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Just Past Seven"
PG-13

As Admiral Kathryn Janeway’s aide-de-camp, I try to arrive at her Indiana cabin at just past seven each morning so that I can assist her in collecting her PADDs and other work supplies for an early beam out to her San Francisco office.  Since California is two hours behind us, we're almost always hard at work at 0530, giving us a minimum of three hours before the traditional “start time” for first appointments and meetings at 0900.  It’s a good system, because it allows me to return to my family early in the day, while the children are still awake and anxious to see their daddy.

I arrived this cold winter morning in spite of my belief that the admiral should take the day off.  It was Monday, December 24, 2379, and there would be little, if any, real work done today.  But Saturday had been the one-year anniversary of Voyager’s return, and Janeway had taken Thursday and Friday off the previous week for a variety of festivities that had ended on Sunday.  In her mind, a four-day weekend was an unheard of indulgence, and so she had told me to report, as usual, just past seven on Monday morning.  Since sunrise doesn’t occur until 0805 this time of year, I knew I’d be walking in near-total darkness; I didn't know I'd be freezing my buns off in the process.

A combination personal secretary and confidential assistant, I'm privy to much of the admiral's private life, including the rural setting she has chosen for her home, a perfect blend of modern technology and natural beauty.  She has most of the essential conveniences—replicator, sonic shower, subspace communications access—but she refuses to install a transporter pad, preferring to walk into the local town for most of her routine trips.  The cabin's only unusual items are a whirlpool bath and a real wood-burning fireplace.

Indiana was particularly beautiful that morning.  I stepped out of the transport station into a winter wonderland.  Six inches of snow blanketed the landscape, and I found myself humming “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas” as I started down the road toward the cabin.  My good cheer quickly froze solid when I was met by a vicious north wind that seemed to cut through my Starfleet parka.

As I trudged along, my head bowed against the wind, I realized that I should have checked the comm unit before leaving home that morning.  Maybe the admiral had sent me a message to forego work today in light of the winter weather?  Maybe she had risen early, noticed the frigid weather conditions, and crawled back into bed?

But I knew better than that.  There were things she wanted to take care of before the holiday week, and there was precious little she considered more important than work.  The best I could hope for was that she would request a special beam-out from the cabin directly to Starfleet Headquarters.

I remember vividly the first time I met Kathryn Janeway.  It was mid-April, and the Voyager debriefings had been slowly winding down after nearly four solid months.  She’d been notified of her impending promotion to admiral and had taken the opportunity to find an aide-de-camp to assist her in handling the tremendous and ongoing interest in her experiences and career.  I’m not sure what I expected when I walked into her office for the interview, but I wasn’t prepared for what I saw.

Janeway was tiny—teeny tiny, as my six year old son would say—and quite breathtaking for a woman her age.  The creamy skin with a hint of fading freckles, the bright smile framed by shining auburn hair, and the bubbling personality highlighted by blue piercing eyes had an impact rivaled only by a photon torpedo.  There was a simmering intelligence and restless energy in her manner that made her small stature seem insignificant.  I’d gone into the interview determined to win her over, but I found that I was the one who was captivated.

“I’d really like to work for you, Captain,” I’d heard myself beg as I'd left her office an hour later.  Even now, I wince as I remember the pleading tone in my voice and the way she’d patted my arm reassuringly.  She seemed to be telling me that no matter what happened, she liked me, and I'm embarrassed to admit that I was truly relieved to have that scrap of approval.  I’d known her for sixty minutes and would already follow her into a black hole.  So, of course, I was thrilled when she made me her aide-de-camp.

I'm intimately involved in her professional work and thoroughly aware of her personal life, if you want to pretend that she has one.  In the eight months I’ve worked for her, I’ve discovered an underlying loneliness, melancholy, and regret that she hides well in public.  She’s in great demand and spends a lot of time lecturing in universities or conferences or making personal appearances at all sorts of diplomatic and official functions, but her escorts are almost always her chief of staff, an old friend, or a member of Voyager’s senior staff—usually Tuvok, Harry Kim, or Tom Paris.  The members of her staff have seen the guilt and resignation in her face when she stares blindly into space, and we are aware of how isolated she is.

Except for a few family functions and one weekend a month at her mother’s house in Bloomington, Janeway has no personal life.  And she seems smothered by her Voyager connection, patiently answering the same questions time and again about her experiences in the Delta Quadrant.  Even I am tired of it.  I think I could answer every question myself and use exactly the same words—that’s how often I’ve listened to her answer them.

As I trudged up the final hill, I remembered that she’d seemed especially apprehensive about the Voyager reunion.  She’d worked hard to free herself from the constraints of being a Starfleet captain 24/7, and I know she worried that her bad habits—toward isolation and repressed emotions—would inevitably recur.

And I suspected, from a thousand rumors and the way she avoided mentioning his name, that seeing her first officer, Chakotay, was a big part of the problem.  Well, more specifically, Chakotay and his relationship with Seven of Nine.  What had happened, or hadn’t happened, between Voyager's command team was a mystery, but I knew that it was hurtful enough that she needed a work day on Monday just to remind her of her new, post Delta Quadrant way of life.

“Isn’t your family getting together over the holidays?” I’d asked her when she requested my presence on December 24th.  “I thought your sister and her family planned to visit.”

She’d shaken her head.  “They’re visiting his family this weekend, ours next.  New Year’s was always the big deal for the Janeway clan.  But if you and Marcy have plans . . . .”

“Actually,” I’d admitted, my face growing warm, “her parents are staying three solid weeks, and I’d appreciate the chance to get away.”

I finally reached the top of the last hill and looked down at the cabin nestled amidst a half dozen huge pine trees.  There was no sign of footprints or vehicle tracks in the snow, which told me that she’d arrived home before the storm had started at midnight, and there was the faint smudge of smoke coming from the chimney, making me think she’d had enough of an evening left after the farewell party to start a fire.  If so, she’d probably gone through the PADDs I’d sent to her and would keep me busy for most of the day.

Everything was tranquil and pristine as I walked up to the cabin.  I keyed in my security code and let myself into the mud room behind the kitchen where I peeled off my boots and coat and then stepped into the warmth of the main cabin.

I was surprised that the admiral's pot of coffee wasn’t in its usual spot on the counter, but then I realized that she was probably in a hurry to get to work.  Some mornings, she replicated a single oversized mug to take with her to her bathroom as she dressed.  I went through the kitchen and into the study.  As usual, she had her finished work neatly organized so that I could load the PADDs into my carry-all.  I logged onto the computer and saw that she hadn’t checked her mail since the previous morning—curious, but not unprecedented.

Realizing that Janeway must be running late, I logged into my own message files, which I hadn’t touched since the previous Wednesday, and began to look through them while I waited for her to appear at the door and announce that she was ready to leave.  I got caught up in the process before I realized that I was starting from the wrong end—I needed to look at the most recent postings first.  Going to the last page, I felt my stomach lurch.

The admiral had commed me just before midnight.  I opened the message, suspecting what I was going to see:  “Decided to take your advice on the holiday.  See you on the 27th.  AKJ.”

No wonder the cabin was so quiet--she was still asleep.  I shut down the computer, put the PADDs back on the desk, and crept toward the kitchen with the hope that I could get away without her knowing I'd come at all.  I glanced into the living room where the fireplace glowed with rosy embers, and I realized that she would never have started a fire at midnight.  It would be a waste of precious wood to have a fire when she should be getting ready for bed.

Something was wrong, and I had a sudden fear that Janeway had been coerced into sending me the message, or perhaps even kidnapped as she walked home in the middle of the night.

I took a tentative step into the living room and noticed muddy footprints across her parquet floor, footprints much too large to have been made by a tiny woman like my boss. They led from the front door to just behind the sofa, where the owner had divested himself of them and left them in an oozing heap.  I stepped to a table just outside the kitchen door and pulled out the phaser the admiral kept there for an emergency.

I was about to head for the bedroom when another thought occurred to me.  Why would an assailant pause to start a wood fire?  I looked over my shoulder at the sofa.  From this angle, I could see that the admiral’s boots were under the table, and that a large pile of outerwear had been tossed onto the recliner to the left of the hearth.

On the coffee table were two glasses of wine.  One glass was still half full, but the other was lying on its side, as if it had been set down in haste or carelessly knocked over, its unfinished wine puddled beneath it.

I realized then that she hadn’t come home alone.  Afraid of being discovered, I tiptoed through the living room, put the phaser away as quietly as possible, and arrived at the back door with the wish that I could simply evaporate into thin air.  The faint sound of her voice from the far side of the house brought me to a complete stop.

“Oh, God!  Chakotay!  Yes!  Yes, yes!”

I knew I was blushing as I let myself out of the cabin, but I predicted accurately, from the passion in her voice and the ardor in Chakotay’s answering cry, that I wouldn't be seeing the admiral again until after New Year's Day.  It seemed that she and her former first officer had just gotten past Seven of Nine.

And I thought it was about time.

The End

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