|Lost and Found
Chakotay was stunned. He stared at Amshev with a look of complete disbelief written across his face as he questioned him. "You work with Kenthah and Telsesh?" he asked with disgust.
Amshev shook his head emphatically. "No, no, Chayelah. That is not what I said," he stated hurriedly. "Although I worked alongside Telsesh at the club, I did not work with him in any other capacity; that is not what I was referring to."
"Then, what *were* you referring to?" Chakotay enquired, still staring at him. "Tell me, Amshev."
Amshev sighed, nodding. He caught and held Chakotay's gaze. "On the planet, I told you that I work for the people of Nahldar; I do," he said, trying to convey the truth of his words with his eyes. "I am employed by my world's governing body, as are, or were, Kenthah and Telsesh," he explained. "None of us actually appear on any employment records, though; for differing reasons, our positions were not able to be justified."
Chakotay leaned back in his chair, frowning at Amshev's confusing statements. "Go on," he instructed.
The Nahldarian gave another small nod of his head, then continued. "Put simply," he began again. "Our government has been corrupt for a very long time. Rather than invest in the research and development of our own technology, many of our esteemed leaders and scientists have been content to steal it from others, and at the same time, line their own pockets with the profits. Kenthah was employed covertly for this very reason. He was not a rogue individual; he had the backing of the Nahldarian government."
"And what, exactly, is *your* part in this?" Chakotay queried.
"Not *everyone* within the government condoned what went on," Amshev stated. "I am a military-trained special operative who sympathised with the objectors, and two years ago I was recruited to help in the fight to oust the people who were involved in these unlawful acts. We needed to obtain the names of every single person in the corrupt representatives' employ, and for this reason, I took the decision to work undercover as a Vlenkla. We knew that Telsesh was involved, and that he was one of Kenthah's more senior men, so I watched him and identified his contacts. Between myself and the many others who worked for the chance to end the corruption, we built up a comprehensive list of names until all we needed was the right moment to make our move. We were about to do just that, when your Captain made a request to our government for help. Knowing that Kenthah was likely to take hostages, we delayed our planetwide operation in order to help you. As it turned out, we were able to combine the two; you and Temospah were rescued and the parts recovered, and Nahldar now has a new, and honest, governing body."
"So, you overthrew your government," Chakotay remarked. He turned to look at Janeway. "That was why the Prime Directive prevented you from assisting Amshev in his operation. It wasn't solely a rescue mission; he was taking government employees into custody, too. The entire future of Nahldar was about to be changed."
"Yes, Commander. That's correct," Janeway confirmed. "But, quite honestly, there was no reason for us to intervene anyway. Amshev already had everything under control. He contacted me as soon as the planet's shield had been removed, and told me what had been going on. He knew where you and Lieutenant Paris were being held, and once I'd explained the limitations of the Prime Directive, he invited us to send people along to collect you after you'd been rescued."
"How did you know where we were, Amshev? Did the tracking devices our Doctor fitted us with lead you to us? Chakotay asked, returning his attention to the man on his left. "And did you know our real identities when we first met?"
"I knew who you were *before* we met, Chayelah; I had been told of the documents that had been issued to you. Unfortunately, I could not inform you of that, or prevent your subsequent kidnapping. Kenthah's men were in evidence at the club, so I had to keep up a professional appearance; I could not afford to come under suspicion, especially when we were so close to putting our plan into action. But I was expecting you to show up, and I prepared a special drink for you. Along with the usual drugs that a Vlenkla uses, I placed a chemical tracing-agent into the liquor that I gave to you and Temospah. Because of the shield, your Doctor's devices would have been ineffectual, even had I known about them. As it was, the substance I administered allowed me to follow your movements after Gelvash took you hostage."
"And Tom? Temospah. What about him? Why did you let Telsesh take him? Couldn't you have prevented that?"
"No, Chayelah. I could not prevent it," Amshev said apologetically. "Again, I could not afford to come under suspicion. But I could track him, and I saw where Telsesh took him at first. I was observing them from the window in the club's storage room - it is high up and overlooks the alleyway at the back of the building. I saw them outside the trade entrance to the neighbouring club. Telsesh left not long after they had entered, but Temospah remained behind. Your colleague was kept there for several days before he was transferred to the place where you were being held. Once you were together, it was much easier to incorporate your rescue into our plans, and there was less chance of failure."
"Let me get something straight here," Chakotay said, looking thoughtful. "The Nahldarian government issued us with documentation so that Telsesh could lead us into a trap. Is that correct?"
"Yes," Amshev confirmed. "And it also reinforced their statement that Kenthah was working independently. By giving you the required documents, they took suspicion away from themselves. They could be seen to be offering help, albeit limited."
Harry Kim cleared his throat, and looked at Janeway. "There's something that I'd like to ask, too, Captain," he said, a slight frown on his face.
Janeway nodded at him. "Of course, Ensign," she responded. "Ask away."
"Well," Harry began hesitantly. "If the Nahldarians were so intent on stealing our technology, why didn't they just attack our ship? Why all the pretence?" he asked, puzzled.
"I believe I can answer that," Tuvok stated. He leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table in front of him as he began his explanation. "The theft of parts, and the subsequent kidnappings, were planned in such a way as to avoid unnecessary confrontation with us and any allies we might have. By leaving the crimes to someone who was said to be a powerful individual, the government could pretend that they, too, were at the mercy of Kenthah and could not help us for fear of reprisal. This method ensured that they very rarely, if ever, suffered any kind of loss as it was highly unlikely that their planet would come under attack because of what was deemed to be one person's actions."
"So, in essence, Kenthah got the blame, and the government got the spoils," Chakotay summed up.
"That is one way of putting it, yes," Tuvok agreed.
Chakotay leaned towards Amshev then, and looked at him keenly. "What's going to happen to Kenthah and his men now that they're in custody?" he asked. "What will happen to Telsesh?"
"Their dishonourable and illegal actions will be made known to the whole of Nahldar. Their crimes are well documented, so they cannot avoid their fate. They will be transferred to a secure prison on one of our colonies, and it is doubtful that any of them will ever be released."
Chakotay nodded, satisfied that Telsesh would be deprived of his freedom, most probably for the rest of his life. But something was still nagging at him; a thought that he'd been about to voice when Harry had spoken a few moments earlier and made him briefly forget his question. "There's just one more thing that's puzzling me," he remarked, sitting back. "Have you any idea why Telsesh didn't show up at the original rendezvous point? Surely it would have been easier for him to take us captive then, rather than let us find our way to the club."
"It was their usual method," Amshev stated. "Kenthah did not like to take risks. Despite the technology that was available for his use, he would not have been certain that you did not possess something superior. He would have instructed Telsesh to be wary of you. Telsesh would not have known whether you carried sophisticated weapons, so he chose instead to befriend you and take you by surprise. There was less risk of him suffering personal harm that way."
The room became silent for a few moments after Amshev finished speaking, the Starfleet officers all pondering the explanations that they'd heard. "Are there any more questions?" Janeway finally asked.
"Yes, Captain," Chakotay answered. "How long before the stolen parts are completely reintegrated into the ship's systems and are in working order?"
"Lieutenant Torres estimated that they should be fully operational by 2300 hours. The new Nahldarian government doesn't require us to give further statements or evidence, so we'll leave orbit once the replacement's complete."
"So, we'll be on our way in less than two hours," Chakotay commented.
"Yes," Janeway confirmed. "But you won't be required on the bridge, Commander. Once the Doctor's finished with you, you're off duty until further notice." She looked around at the other occupants of the briefing room. "Is there anything else?" she asked. "No? Then there's just one very important thing left to do." She turned to address the Nahldarian, her voice quiet and sincere. "Amshev. You returned my men to me, and with the retrieval of the components, you gave us the means to continue our journey towards our home. You helped us even though our regulations prevented *us* from helping *you*. I want you to know that we are all profoundly grateful to you. Thank you."
Amshev bowed his head, then smiled. "You are most welcome, Captain Janeway," he responded. "I am pleased that I could be of service to you and your ship, and I wish you a safe and speedy return to your home."
"Thank you, Amshev," Janeway said, returning his warm smile. "Now," she continued. "You probably want to return to Nahldar straight away, so I'll arrange for someone to accompany you to the transporter room."
"Thank you, Captain, but I have arranged to spend a little time with Chayelah before your ship departs. I hope that you have no objection to that."
"No, of course not," Janeway replied quickly, although her expression showed she was clearly surprised, if not a little curious. "But the Commander does need to return to sickbay now. Perhaps you'd like someone else to keep you company while he's there."
Amshev shook his head. "If Chayelah doesn't mind, I will go with him. I would like to see Temospah before I leave, anyway. Is that acceptable to you, Chayelah?"
"Yes, that's fine, Amshev. We'll go now if the Captain's finished with me," Chakotay said, looking questioningly at Janeway.
Janeway pushed her chair back from the table, and stood. "Dismissed," she said, waving her hand to indicate that she meant all her officers.
As everyone made their way to the door, Harry caught up with Chakotay. "Commander? I was going to call into sickbay to see how Tom was; I was just wondering if that was okay with you, or if I'd be in the way."
"You wouldn't be in the way, Harry. If Tom's awake, I'm sure he'd love to see you," Chakotay said, moving aside to let Tuvok pass. "We'll all walk down there together. Come on."
His world was black, and silent. He couldn't see, couldn't hear, couldn't move. Vague thoughts flitted just out of reach, coming close at times, but flying away again before he could grasp them. There was a feeling of warmth; the feeling that he wasn't alone; that he was somewhere safe, but his brain wouldn't allow him any further insight into his surroundings.
The time passed, but he had no knowledge of hours or minutes. Brief snatches of sound suddenly invaded the darkness, growing clearer until he understood. Voices. Nearby. Talking about him. To him. Talking to each other. He wanted to open his eyes, to let whoever was speaking know he was aware of them, but his body refused to cooperate. All he could do was listen.
"Yes, Ensign Kim, as soon as Lieutenant Paris wakes up, I'll be sure to let you know. Now, if you don't mind, I have work to do."
The sound of the door swishing open, then shutting again.
"Now, Commander. Hop up on to that bed, and I'll restore your human features in no time. You'll only require a local anaesthetic. Your friend can wait in my office."
Footsteps quickly crossing the room, then a few moments of silence.
"Lie down, Commander. This won't take long, and I'll even get that concealed tattoo back into view for you."
A soft hissing sound. A hypospray?
"Are you sure Tom's okay? Shouldn't he have come round by now?"
An annoyed snort. "No-one seems to trust my professional judgement. All I get are questions, questions and more questions. Why can't you all accept what I tell you? The Lieutenant is fine. He'll regain consciousness as soon as he's ready to. There's nothing to worry about. Is that clear enough?"
"Perfectly, Doctor." A quiet statement spoken with a hint of well suppressed humour.
"Now lie still, and keep quiet."
An occasional beep from one of the monitors beside his bed. The clattering of metal instruments being picked up and placed down again on a nearby tray. Quiet, steady breaths - not his own.
A while later. "Just another moment or two."
The low buzz of a regenerator.
"Good. Now remove the top half of your uniform, and I'll use the regenerator on your remaining cuts and bruises."
The soft sounds of cloth against cloth; clothes being removed. The buzzing again as wounds were healed.
"All done. You can replace your clothing, carefully, but I need you to rest for a while. Your friend can come and talk to you now, if you'd like. I need my office, anyway."
"Thank you, Doctor."
Soft rustling of material. Footsteps approaching, stopping nearby.
"Chayelah." A moment's silence. "You look so different. But still so beautiful. Please. Would you allow me to touch your face?"
A gentle laugh. "Yes, if you really want to."
"So smooth without your ridges. Soft."
"I know, Chayelah."
"Good. I thought you might've forgotten. I really meant what I said on the planet, you know."
A soft sigh. "Yes. I know."
"Love is strange."
"Yes, it is. And it hits you when you least expect it to, Chayelah."
"Exactly." A deeper sigh. Another. "I'm glad I had this chance to see you privately. And I'm glad you understand."
"I do understand, Chayelah. Although, on Nahldar, when you first agreed to see me, I thought there was a chance. But when you told me in words, then showed me with actions where your heart really lies, I knew you would never love me the way I wanted you to. You caught Temospah before he'd even started to fall. Even though you were still talking to me, telling me that you could only love me as a friend, you noticed he was ill. You are so attuned to him."
"I love him, Amshev. Deeply. I always have and I always will. Even though he doesn't love me, I can't change my feelings for him."
"Perhaps one day he will love you."
A puff of breath and a resigned voice. "I doubt it. I'd convinced myself that he *did* care for me, so I told him how I felt about him. He didn't respond. Not a single word."
A faint glimmer of light.
"Commander? You may go now. I suggest you get some sleep."
Eyelids flickering. A bright glow above him.
"Thank you, Doctor. Goodnight."
Blinking. Eyes wide open. He could see. His body was starting to respond to his wishes. He rolled his head to the side, and saw Chakotay and Amshev near the door. He licked his dry lips and tried out his voice. "Chakotay?" he croaked.
"Tom?" Chakotay crossed the room quickly and stopped at Tom's bed. "How are you feeling?" he asked.
Tom gazed up at the man bending over him. "I heard you, Chakotay," he stated in a hoarse whisper. "We need to talk."
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