Kathryn strode along the corridor of deck two, her gaze fixed fiercely on the path ahead. Her shoulders stiff with barely contained grief, she willed herself not to look left out the viewports, but try as she might, her gaze was irrevocably drawn to the bright splash of alien stars that filled the vast expanse of black. Each distant shining dot was as unfamiliar to her as the thousands of stars she’d left behind in the Delta Quadrant and her heart clenched painfully at the thought of what lay ahead.
Nearing the entrance to the Mess hall, Kathryn’s steps faltered and she slowed to a stop. She’d come to address the crew about this latest, unexpected detour. As their captain, it was her duty to enlighten them to the realities of the day’s disaster and offer support and consolation. Her inner monologue had been coaching her all the way from the Ready room but now that she was here, she couldn’t bring herself to take those final few steps. Acutely aware of the pivotal role she’d played in the latest debacle, her courage suddenly deserted her and she found herself completely bereft and unable to face her fellow shipmates.
The mere thought of confronting them en masse made her hands sweat, and the visceral tremor that had plagued her since that morning’s failed leap home, again made its way from her middle towards her extremities. As the rigors took hold, she knew she had to escape; she couldn’t let anyone see her in this state.
She was still the captain; obliged to maintain some measure of composure and portray at least an outward veneer of control, especially in circumstances as dire as these.
But even as those dutiful thoughts grappled for purchase in her mind, a rising tide of panic exploded in Kathryn’s chest and before she could stop herself, she spun on her heel and beat a hasty retreat to the safety of her quarters.
Tapping in her door code with a shaking hand, she pushed her way through the open door and came to a lurching halt a heartbeat before her ‘captain’s’ façade shattered into a million pieces.
The door hissed shut behind her and she staggered before thudding to her knees. Boneless with grief, she slumped back onto her heels, her arms hanging loosely at her sides and her head dropping forward, chin on chest. In a last ditch effort to retain control, she scrunched her eyes shut in the vain hope of blotting out the horrifying reality of their situation.
They were lost in the Beta Quadrant, fifty years from home.
The day had begun with such promise.
After farewelling the Admiral, Kathryn ordered Voyager back to the transwarp hub. They waited and as soon as the conduits began to destabilise she gave the order to enter the designated aperture.
At first, their daring strategy seemed to work; the Borg were much too busy trying to maintain cohesion to be concerned about a lone vessel in their midst.
Tuvok deployed the transphasic torpedoes and the subspace corridors began to collapse. It was then that things became problematic. Keeping ahead of the cascading destruction pushed Voyager to its limits and hot on their heels was a Borg sphere that had somehow avoided the crippling effects of the pathogen.
Weapons fire from the sphere was unrelenting. Voyager was taking a beating and the crew were being jolted and tossed.
Kathryn gripped the armrests of her chair and willed Voyager to hold together, but with the massive Borg ship bearing down on them, they were grievously outgunned and about to be outmanoeuvred.
Tuvok’s report told the story. “Aft armour is down to six percent.”
Harry called from Ops. “Hull breaches on decks six through twelve.”
Tom joined the fray. “I can’t stay ahead of them, Captain.”
Then from Tactical came the words Kathryn didn’t want to hear.
“The armour is failing.”
Chakotay quickly checked the data on the central console. “Where’s the nearest aperture?”
Seven’s calm voice came from the upper level. “Approximately thirty seconds ahead, but it leads back to the Delta quadrant.”
Despite the looming disaster, Kathryn remained confident. They’d faced far greater challenges and there were contingencies in place to deal with this particular scenario.
She gave the order. “Mister Paris, prepare to adjust your heading and speed.”
Tom decelerated and allowed the larger vessel to tractor them inside.
“Mr Paris, what’s our position?”
The sphere was destabilising the navigational readouts but Tom did his best to cut through the interference. “Right where we expect to be.”
The next few minutes seemed like hours but a sudden lurch threw them out of the collapsing conduits and into open space. Kathryn turned to Tuvok and nodded. He detonated the final transphasic torpedo, destroying the sphere from within before looking up and reporting.
“The transwarp network has been obliterated, Captain.”
It was on the tip of her tongue to say that they could celebrate later but upon emerging from the exploding sphere’s fiery debris, Kathryn realised her mistake.
Instead of an array of familiar stars and planets, they tumbled headlong into unknown and unfamiliar territory.
Almost too afraid to ask, Kathryn stared at the endless array of alien stars and aimed the question at no one in particular. “Where the hell are we?”
Poor Harry was the bearer of shocking news – his voice a hushed whisper in the stunned silence of the Bridge.
It was like a frightening echo from seven years before. “Captain, if these readings are correct, we have emerged at the outer rim of the Beta Quadrant, forty-five thousand light years from Federation space.”
Kathryn sat as still as stone in her chair, her eyes glued to the viewscreen, her mind a screaming blank.
Tom swung around from the conn. to stare wide-eyed at Harry before spinning back to his console; his hands dancing across the controls as he analysed the navigational data. He no doubt feared that he’d made some grievous error but Kathryn knew it wasn’t his fault.
Dragging her eyes away from the viewscreen, she forced her fingers to tap in commands to retrieve relevant information from the central console. She was running on instinct at this point, the habitual years of training momentarily protecting her from true horror of the situation.
The data on her screen confirmed Harry’s findings. Speechless, Kathryn glanced at Chakotay. His worried eyes met hers before he turned back to concentrate on the data scrolling across the display.
Kathryn stared at the computer screen. It should have worked. The readouts and projections confirmed that they should be in the Alpha Quadrant but something had gone terribly wrong.
Whether the destruction of the hub had somehow affected the subspace architecture of the conduits, or the Queen – in a last ditch effort to thwart them – had managed to relay navigational data to the sphere to divert them away from the Alpha Quadrant, Kathryn didn’t know. The hub and sphere were gone – obliterated – so there was no way they would ever find out exactly how they’d finished up thousands of light years from where they were supposed to be and there was little point in speculating; their terrifying predicament was an unavoidable reality.
They were stranded again, in another unknown and unexplored part of the galaxy, with at least fifty years of travel ahead of them before they reached Federation space.
Kathryn was devastated.
Four hours had passed since that awful moment on the Bridge and Kathryn was still in a state of dazed disbelief.
She didn’t want to believe it; a voice in her head taunted her, telling her that it was all a dream – something she so desperately wanted to believe. Anything was preferable to accepting the truth of this nightmare – or rather the continuation of the nightmare that had been her life for the last seven years. Beyond tears and almost numb with despair, she sat hunched on the floor of her quarters, unable to move or even feel.
Her chest heaved and her body shook, but her thoughts were detached. In her mind’s eye, an accusing finger pointed at her, laying the blame for this latest fiasco squarely on her shoulders – where it so rightly belonged.
She’d drastically miscalculated, never doubting for a moment that their plan wouldn’t work and by blithely putting her trust in her future self she’d drawn everyone on board into this horror. It was entirely her fault.
She’d been so sure and virtually bullied her senior staff into following her lead, convinced that this time they’d make it home and emerge from the Borg transwarp conduits on Earth’s doorstep, the heroic returned explorers of far distant stars. In her own deluded mind, she’d even imagined the scene on their arrival.
Starfleet would welcome them with open arms. Having struck their decisive blow against the Collective, Kathryn and her courageous crew would be heralded as the daring and fearless saviours of the galaxy, welcomed home with fanfare and adulation into the bosom of family, friends and Starfleet. Their brave ship, packed to the gunwales with its cache of remarkable technology and data, would have Federation scientists and engineers enraptured for years to come.
Within the realm of her impatient and single-minded push for home, it had all seemed so plausible.
The arrogance of that assumption now made her insides shrivel with shame. Captain or not, she’d had no right to risk everyone’s future in some conceited fantasy of redemption.
It wasn’t the first time that something like this had happened and she should have known better. She’d stood in the lonely wasteland between duty and good sense once before. Duty had won on that occasion and she’d destroyed the Caretaker’s array to save the Ocampa, stranding her crew a lifetime away from home. She’d promised herself that she would never do that again.
But she’d been deaf to the warning voices inside her head; filled with so much bitterness and disappointment about the future, she’d convinced herself that the Admiral’s plan was the only conceivable solution to their dilemma. It was a decision made in haste and under duress, but that was no excuse.
After years of resisting the temptation, she’d weakened and allowed her heart to rule her head. She’d always known it was an unreliable barometer and for that reason had never let herself depend upon it for such decisions. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that doing so was indulgent and inevitably the first step towards disaster.
And what a disaster it had become.
If she alone had borne the brunt of this gross miscalculation, it would have been sad but, in a sense, divine retribution. Instead, she’d dragged one hundred and forty seven other souls with her into this new living hell and she wasn’t sure if she had the resilience to start again – to champion them through another lifetime’s worth of unfamiliar space and unknown dangers. In fact, she knew she didn’t.
Her flagging stamina was part of the reason why she’d been so easily swayed by the Admiral’s arguments. The last seven years had drained her; literally sucked the life out of her and she was spent. The much-prized grit and emotional vigour necessary to captain a lost ship through the unknown reaches of the Delta Quadrant was at its lowest ebb and she was so tired – bone tired – and in desperate need of respite. She’d recognised the signs of burnout long ago and knew that if they weren’t able to find a way home soon, she would eventually crumble under the unforgiving weight of responsibility. It had long ago become a question of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’.
Seven years of unrelenting command was more than anyone should endure but until recent months, she’d had the good fortune to share that burden with her compassionate and stalwart first officer.
But that extraordinary command partnership she’d relied upon and now realised so callously taken for granted, had ended abruptly – a sudden shift that came with an eroding loss of self-confidence.
Again, it was no one’s fault but her own. After returning from her ‘sojourn’ on Quarra, she was thrown into turmoil and unable to settle back into her life aboard Voyager. The small taste of normality that she’d enjoyed on the alien planet – although artificially induced – had left her hungering for more.
Her long sublimated love for her first officer had surfaced with a renewed passion and she’d been on the brink of considering a change in the nature of their relationship but he had become distant and aloof. It quickly became apparent that her affair with Jaffen had irreparably damaged her relationship with the man she loved, the one person who had stood by her side for all these years, her loyal first officer and best friend in the world. Regardless, he barely talked to her anymore. Chakotay kept his distance, even in their off duty hours.
Her arrogance had also played an integral part in their estrangement. Instead of talking to him about her feelings, she’d waited, assuming that he would eventually ‘come around’ – he always had – but this time he didn’t make the initial overtures and much to her dismay, she’d found out why.
He’d moved on. Chakotay and Seven were together now and destined to marry.
Kathryn heaved a shuddering sigh, opened her eyes and stared straight ahead.
It was a ludicrous situation with a man fast approaching middle age and a girl young enough to be his daughter. How could he? How could she? It was a tired story, as old as time and wrong on so many levels Kathryn couldn’t even begin to catalogue them.
It was almost unbelievable and something she would never have imagined in her wildest dreams. A sudden surge of anger brought a tinge of pink to her pale cheeks but it soon faded as the inevitability of this new future wormed its way into her heart.
For years, Chakotay had barely tolerated Seven and on many occasions was an unapologetic and outspoken opponent of the girl’s behaviour and attitude, but it appeared that he’d overcome his indifference.
Kathryn had been blissfully unaware of this shift in affections until the Admiral had so cruelly enlightened her to the facts.
The older woman had hit her with a barrage of bitter outcomes if she didn’t follow her plan to return to the Alpha Quadrant. In a coldly calculated bid to secure Kathryn’s cooperation, the expertly aimed poisoned arrows of future realities left an unsuspecting captain deeply wounded and flailing for a lifeline or handhold.
The strategy had worked; the revelations had all but broken her heart and Kathryn had done exactly what the Admiral had wanted.
The shocking news that Seven would die three years from now, in the arms of Chakotay, her husband, put a deep wedge in that cherished and abiding friendship with her first officer, forever changing its course and leaving Kathryn breathless and heartsore. If someone had told her six months ago that this was what her future held, she would never have believed it; but in this present reality, as things stood, it didn’t seem so farfetched. She and Chakotay were already estranged and her weary and aching heart couldn’t begin to consider the ongoing implications of such a situation. If they’d made it home, she could have spared herself the heartache of having to watch Chakotay and Seven’s relationship evolve but now she would be witness to the man she loved, loving another. Hardening her heart to such a future was going to be difficult if not impossible, but she had to survive; there was no other choice.
Then of course, there was Tuvok. She was going to lose him, too. He would become victim to an insidious disease that would render him mentally incapacitated within a matter of years, the only cure home in the far distant Alpha Quadrant. The thought of her dear friend – the gentle, proud man whose razor-sharp intellect had been her mainstay and moral compass for over twenty years – would suffer the indignity of losing his mind made her want to scream at the injustice of it all. It seemed beyond cruel.
The three people she held most dear to her would be lost within a matter of years and the responsibility for this tragedy lay squarely on her shoulders. The burden was crushing.
She was the first to admit that she’d made mistakes, tempted the fates, taken situations and people for granted but if this was some twisted form of retribution, it was harsh beyond all belief. Then again, perhaps this was the gods’ reckoning for her arrogant decision to strand Voyager and her crew in the Delta Quadrant in the first place.
It was her fault that they were out here and embroiled in this inconceivably awful situation. She and she alone had made the decision to stay, to protect the Ocampa over the welfare of her own people and now the ultimate fallout of that decision was coming home to roost.
If only she’d been more open to possibilities and less stringent in her adherence to out-dated and outmoded regulations. If she’d lived her life less rigidly, perhaps she wouldn’t have been so easily tempted by the Admiral’s terrifying and undeniable predictions. Her hope had always been that they’d get home in time for her to fulfil her dreams but that wasn’t going to happen now. Her chance for love and a life had been snatched away by a bitter twist of fate and she had only herselves to blame.
A rush of self-loathing hit her like a phaser blast in the middle of her chest and she began to have trouble breathing. Her body started to shake more forcefully, her fingers tingling and her shoulders heaving as she vainly fought to suck air into her lungs. She knew what was happening. It was a full-blown panic attack – she’d had her share of them over the years but had quickly learned to recognise and control the symptoms before they became debilitating. Unfortunately, she didn’t have the wherewithal anymore. She was done. Spent. And all she wanted to do was to hole up somewhere and let life pass her by without having to think or participate.
Just when her consciousness was beginning to fray at the edges, the door chimed and she jolted back from the brink. After taking half a dozen shallow breaths, Kathryn’s vision cleared and the shaking subsided to a point where she was able to haul herself up off the floor. Still weak-kneed, she staggered slightly but dug deep to find the last remnants of Janeway steel. Straightening her spine, she brushed her hair back from her face and turned towards the door.
With one hand resting on the corner of her desk for support, she muttered, “Come.”
The door opened and B’Elanna stepped through. She was carrying a small blanket-wrapped bundle and after looking up from the infant in her arms, she smiled. “I hope you don’t mind the unannounced visit, Captain, but I think your newest crewmember would like to say hello.”
This was the last thing Kathryn had expected and it left her flummoxed and struggling for something to say and do.
The young mother seemed so calm and unperturbed by the day’s turn of events and for a heart-stopping moment, Kathryn wondered if perhaps she didn’t know. “B’Elanna, you know that we are in the Beta Quadrant?”
A picture of serenity, B’Elanna nodded. “Yes; Tom told me as soon as he arrived in Sickbay.”
Kathryn was about to apologise but then another thought occurred to her and she took a concerned step towards the young mother. “Does the Doctor know you’re here?”
B’Elanna nodded and her smile broadened. “Oh, yes. He was more than happy to get rid of me. Although, he wasn’t so pleased about his Goddaughter leaving Sickbay; I thought we were going to finish up in a tug-o-war.”
Kathryn tried to smile. “I’m sorry we didn’t make it home.”
B’Elanna looked up and for an instant, a puzzled frown creased her brow. “I am home, Captain.” Then realisation dawned and she gave Kathryn a sad smile. “But I imagine you’re very disappointed.”
Kathryn was lost for words but managed a gruff, “Yes, somewhat.”
B’Elanna’s eyes glinted with something akin to empathy and before Kathryn could protest or demur, she stepped forward and placed the infant in her arms. “Say hello to Miral Kathryn Torres-Paris.”
Leaning closer, B’Elanna pulled back the swaddling so the baby’s face was clearly visible and whispered. “Miral, say hello to your Godmother.”
Kathryn stared at the baby. Large dark eyes stared back at her and for a moment, she forgot about the day’s disaster and her crippling guilt. All that mattered was the small miracle that was tucked securely in the crook of her arm. She was beautiful. Suddenly B’Elanna’s words sank in. After looking up into the young mother’s smiling eyes, Kathryn stuttered, “G-godmother?”
B’Elanna nodded and appeared a little uncertain. “I hope you don’t ‘mind but Tom and I couldn’t think of anyone we trust more to care for Miral should anything happen to us.” She gave a quick smile. “We probably should have asked you first, but we didn’t think you’d mind. Is it okay?”
Kathryn had difficulty speaking and had to squeeze the words past the growing tightness in her throat. “I’m honoured that you would consider me. I don’t quite know what to say.”
Relieved, B’Elanna chuckled, “That’ll be a first then.”
Kathryn huffed a quiet laugh then looked up into the bright and familiar eyes of her Chief Engineer, a young woman whom she’d grown to admire and love over the seven years of this journey. All of a sudden, the choppy wash of emotions surged and a confusing jumble of joy and despair left her overwhelmed and exposed.
The laugh became a strangled sob and before she was able to control herself, she began to cry. Tears tipped over her lashes and down her cheeks as she gulped breaths trying to stifle the ratcheting sobs. She was appalled by her reaction but unable to do a thing to stop it.
Without a word, B’Elanna lifted the baby from her arms and wrapped a supportive arm around Kathryn’s waist, helping her over to the couch.
Kathryn was barely aware of what was happening but within moments, B’Elanna was at her side again holding a glass of brandy.
“Here Captain, sip this. It will help. Are you all right? Should I call the Doctor?”
Kathryn shook her head and managed a choking, “No. I’m fine,” before she took a small sip of the fiery liquid and then placed the glass on the table. As grateful as she was for B’Elanna’s thoughtfulness, liquor wasn’t going to help the situation – although the thought of drowning her sorrows wasn’t something she’d entirely discounted.
B’Elanna leaned a little closer. “Even I can see that you’re far from fine.” And then almost to herself, she murmured. “I should call Chakotay.”
That jolted Kathryn into the present and after swiping at her eyes, she took a deep breath, before snapping a quick, “God, no. Not Chakotay, he’s the last person…” She didn’t finish the sentence. “I’m so sorry, B’Elanna. You shouldn’t have to see me like this. I apologise.”
“There’s no need to apologise, Captain. I understand. You had your heart set on getting home; the disappointment must be shattering. But you know, everyone seems to be taking it in their stride. Over the years we’ve gotten used to this sort of thing happening.”
“Have you really?”
Again, B’Elanna shrugged. “Yes, mostly. I’d be lying if I told you that there weren’t some very disappointed crew out there, but on the whole, they’re dealing with it. Everyone was aware of the risks but still thought that the transwarp corridors were worth a try. If nothing else, we’ve made life a whole lot more difficult for the Borg – that’s something at least.”
“Perhaps, but we’re fifty years from home. Twenty years further than before.”
“Yes, but we’re seasoned explorers now and it will only be a matter of time before something turns up to help us on our way; you’ll find something out there, Captain. You always do.”
“Do you really believe that?”
“Of course I do and so do the rest of the crew.”
Kathryn huffed bitterly, “I don’t know whether I do anymore.”
“It’s been a tough day but there’s only one way to find out, and that’s to point the ship towards the Alpha Quadrant and see what we stumble across.”
“I admire your resilience.”
B’Elanna smiled, and although she appeared to hesitate for a split second, she took the initiative and placed a comforting hand on Kathryn’s forearm. “I learned from the best.”
Heaving a weary sigh, Kathryn gave B’Elanna a sad smile as she patted the hand on her arm. “Thank you, B’Elanna. I’m not sure that’s so true anymore.” She turned away, slowly extricating her arm from under the younger woman’s hand. “I apologise. I really shouldn’t be burdening you with this.”
“I’m happy to listen, Captain, but if you’re uncomfortable talking to me, there’s always Chakotay. I know he’d want to help.”
Kathryn shook her head sadly. “No, it’s not his place anymore.”
B’Elanna frowned. “It always has been. Is something wrong?”
“No, not at all. Things are as they should be and that’s what’s important.”
B’Elanna looked even more confused. “I’m sorry, Captain but I don’t understand.”
A weary shake of her head was all Kathryn could muster but after seeing B’Elanna’s troubled face, she gave her a grim smile. “I’m not making much sense, am I? It’s nothing. Let’s move onto something more important. How are you feeling?”
B’Elanna looked as though she wanted to question Kathryn further but decided against it and lifting Miral a little higher in her arms, smiled. “I feel remarkably well. But the Doctor wants me to have at least a week off before I go back to work.”
“Only a week? You can have as much time as you’d like, B’Elanna.”
She shrugged. “Thank you, Captain, but leaving Seven in charge of my Engine room for a week is already stretching my coping abilities not to mention my engineering staff’s. I hate to think what she’s doing down there. If the slew of complaints I’ve already received is anything to go by, there could very well be a mutiny if she’s left there for too long.”
In the past, Kathryn would have been tempted to jump to Seven’s defence but she was still reeling from the Admiral’s revelations and wasn’t feeling particularly charitable towards her former protégé. Instead, she gave B’Elanna a wry smile and suggested, “Perhaps you should split shifts for a while until Miral is able to be taken care of for longer periods.”
“Sounds good to me.”
The baby started mewling and Kathryn’s attention was diverted as B’Elanna pulled back the blanket to look at the tiny face. It began to crumple and Miral started to squall.
B’Elanna gave a shrugging smile and stood up. “Someone’s hungry and I’ve been gone awhile. Tom will be wondering where I am.”
Kathryn stood as well and walked with B’Elanna to the door.
“Thank you for everything, B’Elanna. And thank Tom, too. I’m deeply honoured and I will do my very best for Miral.”
In a surprise move, the young engineer leaned in and kissed Kathryn on the cheek. “Oh, I know you will, Captain. You always have for Tom and me. We owe you so much.”
Sincerely touched by B’Elanna’s faith and affection, Kathryn swallowed another bout of threatening tears. Then, careful not to squash Miral, she gingerly wrapped her arms around the younger woman. “Thank you.”
Another impatient squawk from Miral made the women move apart and after one more smiling nod, B’Elanna turned and left Kathryn’s quarters.
Stepping back to allow the doors to close, Kathryn heaved a deep sigh and then gave herself a firm mental shake. There was no time to indulge in this pity-fest and although it wouldn’t happen overnight, she had to look towards getting herself on some sort of even keel. There were new responsibilities and a precious little girl who needed her to be in control and at her best.
It was the seed of motivation and the tenuous lifeline that she needed and, after mentally grabbing hold of it with both hands, she began hauling herself out of the abyss, forcing herself to look towards the future. It wasn’t the future she’d imagined for herself or her crew but it was one that she would do her best to embrace wholeheartedly. There would be difficulties and disasters along this new road but also countless wonders and discoveries and she would just have to find the strength to get through. It was vital that she try to find the positive angle to this calamity – something to hang her hat on if she was to survive and get her crew home.
With one last deep breath, she straightened her uniform and strode out of her quarters retracing her earlier footsteps back towards the Mess hall.
This time she did manage to make it through the doors and, as B’Elanna had already indicated, amongst the crew there seemed to be a grudging acceptance of what had happened. Some were understandably upset but others seemed resigned about their new circumstances, helping those of their crewmates who were struggling.
It tore at Kathryn’s resolve but she put on her bravest face and spoke to as many of the crew as she could, reassuring them that she would give her all to get them home and out of this mess.
Surprisingly, there was no animosity directed towards her personally. She would have understood if there had been but she soon realised that the crew knew her well enough to know that her self-directed anger was punishment enough. Their expressed empathy was another barb in the churning anguish that was ripping her apart inside.
As tormented as she was, she was also incredibly proud of everyone and once again thanked the fates for blessing her with such an amazing and committed crew. There wasn’t a captain anywhere in the known universe that was prouder or luckier. Their faith helped restore some of the strength she’d been so sorely lacking of late. If for no other reason but the crew, she would struggle on.
Her first stop after the Mess hall was Tuvok’s quarters.
For a moment, she stood outside the doors, gathering her inner calm before she pressed the chime. The doors opened immediately and she stepped into the dimly lit room. Her eyes were instantly drawn to the small prayer lamp that burned in Kes’ memory in its usual spot on the viewport ledge. Another lamp was positioned on the table. Tuvok was wearing his Vulcan robes, a sure sign that he’d been meditating, but in his unhurried and unharried Vulcan way, he inclined his head towards her and welcomed Kathryn into the room.
“Captain, please come in.”
“Tuvok.” She moved towards her old friend. “I’ve come to see how you are and if there is anything I can do.”
“I am well, Captain. Thank you for your concern, but at present, my mental acuity is unaffected by my condition and will not be significantly impaired for several years to come. The Doctor has assured me that in the interim, he will be able to control the symptoms using medication. Please do not concern yourself with my wellbeing.”
“I can’t help but be concerned, Tuvok. My mistake has taken us another twenty years away from earth. The likelihood of getting home before your condition takes hold, is remote.”
“I understand your feeling of guilt regarding our failure to reach the Alpha Quadrant but I must impress upon you that such an emotion is unwarranted. It was not ‘your mistake’ but an unforeseen anomaly that diverted us from our planned trajectory. The strategy to destroy the hub whilst navigating the conduits was well planned and competently executed. The mission was always a calculated risk but no more than many other ventures during our time in the Delta Quadrant. Guilt has been your constant companion for the last seven years and I feel it is time to bring to your attention the detrimental effect it is having on your mental and emotional health.”
Kathryn was surprised by his frankness but couldn’t help but feel a small surge of relief that someone was at least aware of her emotional fragility. The realisation loosened the growing tightness in her chest. “I didn’t think anyone was aware of how I felt.”
A raised brow was his succinct answer to that comment but he also added. “I think you will find, Captain, that most of the crew are aware of the onerous mantle of responsibility you bear. Many have tried to help carry that load and share the burden, but you are also renowned for being extraordinarily stubborn.”
With the mention of ‘shared burdens’ Kathryn inhaled sharply and wondered for a moment if Tuvok and Chakotay had been comparing notes. But then she remembered that her first officer was preoccupied with his new lover and it was unlikely that he’d noticed anything about her in recent times.
Taking a deep breath, Kathryn tried her hardest not to be defensive as she answered Tuvok’s challenge. “I appreciate your candour, Tuvok, and I will readily admit to carrying a good deal of guilt about what happened to Voyager’s crew, but over the years, I have learned to live with it.”
“Might I also add that you are a very poor liar?”
Kathryn almost choked before being overcome by an unnatural desire to laugh. She’d come to offer solace to her ailing friend and was instead being lectured on her numerous shortcomings. It was so typical of Tuvok. Kathryn believed that she’d always hidden her secret vice well but her cover had obviously been blown from the beginning. She smiled indulgently. “I don’t know how you’ve put up with me all these years, my friend.”
He quirked his brow again, a glint of what could be called amusement shimmering in his eyes. “It has not been easy, Captain, but I have had allies. Commander Chakotay has been a worthy and vigilant ‘partner in crime’. Have you spoken to him since the failure of the mission?”
If Kathryn didn’t know better, she might have thought that Tuvok was manipulating her, but no one else was aware of Chakotay and Seven’s liaison, and it wasn’t up to her to make it known. She assumed that when they felt the time was right, they’d ‘go public’ with it.
In answer to Tuvok’s question, she merely shook her head. “No, I haven’t had an opportunity.” She glanced past his shoulder to the passing stars in the viewport and desperate to change the subject, she returned to the original conversation. “Will you let me know, Tuvok, when you condition becomes… problematic.”
He nodded. “Of course, Captain. As my commanding officer, protocol dictates that you be informed. I will advise the Doctor accordingly.”
The burn of tears began in the back of her eyes as she reached forward and laid her hand on Tuvok’s arm. “As your friend, I would like to know.”
He nodded solemnly. “As your friend, I shall inform you immediately.”
“Thank you, Tuvok.”
There wasn’t anything more to say without a painful quagmire of emotions making the interaction uncomfortable, so Kathryn gave her old friend a brave smile.
“Well, we have a big day tomorrow. Seven and Harry will have plotted our course back to the Alpha Quadrant and we can finally get under way.”
“Captain, may I ask a favour?”
“If you ever feel the need to unburden yourself, I am a willing listener and would be honoured if you would avail yourself of my company.”
This time a stubborn tear forced its way past the tight bounds of her emotional control. She dashed it from her cheek before answering. “Thank you, Tuvok; I will definitely do so. Perhaps we can share that glass of wine on the holodeck one day soon.”
“I would very much like that, Captain.”
“Good night, Tuvok.”
Kathryn stepped out of his quarters into the bright light of the corridor and taking a shaky breath, turned towards the turbolift and her quarters.
The morning brought with it a new day, new challenges and a glimmer of hope.
Kathryn stepped out of the turbo lift and Harry announced her arrival. “Captain on the Bridge.”
Each member of the Alpha shift rose to his or her feet as she made her way to the central chair. Grateful and sincerely touched by their show of respect and loyalty, she met each one of their gazes and took heart from their looks of determination and support. She even met Chakotay’s eyes with a smiling gaze of her own before taking her seat.
“Mister Paris, have you input the new navigational co-ordinates?”
“Yes, ma’am. Ready when you are.”
“Warp six, then, Mister Paris.”
“Warp six. Aye, Captain.”
Kathryn felt the comforting thrum under her feet and the change in tone of the warp engines as Voyager gained speed before shooting towards the Alpha Quadrant. It was difficult to tear her eyes away from the viewscreen but a gentle touch to her forearm diverted her attention.
Chakotay was leaning over the console between their chairs, his voice barely a whisper. “Are you all right, Kathryn? I tried to catch up with you yesterday but by the time I’d finished talking to some of the crew and organising repairs, you were in your quarters asleep.”
“I’m fine, thank you, Commander.” The Bridge wasn’t the place to discuss her reaction to yesterday’s fiasco; in fact, she’d rather not discuss it at all. She’d only just found a level of equilibrium, but she knew what Chakotay was like and he wouldn’t take her casual brush off as an answer. It was probably best to get it over with now, to clear the air, and then they could get on with what lay ahead.
She gave him a cursory smile before looking at the computer console again. “There are a few things I would like to run by you. Would you care to join me in the Ready room?”
Kathryn stood and without waiting for his answer, moved across the Bridge. She nodded to Tuvok as she passed. “The Bridge is yours.”
She could feel Chakotay behind her and without stopping, moved to the safety of her desk – the buffer zone a necessity for the conversation ahead.
Even a few months ago, they would have sat side by side on the couch, sharing a cup of coffee for an informal briefing, but not today. Chakotay stood at parade rest before Kathryn indicated with a wave of her hand that he should take a seat.
Before he could get too comfortable, Kathryn clasped her hands together on the desk and leaned forward slightly. She kept her voice as light and even as possible. “I hear congratulations are in order, Commander. I wish both you and Seven the very best.”
As petty as it was, Kathryn felt a small rush of triumph as a momentary look of shocked guilt passed across his features. His brow knitted in confusion. “Congratulations?”
Her performance was impeccable – even if she did think so herself. Her voice remained strong and steady, her face the picture of calm benevolence. “I have it on good authority that you and Seven are dating and that it is serious.”
His eyes glinted with something close to anger. “Not that serious.”
Kathryn’s eyebrows rose dramatically. “A ‘not so serious’ relationship with an impressionable and inexperienced young woman. Is that entirely appropriate behaviour for someone in your position, Commander?”
He jagged to his feet, then spun towards her and glared. “More so than this interrogation. What’s going on, Kathryn?”
“I could ask you the same question, Chakotay.”
“I don’t have to answer that. My personal life is my own business.”
She nodded. “True, and I’ll keep that in mind.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Kathryn heaved a sigh. “Nothing, it means nothing. I apologise, Chakotay. I didn’t intend for this to become an argument; I merely wanted to wish you well but I seem to have struck a nerve. I won’t mention it again.”
He again appeared taken aback by her response. “There’s no ‘nerve’, I just don’t want to discuss it, or for it to become public knowledge. You know what the crew are like.”
Kathryn raised her brow in surprise but didn’t ask the obvious question of ‘why’. Instead, she quietly acquiesced. “They won’t hear about it from me.”
His hands remained clenched by his side as he snapped, “Good.”
Kathryn answered with an equally brusque, “Fine.” before turning towards the viewport to take a moment to calm her jangled nerves. There wasn’t anyone who could upset her quite like Chakotay when he put his mind to it. Glancing at his shuttered, angry face, she realised that she had the same effect on him. They were a pair – or rather, they weren’t – which was more the pity.
There was a long silence before Kathryn exhaled steadily and got back to business. “How are the crew?”
He was still snippy and responded with a short, “You’ve seen them.”
“Yes, I have, but they tend to put on a brave face for their captain. You’re closer to them; is there anyone whom I should be concerned about?”
His shoulders dropped and some of the anger evaporated. “Not that I’ve heard or seen. No one has said anything specific but there is a palpable level of disappointment. They really thought they were going home this time.”
Kathryn blinked back the sting of tears. Damn it, she wished she could successfully batten down her emotional hatches and control these uncharacteristic episodes of unfettered vulnerability. To cover her lapse, she gave him a grim smile, looked down at a random PADD on her desk and muttered, “Didn’t we all.”
Her turmoil was simmering far too close to the surface to withstand any sort of close scrutiny from Chakotay, so she stood abruptly and made her way to the upper level. It was an attempt to hide her threatening tears – it was patently obvious that she had a long way to go before she was over her disappointment. Kathryn pushed the feelings down as far as they would go and stood for a couple of seconds in front of the replicator. Without looking at him, she asked, “Tea?”
Unbeknownst to her, Chakotay had followed and was standing directly behind her. “Yes, thank you, Kathryn.”
His unexpected closeness made her jump.
She could feel the heat of him and smell his scent. As far as Kathryn knew, he had no idea what he was doing to her but regardless, it was dirty pool and she had to struggle to maintain the facade that his close proximity had no effect on her.
Chakotay had to be doing this on purpose, and trying her best to ignore his blatant attempts to rattle her, she ordered their drinks and turned with a smile, offering him a cup as she did so.
“Thank you.” He stood rooted to the spot and Kathryn found herself in the uncomfortable position of either having to push past him or asking him to move. Neither option appealed to her, nor did she understand why he was doing this. It was unnerving.
She tried desperately to avoid his eyes. His uncanny ability to see through her pretences often left her disconcerted and she couldn’t bear the thought of him pitying her heartache. Making a small move forward, she waited for him to naturally step aside, but he still wouldn’t budge and she was starting to get very irked. Kathryn held onto her irritation as a means of shoring up her emotional resilience and lifting her chin, she glared at him.
She knew it was a mistake the instant her eyes met his. He looked right through her and straight into her heart.
God damn it!
He didn’t say a word but took her coffee mug from her hand and placed it, along with his tea, on the replicator behind her before wrapping his arms around her shoulders and pulling her into a bear-like embrace.
She instantly started to protest and pushed against his chest, but he only held her tighter.
“Chakotay, let me go!” She gave him an almighty shove and he staggered away from her as she slammed her hands on her hips and glared at him. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
“I’m trying to offer comfort to a friend. I know what yesterday meant to you and how much you’d invested in the idea of getting home. Spirits, you were willing to die to achieve your goal!”
“I was not.”
“The older version of you was.”
“She was a different me.”
“Not all that different. Not in the end.”
Her breath caught. He was right of course. She and the Admiral were in essence the same person and if her older self hadn’t volunteered to infiltrate the Borg, Kathryn would have readily gone in her stead – anything to get her crew home. The fact that he knew this caused a critical fracture in her already flimsy defences but she gritted her teeth and held onto her anger as armour against his brutally accurate assessment.
Chest heaving, she glared at him and jabbed at him with her finger. “So you think that one embrace from you will make everything all right? What sort of arrogant, misguided…?” She was at a loss for words but she was truly pissed now and nothing was going to save him from hearing the dreadful truth. She stalked forward, eyes like daggers and her face flushed with anger. “Do you really want to know what happens to us in the future? What events mould us into the people we become? The Admiral, in all her wisdom, decided that I needed to know what disasters were to befall me. She left me that bitter legacy and little else.”
He tried to reach for her but she snatched her arm away. “Don’t!”
“Kathryn, please.” His eye flashed with irritation tinged with hurt. “I’m sorry.”
She glared at him; any thought of softening the truth was abandoned in her fight for emotional survival. “Seven is going to die three years from now; in the arms of her husband – you, Chakotay. She’ll die and we will never be the same. I lose you both.”
He took another step towards her but she moved away, her back pressing against the replicator.
He tried to reason with her. “Now that we know what’s going to happen, we can change the future.”
“Ah, but some things we can’t change. Before this unplanned diversion, twenty-two more crewmen were destined to die in the sixteen years it would take us to get home from the Delta Quadrant. But now that I’ve failed, God knows how many more I’m going to lose in the fifty years it takes us to get home from here. And then there’s Tuvok.” Her voice caught and her resolve shattered; tears spilled down her cheeks. She brushed them away but more took their place and she wasn’t able to hold them at bay any longer.
“He’s suffering from a degenerative neurological disease and if we’d made it home…” She pressed her fist into her chest. “if I hadn’t miscalculated, he could have received the treatment he needed on Vulcan, but we won’t get home in time and he’ll… he…” She couldn’t articulate the horror of what was to come.
The look of distress on Chakotay’s face told its own story and Kathryn couldn’t bear to witness it any longer; it merely added fuel to the fire of burning guilt that was consuming her.
Shoving past him, she ran down the stairs and out the rear corridor entrance of her Ready Room. The Bridge crew would have heard their argument but she was past caring.
What she needed was time alone to regain her composure.
As she entered the turbolift and called for deck eight, she knew Chakotay wouldn’t be far behind her. Even though their friendship was on rocky ground, he wouldn’t let this sort of situation persist. If she’d been braver, she would have stayed in the Ready Room and seen it through. But that was beyond her at the moment.
She just needed to breathe.
Although it would only take a quick computer enquiry to find her, the Airponics bay seemed a likely place to hide. It was peaceful and deserted, and after taking a deep cleansing breath, she strolled past the raised vegetable beds to the flower garden that Kes had planted all those years ago. After she’d left, Neelix had nurtured the rare plants and blooms, passing that mantel onto Naomi when it was his turn to part ways with Voyager.
Kathryn leant over the bed of colourful alien blossoms and inhaled. The scent was reminiscent of her little Ocampan friend and she wondered where she was today and what she would have thought of this situation.
Her friendship with Kes had been one of the highlights of her time in the Delta Quadrant. In fact, as Kathryn looked deep into her heart to the many other amazing people she’d met and extraordinary events she’d experienced their memories helped to restore a measure of calm to her embattled spirit. The one thing that Kes had taught her was to look at things from a different perspective and with that in mind, she honoured her young friend by examining her current circumstances from a different angle.
The results were disturbing, to say the least.
Had she fulfilled her original mission, the Maquis would all be in jail or worse; she never would have met Kes and Neelix or saved Seven, Icheb and the other Borg children from the Collective. She would not have experienced the close relationship she’d nurtured with Naomi and the many other members of the crew she’d grown so close to over the years – B’Elanna, Tom, Harry, the Doctor and of course, Chakotay.
If given the choice, would she sacrifice any of those relationships or experiences she’d garnered by virtue of being stranded in the Delta Quadrant? The answer was a definite no.
Voyager’s unplanned mission had been a success.
It was the hackneyed mantra that she’d repeated over and over to herself during her time in the Delta Quadrant and as jaded as she was, she grudgingly admitted that it held a substantial grain of truth. They had encountered many wonders in their travels and Kathryn knew there would be many more. Perhaps, she might even meet someone who could become an integral part of her life.
Now that Chakotay had moved on, her options were open, but in her heart of hearts, she knew that she would continue as she had done for the last seven years and remain alone. She doubted she would ever love anyone as she’d loved Chakotay. But it wasn’t to be and it now was up to her to expunge that love from her heart. If she were to survive, it was what she had to do. It wasn’t the first time she’d been forced to move on with her life and it probably wouldn’t be the last.
Kathryn wondered if the Admiral had experienced any significant relationships once she’d returned to Earth. It was something she hadn’t been brave enough to ask, but it was something she’d pondered during their times alone together. Inherently, she was a passionate woman and loved to be loved in both the physical and emotional sense, but Kathryn had an awful feeling that she already knew the answer. Her future self didn’t strike her as a woman who had known love for a good many years and that belief made her incredibly sad.
By leaving this impression, the Admiral had changed Kathryn’s future. She could make certain she didn’t finish up alone – it would be her long-term goal. She would no longer sacrifice her happiness for her career. And if they did make it home in time, she would make certain that her remaining years were not spent in solitude.
Plucking a bud from one of the plants, Kathryn took refuge in a nearby arbour and sat contemplating the jumble of colours and textures that made up Kes’ garden. She slowly let her mind empty of worrying thoughts and sadness.
The swish of the bay doors interrupted her quiet meditation and she listened as his familiar footsteps moved towards her hiding place.
Before he found her, she called to him. “I’m here, Chakotay.”
He came to stand in front of her, his voice warm and caring. “I wanted to make sure you were all right.”
“I will be and thank you for your concern. I’m sorry I yelled at you.” She failed to produce a smile so instead patted the seat beside her. It was the best olive branch she could offer. “I don’t want us to argue. As captain and first officer, we have too much at stake to be at odds with one another.”
“As best friends we can’t afford to be at odds with one another either.” He turned towards her now, his eyes so wonderfully expressive and filled with genuine concern.
She could easily interpret the look as a loving one, but Kathryn knew better and it was time to lay down some ground rules. Now was as good a time as ever. “Our friendship will have to take a backseat to your relationship with Seven. That’s where your priorities lie now.”
He frowned again, his voice firm. “My priorities lie with Voyager and her captain.”
She nodded. “That’s your job, Chakotay but your life away from the Bridge is equally important. We have years of travel ahead of us, and you’ll need that balance to survive. I want you to be happy.”
“And what about you, Kathryn? Are you going to make sure that you have a life away from the responsibilities of captaining Voyager?”
She shook her head. “You already know the answer to that, Chakotay. As captain, I can’t afford to have a life of my own.”
Kathryn pivoted to her feet, putting some distance between them. “I’m glad to see that the ‘not being at odds’ thing is working out so well.”
He shot her a disgruntled look. “It would if you stopped being the ship’s lone martyr. You can’t order me to have a life and then turn it around on yourself. It’s hypocritical and damned annoying. How can any of us be content when you’re so damned miserable?”
That got her back up. He was laying the blame at her door again and she was just trying to make things easier. “When did this become about me? All I want is for you to be happy. I love you enough for that.”
His head snapped around and he stared at her, a flush quickly rising up his neck to his cheeks. “You love me?” It was almost an accusation.
There was no retrieving the words. She’d said them and he’d heard them loud and clear. She could try to imply that it was platonic but her guilty silence had already negated that response. Kathryn hastily tried to find some way around the situation. She could see it quickly deteriorating, so she decided on the truth – with a proviso. “Yes, I love you but as I said, I want you to be happy and if your happiness lies with Seven, that’s good enough for me –”
With that, he jagged to his feet, and came to stand in front of her. “Bullshit!”
“What’s with all the swearing?”
“It’s the only thing I can think of to say that makes any sense of this.”
Chakotay wasn’t the only one at a loss. It had been a hellish couple of days and just when she was finding a degree of perspective, Kathryn had ambushed herself again. She wasn’t sure if Chakotay was angry, upset or merely surprised.
She reached for his hands. It was supposed to be a friendly touch, a comforting and reassuring clasp of hands to re-establish their camaraderie but she hadn’t counted on the snapping jolt of electricity that arced between them the instant their fingers met.
Kathryn inhaled sharply.
Chakotay stared wide-eyed and before she knew what was happening his lips were on hers. They were firm, warm and demanding, and she instantly responded. He, in turn, pressed harder, his tongue sweeping along her bottom lip, gently probing for entry.
There was no thought of denying him; there was barely any thought at all. Instinct took over, Kathryn’s lips parted and she felt his tongue sweep through, touching, tasting and taking possession.
She became vaguely aware of sounds – short, sharp mewling sounds, husky moans and the dry rasp of hands over uniforms. She wasn’t sure who was responsible for making them, but they were all incredibly arousing accompaniments to this amazing kiss.
The intensity was breathtaking, but the sense of belonging was equally overwhelming. In a strange way, it all seemed so familiar. She knew the feel of him, the shape of his body under his uniform; his scent and taste were almost a part of her.
They’d known each other for so long and she’d spent so many years imagining this moment that her body was already well acquainted with the contours of his frame and the feel of it against hers.
She knew him, inside and out; she knew his soul and his heart, and he knew hers. She could feel it.
It was right.
His hands seemed to be everywhere, drifting down her arms, over her back and slipping up under her top. His fingers deftly unclasped her jacket, slid it over her shoulders and loosened her tee pushing it up and over her head.
She pulled at his jacket and he shrugged out of it, seemingly without losing touch with her body. Now her hands tugged at his shirt, her fingers pushing up under his tee to skim across the warm flesh of his belly and back.
His skin was soft, but with a yielding hardness of muscle beneath – a man’s body – and now that she’d touched him, she wanted to see him, feel him and taste him, but they couldn’t do this here.
She began to pull away, ready to inject a level of sanity into this rapidly deteriorating madness but he wasn’t about to let her go. Instead, he gasped to the computer, “Computer, lock Airponics door, Chakotay Alpha, omega, four, seven.”
She heard the privacy lock engage and for a split second, thought to object, but his mouth swallowed her protest and it evaporated completely as his hands found her naked breasts. There was a small, tired voice in the back of her mind telling her that this wasn’t right but it was quickly silenced by her thundering heartbeat and cries of arousal.
Kathryn’s hands flailed, trying to find something to hold onto as he alternately suckled at her breasts, and licked and nipped at the damp skin of her neck and chest; he had her almost delirious with want.
The sound of tearing fabric brought her back to reality for one startled moment, but only long enough for her to kick off her boots and shimmy out her torn uniform pants and underwear. As she divested herself of her clothing, Chakotay was doing the same and once naked, they fell back into each other’s arms, their mutual need overtaking all else.
Chakotay was muttering unrecognisable words against her neck; his hot breath and the rasp of his whiskered cheek making her skin shiver as he trailed kisses along her shoulders, breasts and neck. Strong hands stroked firmly over her buttocks, skimming ever closer to the throbbing heat of her. God, she wanted him so badly.
This fevered and frenzied joining was nothing like she’d imagined it would be. The gentle lovemaking of her fantasies was but a pale shadow of this hungering need, but she wouldn’t have changed it for the world.
Pressing him back towards the arbour again, Kathryn pushed him into the seat before she straddled his thighs.
Weaving her fingers through his hair, she tugged his head back until she could look at him. His face was smudged with her lipstick, his lips swollen from their kisses and she imagined she looked much the same. She didn’t care.
This was something they’d both waited for and wanted for so long that nothing else mattered. She could see the impatient yearning in his eyes and it spoke directly to the desperate need in her.
She leaned in close and whispered in his ear. “I love you, I need you and I want you inside me.”
She pulled back again to see his nostrils flare and his pupils dilate before he grinned. “This is the woman I know and love.”
With their eyes locked and their hot breaths fanning each other’s faces, Kathryn rose up on her knees and holding his shaft, lowered herself onto him.
As her moist heat surrounded him, he threw his head back and hissed, gripping her buttocks with bruising fingers in an effort to hold back his climax. He groaned. “Oh god, so beautiful, so goddamned beautiful.”
She stilled. Although more than ready, the sudden penetration stung. She could feel him straining, his muscles taut under her hands as he fought against the impulse to bury himself inside her. The thought of his tenuous control aroused her but she needed a moment to adjust to his size and the unfamiliar stretch of muscle and tender flesh. It had been a long time between lovers.
She kissed his lips and pulled back a little to watch him. His face was contorted in a grimace of pained rapture but as she lowered herself further, coming to rest flush against his pubis, he gasped, loosening his grip on her bottom to wrap his arms loosely around her middle.
His face relaxed and his eyes met hers. They were alight with love and a more than healthy amount of lust.
Kathryn’s heart swelled to bursting.
They stayed like that for several heartbeats; their bodies joined and their souls entwined, the moment too precious to rush into. Leaning forward, Kathryn kissed the outline of his tattoo before laying her cheek against his lips, feeling his hot breath against it as she began to rise and fall over him.
He filled her to the hilt, the tip of his penis pressing hard against her cervix. The sensual stretch of her opening and the pressure as she ground against his groin, tugged at her clitoris and with each fluid movement, she found herself spiralling towards her climax.
Although he let her set the pace, his hands rested on her hips guiding and supporting her – it was like an erotic reflection of their years in command.
Her fingers, in turn, gripped his shoulders, her fingernails leaving small red crescents in his skin as she quickly became lost in the surging sensations of their lovemaking. She pressed as close as she could, each grinding thrust pushing them both higher and higher towards climax. Sweat glistened on her skin and his, and the wet sounds of their joining were perfectly tuned to their muted cries and moans of pleasure.
Kathryn could feel her inner muscles pulling tight and the delicious tremble of orgasm shivering its way up her thighs and down her spine towards her centre. Chakotay was close, too; his breaths coming in ragged gasps as his rhythm began to falter.
She met his eyes, desperate to share this exquisite and soul-baring moment with him.
He whispered gruffly, “I love you.” At the same time, he swelled and thrust hard against her.
It was enough, and with one last gasping sigh, Kathryn’s vagina clamped tight around him; she arched and came, her world exploding into a blinding wash of white.
A keening cry carried her over the edge, her hips thrusting and juddering against him as he filled her with the hot wash of his semen. They strained and blindly grasped at one another until the rigours finally subsided and she slumped against him, boneless and sated, their combined come sticky and warm between them.
His hands continued to skim over her back and legs, her sensitive skin shivering under his touch. He caressed her breasts and kissed her nipples before taking her mouth in a deep and almost punishing kiss. He buried his face in the crook of her neck and held her tight.
She could feel bone-deep tremors wrack his body and the cool splash of tears on her breasts.
Cupping his face between her hands, Kathryn pulled him up to look at her. There were tears in his eyes and it broke her heart to see him this way. She thought for one awful moment that perhaps he regretted what had just happened. “Chakotay?”
His face broke into a beaming smile as a tear trickled down his cheek. “Tears of joy, my love. I’ve never been so happy.”
Kathryn wrapped her arms around him and without another word, nestled into his embrace. They were at last in the place where they were meant to be.
She could have stayed there forever but less than five minutes later, her combadge chirped. “Tuvok to Janeway.”
With a startled look, she clambered off Chakotay’s lap and rummaged on the floor for her jacket. She found his first and tossed it towards him, then grabbed hers from somewhere near the bottom of the pile of discarded clothing. Trying not to sound too breathless, she tapped her badge and answered, “Janeway, here.”
“Captain, we have picked up an unidentified vessel on long range sensors, it is on an intercept course.”
“How long until intercept?”
“Twelve hours at our current speed.”
“Increase speed to warp eight and send out a greeting on all subspace channels. Let’s hope we can start off on a better footing in the Beta Quadrant than we did in the Delta Quadrant.”
“I’m on my way.”
There was a moment of uncharacteristic hesitation before her far-too-insightful tactical officer signed off with an enigmatic, “There is no urgency. Bridge out.”
The comm. line closed with a decisive click and she turned to find Chakotay still sitting where she’d left him, a broad grin lighting his face. A quick glance downward and she could understand his amusement. She was still naked, kneeling in amongst a haphazard puddle of their torn and rumpled uniforms, clutching her jacket, her hair mussed and the glow of her recent climax only now beginning to fade. It wasn’t something anyone else was ever likely to see – she hoped.
Looking back at him, she mirrored his expression. “You can smile, but don’t be surprised if Tuvok starts logging our bio-signatures. There was something in his voice that makes me think that he already knows about this.”
“Not a lot gets past our vigilant security chief and as always, his timing is impeccable. Are you worried about him knowing?”
Kathryn immediately shook her head. “No, not in the slightest. I have a funny feeling he’ll be relieved. In all the years that I’ve known him, he has never been very impressed with the choices I made in my personal life. Not that he would ever have admitted it but I knew he didn’t really like Mark.”
While they were talking, each of them was gathering their clothes. Chakotay turned back towards her, his eyes questioning. “Do you know why?”
“I think he thought he was boring – not a ‘worthy’ match.” She shrugged. “Mark was a good man, if a little staid, but after Justin and my father’s death, that stolid stability was what I needed. Tuvok was right – we would never have lasted but I loved him as much as I could.”
They were now standing side by side, their uniforms bundled in their arms. Chakotay looked down at Kathryn and she gave him an apologetic shrug. He wrapped his arm around her shoulder and kissed the top of her head. “He was a lucky man to be loved by you and I’m sure that he knows that.”
Kathryn marvelled at his ability to know exactly the right thing to say and she took a deep breath before she answered. “I’m glad he had the good sense to move on. I’ve heard from him several times, we’ve remained friends and he’s happier with Carla than I ever could have made him.”
“Things, then, are as they are meant to be.”
She shot a sideways glance his way and her mouth curled into a good-natured smirk. “That sounds like it came out of a fortune cookie.”
“I think it was a Cracker Jack box actually – one of Tom’s ventures.”
Kathryn chuckled. “Figures.” Chakotay’s hearty laugh was just what Kathryn needed to hear and, placing her hand on his chest, her smile broadened into a delighted grin. “As much as I’d love to stay here, we’d better go.”
He nodded. “Duty calls. Computer, release Airponics doors, Chakotay, Alpha, Omega, four, seven.”
Kathryn heard the dull click of the door release. “Computer, lock onto Commander Chakotay and Captain Janeway’s combadges and transport us to the captain’s quarters.”
They materialised in the middle of her living area and after tossing all their clothes in the recycler, Kathryn took Chakotay’s hand and led him to the bathroom. They held one another as they stepped under the rays of the sonic shower and a mere five minutes later, they were donning newly replicated uniforms. As tempting as it was to stay in her quarters and explore this new intimacy, their place was on the Bridge.
However, there was one thing that needed clarification before they ventured out into the ‘real’ world again. “Chakotay?”
“There won’t ever be an appropriate time to ask this question but I need to know.”
He saved her the trouble of asking. “Seven?”
“Yes. Was it true what the Admiral told me? Are you involved?”
He shook his head. “No, not anymore. And before you ask, it was a mutual decision to end it.”
“But you implied that it was still a going concern and that I wasn’t to mention it to anyone.”
He shrugged guiltily. “I was embarrassed that you’d found out about it and not a little ashamed of allowing the situation to evolve in the first place. I also wanted to see your reaction and if you cared one way or the other.”
On any other day, she might have been angry with him for trying to manipulate her feelings but after what they’d just shared, she couldn’t bring herself to spoil the moment. Besides, hadn’t she been trying to do the same thing to him at the time?
She gave him a lopsided smile. “Well, I think we’ve effectively cleared up any misapprehensions you may have had about whether or not I care.”
He ran the back of his fingers down the side of her face before cupping her cheek and kissing her gently. “I love you, Kathryn, and I have for a very long time. The flirtation with Seven would never have amounted to anything – it couldn’t have – I don’t love her. And before you say anything, I don’t care what the Admiral told you. Being a version of you, she was a consummate tactician and knew exactly which buttons to push to get you to do what she wanted. Who really knows what happened in her timeline? The truth is that as of today, Seven and I had three dinner dates: the first in the Mess hall, a second in the Cargo bay and the third in my quarters – which was fortuitously interrupted by the Admiral’s arrival. We kissed twice and that was it.”
Chakotay’s full disclosure was necessary, but it was still hurtful to hear. “I see. Is Seven all right?”
He nodded. “Yes, she’s fine. I’m pretty sure I was part of an experiment. We were dating by the book – literally. I think it was a continuation of her holodeck research.”
He smiled and shrugged. “It’s a long story and I’ll tell you all about it one day but, before Tuvok calls again and we’re really in trouble, we should get back to the Bridge.”
Kathryn looked at him suspiciously. “Hmm, nice tactical retreat but I’m going to keep you to your word.”
Chakotay grinned knowingly. “Oh, I know you will.”
Kathryn rolled her eyes as her hand came to rest on his chest, her palm pressing firmly over his heart. “You know me well.”
“Yes, I do and, before we go, I have to ask again – and please don’t brush me off this time – are you all right?”
It was on the tip of her tongue to tell him that she was ‘fine’ but she owed him the truth. “No, not really. I’m devastated that we didn’t make it home; I could barely put one foot in front of the other yesterday and it’s going to take me some time to come to terms with the grief, not to mention the guilt, but I’ll be okay. I have to be.”
He nodded but didn’t say anything this time, content to merely wrap his arms around her and pull her into a hug, holding her tight against his chest. It was the comfort he’d offered earlier in her Ready room that she’d so summarily rejected but this time she gladly accepted. If only for a short time, she welcomed his strength and allowed him to assume a small measure of her burdens. His heartbeat thudded in her ear and its steady rhythm soothed her. She wasn’t fool enough to think that the shock of the previous day’s disaster would simply evaporate but the knowledge that she wasn’t facing this alone was enough to put some solid ground beneath her feet and set her on her way.
Together they would get their crew home and live their lives along the way. With that new mantra thrumming in time to his heartbeat, her broken heart began to heal.
She and Chakotay stepped back onto the Bridge a few minutes later.
Their simultaneous arrivals went unnoticed by everyone except Tuvok, and Kathryn could feel his gaze following her as she made her way to the chair from the turbo lift. She looked up, ready to meet the challenge of his disapproving glare. He was definitely aware of what had transpired between her and her first officer so, she waited for the expected frown. It was not forthcoming; a slow blink and barely noticeable nod were his only reactions. A smile spread across her face as she passed his station.
They had Tuvok’s blessing and that knowledge made Kathryn’s heart sing. His approval meant a great deal to her and she knew that Chakotay would be relieved as well. He and Tuvok had never been close, but their shared affection for her had bonded them over the years. They had joined forces more than once to curtail some of her more self-destructive tendencies. She owed them both so much.
She took her seat and turned to her left to meet Chakotay’s smiling eyes. He met her gaze before glancing past her shoulder towards Tuvok. She didn’t dare turn around but when Chakotay looked back, there was relief and understanding in his dark eyes. All was right within their small world.
All this transpired within a minute of their arrival and after a nod of acknowledgment to Chakotay, she got back to business and turned towards the Ops station. “Report, Ensign.”
“The vessel is still on an intercept course but they’re not within scanner range yet. It’s odd though; their energy signatures appear to be fluctuating.”
“Are they damaged?”
“I can’t be sure, Captain.”
Kathryn nodded, a frown of concentration marring her brow. “Keep a close eye on them, Harry, and let us know as soon as you have anything concrete.” She turned towards Tactical. “Mr Tuvok, it might be prudent to run through some scenarios with the off duty personnel.”
“Aye, Captain. The Beta shift is already on the holodeck running battle simulations.”
She smiled towards him. “One step ahead of me as always; thank you, Tuvok.”
“Chakotay, are all the repairs up to date?”
“Yes, Captain. We’re battle ready.”
She gave him a grim smile. “Let’s hope we don’t have to put it to the test and this is a friendly first encounter.”
He nodded and lifted his hand to demonstrate. “I’ve got my fingers crossed.”
Kathryn huffed a laugh and rolled her eyes. “Interesting tactic, Commander; be sure to add that to the battle simulations.”
He shrugged, smiling at her reaction. “Every little bit helps.”
Their conversation was interrupted by the comm.
“Seven of Nine to Captain Janeway.”
“Janeway, here. What is it, Seven?”
“Captain, I have just received a transmission from the ship on an intercept course. It is a Borg vessel.”
“What?” Kathryn pivoted to her feet and spun towards Harry. “Ensign?”
He shook his head. “Nothing, Captain. We haven’t received any transmissions.”
“It was routed to my interplexing beacon. I believe it is a vessel of freed Borg.”
“How do you know that?”
“The message was from Axum.”
Kathryn turned to look at Chakotay. “Your friend from Unimatrix Zero?”
“Yes, Captain, the same.”
“Are you certain?”
“As I can be. It was transmitted in a single burst and I was unable to reply but I can attempt to re-establish the link.”
This time Chakotay stepped forward and spoke to Kathryn. “I’m not sure that’s a good idea. We can’t monitor the transmissions. If it’s a trick we won’t know until they’re right on top of us. If there are Borg still loyal to the Queen, they’re not going to be very happy with us.”
Kathryn gave him a nod. It was a legitimate concern. “Seven, did you hear the Commander?
“Hold off until we get some clear scans and establish their status.”
There was a moment of hesitation but she complied. “What if Axum resumes transmission?”
“Contact the Bridge immediately so that we can tap into your beacon’s frequency.”
“Keep us informed, Seven, and stay wary.”
After Seven closed the link, Kathryn tapped her combadge. “Janeway to Sickbay.”
The Doctor’s answered with a brusque, “What can I do for you, Captain?”
“Doctor, Seven of Nine has been contacted by the approaching vessel via her interplexing beacon by someone purporting to be Axum. I’d like you to keep a close eye on her biosigns and be ready to transport her to Sickbay if there are any significant changes.”
“Thank you, Doctor.”
The link closed and Kathryn turned to her right. “Tuvok, it looks as though we’ll need to upgrade those battle drills.”
“I’m heading to Astrometrics. Commander.” She pointed to the turbolift indicating that he should accompany her. “Double check weapons and make sure that the ablative shielding is fully functional. Seven’s in Engineering; tell her we need to modify more torpedoes.” She mused, almost to herself, “I wouldn’t mind having that stealth technology as a backup.”
“Run it by her. I’ll meet you in Astrometrics when you’re done. Tuvok, you have the Bridge.”
Tuvok’s, “Aye, Captain.” followed them into the turbolift just as the doors were closing.
With Icheb’s assistance, Kathryn was able to increase resolution of the long-range scanners and confirm that the vessel was a Borg scout ship. What they couldn’t establish was whether it was a free Borg vessel or one hell-bent on Voyager’s destruction.
As she studied the small cube on the large screen, an unsettling foreboding began to grow in the pit of her stomach. When would it ever end? All she could think of was Aunt Martha’s irritating but annoyingly applicable homily of leaping from the frying pan into the fire. Would she have to infiltrate a Borg vessel again to release the virus? Would she survive this time? The decision wasn’t as simple or as straightforward as it had been before. There was so much more at stake and although she’d gladly make the sacrifice if it meant saving her crew, she knew she’d come up against some stiff opposition in the shape of her first officer-cum-lover and his unlikely ally, Tuvok. Despite this, her mind started to formulate tactics.
But before she had a chance to move past her re-assimilation as a viable strategy, Icheb interrupted her thoughts.
“Captain, I assumed we had seen the last of the Borg, but with their appearance in this quadrant, I would like your permission to resume a research project that may be of use.”
“Yes, Captain. I have been exploring a more efficient means of delivery for the Borg neurolytic pathogen.”
Kathryn’s interest was instantly piqued and she turned towards the young man eager to hear more. The doors opened and Chakotay entered.
“Commander, you might want to hear this.”
Chakotay took his place next to her at the console and gave Icheb an encouraging smile. “Let’s hear it, Icheb.”
The young ex-drone faced the console and brought up his research. The Astrometrics screen filled with graphs and representations of the pathogen, genetic coding and the proposed delivery system.
Icheb explained. ”After my parents’ second attempt to use me as a weapon and your experience during the Unimatrix Zero mission, I felt that there had to be a more efficient way of delivering the pathogen to the Collective other than sending individuals to be assimilated. Using Brunali genetic re-sequencing techniques, I have masked the pathogen with adaptive genetic markers. I also used Tuvok’s concept of utilising modified photon torpedoes as a delivery system and nanoprobes as a targeting mechanism. The infected nanoprobes can instantly adapt to specific Borg vessels or drones and disguise themselves as benign entities whilst they are being disseminated throughout the Collective.”
Kathryn wasn’t sure whether to be impressed or terrified. The applications for such a weapon were limitless and more than a little worrying. With a Borg vessel on fast approach, she was sorely tempted to ask Icheb to work with Seven to modify one of the torpedoes, but she resisted the temptation and took a moment to explain her misgivings to the young man.
“This is an extraordinary feat of genetic engineering, Icheb, but I have some safety concerns. Before we venture down this road, we should study the possible implications and consequences of unleashing such a weapon.”
“Understood, Captain, and I apologise for overstepping my bounds.”
She placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder, “I admire your initiative, Icheb, and I certainly understand your reasons – more so than most people. I would like to read your research when the current situation is resolved.”
He seemed happy with that compromise and nodded his agreement. “Yes, Captain. I shall forward the data to your computer in the interim.”
She gave him an encouraging smile and then turned to Chakotay. “What are your thoughts, Commander?”
“I agree, but it’s an interesting concept and if we can avoid risking lives, I’m all for it. Good work, Icheb.” After an encouraging nod towards the teenager, Chakotay pointed towards the viewscreen. “It’s definitely a Borg vessel then?”
“Yes, but it’s still just outside comm. range. What did Seven have to say?”
“The ablative shielding is fully functional and weapons are all online. She and the engineering staff are modifying four more transphasic torpedoes, but that’s all we can spare.”
“Hopefully we won’t need them. Any word on the stealth technology?”
He shook his head. “It can’t be adapted. The technology is too advanced for our power yields. Using it would knock out the warp drive, life support and weapons.”
“We’ll have to make do with what we have then.” She turned to Icheb. “Keep a close watch on the vessel and relay all information to the Bridge. Contact me if there is any change in its status.”
“And, Icheb, well done; I’ll let you know what I think of your research after I’ve had a chance to look it over.”
“Thank you, Captain.”
She gave Icheb’s arm an encouraging squeeze before turning to Chakotay. “Accompany me to the Bridge, Commander?”
“With pleasure, Captain.”
Together, they left the lab.
In the lift, Chakotay turned to her. “What do you think, Kathryn? Could it be Axum and a free Drone vessel?”
“It’s definitely a possibility; he did say he was in the Beta quadrant on a scout ship. Korok managed to take command, so the stories could line up. All the same, I want to be prepared just in case the Queen is up to her old tricks.”
“I agree.” He turned towards her before they arrived on the Bridge. “How are you holding up? There wasn’t very much time to take stock before this crisis began.”
She eyed him suspiciously. “You’re not going to become a mother hen, are you? Having Tuvok clucking around me and reading me the riot act is bad enough.”
He chuckled at her indignant look. “We love you; it goes with the territory.”
She shrugged and her face softened into a gentle smile. “I know but I’m all right. You know I’m better when I have something to keep me occupied.”
“Now there’s an interesting strategy and one I’ll be happy to use in the future.” He placed his hand over his heart and grinned broadly as he pledged, “As your loyal X.O., it will be my cherished duty to keep you so completely occupied in your off duty time that you won’t have a moment to dwell on your problems. Simple.”
She shook her head and chuckled. “I like to see a man who enjoys his work and it certainly sounds like something I can sink my teeth into.” She winked at him just as the lift doors opened and she stepped onto the Bridge.
She heard him hiss and knew that she’d left him with a suggestion that conjured up all manner of erotic fantasies. It was a cruel tease but when she glanced at his face after they’d taken their places in the central chairs, she noted that he seemed to be coping valiantly. His eyes glinted with amusement and heated promise.
The lightness and moments of abandon were what she’d been missing from her life and although this new aspect of their relationship was barely hours old, it astonished her just how much better she felt because of it.
There was no time to analyse her feelings further. A beep interrupted her musings.
“The ship is in comm. range and we’re being hailed, Captain.”
“Open a channel. On screen.”
The eery green light and darkly shadowed interior of a Borg ship flickered before a vaguely familiar drone stepped into focus. “Captain Janeway, it is good to see you again.”
“Yes, Captain, and I command this vessel. We have come to offer assistance.”
“Thank you for your offer, Axum; however, we are undamaged and not requiring assistance. We would, nevertheless, be grateful for any star charts and navigational information about this sector that you are willing to share.”
“They are yours, Captain, but the assistance I am offering is in the form of a proposal that could have you back in the Alpha Quadrant within months.”
Kathryn glanced at Chakotay. He raised his eyebrows in question. Taking a small step forward, Kathryn smiled and nodded. “That sounds very interesting, Axum. As soon as we’re within transporter range, would you like to beam over so we can discuss it?”
“Yes, thank you, Captain.” He hesitated for a moment. “Err, Captain Janeway, is Anni… Seven still with you?”
She smiled and nodded. “Indeed she is, Axum. I’ll have her meet you in the transporter room. I’m sure she will be very pleased to see you.”
He smiled. “Thank you, Captain.”
The viewscreen flickered and returned to the forward view of Beta Quadrant stars and Kathryn turned to Harry. “How much longer until they’re within range?”
“Just over an hour.”
She tapped her combadge. “Janeway to Seven of Nine.”
“Seven here, Captain.”
“We’ve made contact with the Borg scout ship and Axum. I’d like you to meet him in the Transporter room and escort him to the Briefing Room.”
Seven answered with her usual clipped, “Yes, Captain.” There was a moment of expectant silence before she added in a softer more mellow voice,“Thank you, Captain.”
Kathryn held Chakotay eyes as she answered. “You’re most welcome, Seven.”
He grinned broadly. “Who would ever have believed it?”
Kathryn shrugged and whispered. “Love is an amazing thing.” She reached across and squeezed his hand briefly before turning towards Tuvok. “Stand down the battle drills, but stay on yellow alert. If Axum knows we’re here, so could someone else less friendly.”
Harry addressed her. “Captain, I’ve been able to analyse those fluctuations I mentioned earlier. There was some minor damage to the vinculum on Axum’s ship – it probably happened when the hub was destroyed. Although they’re no longer linked to the Collective and the central plexus is non-operational, it’s likely the vessel was vulnerable to a feedback surge.”
Kathryn nodded. “Good work, Harry. Can you bring up the ship on screen?”
“I’ll just clear up the picture.”
The small vessel was about twice the size of a Federation shuttle and shaped like a miniature cube. It held a crew complement of anywhere between five and twenty drones and although Kathryn knew this one was friendly, it still sent a shiver down her spine. Looking around the Bridge, she sensed that everyone was feeling uneasy as well. Their recent close encounter hadn’t gone so well and until they met and established that Axum was indeed free of the influence of the Queen and the Collective, it would make for tense travelling.
She sat back in her seat and crossed her legs, her eyes glued to the viewscreen. Consciously stopping herself from gripping the armrests of her chair, she took a deep calming breath and forced herself to relax. They were prepared for all contingencies and there was nothing else they could do but wait. It was one of the hardest things to do.
Just over an hour later, she and Chakotay were in the Briefing Room, waiting by the viewports for Axum and Seven to arrive. They’d made contact again with the scout ship and once it had come alongside Voyager, matching her course and speed, Axum had been beamed over.
Kathryn hoped that the couple’s reunion had gone well; they would soon find out.
The door opened and Seven ushered Axum into the room. On Kathryn’s nod, the accompanying security officer took his place outside the door before she welcomed their old ally.
Extending her hand, she greeted him. “Axum, it’s a pleasure to see you again. I’d like you to meet my First Officer, Commander Chakotay.”
Chakotay shook hands with the drone. “How do you do, Axum? Welcome to Voyager.”
“Thank you, Commander; it’s a pleasure to meet you at last.”
Only ever having seen him as his non-Borg persona, it took Kathryn a moment to equate this fully-fledged drone with the man who had been the leader of the resistance in the artificial world of Unimatrix Zero. But it was definitely the same man.
He smiled. “Captain, we were pleasantly surprised to detect Voyager’s warp signature. We were aware of the destruction of the Unicomplex and transwarp hub. Our vessel suffered damage from a surge of subspace feedback but due to the fact that we are not linked to the Collective, it was only minor.”
“No one was injured, I hope.”
“No, Captain. We are completely independent of the hive; our central plexus has been off line since the destruction of Unimatrix Zero. The damage you inflicted on the Collective was catastrophic and it will take them years to rebuild. However, they are aware of your presence here in the Beta Quadrant but with the hub destroyed, you are safe from retaliation for the time being.”
She nodded. “I gathered as much but we weren’t sure of the extent of the destruction.”
“From what we could decipher it was widespread.”
Kathryn nodded and indicated that they take a seat.
They found their places around the table and she looked towards Axum. “You mentioned a proposal.”
“Yes, Captain. I don’t know if you are aware but your unexpected arrival in the Beta Quadrant occurred because the Queen, in her dying moments, diverted all the conduits leading to the Alpha Quadrant to other parts of the galaxy.”
Kathryn’s body tensed but she willed herself not to openly react to this revelation. Instead, she nodded solemnly. “We knew something had gone wrong but had no way of knowing what exactly.”
Axum nodded. “Your plan was risk averse and well considered. However, the Queen’s influence is vast and menacing and her consciousness is the most highly protected within the hive – to the extent that her entity may have been replicated as a precaution. In essence, she is impossible to kill. She will be aware of your ultimate goal of reaching Earth and I fear that we have not seen the last of her.”
Kathryn nodded solemnly. “The proverbial bad penny.” Axum frowned, obviously unsure of her meaning but the captain merely shook her head. “Thank you for the warning. If we do encounter her again, we’ll ensure we’re better prepared.”
She glanced at Chakotay for a moment, then looked back at Axum. “Now, about this proposal.”
“Yes, Captain. Although we are independent, we still retain all Borg knowledge and technological knowhow. We were extremely grateful for what you did for us in Unimatrix Zero and the risks you took on our behalf, but we never imagined we would get the chance to return the favour. I have spoken to my crew and they would like to assist you in refitting Voyager with a functional transwarp coil. It could be manufactured to your vessel’s unique specifications, fully integrated and compatible with Starfleet systems. Once installed and functional, the estimated arrival time back to Earth would be a matter of months.”
Kathryn was speechless and looked towards Chakotay and then Seven, before taming her voice and muttering, “We’ve used a transwarp coil before but with limited success.”
“I realise this, Captain, but with direct help from us, it can be built to Voyager’s specifications to act as simply another form of propulsion. With the corresponding system upgrades, the coil will create a transwarp conduit so that you will be able to navigate anywhere in the galaxy without risking Voyager’s structural integrity.”
As tempting as it was to jump at this offer, Kathryn’s recent experience urged her to be a little more circumspect. “This is a very generous offer, Axum, but I would like my Engineering staff to go over the schematics first and ascertain the plan’s viability.”
Axum seemed unfazed by her guarded approach. “I would expect nothing less, Captain. If you have no objections, we will continue to travel alongside as you do your analysis and if you have any questions, we will be on hand to answer them. I can organise simulations if that would appease your concerns.”
“Thank you, Axum, but we’ll start with the basics and then move on from there. Seven, I’ll leave you to confer with Axum on the Engineering aspects and I’d like a report within the next forty eight hours.”
“Well, I think that’s about it for now. Thank you again, Axum.”
“My pleasure, Captain. It’s the least we can do.”
Kathryn stood and everyone followed suit. “I’ll let you know what we’ve decided as soon as I can.”
“The decision is entirely yours, Captain.”
Those words triggered a seed of thought that quickly grew in Kathryn’s mind. No, this time she wouldn’t be making the decision entirely by herself. Once they had all the information and Seven’s assessment, she would release it to the crew and ask for their opinion. It wasn’t how a starship usually functioned, but considering the risks and previous experience, Kathryn was adamant that it was the right thing to do.
Kathryn watched Seven escort Axum from the room. The doors closed behind them and she turned to Chakotay.
“What do you think?”
“We’ve used a transwarp coil before so it’s not unknown territory; and to have one made specifically for Voyager…” Chakotay shrugged. “I think it’s a great idea and if we do make it home, Starfleet will be falling over themselves to get their hands on the technology. It could change the face of exploration and ship design in the Alpha Quadrant.” He gave her a quick grin and rubbed his chin. “You might be picking up that Cochrane Medal of Honour after all.”
That made Kathryn cringe. It was a little too reminiscent of recent homecoming fantasies and assuming a rosy outcome with a technology they hadn’t even approved of yet seemed like a jinx. She could explain her qualms to Chakotay but she felt foolish enough. And yet there was no guarantee that they’d install the coil in the first place; her concerns might be moot. She shrugged noncommittally. “Let’s not count our chickens, Commander.”
He instantly frowned. She should have known he would notice her unspoken hesitance.
He raised a questioning brow and waited for her to elaborate but when she didn’t, he prompted. “What is it, Kathryn? I know that tone and that look.”
She glowered at him. “I don’t have a tone or a look.”
He quirked one eyebrow and met her glare head on. “Yeah, just like I don’t have a tone or a look. What’s the problem, Kathryn?”
“This mind reading business is going to get on my nerves, I just know it.”
“If I was that good at it, we’d have been lovers years ago but we won’t go there.”
“Look, you don’t have to tell me, but if it’s going to be an issue with implementing this technology, I think we should discuss it.”
“It’s really nothing and before you give me one of your ‘non-looks’, you only have yourself to blame. Your throwaway words brought back a ridiculous thing that was on my mind prior to our previous attempt to get home.”
He frowned, obviously thinking back to what he’d said. His expression lightened and he reached across the table and took her hand. “You’d imagined our homecoming?”
She shot him a narrow-eyed glare before she pointed at him. “Yes, definitely annoying.” Turning towards the viewport, she confessed. “I conjured up an elaborate fantasy about what would happen when we arrived on Earth.”
He came up behind her and pressed gently into her back. Kathryn turned slightly and smiled up at him. His nearness was so soothing.
“I imagined that Starfleet would welcome us with open arms, be amazed at the volume of technology and information we’d gathered and hail us as heroes.”
Running his hand down her arm, he wove his fingers through hers and wrapped both their arms around her middle, holding her gently. “I don’t think that’s too far out of the realm of possibility. The only difference might be what happens to the Maquis.”
“Nothing is going to happen to the Maquis.” Her voice cracked like a whip in the quiet.
“You can’t promise that, Kathryn. There are warrants still pending for our arrest, but perhaps they’ll grant us leniency in light of what we’ve been through and our service on Voyager?”
Kathryn spun towards him and cupped his face between her hands. “Nothing will happen to the Maquis, I promise. I have a plan.”
“Are you going to tell me what it is?”
“You’ll just get angry.”
“I won’t. I don’t get angry.”
Kathryn huffed a laugh, before reaching up to kiss him. Her hands then slid down from his face to rest on his chest; she couldn’t help smiling as she shot back at him. “Of course; never angry.”
“You make me angry, but aside from that, I’m the picture of Vulcan control.”
“Don’t start dragging Tuvok – your new best friend – into this. I may not have to put my plan into action but just know that none of the Maquis are going to jail, or Tom or the Equinox survivors. I won’t let it happen.”
His eyes narrowed and he held her gaze for a long moment. “You’re going to hold all the technology hostage aren’t you? If they try to arrest us, you’ll withhold key elements of all the data we’ve collected and bargain for our release.”
Kathryn rolled her eyes. “Am I never going to be able to keep a secret from now on? Are you sure you’re not part Betazoid?”
Chakotay slowly shook his head. “No, not Betazoid, but I have known you for seven years and it’s exactly what I’d do if I were in your position.”
Kathryn shrugged. “Maybe more of the Maquis has rubbed off on me that I thought.”
His eyes sparked with a heat that had nothing to do with bargaining for his release with Starfleet. “Rubbing is good.”
Kathryn grinned and gave him a playful push before tugging her uniform jacket into place and turning towards the exit to the Bridge. “We’ve got a lot to do, Commander, before there’ll be rubbing of any sort.”
He chuckled and shook his head. “As long as it’s on the agenda.”
She shot him a wicked grin. “Oh, it is and much more.”
“Well, let’s get to work then.”
They exited the Briefing room and Kathryn turned to Chakotay. “Organise a senior staff briefing for later today. I’d like to get everyone’s input and now that I think of it, B’Elanna’s opinion might be pivotal.” He nodded and she took a few steps towards the conn. “Tom?”
“Yes, ma’am.” He spun around to face her.
“Do you think B’Elanna is up to some visitors?”
Tom nodded his head enthusiastically. “She would love it, Captain. She’s going stir crazy down there and has been prowling the ship and scaring the engineering staff just to keep busy.”
“Well, I might have something that will keep her occupied.”
“Thank you, Captain – from both of us. I’ll let her know you’re on your way.”
She smiled. “Commander, shall we pay a visit to our newest crewmember and her mother?”
With a nodded glance towards Tuvok as they passed the Tactical station, Kathryn wordlessly handed over command of the Bridge before disappearing into the turbolift.
Tom was the first to comment. “Well, it only took seven years.”
Tuvok’s gaze landed squarely on the outspoken pilot but he didn’t say anything, merely raised an eyebrow and moved from his station down to the central chair.
Emboldened by Tuvok’s silence, Tom swung around from his console and continued. “I for one, think it’s great and about time too. What do you reckon, Harry?”
Still a little wary of Tuvok’s presence, he gave Tom a warning glare but added his approval to that of his best friend. “I’m really pleased for them both. They deserve some happiness.”
“Well said, Harry.”
Tuvok spoke up at last. “I am certain the Captain and Commander would be appreciative of your vote of support but they will be even more pleased if we do not collide with the Borg scout ship on our port side.”
Tom gave him a ‘party pooper’ look and grudgingly turned back to the conn. but at the last moment, couldn’t resist a quip thrown over his shoulder. “You can’t fool us, Tuvok; you’re tickled pink. Don’t try to deny it.”
There was a moment’s heavy silence before he answered quietly. “Your comment, although wholly inapplicable, is not entirely without merit, Mr. Paris.”
Tom grinned broadly and turned again to face the Vulcan commander. “Go Tuvok; I knew you had it in you.”
Tuvok’s only reaction was the merest whisper of an exasperated smile. More than pleased with himself, Tom turned back to the helm and whistled quietly to himself.
It was a good day on the starship Voyager.
Chakotay and Kathryn stepped off the lift on deck nine and headed down the corridor towards Tom and B’Elanna’s quarters.
Keeping her eyes straight ahead, Kathryn spoke quietly. “They know, you know.”
Chakotay nodded his head. “I know. And before you ask, I didn’t say anything to anyone.”
“I don’t think we had to. We’re both suddenly smiling and skipping around on cloud nine. It’s pretty obvious.”
“I don’t skip.”
Kathryn chuckled then rolled her eyes. “Okay. Walking in manly fashion with a spring in your step then.”
He nodded as he cast a smiling sideways glance her way. “That’s better and you’re right. It’s a bit hard to miss. We’ve barely said a civil word to one another in months and all of a sudden, we’re constantly in each other’s company and no more than inches apart. It’s not too hard to figure out why.”
Kathryn shrugged. “Tuvok and the Bridge crew seem happy with the situation so there doesn’t seem much point in making it ‘official’ by saying anything; besides, as someone once told me, what happens in my private life is my own affair – or something to that effect.”
Giving him a gentle shove with her shoulder, Kathryn smiled and tapped the side of her head. “Mind like a steel trap, this one, so be careful.”
“No kidding.” He quickly glanced over his shoulder and then checked up the corridor in front of them. Before Kathryn knew what was happening, he grabbed her shoulders and pushed her up against the bulkhead. “But it’s a beautiful mind and as for the body attached…” He pressed himself against her and she could feel the heat of him through their clothing.
It was a dangerous move on Chakotay’s part and she could see the challenge in his eyes. Was she going to push him away or take part in this daring escapade? Little did he realise that after the gloomy picture of the future the Admiral had painted for her, she had made a silent promise to herself – and her elderly doppelganger – that she would never take her happiness for granted ever again. Without a word, she draped her arms around his shoulders and kissed him with every ounce of passion she owned.
She could tell that he was shocked by her enthusiastic participation, but his surprise only lasted a heartbeat more before he began returning her kiss in earnest.
As much as she was enjoying herself, Kathryn knew that they couldn’t stand there for too much longer or they would be caught by some unsuspecting crewmember. However, she couldn’t deny that the danger of discovery added to the excitement.
God, the man could kiss and as difficult as it was to pull away, Kathryn knew they had to stop. But before she could remind him that they did have certain standards to uphold, a loud cough and laugh interrupted them.
They sprang apart to find B’Elanna, with Miral in her arms, leaning against the bulkhead a little further down the corridor. She grinned and rolled her eyes. “Sheesh, get a room, you two.” She pretended to cover Miral’s eyes. “Don’t look, darling; it’s not suitable for young and impressionable minds.”
Chakotay grinned and Kathryn felt herself blush.
B’Elanna had been exposed to more than her fair share of captainly indiscretions over the last couple of days but if anyone was going to catch them behaving like randy teenagers, Kathryn was glad it was her chief engineer. At least she would understand – or at least Kathryn hoped she would.
Chakotay seemed completely unfazed. “We were just on our way to see you.”
“Yeah, I could tell.” B’Elanna met Kathryn’s eyes and smiled warmly.
Chakotay pointed to the baby. “I was talking to Miral actually.”
“Oh, very funny. Tom comm’ed to say you were on your way but when you didn’t arrive I thought I’d better come looking for you in case you’d got lost or something.” She raised her eyebrows suggestively. “I wasn’t counting on the ‘something’ being quite so X-rated, but congratulations.”
The flush on Kathryn’s face had subsided slightly, covering most of it up with a smile. “Thank you, B’Elanna. It’s all rather new.”
“Well, I’ll warn the engineering staff to keep an ear out in the Jeffries tubes. I remember what Tom and I were like when we were first together.”
Kathryn’s blush flared again and she tried to retrieve a small measure of propriety. “That won’t be necessary.”
Chakotay turned and whispered, “Speak for yourself.”
Kathryn’s bottom jaw nearly hit the deck and she gave him a warning glare but he seemed wholly underwhelmed by it.
B’Elanna laughed quietly and then turned around to head towards her quarters. “I’ve got some coffee brewing if you’re interested. If not, we can make time for later – when you’re done necking in the corridor.”
Before Chakotay could make some other inappropriate remark, Kathryn jumped in with a quick, “I’d love a cup and so would the Commander.” She turned to him with a steely glare. “Wouldn’t you?”
He nodded, his eyes glinting with love and amusement. “Oh yes, I’d love one.”
B’Elanna tossed over her shoulder. “The door’s open. When you’re done, come.”
There was a loud pregnant pause before Chakotay burst out laughing and Kathryn’s eyes opened wide.
Torn between maintaining her aloof captain’s persona or joining in the hilarity of B’Elanna’s faux pas, she stuttered, “Errr, umm…”
B’Elanna ducked her head around the corner and with an embarrassed grimace, apologised. “Ahh, sorry about that. Blame the hormones. Half-Klingon mothers of newborns are not responsible for anything they say or do… obviously.”
They caught up with her and without another word, Chakotay kissed B’Elanna’s cheek before scooping Miral from her arms and tucking the baby into the crook of his arm as if he had done it a thousand times before.
By the time they’d entered the Paris-Torres quarters, Kathryn had recovered from her embarrassment and was busy being completely charmed by the picture Chakotay painted. He looked so at home with the tiny bundle nestled in his arms as he absentmindedly dropped light kisses on the baby’s head before following B’Elanna to the table where coffee and an array of small cakes were waiting for them.
B’Elanna briefly met Kathryn’s eyes before both their gazes turned towards Chakotay. As they reconnected, a knowing smile lit B’Elanna’s face but Kathryn quickly turned away. It wasn’t very brave of her but it was difficult to watch and know that parenthood probably wouldn’t be a part of her life. It was something that she’d tried not to consciously consider, although having children was something she’d always wanted and the idea of having them with her first officer wasn’t foreign to her either.
It couldn’t have been a worse time to have the fire of maternal yearning reignited. With the possibility of compatible transwarp coils and a fast trip home looming temptingly on the horizon, the thought of a having a baby would merely complicate the decision she had to make; besides, her relationship with Chakotay was so new that it was foolish to even consider it.
Just as she was taking one last look at him with the baby in his arms, Chakotay looked up; their eyes met and it was like a being hit by a tricobalt blast. There was no doubt in her mind what Chakotay was thinking. So much for the newness of their relationship and their current circumstances; he looked ready to impregnate her right there and then. The thought sent a spear of want straight to her belly but it just wasn’t the time to contemplate such things. Taking a deep breath, she glanced one last time at the possible tableau of her future and then forced herself back to business.
If this uncontrollable spiking of emotions continued to cause problems, she was going to have to give herself and Chakotay a stern talking to. She’d had words with crewmembers for lesser breaches of protocol; she even remembered one such talking to that she’d delivered to an overly amorous B’Elanna and Tom.
However, she did slot the vision away for later. It was too delightful to erase completely from her mind.
Taking a seat next to Chakotay, Kathryn sent a grateful look B’Elanna’s way as, seemingly sensitive to her predicament, the young mother took the baby from Chakotay’s arms and placed her in the bassinette at the side of the bed. Miral fussed quietly for a moment before settling.
Kathryn was now able to concentrate on what she’d come there to do.
B’Elanna poured their coffee and started the ball rolling. “I hear that Axum is on board?”
Kathryn nodded. “Yes, he’s in command of the Free Borg scout ship and in return for what we did in Unimatrix Zero, he has offered to supply us with a transwarp coil.”
B’Elanna sat a little straighter and her eyes lit with interest. “And they’ll help us install it and iron out some of the glitches we had last time?”
“Yes. They intend to custom build one that’s exclusively compatible with Voyager’s systems but I want you – along with Seven and myself – to go over the schematics when they come through. I’d like as many eyes on this as we can manage. We need to make sure this is the right thing to do and once we’ve ironed out all the details, I’m going to address the crew and get their input.”
She felt Chakotay’s eyes on her. This was news to him, but she’d decided that she wasn’t prepared to make an executive decision again like the one she’d made about the transwarp hub, not without some real and in-depth consultation with her staff and crew. This decision would affect everyone on board Voyager; their lives will be at risk and with children on board, it wasn’t fair of her to force parents to endanger their baby’s lives. She’d spent years paying lip service to the idea of Voyager’s crew being a family and as the head of that family, it was her duty in such a situation to take everyone’s opinion into consideration – within reason.
B’Elanna nodded. “I think that’s a great idea. I know it’s not Starfleet policy but for something as momentous as this, I think it makes sense. You know, of course, that the crew would follow you anywhere if you asked them to, but this will unite them behind you like nothing else would.”
Kathryn nodded. “I’m glad you think so.”
Chakotay wasn’t so sure. “Are you certain about this, Kathryn? This is new territory for you and for the crew.”
Adamant, Kathryn turned towards him. “Chakotay, I was forced to do some deep soul searching after the last abortive attempt to get home. The guilt for that failure nearly crippled me and I can’t live through that again. I know the crew will follow my orders – I have no doubts about that – but this decision is different.
“For once, we’re not flying by the seat of our pants. We have time to consider the proposal, time to make certain that it’s the right choice. And I think I owe it to everyone on board to give them an opportunity to participate in that process. It’s not the first time we’ve done this. When we were leaving the planet where we found the 37s, we asked the crew to decide if they wanted to stay or go, remember?”
“How could I forget?”
She smiled at the memory of his heartfelt pledge of support and the wonderful sense of camaraderie she’d felt with her melded crew when the cargo bay doors opened and there was no one there wanting to stay behind. It was the beginning of their second year in the DQ and a watershed moment for Kathryn; one she’d never forgotten. With Chakotay by her side, his loyalty and support buoying her flagging spirits, she’d felt a surging confidence in their ability to find their way home. It might have been the first time she’d admitted to herself that she actually loved him.
Their eyes met in the memory but she also added. “Don’t worry. I’m not going to be putting all my decisions to the vote. Voyager isn’t a democracy just yet, but your input is gratefully accepted.”
“I’m glad to know I’ve still got a job.”
B’Elanna piped up. “If you find yourself with time on your hands and looking for something to do, your niece could do with a babysitter.”
“I’ll be here with bells on, as long as the boss doesn’t mind?”
Kathryn quirked a smile. “The ‘boss’ is fine with that. We might be able to share the experience sometime.”
“Two babysitters, even better, as long as you promise only to neck while she’s asleep. Her Daddy has some hard and fast rules about that sort of thing.”
The bizarre concept of Tom Paris actually having rules of any sort was something of a revelation and an amusing one at that. Kathryn smiled. “Okay, we’ll keep it in mind. I’d hate to be chastised by Mr Paris… it would be like a world gone mad.”
They all laughed and it woke Miral. Kathryn and Chakotay decided to make a hasty retreat before they were shanghaied into baby duty. B’Elanna walked them to the door. She spoke over Miral’s frantic cries to be fed. “As soon as Axum sends the specs, I’ll start going over them and send you a report.”
“Thank you, B’Elanna, but take your time. You have other priorities at the moment.”
She grinned. “That’s what husbands are for.”
“You can get Tom to have a look at them, too, if you like. The more the merrier.”
Miral’s cries shifted up an octave and made a quantum leap in decibels. Admitting defeat, B’Elanna waved at them both before retreating into the room as they stepped out into the corridor. The door shut, muffling the sound and within moments, the cries stopped all together.
Kathryn turned to Chakotay. “She was hungry, all right.”
“And by the sound of it, she’s inherited her mother’s abundant patience. Life is going to get very interesting for them as the years go on.”
Kathryn heaved a sigh. “We might be safely home by then, but we’ll have to wait and see.”
“I want this to work, Kathryn. I really do.”
“So do I, but I’m keeping a tight lid on my enthusiasm. No hasty decisions made on a whim this time, no matter what happens.”
“Don’t be so hard on yourself, Kathryn. There were extenuating circumstances in regard to the Admiral. No one blames you for making the choice you did. If the Queen hadn’t managed to foil our plan and we had made it home, everyone would be hailing you a hero and a genius. There’s often only a whisper between the dark and the light.”
She gave him a look. “A Cracker Jack box?”
He guffawed with laughter. “Probably. Come on, woman, let’s get you back to the Bridge where you belong before I make a bigger fool of myself.”
Without a moment’s thought, she stood on tiptoe and planted a kiss on his cheek, before looping her arm through his and tugging him towards the turbolift.
“Thank you, Chakotay. I couldn’t have done this without you.”
“Yes, you could. You’re a strong woman, Kathryn. One of the strongest I’ve ever met, but as long as you realise that you don’t have to do it on your own. There are a hundred and forty-seven people here who love you and would do anything for you. Don’t ever forget that.”
“I won’t because you’ll be here to constantly nag me about it.”
“It’s why I love my job.”
Laughing, they entered the turbolift and made their way back to the Bridge.
Axum sent the specifications and proposed schematics to Kathryn the following day and they’d spent forty-eight hours analysing, dissecting and examining in minute detail every aspect of the plan and its components. The only compromise was the time it would take to navigate the conduit. Because of Voyager’s smaller size and lower power yields, the sub space stream would be smaller and slower than in the larger Borg conduits, this however protected them from the eddies and shears that they’d encountered within those larger corridors. It boiled down to the fifty years travel at warp versus six months via transwarp. There was really no contest.
The consensus amongst the senior staff was that it would work. Borg efficiency had won the day but Kathryn was determined to go ahead with her intention of putting the proposal to the crew and inviting their opinion. She asked Chakotay to gather everyone in the Mess hall so that she could explain the proposal before putting it to a vote.
Her life had made a quantum shift in the days leading up to this. She and Chakotay had begun sharing quarters. It wasn’t a conscious decision but one that simply evolved. After leaving B’Elanna’s that afternoon, they’d returned to the Bridge and their shift continued without incident. After handover to Beta shift, they returned to Kathryn’s quarters for dinner – much like they’d done every week for most of the journey – but this time, after they’d cleaned up the table and had their last coffee and tea for the night, instead of parting ways, Chakotay had stayed. Kathryn marvelled at the subtleness of the change, it had seemed so normal and they, and the crew, had slipped into acceptance of this reality without a moment’s pause.
Life was good.
Walking along the corridor of deck two, the bank of viewports to her left, Kathryn couldn’t help remembering only a few days ago making this same trudging journey towards the Mess hall. What a difference those few days had made! She’d been in agony at the time. Her world had fallen apart and all she had to look forward to was a lifetime of grinding responsibility, heartache and loneliness. But it wasn’t to be and this time she made her way along the deck towards her destination filled with hope – solid, workable and well-considered hope. It was an empowering feeling.
Chakotay was waiting in the Mess hall with the crew. His support was important to her and she knew she had it – unconditionally – but this was something she needed to do on her own, as the captain and leader of this mismatched and extraordinary band of people.
Nearing the doors, she took a steadying breath and stepped through the opening. The ship was on autopilot and defence so that everyone could attend. As soon as they noticed her presence, the rumbling hubbub grew quiet. The entire crew looked expectantly towards her.
Someone, probably Chakotay, had positioned a small podium at the front of the hall and she stepped up onto the platform and greeted her crew. “Good evening, everyone.” Her eyes drifted over the crowd of calm if slightly curious faces. They all looked genuinely interested so she began. “You are no doubt aware that a Borg scout ship is travelling alongside Voyager and you may have seen or even met Axum here on the ship. He is a free Borg drone whom we met and befriended in Unimatrix Zero almost a year ago. He and his crew have offered us a means to return to the Alpha Quadrant. I know this comes close on the back of our other failed attempt but I’d like you to hear me out, read the information that has been forwarded to all your terminals and then let me know what you think in the form of a yes or no vote by the end of the week.”
A few people turned to look at their neighbours but no one appeared too horrified with the prospect, so Kathryn continued. “Axum and his crew have offered to construct and install a transwarp coil on Voyager. It will be a fully integrated component, built specifically to Voyager’s own specs and will not cause the power fluctuation problems we experienced with the one we used previously in the Delta Quadrant. The manufacture and installation of the coil will take somewhere between three to four months, and the trip through the conduits will take approximately six months. If we decide to go ahead with this plan, we could be home in the Alpha Quadrant well before Christmas.
“The schematics and a summary of the engineering analyses are available to peruse on the computer database. If anyone has any questions, we are all available to answer them. I want you to have plenty of time to consider this proposal; once the decision has been made it will be all hands on deck. I would appreciate it if I could have your answers by this time next week. All votes are anonymous but I want you to seriously ponder this, as we will ultimately follow the majority decision. In the meantime, we will continue on course to the Alpha Quadrant. Are there any questions so far?”
Chell tentatively raised his hand, although Ken Dalby, who was standing beside him, gave him an exasperated glare and shook his head. The Bolian cook looked chastened and began to lower his hand but Kathryn encouraged him to ask his question. “Yes, Chell. If you have a question, I’m happy to answer it, if I can.”
He cast an ‘I told you so’ look at Dalby before he stumbled through his query. “I was just wondering, Captain, only because it interferes with meal preparation and organisation, are we – the crew that is, not the senior or command staff – are we going to do this often. I mean, is it going to become a regular event, having meetings here in the Mess hall to vote on different command decisions and orders?”
Kathryn’s eyes met Chakotay’s briefly but before she could answer, Chell rambled on.
“I’m not complaining, really; I like the idea – it’s very democratic, but if it’s going to become a regular thing, I might have to re-arrange the cooking and mealtime schedule.”
She had to bite the inside of her cheek to stop herself from smiling, not just at Chell’s bumbling and incongruous enquiry but also at Ken Dalby’s face. If only she had a holocamera.
“Mr. Chell, I can assure you that this is not going to become a regular event but if you’d like me to explain the process again, I can.”
Chell looked at her expectantly but this time Dalby spoke up. “It’s okay, Captain. I’ll explain it to him.” Then he muttered under his breath. “Otherwise we could be here all night.”
Someone behind Chell gave him a firm slap on the back of the head and in an amused voice said, “Chell, you doofus.”
Everyone around them started to laugh and the light-hearted banter broke the tension. Kathryn let the laughter settle before smiling and gesturing for quiet.
“Thank you all for your time and patience. Mr. Chell’s unusual but vaguely germane query aside, does anyone else have any questions?”
There was silence and quite a few shaking heads. Kathryn was satisfied with that and nodded. “All right then. I’ll leave it with you and once the votes are tallied I’ll inform you of the outcome.”
She stepped down from the podium and nodded towards Chakotay. He moved to her side and as they headed out the door, she whispered. “How do you think that went?”
He waited for the doors to shut behind them before he answered. “It went well. I think they were a bit surprised by the concept but once they grasped what it entailed and the responsibility, they understood. Chell’s little trip into la-la land helped ease the tension. He’s a bit like a weird Neelix on steroids.”
Kathryn laughed and nodded. “He’s certainly entertaining. Speaking of steroids, I was thinking last night about Axum and his crew.”
“What about them?”
“I was wondering if we should offer them the Doctor’s services to remove some of their redundant implants. I was going to ask Seven what she thought of the idea but perhaps I should ask the Doctor if it’s a viable consideration.”
“I can’t see why it wouldn’t be. He’s had plenty of practice over the years and I can’t see the harm in suggesting it to Axum and his crew.”
“I was hoping you’d say that. I’ll head down to Engineering and talk to Seven. Could you go to Sickbay and see what the Doctor says?”
“No problem. There are eleven drones, that should be doable.”
Kathryn nodded. “I think so.” They stopped at the turbo lifts. “It’s almost end of shift; I’ll head back to the Bridge afterwards and hand over the Beta shift. Meet you back home?”
Chakotay smiled and nodded. “Sure, I’ll see you there.”
Kathryn gripped his arm and turned him towards her. “What are you grinning about?”
His smile widened. “You didn’t hear yourself, did you?”
She shook her head as she tried to think back to what she’d said.
“You said, you would meet me ‘back home’ in our quarters.” He shrugged. “I like the sound of that.”
Kathryn gave a self-conscious smile. “It’s only taken me seven years to think of it that way but I’m pretty certain it has a lot to do with your part in the equation.”
“If you’re going to say that ‘I am your home’, I’m going to know that you’ve been raiding my Cracker Jacks.”
Kathryn chuckled. “It does sound very chocolate box but it’s true. Now before I start talking about unicorns and sunshine, and you start wondering about alien possession, we’d better get to Engineering and Sickbay.”
“Oh and Chakotay.”
“I love you.”
He nodded, kissed her cheek and whispered in her ear. “I know.”
Kathryn arrived in engineering and stepped onto the hoist. She quickly rose to the upper level and made her way to where the young woman was working. “How is everything going?”
“Engineering is functioning at peak efficiency and I have begun reviewing the specifications for the proposed transwarp coil. So far, I have found no issues or problems with the proposal. Axum has done a more than adequate job of outlining the scheme.”
Kathryn’s mouth quirked at the corner. “High praise.” She glanced at Seven and tried to gauge her mood. “And how is Axum? You must be very pleased to see him again.”
Seven turned towards her, a slight smile softening her look. “I am, Captain.” She waited a heartbeat and added. “I have missed him.”
That brought a smile to Kathryn’s face. “I’m certain that he’s missed you, too. He asked about you when we first made contact.” She reached over and gently clasped the younger woman’s forearm. “I’m very happy for you, Seven.”
Seven nodded. “Thank you, Captain. I am, in turn, pleased for you and the Commander. I hope that your affiliation is as satisfying as my connection with Axum.”
Kathryn was touched by Seven’s sincerity and pleased that she seemed to have successfully re-established her relationship with her friend. “I’d like to talk to you about Axum.”
“I was wondering if he might be interested in having some of his redundant implants and biotechnologies removed.”
Seven frowned, her hands becoming still on the console. She turned towards Kathryn. “I think that he would be very interested. It is not something that we have discussed, but we are unable to resume our relationship whilst he remains a fully functioning drone.” Seven moved towards the ladder. “I shall beam over to Axum’s ship immediately and present your proposal.”
She took off in a flash and Kathryn blinked before following her. She called to Seven’s retreating figure as she stepped off the hoist on the lower level. “Just a moment, Seven. We should talk to the Doctor first.”
Seven waited impatiently for Kathryn to join her at the doorway. “I would like to inform Axum immediately.”
Kathryn wordlessly held up a finger to halt Seven and tapped her combadge. “Janeway to Chakotay.”
“Chakotay here, Captain.”
“Seven and I would like to know what the Doctor’s opinion is regarding implant removal.”
“The Doctor is preparing Sickbay as we speak.”
“Thank you, Commander.” Kathryn smiled encouragingly. “Off you go, Seven.” And watched as she strode purposefully down the corridor towards the Transporter room.
As Kathryn made her way back to her quarters, she wryly mused that as far as Seven was concerned, this Beta Quadrant detour had been a disaster draped heavily in silver lining.
The doors to her quarters opened upon her approach, which meant that Chakotay was already there. Smiling, she stepped through the opening and straight into his arms. And with each moment that passed by, wrapped securely in his embrace, she realised that the Beta Quadrant held positive aspects for her as well.
They made love right there in the lounge room of ‘their’ quarters.
Kathryn had kissed him hard and the rest was history.
As they spiralled down from yet another mind-shattering climax, she heaved a contented sigh. “Just what the doctor ordered. Speaking of which, what else did the Doctor say about the drones?”
She snuggled into his arms before reaching for a throw to drape over them. Chakotay shifted her slightly so he could kiss her and fondle her breasts as he spoke. Kathryn was enjoying his caresses but stilled his hand so she could concentrate on his report.
“He said he could remove up to ninety-five percent of each of the drone’s implants. They’ll finish up looking much like Seven and Icheb, with just a few scars and essential implants left to maintain their cybernetic systems. It should take a day or so for each drone. The Doctor is very excited about it.”
Kathryn nodded and let go of his hand so he could continue with his caresses. “Seven beamed over to speak to Axum almost before I’d finished speaking. I expect to hear back from her soon with their decision.”
“Speaking of decisions, there are already over fifty votes logged in favour of installing the transwarp coil.”
Kathryn shivered slightly. “That was quick. I’ve been too afraid to look. Are there any against?”
“I don’t know if I should be pleased or worried.”
“I wasn’t sure how you’d feel about it, but thought you’d like to know. The next couple of days will tell the story. Once we’re past eighty votes in favour, we’re on our way.”
“Well, we still have to construct the coil, install it and make sure it’s working before we can start writing our acceptance speeches, but I know what you mean.” She shook her head. “Who would ever have thought that we’d be doing this?”
He nuzzled her neck and bit her earlobe lightly before kissing her lips. He whispered against them. “What… lying naked on your lounge, making love?”
She jostled him gently and chuckled. “Yes, that’s exactly what I meant.”
He hugged her close. “Whatever we decide to do, Kathryn, we’ll be okay. I just want you to know that.”
She nodded. “I know. It’s just that my confidence was so severely shaken that I’m having a little bit of trouble seeing past the possible disasters.”
“Once the decision is made, you’ll find your chutzpah again.”
“My ‘chutzpah’? You’ve been spending far too much time with Tom Paris.”
Chakotay laughed and dove towards her breasts; Kathryn arched under his lips and hands, her arousal spiking again but before she could wriggle around into a more comfortable position, the door chimed.
It may as well have been a starter pistol. Kathryn and Chakotay bolted to their feet, grabbed their clothes and dashed into the bedroom.
Kathryn called over her shoulder, “Just a moment.”
Chakotay was the first one presentable and returned to the living area. After a quick look around for any errant or incriminating articles of clothing, he called, “Come.”
The door opened and Seven entered. “Commander, I wished to see the Captain.”
“I’m here, Seven.”
Kathryn walked out of the bedroom, wearing a pair of casual pants, a comfortable tee-shirt, her hair pulled back into a loose chignon – a picture of elegance and calm control. No one would ever have suspected that only ten minutes earlier she was howling Chakotay’s name to the universe as she came apart in his arms. She met his eyes briefly and realised that he was thinking exactly the same thing. Her eyes sparkled and she frowned slightly; a silent message to him to behave.
The young woman appeared oblivious to the silent communications passing between her commanding officers and in true, ‘Seven’ style, got straight to the point. “Captain, Axum has accepted your proposal to have his Borg implants removed. His crew are equally enthusiastic and wish to be assessed as well.”
Kathryn was pleased. “That’s wonderful news, Seven. I’ll inform the Doctor and together you can organize a schedule.”
“I will go to Sickbay immediately.”
Kathryn nodded, pleased that she was able to do this for the couple. As she walked an anxious Seven to the doorway, Chakotay retreated to the bedroom, leaving them alone. “Let the Doctor know that he has my approval to go ahead with the extractions.”
Seven nodded but hesitated for a moment. “Captain, I wish to apologise for my behaviour over the last few weeks.”
Kathryn frowned. Although she presumed Seven was talking about her liaison with Chakotay, she didn’t want to misconstrue. “Your behaviour?”
“I should have been more aware of your feelings for the Commander. I assumed that because you had refrained from initiating an intimate relationship with him over the years that your feelings for him were not of a sexual nature.” Seven glanced towards the couch and then back at her captain. “I was in error.”
Forcing herself to remain unruffled, Kathryn gave the younger woman a brief smile and wondered what had tipped her off to their recent activities. “It’s fine, Seven. There was no implicit understanding between myself and the Commander; you did nothing wrong.”
“Objectively perhaps, but if someone had usurped my position in Axum’s affections, I would have been…” She took a moment to find the appropriate word. “…devastated.” Her eyes reflected her distress and Kathryn’s heart softened.
She had to hand it to the girl, her choice of adjective was eerily accurate and although Kathryn couldn’t deny the sting of jealousy that reared its head when she thought of the unlikely pairing, it was all water under the bridge and everything had worked out better than anyone could have imagined.
Patting Seven’s arm to reassure her, Kathryn smiled. “None of that matters now. I’m just pleased for you both, and in the end it proves that your involvement was meant to be; thousands of light years couldn’t keep you apart.”
“Just as you and the Commander are a destined affiliation, Captain.”
A warm smile graced her lips as Kathryn saw her out the door. “I think you might be right, Seven, in fact, I know you are. Keep me posted on Axum’s progress.”
“Yes, Captain; I apologise for the interruption. I shall leave you and the Commander to resume your lovemaking.”
She spun on her heel and was gone before the Captain could react.
The doors closed and Kathryn snorted a laugh.
“What’s so funny?” As if on cue, Chakotay emerged from the bedroom.
Not quite knowing where to begin, Kathryn explained enigmatically, “There’s something delightfully forthright about the Borg – well, ours anyway.” She draped her arms around his shoulders and smiled.
Chakotay shrugged. “You can take the girl out of the Borg but…”
His eyes were caressing her, wandering lovingly over her face as he spoke. It fuelled Kathryn’s simmering passion; her lips claimed his and she kissed him with abandon. Breathless, she pulled back and tucked her head against his shoulder where she nipped and nibbled at the whiskered skin of his jawline while her hands roamed over his back and buttocks. “She’s happy, that’s all I care about.”
Huffing a laugh, Chakotay captured her lips in a light kiss. “Now who’s being a mother hen?”
Kathryn shrugged and pulled back a little. “I owe her at least that. I was the one who decided to liberate her from the Borg; her happiness has been my responsibility from the start. Her progress has been remarkable when you remember what she was like at the beginning. But this is a big step.” Running her hand up his chest and neck, over his cheek to weave her fingers through his hair, she met his inquisitive eyes. “I think you were fundamental in all this. Now she knows what true love is; if she hadn’t spent time with you, she would have had nothing to compare it to. And because of that, her bond with Axum is strong.”
“I was relationship litmus?”
Kathryn nodded and chuckled at his sense of the ridiculous. “In a way. Besides, we all have to experiment a little.” It was an oblique reference to Jaffen and her time on Quarra. He quirked his brow and then kissed her, not the least bit interested in discussing it, for which she was grateful.
More water under the bridge.
He kissed her again and added glibly, “See, I told you I was a research project.”
“And a very nice one, too.”
“Nice!?” His eyes narrowed a bright spark of amusement in their depths. “I’ll give you nice.” He growled as he picked her up and carried her into the bedroom.
Kathryn laughed. “Seven will be pleased that we’re following her orders.”
He nuzzled her lips as his hands stole under her shirt. “I don’t need to be ordered. Come here…”
They toppled into bed and didn’t surface until morning.
Four days later, the verdict was in.
Chakotay entered the Ready Room and Kathryn turned towards him from her place in front of the viewports. She’d been staring at the stars and contemplating the future while avoiding the results of the vote.
“Are they all in?”
Chakotay nodded. “The last vote was cast a few minutes ago.” He reached across her desk and pulled her computer console towards him, brought up the data and then looked towards her. “Did you want to read them yourself or should I just tell you?”
She took a deep breath and stepped down to the lower level. “I don’t know where my courage has gone but it’s entirely deserted me.”
He stepped back to allow her some space. “Here, have a look. You’ll feel better if you do.”
Kathryn frowned at him and his attempt at armchair psychology but after steeling herself, she turned the console so that she could read the screen. “One hundred and forty-seven, ‘for’ and zero ‘against’.
She took a shuddering breath and tears stung her eyes. The vote was unanimous, they were going to make history – again – and build and install a fully compatible Borg transwarp coil on Voyager and return to the Alpha Quadrant in a matter of months rather than years. She wasn’t sure what to say, but Chakotay came to the rescue.
“Well, if I was you, I’d get started on that speech. I wonder if you’ll have to share that Cochrane Award with the Collective.”
She huffed a laugh. “I’ll send the Queen a fruit basket.”
Chakotay grinned. “That’s the spirit.”
Kathryn rolled her eyes. “All right, that’s enough morale boosting for one morning. We’ve got work to do.”
Filled with a renewed sense of purpose, Kathryn strode onto the Bridge and called to Harry. “Open a ship wide channel, Ensign.”
“This is your captain speaking. I am delighted to inform you all that the vote was unanimous and we will be going home via our very own transwarp conduit. Thank you all for your co-operation.”
She nodded to Harry to close the channel. “It’s time to get to work, everyone.”
Her order was met with a chorus of enthusiastic, “Aye, Captains.” and what followed was a frantic three months of ship wide modifications and refits.
It was all hands on deck and Voyager became a flurry of activity
The first order of the day had been to find a safe harbour to begin the modifications. They found a small, unpopulated system well away from any shipping lanes or major planetary systems and both vessels took up a low orbit around the largest of its L class planets.
B’Elanna insisted on being involved and refused to sit on the sidelines. Although the Doctor wasn’t thrilled about it, he enlisted help from Tom, Naomi, Samantha Wildman and various volunteers to set up a flexible roster accommodating both B’Elanna and Miral’s needs. The baby could often be found in the Chief Engineer’s office, tucked under someone’s wing as they scrolled through specs and waited for B’Elanna to exit whichever Jeffries Tube she was working in at the time. Vorik had taken on legendary status amongst the crew as Miral’s favourite and the only person who could soothe her when she was peeling the duranium lining off the walls with her squawking.
With B’Elanna limited to half shifts, Kathryn picked up some of the slack while Chakotay and Tuvok kept the rest of the ship running. At times, the commanders pitched in to assist with the more labour intensive work, but for the most part, she was free to oversee and muck-in with the engineers.
While the Voyager crew were busy modifying their existing systems to accommodate the new technology, the crew of Axum’s ship were constructing the coil itself.
The modified roster was designed to meld the two crews so that each drone could have the allotted time to visit Sickbay, have their extraneous implants removed and restore their DNA.
It was all going smoothly in a way that unsettled Kathryn. But the instant that negative thought came into her mind, she cursed herself. Nothing ever went this smoothly in her seven years captaining Voyager, and that simple fact sent a shiver of trepidation trickling down her spine. As enjoyable and seemingly peaceful her life had become, she couldn’t afford to become complacent. They were still a long way from home and there were no guarantees that this would work or that the time ahead would be trouble-free.
She took a moment to remind herself that there were still dangers lurking, and they were in an entirely foreign quadrant, never mind the potential risks of using this new, unproven technology.
With this welcome seed of harsh reality planted firmly in her mind, she felt a much keener sense of balance and preparedness.
The organic reconstruction of the drones had hit a few snags but thanks to the Doctor’s ingenuity and tenacity, all eleven were now fully liberated. Axum had been one of the first treated and now looked much the same as he had in Unimatrix Zero. The only visible sign of his time with the Borg was a small external implant on his left temple, but with his now full head of hair and regular attire, he was recognisable again as the Axum of old. The transition to the young couple’s happiness was easy, so much that they had asked for assigned quarters. Kathryn had been more than happy to oblige, and afterwards, Axum became a fixture in both Engineering and Voyager’s corridors.
On day forty-seven of the refitting, the coil was completed and placed in situ in Voyager’s engine room.
However, before they began the intricate and time-consuming task of integrating the coil with Voyager’s systems, Kathryn ordered ‘tools down’ for a four-day crew R&R. They’d been working almost non-stop for nearly six weeks. People were starting to get burned out and as she rightly pointed out, it was at times like these that mistakes were made.
Kathryn was finding it increasingly difficult to drag herself out of bed and thoroughly exhausted by mid-afternoon. She figured that the weeks of unending physical work were finally catching up with her.
Now that they were on the homeward stretch of this venture, she felt they could afford to take a bit of time out and enjoy some relaxation before they moved on to the next phase of the refit.
On the first night, Tom – at her request – had organised a get together in Sandrine’s, and Kathryn invited the crew from Axum’s ship to join them. It would be the first social outing most of the liberated Borg had experienced in years.
The night was a roaring success, the guests fitting in as though they’d always been a part of Voyager’s rag tag group. It prompted Kathryn to ask Axum what his plans were once the coil was ready and Voyager and her crew were set to begin their journey towards the Alpha Quadrant.
His gaze immediately settled on Seven, standing by the pool table with other members of the engineering staff.
There was a distinct shimmer of sadness in the man’s eyes as he answered. “This question has been plaguing me since we arrived.” He turned and looked at Kathryn. “I cannot bear the thought of being separated from Annika again but so far she has refused to consider joining my crew and continuing our mission here in the Beta Quadrant. She is intensely loyal to Voyager and to you, Captain.”
Kathryn frowned and followed his gaze, watching the young woman as she chatted with the staff from engineering and stellar cartography. “I could speak to her if you’d like me to, but in the end the decision is hers to make.”
“I’m aware of that, Captain, and I wouldn’t push her into making a decision. Her Voyager family is the only one she’s ever known and she’s understandably apprehensive about leaving the safety of this known world.”
Kathryn nodded, more than aware of Seven’s qualms and fear of change, but as she looked around the room at the other drones happily interacting with the crew, she had a sudden thought. “Axum would you and your crew consider coming with us – as members of Voyager’s crew? Over the years we’ve folded many a wayward soul into our ranks and you would be most welcome. We could house your ship in the shuttle bay and quarters could be assigned; regeneration units set up in each.”
Axum blinked in surprise and cast his eyes on various members of his crew in the room. Kathryn could tell that he was now visualising things from a new perspective, that with all of them truly liberated, this latest proposal was an entirely feasible option.
Kathryn pushed her point gently. “Now that you are free of your exoskeletons and implants, your ship no longer accommodates your varying physical needs. We have everything here already established – kitchens, quarters, etcetera. I don’t want to push but the offer is there; discuss it with your crew and let me know what you think.”
Turning towards her, Axum bowed his head. “Your offer is extremely generous, Captain, thank you.”
A corner of her mouth went up in a smirk. “You might want to run it by Seven and gauge her reaction, too.”
He smiled. “Yes, she can be quite stubborn at times and is not fond of surprises.”
Kathryn chuckled at his insight. “Let me know how it goes.”
She watched him move across the room to Seven’s side. The young woman turned and beamed at him. Kathryn had a feeling that before too long they would be modifying several more crew quarters. The thought pleased her immensely. They’d made their mark on this quadrant as well; Voyager’s legacy would live on.
A familiar body pressed into her side. “You’re miles away. Home already?”
She shook her head. “Not the home you’re thinking of.” She turned to him and smiled. “I just asked Axum if he and his comrades would like to throw in their lot with Voyager and its motley crew.”
Chakotay raised his eyebrows in surprise but then nodded slowly as the idea gelled. “Now that they’re not Borg anymore, the scout ship isn’t much use to them. They only return to their ship to regenerate. I think it makes a great deal of sense.”
Kathryn gave him a wry smile. “Starfleet are going to have a fit when we turn up on the doorstep.”
“Since we’ll have working transwarp technology, that’s the least of their concerns. Hayes and Necheyev’s people will probably trample the crew – ex-Borg and all – to get to it.”
“I hope so. Not that I want the crew trampled, mind you, but I hope you’re right about Starfleet. I’ve always got my fall-back position of taking the technology hostage.”
“It’ll be fine. I just know it.”
She patted his chest and smiled. “You’re the finger crossing expert, Commander. Get to it.”
He held up both hands, each with fingers crossed. “Your wish is my command, Captain.”
Kathryn laughed but it quickly turned into a yawn.
Chakotay frowned. “Perhaps you should get some sleep. You’ve been busy nagging the rest of the crew to rest but I haven’t noticed you getting much ‘feet up’ time.”
Kathryn shrugged. “I’ll head home soon.” She nodded towards the crowd. “But for now it’s time to mingle, Commander.”
Kathryn noticed that he didn’t move far from her side for the remainder of the evening and when she yawned for the third time in as many minutes, he called it a night.
She deflected his concern but decided that she would go and see the Doctor the following day under some pretext or other. Now that she’d had time to think about it, she did feel slightly peculiar.
The following day, Axum approached her with news that his crew had jumped at the chance to join Voyager on its onward journey.
Kathryn was pleased and it took only a few moments to organise their accommodation. She left Harry in charge of bringing the scout ship aboard and overseeing the removal and reinstallation of the regeneration units in the newly assigned living quarters. He’d struck up a solid friendship with Axum and several other ex-drones and was more than happy to sort out their move to Voyager.
Later that morning, Kathryn headed to Sickbay using the excuse of reviewing the new crew’s medical reports. Once she’d had a cursory look at the files, she asked the Doctor if he wouldn’t mind running the scanner over her. She mentioned breezily that she’d been feeling a bit off-colour and with so much to do, she just wanted to make sure she wasn’t coming down with something.
He’d raised both eyebrows in disbelief and muttered something about there being a first time for everything. But at the same time, he snatched a medical tricorder from the nearby treatment table and began the scan before she could change her mind. As he finished, a slow smile spread across his features but he tamed it before snapping the instrument shut and placing it back on the table.
“Well, Doctor? Am I just overdoing it?”
“Not exactly, Captain.”
“What do you mean, not exactly?”
“What I mean is that congratulations are in order.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“You are approximately two months pregnant, Captain.”
“You are pregnant.”
“I can’t be.”
“You and the Commander are sexually active, are you not?”
“Yes, but we’re both on contraceptive boosters.”
“I think you’ll remember, Captain that you began your boosters after your initial err…encounter…. I did point out the risks at the time but you decided to ignore my recommendations. It only takes one sperm to infiltrate an ovum.”
She stared at him in disbelief. “You have got to be kidding.”
“It is basic biology, Captain.” To prove his point, the Doctor held up his hands, one clenched and the other with his index finger pointed towards it. He wriggled his index finger and moved it towards his fist until they met. “One egg, one sperm equals one baby.”
She shook her head, trying in vain to rattle the EMH’s confusing ramblings into some semblance of order. “What the hell are you talking about, Doctor?”
“Oh. You meant that you were surprised at my findings.”
“Yes!” She still wasn’t on the quite same page as the blustering EMH.
“See for yourself, Captain.”
He brought up the scans on the console and she slipped off the biobed to look at them. “This is me?”
There was no doubt about it. There, as large as life on the screen was her uterus, a small embryo within, its heart beating strongly. “Oh my God.”
Her hand automatically came to rest over her lower abdomen and she wasn’t sure if she wanted to laugh or cry. This wasn’t part of the plan. What the hell was she going to do? A million thoughts raced through her mind but she voiced her first concern. “Is it healthy?”
“As a horse… as the saying goes. And surprisingly, considering your caffeine intake and lifestyle — both of which you will have to modify, Captain.”
She frowned and snapped. “I’m perfectly capable of doing my job whilst pregnant.”
“Absolutely, but some aspects of your routine will have to be adjusted. I would like you to cut down on your coffee intake, have regular meals – I’ll program your replicator with supplements – and I want you to try to get some more rest, especially in these early months. Listen to your body, Captain; it knows what’s best for baby.”
Kathryn nodded, then looked up at the EMH. “Is that all?”
“For the moment, although I’d like you here for weekly visits and of course, if you have any concerns or problems, I am only a comm. call away.”
She nodded, still in a daze, and then turned to leave Sickbay. As she reached the doors, she muttered a cursory, “Thank you, Doctor.”
“The Commander will be over the moon.”
She turned back towards him and tried to smile but any control of her facial muscles was beyond her; she had to concentrate solely on getting her legs to move – one uncooperative foot in front of the other.
Several tentative steps down the corridor later, the initial shock had worn off and fear took hold. This couldn’t have come at a worse time. They were just about to initiate the technically complex task of integrating the new coil into Voyager’s systems and she was needed – her expertise crucial to the project.
Then it hit her like a Malon freighter – she was having a baby!
She was having Chakotay’s baby!
Momentarily weighted down by shock and surprise, the excitement and delight came thundering to the surface and she found herself almost at a run, heading towards the turbolift. She tapped her combadge, realising she had to see him this instant, if not sooner. “Janeway to Chakotay.”
“Chakotay here. Are you all right, Captain?”
She was breathless with excitement, but didn’t want him to worry. “I’m fine, Commander. Where are you at the moment?”
“In my office with Tom.”
“I need to see you… alone.”
Tom piped up in the background. “Sure thing, Captain. I was just leaving.”
There was a moment’s quiet and then Chakotay was back. “Kathryn, what is it? I can hear it in your voice – something’s wrong.”
“Not over the comm. I’ll be there in a minute.”
She hated worrying him but this was not news one could share over an open comm. link. Thirty seconds later, she came around the corner to find a very worried Chakotay standing in the open doors of his office waiting for her.
Without a word, she grabbed his arm and hauled him inside, letting the doors close behind them. She took a deep breath. “I know we’ve never talked about it, but what are your thoughts on children?”
“My views on children warrant an emergency run to my office?”
She gave him a frustrated glare. “In this instance -”
His eyes widened. “Kathryn, you’re not… are you?”
“If that missing word is ‘pregnant’ then the answer is yes.”
She counted to two before he let out the loudest ‘whoop’ she’d ever heard and hauled her into an enormous hug. Her feet were off the floor, and he was mumbling incoherently into her hair as he turned slowly on the spot. After a moment, he gently eased her back to the floor and stood back to look at her, his eyes dropping to her abdomen.
His voice was a reverent whisper. “A baby.” He looked up. “I can’t believe it. How long and how?” His brow creased into a puzzled frown. “Aren’t we both on boosters?”
“Two months along and we weren’t on boosters the first time in the Airponics bay. Can you believe it? I don’t have sex for seven years and the first time I do, I get pregnant. It’s like one of Tom’s ghastly ‘soap operas’. I’ve never heard of anything so ridiculous in my life.”
He laughed and shook his head. “We’re obviously a perfect match.”
Kathryn relaxed a little now that she’d seen his joyous reaction. Not that she’d had any doubts that he’d be happy but the shock had taken time to wear off. “So you’re pleased then?”
“Pleased doesn’t even skim the surface of what I feel.” He dragged her back into his arms and kissed her passionately before holding her face between his hands and whispering, “I love you, mother of my child.”
Kathryn smiled and eased back, looked down at her belly, her hand drifting over it to caress the small life growing inside her. “I still can’t believe it; it’s amazing.”
His hand covered hers and he looked up, smiling. “So what are the Doctor’s orders?”
“How do you know he gave me any?”
Chakotay gave her a knowing look and she rolled her eyes and surrendered. “All right. I have to cut down on my coffee, eat regular nutritious meals and take naps. Basically, the same thing he’s been telling me for the last seven years.”
“But the difference is this time you’re going to listen and follow his instructions.”
Never being one to take orders well, she was tempted to argue but this wasn’t about her anymore. This was about their baby and she would do anything to ensure its wellbeing. “Absolutely. But I still have a job to do. I’m pregnant, not an invalid, and I want you to try to remember that. You’re already bad enough with your mother henning; now you’re going to be intolerable, I just know it.”
“If I promise not to wrap you in cotton wool, will you promise me that you won’t take any unnecessary risks?”
“Deal.” Kathryn extended her hand and they shook on it.
He didn’t let go however, and hauled her back into his arms and held her. She could feel the slight shudder in his breathing and knew that he was crying. She let him have his moment knowing that these were tears of joy. Family, especially children, were revered in his culture and his betrayal by Seska all those years ago had left a bitterness that she hoped this joyous event would at last erase. When she felt the tension leave his back and shoulders, she pulled back and smiled full spread before leaning forward to kiss the tears from his cheeks.
“You are going to be the most indulgent and wonderful father imaginable. This child is going to get away with murder.”
He shrugged, and laughed. “Probably. I’ve let his mother get away with it for years.”
She lifted her hand and wiped away the last traces, then quickly kissed his lips. “Now, we’re still on R&R, so I think we both deserve an afternoon of napping and gluttony – to hell with the rations.”
“Now, you’re talking.”
Kathryn looped her arm through his, and together, they made their way back to their quarters.
If the situation had been different and their circumstances less critical, Kathryn would have kept the news of her pregnancy quiet for as long as she could. But with all at stake, she felt her senior staff needed to know. At the first briefing back, she ended the formal part of the meeting by asking them to stay.
She reached across and took Chakotay’s hand. “I’m sure you are all aware of our relationship.”
Everyone nodded; beaming smiles lit their faces. She glanced at Chakotay and curbing her smile, continued. “Well, we have some more news. It came as something of a surprise, albeit a happy one. We are expecting a baby. It is due in seven months and…”
Kathryn didn’t get a chance to finish before Tom leapt to his feet, darted around the table, pulled her out of her chair and hugged her. B’Elanna was the next in line to drag her into an embrace, followed by everyone, except Tuvok. Even Seven and Axum gave her a tentative kiss on the cheek and offered their congratulations.
Tuvok simply met her eyes with a steady gaze and extended his hand. “Captain, I offer my sincerest congratulations. I am pleased for you and the Commander.”
She smiled warmly at her old friend. “Thank you, Tuvok. That means a great deal.”
Turning to her excited and grinning senior staff, she added a proviso. “Now, just a word of warning – Chakotay, are you listening?” She gave him a telling look, then turned back to her staff. “I’m pregnant, which doesn’t mean I’ve suddenly lost my ability to think, work, open doors, lift a coffee mug, remove a relay or any other basic task I was able to perform last week before I knew I was having a baby. So I don’t want any special treatment; we still have a great deal of work to do and…” She stepped in front of Chakotay. “Despite what the Commander might tell you, I am still the Captain and my orders stand.” She glanced over her shoulder at Chakotay. “Is that understood, Commander?”
He tried unsuccessfully to hide his smile. “Aye, Captain.”
“All right then. Thank you all for your congratulations and kind good wishes. For now, I’d appreciate it if you would keep this to yourselves. The rest of the crew will know soon enough, I’m sure.” She glanced around the room at the smiling faces. “Dismissed.”
They all filed out, leaving Kathryn and Chakotay alone. She spun around and sat on the edge of the desk facing him. “That went well.”
“You’re your own worst enemy, you know. Fortunately, they’re not going to listen to a word you said and will take even greater care of you now.”
“I won’t let them.”
He grinned. “I’m sorry, my love, but you’ll have no choice.”
Her shoulders sagged, the horrible truth landing like a brick in her lap. “Damn, you’re right. There goes my free and easy lifestyle.”
“I think you’ll survive considering you don’t have a free and easy lifestyle to begin with. Just let them look after you, sweetheart. They’re going to do it whether you want it or not.”
With a resigned sigh, Kathryn accepted the inevitable truth and decided that she’d just have to make the best of it.
When they resumed work, the four days R&R had done wonders. Everyone was instilled with a new enthusiasm and those aware of Kathryn’s news were reinvigorated with purpose.
Axum and his engineers, spent several hours each day showing Kathryn and B’Elanna how to integrate the coil with Voyager’s systems. It was an extremely complex procedure, requiring delicacy and precision. For Federation scientists, the physics behind the drive had only been a theoretical possibility, but with the Borg’s acquired knowledge and a good dash of Human/Klingon ingenuity, they were able to iron out the glitches, meld the matrix into the warpcore and blend it with their bioneural circuitry and other technologies. It was an extraordinary feat of engineering and Kathryn was amazed at how quickly Axum and his cohorts had been able to articulate the inherent concepts so that their ideas merged together and worked.
She just hoped that Starfleet was ready – they were going to be presented with a steep learning curve when Axum, Seven and the rest of the ex-Borg landed at their door.
Finally, the day of reckoning had come; the drive was complete.
It had been three months to the day since Axum and his crew had made contact and offered them the transwarp technology. It seemed fitting that on that anniversary they would make their first trial jump.
They’d run through as many simulations as they could, analysed and reanalysed their findings. Everything about the coil seemed to be in tiptop shape but the only way they were going to be assured of its performance was to bring it online and open a conduit.
They’d decided to make a short jump as a test run. Although Voyager’s systems had been upgraded, the ship was outdated and battle weary, and seven years without access to Federation-based space docks for routine maintenance, led to some doubts about the integrity of Voyager’s rudimentary systems and structure. But this was what the shakedown cruise set out to prove.
Standing in the centre of the command deck, Kathryn took a deep breath and gave the order. She tried not to think of the last disastrous attempt to get home but it was difficult not to. In the past, she’d been so blithely confident and it had been her undoing, but today there was so much more at stake and the mere thought of a mishap that could endanger her baby had left her tossing and turning most of the night before.
Chakotay had tried to reassure her but it had been beyond his abilities. She knew the crew were behind her one hundred percent despite the risks, but she had an entirely new respect for the intense, protective maternal urges that Samantha and B’Elanna had to control in order to function.
Quashing those powerful feelings as best she could, Kathryn took a deep breath and turned to her right. “Status?”
Seven stood with Axum at the science station on the upper level. “The warp coil is coming on line, Captain.”
“We’re almost at critical velocity.”
“A conduit is forming.”
Kathryn nodded to indicate that she’d heard Seven.
Tom’s hands were skimming like lightning over the helm controls.
“Engage the drive, Tom.”
“Aye, Captain. Transwarp in three, two, one –” The ship shot forward into the swirling maw of the conduit. “We’ve crossed the threshold.”
Kathryn held her breath. But after about ten seconds, let it out slowly as they flew unhindered through the corridor. “Harry?”
“All systems green, Captain. Structural integrity field is stable and there’s no sign of interspatial turbulence.”
Kathryn nodded, still cautiously optimistic but not ready to celebrate just yet. They’d decided on an initial jump time of ten minutes and all too soon, Tuvok announced. “Transwarp offline in five, four, three, two, one.”
Voyager exited the conduit and seamlessly slowed to warp six without a rattle or shake. Kathryn heaved a huge sigh of relief. Taking a few steps down to the helm, she patted Tom’s shoulder. “Well done, Tom.” She tapped her combadge. “Janeway to engineering. How are things down there, B’Elanna?”
“Everything is fine, Captain, it worked like a charm.”
“Excellent.“ She stepped back onto the command deck and addressed the rest of the Bridge crew as well as those in Engineering. “We’ll look over the stats and meet in the Briefing room in an hour.”
There was a chorus of “Aye, Captains”
Kathryn looked up at Harry. “How far did it take us?”
“We travelled two light years in ten minutes. It’s slower than the slip stream drive or the Queen’s hub but it’s a significant improvement. At this rate, we’ll be back in the Alpha Quadrant in just under six months’ time.”
Kathryn nodded slowly, shocked that it all worked swimmingly despite her misgivings. “Six months.” She didn’t take her seat again but muttered a quiet, “I’ll be in my Ready Room.”
Without another word, she strode down the steps and through the doors of her sanctuary.
As the doors closed behind her, Kathryn felt her shoulders weigh her down. In six months’ time, she would be in the final days of her pregnancy; she was worried that she wouldn’t be able to captain Voyager and, even if she was able, she worried about how Starfleet would feel about the situation. Things could get more difficult. She was still just as desperate to get home as she’d always been but it was an added complication that she, and the crew, didn’t need.
Flopping onto her couch, she waited the minute or so that it would take Chakotay to follow her. The door chimed and she huffed a laugh. Right on cue. “Come.”
She turned, expecting to see her first officer but instead it was Tuvok. “Captain, I asked the Commander if I could speak to you first.”
Kathryn gestured that he take a seat beside her. “Can I offer you a tea, Tuvok?”
“No, thank you. I will only take a moment of your time.”
Kathryn nodded and waited.
Steepling his fingers in front of him, Tuvok contemplated the ground for a moment before he turned towards her. “I have been delegated to inform you that if you wish to delay our departure for several months that the crew would understand. I also wanted to reassure you that the delay would not in any way jeopardise my health in the long term.”
Kathryn’s shoulders sagged. “Oh, Tuvok, how did you know?”
His eyebrow rose a millimetre. “I think everyone is aware of your dilemma, Captain; but as their spokesperson, I was asked to convey their message and reassure you of their allegiance and understanding.”
Her crew’s kindness, as always, left her lost for words and with renewed determination, she brushed aside her concerns and smiled. “No, Tuvok. I know it’s a risk, but what baby ever comes exactly on time? We’ll stick with the schedule and what will be, will be.”
“I assumed the predictability of your decision, but if you revoke it, we will understand.”
Kathryn rested her hand gently on the older man’s arm and smiled warmly. “Thank you, Tuvok; and could you relay my thanks to the crew?”
He stood and Kathryn followed suit.
“I shall, Captain.”
Before the doors closed behind Tuvok, Chakotay entered.
She shook her head and smiled. “You’re a bunch of conspirators, but I love you.”
“So what’s the verdict?”
“We go as planned. If this baby is as stubborn as its mother is or as contrary as its father, God knows when it might decide to arrive. We’ll just have to wait and see. Besides, there are much more important considerations.”
Chakotay gave her a quick hug and kissed her. “Not for me, but coming from you, it’s the right decision.”
She nodded, pleased that he thought so. Although it was her body, he had a stake in this as well and she was relieved that he agreed.
Two days later, they opened another conduit and began their six-month journey towards Earth.
It took approximately a week before the crew began to relax into their new routines. The subspace vortex was a slightly unsettling view from the ports and due to the uncertainty of travelling uninterrupted at such monumental velocity, everyone was understandably tense.
Initially, Kathryn had been concerned about ‘cabin fever’ issues. Memories of the Void were still vivid, but the mood of the ship was completely different this time and those concerns soon abated.
The only truly relaxed members of the crew were their eleven new arrivals and of course, Seven of Nine.
However, as the weeks went by, everyone slowly adjusted to the new mode of travel and the dynamics of life aboard Voyager shifted accordingly, eventually settling into the comfortable and trouble free humdrum of everyday life.
At the three-month mark, Kathryn asked Harry and Tom to organise a ‘Halfway Home’ celebration and the crew took to the revelry with gusto.
The night was a wonderful opportunity for everyone to let their hair down and the party went on well into the early hours of the morning.
Kathryn was now six months pregnant and feeling wonderful. B’Elanna and Samantha Wildman had told her to relish the second trimester before she became enormous and everything became a cumbersome effort.
Kathryn was enjoying every minute of her pregnancy but she knew it had a lot to do with the fact that while they were in the conduit, they were safe from any dangers lurking in real space. It was what was outside those fragile walls of subspace that worried her, but for the time being it was a relatively easy life for a captain.
She and Chakotay were extremely happy. On duty, he continued to be her loyal and reliable first officer but off duty, he was even more gently considerate than before. He adored her new rounded form, and spent hours rubbing her abdomen and talking to his ‘son’. In fact, she’d jokingly complained that he spoke more to his unborn baby than he did to her. They’d been lying in bed at the time and he’d given her a slow smile and left a lingering kiss on her belly before making up for his supposed neglect by trailing kisses all over her body and taking her to heights she’d never imagined in her wildest dreams. She deemed herself a very lucky woman.
Her life was as close to perfect as she could imagine it and it was difficult to equate the unhappy woman of twelve months past with the blissfully content mother-to-be of the present. However, there was still enough of the cynical Kathryn-of-old hidden within to keep a steady hand on reality and the journey’s possible dangers.
For other members of the crew, the months within the conduit had been a time of new beginnings.
Seven and Axum’s relationship had only grown stronger and in the fourth month of their trip, they asked Kathryn to marry them.
It was cause for much celebration and Kathryn couldn’t help shedding a tear or two as they exchanged vows in front of the entire crew. It was the happiest ending she could have imagined for the once angry and frightened young woman reluctantly liberated from the Collective all those years ago. It felt very much like the end of a fairy tale.
Along with a rash of new relationships, there were two more pregnancies amongst the crew. Susan Nicoletti and Ken Dalby were due in seven months’ time, and Harry Kim and Vina Rodrigues – one of the liberated drones from Axum’s ship – were also expecting a baby, much to the delight of all concerned. This particular relationship had been something of a surprise but in another wildly bizarre, albeit joyful coincidence, Harry had known Vina from the Academy before her assimilation at Wolf 359.
When Kathryn had asked, as a concerned friend, about the relationship, he’d assured her that he was extremely happy and that he and Vina were devoted to one another. Pleased for the young man, she’d patted his back and marvelled at the strangeness of life and quirks of fate.
Smiling, he’d quoted her own words to her. “We’re Starfleet, Captain. Weird is part of the job.”
She couldn’t argue with that and watched delightedly as the pair danced at Seven and Axum’s reception.
As they neared the end of their journey, tensions began to rise. Not only were there concerns about successfully exiting the conduit but now that their return was imminent, there were apprehensions about what to expect when they arrived. Would they be welcomed without retaliation by Starfleet – a particular concern of the Maquis and Equinox survivors – and how would long estranged family and friends receive them?
No matter how one looked at it, seven years was a long time in anyone’s lifetime and many lives – in the Delta Quadrant and at home – had been changed by their prolonged absence.
The Dominion war had decimated planets throughout the sector and almost every family within Starfleet had been in some way affected by the brutal conflict. The brief monthly contacts with Earth hadn’t been enough to really measure the changes and devastation wrought by the war.
Although the Voyager crew had endured their own hardships and their homecoming was an epic accomplishment, it would also hold its share of sadness and loss.
Kathryn had her own demons to deal with and as hard as she tried to hide them from Chakotay, he was far too attuned to her moods to let her wallow alone. He reassured her and tried to keep her thoughts positive but the constant niggle of concern could not be ignored.
Axum’s prophetic words about the Queen and her obsessive quest to assimilate humanity preyed on her mind and as they moved closer to Earth, her concern increased exponentially.
A couple of weeks before the end of their journey, uncomfortable in her very pregnant body and unable to sleep, she set off to wander the corridors of Voyager, visiting the quiet sections of the ship as she tried to calm her jangled nerves. Passing Astrometrics, she decided to enter and was not surprised to find Icheb there studying star charts of the Alpha Quadrant.
He spun around at the sound of the doors. “Good evening, Captain. I hope you don’t mind, but I find this practice restful the closer we are to the end of our journey. I thought I should acquaint myself with the planetary systems of the Alpha Quadrant.”
She shook her head and smiled. “No problem, Icheb. I think that’s an excellent idea.”
He turned to the screen. “You are from Earth, are you not, Captain?”
Kathryn was leaning against one of the unmanned consoles watching him. “Yes, I am. From a place on the northern American continent called Bloomington, Indiana.”
A few taps to the console brought up a picture of her hometown; a pretty image of sweeping green fields and a large expanse of blue sky. She smiled. “Yes, that’s it.”
He nodded. “It looks pleasant. A rural community – agrarian like my home planet.”
“I’ll take you there, once we’re back on Earth.”
He turned towards her and nodded enthusiastically. “I would like that, thank you, Captain.”
Kathryn watched him carefully, concerned that mention of his home might raise uncomfortable memories of his parents and their betrayal, but he seemed fine. Remembering Seven’s initial ambivalence about returning to Earth, Kathryn wanted to make sure that Icheb wasn’t suffering the same insecurities.
“How do you feel about making Earth your home, Icheb?”
He thought for a moment. “I admit to feeling a level of trepidation but I am looking forward to meeting the families of the crew and beginning my studies at the Academy.”
“You will make an exemplary cadet, Icheb. The Academy will be lucky to have you.”
“Thank you, Captain.”
There was a slight waver in his voice. Kathryn eyed him more closely. “Is there something else troubling you, Icheb?”
He hesitated for a moment but then turned to her. “I am concerned that my association with the Collective will isolate me from my fellow cadets. Studying the database on recent Human history, I have found many references to the terror and fear evoked by the Borg and the Queen’s obsessive desire to assimilate humanity. As the only ex-drone at the Academy, I imagine I will be regarded with suspicion and distrust.”
Kathryn understood his concerns and they were valid. “I can’t guarantee that you won’t encounter ignorance and intolerance, but try to remember that narrow-mindedness and prejudice is no reflection on your character. You are a fine young man, Icheb. I couldn’t be prouder of you and what you’ve achieved; and although your fellow cadets might be a little wary at first, it won’t take them long to recognise your worth.”
He thought about that for a moment and then nodded. “Thank you, Captain. I hope so.”
Talk of the Collective and especially the Queen’s obsession with humanity had sparked to life the rumbling core of dread that constantly lurked in the back of her mind – the itch that couldn’t be scratched.
The Queen had thwarted their last attempt to reach home and Kathryn would be damned if she’d let her do the same thing again. With Axum’s words of warning still vivid in her mind, Kathryn promised herself that her contingencies would cover all bases. Seven had once scoffed at her reliance on intuition but it had kept them alive more than once; she’d since learned to trust her inner red alert.
She wondered what the rest of the senior staff would think of her strategy, but knew that it was the right thing to do. “Icheb, do you remember our talk about your new delivery system for the Borg virus?”
“Yes, Captain. You reviewed the data and deemed it workable.”
“I would like you and Tuvok to construct two torpedoes with the neurolytic pathogen warheads.”
He frowned and seemed surprised. “Are you expecting to engage the Borg again, Captain?”
“No.” She was quiet for a moment. “But it doesn’t hurt to be prepared. The Queen is insidious and vindictive, and I have a feeling that we haven’t seen the last of her.”
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” He looked up and gave her a small smile. “One of the Doctor’s favourite sayings.”
“And a most pertinent one.” She looked up again at Bloomington and then back at Icheb. “I’ll inform Tuvok and the rest of the command staff but I want to keep this on a need to know basis. It may not come to anything and we don’t want anyone worrying more than they already are.”
He nodded. “Yes, Captain.”
She patted his shoulder and turned to leave. “Thank you, Icheb. Tuvok will contact you tomorrow. Good night.”
“Good night, Captain.”
Kathryn walked slowly back to her quarters. She tried to convince herself that she was being overly cautious but that persistent voice inside her head assured her that she was doing the right thing. As Icheb had so eloquently quoted; an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
She wondered if this is what the Admiral had meant when she said she’d developed something of a knack of dealing with the Borg.
A week before their scheduled exit from the conduits, Kathryn called a crew meeting in the Mess hall.
Her baby was due any day now and B’Elanna and Samantha’s prediction had come to pass. She was enormous and as cumbersome as an Algorian mammoth. Thoroughly sick of herself, she couldn’t wait for the baby to be born but hoped he would have the good manners to wait until they were home safely in the Alpha Quadrant before making an appearance. In the meantime, she was waddling around the ship looking like a small, ungainly red and black beach ball.
She’d growled at Chakotay that morning, as she stood naked in front of the bathroom mirror. “You know, I can’t even remember what my feet look like and I’m never, do you hear me, never going to take for granted being able to bend in the middle ever again.” Turning sideways, she’d let out another mournful groan. “How can a body that’s stretched like this, ever go back to the shape it was before? Once this baby’s born, my belly’s going to look like a late stage Vidiian on a bad day.”
He’d come up behind her and wrapped his arms around her, nuzzling her neck. “You’re beautiful.”
“I am not. I’m massive – on a planetary scale. I wouldn’t be surprised to find a small moon orbiting around my middle.”
He’d laughed and reassured her. “I’ll send a photon torpedo its way.”
She smiled and turned her head sideways to kiss him, only to find him ogling her very full breasts. She rolled her eyes. “Oh, for crying out loud!”
He chuckled, cupping both mounds and pressed his groin against her bottom. “Hey, I’m just enjoying the fruits of our labour.”
“Don’t you dare speak about labour! Between the Doctor and his ‘birthing’ classes, B’Elanna and Samantha Wildman’s horror stories, not to mention Tuvok and his textbook-like recitations of the agonies of T’Pel’s various agonies, I’m thinking of leaving town for the entire event. Are you sure there isn’t a way for B’Elanna to just beam it out of me?”
Resting his hands on her shoulders, he turned her towards him and held her gently, kissing her forehead and temple as he spoke. “It will be okay. The Doctor is here, he won’t let you suffer and he’ll make sure that the baby is fine. Look at you, you were born to breed.”
Kathryn rolled her eyes again. “I know that’s supposed to make me feel better but it sounds like I’m a prized heifer. You’re having the next one, okay?”
“Whatever you say, my love.”
“I get the distinct feeling I’m being cajoled.”
She gave him a dagger-eyed look. “I’d give up while you’re ahead, but before you go, can you pick up my underwear and nightgown and throw them in the recycler? If I squat down, I might never get up again.”
He’d graciously picked up her clothes and then helped her dress. Who would have ever thought that pulling on socks could be such an ordeal?
As she tried to clamber up onto the small podium in the Mess hall, she realised that it was an impossible task and she needed help. With her equilibrium off and no counter balance, she was likely to topple forward like Tweedle Dum and that would blow any remnants of captainly dignity right out the nearest airlock. Chakotay was talking to Chell, so he wouldn’t be available for at least another ten minutes.
Harry, bless him, noticed her predicament and came to her rescue, lending her a shoulder to lean on as she made her way to the podium.
The crew came to attention but she waved them down. “At ease.” It was a heart-warming show of respect but she wanted this meeting to be as relaxed as possible; there would be time for formalities later. With a broad smile, she began. “We’re almost home; our amazing mission is coming to an end.” Her smiling eyes swept the room. “I am aware that there is concern about what to expect on our return to the Alpha Quadrant. I want to reassure you that no matter what happens, we are in this together – as we’ve always been.
“Our camaraderie and loyalty to one another has carried us through every trial and ordeal and it is that same solidarity that will carry us through this final phase of our journey. There will be bumps in the road – returning home after such a long time away will present its challenges – but I know we will prevail. Keep in contact – the senior staff will be available if any of you have concerns – and enjoy your homecoming. I couldn’t be prouder of each and every one of you.”
She took a deep breath, looked around the room at all the wonderfully familiar faces and marvelled. “We’ve been together – most of us – for over seven years and we are a family in every sense of the word. As we travel these last few light years and our time together comes to close, I want to take this rare, relaxed moment to thank you for your loyalty, courage, expertise and most of all, your humour.
“I think I said it to you once, Harry,” Looking down, she patted his shoulder. “It’s the good times we remember and this last seven years have been filled with the most wonderful memories. Thank you, my friends… my family.” It was becoming difficult to talk, a lump had formed in her throat and tears were burning in her eyes.
Coming to her rescue, Chakotay stepped out of the crowd to address them all. “Safe onward journey in whatever you choose to do. And wherever you decide to travel along life’s road, remember that we are always Voyagers.”
Kathryn stepped down from the podium just as someone from the back of the crowd called out. “Three cheers for the Captain and Commander. Hip,hip…”
The entire room joined in a round of cheers and with Chakotay’s help, Kathryn climbed back on the podium again. She swiped a tear from her cheek and smiled as she waited for the din to die down. “Thank you and I know I speak for Chakotay as well when I say it has been our honour and privilege to be your commanding officers. You have conducted yourselves with distinction and valour and your exemplary records reflect this. No crew anywhere in the history of Starfleet can hold a candle to you. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
Taking Chakotay’s hand, Kathryn stepped down again and quickly wiped another tear from her cheek. God, she was going to miss these people. Life back on Earth was still something of an unknown quantity and although she couldn’t wait to see her mother and sister again, and begin her life with Chakotay in earnest, it was going to be vastly different to what she’d become accustomed to over the last seven years.
She and Chakotay left the crew to mill about the Mess hall and talk. These get togethers had become more frequent over the last couple of months but as they’d edged closer and closer to Earth, there was a definite tone of melancholy underlying the anticipation.
Kathryn didn’t sleep the night before their planned exit from the conduits. During the previous shift, she, Axum and B’Elanna had gone over the departure procedure until her mind was a jumble of quantum stresses, energy-field stabilities and subspace compression anomalies.
In the end, she’d given up trying to sleep and, as quietly as she could, heaved herself out of bed and lumbered into the living area of her quarters. Draping a throw around her shoulders, she found a comfortable spot by the viewports and stared out the window at the churning eddies of the transwarp corridor. She tried to quell the corresponding churn in her middle but no amount of mental coaxing would quiet her concerns.
The trip through the conduits had been trouble free. There’d not been a glitch, hiccup or problem for the entire six months and the ‘sensible’ Kathryn insisted that this boded well for their triumphant return. But the ‘self-critical’ Kathryn – the one who kept up a constant chant in the back of her mind that it was all too good to be true – ate away at her peace.
She rested her hand on her belly and soothed the baby who, affected by her rising stress levels, was doing back flips, somersaults and kicking her persistently in her ribcage. The birth’s anticipation had taken a back seat to the all-important safe arrival of her ship in the Alpha Quadrant and although Chakotay had been doing his best to keep her on an even keel, she couldn’t quash the persistent dread of impending disaster.
There was no way of knowing what they’d encounter when they exited the conduits. Inside the subspace streams, they were isolated from the universe and although they’d left the horrors of the Borg and the Delta Quadrant far behind, doubt niggled at the back of her mind. Thoughts of the Borg, Species 8472 and other virulent species from the Delta Quadrant finding their way to Earth had become a constant throbbing fear.
The fear might well have been irrational but it hadn’t taken much to convince the senior staff of her concerns. They’d enthusiastically backed her plan to construct Icheb’s neurolytic pathogen torpedoes.
With their cache of weapons prepared, Kathryn felt that just about every possible contingency was covered. Nevertheless, she refused to relax until she was sitting on the veranda of the Janeway home eating caramel brownies and drinking her mother’s Arabica blend.
There was movement behind her. Regrettably, Chakotay couldn’t sleep either, and she waited for him to sit beside her. The couch dipped and he put his arms around her, pulling her back against him. “Are you okay?”
“Yes and no. I can’t wait to get home but I’ve got this awful feeling that something is going to come between us and fulfilling that dream.”
He didn’t try to convince her otherwise and for that she was grateful. Empty platitudes were no good to her; he was just as aware of the dangers as she was. Instead, he rubbed his hands over her swollen belly. “Is junior behaving himself?”
Kathryn ran her hands over the taut skin of her abdomen. “The poor little guy is as anxious as I am, I think. I just want tomorrow to be over.”
“We all do. Do you want a cup of tea or something?”
Kathryn shook her head. “Can you just sit with me?”
“Sure, lie back and rest your head here.” He shuffled back so her head was against his shoulder and he stroked her temple and cheek gently, dropping kisses in her hair as they both watched the swirling subspace stream and thought about the future.
Kathryn woke with a jolt.
Chakotay spoke quietly, as he helped her sit up. “I wish I didn’t have to wake you, but it’s 0600 and we have to get ready for work.”
“Just for an hour or two but you needed it.”
He smiled. “My pleasure.” He kissed her and nodded towards the bathroom. “You take the shower and I’ll get some breakfast. You fancy anything in particular?”
Kathryn shook her head. “I don’t think I could swallow a thing.” She felt rather than saw his look and added, “…but a piece of toast would be lovely.” She knew she wouldn’t get away with eating nothing.
She cupped his cheek and kissed him sweetly before heading towards the bathroom.
As she dressed, she tried to keep her mind on the day ahead and ignore the lower back pain that had started just after she’d climbed into the shower. She really didn’t need to be in labour for this and spoke sternly to her baby, begging him to stay put. It was her first pregnancy and, according to Tuvok and the others, her labour could go on for days, so she figured she was safe for the morning at least. She was tempted to tell Chakotay but changed her mind. He would only worry and she needed his focus to be solely on the ship and the day’s venture. Taking a deep breath, she shuffled out to the living room, socks and shoes in hand.
Kathryn and Chakotay arrived on the Bridge half an hour later. Axum and Seven were at the Science console and the rest of the Bridge crew were at their stations.
Taking her place in the centre of the command deck, Kathryn turned to Seven. “Status?”
“We are precisely at the coordinates theoretically calculated.”
This was it.
“Tuvok, take the coil offline.”
They all waited. The Vulcan’s dry voice counted down. “Transwarp offline in four, three, two, one.”
Kathryn was tempted to close her eyes but instead she braved the main viewscreen, waiting for it to clear.
She took one more step forward. “Cut warp drive and go to impulse.”
The ship exited the conduit, dropped out of warp and just as had happened in their trial jump, they seamlessly entered normal space.
It had worked.
Earth was there before them – the beautiful bright blue orb of home.
A twinge in her lower back caught her off guard and she jolted slightly and gasped.
Chakotay noticed and moved beside her. “Kathryn?”
She turned to him and smiled. “It’s okay. First things first.” She could see that he was about to argue but she placed a steady hand on his chest. “Please, Chakotay?”
He acquiesced, although grudgingly and turned to Ops. “Report, Harry.”
Beaming, Harry looked up. “We’re home. Earth is less than four hundred thousand kilometres in that direction.” He pointed towards the viewscreen. “We did it!”
Tom swung around from the conn to beam at Kathryn and Harry, and after returning the smile, she turned to Tuvok.
He gave her a small nod of approval and then turned his attention to his console.
Her gaze shifted to Seven and Axum but just as her smiling eyes met theirs, both ex-drones cried out and grabbed at their necks. Kathryn could see the bright blue spark of electrical feedback arcing from their subspace transceivers.
She reacted instantly. “Shields! Scan for Borg signatures. Chakotay, get them to Sickbay.”
Kathryn spun back to the viewscreen while Chakotay leapt over the rear railing. He knelt to check on the two collapsed drones as he called for an emergency beam out to Sickbay.”
Harry looked up. “Nothing, Captain; no Borg signatures within scanning range.” A beep interrupted him. “There’s a message coming through from the planet… on an AM band.”
“Open the channel.”
“Voyager, is that you, Voyager? Captain Janeway, please come in. This is Lieutenant Reg Barclay. Come in Voyager.”
“Mr. Barclay. What’s happening?”
“Get out of there, Captain. There are two Borg cubes cloaked on the far side of the planet. They’re waiting for you!”
Kathryn grabbed her lower back as a sharp pain shot through from her front and then down the back of her legs. She gritted her teeth and ignored it. “Tom, come about! Use the moon as cover. Tuvok, the torpedoes.”
“Commander, route the science station through to your console; I need you monitoring those cubes. Harry, scan for the subspace frequency of Seven of Nine’s interplexing beacon.”
“Use that frequency to open a channel to the cubes.”
“Borg vessels. This is Captain Kathryn Janeway of the Starship Voyager. Show yourselves and stand down.”
It was a tense ten-second wait before the two cubes emerged from behind Earth. One appeared from the East and the other, from the West. It was a terrifying sight.
The mellifluous voice of the Borg Queen filled the Bridge as the screen flickered and her green-lit, mottled face appeared. “Kathryn, I’ve been waiting for you. It is good to see you.”
“I can’t say the same. What do you want?”
“You made it home. What a shame it won’t be home anymore.”
“Stand down or we will destroy you.”
“So sure of yourself, but I don’t think so. However, I am prepared to offer a compromise.”
Kathryn’s voice was like cold steel. “I don’t compromise with Borg.”
Another stabbing pain shot through her middle and she had to stop herself from reaching out for support.
Chakotay noticed and came up behind her.
“Ah, Chakotay, the ever faithful First Officer – I learned a lot about you from the Admiral. I see you have been busy, Commander. An offspring, Kathryn, how very Human of you.” The Queen’s lip curled in distaste.
Kathryn ignored her. “What do you want?”
“I will spare your home planet but I want you, Seven of Nine and the other drones you’ve corrupted beamed to my vessel.”
“No negotiation, no diplomacy, merely ‘no’?”
“As I said, I don’t negotiate with Borg. Again, stand down or you will be destroyed.”
The cubes began advancing on Voyager, drifting away from Earth’s orbit and moving in to flank the much smaller ship. Kathryn turned to Harry and made a slicing motion with her hand.
He cut communications.
“Tuvok, when they get within two thousand kilometres, launch a transphasic torpedo at each cube followed by the nanoprobe warheads.”
The Borg vessels were menacingly close and Kathryn moved down to the helm. “Tom, as soon as the torpedoes hit, turn us hard about and go to warp. We’ll lure the cubes away from Earth and stop them from launching auto-assimilation units.”
Chakotay looked up. “They’re preparing to tractor us in. They’re trying to lock on and get a transporter beam through the ablative shielding.”
The massive vessels were almost on top of Voyager; the entire viewscreen was filled with their terrifying bulk.
Tuvok looked up and briefly met Kathryn’s eyes. “Firing torpedoes.”
Kathryn gripped the railing as she stepped back up onto the command deck.
She turned to watch the modified weapons shoot towards the vessels, and prayed that they would connect.
They hit in a bright flash of orange.
Voyager banked to starboard and shot away from Earth, heading back the way they’d come with the Borg cubes right behind them, peppering them with weapons fire.
The ship jolted but the ablative shielding held. Kathryn stopped halfway across the Bridge, a breathtaking pain gripping her middle. She muttered under her breath. “Not now, please?”
Chakotay pivoted to his feet, his worried frown deepening. “Kathryn, you have to go to Sickbay!”
“No! I’m fine. Report!”
He reluctantly sat down and checked the readouts. “Minimal damage, but they’re gaining ground.”
“Just wait.” Kathryn made it to her chair and gingerly lowered herself into the seat then leaned over to monitor the pursuing vessels on the central console. “Icheb estimated somewhere between one and five minutes before the pathogen would cause significant structural damage – significant enough to make them vulnerable to conventional weapons.”
Harry interrupted, in both wonder and anticipation, “Captain, the cubes’ electromagnetic fields are destabilising.”
Kathryn turned to Tuvok. “As soon as there’s an opening in their shields, give me photon torpedoes, full spread and phasers at maximum. Throw every damned thing we’ve got at them.”
Harry called out. “Captain, we’re being hailed – by the Queen.”
The viewscreen came to life. Her Borg Highness, hunched over and desperately clinging to a pylon, glared at Kathryn. In the background, they could see explosions and drones collapsing amidst falling debris and billowing smoke. “Janeway! What have you done?”
“Brought chaos to order.”
The Queen sneered. “Your other…That…was… what she said.”
“The Admiral?” Kathryn shrugged. “She was me, after all.”
“The Borg are not defeated. We will return.”
“Even so, I’d give up now if I were you. By the time you get back, this entire quadrant will be armed with the neurolytic agent and the ability to destroy you on sight. Crawl back to where you came from.”
They watched the Queen hiss before she crumpled, her body losing cohesion and disintegrating in front of them.
“Close the channel, Harry. Tom, back us away.”
Voyager sped away from the cubes and the viewscreen cleared just in time to see them explode.
The Bridge was silent for a long moment before Kathryn leant forward and groaned.
Chakotay leapt out of his seat and knelt in front of her. “Kathryn? Kathryn! We have to get you to Sickbay.”
She looked up from under her fall of hair and smiled. “Just give me a minute, will you?”
He nodded. Then the comm. beeped. Harry grimaced. “Captain, it’s the AM band again.”
“Put it through.”
“Voyager, are you still there? Voyager, come in.”
“Yes, Captain. Are you all right? We monitored a large explosion.”
“Two, actually. The Borg cubes have been destroyed.”
There was a long moment’s silence before Reg spoke again. “There’s someone here who would like to speak to you.”
“Kathryn Janeway, you certainly know how to make an entrance.”
“Admiral Paris, it’s good to hear your voice.”
“Is Voyager in one piece, your crew?”
“Yes, Admiral, and Earth is safe. We’d like to come home now.”
“The docking bays are open.”
“We’re on our way. Voyager out.”
Kathryn took a deep breath and closed her eyes as she rode out another contraction. Chakotay’s face was hovering close when she opened her eyes. “What?”
His look was understandably incredulous. “Can we go to Sickbay now or do you want our baby to be born on the Bridge?”
“I want to be here when we dock.” And before he could protest, she waved a hand to interrupt him, “If it will make you feel better, call the Doctor and ask him how long I have.”
Before she could finish, Chakotay was hailing Sickbay ordering the Doctor to the Bridge.
Unfazed, Kathryn continued. “Once we’re safely docked, I’ll go wherever you like. Until then, I’m making sure Species 8472 or God knows who else, aren’t lurking about ready to spoil my afternoon.”
Chakotay grumbled under his breath. “Stubborn, bull-headed, obstinate…”
While he was busy reeling off a litany of her worst character flaws, another contraction hit and she reached across to grab his arm. He grimaced as her fingers dug deep into his muscle. He wasn’t getting out of this unscathed.
The Doctor barrelled out of the lift. “My other patients are all now happily regenerating, Captain, how are you?”
“In excruciating pain.”
“Excellent. That means your cervix is opening nicely.” She looked sideways at Chakotay and rolled her eyes.
Chakotay stood and spoke in the EMH’s ear. “A little decorum, Doctor, we are still on the Bridge and this is the Captain.”
The Doctor wasn’t the least bit daunted. “At the moment, she is my patient. Captain, you are six centimetres dilated so I would estimate you have at least another few hours before your baby will be making its appearance.”
“Good.” The contraction eased and she slowly straightened. “Plenty of time. Mister Paris, best speed to space dock.”
Tom glanced worriedly at Chakotay but gave a decisive, “Aye ma’am.”
Kathryn refused to budge from her chair. She could feel Chakotay’s glare from her left and the Doctor’s concerned glances as he hovered close on her right, every few minutes aiming the medical scanner in her direction. She didn’t dare look at either of them. The contractions were coming at regular intervals of about five minutes apart but she’d been practicing her Vulcan meditation techniques and as long as she remained silent and still, she could control the pain. She knew though, that the Doctor had grossly overestimated the time she had before this determined baby would make his appearance. She just hoped that Tom wasn’t dawdling or taking the scenic route.
Thankfully, within fifteen minutes, the bright lights of McKinley Station filled the screen.
Kathryn closed her eyes and waited for the final gripping pains to subside before she took a deep breath and ordered, “Thrusters only, Tom, and take us in.”
Tom eased Voyager under the massive docking arm and they collectively held their breaths as Voyager nestled gently against the docking bay. The clamps extended automatically, the ship echoing with a hollow clunk as they took hold.
Kathryn expelled a shuddering breath. “Ten out of ten, Mister Paris and welcome home everyone.”
“Captain, Admiral Paris is hailing.”
“Put him through, Harry.”
“This is a visual message, Captain.”
“On screen then.”
The smiling face of Tom’s father, Reg Barclay and various other brass filled the screen.
Kathryn turned to Chakotay and whispered. “Help me, please.”
He immediately moved to her side, taking her arm and helping her to her feet.
The smiles of everyone on screen faded and wide-eyed looks of astonishment took their place.
“Katie?” Surprise had seen protocol fly out the window. “You’re…”
“The word is pregnant, sir. Very pregnant.”
She shot an irritated glance at Chakotay – how is it that the most intelligent men could be so easily rattled? – but he shook his head in response, his eyes narrowing warningly. It was so tempting to answer with a snide, ‘When a man and woman love one another very much…’ but she refrained from making the already strained moment worse.
She could feel another contraction slowly building so before she was overwhelmed by it, she muttered quickly. “It will all be in my report.”
She turned to Chakotay and her voice was a hiss. “I think it’s time to get to Sickbay.”
“Oh, are you sure?”
She gave him a withering look. “Sarcasm does not become you, Commander.”
Seemingly beyond words, he merely shook his head wearily.
Kathryn groaned, gripping his shoulder painfully and then gasped, “Oh no.”
They both looked down at the ever-widening puddle at their feet.
The Doctor very helpfully pointed out the obvious with undisguised glee. “Your waters have broken, Captain! We’re in the home stretch.”
Without another word, and in front of the Bridge crew and a viewscreen full of stunned Starfleet brass, Chakotay unceremoniously swept Kathryn into his arms and took off towards the turbolift. He yelled over his shoulder. “Doctor transfer yourself to Sickbay, now!”
They darted into the lift, the Doctor disappeared and all those left behind stood in shocked silence until Tuvok spoke in a calm, almost droll voice. “Admiral Paris, we await your orders.”
Owen blustered and fumbled for a good thirty seconds before he found his voice again. “She defeated the Borg while she was in labour? Is there anything that woman can’t do?”
Tuvok had let the words hang for a moment longer before answering with a succinct, “Illogical as it may seem, not that I know of, Admiral.”
Kathryn turned to Tuvok from her Sickbay bed and smiled affectionately. “Did you really say that, Tuvok?”
“Indeed I did, Captain.”
“That was very sweet.”
“’Sweet’ is an endearment that I do not embody. After adding today’s accomplishment to your long list of exceptional and at times unique achievements, I was left with no other recourse than to conclude that there is indeed nothing that you cannot do.”
She grinned happily. “There’s one thing I can’t do and that’s hold my son,” she murmured as her eyes focused on the little bundle beyond her grasp, “I can’t prise him out of his father’s arms.”
Chakotay turned towards her, a brilliant smile lighting his face. “You’ve had him for nine months; it’s my turn now.”
She nodded. “True, but he might need to be fed soon and unless you know something I don’t, you’re going to need to pass him here.”
Chuckling quietly, the besotted new father tucked his baby closer to his chest. “He’s still asleep; you’re just going to have to wait your turn.”
Sharing his joy, Kathryn beamed at him. “All right. You win.”
His eyes flashed and he spoke quietly to the baby. “I certainly did.”
Kathryn watched Chakotay as his eyes stared in wonder at the downy haired infant in his arms. Their baby was the image of his father, dark haired, honey skinned, with large eyes that would turn a warm brown as he grew.
This calm and contented Chakotay was a different man to the one who had frantically run the corridors of deck five with her in his arms. He’d been almost insane with worry. The stress of watching her struggle on the Bridge had almost been his undoing and by the time he’d laid her on the biobed, he was a quivering mess. She’d tried to calm him but another crippling contraction had hit and he’d stood there, distress clouding his features and true fear shimmering in his eyes.
The Doctor’s glib comments hadn’t helped and she’d snapped at him to “Shut up!” just before she reached for Chakotay’s hand and held it in a bone-grinding grip until the contraction passed. She’d tried to reassure him and asked the Doctor to explain that this was all normal and that she and the baby were absolutely fine. He was only appeased when she asked him to sit behind her so he could hold her through the contractions and feel him against her when the time came to push.
Relieved to have something constructive to do, he’d nestled her between his legs, her back against his chest and whispered quietly in her ear, soothing and encouraging her with words of love and looks of awe as she writhed through each subsequent contraction.
Their son entered the world one hour and seventeen minutes after they’d exited the transwarp conduit.
He was now two hours old; a perfect, healthy beautiful boy.
Admiral Paris came aboard later that afternoon and insisted on visiting Kathryn. She was still in Sickbay and he marched in carrying the biggest bouquet of yellow roses she’d ever seen. Standing at the end of her bed, partially hidden by flowers and foliage, he’d shaken his head and marvelled, “You never do anything halvsies, do you Kathryn Janeway? You’re your father’s daughter. Now where is this strapping young lad?” It was a rhetorical question; he was already peering into the small crib by her bed.
He nodded his head sagely. “He a bonny boy, Katie. Well done. Edward would be damned proud.”
His words brought tears to her eyes – happy ones. However, it also prompted the question. “I haven’t spoken to my mother yet; does she know we’re back?”
Owen looked up. “We’re keeping Voyager’s return under wraps for a few hours, just until we can get things up and running again at Starfleet. The Borg hit us with an EM pulse and knocked out all our electronics, including communications. We were lucky that Reg knew you monitored that AM band and could jury-rig a transmitter.”
“He’s a bit of a maverick, isn’t he?”
“That’s one word for it, but it saved our bacon this time. First things first though, Katie. How did you know?” He placed the flowers on the treatment table and came to stand beside her.
“How did I know what, sir?”
“That the Borg were here.”
“I didn’t. Not until Reg contacted us, but after seven years in the Delta Quadrant we’ve learned to be prepared for anything and of course, we had the neurolytic pathogen.”
“Well, thank God you did. And I know it’s all in the line and whatnot, but we owe you a huge debt of gratitude. I won’t hammer you for details yet, there’s too much for you to report in the few minutes the Doctor has allowed me to visit, but Voyager appeared out of nowhere. Care to explain?”
“We have a working transwarp coil.”
His face didn’t move for a full ten seconds. “Transwarp coil? Should I ask how you managed that… and am I going to need to sit down to hear the answer?”
She smiled and then shrugged. “I didn’t do it on my own, if that’s what you’re thinking. We had help, a great deal of help. Voyager has thirteen ex-Borg crewmembers and they’re responsible for building and integrating the drive.”
“Well, the eleven more that we encountered were already liberated. We just helped remove their implants after they made contact with us in the Beta Quadrant. That’s when they joined our crew.”
“The Beta Quadrant!?
Kathryn realized the futility of doing an off the cuff verbal debriefing without blowing her superior’s mind, “It will all be in my report.” Thankfully changing the topic, she asked, “I’m curious. Where is the fleet? We saw no Starships or vessels in orbit.”
He huffed quietly. “They’re in the Cabral Sector. We received word of a Borg invasion in the Vacca Star System and the bulk of the fleet was diverted there.”
Kathryn nodded. “Another one of the Queen’s ploys.” The baby started to fuss and Kathryn looked up at the admiral. “Would you mind passing him to me, Owen?”
“My pleasure, Katie. Come here young man.” Owen Paris gently lifted the baby from his crib and handed him to her.
She smiled, tucking the infant against her shoulder as she gently patted his bottom; he mewled for a moment, then settled. Catching Owen’s eye, she asked, “Have you met your granddaughter yet?”
He laughed proudly. “Have I?! What a pistol! And her mother!? I like that young woman already; she’ll keep the Paris men in line. Tom’s the happiest I’ve ever seen him and I couldn’t be prouder of what he’s achieved.”
“I’m pleased to hear it, Owen. We couldn’t have made it without them.”
His combadge beeped. “Excuse me, Katie. Paris here.”
“Is the Captain free? She has some more visitors.”
Owen stepped back from the bed and smiled. “Send them in.”
Kathryn looked towards the door, her eyes widening in shock as her mother and sister came into the room, escorted by a very pleased looking Chakotay.
Tears sprang into Kathryn’s eyes and she gasped, “Mom, Phoebe!”
Owen scooped the baby from Kathryn’s arms just before her mother and sister descended and enveloped her in a swamping embrace. There were tears followed by laughter, and then laughter followed by tears, before Gretchen finally pulled back and held her daughter’s face between her hands. “Katie, darling, you look a wreck.”
Kathryn sputtered and laughed. “Damn it, Mom. We’ve had a busy morning. I’ve just arrived home after seven years away, saved Earth from the Borg and given birth to your grandson… all before lunch.”
Closing her eyes, Gretchen kissed Kathryn’s brow and resting her forehead against her daughter’s, whispered. “I’m so glad you’re home.”
“Me too, Mom.”
Gretchen stepped away as Phoebe plonked herself on the end of the bed and grinned. “So what have you got planned for the afternoon? A quick coffee and then galactic domination?”
Kathryn rolled her eyes but matched her sister’s smile. Reaching for her hand, she held it tightly for a moment before letting go. It was so good to see her.
Owen handed Gretchen her grandson and Kathryn watched Chakotay’s chest puff with pride as her mother ooohed and ahhhed over the infant.
Kathryn met his eyes and held out her hand. Moving around the side of the bed, Chakotay clasped her fingers, bringing them to his mouth and kissing them. While everyone else was preoccupied with the baby, he leaned in close and spoke quietly. “How are you feeling?”
“Exhausted, wonderful. Did you do this?” She accused him of this wonderful surprise reunion.
“I had a hand in it, but Admiral Paris made it happen.”
“Thank you.” This time she kissed his fingers. “How are the rest of the crew?”
“Fine. Relieved. The encounter with the Borg seems to have put all their other concerns into perspective. At the moment, everyone’s just glad to be alive. And they’re waiting to see that young man.”
Kathryn smiled. “You’ll have to show him off later.” The reality of the morning’s narrow escape finally hit home and she frowned. “I nearly did it to them again, didn’t I?”
“No, you didn’t. The Queen did and we wouldn’t be alive if you hadn’t insisted on preparing those warheads. Remind me never to underestimate that Janeway intuition.”
At that moment, the Doctor materialised and with a couple of sharp claps of his hands, he roused everyone out of the bay. “Thank you, everyone but I have to examine my patients. You can visit the Captain and her family later in her quarters. Commander, you can stay.”
Kathryn said her goodbyes but made her mother and Phoebe promise that they’d go to her quarters and wait.
They waved from the doorway and before the Doctor could herd them out the door, declared that they’d see her there.
After the door closed, Kathryn flopped back onto the bed, exhausted but exhilarated. Chakotay was holding his son and sat on the edge of the bed while the Doctor ran the scanner over both Kathryn and baby in turn.
“We need to think of a name.”
She sat up a little and looked at her son. “I’d like use Edward as his middle name, if that’s all right.”
“Of course. Did you have anything in mind for his first name?”
Kathryn shook her head. “No, you?”
Chakotay shrugged. “No, nothing.”
The Doctor was scanning the baby and without looking up suggested, “I’ve always been partial to the name Benaren. ”
“Benaren, I like it. Where does it come from?”
“It was Kes’s father’s name. It means beloved son.” He turned away to replace the scanners on the treatment table.
Chakotay gave Kathryn a questioning look as he placed the baby in her arms. “It works. Benaren Edward Janeway.”
Kathryn pulled back the swaddling to look at her son’s face. “What do you think, little one?” Her son’s eyes opened and intently held her gaze. She smiled. “I think he likes it. Thank you, Doctor.”
The EMH looked very pleased with himself. “My pleasure, Captain.” He looked down at the baby and smiled. “Welcome Benaren.” After another satisfied harrumph, he retreated to his office leaving the new parents alone with their baby.
Kathryn sat back with a sigh. Her coffee cup clinked quietly as she placed it back on the table and, as she reached for her third caramel brownie, her eyes drifted across the familiar Indiana landscape.
Three months had passed since Voyager’s return. As hectic as those months had been, the outcomes had been well worth the trouble. The Maquis were exonerated and as a bonus, given the option of remaining in Starfleet, their ranks and privileges intact. They had all opted to stay and a few of the non-commissioned crew had signed up for officer training, all of which delighted Kathryn immeasurably.
The Equinox crew were also given the choice of remaining in Starfleet, with reduced rank. Kathryn had fought hard for them but only Marla Gilmore and Noah Lessing had decided to continue their Starfleet careers. The remaining three were honourably discharged with commendations for their service to Voyager and the Federation. Tom Paris was a free agent as well. His case was dismissed without even going to trial and like the Maquis, his rank and privileges were upheld. It was the best outcome that Kathryn could have hoped for, for all concerned.
Voyager was still at McKinley Station, under tight security as Starfleet scientists and engineers swarmed over it like ants, examining and marvelling at all its wondrous acquired technology. There was months’ worth of work ahead of them, explaining how everything worked. Starfleet had employed Seven of Nine, Axum and the other drones as consultants, which meant their immediate futures were safeguarded as well. Icheb had been accepted to the Academy and despite his concerns, his notoriety had ensured his acceptance amongst his fellow cadets. He seemed happy and relieved.
It was early days yet, but for the most part, Kathryn was pleased with the outcomes for her crew on their return.
She and Chakotay had relaxed into life in Bloomington. They were staying with her mother until they found a place of their own but no one was in any hurry for them to move on.
Benaren was thriving and with his dark hair and honey coloured skin was still the image of his father. His eyes, however, despite predictions, had lightened and were the colour of his mother’s; it was a striking combination.
The sun was setting and she could hear Chakotay singing softly to their sleeping baby as he strolled up the steps towards her from his tour around the garden. He smiled as he took a seat next to her and leaned over to kiss her sweetly.
Love lit her eyes and she smiled, “Coffee?”
He shook his head. “No thanks, but a brownie would be nice – if you’ve left me any.”
She grinned. “You’re in luck; a few minutes later and you’d have gone hungry.”
He chuckled and took a bite of the sticky, delicious square. Tucking Benaren into the crook of his arm, he took Kathryn’s hand in his and after kissing her fingers, looked out across the cornfields. “This is the life.”
Kathryn had to agree. “It’s what I dreamed of.”
“It’s a perfect dream.”
“What makes it perfect is that it’s real.”
Running his fingers down the side of her face, he smiled. “Welcome home, Kathryn.”
She took a deep breath and nodded. It had not been the journey home that she’d imagined but sometimes it was worth taking the road less travelled.