by Steven of Nine
Captain's Ready Room
Streaked and blurred by the Warp effect, the stars sped by the ready room window. Captain Janeway stared at them, her back to Kes, hands on her hips. A wisp of vapour rose from her nearby coffee, vanished.
How often does she stand there, willing Voyager home? Kes wondered. I wish for it, too, Captain, I wish you home every day.
Janeway inhaled, turning, right hand now working the creases at her forehead. Sitting on the couch she motioned Kes to sit beside her. We never talk at her desk, Kes glanced at it, sitting. We always talk more like family than Captain and crewman. Looking past her Kes saw the photograph. A pleasant man, smiling; a lushly-coated dog: Mark and Molly... the Captain's other family.
"Kes..." A pause. "I've decided to let you interview Mr. Suder."
Kes couldn't suppress the smile. No, the grin. She clenched her fists in her lap. Janeway noticed, matched the smile. A bit. She put a hand on Kes' knee, warned, "I want you to be careful. Take a passive rôle in the interview. Don't provoke or argue with him. Tuvok and the Doctor have recommended this, but agree that he's far from cured. Mr. Larson will always be there."
Kes was grateful, but her deep voice betrayed none of the excitement of her body language. "Thank-you, Captain. I appreciate your concern. I'll be fine."
Eager to make the arrangements she rose to leave. "Thank-you," she repeated, turning away, her retreating back the only witness to Janeway's smile, her shaking head.
Kes walked the corridor, heading for the turbolift. For Suder. What do I tell him when he asks why? 'I burned a cargo bay full of flowers and thought that made us alike?' That was simplistic, comical. Telekinetic destruction of the airponics project was hardly similar to beating Crewman Darwin to death with a coil spanner.
But then it wasn't the act she wanted to fathom, but the causes, the feeling. The euphoria of destruction. In the flame that burned those plants she'd felt power... and joy. And while flowers were hardly sentient beings, Tuvix had been. She'd wanted him dead, wished for it, to get Neelix back.
Lon Suder was the ship's prisoner. Confined to his quarters for his crime, he claimed to feel no emotions. But Tuvok's Vulcan tutoring enabled him introspection. Kes was hoping to accomplish a lot. Psychomedical study of Suder's impulses, perhaps therapy for him. And self-understanding for herself.
Kes came up short outside Suder's room. Lost in thought she was already toe-to-toe with Larson. Tall, imposing, Larson was assigned to keep a safe eye on her. She looked almost straight up, greeted him: "Hi." He nodded down his response.
Swallowing, Kes glanced at the stateroom door. Inhaling, clenching and releasing her fists, she entered.
My hands are just shaking. They're shaking and they're wet. It's sweat and blood, I guess. From the broken glass I fell onto when he opened fire. So, I can barely hold the phaser. You know how badly those handles are designed.
The Cardassian's only got a small pistol. Some kind of disruptor. But, he's firing constantly, firing away and yelling. He's blasting the console I'm hidden in back of. Sparks are cascading over the keyboard, all over me. My clothes and my hair are singed. I... smell them burning and I jump, every time a spark hits my skin. It just hurts, sharp and... just hurts.
I'm sitting there, with my knees in my chest. It's dark, with smoke and shadows from the disruptor blasting away at me. My clothes are getting burned right off me and I... I'd just had enough. I thumb the setting up and I stand. I'm firing before I've even turned all the way 'round. I hold down the fire stud, I'm pressing it, trying to fire harder, and the beam is cutting through everything. And it... arcs across the floor, cutting up the tiling, and this desk just - blows apart - and the Cardassian tries to run.
He stumbles. Because I've shone the beam onto his leg. I'm tracking him across the space and he's stumbled. It... cuts through him, his leg, at the knee. He's clutching at it, dropping the pistol and I put the beam in his face, right into his open mouth because he's screaming, now...
The phaser... drains. And I drop it, right on the floor. I remember the plastic clattering.
Bendera's okay. He's under some rubble, and he's - he's laughing. I hear him push out from under the boards and the tiles.
"Damn, Suder!" I don't respond, I just think: Oh, Kurt's okay. "Damn, Suder! You're gonna let me know if I'm ever pissing you off, right?"
He has accented Standard. Hispanic. From the Jalisco Satellites the Federation gave Cardassia. "They gave away 185 years of independence," he used to say, frowning.
Now, he's laughing, "Damn, Suder!"
He goes to the Cardassian, brushing himself. He's covered in dust, coughing on it between laughing, on the dust and the smoke, too. "Hey, Lonnie. Think there's enough DNA here for us to make I.D.?" He's holding up the Cardassian's boot in one hand. He coughs into the other, waves away fumes, smoke. But still, he's laughing the whole time.
"Wouldn't wanna come all this way, blow up all this cool stuff for the wrong guy, hey!?" I don't answer. I don't have anything to say. I look at my hands. Steady, dirty, blood all over them. But, steady. They never shake, now.
"C'mon." Kurt's beckoning. He puts the DNA sampler away in a utility belt. His wrist-com's beeping. "We got pick-up."
We don't say a word on the way back. He just looks at me. Nods. Smiles or shakes his head.
We never had another conversation before he died. He used to say we didn't owe one another. He'd save your life; you'd save someone else. But we didn't owe.
"We just have to do what we have to do for each other. You do for me, Lonnie. I'll do for you."
Kes associated many feelings with Tuvok's office. All of them under the aegis of authority. It's like being in my parents' bedroom. I daren't touch anything or make a noise. She sat, upright and patient, on the edge of her chair.
Tuvok put the padd down on his desk, steepled his fingers. It's always quiet and sober, like a church, she reflected. Tuvok spoke, "It would appear that Mr. Suder is being cooperative. Have you encountered any difficulties?"
"No, Tuvok. He's been quite open about his experiences. There's been no hint of anger or violence. He doesn't even seem to notice Larson." Kes kept things straightforward.
"Good. How do you see the process developing?"
Kes felt an urge to smile; suppressed it. Like giving a school report to the Instructors. She considered the deeper level. I'm driven to meet his standards, to earn a compliment. How does he instill that She answered the Vulcan, "We've begun with circumstance, what has driven him to past acts of violence. His first-" what word, what word? - murder? - slaying? "-kill was on a Maquis mission, the assassination of a Gul." He doesn't seem to move when he listens, no fidgeting, no change of position or expression. Complete attention. "We will discuss how he felt after a few more sessions. In the meantime, I'll interview his crewmates to try and gain the perspective of his peers."
Tuvok nodded, "Acceptable. My own discussions with Mr. Suder initially produced little in that area. The combination of his excercises in Vulcan technique and your methods of interview could be more fruitful. I look forward to your reports."
Kes appreciated the near-compliment, imagined Suder here in Tuvok's office during the early search for Darwin's killer. Tuvok the interrogator, the long reach of StarFleet Law... How does it feel to have him as an adversary, an enemy? Perhaps, to Suder, like nothing...
"I will come back after the next interview." Kes rose, gathering her padds. "Thank-you for your help, Tuvok." I say, 'I will,' imitate his speech!
He nodded, "You are welcome."
Kes exited into the hall, into a near-palpable sense of abandon.
Though similarly designed, Chakotay's office was so different from Tuvok's. More welcoming; less imposing. It held the big man's presence even in his absence. His resonance lingered on the air, shone from the wood of his desk. Kes looked at the Native decor: Earthen; open; mystical and strong. Chakotay, indeed.
He came in through the doorway, "Sorry to keep you waiting," smoothing his uniform, brushing the beard shadow of his jaw.
As he passed she looked at his temple. The tattoo hung across his brow, a stylised Native scrawl of symbolism. She imagined it a netherbeast; her fingers twitched as her mind traced it over his skin. She mused to know the needle pressing it into her: across her own forehead; circling the round of her shoulder; girding her flank from belly to spine, breast to hip.
Chakotay was seated, now, smiling at her. She realised he matched her own, result of her thoughts. He raised his eyebrows, "What can I do for you?"
She told him.
"Suder?" He inhaled, pursed his lips and set his jaw to one side. "He's quite the enigma. You live with someone like him and tribal myths take on new meaning."
"Tribal?" she pushed. Her eyes flicked to his tattoo, back to his eyes. He turned them away from her, out of focus somewhere below the far wall's juncture with the floor.
He nodded, spoke without looking at her, conjuring his own musing, "Like a spirit, the kind old ladies threaten grandchildren with. 'Beware Xuahutemoc. He punishes the willful child. Say his name and he comes to you in your dreams.'
"What would you do, Kes, if Suder came to you in the dead of night?"
He turned to focus on her eyes, large and white in her pale, seamless face. She was startled when he laughed, rich and eyes-creased, to see her immersion. A moment passed and he was serious again.
"Suder has his own dæmons. I hope we can help him with them. But those nights back home, on the run... hunted. There were times I was glad it was only Cardassians, not Suder."
Some time later she thanked him, rising from her chair. He, too, rose, smiling down at her as she turned to leave. The door closed on her exit, her fingertips brushing above her left eye; Suder's face a stylised scrawl in the back of her mind.
When I came to I could smell the blood. I cracked a fluoro-tube, the green light making it look black. Herron had been right behind me coming into the pod, the explosion knocked us both through the accessway. He'd taken the brunt, the backs of his legs ripped up by shrapnel, bleeding him to death on the way down.
Narva IV: our so-called 'safe-haven'. But something tipped the Cardassians to us. They'd come out from behind the third moon, blasting. We just scrambled for the escape pods when they hit the engine. Narva was all jungle, so full of ambient bioelectric fields that you couldn't scan for anything. They couldn't have found us once we were down. But you could visually track a reentry flameout. I had to get out of there.
The biofields screwed up everything. Sensors, scanners... compass. Supposedly, you could navigate from time of day, the orientation patterns of the moons... I never learned that. I just headed straight away from the pod.
There was one of them. I watched for twenty minutes to be sure. Then I incinerated him.
First, I stunned him, dragged him to a part of the clearing that was heavily scarred. Then, I set my phaser on max and burned him into the ground. If his friends came back I hoped they'd think he wandered off.
I found a signal tracker. The Cardassians were broadcasting a strong nav-signal, cutting through the interference. You couldn't find anyone who wanted to stay hidden down there. They probably did this for safety. Huh, safety. Now I could track them.
I caught up a day later. I couldn't believe they'd already found the other Maquis! They'd stopped. Maybe it was for rest, maybe for recreation. Someone was hanging by his arms, from a tree. A Cardassian was going at him, fists and elbows. Another straightened the Maquis after each blow. The last was making McLennan tie up Jarvin. That meant they were beating Chakotay.
I just stunned everyone. Wide beam, maximum stun, I took them all down. Everything went silent. I'd even stunned the local wildlife, or it was just playing it smart.
I cut Chakotay down, tied the Cardassians to each other, to a tree. Emptying their packs I found enough trackers for all of them. Curious, I thumbed one on. It didn't indicate the Cardassians or their equipment. They weren't broadcasting... they were tracking. The directional graphic pointed behind me, to... McLennan and Jarvin.
I found it in McLennan's boot, in his heel. A transtator and power cell, tuned way over normal comm bands so our ship never would have picked it up. I leaned McLennan up against a tree, still out from the stun. I grabbed the beacon, a phaser. I'd give him a chance.
"McLennan!" I yelled, slapping his cheek a few times. He came to, recognising me and starting to smile. I showed him the beacon, looked at his eyes...
I heard Chakotay, weakly from behind me, "Suder, don't-" I put the phaser under McLennan's chin and fired.
"Oh, c'mon! The guy's a psychopath!" Tom Paris tilted his head back, fist over his mouth, dropping nuts.
"Know what I heard?" Harry Kim leaned in, "He once phasered a Gorn for snoring." Kim crossed his arms, matter-of-fact, like hearsay was Cosmic Truth.
Kes looked back and forth as the table shared their Suderisms. The Mess Hall was in full bloom, all departments and shifts represented. The blue, red and yellow of StarFleet uniforms mixed with the chosen hues of those off duty.
A constant in/out traffic of comers and goers spiced the background buzz with hails and farewells. Hands were pressed, chairs and tables rearranged, jaws moved to speak or to chew.
Every so often Kes would be distracted by a hand on her shoulder, a hip bumped into her chair, or by Neelix. His voice rose and fell behind her, asking after one's health; commending another's achievement; hard selling the leola root stew. He dished his creations to all comers, and the Mess seethed under a thin haze of smoke and steam, the fragrant canopy of his kitchen.
"You don't really believe that, do you?" Kes looked for sensibility from Harry, not sensation.
"About the Gorn? Sure. Ayala told me it happened a few weeks before he joined Chakotay. He heard-"
"He heard!? Ha!" Paris' interruption brought a corners-of-the-eyes look from Kim. They seemed more and evermore like brothers to Kes, in the way that only people who are poles apart can seem familial.
"If you're going to gossip, Harry, have the decency to get it from a reliable source!" Paris went on, "Now, Megan Delaney told me even she and Jenny wouldn't date Suder."
"And they've dated you." B'Elanna Torres announced her arrival.
Paris tilted his head, brushed nut crumbs and salt from his palms. "Plenty of people would love to date me," he looked directly into the newcomer's eyes. A challenge.
"Yeah. Whatever." She refused. Taking in Harry, then Kes, B'Elanna spoke, "Look, I can't stay, but if you want my opinion of Suder... I'm kind of torn - I mean... he went through a lot with us, you know? And, he did the Maquis a lot of good in his, uh... in his way. But he couldn't keep it together, in the end."
Torres' expression changed, almost to one of guilt. Kes wondered if the engineer felt she'd sold out a companion, sharing her truth. Torn, she'd said. To Kes that was Torres. Torn. Or, maybe, tearing at herself. Maquis independent or StarFleet section head. Klingon or Human.
Torres made Kes reassess diversity. To be more than just Ocampan! To be some other race, too, some other something. Wouldn't that be wonderful? Maybe it wasn't a blessing in some combinations. Or maybe just in Torres.
B'Elanna almost smiled, "Anyway, I uh... I just came in for some Londress Blend." She raised her mug, left.
"Look," Kim again, eager and serious, "There's just something about the guy, all right? He's larger than life. And a Betazoid with no empathy or feelings? He's a cold, scary killing machine."
"Yeah," Paris, sardonic. "It's like having our own Borg crewmember."
Kes looked to Paris. He'd finished the nuts, started on flat rounds he dipped into a thick green paste. She liked Tom; always had.
He had overcome expectations. Reputation. He'd boarded Voyager free of the monitor cuff the penal colony had hung on his ankle, hoping to lose his other anchors. Traitor. Mercenary. His father. That was the one he'd resist most: Mr. Paris. He was a lot like his father. No shortcoming in himself was overcome but that he passed it on to someone else. Got a well-earned reputation you've lived down, Tom? Then why not pass it on to Lon Suder?
Kes moved from thought to speech, "Tom?" He raised his brow at Kes, chewing a chip. "Do you think we should give him the benefit of our doubts? Until we're sure he can't reform?"
The chewing slowed. Paris swallowed. He raised his hands, palms in surrender. "Hey!" Sipped his drink. "Why not? Who are we to judge, eh, Harry?" He slapped the Ensign's shoulder, earning another glance.
Harry answered, his face full of candour, "Sure. Hey, maybe Voyager's just been more than he was prepared for. Just a lot more than he expected. But do we ever let him out? Can he ever do enough for that?"
Harry leaned back, everyone falling silent at the thought of Suder free again. Kim always seemed a sympathetic figure to Kes: both of them fiercely intelligent and inquisitive, yet strongly missing their families. But, Kes' drive was overachievement, unappreciated by the Ocampa as overkill. Harry's fear was inadequacy.
The silence broke when Neelix waded in, "You're all awfully quiet! Can I get you good people anything?" He stood behind Kes, hands squeezing her shoulders.
"No, thank you, Neelix." Kes tilted her head back to smile up at him. "We're just talking about Lon Suder." That made the cook frown. He slipped into a chair beside Kes.
"I don't like you talking to him." He wrung his hands on the table before him.
"It's okay, Neelix," she answered, "Larson's always in the room with us."
"Hah! Larson. I heard you and Ensign Houston giggling over him the other day. He didn't volunteer for that duty because he likes Suder, did he?"
Neelix rose, pinching Kes' cheek. Our secret, she thought, like I pull his whiskers...
"Well! I do have to prepare his dinner, " Neelix wandered off, his voice trailing away, "How fortunate that everyone left plenty of leola root..."
"Anyway, Harry, about that double holodate..."
Paris' voice faded into the ambiance. Kes looked around the Mess. People ate. Talked. Commingled. Ayala. Wildman. Baxter... Seems like everyone's here... everyone except Suder...
I'm pulled off the last one. Between Chakotay, Jarvin and Ayala they're enough to stop me. They make me drop the knife.
The Cardassian is so shocked, at first, seeing us fight amongst ourselves, so caught on the edge of his own death that he just sits there.
He doesn't even run.
I struggle against them pinning my arms. Finally, it's the wrist that breaks me. Ayala's broken it getting me to drop the knife. Every time I try and move there's a blinding slash of pain up my arm. I'm feeling sick from it. The Cardassian scrambles up and Ayala lets me go, to tackle him. That hurts, too.
Chakotay is angry. "What did you think you were doing? This mission fails if they all die!" He looks around, shoulders slumping, wipes a sleeve over his eyes. "Jarvin," he's calmer, now, back in command, "See if anyone else is alive."
Jarvin grabs his pack, the medscanner. It starts, a dull flashing of lowered lights, the warble suppressed: field-discipline. He moves away from me.
Now everyone's off me I get up. I just stand, feeling my wrist. It's clean-broken, swelling fast. The fingers throb with my heart, slow beats. I'm already calmed.
My eyes follow Jarvin: three, four, five bodies he checks. Draped over consoles, spilled in the doorway, doubled over railings... they all have the telltale, black, distorted circles, blast patches, rimmed with charred uniform, body armour, flesh. Noone's admiring my handiwork.
Jarvin's on his knees, looks to Chakotay and shakes his head. My discarded phaser is by his feet, he kicks it as he gets up, moving into the other room. Noone's even looking at me. Ayala stuns the Cardassian, binds him wrists and ankles with neurocuffs. Chakotay watches him.
They keep their backs to me. I don't care. I just... don't care.
Jarvin comes back in. Chakotay lifts his chin, inquisitive. Jarvin shakes his, negative. Chakotay yanks him over to me with his eyes, "Take care of him."
I let my arm hang, relax it when the painkiller hits, glowing down my arm from the shoulder. Now, I'm exhausted. I sit, staring at my boots, my field-matte finish shiny now. It's someone's blood.
Somebody is talking, but I don't even listen, it doesn't matter who it is. There's a hand, by my feet, and I focus on that. I follow the arm, to the shoulder, some Cardassian face turned toward it. The eyes are staring, black like mine. My arm starts to tingle, and I look at it, wondering if the painkiller's not enough. No, it's the transporter. We're leaving.
"Good night, sweeting." Kes smiled. Neelix kissed the top of her head, brushed her cheek with his fingers and left the Mess.
Steam wavered over the glass of pejuta, cooling amidst a handful of scattered padds. The Mess, cleaned and tidied after another busy day, was empty of all except Kes. Nothing she thought. After all the talk I learned I'm no killer; no murderer. But I knew that already.
"I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised," she'd told Tuvok. In his office to report on the end of her interviews she'd stood, preferring the more serious stance if she must hear his judgement. "He never felt remorse, never feared consequence. I kept expecting some revelation."
"Disappointment is appropriate," Tuvok replied. "You may also experience frustration. However, you must not consider this a failure. Some theories do not prove true, but the process itself often bears its own reward."
Kes exhaled, lifted her pejuta. She watched the vapours, blew on the liquid surface. Untasted, she replaced the glass. Tuvok had seemed about to give her the "Life's a journey..." aphorism. Then, he'd surprised her.
"Mr. Suder has expressed a desire to serve the ship in some capacity. It would appear that his exposure to you has yielded an unexpected bonus. A 'revelation'."
Smiling, Kes gathered the padds, headed for the door. Something for the ship! The mess doors opened, and passing through them felt satisfaction, hope. Something other than murder.
Disclaimer: All characters, places and the like are the intellectual property of Paramount, and I merely use and abuse them at my will. Anything here to which they make no claim I gladly say is mine.
Acknowledgements: Thanks to: Jennifer Lien, for making Kes a character to inspire me to write, and Brad Dourif, for being the coolest weirdo that ever there was.
Author's Notes: Feeling a little cheated? Wondering where Suder is, why we never 'see' him? He's in the title: 'reflection'. We see him in other people's descriptions, by anecdote, rumour, hearsay. And we see him via his own stories, his own... reflections.
So much for art. You want the gory details?
I reflect words, phrases, meanings. "Shine" is used this way. Suder physically shines a phaser beam; Chakotay's essence shines from a reflected light. Kes speaks 'matter-of-fact' to Tuvok, knowing he deals only in Truth; Harry speaks 'matter-of-fact' in an attempt to bluff his hearsay into Truth for others. No, I wasn't at a loss for expression, I meant to reuse everything.
Why Kes? Because I still miss her. I maintain that STrek is still good despite not because of Paramount. No one there has the faintest idea what makes good television, let alone good sci-fi or STrek, beginning with Berman. Their continued means of solving any problem is a character's death.
I meant to include a scene with Kes walking the halls during a shift change. It would be something she did regularly, changing decks with the days, to create chance meetings, to create empathic sensation (she's got mental powers, remember? Paramount forgot until they needed to get rid of her.) To generate feelings she could pick up from others, study, use to analyse herself. The scene never got written.
Finally, why such a downbeat story? Because. Most of our lives' stories don't end in great revelations. Think of Suder. He's a killer; he feels no emotions. So, they try and give him redemption: he kills to return Voyager to Janeway. Why kill? Phasers come with a stun setting, right? In the end, Suder dies, not as a hero, but as a killer. This story recognises that. Suder's contribution to Voyager was all he could ever give it: Death. Not even the funhouse mirrors in Paramount's Hollywood can reflect that back as anything else.
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