With the grand finale
over and done with, the episode ‘Thirty Days’ probably seems like a distant
But a few months ago I came across
the story of ‘Billy Budd’ by Herman Melville, and it offered a new explanation
as to why Captain Janeway was so harsh on Paris. So I thought I’d share
it with you. Enjoy.
Note: Included is edited script from
both the novel and the film version.
As always, thank you to Danielle
and Ab for making sure this was sea-worthy.
Feedback would be greatly appreciated
This story is for Herbie the house
spider. Herb, I admire your tenacity.
“When I saw that ocean today, it
reminded me of the first time I read
“Lieutenant Thomas Eugene Paris.
I hereby reduce you to the rank of
Ensign. And I sentence you to thirty
days solitary confinement.”
“Little ween the snug card-players
in the cabin of the responsibilities of the sleepless man on the bridge."
Herman Melville, ‘Billy Budd’
by Lay McDaniel, 15-8-01
PROLOGUE – the 1st day
She sighed heavily, and reached for
the ever-present photograph frame resting on the table. It was an early
photo, one from her childhood. She was sitting on her father’s shoulders,
one arm wrapped tightly around his head so that he could barely see, and
the other reaching for the sky. Her mother was holding hands with her father,
but stood slightly back, as if ready to catch her lively daughter in case
As always, she felt that pang in
her stomach when she looked at the image. For every time Starfleet principles
were undermined, home seemed further and further away.
Captain Kathryn Janeway of the Federation
starship Voyager let her eyes linger upon the padd in front of her. It
had been given to her on the thirty-second day. It was now the thirty-fourth.
Funny – she had fallen into the habit of substituting the stardate for
simply numbering the days, as if a whole new calendar had sprung from the
day of his demotion. Day One.
He had delivered it personally,
standing to attention the whole time. His only request was that she read
She had suffered atrocities at the
hands of the Cardassians, stared down Ancestral spirits, set foot upon
a Borg cube and remained unto her self.
Yet the hand which held the padd
trembled, and her stomach twisted in apprehension of what it might contain.
For four years, he had been her exemplary officer, her “personal reclamation
project”…her friend. Was this the final cannon volley to down the half-sunken
ship? And once the ship came to rest on the sea bed…was there any hope
of raising her?
All these thoughts came to taunt
her in the deepest, darkest hours of the night. And these were the thoughts
which prevented her from accessing the data contained within the padd.
Was it her inborn curiosity which
made her fingers reach to switch it on? She couldn’t say. All she knew
was that the display lit up, revealing a name.
She didn’t know whether to laugh
or cry. ‘Billy Budd’, she knew faintly, was the name of an 19th century
Earthen novel. She had been expecting a letter from her pilot, expressing
his anger, or sense of injustice, or both, for his arguably harsh sentence.
Not a book.
She settled for tossing the padd
onto her bed, and turned her hand to more mundane matters.
She couldn’t sleep. As a little
girl growing up in Indiana, she would often climb up onto her window seat
and read by the pale light of the moon. Her father would enter her room
in the morning to see his daughter curled up in the cushions asleep, a
book lying across her knee.
Moons were not visible from
space, and starlight was nowhere near bright enough. So she had to make
do with the lamp next to her bed.
That night, as her hand groped
along the bedside table for some reading material, it fell across the padd.
For lack of anything better, she activated the display and began to read.
The story seemed simple enough
at first. She consumed a chapter or more every night, even if she wasn’t
suffering from insomnia.
Billy Budd, the young, good-natured
British sailor serving aboard the HMS Indomitable during a time of war
with France, persecuted along with the rest of the crew by the sadistic
master-at-arms, Claggart. At first, she thought that Paris was likening
her to this ‘Claggart’ figure. Ensign Paris may well have wondered why
he was treated to a particularly cool reception that day on the bridge.
But as she kept reading, she
realised that this was not the comparison Tom wished to make.
It was on the forty-sixth day, in
the early hours of the morning, when she came across it. The message. What
he had been trying to tell her all along.
She broke down and wept.
It was the scene of the court martial.
Claggart had indirectly caused the death of a young sailor, and then covered
it up by laying a charge of mutiny upon those who knew the truth. Billy
Budd he cited as the leader. Claggart confronted Budd with the charge,
in front of the Captain - a Captain Vere, who had a particular soft
spot towards Billy.
The inner turmoil of Budd
was evident as he tried to maintain his innocence, a nervous stammer preventing
him from making his defence. So Budd struck the master-at-arms instead
– one blow to the jaw. The blow had fatal consequences, for Claggart died
Budd was thrown into the brig, whilst
the senior officers of the ship held a court-martial to determine his fate.
The Captain gave his testimony, along with other members of the crew, professing
Budd’s innocence; that the blame fell on Claggart for spreading the lies
in the first place. All agreed that the master-at-arms had the blow coming
to him; “indeed”, one officer said wryly, “I’d have struck him myself.”
The court’s verdict looked
favourable; however, the Captain asked to speak once more. And it was these
words that were the essence of Tom’s message.
“Budd killed a man. His superior
officer. Your verdict sets him free, and so would I wish to do. But are
we free to choose as we would if we were private citizens ? The Admiralty
has its code – do you think it cares who Budd is, who you and I are?
“But surely,” argued the officer
of the marines, “within that code, each crime is different.”
“At sea in time of war, an impressed
man strikes a superior officer and the blow is fatal’. Now according to
the act, the mere fact of the blow would be enough to hang him. Be it fatal
or no. The men know this as well as you and I. They know the penalty for
“I can see that, sir,” the officer
replied, “but this case is exceptional. And pity if we are men must
“And so am I moved. But we cannot
have warm hearts betraying heads that must be cool.”
The man looked away bitterly.
“Officers are only men in uniform. We have our standards, ethics, scruples.”
The Captain moved towards
him. “When we first put on this uniform , we resigned our freedom. The
gold we wear show that we serve the King. The Law. I am bound by an oath
I took when I was half the age of any of you here. You took that oath as
well. There’s no escape.“
Asked a young officer, “Couldn’t
we mitigate the penalty if we find him guilty?”
Vere shook his head. “No. The penalty
Angrily the officer stood. “Can
you stand Budd’s murder on your conscience?”
“Our consciences are private matters,”
countered the Captain calmly, “but we are public men. Dare we give our
consciences precedent over the code that made us officers?”
The young man shot back his answer
- “I still say let him go. I won’t bear a hand to hang a man I know is
innocent. My blood’s not cold enough for that. I cannot give the kind of
judgement you wish to force from us.“
The Captain moved to face him. “We
do not deal with justice but with the law. Can’t you see that you must
first strip off the uniform you wear, and then your flesh before you can
escape the case at issue here?”
The officer’s features were
heart-breaking to witness, as he came to the slow realisation that the
words spoken by his Captain were the truth. Budd had to hang. There were
no other options open to them.
Vere saw this, nodded, and
stepped back to address the room. “Do not think me pitiless in first deciding
sentence on a luckless boy,” he said quietly. “I feel as you do. And for
myself; revulsion. Shame. And rage.”
In Captain Vere, Captain Janeway
found a kindred spirit. There were no other people on Voyager with whom
she could talk with about these kind of matters – not even dear Chakotay,
because, quite simply, she was the only Starfleet Captain in the entire
quadrant. How could the crew understand her constant fight to reconcile
the harsh and distant Starfleet law with the extraordinary circumstances
of the Delta Quadrant with which she was faced with every day?
The book was his way of saying that
he knew. Not that he understood – for that understanding was shared by
Captains alone. But he knew why he’d been demoted. He knew the rigid structure
of Starfleet better than anyone else on the ship, had had the regulations
drilled into him from childhood, was aware of the penalties for breaking
He knew. And that was enough.
Epilogue – the 47th day
After her epiphany, she’d
tried to catch him alone, to talk to him. An encounter with a hostile race
– and having to deal with the aftermath, made that impossible. So it was
when she dived into Neelix’s kitchen a little after midnight for a cup
of coffee that she saw a lone, familiar figure sitting in the corner of
the messhall. She approached the person quietly, mug in hand, grasping
“Mind if I join you?”
He jumped, startled, taking
his feet down from the table. “Not at all,” he flustered, pulling up another
chair. He waited until she was seated before he took his again.
She watched him carefully
over the rim of her cup. He hadn’t looked this uncomfortable since that
day in sickbay after the warp ten incident, when he’d tried to apologise
for kidnapping her. A far cry from the easy, maritime conversation they’d
shared over coffee barely a month ago.
“Thank you for the book.”
His eyes flicked towards her,
his expression blank.
“Did you enjoy it?”
So innocuous, so polite…as
if he was enquiring about Neelix’s latest concoction.
“Very much so. Particularly
the scene of the trial.”
That got a reaction out of
him. Unconsciously, he leaned forward, unable to mask the apprehension
in his voice as he said “Oh?”
She continued. “Yes, I was
particularly struck by the argument given by the ship’s Captain.”
His expression could be described
as one of pure relief. For, unbeknownst to her, he’d lain awake for countless
nights, wondering whether she would read it, delete it, take offence at
his forthrightness, or worse still – miss the message altogether.
A mischievous look entered his eyes
as he commented wryly “Thank goodness Starfleet doesn’t approve of the
She felt something inside
her fall at his joke. Tom must have seen her stricken look, for he apologised
immediately. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.” He looked down, clasping
his hands together, wringing them in what she took to be a gesture of nervousness.
He met her eyes suddenly. “My father gave me that book, you know.”
“I didn’t think he shared
your passion for the sea.”
He laughed bitterly. “He doesn’t.
He gave me the book when I announced I was going to join the Navy. I thought
he’d given it to me as a token of encouragement.” He shook his head at
this, as if disgusted at his own naivety.
“After I read it, he told
me that the Navy needed people who understood the structure and rules,
and had the discipline to obey them, people who could think with their
heads and not with their hearts, people who wouldn’t end up with a noose
round their neck. In short, they didn’t need people like me.
It was only later that I
realised he was describing Starfleet as well.”
Indignation rose within her,
but she pushed it down. Now wasn’t the time to debate the principles of
the Federation. She knew all too well where he stood on the subject, and
So instead, after taking a
sip of her coffee, she asked “Why did you give me that book?” She was interested
to hear it from him, in his own words.
His brow furrowed, and he
cleared his throat, as if trying to find the words to say. “When I was
in the brig, Harry told me how tired you were looking. I thought maybe
it was because you were feeling guilty…so I wanted to tell you that I knew
the consequences before I took the Flyer down. You were only doing what
you had to.” A deep blush was creeping across his face, testament to his
embarrassment. “And – it was to apologise for letting you down. There hasn’t
been a day when I haven’t been grateful for the chance you’ve given me
“What about the deed itself?”
Surprised anger flared in
his eyes. “I’ve made a lot of mistakes in the past, Captain. This wasn’t
one of them.”
This man didn’t belong in
this era. He belonged to the time of James T. Kirk, a time where officers
were indeed only men in uniform, a time where Starfleet and the Prime Directive
were thrown to the wind if needs be.
Perhaps there was a place
for that still, here in the 24th century. But not on her ship.
They’d talked for a little while
longer, until she’d used tiredness as an excuse to leave. She reflected,
somewhat sadly, on their conversation as she traced her way back to her
quarters. Their friendship was far from mended – perhaps it could never
fully be restored to what it once was. But at least they’d made a start.
She entered her cabin and changed
into her night clothes. As she climbed under the covers, she caught sight
of the book. She held the light weight in her hands, staring at it.
The fundamental difference between
Captain Veer’s ship and hers was that her crew was made up of misfits –
young men and women who, for whatever reason, had chosen to leave Starfleet
and join the Marquis. Some hadn’t even joined Starfleet in the first place.
Unlike Captain Veer, she couldn’t expect all of them to adhere to Federation
principles, because many of them, like Tom, held the unshakeable view that
Starfleet was deeply flawed. Yet what else could she do?
Once again, she felt the weight
of their situation bearing down on her. Finding a middle ground, a compromise,
was almost impossible. Either stick religiously to Starfleet protocol,
or abandon it completely. The former worked…just.
She put down the padd and let out
a soft sigh. All she’d ever wanted to do was explore space. Nothing more.
How had it all gotten so complicated?
She looked again at the picture
lying on her bedside table, and, for the millionth time, wished she was