see Days of Open Hand part 1 & 2 for info
see Days of Open Hand part 1 & 2 for info
NOTE: I changed the aforementioned "President Chelsea Clinton" to the fictional Nanietta Bacco, the President of the United Federation of Planets from the novel "Articles of the Federation". I recently finished all seven seasons of "The West Wing" and this is the result of watching those one hundred and fifty-six episodes in such quick succession. Please. Forgive me.
"There she is." As the White House Press Secretary Jorel Kant had seen and met his fair share of world leaders and famous, sometimes infamous, dignitaries so it came as somewhat of a surprise to himself and his fellow senior staffers to hear awe seep into his voice.
Kant was nudged absently aside by the Deputy Chief of Staff Ashanté Phiri, who he was relieved to see had a rather star struck expression on her dark, youthful features. Phiri peered through panes of glass as covertly as she could at the woman walking rather stately through the hallway outside the Roosevelt Room.
"I thought she'd be, uh, older. Taller. Or something." Phiri eyes remained focused on the woman even as the door to the outer office of the Oval was closed. "Is that weird?"
"That's kind of weird, yeah." Fred MacDougan, the Communications Director, only gave Phiri and Kant a quick sardonic look before he refocused his attention on the latest Presidential speech he was devising. Speeches really. One was for if President Bacco vetoed the Hayes Bill and one if she didn't.
"Don't you two have work that could be done? Or is spying from the Roosevelt Room how you spend most of your highly paid time?" White House Chief of Staff Esperanza Piñiero folded her arms across her chest as she stood in the doorframe across from her Press Secretary and Deputy. The potentially perilous meeting the President had agreed to with the head of the Metahuman Rights Campaign had considerably dampened her mood.
"The press is going to have a field day with this." MacDougan's pen continued to move as he spoke his consternation to anyone who would listen. "The world renowned geneticist not to mention fervent pro-metahuman rights activist Doctor Janeway coming to the White House in the depth of the night to have a secret meeting with the President isn't going to be kept under wraps for very long."
"That's why you don't know about a meeting going on tonight." Piñiero seated herself next to MacDougan before she opened her briefing packet and began nitpicking the Hayes Bill. She seemed to be only peripherally aware of her staff's presence despite her stern words to them as she perused the file. "Secret or otherwise."
"Come on, Chief." Phiri nearly rolled her eyes, but she was speaking to her boss after all. So instead she kept her voice carefully modulated as she moved to take a seat across from Piñiero and the acerbic Communications Director. A man she felt oddly drawn to despite how much he repulsed her in equal measure. "Something like this isn't going to keep quiet."
"It's our job to see that it is." Piñiero motioned for the Press Secretary, who was still standing eagerly at the door to catch another glimpse of the famous scientist, to join her at the large mahogany table with Phiri and MacDougan.
"This bill will set the metahuman rights movement back a decade. If not more." Phiri's dark features were flushed, which accompanied the worried, strident tones. "If the President doesn't veto it the rise of violence against metahumans will be extreme. Citizen's arrest, it'll be like a witch-hunt now that anti-metahuman groups have legal backing. Tensions between humans and metahumans will be the highest we've ever seen. Our administration was supposed to be about progressive change. What will it say about that promise if we don't put a stop to Hayes' legislative bigotry?"
"This isn't just a rights issue." Kant discontinued his glances towards where he had seen Doctor Janeway in order to direct all of his attention to the matter at hand. To veto or not to veto. "It's a national security issue. A public safety issue. As much as I'm for equal rights and protection under the law it's not just bigots who think metahumans are dangerous."
Phiri looked at Kant as if she had never seen him before in her life. "Do you really believe all metahumans are dangerous?"
"I'm not saying that exactly." Kant's voice was quiet, but a note of defensiveness colored his tones. "Look. We don't know that much about them really. We don't even have a consensus as to how many there are living just here in the U.S. But a lot of Americans, not just conservatives but moderates and even some liberals as well, are scared of a group of people who have what could be considered very dangerous abilities."
"Where's the proof that they're dangerous?" MacDougan's tone would seem to indicate he was highly indifferent to the conversation but those who knew the man well were aware that he felt quite passionately about metahuman rights. He had lost a brother to anti-metahuman violence two years prior. And that had just been at a demonstration at Berkeley.
"Being able to shoot fire from your eyes seems pretty dangerous to me." Kant shifted under the scrutiny he was receiving from two people who weren't just his colleagues, but his good friends as well. "Where's the inherent harm in licensing people with potentially destructive abilities like we do gun owners?"
"You aren't honestly giving me the gun ownership spiel." Phiri felt quite free to roll her eyes in exasperation at the Press Secretary while her tone dripped with scorn. "People aren't born with guns holstered to their hips."
Kant ignored the mocking tones even as heat infused his cheeks. "We license people for everything. Driving a car. Fishing. Getting married. It's against the law to do any of those things without being licensed. That's all the Hayes bill is asking for. Where's the big bad in that?"
"After licensing what's next? Registration tattoos? Interment camps? How about we just get rid of the metahumans that pose the greatest danger to the American people?" Phiri color was as high as Kant's as she stood abruptly from the table. Her palms were laid flat as her dark eyes bored into Kant's. "It's one hell of a slippery slope if we allow even a seemingly innocuous piece of legislation that casts metahumans as the other. Something to be feared."
"Don't give me the slippery slope routine, Ashante." Kant also stood. His voice was just as spirited as Phiri's. "We'd never let it begin to roll down the hill."
"We might not even be here after next year's election. Who knows maybe your buddy Hayes will win and then we'll see how slick the side of the hill becomes." Phiri's waist-length braids whipped around her body as she gesticulated with her arms.
"Hayes isn't my buddy, but that doesn't mean I can't agree with some of what he is trying to accomplish. It isn't a personal issue. It's policy." Kant knew he was in the minority of his liberal constituents and his friends, but he wouldn't let that cloud his political judgment. "If President Bacco does veto this bill we might as well hand the election to the GOP. I don't think you're getting how popular this bill really is. How bipartisan. It could actually help with human/metahuman relations."
"Help? You'd be outing or arresting the entire United States metahuman population." Phiri's words were becoming a growl as her ire rose. "How the hell is that going to help with tensions?"
"Sit down." Piñiero dropped her pen atop of the stack of papers that constituted the Hayes bill to look pointedly at Phiri and Kant. Her patience with their loud argument was at an end. "Both of you. And shut up for one second. The truth is, it's not a completely terrible bill. And you're right, Jorel, it is wildly popular and a bipartisan lovechild but that doesn't make it any less of a device for Hayes to promote his quite obvious anti-metahuman agenda. Should the possibility of what he could get past next through Congress worry us? Damn right it should. This could very well be the strong wind he needs to get the ball rolling when it comes to marginalizing an already disenfranchised group."
Piñiero stopped short Phiri's smug grin as her narrowed eyes turned from Kant to the Deputy. "If the President does veto this bill she'll be seen as being soft on national security and strongly pro-metahuman which nearly cost us the last election. Because rest assured this will be one hell of a GOP talking point come election time. Either way we play it they'll be the ones who look bipartisan and strong on defense."
MacDougan slouched in his chair with a conclusion on his lips. "You don't think the President should veto it."
All eyes were on Piñiero as the Chief of Staff paused in her answer. She knew it wouldn't be what any of them wanted to hear. "It doesn't matter what I think. It's up to the President to decide."
"But you've talked to her about it." The sureness in Phiri's tone wavered at the inscrutable look she was receiving from her boss. "Right?"
"If this was her second term she would have already vetoed it." Piñiero stood gracefully from the table with her collected folders and papers in her hands. The Chief of Staff ignored the unsatisfied looks directed at her from both Phiri and Kant. She instead directed all of her attention on the brooding Communications Director. "Strong on security and on personal freedom. Those two points need to go in both speeches."
MacDougan bit on the cap of his pen as he nodded. His mind already trying to devise a way to make it seem like the two talking points aren't contradictions of one another.
"And you two. I want that bill taken a part piece by piece. Every word." Piñiero stopped short at the door as she turned back around to the trio. "Make sure Doctor Janeway exits the White House unseen and unheard. I don't want to be watching a press conference outside the White House with her at the podium on CNN tonight. That's all."
MacDougan looked at the seething duo seated next to one another with their arms crossed and the glares averted before he snorted derisively and shook his head in disgust. "You two are children you know that?"
"What about you?" Phiri didn't dare openly mention Fred's younger brother who had been killed while participating in a pro-metahuman rally, but she knew from the way he stiffened that she had come close enough to it.
"I wouldn't have let it get past the congressional committee." MacDougan's characteristically monotone voice was soft, but the Roosevelt Room was quiet as a tomb so it reverberated off the walls covered in portraits of the two men it was named after. "Everyone, everyone knows what Hayes wants. And now they're handing it to him with a smile in the shroud of national security."
"So you think the President should hand him the Presidency instead?" Kant stood again from the table and moved towards the windowed door that looked out into the hallway. "I don't like him anymore than either of you. I wish we didn't have to have a separation of metahuman and humans, but we do. How we negotiate that separation is what's important. Even if the President does veto the bill, Congress with overturn it. They've got the votes. And you both know it. So, what's the point?"
"It'll send a clear message that the White House does not condone the licensing of people to live." Phiri's voice was even as help from MacDougan calmed her. "What if, fifty years ago, a bill had been passed that all gay men and woman had to be indentified and kept in government records lest they be arrested?"
Kant uncomfortably shifted in his seat as he moved his wedding band around his finger. "That's completely different. Gay people don't pose a threat to national security."
"What about Don't Ask, Don't Tell? The Sanctity of Marriage Act?" Phiri noticed how Kant adjusted the platinum ring his husband had given him. She knew she was touching a sensitive nerve since it had been a long arduous wait for the two men, but she felt justified. "Sure security might not have been the focal point but it's basically the same line the GOP has been continuously feeding its base. Fear of the unknown."
Kant nodded in understanding, not ready to concede any point. He wasn't concerned as to what his own feelings towards metahumans were; it was what the American populace thought that caused his concern to waver his voice. "If the President vetoes, it's game over."
The Press Secretary started with surprise as the door to the outer office of the Oval opened despite the fact that he had been watching it with anticipation for the last several minutes. Doctor Janeway was dignified, almost commanding in the way she walked out of the office into the hallway. Kant was startled once again when slate gray eyes met his. He had the odd compulsion to wave and so awkwardly he did. The smile he received was small, with an odd touch of sadness as the doctor waved almost tentatively back. Kant wanted to call her into the Roosevelt Room. If anyone could convince him that the Hayes Bill was wrong it would be her. And the truth was he wanted it to be wrong. He didn't want to support it. But he hadn't been convinced by anyone that it wasn't going to strengthen national security and could lead to the decrease of tensions. He wanted to at least walk out into the hall to meet her, but before he could shore up the courage she let the smile disappear and continued down the hallway, out of sight.
"Hey, you okay?" Phiri stood next to him by the closed windowed door. She had a gentle hand on his shoulder. Her own unspoken way of saying let's agree to disagree and get a beer later.
Kant nodded and smiled absently thinking it was probably similar to the one given to him by Doctor Janeway. "Yeah, sure. I'm fine."
"Doctor Janeway didn't look too happy." Phiri led the way back to the table strewn with pages of the Hayes Bill across its gleaming top.
"No." The Press Secretary shifted his gaze momentarily to the now empty hallway. "She didn't."
"Have you ever wondered why she does it?" The Deputy absently chewed on the back of her pen as she shifted through the language of the bill before her. Even she couldn't deny that the rhetoric was as inoffensive as any bill regarding metahumans she's ever seen. It made her work that much harder to find something: an inconsistency, a typo, anything to take to the President so her veto would seem justified to those on the hill and the American people.
"I have no idea." Kant was happy that the debate was through for the time being as he too began to examine each word of the Hayes Bill. "She could have written her own ticket. Been a dean at any university on the map, but instead she's the head of a small, cloistered school in rural San Francisco for special needs kids."
"She could have been the Secretary of Heath and Human Services." Phiri had to admit, though only to himself, she was relieved when Doctor Janeway had turned down the Cabinet appointment. A woman so vested in pro-metahuman rights would have been perilously controversial for the administration. "She didn't even apply for a genetic therapy patent. She's given her findings to the NIH, the ICBAS, the NPHI, the NHRI, the NIMR, and a hundred other medical research institutes."
Kant's brow furrowed as he considered Doctor Janeway. Janeway immediately set upon any Congressional bill that even hinted at anti-metahuman sentiments. Though he had to acknowledge that aside from congressional coverage on C-SPAN and snippets spread amongst the news media outlets he never saw her on television. She gave no interviews, no press conferences, not even an on the record quote. Kant had often wondered about that. Her goals could possibly be more easily attained if she was a more public figure, more accessible, at least somewhat knowable. At the moment Janeway merely swooped in to defend metahuman rights and then disappeared again until the next time her voice was needed on the Congress floor.
"I heard she doesn't like the spotlight." MacDougan's voice was flat, characteristic of the man, which made his explanation seem almost derisive. The truth was he thought it seemed nearly painfully obvious why Doctor Janeway didn't enable herself to be an even more public figure than the nation and the world had already positioned her as. It was exasperating to hear the back and forth speculation between Phiri and Kant, but he wasn't about to even hint at his asserted assumption that Kathryn Janeway was a metahuman. Probably a pretty powerful one.
The sound of a trio of cell phones ringing brushed away thoughts of Janeway and the Hayes Bill. It was Sivak, the Executive Secretary to the President, instructing all senior staff members to the Oval Office. President Bacco had made her decision.
"The President will be with you in a moment."
Sivak gestured to a finely upholstered chair to the regal woman who had just entered his office space. He nodded after she spoke a simple "thank you" as he returned to his chair. His impassive, craggy features didn't for a moment betray his immense reverence and esteem for the Noble Prize-winning geneticist now sitting coolly adjacent his desk.
The elderly Executive Secretary was far too professional to stare at Doctor Janeway, but he did find himself taking surreptitious glances in her direction. He was taken by surprise when slate gray eyes over dark red frames met his gaze.
"My apologies. I-" Sivak stood as he primly straightened his tie and ignored any unease from being caught with a lack of good manners. "My wife was diagnosed with Alzheimer's twelve years ago. Because of you she's still with me and as brilliant as she was when I met her over fifty years ago. Thank you."
Janeway's voice caught in her throat so instead she smiled and nodded appreciatively. The sound of Sivak's phone buzzing broke the heavy silence.
"Yes, Madam President." Sivak replaced the receiver. His unemotional mask was recovered. "You may go in now."
"Thank you, Mr. Sivak." Janeway stood gracefully as she picked up her leather attaché case before she approached the Executive Secretary's desk and extended her hand. "Please give your wife my best, Sir."
"I will." Sivak released the doctor's hand before he led her to the door to the Oval Office.
"Doctor Janeway, please have a seat." The President of the United States of America, Nanietta Bacco, motioned with a wave of her hand towards one of the red striped crème colored couches positioned before the Resolute desk.
"Thank you, Madam President." Janeway set her attaché case next to her on the couch before she lowered herself to the rich looking cushions a moment after the President seated herself on the canary yellow and gold striped chair next to the sofa.
Bacco was a regal woman with shoulder length hair made silver by time. Her eyes were hazel, sharp with intelligence and a heavy dose of skepticism as she took in the woman now seated before her. The potentially perilous woman.
"With all due respect, President Bacco, I'm not here to plead with you to veto the Hayes Bill." Janeway nearly smirked at the stunned look. "Though I wouldn't be opposed to such an action."
"Then why are you here?" Bacco still had a dubious expression on her features and her hazel eyes narrowed suspiciously.
"I came here as a courtesy." Janeway removed a stack of files from her briefcase and laid them out atop the low set table in front of her. "Parts of your country are going to burn in the upcoming days. I wanted to give you advanced warning before that happened so you wouldn't mistakenly believe it's a terrorist attack or the act of a foreign nation. It'll be me. I promise no casualties, but there will be considerable property damage."
"I hope you don't mind if I don't thank you for the heads up." President Bacco looked at Janeway sardonically before she shifted through the pile of satellite photos. She wasn't surprised that the images were superior to the keyhole satellite images the Pentagon provided her. With a heavy sigh she decided she didn't actually want to see the intended targets at the moment. She crossed her legs before she reclined against the back of her chair. "What's going on, Kathryn?"
"Hayes knows who-what I am." Janeway shrugged almost absently though to the President it seemed she was more resigned than anything else. "I have to strike first before he can launch an attack on my school."
"There's no link between Senator Hayes and anti-metahuman terrorist gr-"
"It's me, Nani." There weren't a lot of people who would interrupt the leader of the free world, but Kathryn Janeway had known this particular leader for over ten years. Long before presidency was on Bacco's radar. "But don't worry. I'll get you the proof. Still that's not why I'm here."
"Cut the crap, Katie. You didn't come here to have me veto that godforsaken not to mention asinine bill. You aren't here so I can initiate a full blown investigation on Hayes. And you're giving me your intended targets. So give." Bacco used the pause in the conversation to pour both herself and Kathryn a cup of coffee. She left the other woman's beverage untouched and added cream and three sugars to her own.
"The final target is here." Janeway ignored the proffered beverage and pushed a single photo in front of Bacco.
"You've got to be kidding." President Bacco stood abruptly as she dropped the photo back onto the table. Anger and frustration caused her voice to reverberate off the walls. "Eighteenth and Potomac. You know in this building it's customary to stand when the President does."
Janeway lifted herself slowly, carefully from the sofa cushions.
"Damn it, Kathryn!" Bacco slammed her hand on top of the Resolute desk with equal parts exasperation and anger. "You can't honestly believe I'll just let you do this on my doorstep and think I won't try to stop you."
"I'm not asking you to." Janeway softened her voice, but the steel in her slate gray eyes was something Bacco knew was a clear sign that the other woman's stance was immovable. "A UFM team will apprehend me. I hope with the help of the United States government."
"What will it do to the metahuman cause if its most prominent spokesperson is considered public enemy priority one?" Bacco fell into the chair behind her desk. She shook her head in confusion for a moment before her narrowed hazel eyes locked on to the other woman's resolute expression. "It'll destroy any chance of equal rights for decades. The Hayes Bill will only be the beginning. The hundreds of metahumans living in the States will be at greater risk than ever before."
"A large majority of the metahumans will be out of the country and granted immunity in more pro-metahuman nations before you're required to sign the Hayes Bill. I'll see to that. The ones who remain will live as they always have. Secretly." Janeway had gathered her files as she spoke almost absently as if she was speaking of a much less sensitive subject than a mass exodus from the supposed freest nation in the world. An evacuation that would cast the U.S. in even more negative light when it came to metahuman rights. "I'm not doing this for my country. I'm doing this for global metahuman/human relations that will resonate for decades. My capture will bring the international metahuman/human coalition to public attention. The UN already has a secret treaty with the leaders of the UFM that is signed by almost all of the varying nations. Former President Min Zife had been the only holdout. Of course we know why that was."
Bacco nodded since she and every other person with half a brain and a television set knew Zife had been almost psychotically anti-metahuman. In his presidency he had nearly ignited an armed conflict with Russia and China because of what he had deemed "the perverse protection of an evil and infected race".
"Madam President, you'll be able to unequivocally state that you are strong on security and defense. You'll condemn my behavior, but also those of the groups that were decimated by my actions. It'll enable you to open the discussion once again, but this time on the international stage with all the world's leaders coming to the table including UFM chairpersons." Janeway moved slowly towards the President's desk with a ghost of a smile on her lips. "I think I see a Noble Prize in your future."
"Instead of coveting yours." Bacco didn't smile but her expression had softened. She actually felt more concern for Kathryn rather than anger towards the woman. Her voice reflected the shift. "What if, in this foolhardy plan of yours, you're killed in the process? That's not exactly something I want to be responsible for."
"With respect to your extremely brave and competent military, Madam President, they don't stand a chance." Janeway couldn't help the crooked grin she was sporting especially when Bacco's eyes were so large.
"You're that powerful?" Bacco had never actually seen Janeway's abilities first hand, but she had the reports of covert metahuman actions taken under the other woman's orders. She regretted the fact that the American public had no idea they had guardian angels protecting them from threats: natural, domestic, foreign, and extraterrestrial. If they did perhaps Bacco wouldn't have ever needed to have this conversation or the growing headache.
"Yes." Janeway smiled warmly with just a touch of conceit. With a small click of a hidden remote she shutdown the mobile holographic emitter that was hidden within her attaché case. Those who had been spying on the Oval Office would have seen a conversation regarding only the Hayes Bill between two women who seemed like the strangers they portrayed in public.
Janeway possessed a detached, but respectful demeanor as she extended her hand towards the seated President. "Thank you for meeting with me, Madam President."
"It was my pleasure." The President shook Janeway's hand with enough detachment that the illusion remained, though with her hazel eyes she projected her angst regarding the events that were to unfold. She gave Janeway's hand a squeeze before she reluctantly let it go and led the other woman to the door. "Good night, Doctor Janeway."
Bacco silently watched Janeway leave the outer office before she turned to Sivak. "Bring in the troops."
"Yes, Ma'am." Sivak's right eyebrow rose as he heard the door to the Oval Office close behind the President before he initiated the call. He was momentarily caught off guard when the Press Secretary, the Deputy Chief of Staff, and the Communications Director entered his office space in a few seconds, but he didn't show it on his impassive features as he addressed them. "The President is ready for you."
Nods were the only response given before the apprehensive though eager trio entered the Oval Office. President Bacco was seated and speaking quietly with the Chief of Staff. Piñiero ended the conversation as the rest of the senior staff took their seats on the red-stripped couches.
Piñiero waited until everyone had situated himself or herself before she handed a sealed envelope to the President. "Bey Toh's letter of resignation."
President Bacco took the letter with a calm and steady hand despite her own regret that the young Deputy Communications Director was now officially gone from the West Wing. She could tell the rest of the senior staff mirrored her sentiments, but she knew they had to push forward. She knew why Bey Toh had really left and perhaps after the events Janeway had laid out came to pass the young man could return to them. A time when his metahuman status wouldn't have to be kept secret from his colleagues. Bacco tucked the envelope into the pocket of her coat before she looked squarely at the remaining members of her staff who had been with her since her run for presidency had begun and even longer. She cleared her throat before she began.
"I've come to a decision regarding the Hayes Bill." Bacco's voice was quiet and clear, conviction made her words sound demanding. "I know it would probably be sound advice if one of you suggested I took more time to deliberate over the possible outcomes of my decision here tonight. And to consider what it might do to my political future. And yours. But I don't need more time. It's wrong. It's a dangerous bill and I won't have it on my record or on my conscious. I don't care how popular or innocuous it seems. How can I tell a mother that her child has to be on file with the government for being born a particular way? That her child is considered dangerous to national security. That she has to expose her child to a hostile society and if she doesn't she and her child could be imprisoned. And it won't always be as heartbreaking as that. This bill will turn neighbor against neighbor. Brother against sister. Everyone will be suspect and a federally mandated witch-hunt will ensue. I will not consent to a piece of legislation that enables the fearful and the extremist to have any freedom to commit crimes against humanity. I forbid it."
Bacco held up one hand to forestall the rest of Kant's question. "Doctor Janeway didn't influence my decision in the least. She didn't need to."
"With all due respect, Madam President, if word ever got out that you had a secret meeting with the head of the Metahuman Rights Campaign and then vetoed this bill it will likely destroy any chance you have for reelection next year." Kant ignored the caustic looks he was receiving from his fellow colleagues.
Kant wanted Bacco to be reelected. He needed her to be. His rights could be taken away if the conservative presidential nominees had their way. In recent years same-sex marriage had become the new Roe v. Wade of constitutional law. He considered for a moment that he was being selfish, but despite it he couldn't bring himself to keep quiet.
"Jorel's right, Madam President. The conservative majority will think you're in line with the pro-metahuman movement." Phiri kept her dark eyes averted from Kant though she could feel his eyes on her. Instead she kept her respectful gaze on the President. "Janeway's presence here could have serious ramifications when it comes to getting anything passed in Congress.
"Doctor Janeway is a woman of great compassion, of intelligence and concern for the rights of everyone. I could be in worse company." President Bacco stood, which resulted in the standing of her staff as well. Her tone was steely and it was clear no other discussion would be had this night. "As for Congress, they'll just have to come up with some other way to legislate their bigotry. I want a press conference the minute after I veto that piece of garbage bill."
"Should I call it that in your speech?" MacDougan smirked only minimally, but it could have been considered smug by onlookers.
"Call it whatever you want. Just make it clear I denounce it because it infringes upon personal freedom and the right to live without persecution or condemnation." Bacco moved behind her desk and took a seat before she addressed her staff again. "That's all."
"Thank you, Madam President," the entire senior staff said before all but one departed.
Piñiero stood silently before the President for a contemplative moment and then uttered one simple word, a name that seemed to encompass a great host of meaning. "Janeway?"
President Bacco nodded as she enfolded files Doctor Janeway had given her amongst the rest of the documents for Piñiero's eyes only and passed them to her Chief of Staff. She uttered the name, her word of affirmation, just as quietly as Piñiero had. "Janeway."
"If you want to ensure the capture of Kathryn Janeway you must act now."
"But my bill!" Senator Hayes kept his voice quiet despite the fact he was alone in his office. There was an underlying sense of panic that made his tone sharp. "It's going to take time to get my men to-"
"You have seventy-four hours. After that time she will be irretrievable."
"Fine. I'll get it done." Hayes didn't like being pressured, so the threat in his voice was clearly conveyed through the audio transmission. "You just make sure you hold up your end of the bargain."
"Do not concern yourself with me. End transmission."
The metal construct that used to be a woman turned away from the communications device to address her subjects, her collective. Her gray pale lips curled up into a smile before she gave her orders. "Initiate phase one."
Many could consider the grin Annika maintained as insufferably smug, but she was alone and so no judgments were cast her way as she walked through the moonlit campus. Her late night stroll led her to the fountain positioned in the center of the lush gardens. Annika's thoughts went to the first time she had seen Kathryn Janeway and her smile grew even brighter.
Her remembrance was interrupted by a low growl that grew louder as Chakotay drew closer. She jumped and yelped in surprise, but despite her alarm she managed to erect her metal exoskeleton around her vulnerable flesh before he leapt upon her. His claws made screeching sounds as they repeatedly struck her metallic casing.
"Get OFF!" Annika overcame her initial shock and panic as she remembered to harness her strength.
The wolf howled in pain and rage when he collided with the concrete fountain. To Annika's dread he recovered quickly and leapt upon her again. His massive teeth snapped at her neck and it took all the strength she possessed to block his attacks. It wasn't enough. Annika screamed in pain when he latched onto her neck and ripped apart the dense metal that was supposed to protect her.
Annika gasped for breath as she jerked awake with sweat only beginning to cool on her pale skin. Her chest heaved as fragments of her nightmare filled her thoughts and caused her lanky frame to shake with residual fright and adrenalin. The deep breaths she forced into her lungs helped to calm her though her hands were still unsteady as she pushed dark green sheets away from her overheated body. She brushed strands of blonde hair from her face as she emerged from her bed. The pale pink camisole and dark blue silk shorts felt damp and unpleasant on her skin so she removed both before she donned a fluffy white terrycloth robe.
The red numbers on the bedside clock showed the time to be a quarter to six. She had managed to sleep for at least seven hours, which was a record since she came to the Voyager Institute. The last remnants of her dream faded away as she trudged to the kitchen before she started the coffee maker. The smell of brewing coffee brought a smile to Annika full lips as her thoughts went to Kathryn. Any fear or trepidation she felt regarding their new association was overcome by her excitement at what their relationship could lead to. Her body knew what it wanted, but Annika's mind resisted such a quick escalation and her heart wasn't sure it was prepared to open up in a way it never had before.
Annika had engaged in her fair share of physical relationships, but that's all they were for her. She couldn't honestly say she had even been in any sort of serious relationship in her life. Her girlfriends had been more like flings and dalliances. Sexual encounters based on lust and attraction rather than emotions and affection. Annika wanted, needed, more. She just hoped Kathryn felt the same way. Feelings of doubt emerged before she remembered the dark blue eyes that had fixed upon her and the gentle hands that had touched her face. Annika wasn't going to be so presumption as to think Kathryn was in love with her too, but she was certain that whatever was beginning between the two of them was more important, stronger, than just physical attraction. So despite her body's urging Annika knew she would wait until Kathryn was ready and she was as well. Annika predicted many cold showers in her future.
A light knocking on her door interrupted Annika's musings. Anticipation surged through her at the prospect that it was Kathryn. She wasn't disappointed. The door slid back to reveal the headmistress already dressed for the day in a pale blue skirt suit and a white silk blouse. Kathryn's thick auburn hair was in its customary French twist and her red-rimmed glasses hung from a silver chain around her neck. She had a soft smile on her darkly tinted lips and a look of nervousness mixed with delight on her elegant features.
"Hi." Annika smiled as she motioned Kathryn towards the dining room table. She smiled at the soft greeting Kathryn responded with as Annika poured coffee for the two of them.
"Thank you." Kathryn ignored the fact that she had already had several cups of coffee already and took small sips of the bitter black liquid. "I hope I'm not disturbing you."
Annika blushed as she felt Kathryn's appreciative gaze on her. She was only momentarily embarrassed that she was naked beneath the white terrycloth as she smiled reassuringly. "No, of course not."
"That's good." In lieu of saying anymore, Kathryn drank silently aware that Annika's icy blue eyes were focused entirely on her. She was surprised that she wasn't uncomfortable under the scrutiny. In fact she delighted in the pleasure Annika's looks of adoration caused within her. She hadn't felt so openly desired in a very long time. It made her pleasantly nervous and eager. "I've thought a lot about what you said to me, yesterday, in my office."
"When I told you I was in love with you or when I said I wouldn't let you fight alone." Annika smiled warmly at the light blush coloring Kathryn cheeks.
"Both I suppose." Kathryn took a small sip of from her coffee cup as she mentally ordered her words. "I, I'm not very good at this. The truth is I can't say exactly what it is I feel for you. I just know I haven't felt like this in a long time. What that means I'm not sure. It's all a bit muddled in my mind. But that doesn't mean I don't care for you, immensely. I do. I'm just not sure if-"
"Kathryn, I don't expect you to say you're in love with me too. I just, I hope that you feel you could be. Someday." Annika's smile had faded, but she still had a soft expression and gentleness to her voice. "That would be enough."
"I don't want to be selfish, but I, I just, I might need some time to sort some things out before I can embark on any sort of romantic relationship." Kathryn caught a flicker of disappointment before Annika's features became impassive once again. "I'm sorry. I know it might not be what you wanted to hear."
"You're right. It's not." Annika kept her voice soft, forcefully neutral. Her brow creased as she tried to understand what it was Kathryn was actually saying to her. She wanted to discover the underlying meaning behind oddly stilted words. Her jaw clenched as her mind conjured a plausible explanation to Kathryn's aloofness. Annika's icy blue eyes were narrowed with suspicion as she spoke with certainty and coldness. "You've decided to carry-out your mission, alone, haven't you?"
Kathryn's blue-gray eyes shifted away from Annika's accusing look. Instead she looked at the black depths held within white porcelain and tried not to second-guess herself or her mission. "It's my decision."
"It's not a decision I'm just going to stand idly by and let you make." Annika's eyes blazed with passion and her voice was hard and uncompromising. Her own ire made her immune to the aggravated look Janeway possessed. Annika softened her voice into more of an appeal than a condemnation. "I told you, I want to fight by your side. That means I'm coming with you no matter what you've decided. You do too much, Kathryn. More than anyone would ask of you. And you always do it alone. Ask them. Tell them what you're planning. They will fight with you if you just let them make their own choices for once instead of trying to protect them from the world. I know I've spent most of my life hiding, but now, I don't want to hide anymore. I don't want to be shielded. I want to fight. Why won't you let me?"
"Because you could die!" Kathryn's voice reverberated off the walls of the small apartment as she stood abruptly from the table. "They could all die!"
Annika looked at the incensed woman with compassion and understanding, although she had been momentarily taken aback by the loud outburst. Recovered, Annika slowly rose from her chair and quickly crossed the short distance to pull Kathryn into a comforting hug. The headmistress seemed as shocked by her own words as Annika had been.
"What about you? Aren't you at all worried about yourself?" Annika watched Kathryn pace silently for a few seconds before she answered her own question. "No, of course not. So, what's your plan? What's the conclusion, the outcome? Will you even tell me what your mission is? And maybe I'm overstepping my bounds and I'm sorry but-no, you know what I'm not sorry. I'm not sorry that I care. That I don't want you to put yourself in harm's way. That I won't sit idly by. And I know I don't know what you've got planned, but-and I'm going to stop talking now."
"That might be a good idea." Kathryn had been progressively moving closer to Annika during the other woman's soliloquy. Now her finely boned hands were gently running along the white terrycloth collar of Annika's robe. Kathryn's dark blue gaze felt as physical to Annika as the hands that were softly cupping her face.
"The thing I'm saying is-" Annika's words were cut short by the warm lips pressed against her own. "You know you can't-"
"Annika." Kathryn moistened her lips as her heavy-lidded eyes locked onto Annika's full lips. "Shut up."
Annika's cut off words turned into a moan that rumbled deep in the back of her throat as she welcomed the silence Kathryn pressed upon her. Her arms encircled Kathryn's slim waist as she melted into the kiss and let all her worries fade away for as long as Kathryn's lips were on hers. Annika wasn't about to be deterred from her lecture for very long, but she thought she could give Kathryn a small reprieve. It became more difficult for her to remember what her point had been when Kathryn pressed her against the wall with her diminutive form. She didn't forget the fact that she was naked beneath her robe.
Annika tightened her hold around Kathryn as her hands brushed across the silk of the other woman's blouse clad back. Her decision to take things slowly began to vanish as her hands moved underneath Kathryn's shirt to caress the warm, soft skin that trembled beneath her touch.
It was from a desire-ridden haze that Annika realized Kathryn was pulling away from her. Concern washed over her in an icy and sickening wave.
"Annika, we have to stop." Kathryn's chest heaved with the deep breaths she was taking in as she looked upon Annika's lips that were moist and red from their kisses. Annika's robe had fallen slightly agape around the collar, which exposed a creamy expanse of pale flesh. Kathryn studiously avoided staring at the exquisite sight. Instead the headmistress looked upon Annika's features and tried to reassure the other woman with a soft smile and adoring look. "I have a morning briefing with the staff. And if we go much further-let's just say they'd be starting the meeting without me and then I'd have to explain just where I was all day."
"All day?" It came out as a squeak, albeit an impressed one. Annika's icy blue eyes were large as they swept over Kathryn's petite form, which caused her desire for the headmistress to impossibly increase. She thought her knees would buckle due to the onslaught of passion she felt for the other woman.
"I meant they'd be asking me all day why I wasn't at the meeting." Kathryn smiled broadly as she took Annika's hands into her own. "Not that the prospect of spending an entire day with you isn't enormously alluring."
Annika returned the smile with a toothy grin of her own. Her chest was filled with undeniable tenderness and love when Kathryn softly pressed her lips to Annika's knuckles. "I could probably be persuaded into such an extended interaction as well."
"Good." Kathryn had the strongest urge to take each one of Annika's long, tapered fingers into the hot, wetness of her mouth but quickly decided it would be counterproductive to her keeping a semblance of her famous self-control. So instead she finished tenderly kissing the top of Annika's hands before she released her hold on them.
"Kathryn." Annika caught Kathryn's wrist with one hand. It wasn't a hurtful grip, but it was strong in order to prevent the headmistress' exit. When she was satisfied Kathryn was staying put she released her hold. "You haven't successfully deterred me from our previous argument. We need to talk about it. Without distraction. Pleasant or otherwise."
Kathryn merely nodded her head in a semblance of complacency before she tipped her chin up to give Annika a relatively chaste kiss that quickly turned heated and prolonged until Annika broke through her desire to stop it. "Kathryn, I'm serious. We have to talk about this. All of it."
"I know. And we will. I promise." Kathryn kept her lips to herself, but her fingers were another story as they brushed across Annika's cheek. "Would you have dinner with me tonight? In my quarters."
"I'd loved to." Annika took Kathryn's wrist in her hand once again. This time the touch was gentle, but sure as she brought Kathryn's palm to her lips before she placed a warm kiss upon it. "What time should I be there?"
"Seven?" Kathryn had a crooked, pleased grin as she took in Annika's nod and happy, excited features. "I feel I should warn you." Kathryn's smile was replaced by a look of supreme seriousness. "I can't cook."
"I'm willing to risk it." Annika smirked as she reluctantly released Kathryn's hand and allowed the headmistress to leave with a broad smile on her wine colored lips.
Annika stood silently and stared dazedly at the closed door for a moment before she slowly made her way to the bedroom where she absently let the white terrycloth robe fall to the carpeted floor. Despite the coldness of the shower, Annika smiled blissfully as she closed her eyes. She still felt Kathryn's warm lips upon hers and wished seven would come sooner rather than later.
(to be continued)