It was no use. He couldn't forget Kathryn Janeway, no matter how hard he tried.

This setback was temporary, he told himself for the umpteenth time, only temporary. He would reenergize himself somehow, beginning the first thing tomorrow. He would find a way.

And he would make Grand Inspector yet. It was only a matter of time.

He walked to his cupboard and withdrew a bottle of his finest liquor. He poured a generous amount of the dark liquid into a glass, recalling the dark liquid called "coffee" she had served him. He moved back to the viewport and stared at the darkness outside. There was no debris left now, and it would be an easy thing to convince himself that the explosion had never occurred at all.

In fact, if he tried hard enough, perhaps he could convince himself that none of it had happened, that he had never met Captain Kathryn Janeway, and that he was still a strong leader.

But he knew the truth of the matter.

The Devore were a people of few rules because they really didn't need them, but the few rules they did have were sacred. There were two types of people on the Devore homeworld, the Nurturers and the Protectors.

The Nurturers was comprised of all the females of the race, and approximately 75 percent of the males. Their purpose was to further their race, to teach their offspring about their heritage, and their people. Kashyk's parents were Nurturers, of course, and like all Nurturers, they wanted him to be like them. The females had no choice in the matter, but the males could choose to remain with the Nurturers, or they could take a stand when they were of age and ask to be taken in and trained as a Protector. This age was different with all males; some were taken seriously at an early age and some were watched carefully for years for a sign that they had the strength to become a Protector, before they were actually Chosen.

The strength of a Protector was twofold: first there was physical strength – the dexterity, poise and endurance to become good at all forces of combat. Each time the Devore encountered a new race, the Protectors immediately learned the skills of war of that particular race. This ensured that the Devore people would be less likely to lose a war to the descendants of that race. The second strength was the most sacred, the strength of the mind. The Devore was not a telepathic race, and they feared telepaths more than anything else. They trained their Protectors to resist telepathic mind probes and all forms of telepathic manipulation. This training could take a great deal of time to perfect, and some males who were initially chosen to become Protectors were later sent back to a Nurturing colony because they were not able to withstand the rigors of the mental training. Sometimes the fiercest warrior was sent back to his parents, in shame.

From an early age, Kashyk knew he was nothing like his father. Where his father was weak, Kashyk was strong. Though his father wasn't considered weak by the other men in the Nurturers' colonies, Kashyk didn't care about that. Instead, he watched the brave men in the colonies of the Protectors, and he knew he was destined to become one of them. His father tried to interest Kashyk in learning a trade of the colonies, to garden or harvest the foodstuffs, to build the homesites, or to learn any of a thousand different occupations. But to Kashyk all of this was background noise; he knew at a young age that he had a Calling to become a Soldier of his People.

While he was growing up, Kashyk would watch the Protectors make their way through the colonies of the Nurturers, and he would create stories in his young mind about their many adventures. He watched as they threw their shoulders back and lifted their chins to the crowds. But the Nurturers ignored them and went about their work. Kashyk couldn't understand why the Nurturers weren't appreciative of the protection provided by the Protectors. Even his own father nodded at him to continue working whenever the Protectors were about.

One day when Kashyk was a mere boy, he asked his father about the Protectors, but his father refused to discuss the matter. A few weeks later, Kashyk again went to his father and asked about the Protectors. His father tried to ignore Kashyk's questions a second time, but Kashyk refused to be put off. His father, realizing the time had come, sat his son down on a bench outside the family home. Kashyk's two sisters were inside with their mother and his father kept his voice low so they would not hear what he had to tell his son.

"Son, the Protectors are men unlike you and me."

"How so, Father?"

"They are…seasoned…in the spirit of killing," his father replied.

Kashyk was confused. "But they only kill in order to protect the Devore homeworld, Father. Isn't this so?"

His father sighed. "Yes. That is supposed to be the way of things, Kashyk, but that is not always how it works out." Kaden knew the time had come when Kashyk needed to know the answers to his questions. He had dreaded this moment for a long time, since he first saw the look of desire in his young son's eyes whenever he saw the Protectors go by in their landships, or on foot. Kaden had long feared that his hold over his son would be far weaker than the envy in Kashyk's eyes. "You see, Son, the Protectors do nothing but protect. They spend their entire lives fighting enemies, learning how to battle our neighbors, how to resist being read by telepaths. They do not nurture at all, Kashyk. They do not take a female to be their own, nor do they procreate, for it is thought that having an offspring would make a Protector weak, would give him something to live for if he were captured by telepaths and threatened by them. It is thought that a Protector would become weak if he were allowed to nurture. And, Kashyk, a Protector must give up all ties with his family." His father had paused, allowing his words to sink into the small Kashyk's mind. "Do you hear what I am telling you, Son?"

"Yes, Father, but I am not certain I understand. What Protector would care that he not be allowed to procreate? And isn't giving up ties with family a small price to pay for the honor of protecting them? What could be more important than protecting our people, protecting our race, our culture?"

"Son, all peoples should be allowed to live in harmony with each other."

But Kashyk jumped up from his bench. "No, Father, that is not true. All telepaths should be captured and sent to the detention centers before they destroy us. And if they are considered a real and immediate threat to our people, they should be eradicated quickly instead."

"Sit down, Son." Kaden spoke forcefully, more so than Kashyk had ever heard, and he sat on the bench again, surprised at the force behind his father's words. Kaden paused briefly to get his thoughts together, but then he continued for the sake of his son, and his family. "Our people were attacked by an angry race a very long time ago, long before you or I were born. These people were indeed telepaths, and they destroyed more than half our race because they were able to read our minds, and find our hiding places and destroy us. But those people are long gone, Kashyk. It took many more years for our people to procreate and nurture our race back to health, but know that it was the Nurturers who saved our race, Son. The Nurturers replenished our people, and brought our civilization back to life." He paused a moment, and lowered his voice. "And now our people are afraid, Kashyk. They are afraid that all races of telepaths represent a danger to us, and that is not true. Not all telepaths are angry and violent people."

"How can you say that, Father?" asked Kashyk, as he again jumped up from the table. "Telepaths can read our minds, yours and mine. They can find out anything they want from us because we are weak."

"Kashyk…" his father tried to reason with him.

"No!" shouted Kashyk. "Don't try to talk to me further about this, Father. I am going to the Emperium tomorrow. And I will tell them I want to become a Protector." His voice was strong, and as he looked at his father, he held his head high. "You are weak, Father. I am strong, like the Protectors."

"I know they look strong to you, Kashyk," said his father sadly. "And I know it seems adventurous to want to be one of them. But, Son, if you give up your rights to have a family, to love, you will lose your very soul."

"Do you think this is what I want, Father? To be like you? To toil in the fields with the females? A Protector can have all the females to his liking, and he can use her once and be done with her. A Protector can take what he wants and be on his way. And that is how I want to live, Father."

"You want the notoriety, Son. You think the Protectors lead a glamorous existence, but it is a lonely one. And if you are accepted by them, know in your heart that you cannot come home again."

"I would never want to return to your home, Father. Know this." And Kashyk turned his back on his father and went inside the house to sleep for the last time.

The next morning, Kashyk packed a small bag of clothing, his dagger and his claw, which was a rounded weapon used for throwing. His mother and two sisters were crying silently, but they would say nothing to him. It was not their place to dissuade him from asking permission to join the Protectors, and in fact, if they tried to dissuade him, they could be fined heavily for doing so. His parents could even be imprisoned if they directly forbade him to pursue his interest in becoming a Protector.

Kaden stood silently outside the front door. He could not watch his only son pack to leave his home, and his safety, even though he had always known in his heart that this day would come. Kaden had long ago noticed the envy in his son's eyes as he looked upon the Protectors, and he had tried to prepare himself to accept this. But he would have no more sons, no one to take Kashyk's place, when the boy left his father's world for another.

And as Kashyk left the house for the last time, he saw his father standing silently, looking past the vast farmlands of their homesite.

"I'm off, Father. I will be a strong Protector, and I will keep you and the females safe."

"Do not hate me, Kashyk. You think now that I am weak, but I am not. I merely know what I am, and I am not a Protector. Nor did I ever wish to be one."

"This is what makes you weak, Father. No desire to be better than you are."

But his father only smiled at him kindly. "That is what you think now, my Son. I can only hope that one day you will understand, and know differently in your heart."

And young Kashyk walked off into the distance, to travel the nine kilometers to the Emporium's primary Headquarters of the Protectors by foot, as each young hopeful was required to do.

The Protectors was the smaller of the two groups that made up the Devore society, and all Protectors were male. They literally protected the rest of their people by fending off enemies, or would-be enemies. Their biggest fear was that the varying races of telepaths would be able to read their minds and know all the locations of the Nurturers' homesites. They feared annihilation and extinction more than anything else, and had lived with this fear since that long-ago incident when they were nearly destroyed by the ancient race of telepaths, the Turhans. And now, the Protectors protected. They annihilated Gaharay, or strangers, and kept their people, and their space, safe from harm.

On this day, young Kashyk walked boldly up to the gates of the Headquarters of the Protectors and asked to be let in so that he could study the craft of the Protector. He was asked the name of his colony and of his father, and he could see the merriment in their faces when he told them. He, the Son of Kaden, wanted to be a Protector! His father was weak, and he would prove that not only was he stronger than his father, but he was stronger than the other Devore Protectors, as well.

Kashyk was destined for Greatness, and he would settle for nothing less.

Over the years, young Kashyk mastered many physical forms of combat and his mental coaches were impressed by his strength of mind, as well. He was quick to learn the tricks of protecting his mind from prying telepaths. It was a difficult thing to master, but he was more determined than most. He forced himself to hate them, and conditioned himself to respond to that hatred by becoming stronger than any of them, and in every way. By the time he was fully grown, he was strong and respected, and feared by many of his own kind. And this was the way he liked it.

Kashyk soon tired of parading through the colonies of the Nurturers. After all, he knew from his own experience that the Nurturers didn't appreciate the skills of the Protectors or the safety they provided. And, occasionally Kashyk would spy a female that was to his liking, and he would have her brought to him for the night. But even this was rare for Kashyk. He soon found the females to be unimportant and boring. They weren't even worth impressing. They were only interested in pleasing him physically and weren't appreciative of his skills as a Protector, and of the very real protection he provided for them. He found no female to be his equal, and he rarely spent time with anyone outside his own soldiers. He had yet to find someone, male or female, who could inspire him intellectually.

And so, over time, Kashyk protected his people by keeping them safe from the threat of telepathic races. He spent a great deal of time each day perfecting his physical and mental abilities, and he demanded that his soldiers practice their exercises daily, as well. He would not allow even one mistake to be made on his watch. He spent all of his energies in the quest for Greatness, and those who worked for him would help him to achieve it.

Kashyk rose through the ranks of the Inspection teams quickly, and was awarded the title of "Inspector" sooner than most. He was given his own sizable inspection team, comprised of 47 soldiers and 8 ships. And Kashyk knew that he was destined to go down in Devore history as one of the greatest leaders of his time.

But then, one fateful day, he saw the Federation Starship Voyager on his viewscreen, and nothing was ever the same again.

On a day like many others, Kashyk and his soldiers discovered a freighter carrying telepaths. He intended to take them hostage and put them into the nearest detention center. But they did not willingly accept their fate and surrender their vessel. Kashyk had no patience for their games, and so he ordered his men to take the telepaths by force, and then destroy the vessel. When his soldiers arrived on the scene, however, the telepaths were gone. The freighter had been abandoned quickly.

Kashyk quickly found the ion trail leading straight to Voyager, three light years away from the freighter. He detected the bio-patterns of the telepaths aboard the vessel and ordered Prax, his second in command, to send the scout ships ahead, to board the Voyager and detain the telepaths. Kashyk knew without a doubt that the telepaths he had followed so diligently were aboard this foreign vessel. They were his, and he would have them. No telepath had escaped him yet, and none would. Some humanitarian captain had obviously decided to save these pathetic creatures from the cruel hands of their Fate. Well, let him try. Kashyk himself would deal with the telepaths' former in due course.

But Kashyk had another surprise awaiting him. Prax and the primary inspection team returned to his ship a second time without the telepaths! Prax said they couldn't be found, and that once inside the vessel, the bio-patterns of the telepaths had completely disappeared. Kashyk didn't understand this at all. His soldiers never failed in their duties, and Kashyk never failed in his. And to top it off, Prax informed him that the ship's captain was a female!

The following day, during the third inspection, Kashyk boarded Voyager himself and instructed Prax to search the ship more thoroughly this time. Kashyk introduced himself to Captain Janeway, played her opera music, and, in spite of himself, he was enamored by her - her openness, her directness, her poise and self-confidence in the very face of adversity.

But still, Prax and his men could not locate the telepaths. Kashyk knew without a doubt that Captain Janeway was harboring them inside her ship, yet it took him days before he actually determined how she was doing it. After downloading Voyager's entire database into his own ship's computer, he stayed awake for hours on end, sifting through bits and pieces of useless information. He would not be undone by anyone, much less an outsider, and a female, no less.

Eventually, Kashyk discovered the database information on Voyager's transporter technology. He was soon convinced that the Captain was holding the telepaths from the freighter, as well as those telepaths listed on her crew manifest, in transporter suspension. It would not be a simple thing to do, but he had already seen that these were not simple folk.

Yet, initially, he did nothing. He allowed her to continue on her way, with strict course adjustments that left no room for deviation. And he and his men kept a close watch over Voyager's activities.

Kashyk moved away from the viewscreen and took a drink from his glass. There was simply no joy in his life anymore. He sat in his favorite chair, and recalled the first time he saw her ship on his viewscreen. She was a beautiful ship, and equal to his own. He was determined to take charge of all life forms aboard her and then take the ship as his own. But those plans soon vanished, and the course of his life changed forever.

He should have destroyed her ship and the telepaths aboard it, and taken the Captain and her crew hostage, as Prax insisted he do. He should have thrown them all into detention centers to work the remaining days of their lives. But he hadn't done that. Instead, he had become involved in a game of Chance with Voyager's Captain. And he couldn't help himself. If he had known the future, if he'd had the slightest inkling that he would lose a part of himself through his dealings with her, he would have destroyed Voyager on sight, and been on his way.

Or, would he? Upon reflection, true reflection, on the rare instance when he looked inside his own soul, he had to wonder if this were true. Captain Janeway had intrigued him from the start. He'd known immediately that she and her crew were harboring telepaths, and this was something that would normally anger him so much that he would have destroyed the ship and everyone on it with the mere nod of his head, or the slightest gesture of his hand.

But she was different; she was unlike anyone he had ever known. And she had captivated him.

Kashyk took another drink from his glass. He no longer actually tasted the liquid, but it gave him something to do. He put his head back against the chair and closed his eyes, remembering her voice, and the way she seemed to look inside him when she held his eyes with hers.

Determined to win her trust, to convince her that he had changed his allegiances and left his old way of life behind, Kashyk asked Kathryn Janeway for asylum and told her that he knew of the telepaths on her ship. He said he wanted to save them as much as she did. He pretended to be her friend.

And he thought she believed him.

Kashyk worked with the Captain for hours, days, trying to find the location of the wormhole. Her plans to transport the telepaths through it were complete; all she needed was to find the wormhole. And no matter what happened, Kashyk couldn't allow the telepaths to escape. If they made it to safety on the other side, they would be well out of the reach of the Devore Emperium, and his command. He would not, could not, allow that to happen. His own people were weak, and couldn't find the wormhole, but he knew in his heart that Kathryn Janeway wouldn't stop her search until she knew the wormhole's precise location. She intended to transport the pitiful telepaths through it at any cost, thus saving them from Devore detention centers - or worse.

Kashyk was equally determined to prevent her from saving the telepaths. He would not make Grand Inspector with a failure like this on his Record. And he reminded himself of this repeatedly the entire time he was on her ship. He had to. Captain Janeway had invited him to leave his people and his profession behind, and to travel with her and the Voyager crew. He wouldn't allow himself to even entertain the idea of giving up command of his war ships and going with her, of being with her, when he was so close to achieving everything he had worked for his entire life.

The destruction of the wormhole would look very good on Kashyk's official Record. The very existence of that wormhole threatened the Devore homeworld. As long as it existed, other telepaths might try to escape through it. And if one telepath succeeded, news would travel quickly, and others would rush forward in search of the way out of the region of space occupied by the Devore people. On the other hand, with the wormhole no longer an escape route for future telepaths, the security and safety of his people would be further ensured. And when victory was achieved, and Janeway and her crew, along with the telepaths, were being held in Devore detention centers, Kashyk would be celebrated as a Hero, and the coveted title of "Grand Inspector" was sure to be his.

On his first night aboard Voyager, as a seeker of asylum, Kashyk worked with Captain Janeway well into the night, looking for the wormhole, calculating. They were able to bribe a scientist, Turot, into telling them what he knew of the wormhole, the spacial flucture. He told them that it manifests infrequently and in varying locations, but he was also able to give them the locations of the last several occurrences. With this new information, Kashyk was more than convinced he and the Captain could find the wormhole together.

She was tireless. Kashyk admired Kathryn's perseverance and, while he would never admit it, he enjoyed her company a great deal.

Kashyk even spoke to Captain Janeway about the Federation's cardinal protocol, the Prime Directive, that he had read about in the ship's database. She admitted to breaking that protocol when she took the telepaths on board her ship. She'd protected them at the expense of her own people's beliefs. She said she'd take her chances at the Board of Inquiry when she returned home. And he knew she was prepared to take punishment, if it came to that, in order to save the lives of these strangers.

Captain Janeway was brave, and beautiful, but she couldn't possibly understand The Game as he did. He would win it, as he always did, but this time he would win it with his intellect, and not just by sheer force. This would be a new challenge for him. His intellect, against the intellect of a human female shouldn't pose much of a consideration, but Kashyk knew that this female was different. She was smart, and would make a worthy opponent. After all, she had found a way to hide the telepaths from his soldiers, and Prax wasn't easy to mislead. He would enjoy playing The Game a great deal. He couldn't wait to see her face when she actually found the wormhole - and then again, as she watched him destroy it. Yes, winning this game would definitely be enjoyable.

Finally, after many hours of calculations and research, together they actually pinpointed the central location of the wormhole. They decided to continue their research the following day, and he had no doubt she would eventually find its exact location. She left him late at night in temporary quarters on her ship, under armed guard. He missed her company, but he would have done the same thing in her place.

The following day, Kashyk left Voyager and returned to his fleet of war ships under the guise of joining them in their next visit to Voyager, for a fake inspection. He intended to force the Captain's hand, to finish The Game. It was time. He was certain she would know the precise location of the wormhole by the time he returned with his soldiers, and he would convince her to tell him the coordinates. She would hand him the information on the proverbial silver platter, and it would be a sweet victory to destroy the wormhole while she watched, and with information she had gladly given him.

But what Kashyk didn't know, and hadn't expected, was that Captain Janeway wasn't taking any chances that he wasn't all he seemed. He had been so sure of himself, so arrogant. She had given him the information he wanted, and it never occurred to him to question the validity of it. He took command of her vessel and had the coordinates for the wormhole keyed in immediately, eagerly anticipating its destruction.

But there was no wormhole, and no neutrino emissions, off the port bow, as she'd said there would be. She had lied to him. The real wormhole was elsewhere, and the dozen telepaths she had rescued from the freighter were able to reach freedom through it, with the aid of Captain Kathryn Janeway and her crew, and two shuttlecraft.

Kashyk had made a terrible mistake - he had underestimated her from the beginning. He was weak, and she had taken her advantage. He would have done the same thing in her place.

The fact that Captain Janeway had put her ship and her crew in danger, in order to save a handful of telepaths was something that amazed him then, and still amazed him today. Never had he seen such selflessness. He even remembered commenting to her about it, but his compliments meant nothing to her. She was strong, and braver than all the other leaders he had ever encountered, male or female. Who would have guessed that her gentle and forthright ways would trick him into letting down his guard, and lead him toward the path of self-destruction?

Kathryn Janeway had played his Game, move for move. And every time he was certain he'd beaten her, she pulled out yet another trick, another card. And in the end, she had beaten him. He had to give it to her, there in the deep, dark recesses of his mind. He smiled to himself. Oh, she was a smart one, all right. He had underestimated her, and she had won, and had even done so by using a method he had taught her! She had used his own refractive shielding technique against him in the end, thus distracting him from the fleeing telepaths.

And he had let her go. He had to; she had won. What right did he have to destroy her? She had been brave enough to go up against him, and she had won The Game, fairly, as no one else had done before her.

But he had discovered something else, too. He had discovered a weakness within himself, and it scared the hell out of him. It was a weakness that had nothing to do with physical or mental conditioning. It had to do with feeling an attraction for another being, for a female. He had long ago denied that he had the same weakness as other males. He was not a Nurturer! He was not weak.

But now he had allowed a female to beat him, and then he had let her go. Worse, he didn't regret it. Worse yet, he was glad to know that she was still out there, trying to get her crew home. It made him feel sated, somehow. His heart, what there was of one, was with the Captain and her crew.

He felt closer to Kathryn Janeway than he had ever felt to another being, yet he would deny it to his death. While he destroyed or imprisoned peoples, she tried to save them. All of them. It was a weakness in her, but he actually admired her for it. The same flaw that he found despicable in his own race, he admired in her. Worse, he didn't understand why he liked that about her. They were both warriors, true, but she was a Nurturer, and he was not. Maybe it was her very honesty that he found compelling. And maybe he felt something else for her… something that he didn't want to know about, something that would remain hidden in the dark recesses of his subconscious mind for eternity.

Kashyk knew it was not merely physical pleasure that drew him to her. She was physically attractive, there was no doubt about that, but there was so much more to Kathryn Janeway than mere physical beauty. She was smart, skilled and tireless, and when she told him she was going to get her ship home again, he did not doubt it. But there was more to her than even that. He was not accustomed to meeting a female who would actually look him in the eye when she spoke to him. She had even lied to him while looking him in the eye! And she hadn't allowed herself to be afraid of him, even though she knew he could destroy her and the rest of her crew in the blink of an eye.

And she had made him the offer to remain with her on her journey home. He could leave the Devore Emperium, give up his ship, and join her. Why she had made the offer, he would never know. Could she have felt something for him? Did she see some "good" in him? He had to have been a horrible murderer in her eyes. Could she have recognized that he was intelligent, like her, and that he could give her some much-needed diversion? Could she have been attracted to him, as he was to her? Perhaps she saw that he could be her equal, just as he'd realized she could be his.

Or, was she just playing The Game?

Upon reflection, he knew she would never offer her ship as a sanctuary just to win his trust. It would have been a ploy, and she didn't work that way. He knew without a doubt that he could never take orders from a female, he could never give up command, and he would never be able to live by Starfleet protocols.

He would never be the sort to give his life for hers. But, in a sense, he had anyway, hadn't he? Today, because of her, he was a mere shell of the man he had been before.

Kashyk raised his head from the back of the chair. He put his empty glass on his desk and turned his computer monitor toward him. He touched his console and a holoimage of Kathryn Janeway appeared on the terminal. He was going to destroy it one day; it wouldn't be long now. He was close to figuring out the reason for his restlessness. He would do so soon enough. Then he would destroy her image as well as the remaining classical music selections he'd downloaded from her personal database. He'd already deleted the rest of Voyager's database from his own ship's records, and soon he would have nothing of her left. He wanted no record of her existence at all. As he'd told Prax, they were all to forget this incident had ever occurred; it would not look good on either of their records.

But as he looked at Kathryn Janeway's image, he absently touched another part of his computer's pad, and her favorite Taichovsky selection began to play. When he downloaded her ship's database, he had intended to assess his enemy, and study Captain Janeway's profile in close detail. He read everything about her, and knew she was loyal and intelligent, tireless and relentless, much like himself. But he had intended for these qualities to be her undoing.

Now, he listened to her music, and stared at the knowing eyes in her holoimage. And somewhere inside himself, he knew he had not only met his match, but he had, in fact, been undone by her.

Kashyk picked up his empty glass and moved to his liquor cupboard for a small refill. He was tired tonight. He would go to sleep soon, and tomorrow he would awaken, refreshed and ready for a new day. He would destroy all reminders of the Captain and her starship, and begin his life anew. He was destined to Greatness, after all, and he still had a ways to go now before he was granted the title of Grand Inspector.

Kashyk returned to his desk, sank into his chair, and looked at her image again, noticing the way her mouth turned up slightly at one end when she smiled, and he couldn't help himself when he smiled back at her. He was thinking of her Prime Directive and how she said she'd face the music when she got home. He just bet she'd win that Game, too.

And, while he was being honest with himself, hadn't he, too, broken his own cardinal protocol? He had allowed Voyager and her crew to go free and they had not only harbored telepaths, but had been successful in sending them on to safety and out of reach of Devore warships. He had never before allowed even one telepath to live, and here he was allowing their protectors to go free, as well! He laughed in spite of himself. He was pitiful now; he was weak. He was no better than his own father. Worse, he was a complete failure. At least his father was respected in his own colony.

He and Kathryn Janeway had been two ingredients of one counterpoint, two separate pieces of a seemingly harmonious relationship, for a time, but without once relinquishing their own individualities. He was convinced, for awhile, that he had won The Game, that he had bested her, but she was the one who had played her hand so close, and so well. She was very good; he had to give her that.

She was strong, and she had persevered. In his mind, they were equals, but he wouldn't admit, even to himself, that perhaps she was the stronger.

There was something about her that was special. And he had let her go. The very thought of destroying her would have destroyed him, but he didn't understand why. He had never experienced this sort of thing before.

But, she had made him a tempting offer. And the mere thought of that often calmed him.

He took another drink from his glass and put his head against the headrest of his chair once more. He closed his eyes, and instructed the computer to play Mahler's Symphony Number One, Second Movement. He often listened to Captain Janeway's favorite music. He remembered listening to this particular piece with her once. What had she said about it? That this would help him to relax? How well she had guessed.

He would listen to it one more time, tonight, and then tomorrow he would delete it from his ship's database. This time he would do it for sure.

And tomorrow, he would also delete her holoimage and concentrate on hating her, as he had once conditioned himself to hate his telepathic enemies. Maybe these stronger steps needed to be taken. Maybe then he would become strong again, and be the man he once was.

And unbeknownst to him, Kashyk smiled to himself and became lost in the classical music of Mahler, and in his memories of the brave starship Captain who had introduced him to it.

THE END


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