Disclaimer: They belong to paramount, not me, and I'm too poor to sue anyway
Captain's Personal Log, "The Thunderbird," : Day 2.
Having spent the majority of the first day pushing our new ship to her limits, today we had kicked back and relaxed to a more meandering pace. Since we were still undecided as to our heading, there seemed little point in wasting any more fuel.
Yesterday’s uninhibited antics had been a necessary emotional outlet for us all, particularly Tom, and we had all wanted to get as far away from Dorvan as possible. It saddened me that I had spent seven years trying to get home and then, after less than a week, had been as eager as the rest of my crew to leave the planet behind.
We had hared away from Dorvan at warp nine and hadn’t slowed down all day. I had almost had to drag Tom away from the helm to go to bed. Fortunately, by this morning, even Tom’s need for speed had eased, and at 1800 he gave no argument when I announced that it was time to stop for dinner again.
We programmed a fixed orbit over a small, uninhabited planet, switched on the auto-pilot, and retired to the mess hall. Neelix had done a wonderful job of rearranging the First Officer’s Cabin into an open-plan public lounge and separate dining area.
As long as you ignored the fact that his galley had been welded together from the discarded bunks from CQ2, that the communal table consisted of three smaller tables bolted together, that the chairs were all mismatched and that a curtain of spare sheets hid Neelix’s sleeping area from view, the messhall was quite pleasant.
The lounge area was particularly nice, with a low table to play cards, several plastic but realistic plants scattered around, and plenty of hot coffee on hand. It was a jovial, family atmosphere with even the Doctor coming in after dinner. He had decided on the appearance of a Klingon today and offered to regale us all with Klingon opera. Fortunately, we managed to instead convince him to join in a game of poker with Harry, Sue and myself.
Tom excused himself, saying he had something he wanted to do in our quarters. I was obviously concerned, already wondering whether the exertion of flying was proving to be too much for him, given his still-fragile state of health. He looked tired, but he certainly seemed happy enough and he had eaten a little more than half his dinner, which was an improvement on yesterday. I was reluctant to let him go, but on the other hand, I didn’t want to treat him like an invalid. He was a grown man and I had to let him make his own choices.
Therefore, I let him float off by himself and waited until the door closed behind him before allowing my unhappy sigh to escape.
"He’s fine, Chakotay," Harry told me with an understanding smile. "He hasn’t been this happy for months. Maybe he’s never been this happy. He told me this is the first time in his life that he’s felt truly free."
"I understand what he means," Sue told us. "I was a Starfleet brat too. From the first day I was old enough to understand what the word ‘responsibility’ meant, I was made aware that every choice I ever made would reflect on my family and on my career. I never did ANYTHING without having to worry about whether it fitted in to my parents’ dreams for me. The idea of being footloose, working for ourselves, just looking out for each other, is so wonderful."
"It might not be so wonderful when we are hungry and out of fuel," Harry laughed.
Sue poked him in the ribs and their resultant ‘fight’ ended with them both collapsed on the floor in a fit of giggles. Then they both looked guiltily at me, their smiles suddenly nervous, obviously wondering whether ‘Commander’ Chakotay would emerge.
I grinned back at them. "Don’t look at me, I’m not joining in. The only person I tickle is Tom," I told them and I saw them relax and exchange happy smiles.
To be honest, I HAD been tempted to tell them off, but this wasn’t Starfleet, it was the Thunderbird, and we were virtually a family here, I reminded myself. As long as the ship was safe and we were free to relax, there was no reason why we couldn’t just have the easy relationship of friends.
I played two hands of poker, while Neelix bustled around happily, pouring coffee and giving loud advice about the quality of people’s hands. It was difficult to bluff when the little Talaxian kept bending over our shoulders and giving woeful exclamations. At first, it annoyed us, and then it became part of the game, a new rule, Neelix handicap.
I refused the third hand, deciding that it was time to find out what Tom was up to. I left the others deciding that the only way to stop Neelix’s interference was to give him his own hand and make him join in. I was actually sorry to miss his poker lesson, but not as much as I was eager to go to Tom.
As I entered our quarters I spied him typing into the computer console, whistling snatches of a song, and totally oblivious of my entrance. Feeling mischievous, I slipped my shoes off by the door and crept across the room.
"You sound happy," I whispered into Tom's ear.
He nearly shot out of his wheelchair with fright. He had been so absorbed with his task, and whistling so loudly, that he hadn't heard my furtive approach.
"Jesus, Chakotay, don't sneak up on me like that," he huffed, but his eyes sparkled as I leant in to steal a kiss.
"Just be glad I wasn’t after your scalp," I sniggered.
"You going to go native on me, Chief?" he grinned, "cos I really fancy the idea of you with a bare chest and war paint."
"Just a bare chest?" I mumbled into his neck and he squirmed as my tongue licked his neck.
"Hold that thought, Cha. Just let me log off."
"What are you doing, Tom?" I asked, peering over his shoulder to the computer screen.
"Figuring out why this isn't going to work," he said blithely.
"What isn’t going to work?"
"The Thunderbird, us, all of it."
"So why are you so happy?" I asked in bemusement.
I, also, had reached that sad conclusion. Both Tom, and far more surprisingly, I, given my more cautious nature, had been too lost in the sense of freedom and adventure for the first day to do anything except grin like birds let out of a cage. Yet, doubts had already set in and I had hesitated to discuss the subject with Tom. I was relieved that he had come to the same conclusion, but mystified by his cheerfulness.
"Well, understanding a problem is the largest part of fixing it," he announced solemnly.
I hid my smile of amusement at his portentous words.
"Okay, so name the problems," I challenged, wondering whether his quick deductive mind had found the same ones as I had.
Tom started to read off his list.
"We have no money. We don't have an engineer. We don't have the money to hire an engineer. We don't have a good enough navigational computer to trust the autopilot completely and anyway, unless Harry and Sue take one shift and you and I take the other, we can't fly 24/7. If Harry and Sue work a shift alone, they have no pilot. If you and I are alone we only have either ops or tactical."
"Go on," I encouraged.
"We don't have the money for docking fees but slowing down to hold an all-stop takes more fuel than continuing to fly. Even holding an orbit around a planet, like we did tonight, is wasteful. We can't afford to waste fuel. We need more crew. We can't afford to pay, or even feed, more crew and, besides, we don't have the room for them."
"We have crew quarters 3. There are four bunks in there," I pointed out.
"But you said we would be flying passengers. We can't put them in the cargo bay like crates of bananas, can we?" Tom pointed out reasonably.
I grinned. So far, Tom and I were in accord. I wondered how much further our thinking matched.
"Harry and Sue don't need ALL of Crew Quarters 2," I mentioned.
"They can't share quarters with strangers. They are practically married, Chakotay. WE wouldn't like to share, would we? Neither should they have to," Tom said, outrage dripping from his voice.
"We could partition CQ2," I suggested.
"With what?" Tom asked reasonably. "Besides I don't like the idea of them having to share a bathroom and it would cost far too much to refit everything. Far more than we have, anyway."
Both Jacqueline and Jean-Luc had separately offered us a small fortune in credits to ‘tide us over.’ When I had refused to accept Jacqueline’s money, she had instead spent it on equipment for the sickbay, thereby forcing my hand. Jean-Luc had responded by simply opening a generous line of credit in our names.
There was nothing to stop us from using it, except pride, yet it was an option that I didn’t even want to consider, and I was relieved that Tom hadn’t mentioned it either.
"So, what do you suggest?" I asked him.
"We need work to get the money to refit, and need crew to be able to do the work. We will just have to find ourselves some haulage jobs, and an engineer who will work for food and a promise, and maybe a spare pilot. We could reroute ops and tactical controls through the main computer so that all operations are accessible from any terminal. That way the ship can run constantly on a skeleton crew."
"I can pilot, " I pointed out.
"I KNOW, stupid, but when I'm in bed, you are too."
"Stupid?" I asked in mock outrage.
"Okay, Captain Stupid," Tom grinned.
I refused to rise to the bait, the conversation was far too important for us to be diverted into a fight, since every squabble for the last 48 hours had resulted in us settling our differences in bed. The glint in Tom's eyes told me he had already figured out THAT one.
"The rewiring of the terminals is a great idea, although I think we need to find our Engineer first. None of us are sufficiently competent. Any other ideas?" I asked.
"Yeah, the Doc. He's a Mark V, now, right?"
"Yes," I replied curiously.
"So he has a much faster processor and a broader memory matrix?"
"That's right," I replied, trying to remember the exact specifications that Data had told me, but failing miserably.
"Fine. So, we can download a whole new stack of sub-routines into him. He can become multi-tasking. He can become our "auto-pilot," in effect, when we sleep. I mean we hardly need a full-time doctor, well maybe I do, but the rest of the time he's pretty bored and he always wanted some command opportunities when we were on Voyager. I bet he'd jump at the chance to be your First Officer."
Why the hell hadn't I thought of that? Then reality struck me like a cruel dousing of icy water.
"Those kind of sub-routines cost money, Tom," I reminded him sadly.
He just grinned. "Depends where you download them from, doesn't it?" he replied cheekily.
"Oh, that's ALL I need, a shareware first officer," I grumbled. Then another thought struck me. "Not that I'm arguing with the idea of promoting the Doc, but why don't YOU want to be First Officer?"
"What? You’ve got to be kidding. I refuse to spend my whole married life with my husband pulling rank on me. I've thought about it and I'm NOT going to be a member of your crew."
"What?" I gasped in panic. "Tom, I told you, the Thunderbird is YOUR ship. Hell, YOU can be the Captain if it’s bothering you that much."
"Nope, you are the Captain, the rest are your crew and as for me, well, I'm just along for the ride. Kind of like a freelance, you know?"
I looked at him in complete bemusement. "Tom, this isn't Starfleet, we don't even HAVE to have ranks."
"Of course we do. God only knows what kind of mayhem would happen if we ran this like a democracy. In a pinch, everyone has to know whom to turn to and whose decision is final. Shit, Cha, even pirate ships have Captains."
"So why are you so set against working under me?" I asked him. This was really bothering me, because it obviously was upsetting him.
"Hell, Cha, the only place I want to be under you is in bed. The rest of the time we HAVE to have some kind of equality."
"Do you think I don't consider you my equal, Tom?" I asked him, unable to keep the tones of hurt out of my voice.
"Look, don't get upset, Cha, I'm not complaining or anything. It's just that you really dominate me in the bedroom and I love it, but I can't live my WHOLE life feeling like that. Particularly now that I'm a cripple."
"Don't call yourself that, Tom, you know I hate it," I snapped furiously.
"It's the truth, Chakotay, and it doesn't worry me so it shouldn't bother you. Hell, it's my body. I can call it anything I like. But I tell you what, if anyone ELSE ever calls me names, you have my permission to rip their tongues out," he replied with a rueful smile.
"So, what exactly are you saying, about your position on the ship?" I queried, deciding it was the safer topic.
"You're the Captain. In a crisis, what you say goes. I don't want to risk our lives arguing with you when seconds count. But, about the rest of things, I want to be consulted. I want my opinion to count, and I don't want you to order me about like my thoughts and feelings don't matter. "
"Do I do that?" I asked sadly.
"You don't mean to, but yes you do. You shot me down in flames this afternoon for suggesting we go to DS9. You didn't even let me explain WHY I wanted to go there," he said softly.
"I'm sorry," I said. He was right. The mere mention of DS9 had awoken so many demonic memories that I had rejected his suggestion out of hand, in front of Harry and Sue. On the other hand, he hadn't even tried to make me change my mind.
"Why didn't you argue with me? I said no and you just said okay."
Tom blushed and looked away from me as he replied. "You're my husband, Cha, I don't want to fight with you in front of the others. It's really bad manners."
"Well THAT came straight out of Owen's mouth, didn’t it?" I said gently and he flushed and then gave a ragged laugh.
"Yeah, well my marriage instruction came from watching Maman and Dad. They NEVER fought in public. It just 'isn't done' in polite circles, you know."
I tabled that comment for later discussion and got back to the current point. "So why DO you want to go to DS9?"
"Because Julian's there and he can help me access the programs we need for the Doc, and there's a good chance we might find some stranded Engineer who needs a job just to get off the station, and we could even maybe find some work there."
"They are all excellent reasons. I was wrong not to consider them and YOU were wrong not to bring them up earlier. From now on, I want you to call me on any bad decisions. I need your help here, Tom. We are flying blind and we need to be a team. That's why you are wrong about wanting to be separate from the crew. We are a team now, I might be the Captain, but we are ALL equal. Except, you are obviously more equal than the rest, of course."
"There’s no such thing as MORE equal," he laughed at my ridiculous comment. "But, I do understand, and as long as you agree to at least listen to my opinions before rejecting them, I guess I can live with it."
"So, you’ll be my First Officer?" I asked with a grin.
"No," he replied, and my bemused expression triggered his temper again.
"I’m in a goddamned wheelchair, Chakotay, in case you had forgotten."
"So?" I challenged.
"If there’s an emergency, if something happens to you, the First Officer needs to be able to take over, maybe even run a rescue mission. I can’t do it, and I won’t let myself be put in the position of having to order someone else to do something I can’t. It would be too damned humiliating."
As much as I hated to agree with him, he was right. The last thing I wanted to do was make him feel inadequate, but I just didn’t like the idea of anyone being able to tell Tom what to do on his own ship.
"So what position DO you want, Tom?" I asked him.
He pretended to consider deeply, furrowing his brow and giving a deep sigh.
"What I'd really like, right now, more than anything, is the position of -" he paused teasingly.
"Yes?" I encouraged.
"Captain's cock-warmer," he finally replied, and he gave me a huge leer.
Needless to say, the discussion came to an abrupt halt as I decided to check his qualifications for the position.