Family Value
by Abbey Carter

My mother told me that your family is what you always return to, what sustains you. Those who will always love you, no matter what. And as I watch my daughter among her crew, I am assailed by the knowledge that this love will indeed always remain, but can only do so much.

Kathryn works the room slowly. This is a gathering for the crew, an event honoring their accomplishments. She has already made her speech, and moves between politicians and her staff easily. I haven't seen her in seven years, and I don't know what I'm seeing now. Perhaps if her father were here, he would have some theories as to who she's become. She touches those I presume she knows; a shoulder there, a forearm here. She is slight, fluid.

I'm at a table with Phoebe and her brood. The Fleet function is something I have great experience with, yet I'm still not fully comfortable. This isn't my ship, nothing that I was involved in. I am only the captain's mother. They say "You must be so proud." And I suppose I am. But that story is not connected with this honor, this reception.

I met Edward a few years into his Starfleet career. Professionally, his ambition was considerable yet slow. I wanted a family, and was running out of time in which to have children. He was enamored with my energy. In those days, I did play a mean game of racquetball. I don't think I fell in love so much as realized that we could build something.

So we did. We married and built an old-fashioned house to raise children in. I was happiest when pregnant. Aware of the life inside me, my senses magnified, the whole world seemed more alive. It didn't hurt that Edward enjoyed my obvious satisfaction.

After Phoebe was born, Edward became an admiral, and decided that perhaps it was best if we didn't have any more children. He said he did not want a kid who didn't know him, whom he didn't have time for. And in a way, he was right. It was hard enough; the time he was away. Kathryn was obedient, perfect. She attempted to master her perpetual dissatisfaction through sports, mathematics. I'll be honest. I never knew how to make her happy. The root of her restless spirit was never clear to me.

As she and Phoebe moved into adolescence, their differences became more marked. Phoebe fought me constantly, on everything. Boys, clothes, schoolwork, friends, and a host of other issues. Kathryn and I had nothing to talk about, much less fight over. When she went to the academy, this pattern continued. On leave, she visited for as long as was polite, and then left. For where, I didn't know. I always knew I'd lose her to Starfleet, but I didn't imagine the loss would be so total, or that it would continue into her career. Colleagues of Edward often came from dysfunctional backgrounds, and had made the Fleet into their new family. It wasn't by any means uncommon. But I didn't think that Kathryn would find such a replacement necessary. Was our family that empty?

I think the last chance I had with her was when her father and Justin died. She lay in bed for weeks, perhaps pleading for me to come to her, to make it better. I didn't have the words to make it better. And in my own state of mourning, I had neither the energy nor the willpower to salve either of her losses. I left Phoebe to help her, and her grief or guilt were never fully discussed. I don't think she ever forgave me that. I don't see how she could.

I see Kathryn greet Owen Paris. When they write the story of my daughter's life, they will say that he became her second father. His hands cup her waist, she leans into him; I only know that it is not that simple, and I don't care to know more. Seeing him, I remember the Voyager memorial service, remembering standing next to him. I remember wondering, because of the religion I was raised with if, among the company of heaven, Kathryn had found a blessed mother who could love her much more perfectly than I had.

Edward was a good father. He gave Kathryn her wonder for the stars, and though his job was certainly demanding, he was good about coming home, and made time for vacations. He was a good husband, too. He provided. He was honest with his feelings. And he was good to me; giving small displays of affection that I knew other women often went without.

I was not always so open. When Kathryn was eleven, and Edward gone for a long mission, I became sick. The doctor said that I was pregnant. Extremely rare, in light of advanced contraception, but not impossible. I didn't know what to tell Edward, didn't know how. There were worries, there were plans that would need changing. But I was happy, and decided I could reasonably comm him later. For the time, I could enjoy it alone.

Several weeks later, I miscarried. The pain was immense, but the loss greater. That evening, as I washed my bloody hands in the bathroom sink, I saw Kathryn and Phoebe walk toward the house, tennis racquets in hand. There didn't seem to be a reason to tell them, or anyone else.

Now, a politician discusses "the Voyager family." It is true. On ships, in the far reaches of the universe, Kathryn finds kinship apparently stronger than any I can offer. If I could, I would ask her what I could have done. Did I not teach you to read? Did I not take you and Phoebe down to Beanblossom Creek, and join in your play? I spent hours braiding the hair she insisted on keeping long. I taught her to love literature, taught her that there is more to knowledge than pure science. More to humanity than can be explained by the laws of nature. When her new family disperses, as it must, I wonder if she will come home at last.

One of Phoebe's tyrants screams. She has four, and Edward would have enjoyed them greatly. Kathryn finds our table, grinning slightly.

"Are they feeding you decently?" she asks, sizing up our plates.

"I've been to worse," Phoebe chortles, picking pasta from a curly head.

"When will you be back?" This is, disguised, the question there is no answer for, that I have been avoiding since her return.

"Soon, if they let me," she answers, looking toward her crew with the temper of an indulgent mother.

I finish my wine slowly, and look around again. I don't know the band, which is no surprise. I do know several of the admirals milling nearby, and know that Kathryn will probably soon be one of them. I've already had the pleasure of greeting that group, and now occupy myself with fixing a very tangled pair of shoelaces, partly in hope of staving off another round of pleasantries.

It seems to work. Visitors slowly begin to leave, until our group is an island of vegetably slow eaters in a sea of empty tables. When Kathryn finds us again, she is flushed, slightly excited.

"What happened?" Phoebe asks, examining her sister sideways.

"I have a helmboy with a very twisted sense of humor, who loves to embarrass his captain, that's what happened."

Maybe they do love her. She has a gift for command, for inspiring loyalty. She is good at something most are not. When they write about Kathryn, they will say that I was dully domesticated, unambitious. I don't regret making my children my life's work, nor do I find that task unambitious. I could have continued in any number of fields, and I have ventured out, now. But motherhood satisfied me. It is when I sit with Phoebe on the porch, hashing over the day's problems, that I am most sure of this. Still, there is the strain that goes with not receiving love and loyalty from one I labored for.

"So, I'm free," she sighs, grabbing a nearby chair and pulling a booted foot across her thigh.

"Is there anyplace you'd like to go, Kathryn?" I say this carefully, wondering how she will react. If she will react.

"No, not really. All my old haunts are still here, they tell me."

Phoebe needs to get home. We transport back to her place in one group, and Kathryn busies herself trying to ascertain the personalities of the three nephews she has just recently met, and the niece who has grown in her absence.

Phoebe's husband agrees to do the dirty work, so we sit downstairs, a coffeetable between us. Phoebe begins.

"So, did you meet anyone out there?" It is meant cheekily, as a way to allow Kathryn to begin her stories.

But she is oddly quiet. "Not really. Phoebe, I've always been boring that way."

"What was interesting, then?" I am digging, searching for something she is willing to share.

"It was fascinating, Mom. We dealt with the most temporal paradoxes, bizarre astrological phenomena, and near-death experiences in recent memory."

Now, she discusses the life and death of an alternate self with startling ease. I know that it was a difficult journey. But maybe what scares me the most is that for Kathryn, the painful is expected, the terrifying typical. These characteristics so commonplace that she can no longer recognize them.

It is also unsettling that she finds these stories the safest to share.

She must see my unrest. "I'll be fine. Don't worry, Mom," she says. As if I am prone to worry about her, really. After hearing that the ship was intact, I never doubted that it would come home. I don't doubt that she will survive this planet. I am proud of that. That she has always gone forward; despite my oversights, despite space's schemes. The bureaucracy will be no match.

Kathryn says she has a briefing in the morning, and should transport back to the city. She will be in touch. She gathers her jacket, hugs Phoebe, and looks at me squarely for perhaps the first time since she's been home.

"I was not always a good captain."

"I know. I was not always a good mother."

She leaves quietly, and the door swings idly from night back to the house.


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