"We've dropped out of warp!" Chakotay announced, frantically entering commands into his personal terminal.
"Bridge to Torres!" Janeway snapped. "What's happening down there?"
Several tense seconds passed with no reply from the chief engineer.
"B'Elanna, respond!" Janeway pressed, fearing the worst.
"I'm afraid Lieutenant Torres is unavailable," another female voice said suddenly.
"Seska!?" Chakotay exclaimed, vaulting out of his chair, an expression of confusion and anger etched into his face.
"That's right, Chakotay," Seska said. "I'm afraid Voyager's journey ends here. In Cardassian space."
"A Cardassian vessel is dropping out of warp," Tuvok warned. "I believe it is the one that has been following us."
"Red alert!" Janeway commanded defiantly, dropping into her command chair. "Raise shields and power all weapons! Begin transmitting a distress signal calling for immediate Federation assistance!"
"Done," Tuvok said. "However the Cardassian vessel is broadcasting high levels of subspace interference in an attempt to jam our communications. I cannot guarantee that our distress signal will be heard."
"Someone has initiated a site-to-site transport!" Kim announced. "Someone just beamed to the Cardassian ship from engineering through a weak-spot in the shields."
On the viewscreen, Janeway watched as the Cardassian warship banked sharply to face Voyager, positing itself directly between the lone Starfleet vessel and the salvation of the Demilitarised Zone that bordered Federation space.
"That's a kovat-class light-cruiser," Chakotay said, staring at the screen. "The Cardassians use them for border patrols. I've had a few run ins with them over the years."
"Light-cruiser or not they greatly outclass Voyager today," Janeway finished grimly.
"We're being hailed," Tuvok reported.
"On screen," Janeway said.
The warship vanished from the viewscreen, replaced with the angular grey features of the Cardassian captain seated confidently at the centre of his bridge.
"I am Gul Jasad of the cruiser Udat," the commander said silkily. "Your ship is trespassing inside Cardassian space in flagrant violation of the peace treaty established between our two peoples. In accordance with that treaty your ship will be impounded and your crew taken into custody until they can be processed by our judicial system."
"Gul Jasad," Janeway began, "We were brought here by circumstances beyond our control. Permit us to continue on our present course and we will leave your space within a matter of hours."
Jasad snorted. "And allow you to report back to Starfleet Command with any amount of tactical data regarding Cardassian ship movements and strength in this sector?"
"There is no need for this encounter to turn into a major diplomatic incident," Janeway told him, her tone becoming stern. "Let us be on our way rather than having this lead to severe consequences for both the Federation and the Cardassian Union."
"You have the audacity to lecture me on consequences when you've been discovered light-years inside Cardassian territory?" Jasad replied. "I have no desire to start a war with the Federation, captain, but if one does result from your presence here the blood will be on your hands and not mine."
"As I've already told you," Janeway continued, "We are not responsible for our presence here and are attempting to depart as swiftly as possible."
"And if I was to inquire as to how a state-of-the-art Federation starship might become so lost as to inadvertently trespass into Cardassian space?"
"Five months ago Voyager was abducted by a powerful entity and transported to the far side of the galaxy. We were stranded in the Delta Quadrant, seventy-thousand light-years from here, until we employed a piece of technology that brought us here."
Jasad smiled slightly. "A most inventive explanation. And one that I would doubtless be unable to believe had this version of events not already been related to me by one of our operatives aboard your vessel."
"Seska," Janeway said.
Jasad appeared disinterested. "The assumed names of covert agents are no concern of mine," he said dismissively. "Regardless of the circumstances, the facts are that you command a Starfleet ship that has been caught within Cardassian space. As per the treaty I intend to seize your vessel. My scans indicate that your ship has suffered severe damage and will not withstand any forthcoming battle, and as such I invite your immediate surrender."
"I will do no such thing," Janeway said.
"As you wish. In the interests of continued good-relations between the Federation and the Cardassian Union I am prepared to overlook your presence and put this encounter down to a misunderstanding. I will permit Voyager and her Starfleet crew to proceed out of Cardassian space, but the Maquis that you are harbouring are enemies of the Cardassian state. You will lower your shields and allow me to transport them aboard. The alternative is that I take your vessel by force."
"The Maquis on Voyager have been granted Starfleet field-commissions," Janeway told him. "This is one crew. Yes, many of the Maquis onboard Voyager have committed crimes against the Cardassian Union and the Federation, and when we return home they will answer for those crimes in a Federation court under Federation law. I have no intention of allowing them to be tried and executed by your own laughable legal system."
"You appear to be an intelligent woman, Captain Janeway. Consider your current circumstances. I have generously offered to allow your ship to proceed unmolested back to Federation space in return for fifty wanted criminals whose organisation is responsible for horrific acts of terrorism against the Cardassian people. I could just as easily overrun your ship by force and take not only these Maquis but your own Starfleet crew as well. Your ship can not sustain an attack by my vessel, nor can it escape nor call for assistance."
"He's right, captain," Chakotay said quietly from beside her, touching her arm gently as he spoke. "Jasad, my name is Chakotay. Perhaps you've heard of me."
"Indeed I have," Jasad agreed. "One of the more infamous terrorists to have killed Cardassian civilians."
"And one of the most wanted," Chakotay finished. "I'll come aboard your vessel, and take full responsibility for whatever crimes you wish. I'll even look suitably remorseful at whatever show-trial the Central Command wants to arrange for the benefit of the viewing public."
"And your associates on Voyager?" Jasad asked.
"Tried by a Federation court," Chakotay said. "Where they will almost certainly be found guilty and sentenced to a penal colony where they will pose no more threat to the Cardassian Union for years to come."
Jasad paused, clearly considering the proposal.
"Of course you can refuse those terms and attack Voyager," Chakotay continued. "Obviously we can't prevent you taking us all by force, but the engagement will almost certainly provoke a war between Cardassia and the Federation. The blood of many Cardassians will be on your hands, Jasad."
"As you wish," Jasad said finally. "Drop your shields and I'll beam you aboard."
Chakotay shook his head. "If we drop our shields you could beam half the crew away before we could raise them again. The shields stay up. I'll be leaving in a shuttlecraft within the next few minutes."
Jasad nodded curtly before terminating the link.
Janeway looked at him. "Chakotay," she said hoarsely, unable to find the words.
Chakotay smiled slightly. "It's the only way," he said, before turning sharply and ascending the steps to the turbolift.
"Commander Chakotay," Tuvok said as he passed the tactical station. "It is by no means certain that you will be executed for whatever crimes the Cardassians charge you with. Given that my own future with Starfleet is uncertain, you have my word, sir, that I will endeavor to free you from confinement if it is within my power to do so."
Chakotay tapped him warmly on the shoulder. "A Vulcan jailbreak?" he said wryly. "I'll look forward to it."
With that, Chakotay left the bridge of the starship Voyager for the final time, leaving the officers there in a solemn silence.
The type-6 shuttlecraft slid smoothly out of Voyager's hanger under Chakotay's control, before describing a tight arc and accelerating away from the Federation ship towards the Cardassian vessel looming nearby. As he adjusted his approach, Chakotay tapped a control to open a communications channel to the awaiting warship.
"Chakotay to Udat," he said. "I'm approaching your shuttlebay."
"Hello, Chakotay." Seska answered, the amusement audible in her voice. "I'm looking forward to seeing you."
"You'll forgive me when I say the feeling isn't mutual," Chakotay said lightly, unwilling to let the woman he had loved hear how hurt he actually was.
"Not everything I told you was a lie, Chakotay," Seska said. "I did have feelings for you."
"I don't believe a word you say," he told her coldly, just as the shuttle shuddered violently and the cabin became bathed in a scintillating orange light.
"I hope you don't mind if we bring your shuttle aboard with a tractor beam," Seska said by way of explanation. "We don't want a repeat of what happened with the Kazon warship."
Chakotay smiled slightly, taking his hands off the controls. "Be my guest," he replied, pleased that Seska was so far off the mark.
He watched the sensor display as the shuttle was drawn towards the Udat, waiting for the moment the warship's powerful shields were lowered to admit the Sacajewa.
His only regret was that he wasn't able to see Seska's face when she realised that she wasn't the only one who knew how to manipulate Voyager's communications system to secretly call for assistance.
"Three ships are dropping out of warp!" Kim called out. "They must've masked their approach somehow!"
"Cardassian?" Janeway demanded, her gaze locked on the image of Chakotay's shuttle being pulled towards the Udat via a tractor beam.
"No," Kim said. "They look Federation!"
Janeway watched in disbelief as three Maquis raiders, virtually identical to the one Chakotay had commanded, screamed past Voyager and began firing at the Udat with a fury that clearly caught the Cardassian vessel by surprise.
The warship remained motionless in space under a ruinous barrage of phaser fire and photon torpedo barrages for many seconds as the Cardassians onboard struggled to respond, and when disruptor fire finally bloomed into life in response the Cardassian vessel had already taken damage.
"The Cardassian ship has begun calling for assistance," Tuvok announced. "I would estimate their shields to be at around sixty percent."
"Should we help them?" Kim asked.
"We're the ones trespassing, Harry." Janeway said, her gaze never wavering from the intense battle being played out on the viewscreen. "I can't help the Maquis destroy a Cardassian vessel inside Cardassian space."
"I'm not sure if they need our help," Paris threw in. "They're pounding hell out of that warship."
"Commander Chakotay's shuttle has been released," Kim announced.
"Lower our shields and beam it aboard," Janeway ordered sharply.
On the screen, the smaller, more manoeuvrable raiders were performing acrobatics around the lumbering warship, discharging volleys of phaser and photon fire even as they dodged disruptor shots that the Cardassian vessel was spitting at them.
"Cardassian shields are at approximately forty percent," Tuvok said. "Their weapons array appears to have been damaged."
Janeway watched as a disruptor shot struck one of the raiders squarely, sending a stream of engine plasma out into space as it banked sharply away.
"Detecting power-fluctuations throughout the Cardassian warship," Kim said. "They're in trouble, captain."
Janeway held her breath as she watched the lights begin to flicker throughout Jasad's vessel. In the matter of a few short minutes the Cardassian gul had gone from a position of supreme power to having his vessel reeling from an unexpected attack by three smaller ships.
"Cardassian shields are beginning to fail," Tuvok warned.
"Open a channel to the Maquis ships," Janeway snapped.
"Open," Tuvok confirmed.
"Maquis ships! Call off your attack. The Cardassian vessel has been badly damaged and I cannot standby and allow you to destroy it!"
The viewscreen changed to show an image of an Asian man strapped into the cockpit of the lead raider.
"This is Takagi!" he snapped furiously. "You dare threaten us when we come to your aid!"
"And I'm grateful," Janeway said. "But this situation is already bad enough without a Starfleet vessel being seen doing nothing to prevent the needless destruction of a Cardassian warship with a hundred people onboard. Stand down."
"Listen to her, Takagi!" Chakotay added, bursting forward from the turbolift. "There'll be more Cardassian ships on their way. We all need to get out of Cardassian space right now."
"As you wish," Takagi said reluctantly. "Is your vessel able to go to warp?"
Janeway slapped her combadge. "Bridge to Torres. Status?"
"We're as ready down here as we'll ever be, captain."
"Resume our course, Mr. Paris," Janeway ordered.
Paris input the commands, and Voyager accelerated into warp, followed moments later by the three Maquis raiders who had come to her aid.