Written for submission to Strange New Worlds VII book
Paramount owns the show and the characters. Unfortunately.
Captain Janeway landed on her back and gasped for air.
So much for Voyager's sensors indicating there was no imminent seismic activity on the planet, she thought, as she rolled over and pushed herself up. She saw Tuvok getting to his feet a few meters away.
Janeway checked her tricorder readings. "That was a point four tremor directly below us," she told Tuvok in a low voice, looking across the meadow at the people gathered beneath the food pavilions. Some of them had reacted to the earthquake, but things were settling down already. "Make sure our people are accounted for," she said, trying to ignore the familiar sense of dread that fell over her.
"Aye, Captain," said Tuvok, checking his own tricorder.
It was a warm, still day, and getting muggier by the minute. Mylonia's second sun was moving away but the third sun could be seen in the distance. Janeway was aware of the cloying smell of odd blue and orange flowers nearby, and the monotonous hum of a distant bird. She shook her head and dusted herself off. There was nothing to be concerned about. This planet experienced small earthquakes all the time.
As Tuvok started to move away the sand beneath their feet jolted, throwing them to the ground a second time.
And sometimes Mylonia experienced multiple quakes, she reminded herself.
As the people under the pavilions began to scatter, Janeway saw a young boy, no more than six years old, run wildly across the grassy plain in front of her. He had a frightened look on his face. "I'll be right back, Tuvok," she called over her shoulder as she sprinted after him.
An older man with a walking stick was just making himself comfortable against the trunk of a tall tree in the meadow as she ran by. He seemed out of place with so much commotion going on around them. Still, she couldn't help but envy his spot in the shade.
She called out to the boy, but he didn't stop. She followed him across the meadow and down the hill, where he disappeared inside a cave opening. No one else was behind him, so his family must not have seen him run away.
Following the boy inside, Janeway stopped so her eyes could adjust to the darkness. "Hello?" she called, trying to keep the desperation out of her voice. She didn't want him to be afraid of her, but there was no way of knowing if another quake was forthcoming. She had to find the little boy and get out of here quickly.
Janeway activated her wrist beacon, suddenly glad she'd needed it for mushroom picking with Tom Paris and Neelix earlier this morning, and reached for her tricorder – but it wasn't there. It must have been lost when she was thrown to the ground during the earthquake. There wasn't time to go back for it now.
After her eyes had adjusted and she could make out vague shapes in the darkness, she inched deeper inside the cave. "Hello, little boy?" she called, but there was no answer.
Keeping close to the cave wall, she used her wrist light to guide her and hoped she wouldn't fall headlong into a hole in the ground. "Hello there? Can you hear me?" She wished she knew the child's name.
The path curved ahead and she moved forward as quickly as she dared.
Moments later she heard the distant rumble of an earthquake, which quickly became louder. She knelt and pressed herself against the wall, covering her head with her arms. The ground moved and groaned. Small pieces of rock rolled down the cave walls and fell around her.
After only a few seconds the sound stopped, the ground was still, and the rock and debris quit falling. Janeway took a deep breath and dusted herself off. She had to find the boy and get out of here. These caves had been here for millennia, but she had no idea how strong the walls were, and since she didn't have a tricorder she couldn't scan them. She knew one thing for certain – she wanted to be far away from here if the walls began to crumble.
Janeway continued ahead, side stepping the newly fallen rock, when a strange sound came from behind her. She stopped to listen, but it was already gone. It had reminded her of an odd whispering echo, but the wind outside had probably picked up and was gusting through an opening somewhere in the rock.
Just then another sound came from behind her. "Hello?" called a deep voice she didn't recognize.
Janeway turned off her wrist beacon and listened.
The male voice seemed friendly. Besides, she wasn't in a position to choose her new friends. "Hello, I'm in here," she called, turning the light back on. She was anxious to continue her search for the boy.
The man she'd seen by the tree earlier rounded the path behind her. Up close, he looked to be sixty years old with a kind face and gray beard. His left leg wasn't of much use, but each time he took a step with his right foot, he leaned on his walking stick and dragged it forward.
"I was certain you ran inside this cave," he said. "You should not have done so, Captain. The ground is preparing for another movement. Come, let's leave immediately."
"No, a young boy ran in ahead of me," she said, not wanting to waste more time. Her tone was gentle, but firm. "Go back and look for his family. Tell them I'll search until I find him."
The man smiled. "I will come with you instead, Captain. I'm very familiar with these caves. Besides, the entrance we both used is now sealed and we'll have to find another way out. You need me to guide you."
Janeway took a deep breath to steady herself. She didn't have time to be slowed by someone who wouldn't be able to keep up with her.
"There's no time to argue, Captain. Let's go," he said, continuing ahead and using his walking stick like an expert.
Having no choice, Janeway followed him, pointing the way with her wrist light.
"Who are you, and how do you know who I am?" she asked, as they rounded the next bend. The man moved right along, even with his injured leg.
"Everyone on Mylonia knows you are Captain Janeway of Voyager. You may call me Maxim," he said, leading the way down a short corridor that jogged to the right.
"Why didn't you turn off back there?" she asked, stopping. "That seemed to be the main corridor."
"You ask a lot of questions, Captain," he said. "But I can assure you that the boy ran in this direction. There is a flat area just ahead where three bubbling brooks form the Fountain of Sironius. It is unfortunately a favorite playground for the young."
"I see," she said, following his lead again.
"The Fountain is believed to have been built by the Prophets long before our civilization became what it is today," said Maxim. "Its purpose is to quench the thirst of the spirits who protect my people."
"Another part of the Mylonian mythology," she said, ducking under a natural ledge that jutted out overhead. It seemed she'd spent the better part of the last three days listening to stories about ghosts and spirits.
When the Mylonians invited Captain Janeway and her crew to visit their planet, she immediately agreed. While the crew was enjoying their shore leave, their captain had spent many hours with the local officials, and had heard more storytelling than she had patience for – a fact that had drawn more than one smile from her first officer. The Mylonians had a spiritual culture, and surpassed everyone she knew when it came to expounding on their heritage and retelling traditional tales of past accomplishments. The town square even featured a Wall of Remembrance that honored the six Spirits of Sironius who, according to legend, still protected the Mylonians from harm and helped them win battles against their enemies.
Janeway preferred to thank the living for a job well done.
Maxim chuckled. "I can see that you are not a believer of spirits, Captain."
"Let's just say I prefer to remain objective," she said.
Maxim's laugh was heartier this time. "Ah, Captain, you are definitely a non-believer," he said. "But perhaps one day you will have a change of heart, as many of us do when it is time."
They rounded another bend and came to a flat sandy area, just as Maxim had described. The three bubbling brooks met in the middle to form a stream, which ran over a boulder and disappeared somewhere below them. Rock and debris had fallen from the last quake and littered the entire area, but it still looked to Janeway like exactly the sort of place a young boy would sneak away to play in. Or a young girl if she were a tomboy, she thought, recalling her own childhood.
She began to look for the missing boy, fearing he may be badly hurt, or worse. A glint of something red beneath a pile of rubble caught her eye as she pushed a larger rock aside. Pulling the shoe out of the rubble, she began to dig through the debris, careful not to disturb the small body she now saw beneath it.
The boy was lying on his stomach. Janeway cleared the area around him, and examined his limbs for broken bones. When she finally turned him over, he wasn't conscious, but seemed to be breathing evenly. She put her ear to his chest. There was no wheezing sound, and no other reason to believe he was having difficulty breathing.
"It's all right," she whispered to him. "You'll be back home with your family soon."
Jerry-rigging a gurney wasn't feasible, and the ground was too rocky and uneven to pull the boy across it. She also knew staying with him here until Maxim could get help wasn't an option. The boy might not last that long, and another aftershock could occur. The next time they might not be so lucky.
There was no alternative but to carry the boy to safety.
Janeway looked up to find Maxim watching her. "I think he's all right for now," she said. "But we need to get him to a doctor as quickly as possible."
Maxim nodded. "We must go that way," he said, pointing down a dark corridor. "This tunnel will take us near the town's central gathering place, and not far from the Wall of Remembrance."
"Here," she said, removing her wrist beacon and handing it to Maxim. "Put this on. It will help." Picking the boy up carefully, Janeway took a deep breath. "Let's go," she said.
They made their way through the dark tunnel, toward civilization and help for the boy. The wrist beacon spread a bit of light before them, but their eyes had also grown accustomed to the darkness. The path was littered with rubble, however, making their progress slow.
After several minutes, Maxim turned to her. "We'll rest now, Captain."
Janeway put the boy flat on the ground and felt his pulse. "He seems to be holding his own," she said, wiping the back of her hand over her mouth. She was already wishing they had some of the water from the brooks they'd left behind.
Maxim sat against a boulder that jutted out from the wall and moved his injured leg into a more comfortable position. He glanced up to see Janeway watching him. "Ah," he said, following her glance to his useless leg. "Casualty of war," he said with a gleam in his eye, answering her unasked question.
She nodded. Most everyone who'd been through war suffered some sort of casualty. Some lost limbs, while others lost hope. Few, in her experience, lost courage.
She felt the boy's forehead, wishing she could do something for him.
"How is he?" asked Maxim.
"He seems stable, but I can't be sure." What she wouldn't give for a medkit and a tricorder! Even a phaser would come in handy. She could attempt to blast through the rock with it. But her crew had checked their weapons just before the midday meal. The Mylonians didn't allow weapons at a traditional meal, believing them to be an offense to the spirits. Tuvok and members of his security team had been posted just outside the eating pavilion instead, near where Janeway and Tuvok were thrown to the ground.
Captain Janeway forced her thoughts back to the present. Thinking about a phaser she didn't have wasn't going to help. "How long until we reach daylight?" she asked.
"That depends on how well we can continue to move," said Maxim, "We do not know how much rock has fallen in our path. The terrain may also be uneven."
She nodded. It also depended on how well she could keep up with Maxim while carrying the boy. Putting her hand on the child's forehead again, she turned to Maxim. "He doesn't seem to have a fever. We can be thankful for that."
He nodded. "I thank the spirits."
Janeway regarded Maxim. "Do you believe in the spirit world in general, or that the Spirits of Sironius also exist?"
He smiled at her. "Oh they exist, Captain. In fact, they may be watching over us as we speak."
"Protecting us from harm, or trying to show us the way out?" she asked, recalling some of the local mythology.
"Many of them have proved helpful in the past," he said.
She didn't want to know how. She'd already heard enough Mylonian storytelling to last a lifetime. She was ready to move on. "You're sure this is still the best way out?" she asked, standing and nodding toward the path they'd been following for some time. On occasion, it would split into opposite directions, or another path would intersect theirs. Each time, Maxim would choose the new way without hesitation.
"I am," he said. "But we must move with caution. The corridor will narrow ahead."
She nodded. She would trust Maxim to navigate and channel her own energies toward carrying the boy to safety. He was dead weight, and she wasn't sure how much longer she would have to carry him. As she opened her mouth to respond, she heard the strange sound again, the eerie laughter-type sound that came from behind them. "That's the second time I've heard that," she said. "Do you know what it is?"
"That sound is particular to these caves, Captain. It is said our malevolent ancestors haunt them."
"I don't remember hearing anything about evil ghosts," she said.
"Those are the spirits the council members do not mention," he said. "They are bullies on their good days and monsters otherwise." He rose. "Let us continue our journey."
Janeway stood and looked him in the eye. "If these caves are believed to be haunted, Maxim, then why aren't they sealed? Why are children allowed to play inside them?"
Maxim smiled at her. "My dear Captain, it is a known fact that evil ghosts cannot touch the innocent among us."
She thought about that for a moment. "But they would allow this child to die by keeping us from escaping these caves, wouldn't they?"
"Captain, are you becoming a believer already?" he asked, smiling.
" Just trying to make sense of the local lore," she said.
"Ah, I see."
She thought for a moment. "I saw you earlier, in the meadow beneath a tree," she said. "Since you're a confirmed spiritual believer, why didn't you join the rest of us for the ceremony under the pavilions?" It was a Mylonian custom to hold a farewell banquet for departing guests. The community would offer its best wishes for a safe trip and ask the spirits to watch over their guests during the journey ahead.
"I've heard all the speeches, Captain Janeway. I have no interest in hearing them again," he said.
"Yet you don't miss much," she said, with a twinkle in her eye.
"Neither do you, Captain. Neither do you."
After following Maxim through another long corridor, Janeway put the boy down and felt his forehead. It was cool, and becoming clammy. He was pale, too, and she feared he was in shock.
"How is he?" asked Maxim.
"Hanging in there," she said, standing. There was no need to frighten Maxim by telling him something she wasn't sure about. "Maxim," said Janeway, knowing she needed to ask the question, but not sure if she wanted to know the answer. "What if this tunnel is closed off at the other end? How long would it take us to find an alternate route?"
He looked her in the eye. "Do not worry, Captain" he said, and smiled. "This is still the best way. This tunnel is the strongest, and our chances of survival are greater if we follow it."
Janeway ignored the urge to ask just what those chances were, and how he could be so sure this tunnel was best. "Somehow that's not very reassuring, Maxim," she said, looking down at the boy.
"Have faith, Captain Janeway," he said.
"Faith in your spirits, Maxim?" she asked, and then shook her head. "You maintain the faith for both of us. I'll hold out hope that my security officer is able to detect our life signs with his tricorder." She knew that kelbonite was found in many of the cave walls in this sector, but without her own tricorder she couldn't determine just how much of it, if any, was present here. Tuvok might not find them easily.
"Sometimes faith can prove itself stronger than your science, Captain, and one's heart can be a guide toward knowledge," said Maxim. "It is too bad you will soon leave Mylonia. I think your beliefs could be changed."
"I've heard ghost stories before," she said. "Your race isn't the only one who believes in the spirit world, Maxim. There are people on my own planet who believe the same way."
"Yet you remain unconvinced there is such a thing," he said.
"I've yet to see proof," she said.
He nodded in understanding. "Faith doesn't require proof, Captain."
Janeway looked him in the eye. "I can't afford to accept things on faith, Maxim. I have a crew to protect."
"You are a gatherer of facts, Captain. I understand."
"I was trained as a scientist, Maxim. That training has served me well so far," she said.
"It is also in your nature to question," he said.
She brushed herself off and took a deep breath. There wasn’t time for a philosophical debate right now. "We'd better get moving," she said, reaching for the boy.
"Are you the same person you were twenty years ago, Captain Janeway?" asked Maxim, taking his walking stick from where he'd propped it against the wall.
"No, of course not," she said. "But my basic beliefs haven't changed."
"Then you are fortunate," he said. "Many of us have our beliefs changed through adversity."
As she followed Maxim deeper into the cave, Janeway recalled the time she had undertaken a spiritual journey in order to save Kes from certain death. The Doctor would always believe the explanation for Kes's survival was more scientific than spiritual. She still wasn't sure which explanation she believed.
Captain Janeway gathered the boy closer to her chest. The terrain had become increasingly uneven and rocky and she had to pay close attention to each step she took. Tripping or twisting an ankle was not an option. Getting up at 0400 to pick mushrooms was beginning to take its toll on her, as well. That missed sleep would have made a difference about now.
Kneeling beside the boy, Janeway rubbed his hair back from his forehead
and tried to catch her breath. She was tired. Surely daylight wasn't far
She'd heard the strange whispering echo twice more. If Maxim had heard it too, he didn't mention it, even though it had become louder, closer to them. She did her best to ignore it, telling herself it was just the wind trying to find its way through the cave walls. She was also more worried about the boy than she would admit to Maxim.
Glancing up, she noticed Maxim studying a small sliver of light that appeared between two large boulders. "Are you looking for a Spirit of Sironius to help us out of here?" she asked, smiling.
"Perhaps," he said, turning to her with a gleam in his eye. "As you know, my people believe that when one is in trouble, it may be necessary to call on a higher power for assistance."
"Ah, a higher power is one thing, but these ideas about wandering ghosts and spirits is quite another," she said.
Maxim chuckled. "In ancient Christian beliefs, which I believe was the basis for much of your people's spiritual awareness, God was the ultimate power, and He was often referred to as a Holy Spirit, or even a Holy Ghost," he said.
"I see my people have been doing some storytelling of their own," she said. She'd had a lot of work to catch up on last evening and had transported back to Voyager, leaving the late night cultural exchanges in her first officer's capable hands. Several other crewmembers had stayed with Chakotay on the planet until late into the night. Maxim must have been present at the midnight feast she'd heard about this morning.
Maxim shrugged. "Your people tell stories nearly as well as my own," he said with a smile.
"You're right on that count, I'm afraid," she said, shaking her head. "Have you ever actually seen a ghost, Maxim?"
"I have. Many Mylonians have contact with the spirit world, Captain." He looked away, and an odd expression crossed his face. "My wife saw one just recently."
She didn't want to get into the details of that one. "Was your wife with you in town earlier today?" she asked, changing the subject.
"No, Captain, my wife has never been fond of crowds. She doesn't come into town much anymore," he said.
Maxim struck her as a loner, too. "Why did you follow me into the cave earlier, Maxim?" she asked. "You knew that entrance was near collapse, and there was a possibility of being trapped in here."
Maxim took his time in answering. "When I was a young boy, I became lost in these same caves for three days, Captain. The entire town searched, but had almost given up hope of finding me. I was safe from the evil spirits, of course, but I heard them stir about me just the same. It wasn't a pleasant experience for a boy so young." He looked at her. "But I found my way out, with help."
"Help?" she asked.
"The third Spirit of Sironius guided me to daylight. Without him, I would not have survived. And I swore then that I would repay the favor someday." He looked at her and smiled. "It seems that day has come."
Janeway decided not to ask further questions. She was tired of ghost stories. Her job was to get the three of them out of these endless tunnels in one piece, and find a doctor for the boy.
"We need to push forward," she said, rising. " I don't want to be in these caves if another aftershock occurs." She picked up the child, and saw a guilty look cross Maxim's face. "It's all right," she said. "I know you'd like to be able to carry him, but without you we'd have much less of a chance of making it out of here at all. You're doing your part."
He nodded and turned away. "Move slowly, Captain," he called over his shoulder, as he turned down a dark corridor to their left. "The ground is still uneven, and there is a large amount of fallen rock."
"Understood," she said, adjusting the boy in her arms. She was thirsty and tired, and her arms ached, but she could think about that later. They had to get to a doctor. The boy's breathing was shallow now, and although his pulse was steady, it wasn't as strong as it had been. And she didn't like the fact that he'd been unconscious for such a long time.
"How are you holding up?" she asked Maxim, as they made their way down the corridor. He had to be getting tired, as well.
He stopped and smiled at her, and his eyes crinkled at the corners. "Do not worry about me, Captain," he said, gazing at the child in her arms. "He is the one we must be concerned about."
"Do you know him?" she asked, noticing the look on Maxim's face.
"I do," he said. "He is the son of my wife's sister's daughter."
Janeway studied Maxim's face in the dim light. "You never mentioned that you knew him."
"I didn't realize it at first, and later I didn't think it was important," he said.
"Do you and your wife have children?" she asked, following Maxim as he continued down the corridor.
"No, Captain, we were not blessed in that way," he said, and Janeway could hear the sadness in his voice.
The corridor soon widened, and Maxim pointed forward. "We will reach daylight beyond the next turn, Captain."
Maxim knew his way around these caves after all, thought Janeway. It was good to have someone else take charge. She adjusted the child in her arms, trying not to think about how his little body wasn't as warm against hers as it had been.
At once, they heard a distant and familiar rumbling sound, the noise an earthquake makes just before breaking free, and felt the ground tremble beneath them. Janeway put the boy down and covered him with her body. Rock and gravel, dust and debris fell around them for what seemed like a long time, but wasn't.
Janeway felt a sudden, sharp pain, and the next thing she remembered was looking at the cave ceiling above her. Her vision was blurry and things kept moving and shimmering in and out of focus. Black and gray dots swirled in front of her eyes and she blinked several times, trying to see past them. She knew she had to do something important. She couldn’t rest now, maybe later, but not now. She needed to get up, move on. She couldn't remember exactly why, but that didn't matter. She felt an urgency that wouldn't go away. Maybe if she just tried to sit up everything would come back to her.
But it seemed like so much work to move. She told her body to obey her thoughts and sit, but it wouldn't. Maybe she would wait a minute and try again. Maybe she could just rest a bit longer.
She heard voices, coming from somewhere close by. No, they were in the distance – no, not far. A strange and harsh voice was saying something, demanding something. She turned her head despite the pain that sprang from behind her eyes. Maxim was over there, maybe ten meters away, talking to an old man in a worn and frayed general's uniform. The design was different from Starfleet's, but she recognized it from the countless images decorating the walls of the Mylonian town hall.
Who was that man?
She heard Maxim's voice then. It came from a distance, yet it was firm, strong, even threatening. She closed her eyes again. Since Maxim was taking care of things, perhaps she could rest a bit longer. He would protect the boy.
The boy! His face appeared in her mind and her eyes snapped open. The cave ceiling sprang into focus and a sharp pain slammed across her forehead and behind her eyes. She'd promised the boy she would get him home.
She also remembered a starship crew she'd promised to get home.
Where was Maxim? She didn't have time for this. She shut her eyes to ride out the next wave of pain, which had thankfully lessened, and when she opened them again Maxim was leaning over her with a concerned look on his face.
"Captain? Can you hear me?" he asked.
She blinked and managed to sit up. "What happened?" she asked in a voice she didn't quite recognize as her own. Her head still hurt, but her vision was clearer.
"A rock bounced off that ledge, hitting you on the back of the head," he said. "If you had not been protecting the boy, it would have killed him."
She tried to turn toward the boy, but Maxim shook his head. "He is the same. Try not to move so much yet."
She tentatively felt where a knot was beginning to rise. So much for protecting her head with her arms.
"Try the water, Captain." Maxim pointed the tip of his walking stick at a small bowl of water just beyond her right elbow.
Without asking a question she drank down half the water, then held the bowl out to Maxim.
He shook his head. "That is for you, Captain. Finish it."
The bowl was fashioned from a piece of clay, with a fist-sized dip chipped out of the bottom. It was just deep enough to hold a few centimeters of water. When she'd finished it all, she felt much better. "Where did you find not only water, but a bowl to put it in?" she asked, trying to keep her voice steady.
He smiled. "Several meters back we saw another passage that ran to the left of ours," he said. She remembered it and nodded. "It leads to a cavern with no other opening, yet it has a natural stream running through it from beneath the ground. In ancient times, when our ancestors discovered it, it was used to hide our soldiers during the worst of times. My people still tell stories about it."
"I'm sure they do," she said. "And this bowl just happened to be there."
He nodded. "There were several broken and abandoned pieces of cookware, in fact. I was fortunate to find one that was whole."
"Yes," she said. Very fortunate, she thought. "I was sure I heard voices before."
"Perhaps it was the wind again," he said.
"Perhaps," she said. Telling Maxim she'd seen someone else in the cave with them, let alone an old general, seemed preposterous now.
"Are you all right, Captain?" asked Maxim, the concern apparent in his voice.
"I'll be fine," she said, wishing for a medkit for the thousandth time. She knew she had a slight concussion and would have to be extra careful carrying the child. "I just need to catch my breath for a moment." The world started to fade on her, but she closed her eyes and concentrated on localizing the pain above her right eye, where it was strongest. Then she forced it into a small space in the back of her mind, where it would have to wait until they'd found medical attention for the boy.
Janeway opened her eyes and saw Maxim watching her.
"You were mastering your pain," he said.
"Sometimes it helps," she said, mentally thanking Tuvok for teaching her that trick. She felt the boy's forehead again, and wondered if he was aware of her presence. "What is his name?" she asked.
"He is called Kadius," he said. "His father was a young soldier, but he did not survive the last war."
"I'm sorry," she said, knowing there was nothing she could say that would make a difference. Losing family and friends to war was a tragedy no one could change with words. Memories of her own experiences with the Cardassians came rushing back, but there had been so many enemies since. The Delta Quadrant had kept her on her toes.
"No war is easy, as you know, Captain. And no one wins in war," said Maxim. "This boy's father perished in the War of Theonia, which is three years past." He looked at Kadius fondly. "That was the last war my people fought, and it lasted only a short time. The war before that was the War of Rondalia."
"Is that where you lost the use of your leg?" she asked.
"Yes," he said.
Janeway knew they needed to move on, but Maxim had just opened the door to a conversation she wanted to have with him. She leaned forward. "When we get out of here, I'd like our doctor on Voyager to take a look at your leg, Maxim," she said. "He's a highly skilled physician. He might be able to help you."
"I appreciate your kind offer, Captain, but I have an aversion to physicians," he said, with a twinkle in his eye.
A smile flickered at the corner of her mouth. "So do I, if you believe the Doctor's tales."
"And I am sure he has many of them, Captain Janeway," said Maxim, laughing. "But at the moment you are more in need of medical attention than I." He rose. "Now, let us be on our way if you can manage the boy. We do not have far to go."
She nodded. They could discuss doctors later. She stood, careful not to overdo it, and picked up the boy. So far, so good. Everything would be all right.
As she turned to follow him, Maxim smiled at her. "It has been good to know you, Captain Janeway. You are brave, and a strong leader for your people. I wish you well on your journey home."
"We'll have time to talk later, Maxim," she said. "Let's get Kadius some help first."
He nodded and turned away, heading toward daylight once more.
Janeway followed him until their path turned abruptly to the right, where daylight streamed in through a small opening in the wall. She put the boy on the ground and ran toward the light. There were several boulders blocking the exit, but she climbed one of them and stuck her head through the opening. "Help – anyone! Help us, please!" she called, waving.
She noticed that her wrist beacon was once again strapped to her right wrist, but she didn't recall Maxim returning it to her. Her concussion must be worse than she thought. "I hear someone coming," she said, turning to see Maxim smoothing the boy's hair.
"That is good news, Captain," said Maxim, and Janeway could hear the fatigue in his voice. She was going to make certain he saw a doctor, aversion or not.
"Over here," she called through the small opening. "We're in here!"
Voices shouted to each other, and then several people appeared and began removing the rock and debris from the other side of the cave's entrance. She turned back to Maxim. "We made it, thanks to you." She thought again of her absent tricorder. "I would never have found my way out of that maze alone," she said.
"Nor would I have made it without you, Captain. I wouldn't have been able to carry the boy. You and I did it together," he said.
"Yes, together," she said, smiling, then couldn't help but add, "And we didn't even need one of your spirit friends to guide us."
Maxim laughed with gusto, then turned back to the boy.
Captain Janeway saw Chakotay run toward the workers and dig in, tossing rock and tree limbs out of the way. She smiled.
"You're next," said Chakotay.
She shook her head. "I'm fine. I'll wait and see the Doctor when we return to Voyager." She watched the Mylonian physician cover the boy with a blanket and tuck it beneath his chin.
"You wouldn't want to offend the Mylonians now, would you?" Chakotay asked. "Besides, a concussion is nothing to ignore."
She turned to refuse again, but thought better of it as Doctor Kautama made his way over to them.
"How is he, Doctor?" she asked.
"He has suffered trauma to his body from the falling rock, but he is strong. His heartbeat is steady and his body is responding to the medications," said the doctor.
Captain Janeway took a deep, calming breath. "Then you believe he will make a full recovery?"
The doctor shrugged. "I'm a physician, not a future-seer," he said, moving off.
She sighed. Perhaps all doctors, whether born or programmed, had some common personality traits, she mused. Suddenly she felt very tired, and the headache that had been lurking behind her eyes for the past hour was becoming more persistent.
"You are next, Captain Janeway," the doctor called to her, pointing toward an examination couch.
She opened her mouth to protest, but decided now was as good a time as any to set an example for Maxim. "All right," she said, then turned to Chakotay. "Where is Maxim? If I can do this, so can he."
Chakotay shook his head. "No one has seen him, Captain."
"He was right beside me when you and the others rescued us," she said, and then recalled how Maxim felt about doctors. "But since he didn't want medical attention, he probably slipped away and went home. He and his wife live on the outskirts of town. Maxim said she rarely comes to community events."
"Sounds like he's a bit of a recluse himself," said Chakotay.
"Yes, but Chakotay, I still want him checked over by a doctor."
"He moves quickly with that injured leg, but not so well he could just disappear without anyone noticing," she said.
"Most of us were focused on the boy," he said. "And then we saw you didn't look so good, either."
"Thanks a lot," she said, smiling.
"Don't worry, you're looking a lot better already." He grinned.
She touched his arm. "I'd also like an opportunity to thank him for what he did, Chakotay."
Chakotay nodded. "I'll ask around, see if anyone can tell me where he lives," he said, and took off as Janeway went to sit on the doctor's examination couch.
She sure wished that feeling of dread would go away.
Several hours later, Captain Janeway found herself walking around the
vacant area near the mouth of the cave from which they'd been rescued.
She was looking for some sign of Maxim. It was difficult to believe he
had taken off without saying good-bye to her or checking on the boy.
Something wasn't right. Shy or reclusive notwithstanding, Maxim's injured leg should have prevented him from leaving the scene without notice. And though he was a local citizen, why did no one claim to know him? A man like Maxim didn't just disappear into a crowd. And yet, according to Tuvok, no one recalled seeing him during the midday meal festivities or during the midnight feast the night before.
Moving closer to the Wall of Remembrance, Janeway stood beneath the plaques commemorating the six Spirits of Sironius. She glanced at them distractedly.
"Did you find him?" she asked, turning as Chakotay walked up to her.
"In a manner of speaking," he said, glancing away and tugging on his ear.
"What is it?" she asked. Chakotay didn't often look away from her, but when he did, it was because he was about to say something she wouldn't like. Or wouldn't believe.
"I did find someone who thinks he knows your man," he said.
"Your friend's name is Lemaximas," he said, ignoring her question. "General Lemaximas."
"General? He didn't say anything about having been a general in the military," she said, instantly recalling the other general she thought she'd seen today.
"He was. In fact, your description fits him perfectly. He not only served his people well, he single-handedly saved an entire village from being slaughtered – about 600 men, women and children," he said.
"I believe it," she said, envisioning the face of the sympathetic man who helped her save Kadius. "Where does he live?" she asked Chakotay. "I want to see him."
Chakotay was silent.
"Chakotay?" Now he was going to tell her something she didn't want to hear. "What is it?"
"He's been dead for nearly sixty years, Kathryn," he said. "His widow lives three kilometers outside of town. She's ninety-six years old, and is seldom seen by anyone." He hesitated. "She claims to have seen him, too. Several times, in fact."
Janeway stared at her first officer, trying to take it all in. "He can't be dead, Chakotay. He was right here earlier today," she said, nodding toward the entrance of the cave.
"Kathryn, you and Kadius were the only ones who exited the cave. I've spoken with several people who were here when we found you." He paused, giving her a moment to comprehend what he was saying. "You put Kadius down and called for help," he said. "We heard you, then cleared the cave opening and took you both to the medical facility." He paused. "No one else was inside, Kathryn."
She searched his face for an answer that wasn't there. "You didn't see him?" she asked.
Chakotay shook his head. "I saw only you and the boy."
Janeway turned away. She knew she wasn't crazy. "All right." She needed time to think. "Tell Tuvok to collect our people. It's time to go home."
Chakotay nodded and left her.
Taking a deep breath to clear her head, Janeway looked around the area again. The only footprints in the mud inside the cave's entrance were hers. She'd already checked that for herself.
And then she recalled that Maxim had indeed said good-bye to her before the others arrived to rescue them. She just hadn't realized it at the time.
Her focus drawn again to the plaques on the wall, she glanced at the unfamiliar faces quickly. But her breath caught in her throat and a small gasp escaped her lips when she saw the sixth Spirit of Sironius.
It was Maxim.
She forced her legs to move her forward, until she was face to face with the man in the portrait.
"Captain?" Chakotay came up behind her, but she didn't answer him.
"Kathryn?" he whispered.
She nodded, signaling that she was all right. Starfleet training ran deep.
"A special ceremony has been called for this evening," he said. "The council members want to give thanks to the spirits for looking out for you and Kadius." He paused. "I'm sure they will understand if you want to skip it. After all, you've been through a lot today."
"I'd like to attend the ceremony," she said to Chakotay in a low and certain voice. "I need to be there." She felt a sense of peace wash over her. "I want to be there."
Chakotay looked surprised, then nodded in silent understanding when he saw the look on his captain's face as she stared at the plaque. "I'll inform the dignitaries," he said, and started off.
"If the boy and I were trapped alone together for three hours, and he never regained consciousness…then how did I learn his name is Kadius?" she asked.
Chakotay looked her in the eye. "You and the boy may have been the only people who came out of that cave today, but I'm the last person to try to convince you that you were alone, Kathryn. You know that."
Kathryn Janeway looked into the eyes of her dear friend and fellow officer who had told her more than one ghost story over the years. She nodded, and they shared a brief smile before Chakotay went on his way.
She turned back to the portrait. Maxim looked exactly as he had earlier today. This was the man she'd trusted with her life, and with the boy's life, and he hadn't let her down. He had guided her through the cave to safety.
"Belief through adversity, you say?" she whispered to the image before her. "You know I'll look for a different kind of explanation." She smiled. "After all, it's in my nature to question."
She touched her fingers to the kind and familiar face in the portrait. Sometimes there were just no obvious answers when one needed them most. If she'd learned one thing from her experiences in the Delta Quadrant, it was that.
"Thank you, Maxim," she whispered.
And as she turned away to join her first officer, Captain Kathryn Janeway swore she saw a smile flicker across the general's lips.