Putting The Bitch On
by Abbey Carter

I was frequently told during my Starfleet training to find my identity. This was all supposed to be a part of knowing who you were, and of course, being happy with that person. The truth was, as a young ensign, I didn't know who the hell I was. And trying to find my voice was a painful process that took a lot out of who I would become.

Now, in my sixth year in the Delta Quadrant, I can't look back often. But when I do, I can imagine how I've changed since those earlier days. I have absolute control over myself and the occupants of this vessel. To those around me, I radiate complete authority. Sometimes when they shoot terrified looks at me, I can tell that they think I was always impervious, always formidable. They can't imagine that I didn't always know how to cow people with a single glance.

My father was my model of an officer, and I was both lucky and cursed to have his example. He was stern and forgiving, tough, yet free with positive comments when he saw something good. He was everything I wanted to be when I grew up.

"Kathryn," he would say when I was an ensign, "where are you going next?" He didn't care about my feelings, didn't care about how frazzled I was. He only wanted to see me working toward some larger goal. I never wanted to go home, partly because its quietly dysfunctional aspects had not changed in my absence, and partly because of the searching questions my father would ask me.

Growing into that officer turned out to be more complicated than I had imagined when I was little. I remember rushing my way to meetings, already running late, and having to climb through Jeffries tubes as a result of slow and stalled turbolifts. I remember misplacing padds of scientific data, and spending evenings crawling on the floor looking for them under my furniture. But most of all, I remember my deepest fears. That I would fail in front of my superiors, but most of all, that I would not gain the respect of my equals.

Justin wasn't the first man I felt I had to impress, but his approval was the most important to me. He outranked me, which he made very clear when I met him. I saw his sharp lines and bitterness, as well as the authority implicit in his movements. And I wanted very much for someone as controlled and competent as he was to acknowledge me in my own right. I quickly realized that my current "leadership style" wasn't going to bring me the results I wanted from those around me. So I put the bitch on.

I kept my face constantly blank. I worked eighteen hour days. I picked through scientific charts, finding fault with the smallest errors. I yelled whenever I found anything out of line. I inspected my department more than any of my peers, and ran more scientific simulations than Starfleet required. I knew that being this aggressive would earn me a reputation, and I didn't shy away from it. I was never cruel to my crewmen, and they respected me for my drive, respected me because I made damn well sure that they had exactly what they needed. Part of our training had been in turning it on, turning it off. Like a light. Very alert and focused one moment. Relaxed and fun the next. Those ensigns and lieutenants I worked with couldn't figure out why Janeway never turned it off, not even when we were all just hanging out. Why I wouldn't be their pal.

It was easier to put up a wall and become a highly sought-after ensign, than to behave like a sane human and be dismissed by the hard-charging guys I worked with.

It worked. I was treated with deference, and my ability was recognized. And I developed an uneasy sort of friendship with Justin based on our interest in our work. Sometimes I let him know my insecurities, and he would give me advice based on what he had just recently experienced. But it wasn't until I was captured that the dynamic between us changed. Maybe I'd saved him, maybe I hadn't. But the truth was that Justin, always a shrewd profiler, saw enough of my psychology to know that performing in a combat situation was not among my deficiencies. We had each other's backs then, and didn't ever plan to change that position.

I learned from Justin that gaining the trust of others meant first trusting myself. That the harder others saw me push, the more it spoke of my insecurities, and the more they could smell my fear. I learned that when disciplining, whispers of reproach spoke more of my authority than how loud I could yell.

"You're amazingly competent," he would tell me, "don't act like you owe anything or have to prove anything. Because you don't."

Just as I was becoming secure in my work and free-falling into the kind of love I had previously believed myself incapable of, it all crashed down.

After the accident, I had a brief tour as an aide to an admiral at Headquarters. She was a demanding boss, but that was never the problem for me. I hated that woman because of what she did not do. She came from a slightly earlier time in Starfleet's history, a time when it was much harder for a woman to earn high rank, much less a ship to command. I wanted to admire her, but every time the admiral looked at me, I got the distinct impression that she saw a girl inferior to her in every way possible, who was not worthy of any of her time.

Did she resent that I had not suffered like she had? Did she think treating me badly would make me better? Had she hated my father? Did she believe I was only in my position because of him?

I didn't want to be held to a lower standard. All I wanted was to hear the story of how she had come to power. Of how she had managed as an ensign, as a lieutenant. I could have used a hand on my shoulder, and with it the assurance that it was all going to work out, in the end.

I thought about how her being completely unapproachable caused her to miss opportunities to make me better. I swore that I would never be like her, realizing that the attitudes I had used to shelter me when I was younger would keep me from forming the vertical bonds necessary for a good command, should I be given a ship. But there's trouble in trying to lose the bitch. You become her, she becomes you. She comes back when you're stressed, comes back when there's nothing else to rely on. Young subordinates like Harry Kim look at me and see me face down fear incarnate, see only the monster I can be. They see me and they're afraid. I want to turn to them and say "Do you think I was born with this face? Do you think I was always furiously certain in battle? I earned every line and furrow on this face and they say more about me than any biography you've skimmed."

I know fear. I knew it when I was young: during my first battle drill, and when I first felt phaserfire strike my side. I knew it as a captive, and when I watched Justin and my father die. I lived through all those things. Fear can no longer scare me. And when we were thrown here, there was no time to become terrified. There were orders to issue and aliens to negotiate with, and fights to be won. There was no time to doubt myself, and I've only wrestled with my old demons when I've run out of external crises to fix.

I keep an eye on Harry, Celes, Nicoletti, and the other younger ones. I tell them that I believe they will get through their shift through my hand on them, and my low laugh. I get through my shift as a matter of practice.

I try to similarly comfort Chakotay, but he knows too much of me. In the years before me, the years when the admiral I worked for was young, male psychology was used as the main justification for keeping women out of command positions in hostile space. It was said that the death of a woman would be devastating to the men, because of emotional attachments readily formed between men and women. And now, I can't refute this. I look at Chakotay, and I know that my death would destroy his combat effectiveness. I've seen him over my body, and it's not something I could see again. So I watch my back for him, count the steps I take, and tell him that I understand through my own stories, my hands on his.

I am far from the days when I fussed over the awkward cut of my dress skirt. Far from the days when I worried that my drive would unsettle those around me, that kindness would brand me weak.

But I am tired.

When you enter Starfleet, your name is taken first. You are a new person: a title, a rank, a surname, a number. You live in a uniform, and the way your body fits in it is how you are judged as an individual. There are days when you must yell as a matter of survival, and your voice cracks and breaks. Even when the crisis is over, it remains broken and low.

I have learned that it's not just a switch to flip. You can put the bitch on slowly. You put it on when you forget that nobody has touched you in eight weeks, even by accident. When you no longer occasionally cry from the stress and loneliness. It was bad for me when we lost Kes. She was one person I could talk to naturally, one person who could know my fears and my secrets, who could hug me or offer me flowers. Kes reminded me that my person did not have to be completely subsumed by the mission. I changed after she left. I had to tie down and torture myself many times before I could do the same to Noah Lessing.

I don't let myself have regrets. I steer the ship, I go forward, and I get closer to home. Time may take the better parts of me, but I know they were made to be so taken.


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