Thirty Six Hours by Spiletta42


Thirty Six Hours

by Spiletta42

VGR J/C


Rating: T™©


t

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Warning: Violence, physical injuries, and field treatment of same.


Categories: Ship, Het, Action


Pairings: Janeway/Chakotay


Characters: Kathryn Janeway, Chakotay, Ensign Henley


Spoilers: References to Hunters, Prey, and The Killing Game.


A/N: Written for Dakota's Decathlon, Long Jump, hosted by Kathryn Janeway. I hope she's up to the challenge, because she's facing quite a jump in this one.


Credits: Thank you to Anne Rose, Squirrelly, and Jade for the various betas. Thanks due to Novelist's Essential Guide to Crafting Scenes by Raymond Obstfeld. Research works include, Star Trek Star Charts by Geoffrey Mandel, Voyager Companion by Paul Ruditis, The Star Trek Encyclopedia by Michael Okuda and Denise Okuda, Body Trauma: A Writer's Guide to Wounds and Injuries by David W. Page, M.D., and The Starfleet Survival Guide by David Mack.


Disclaimer: Once upon a time in the Orion Arm of the Milky Way Galaxy, on an M Class planet orbiting a Class G star, a studio named Paramount left its belongings where fanfic writers could find them.



Thirty Six Hours


"See you in thirty-six hours, Tuvok. Janeway out." Kathryn grinned at Chakotay. "So which planet shall we scan first? The C-class or the L-class?"

"That sounds like a decision for the captain."

She put her hands behind her head and leaned back. "I'm willing to delegate."

"Then I suggest we start with the L-class. It'll be much easier to mine dilithium without pressure suits, so if we get lucky we won't have to scan the C-class at all."

"Logical," she said. "But if we don't have to scan both, we might finish in less than thirty-six hours."

"I see your point. I hope it's not too late to change my vote?"

"If it is then I just might have to pull rank on you," she said. "Set a course for the C-class planet. High orbit."

"Aye Captain." Chakotay hoped they could get adequate scans from a distance, because he didn't want to risk a close encounter with the ball of frozen methane on his viewscreen. It looked like an unpleasant place to get stranded.

"Coffee?" Kathryn headed for the replicator.

"I'm good." He chuckled. They'd left Voyager less than twenty minutes ago. Kathryn certainly intended to enjoy her version of a vacation.

She returned a moment later carrying two steaming mugs. "Oh no," she said when he reached for one. "You had your chance. These are for me."

"I'm sure the computer thinks differently."

"Could be." She secured one cup of coffee and cradled the other lovingly. Her eyes drifted shut as she inhaled deeply, and she hummed with pleasure at the first long, slow sip.

He tore his eyes away and focused on the navigational display. If she kept that up he'd fly straight into a moon.



The silvery sphere grew on the viewscreen, glinting in the light of its distant blue sun. The northern hemisphere looked almost featureless, its smooth gray surface marred only by one round black spot, probably a deep impact crater, while the frozen atmosphere of the southern hemisphere gave that half of the planet a crinkled, crunchy texture.

It reminded Janeway of the frosted sterling bells that hung from her mother's kitchen door every Christmas, promising two weeks of glorious freedom and a rich supply of homemade caramel brownies.

"It's beautiful."

"From up here, maybe. Its surface temperature is nearly two hundred sixty degrees below zero."

"Sounds chilly." She took another sip of hot coffee. "Think we should scan for lifesigns?"

"Anything alive down there is probably metabolizing far too slowly for our sensors to detect."

"There you go thinking again. It's a good thing I'm the captain."

He chuckled. "Scanning for lifesigns. Should I check for volcanic activity as well?"

"I think you can already guess -- "

The computer beeped. Janeway stood to look over Chakotay's shoulder.

"Five lifesigns," he said. "They're Hirogen."

She returned to her station and scanned for distress signals on all frequencies. Possible scenarios ran through her mind. Stranded Hirogen needed humanitarian aid, but she thought it much more likely that they were hiding in preparation for an ambush, and that if they were broadcasting an SOS, it served as part of a trap.

"I'm detecting a dicyclic warp signature and a heat source," Chakotay said. "Their ship is probably operational."

"Nothing on long range scanners," Janeway said. "Initiating a tachyon sweep now."

"They're powering engines."

"Full reverse. Prepare for evasive maneuvers." Her hands flew over the console as she raised shields and brought weapons online. "Are they pursuing?"

"They are."

"That doesn't make sense. If they had broadcast a distress signal it would have made a pretty effective trap."

The Sacajawea pitched sideways with a sickening jolt.

Chakotay swore. "Verteron pulse. We just lost warp drive."

"Also an effective trap. They herded us right into it."

"They're within range and firing weapons," Chakotay said. "Prepare to return fire on my mark."

"Understood." She punched in the coordinates he provided as he dodged the Hirogen weapons fire.

"Now."

"Got 'em." Janeway leveled a glare at the viewscreen. "Damn. They're not slowing down."

The shuttle pitched hard, nearly throwing them both to the floor. "We're hit."

A warning klaxon announced structural damage and the loss of environmental controls.

"Can we make it to the L-class planet?"

"We can try."

"Do it." Janeway vented the shuttle's warp plasma particles and targeted the resulting cloud with a photon torpedo. The explosion lit up space between the Sacajawea and the Hirogen vessel.

"I'm getting the pressure suits," she shouted over the computer's increasingly dire warnings about life support failure. "Get us to that planet."



Chakotay raced toward the nearby L-class planet at full impulse. Even if life support held out, another lucky shot from the Hirogens and they risked a ruptured hull or even a loss of core containment.

He shouldn't have missed that verteron mine on sensors, but he didn't have time for a guilty conscience. Their survival required clear thinking.

Kathryn returned, still fastening on a pressure suit. "Put this on."

He relinquished the helm to suit up. "We gained some breathing room, but not much. They're still behind us."

"It'll have to do." She squeezed his shoulder as they traded places again. "We've survived worse than this."

"We have." He hit the emergency override. "Entering atmosphere now."

"Transferring all power to the structural integrity field," Kathryn said. "Shields are failing."

"Six hundred meters." The terrain offered little variety and the Sacajawea seemed determined to ignore his efforts to slow their descent. "It looks like we're in for a bumpy landing."

"Doesn't matter. Structural integrity is failing. They'll check the crash site first, let's not be there for them to find."

Chakotay fastened his helmet and turned to make sure Kathryn had done the same. At her nod, he leveled their flight as best he could, depressurized the cabin, and joined her at the hatch.

"There's only one chute." She gestured to her back, then handed him a length of cord.

He nodded and tied it around himself, then wrapped his arms around her. "Blow the hatch."

The rush of air exploded into the narrow doorway. An empty coffee mug just missed Chakotay's arm on its way out the door. Kathryn nodded, and together they leapt clear.

Just as they left the shuttle, a piece of loose hull plating tore free from the nacelle. It spun towards them, and Chakotay cried out, unable to stop it from striking Kathryn in the head.

Her eyes met his briefly before she went limp in his arms.

"No!" He couldn't afford to relax his grip to check for a pulse. He certainly couldn't get to the medkit. "Kathryn, please hold on."

He clung to her and tried to convince himself that he could feel her breathing, but he knew he couldn't. Not through two pressure suits. If he didn't keep his head clear they would both die. He forced himself to evaluate the situation.

The ripcord needed to be pulled at exactly the right moment. If he pulled it too early, slowing their descent too soon, he'd waste precious time before he could help her. They could even get caught in an updraft. If he waited too long, they'd hit the ground too hard, risking further injury. And if he lost consciousness, he couldn't help her.

"Please hold on Kathryn." He moved his hand slowly, cautiously searching for the ripcord. They'd never survive the impact if he couldn't find it, and the pressure suit made his fingers thick and clumsy. His hand could pass right over the cord without recognizing it.

There. He had it, or at least something that felt like a cord. It was either the ripcord or part of the tether that bound them together. Or maybe the strap to her pack. The rocky ground raced up at them, and he fought the urge to test the cord and release the chute too soon.

Not yet. Not yet. Now!

The chute opened, and the force of air nearly tore her from his grasp. The line jerked between them and he didn't know how well it had held up. He clung to her, terrified of causing her further injury but well aware of the potential consequences if he should lose his grip.

"Please hold on, Kathryn." The ground approached and he flexed his knees in preparation for impact. He couldn't hit the ground running, he'd risk falling on Kathryn, so he absorbed what shock he could with his knees and let himself fall backward, protecting her body from the rocky surface.

His helmet struck the ground, making his ears ring, and the colors swam before his eyes. He fought to clear his head. Kathryn needed him.



"Kathryn? Kathryn!" Chakotay struggled with the knot, his gloved fingers making the job harder. He'd used a quick release knot, but the jerk of the rope in mid-air had tightened it too much to come loose easily. When he finally managed to tug it free, he rolled Kathryn off his body and fought off a wave of nausea as he sat up. She looked so pale and still.

"Please hold on." He threw aside his helmet and struggled to unfasten hers. When he pulled it off, he saw blood. "Please hold on, Kathryn."

He couldn't feel her pulse through the thick-fingered gloves. He pulled a knife from her pack and sliced one off. His fingers found her throat.

Nothing.

"Please Kathryn." He dumped her pack and snatched a tricorder. At least her neck wasn't broken. He tipped her head back gently and began CPR, pausing to cut away her pressure suit when it got in his way.

Each time he stopped to listen for breath sounds he felt a little more lost, a little more helpless. "Please Kathryn, you can't die on me. Don't you dare die on me. Please, Kathryn."

He remembered the medkit he hadn't found in her pack. She wouldn't have left it behind. It had to be there. It had to contain a hypospray of tri-ox. And adrenaline. He looked again.

It was strapped in, right where it belonged, and it hadn't spilled out onto the ground when he'd shaken the pack.

"Kathryn please." He pressed the hypospray to her neck.

The eruption of coughing that resulted was the sweetest sound he'd ever heard. He clutched her hand, holding it against his chest, and leaned down to touch her face with his other hand.

"You shouldn't scare me like that." The tightness in his throat distorted his words.

She started to sit up.

"Easy, Kathryn." He needed to look at the bump on her head, and find an analgesic in the medkit, and locate some shelter, and -- .

"The Hirogen," she said. "We have to get moving."

Damn. That too.

He shoveled their supplies back into the pack, including the shredded pieces of pressure suit, and bundled their helmets into the parachute. They didn't need to leave a trail.

Chakotay climbed to his feet, ignoring sore muscles and another wave of nausea, and bent to help Kathryn. "Move slowly. You have a concussion."

"So I gathered." She winced and reached up to touch her head.

"How bad is it?"

"Not that bad."

"Maybe you'd better let me take a look. There's analgesic -- "

"Save it," she said. "We need to find cover."



Janeway let Chakotay pull her gently to her feet, grateful for his support when she stumbled against him, fighting against nausea.

Just as the landscape stopped spinning, a sharp pain from her leg nearly drove her to her knees.

"Kathryn?"

"I'm okay," she said. "I'll just need a little help. I'm a little dizzy, and I must have twisted my ankle."

"Let me -- "

"As soon as we're out of the open I'll let you take a look, but right now I'd rather walk on a sprained ankle than end up as a trophy on the wall in that Hirogen ship."

She felt him shudder at the image and regretted her choice of words, but she didn't want to stay in one spot too long and if he looked at her leg, he'd probably try to carry her. Whatever she'd done to her leg, it wasn't just a twisted ankle. She'd twisted ankles before, and they hadn't felt like this.

"Which way?"

The decision seemed beyond her. She looked up at him. He looked a little pale and shaky himself, and she wondered if he was hiding some injury from her. She tried to focus her sluggish mind on the problem. "Which way is the shuttle?"

"We don't want to -- oh, right." He pulled out a tricorder. "That way."

They headed the opposite direction. Janeway leaned heavily against Chakotay. Her injured leg didn't seem up to the task of supporting any weight, and it slowed their progress.

"That isn't just a sprain," he said quietly.

"No, it isn't, but it'll have to wait. Any sign of cave formations, or anything that might serve as shelter?"

"We may have to make due with boulders and scrub brush, at least for long enough to treat our injuries."

So he was hurt. "Chakotay, if you're -- "

"I'm fine. I'm not the one who almost died." His arm tightened around her.

From the tone of his voice she could tell he wasn't overstating the facts. "We're both fine," she said. "And as long as we keep moving we'll stay that way."

They continued. Janeway let Chakotay lead her, focusing only on the rhythm of walking. Between the nausea, the dizziness, and the pain, she couldn't do much more.

"That might do."

She followed his gaze to an indentation in the side of a small hill.

"It's not very deep," he said. "But it'll conceal us from the air."

"I don't see any better options." She struggled to keep her voice light, but failed. It seemed to echo in her own head, and the effort of speaking made her dizzy again. "It'll have to do for now."

They walked a little more.

"Sit right here." Chakotay helped her to the ground. She heard him tapping at the tricorder. "You're in shock."

This news didn't surprise her. She closed her eyes and leaned back against the rock. Chakotay would take care of her.

"Kathryn? I need you to help me out here. We need to get this pressure suit off and you need to lay down."

She tried to nod, but her head felt too heavy. She felt him pulling off her suit, and distantly registered more pain from the direction of her leg.



Chakotay had to turn away to keep from retching at the sight of her leg. He'd let her walk on that! It amazed him that she'd managed as well as she had. Her whole lower leg was swollen, and a foreign object had lodged itself in her calf muscle.

He fought to think. He needed to keep her warm, and give her something for the pain. Then he could treat the injury.

He tucked the ruined pressure suit beneath her. Its oxygen reserve was depleted, the supply system probably destroyed by the same hull fragment that had knocked her unconscious, and twice now he'd taken a knife to it, but it could at least protect her from the cold rock floor of their meager shelter.

He tucked a thermal blanket around her, opened the medkit, and administered an analgesic. Then he scanned her again.

Damn. In her condition, the oxygen content of an L-class atmosphere wasn't enough, and they didn't have much tri-ox left. He shrugged out of his pressure suit and hastily rigged a makeshift breathing mask.

"Take a few deep breaths." He held the device to her face, his other hand gently supporting her head.

She followed his instructions without argument. The next step would be harder.

"I need to take care of your leg." He tried to steady his voice.

"It's bad, isn't it?" She caught his hand and squeezed. "Don't worry, it's just a leg."

He swallowed hard. That Kathryn would try to comfort him in a moment like this amazed him. "I'm rather fond of that leg. I'll do my best to fix it up as good as new."

She smiled weakly. "I know you will, Chakotay. What do you need me to do?"

"Hold this." He lifted her hand to the facemask. "One breath from this for every three from the atmosphere. Control the oxygen flow here."

"My job is to breathe? I hope I can handle that."

She'd meant it as gentle banter, to lighten the mood, and he knew that, but it chilled him nonetheless. "You'd better." He tried to match her tone. "I don't want to do it for you twice in one day." He set to work removing the casing from his phaser.

The beam control assembly master circuit needed to be adjusted to produce a tight beam converging at an apex of five centimeters from the emitter crystal.

His hand shook as he opened the safety interlock circuit of the prefire capacitor and turned the value to maximum. He'd done this once before, but not to someone he loved.

He turned down the beam on the phaser to its lowest intensity and narrowest width. "Kathryn." His throat tightened painfully. "I need to -- "

"I know, Chakotay, you don't have to explain. I trust you."

He cut a piece of rope to use as a tourniquet just below her knee. Then he carefully used the phaser to cut away the already dying and possibly infected flesh, allowing him to draw out the hull fragment. It bled, and he widened the beam to cauterize the wound.

She looked pale, but offered a brave smile. "Thank you."

He couldn't speak. He concentrated on the knot, loosening the tourniquet. As soon as he had the makeshift splint in place, he picked up the hull fragment and other debris and rushed outside, where he doubled over and gave in to the nausea.



Janeway concentrated on breathing steadily and waited for Chakotay to return. The pain in her leg, while not gone, was bearable, but the headache from the concussion still nagged at her, and when she sat up she had to move carefully to avoid another wave of dizziness.

"Kathryn?"

"I'm okay. Come sit with me." She held out her hand to him, but he didn't take it. "Chakotay? Are you okay?"

"We need to find a source of water." He wiped his hands on his pants.

"You're bleeding."

"It's your blood." He wiped his hands again.

"Not all of it. Come here." She caught his hand and turned it over. She pointed to a deep slice in the side of his wrist. "When did you do this?"

"I don't know, but it's not that bad."

"Even a minor cut can develop a serious infection, and we're in an alien environment. Give me the tricorder."

"Kathryn -- "

"That's an order." She took the tricorder and scanned him. "I'm not the only one with a concussion, and how did you crack a rib?"

"The parachute, probably. It doesn't hurt much."

"Maybe. Take something for your head and let me fix your hand."

"Kathryn, we need to save the analgesic for you. That leg -- "

"Will hurt, but it won't kill me," she finished for him. "But a headache will keep you from thinking clearly. We can't afford that."

"No, we can't." He pressed a hypospray to his neck, then handed over the medkit.

"If that wasn't a full dose -- "

They both turned toward the entrance in the same instant. A rock had fallen from above, disturbed by something or someone on the path overhead. The Hirogen had found them, or would within minutes.

Janeway pulled off her combadge and gestured for Chakotay to do the same. He'd splinted her leg with the support pieces from the frame of her backpack. She hastily pulled one off and pried loose the copper wire from the pack's homing device.

Once she wrapped the wire tightly enough to serve as an emitter coil, she opened her combadge to expose the subspace transceiver assembly.

Chakotay handed her a filament stripped from the tricorder, and she attached the emitter coil to the STA control circuit. Then she cannibalized the phaser-turned-laser-scalpel for its power cell, insulated a second filament with a strip of rubber sliced from the sole of her boot, and used the power cell to boost the signal from the combadge.

Chakotay placed the device between them and the cave's entrance while she repeated the process with his combadge and the power cell from her ruined pressure suit.

When Chakotay returned to her side, she showed him the working phaser before hiding it behind her back. He nodded and moved closer, wrapping his arm around her shoulder. She could feel his hand shaking.

One of the Hirogen appeared at the mouth of the cave and leveled a weapon at them. Janeway locked eyes with him and aimed her powerless phaser.

The Hirogen fired.



The moment lasted an eternity. Fear mingled with pride as Chakotay watched Kathryn, his captain and closest friend, bravely face off with an armed and armored Hirogen with what amounted to a broken laser scalpel in her hand.

The Hirogen fired a projectile weapon. Chakotay reacted instinctively, throwing himself over Kathryn, holding her head down against his shoulder, fear for her safety overriding all other concerns.

The sound of the projectile ricocheting off of Kathryn's hastily-rigged force field and striking the Hirogen's armor echoed through the small cave.

"You spoiled my fun," Kathryn whispered. "I wanted to see the look on his face."

Chakotay didn't tell her that he'd feared the Hirogen's aim might have cleared the force field. He couldn't take the chance that one of the Hirogen might overhear him. He didn't tell her that he'd rather die than lose her, because he couldn't cross that line. He relaxed his grip and started to move back.

Kathryn stopped him with a touch and nodded over his shoulder. "He's backed off. There are two of them, about ten feet from the cave opening, probably discussing the force field."

"I wish we knew if the other three were with them."

"We can't wait too long," she said. "They'll figure out how to punch through it."

"Give me the phaser. I'll -- "

"Go get yourself killed? Absolutely not. We need a plan."

"You need to sit this one out."

"Maybe, but you can't just walk out there with a phaser and face them alone. There's always another option."

He spun around to study what remained of their gear. Medkit, water packets, rations, knife, tricorder, parachute . . . Chakotay opened the bundle he had made of the chute and pulled out one of their helmets and the empty hypospray.

"What are you doing?"

"Making a bomb." He filled the hypospray with oxygen from the pressure suit. "I hate to waste that, but I don't need much."

"We're running low on power cells. What do you plan to use as a trigger?"

"Fire."

She chuckled. "Clever."

"If it works." He sliced up the parachute and twisted a strip of the fabric into the shape he wanted. As long as the fire didn't suffocate before the wick caught fire, the pressurized oxygen in the hypospray would explode noisily.



Chakotay handed her a water packet and fussed with the thermal blanket covering her legs. He started to move their rations within her reach.

"Don't." She caught his arm. "You'll be back in five minutes."

"I'll try -- "

"If you get yourself killed you're on report." Her voice shook. Damn this concussion.

"Kathryn." He smiled at her, his voice gently teasing. "I'll be fine. If I thought I was heading out to die, I wouldn't go without a kiss."

Her eyes snapped to his face and they stared at each other.

"Holonovel heroes always get a kiss before they get blown up," he said. "Give me the phaser and I'll be right back."

She watched him go, prepared to climb to her feet and follow at the first hint of trouble. The two Hirogen still stood about ten feet away, almost as if they were waiting for something. One of them seemed to glance at her. No, he glanced above her.

Janeway shrugged off the thermal blanket and climbed to her feet, biting her lip to keep from hissing with pain. With one hand on the cave wall, and the other clutching one of the supports from the frame of her backpack, she inched forward.

Chakotay glanced her direction.

"Trap," she mouthed silently.

He nodded, flicking his eyes upward, and signaled her to stay behind the force field.

Reluctantly, she followed his instruction. Her heart pounded and her hands felt clammy. This wasn't how she usually felt in a dangerous situation, and though she hated admitting it, she knew she'd help best by staying out of the way.

Chakotay lit the shredded parachute with the phaser and threw it. The ball of fire landed between the two Hirogens, and in the same moment Chakotay fired upward just outside the mouth of the cave, a grunt and a cascade of small stones indicating his success.

He turned and darted back behind the force field, shoving Janeway behind him almost roughly. The hypospray exploded, knocking the slower of the two Hirogen to the ground. Chakotay fired around the force field, hitting the other target in the chest.

"Stay here."

Janeway nodded.

He moved cautiously forward again, disappearing from view for a moment. When he reappeared, he strode toward a fallen Hirogen and shot him.

Her stomach turned, but Chakotay bent down and secured their fallen enemy with parachute cord. Of course Chakotay wouldn't execute a man in cold blood. She hated herself for thinking it, even for a moment.

Once he tied up the other one, he returned. "Three of them, all unconscious, but alive."

"Then we'd best be on our way." She dropped awkwardly to the ground and disconnected the phaser power cell from the first combadge, then crawled to the other one.

"I should have killed them," Chakotay said. "I can't let you walk on that leg."

"Let me?"

"Kathryn, you could do real damage -- "

"We don't have a choice. You did the right thing, and I wouldn't have it any other way. Whatever I do to this leg, the Doctor can fix it when we get back to the ship."

He bent down to take the force field components from her. "I hate causing you pain."

"Chakotay, you didn't cause this."

"I should have seen that verteron mine."

She caught his hand. "I didn't see it either."

"You thought to scan for lifesigns. Who knows what might have happened -- "

"Chakotay, you know that as command decisions go, I didn't make that one for any good reason. Now help me up."

"Let me fix your splint first." His gentle fingers probed her calf muscle. "I don't think you've made it worse. Yet."

She let him replace the splint, but when he tried to check the tightness for the third time she stopped him. "We need to get moving."

He nodded and gathered their things, then helped her climb to her feet. She leaned into him for support and fought her reaction to the pain.

"Don't be brave for my sake, Kathryn. Let me carry you, or fashion a travois."

"Chakotay -- " She wanted to snap at him for the very suggestion, but she could see the emotional toll from the day's events in his eyes, and besides, she couldn't walk properly. "I'll meet you half way on that."

She could see his surprise when she reached up and gripped his shoulder. He'd expected the argument. His arm wrapped tightly around her waist and she leaned into his support.

"Too bad we can't mask their lifesigns," she said as they passed the Hirogen. "The other two might -- "

"I forgot to mask ours!" Chakotay pulled out the tricorder, tapping frantically. "That's how they found us so quickly. How could I be so careless?"

"You have a concussion," she said gently.

"So do you, but you managed to rig that force field."

"Yet I didn't think about masking our lifesigns. Chakotay, the brain is a tricky thing when it's injured." She didn't point out his emotional state. They didn't need another awkward silence.



At this rate he'd manage to get them both killed by sunset, whenever that might happen on this planet. Chakotay glanced up at the blue sun and tried to judge how far it had traveled since he'd tied up the Hirogens.

The tricorder's chronometer told him that they'd left Voyager only six hours ago. Another thirty hours would pass before the crew missed them at the rendezvous point. Then Tuvok would follow the ion trail to the remains of the Sacajawea. And assume the worst, if they didn't reassemble a combadge.

Every step Kathryn took tortured her, and Chakotay couldn't do anything about it. His mind kept returning to the terrible moment when she'd gone limp in his arms. The impact that had damaged her oxygen supply and knocked her out could have broken her neck. The piece that had sliced through her pressure suit and broken her fibula had been smaller. If the larger piece had struck at a slightly different angle, he would have lost her.

He shuddered and tried to push away the image.

"Chakotay." She looked up at him, pale but with fire in her eyes. "We'll win this one."

"We will." He believed it, but her courage and determination couldn't drive away his guilt. "So much for the relaxation I promised."

"I'd never turn down a day of hiking in the fresh air, especially with my closest friend." She smiled up at him. "But if you're ready for a break I have an idea about some possible lodgings."

Her plan made sense. The Hirogen would look for caves, and with the exception of one large boulder, this part of the landscape was devoid of any features at all.

Kathryn even agreed to rest while he did the hard labor. Digging a trench through solid rock proved challenging without a shovel.

"Use a phaser," Kathryn said. "They won't pick up the energy signature if I program the tricorder to emit an interferometric pulse."

The obvious again. Just how hard had he hit his head?

The boulder made this location ideal. It stood just tall enough that a passing Hirogen wouldn't see the hole at the top where Kathryn phasered the ventilation shaft. The trench itself was big enough for the two of them, and deep enough that they could stand upright with only their heads showing. They spread the remains of the parachute over the ditch, anchored it, and covered it with rock.

He helped her down, then closed the final corner. "Home sweet home."

"Finest hotel in the Delta Quadrant," Kathryn said. "I understand that the Borg Collective's Tourism Guide gave it four stars."

They lined the hard floor with the shredded pressure suit and Chakotay used his phaser to heat some rocks, giving the space an eerie glow.

Kathryn hissed softly with pain as she settled down.

"It's worse, isn't it?" He carefully turned up her torn pantleg and examined the injury. It felt like the bone might have shifted. "There's more analgesic -- "

"No," she said. "It's not that bad. Hand me the pack. Let's have the force field ready, just in case."

"Eat something first." He handed her a packet of rations and draped the thermal blanket over her shoulders. "We'll have to share the water." He started to lay out the force field components.

"Chakotay." She held up the blanket. "Sit down and have dinner with me. I won't enjoy my vacuumed packed oatmeal if I have to eat alone."

He slid in beside her. "How's your head?"

"Better. The bump is almost gone." She reached up and ran her fingers through his hair, probing gently. "How's yours?"

"A little sore," he admitted.

She pulled out the tricorder. "You're more than a little sore, Chakotay." Her voice contained a note of worry. "You can't sleep tonight."

"Then I won't. You'll help me stay awake?"

"If you'll help me stay warm." She moved closer and slipped her arm around him.

"Gladly." He wrapped an arm around her shoulders and pulled her against his chest. The rise and fall of her breathing soothed his jangled nerves. For the moment, they were safe.



Tian listened to his father's blustering as he worked. His first hunt, and he wasn't with the scouting party. He blamed his father. If he treated the Alpha with respect, they wouldn't get left behind.

"He's reckless, too eager," his father ranted. "Damaged the prey's ship too badly. That's how you lose good prey. What good's a trophy if it's charred and ruined in a crash?"

"None, father."

"And leaving us behind? To do what? This could have waited."

"It takes time to prepare the enzymes. The Alpha said -- "

"We are here to hunt, not cook!"

Tian grabbed a jar to keep it from spilling as his father slammed his fist into the table.

"Prey's probably burned anyhow. Not much of a hunt. Let them have it. They're taking long enough bringing it back, though."



Janeway laid the rations aside and leaned into Chakotay's embrace. She sensed that he really needed to hold her, and wondered just how close she'd come to dying earlier. He'd implied that she'd needed CPR.

"I thought I'd lost you earlier," he said softly. "I can't imagine what I would have told Tuvok."

She wanted to comfort him, but protocol limited what she could say. "You will have to tell B'Elanna that we lost that shuttle."

He didn't even pretend to laugh, he just held her tighter. She could feel him shaking, as he had earlier in the cave. An effect of his head injury? Emotion? Probably both.

"How long was I unconscious?"

"A lifetime." His voice sounded strained. "You weren't breathing. You had no pulse. I thought I'd lost you."

"You saved me. Again. It's a good thing we aren't keeping score."

Once more he didn't laugh. "If the Hirogen catch us -- "

"They won't."

"When he aimed that weapon at you . . . " He shuddered. "I couldn't stand it if . . . "

"It won't happen. You beat them once, and we'll beat them again if necessary."

He swallowed hard. "We will."

"We make a good team."

"We do." His voice sounded stronger. "And your head feels better? You're sure?"

"Check for yourself."

His hand slid into her hair and she reached back to guide his fingers to the spot.

"See? I'm fine."

They sat in silence for a while. She rested her head on his chest, and he held her, his fingers stroking her hair.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't mean to get so emotional."

"It's your head." Her words gave them both the out they'd need later, but it felt like a lie. "And the part that isn't, that's okay too."



"We can't afford to waste it," Chakotay argued. "If you have to walk on that leg -- "

"A little pain won't kill me, but losing you might. Your head injury isn't something to take lightly, now please, Chakotay, for me?"

The intensity in her voice frightened him. "Is it really that bad?"

"It's bad enough." She held up the hypospray, and when he nodded she gave him the last of their analgesic. "Thank you. For a minute, I was afraid I'd have to make you sleep on the couch."

He tried not to read too much into her joke. "A couch sounds pretty good right now, you know."

"We should call the front desk," Kathryn said. "This mattress is a bit too firm for my taste."

"Maybe they'd send up a nice bottle of wine."

"I'd rather have coffee." She leaned her head against his shoulder. "A pot of coffee would make this the perfect vacation."

"Too bad you didn't think to pack one."

"It was coffee or phasers. A tough choice, but I think I made the right one."

"That's why you're the captain."

She sighed. "We wouldn't be in this mess if I'd been doing my job."

"Kathryn -- "

"I treated our mission like a vacation, or like a routine scouting mission that any first year cadet could handle, but this is the Delta Quadrant. There's no such thing as a routine anything out here."

"You're right," he said. "The rules aren't enough out here, but we're still here. You must be doing something right, so stop beating yourself up."

"Have I ever told you that you're a great first officer?"

"A few times." He shifted so he could pull her closer. "You should try to get some sleep."

"I want you to wake me up if you start to get sleepy. You won't make such a great first officer if you're in a coma."

He chuckled. "Don't worry. I can manage a few hours." He couldn't even think of sleep, not with Kathryn in his arms, her head resting against his chest, only hours after he'd almost lost her. He kissed her hair. "Sleep well."



The cold dragged Janeway from her sleep and reminded her of their situation. She sat up. "Chakotay?"

Even a whisper seemed loud in the small space. If the Hirogen were nearby she'd just compromised her location. A little light filtered down through the corner of the fabric ceiling. Night, however long it lasted here, had ended.

The heating rocks were cold. Janeway's stomach lurched. Chakotay wouldn't have left without warming them, so he'd been gone more than a few minutes. Cautiously, she stood, alert for any sound. The knife caught her eye, and she slipped it into her belt.

She climbed out of the hole, ignoring her leg's protest, and surveyed the area. The boulder had blood on it. They had Chakotay. Sickened by the thought, she struggled to clear her head.

They hadn't killed him yet. If they had, they would have taken their grisly trophy and left the remains. She'd seen the victims of Hirogen hunting parties before. Blood, and a few scuff marks in the dust, told her that they'd dragged him back to their ship. She wouldn't believe anything else.

She jumped back into the hole and gathered their remaining supplies. No phaser, but at least she had a tricorder. When scanning for lifesigns failed to yield results, she tried looking for monotanium, which the Hirogens used in their armor and hull plating. Within moments, the tricorder provided a destination.

Adrenaline fueled her march across the cold, dusty landscape. Six kilometers. At least it didn't rain on L-class planets. Acknowledge the pain, Tuvok had once told her, and when it had done its job, put it out of your mind.

Right now she welcomed the pain. It gave her focus. The last time she'd tangled with Hirogens, she'd taken a bullet in the thigh, but she'd beaten them. At least this time she wouldn't have to blow up half her own ship to do it.

She didn't have any explosives anyway. Her hand went to the knife on her belt. If they hurt Chakotay she'd make them wish she had explosives.



The Hirogen vessel sat in a crater. Janeway crouched behind a convenient boulder and watched for activity. The pain in her leg had reached that curious point where it didn't really hurt any more, but instead sent her white-hot flashes of protest at random intervals. She decided not to mind them.

She knew the Hirogens held Chakotay prisoner inside that ship. She didn't need to see his lifesigns to know that, but she did need to know where to look for him.

It crossed her mind that she probably should have kissed him the night before. But no, it wouldn't end like this. If she let herself think like that, she'd never get down the slope and onto that ship.

She started scanning, reminding herself to watch more than just the tricorder screen. If they snuck up on her, she couldn't help him. There. The breath she'd been trying not to hold escaped with a rush.

He was alive. All she had to do to keep him that way was face down five armed Hirogen hunters with nothing but a knife. No matter. She'd kill them all with her bare hands if that's what it took, but she'd get him back.

A stealthy approach required waiting until dark. Chakotay didn't have that long. The steep incline and lack of cover left her one option. She took it.



"Who rescued you when your own prey tied you up?"

"You still follow my orders. The boy stays here. He has much to learn, and I will teach him."

"I am his father."

"He is my sister's child, and a future Alpha. He will learn from me. You were eager to hunt, go prove your worth by bringing back that female's bones."

Tian watched his father storm off. Someday he would die at the Alpha's hand. His mother's influence would not last.

"You will help me find the right enzymes for this prey. They should be slow acting, but debilitating. His death should be slow and painful. He tried to leave us to die in the elements."



Chakotay's shoulders ached. He'd apparently posed too much of a threat with his hands tied behind his back. The leader had shoved aside the younger hunter and bound his elbows together.

It hurt.

Struggling made it worse, but he still struggled, working his elbows against the thick straps. He needed to free himself and return to Kathryn.

He tried not to think about what they would do to her. Ordinarily, Kathryn could take care of herself, but he hadn't even left her a phaser, and she could barely walk on that leg. He hated himself for taking that phaser.

If they caught her -- he tried to push away visions of other Hirogen victims. If he'd saved her life, only so that she could suffer at their hands -- no, he couldn't think about it, he just had to break loose.

The faint chemical smell he'd noticed earlier seemed stronger. Two of the Hirogen entered the room. The one he recognized as the Alpha carried a jar. He held it up to Chakotay's face.

He gagged, turning away from the smell. The Alpha laughed and said something to the other one. Without a combadge and its built-in translator, Chakotay couldn't understand the words, but he quickly grasped the meaning.

The younger Hirogen sliced open his shirt, and the Alpha applied the chemical to Chakotay's chest. It burned, and the smell made his eyes water.

The two watched his skin blister, and apparently satisfied, left him alone. He continued working his elbows against the thick strap that held him.



Janeway rolled down the rocky incline, unmindful of possible bruises. They'd heal. She raced for the ship at a lurching gallop, limping sideways and using her hands when she stumbled.

The smell hit her before she made it to the dark recess inside the door. A strong, chemical odor. Her stomach gave a violent twist when she recognized it. It was the enzyme that the Hirogens used to prepare their victims.

An image of the Hirogen Alpha drowning in his own foul solution flashed through her head. Her hand returned to the knife on her belt and she glanced at her tricorder. She might not have time for a slow search. She'd deal with the Hirogen as she found them. They were bigger, stronger, and better armed, but they didn't stand a chance. They had Chakotay.

She found the first one guarding a door, which confirmed that she'd chosen the right direction. Her leg threatened to betray her as she crept up on him, but her will held out. She dealt with him quickly, but not cleanly. She didn't have time to worry about the mess.

Now better armed, she moved through the door. Two Hirogen were mixing enzymes in a tub. The bigger one, probably the Alpha, turned her direction.

Janeway had a split second to aim the unfamiliar weapon. She focused on the seam in his armor near his throat and fired. The recoil made her step back on her bad leg, and as she fired a second round, the smaller Hirogen knocked the gun from her hand.

With every ounce of strength she possessed she drove her small fist into his face. The blow disoriented him only for a moment, but she forced her small advantage, hitting him again and forcing him back against the mixing tub.

She heard the gurgling of the wounded Alpha, still breathing despite the blood filling his throat. A human would have died by now. He lurched forward to grab her. She dropped to the ground and threw her full weight into his legs, knocking the air from her own lungs. She felt a searing pain as something struck her in the side, but she couldn't slow down.

The Hirogen grabbed for her, and she crawled towards his head, ignoring yet another painful blow as she struggled to reach the only spot the armor left vulnerable. She drove her knife into the Hirogen's eye socket, her full body weight behind the thrust, driving it into his brain.

Janeway climbed to her feet, covered in blood, panting with exertion, and turned to the second Hirogen. He still stood against the tub, as if not sure what to do. He looked young, not more than a teenager. "Run." She pointed at the door. "Go, or I will kill you."



Chakotay heard the struggle in the next room. He fought harder against his bonds, his mind full of possible explanations for the noise, none of them encouraging.

The door burst open.

Kathryn stood there, covered in blood, but smiling. She limped across the room and started hacking at the thick straps around his arms with a bloody knife. "We need to hurry. I only killed two of them."

"You're hurt."

"I don't doubt it." She pulled away one of the straps and started cutting a second one. "We'll need to contact Voyager with their comm system, and then I hope you're feeling up to a hike."

"I can manage." He caught her arm. "Kathryn -- "

"I'm fine. Let's move."

She limped with surprising speed. They passed through the door to the next room, and Chakotay gasped. He couldn't decide between horror and awe. "He's twice your size! You did that with a utility knife?"

"I had to. Help me find weapons, I'm not quite up to a repeat performance."

They found three energy weapons among the cruder hunting implements, then moved out into the corridor. More of Kathryn's handiwork lay on the floor. "I'm starting to feel a little less guilty about taking the phaser."

"I'll forgive you for the phaser." She found a console and pulled up a schematic of the ship. "What I want to know is how the hell you got yourself captured?"

"I felt nauseous and couldn't ignore it, so I went out in the direction we'd been heading; thought I would plant a red herring. I didn't realize I'd get so dizzy -- never heard them coming."

"Concussions cause nausea and questionable judgment. I shouldn't have gone to sleep and left -- Damn. I can't figure out -- "

A computer voice started speaking Hirogen in short, measured words.

"Is that what it sounds like?"

"Yes," she said. "It's a countdown. Run."



Janeway stumbled. Chakotay grabbed her around the waist and half dragged her toward the hatch. Her side hurt. They turned the corner to discover that someone, probably the Hirogen she'd spared, had raised the ramp.

She flung herself at the keypad, tricorder in hand, and searched for the sequence that would free them.

"Kathryn, stand back."

Chakotay opened an energy weapon, wedged it into the door frame, and raced back to wrap his arms around her. "I hope the power output is equivalent to a phaser, or we're in trouble."

The explosion would have knocked her off her feet if not for Chakotay's support. He grabbed her arm and they ran outside. They nearly reached the edge of the crater, then she tripped, driving the air from her lungs. Chakotay landed on top of her, his arms surrounding her head, and the world exploded.

"That'll get their attention," she said. "We need to -- Chakotay?"

"I think something hit me." His voice shook.

She rolled out from beneath him and looked at his back. Something protruded from between his shoulder blades, and his uniform was black. "Dammit Chakotay, you had to throw yourself over me, didn't you?" She shook with anger. "We need to get your jacket off, and it's going to hurt."

She sliced into his jacket and shirt with the utility knife, peeling away the charred material. If not for Starfleet's flame resistant fabric -- she pushed away the image. His back glowed an angry red, already blistering in spots. The part of his jacket around the impaled piece of metal, which she hadn't yet removed, was soaked with blood. He would bleed more when she pulled it out, but she didn't have a choice. If she left it in, it could move in even deeper, or work loose on its own, and they couldn't sit still.

The tricorder told her that it hadn't punctured any organs, but a centimeter more and it would sever his spinal cord.

"Hold still." She yanked it out, ignoring his grunt of pain.

Her own jacket dripped with blood and filth. She threw it aside, pulled off her shirt, and pressed the cleanest spot against the wound.

"We don't have time for this," she snapped. "There are three Hirogen hunters out there who want us dead, and we need to move before they come back and discover that we blew up their ship."

"Let's go then." He started to move.

"Sit still. If you pass out from blood loss I can't carry you." The shirt soaked through quickly, but they didn't have anything else. Her pack still sat at the top of the crater. It took an eternity, but the flow of blood finally slowed.

She pressed against the wound with one hand, and reached down with the other to rip loose her already torn pantleg. She tore it into an uneven strip, wrapped it around his upper body, and pulled hard before tying it off.

She climbed to her feet, ignoring a wave of dizziness, and reached down to help him. "Can you stand?"

He looked pale. "Kathryn, what did you do to yourself?"



Chakotay stared at Kathryn. She'd stripped down to a tank top, or what remained of one, and she looked like one giant bruise. What caught his attention, though, was the blistering chemical burn on her side.

She glanced down. "It's nothing, let's move."

"Kathryn -- "

"Don't start, I don't need your mother hen routine right now, Chakotay, it'll get us both killed."

He winced. She was right, of course, if he hadn't foolishly gotten himself captured she wouldn't have had to rescue him. An apology hardly seemed adequate. "I'm sorry."

"No," she said. "I'm sorry. None of this is your fault." She held out her hand again. "Move slowly, that bandaging job is barely passable."

The trip out of the crater proved slow and painful. Chakotay didn't feel up to rock climbing, and he couldn't imagine how Kathryn managed. When they finally reached the spot where she'd stashed the pack, she insisted on fixing his bandage.

"Let's head for the Sacajawea," she said. "That's the first place the crew will look."

"What time is it?"

She glanced at the tricorder. "Almost 0600 ship's time. Maybe we'll luck out and they'll look for us early."

Chakotay winced. Fourteen hours until they missed the rendezvous.



Tian couldn't forget the image of the prey standing over the dead Alpha, blood dripping from its knife. Why hadn't it killed him?

He kept hiking. His father was Alpha now. The prey had killed the Second, and he couldn't become Alpha before coming of age.

"Tian! Did our foolish leader -- "

"Our great leader is dead," Tian said, cutting off his father's blasphemy. "The prey. The female. It killed them."

"Then it will suffer."



The cold and the pain didn't bother Chakotay as much as Kathryn's limp did. Her torn pants displayed the swelling and discoloration, and her stumbling gait made her suffering evident.

She didn't complain, but he wished she could have leaned on him for support. He offered, but their other injuries would have made it uncomfortable.

"I wish we still had the parachute," she said. "They never found the trench. It would have worked again."

"L-class planets are known for their caves. We'll find one."

She studied the tricorder. "There are some hollow spaces beneath us."

"Let's blast ourselves an opening and hope for the best." He wanted to treat the burn on her side. If it felt anything like his chest, she was in agony.

"Do it."



Janeway let Chakotay examine the burn on her side.

"It's growing," he said, horror in his voice. "The Hirogen enzyme. It's digesting your skin. Kathryn -- "

She caught his hand. "Looks like I need you to save my life one more time today. You need to remove it."

His hand shook as he took the knife. "I'm not sure I can."

"Use delta waves from the tricorder to anesthetize me. I won't feel a thing."

"It's not that." He swallowed. "The shaking keeps getting worse. I don't think I can keep my hand steady enough."

She studied his ashen face. If he couldn't do this, and she died, he'd live with the guilt for the rest of his life. That thought bothered her more than dying. She took the tricorder and scanned him.

"You're right," she said. "You're getting worse. And that mark on your chest is from the same enzyme. We'd better put one of the combadges back together and start hailing the ship."

"And the Hirogen?"

"If they find us, we'll have to kill them."

While Chakotay worked to assemble a combadge, she cleaned the knife and tried to examine her own wound.

"Kathryn." He took the knife from her hand. "Please don't try what you're thinking of trying. I'll do it. My hand might shake, but at least I'll be able to see what I'm doing."

She pulled a scrap of cloth from their pack, bit down on it, and focused on Tuvok's pain control methods.

It wasn't enough. The already sensitive skin protested against Chakotay's gentle touch, and he hadn't yet picked up the knife.

"I think I can do this. But not while you're awake."

She stretched out and watched him program the tricorder.

He squeezed her hand. "Ready?"

"Yes."

Moments later, it seemed, she awoke to blinding pain.

"I'm sorry." Chakotay held a bloody rag against her side. "Your blood pressure dropped and I had to bring you out of it earlier than I wanted."

"That's okay. You got it all?"

"I think so. You might have a scar."

"I can live with a scar," she said, dizzy with pain. "No one will ever see it but you."



Chakotay had to stay awake while Kathryn cut the enzyme-damaged tissue from his chest.

"I'm sorry," she said. "But if you slip into a coma -- "

"It's okay, Kathryn." He closed his eyes and concentrated on the way her fingers rested against his chest, ignoring the sharp pain.

"Done."

"Already?"

She ran the tricorder over him again. "It's gone. Maybe they were testing the mix?"

"Probably. They obviously gave you a bigger dose." He sat up and looked at her, puzzled. "When -- "

"A container must have gotten knocked over in the struggle." She wrapped the blanket around him and moved closer. "We'd better start hailing -- "

A Hirogen dropped through the ceiling. Both energy weapons stolen from the ship lay out of reach. Another Hirogen shouted from above. The combadge, not quite repaired, failed to translate, but Kathryn didn't wait to learn more. She lunged at him, knife in hand, and slammed into his legs.

Chakotay scrambled for the weapons. He turned in time to shoot a second enemy, while Kathryn made short work of the first. A third Hirogen leveled a weapon at her as she lay panting on the floor.

"Touch her and you'll beg me to kill you," Chakotay said, knowing the Hirogen couldn't understand his words, but hoping the threat in his voice would suffice. He prepared to pull the trigger.

The cave disappeared and Chakotay found himself on the floor of the transporter room. Kathryn shimmered into existence beside him. He banished the transporter officer with a glance and pulled Kathryn into his arms.

"We lived." She squeezed him.

He let her loose and helped her to stand.

Ensign Campbell reappeared with blankets and transported them to sickbay.



"Well Captain, it seems you have a fractured fibula, a concussion, severed abdominal muscles, cracked ribs, multiple contusions, and what would have become gangrene in another day or so." The EMH shook his head. "I'd hate to think what sort of condition you'd be in if you'd left for a whole two days."

She rolled her eyes. "I'm fine, take care of Chakotay first. He's got -- "

"A severe concussion," the Doctor said cheerfully. "Which explains the shoddy care he gave you."

"Don't you dare," she snapped. "Chakotay saved my life at least three times today, probably more, and I don't appreciate your snide comments."

"I apologize, Captain, I only -- "

"It's fine, Doctor," Chakotay said. "Let's just get this finished." He tried to relax while the Doctor treated his concussion and ran a dermal regenerator over his wounds.

"Second degree burn, puncture wound a centimeter from paralyzing you, a hole in your chest . . . scanning for dilithium is clearly too dangerous for the two of you. Next time just try stealing it from a Borg cube."

"Funny." Chakotay sat up. His hand still shook.

The Doctor scanned it. "There's foreign material in this wound, and it's putting pressure on your radial nerve. I don't suppose you thought to clean and bandage it?"

The Doctor chased Chakotay out of sickbay during Kathryn's surgery, so he tracked down the ensign who had stocked the Sacajawea. He wanted an explanation for the missing parachute.

"I'm sorry Commander," Henley said. "I thought you said the Cochrane. I feel terrible -- "

"Don't," he said. "You saved the captain's life."

"What?"

"She got knocked out. If we'd jumped separately, she couldn't have pulled her ripcord."

"My God," Henley said.

"You don't make many mistakes, but I'm glad you made this one."

"So am I." She grinned. "My grandfather once said that if you lived your whole life without mistakes, then God would send you back to try again."



Tian stared at the rations that the prey had sent down. They'd killed his father and uncles, but they'd spared him.

Perhaps that other Alpha was right. The time for the hunt was ending. It seemed a waste to sacrifice lives like this. The prey didn't live for the kill, or even take trophies.

If help arrived, he would learn more about the alternative that his Alpha had dismissed. The hunt no longer seemed so compelling.



Janeway awoke to find Chakotay holding her hand.

"The Doctor tells me you won't even have a scar." He stroked the hair away from her face. "He'll even let you leave if you promise to rest and eat a decent meal."

"I guess that's up to you."

"Oh?"

"Will you cook for me and put me to bed?"

"Any time, Kathryn."

"You're a great first officer." She kissed his hand, smiling at his surprise. "And so much more. I don't want to wait any longer to say it: I love you."

"I love you too." He kissed her softly. "Can we make this work?"

"You and I? We can do anything."

"We've proven that. I do have one suggestion."

"What's that?"

"Let's take our next vacation on the holodeck."


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This transformative work constitutes a fair use of any copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. Star Trek™©, Star Trek: The Next Generation™©, Star Trek: Voyager™© and related properties exist as Registered Trademarks of Paramount Pictures. No copyright infringement intended. No profits made here. © Spiletta42, January 2005.