DISCLAIMER: Paramount owns `em, not me. No money earned.
NOTES: Don't be put off by the VERY SMALL part at the beginning. Deals with bereavement and the feelings that follow. Thanks for Lori for her beta work.
WARNING: Character death.
PAIRINGS: Torres/Seven, Janeway/Seven
Mmmm?" murmured Kathryn; sure her partner had said something.
"If you can't be bothered to listen, I'm sure I'm not repeating it!" said Seven indignantly from somewhere beneath the covers.
"Why, you little." began Kathryn, turning in bed, diving under the covers and attacking Seven with her fingertips, tickling the young woman mercilessly.
"Stop Kathy, oh please stop," giggled Seven.
"Will you repeat it?" demanded Kathryn, with a grin and a temporary cessation of tickles. Seven's face indicated that she wouldn't. "Nikki," warned Kathryn, flexing her fingers again, which turned out to be entirely too much for Seven who bolted into the bathroom, squealing with delight.
Still smiling, Kathryn reached for her book and propped herself up on one arm to read, listening to the aqua shower start and Seven's pure voice singing what she called her `shower song'. Had Kathryn realised it was to be her last day, she might have joined Seven in the shower, instead of waiting until the young woman had finished.
The Captain laid the will down on the table before him and pawed it gently with his fingers. `It's all just so many words really, isn't it,' he thought, sure that at any minute Kathryn (his Captain and friend) would come through the door, place her hands on her hips, tip her chin up and say, "Report!"
`Oh, Kathryn' his mind sighed, as he continued to touch the will. Slowly he was drawn, in spite of himself, into a sea of memories; a jigsaw puzzle world where all the parts fit together into one big person, Kathryn Janeway.
Clearly Chakotay was lost, his mind far from the room and its occupants. Harry, who had always looked to Captain Janeway for his strength, felt that his new Captain was letting him down badly right now - effectively leaving them all to go into a world of his own. Feeling unsupported, Harry succumbed to the tremendously hopeless emotional pain surging through him, causing him to catch his breath and fidget in his chair. "I'm sorry," he said abruptly, pushing back the chair and heading towards the window. He needed to put his back to the others in the room right now, as though by doing so they would simply disappear, and he would be alone. It worked, in part.
B'Elanna inhaled sharply at Harry's movement, and put her head up to look around for the first time since the will had begun to be read. She pushed herself away from the table a little, resting her hands on its surface with her arms at full stretch. She watched as Chakotay drew himself slowly out of his isolation and moved towards Harry, standing behind him and placing a comforting hand on his shoulder, causing B'Elanna her first weak smile of the day.
Seven was unresponsive, locked (as she was) into a coping strategy that simply would not allow feelings in at this time.
Harry remained by the window, apparently unaware of his Captain's touch and the support he was trying to convey, but suddenly he turned to face Chakotay and threw his arms around him, sobbing. The Captain, clearly needing the contact himself, hugged back hard as his eyes closed tightly in pain.
Tom Paris looked embarrassed by the various displays of emotion and (unsure of how to react) looked to his lap, choosing to be still and reflective. No one wanted to speak.
Only the Doctor was capable of viewing the people in the room with some amount of detachment, although he had experienced a strange glitch in his programme when Harry had clasped Chakotay. He could read so much about human behaviour, its emotions and reactions, and could be programmed with all the ins and outs of such behaviour, but he would never fully understand it, he knew that. He cast his eyes around the room at all the raw pain displayed both by faces and body language, and he felt deeply sorry for these caring organics.
Harry was still now, had been for a while, and Chakotay eased back, holding him out at arms length, viewing him. "You OK Harry?" he asked. Harry's eyes flicked up at him and then down as he nodded that he was, receiving a pat as Chakotay let go of him and watched the young Ensign return to his seat.
The re-seating of the Captain in the main Conference Room seat brought everyone back to the business at hand and all eyes turned expectantly to Chakotay. He, in turn, looked at the paperwork before him. "I have here three envelopes. Kathryn left one for Seven," he said as he handed one in her direction which was passed along by the others; "one for Tuvok," he said, passing that one to his Security Officer, "and one for B'Elanna," he said, passing the third envelope to the woman by his side.
On receipt of it, Seven looked down at her letter and stared at Kathryn's handwriting: "Seven of Nine -To be opened only in the event of my death." Seven's long slim fingers pored the writing very gently as if, by doing so, she could gain some contact, some connection with the woman she loved so much, the woman who was now gone, then she looked up at Chakotay, flinching at the fact that he was sitting where Kathryn should be, and nodded.
No one looked at Seven directly, but everyone was aware of the ashen face and red-rimmed eyes, and her back - so straight and so stiff. It would be the last they would see of her for four days, as she would choose to face her grief alone.
"There is a communal message which will be played in the Mess Hall tonight, beginning with the first at 19.00 hours, and then the recording will run every 20 minutes until the entire crew have seen it. Before that, there will be a Command Staff message at 18.00 on the Bridge. Well, that's it," concluded Chakotay sadly. "It's all been said, it's all been done. All that's left now is to continue on in the way Kathryn would have wanted."
Chakotay paused, needing to say something but unsure how to proceed without offending anyone. He raised his right fist to his mouth and coughed politely, then he said, "I know some of you have had your qualms about me taking over as Captain of this vessel: a Starfleet vessel. I want to assure you all now that I shall give this voyage no less commitment than Kathryn did, and strive no less than she did to get this crew home and, rest assured, I shall adhere to Starfleet principles at all times."
The Captain looked around the room at the faces, saddened by the events of this week, but in some eyes there was something else - disbelief that he was the right person for the job. "I will be in my Ready Room for the next two hours," he offered, "familiarising myself with things: anyone who wants to talk to me face to face about any doubts they may have is welcome to come and find me there. Dismissed."
The Senior Staff slowly pushed back their chairs and got to their feet. Tuvok looked at Seven and placed a hand of support on her arm. It was the wrong thing to do as it happened, as the young woman broke down, much to the surprise of everyone present, and bolted from the room, running full pelt along the corridor, heading to the quarters she had shared with Kathryn.
B'Elanna stood in Engineering, reflecting the earlier events of the day. Voyager resembled a boat without a rudder with Kathryn now gone, she thought, and though she knew that Chakotay would provide the necessary steerage for this ship, she also knew there would have to be a transition period. She had been staring at the letter in her hands for some time but was unable to bring herself to open it.
"How dare you, Kathryn," she said under her breath, "you were the Captain, damn it, and my friend: didn't that mean anything to you?" she asked, unfairly. "How dare you leave us." She snorted at the letter and threw it to one side. "I'm too mad with you right now, you'll have to wait."
It was late in the evening; Tuvok sat in his quarters, just as he had sat a hundred times before, his fingers interlaced before him in their intricate positions as he meditated. Or at least that was what he was trying to do. As yesterday, he was interrupted by a tear in his eye and a clouded mind which would not still. No matter what he tried to think about instead, it always came back to the same thing: "I am the Security Officer. You would still be alive, Kathryn, if I had done my job properly."
Tuvok could hear her voice: "Tuvok, old friend, you've nothing to reproach yourself for. You were not to blame."
"Then why is it that I feel so bad?" he asked silently and tried again to concentrate. And once again he replayed the fatal day in his head, to his heart's obvious distress.
"It's an M-class planet, Captain. Suitable terrain and atmosphere. The ion storm, however, is increasing. I estimate the area will become unavailable to us within the next 40 minutes."
"Then we need to move fast," replied Janeway from the Bridge to Seven in Astrometrics. "I want you as part of the Away Team, report to Transporter Room 2 immediately. Janeway out."
"It's coming from a small area in the tree belt, just outside the ion storm," Harry said, looking up from his console and speaking urgently, knowing the time restriction.
"I wish we'd had visuals with that distress call," stated Janeway to the Bridge in general, sliding her thumb and fingers down her jawline, "We don't know what we're going into, and the call hasn't given us the `why' either."
The Captain waved one hand towards the Ensign. "See if you can clean it up a little, Harry. Can we get anything from the extraneous noises, to give us any idea of what we might find?"
"It's already been tried, Captain. All we have here is the repeated message."
Janeway couldn't resist. Although the tension was building, her love of fun was always near the surface these days. "Well then, play it again, Sam!" she asked of a bemused Harry. Chakotay turned to look at her with a smile, thinking as he did so that Seven was good for her, very good.
Grinning, Harry played his hands over the console, and the message sparked into life:
"To any vessel within range. Please come to our assistance. We need help. To any vessel."
Janeway frowned and turned to her First Officer, "We'll just have to go in blind, and be ready for all possibilities. Commander, you have the Bridge." She nodded at Chakotay and then turned: "Tuvok, you're with me," she said, moving briskly towards the lift.
B'Elanna entered Transporter Room 2. She nodded curtly, acknowledging Seven who, in turn, raised her head proudly towards the Chief Engineer's direction, with the slightest of acknowledgements.
`The girl is all manners,' thought B'Elanna, as the door opened once more and Tuvok, Janeway, Lancing and Stanton entered, armed to the hilt and carrying extra weapons, which were handed out to the officers they had just joined.
`We are expecting trouble if Lancing and Stanton are with us', mused B'Elanna. The two security officers were some of the best fighting men she had ever seen. Taking up their positions on the Transporter pad (with each person facing outward, weapon in hand) the six officers shimmered temporarily and beautifully out of existence, on their journey to the planet below.
Although it was always a very real threat on any away mission, no one was prepared for what happened next. It came out of nowhere, shocking everyone. As the six officers materialised on the planet's surface, golden streaks were cutting through the air all around them from the weapons fire. They knew they must duck to aid their survival, must hit the ground and slither along out of harm's way. At least, that was the plan, but it all happened too quickly.
As the officers started to move, the Captain instinctively put her body between the weapons fire and Seven. Almost immediately, she let out a heavy sigh and slumped towards the ground and was caught in mid fall by Tuvok who hit his combadge and shouted, "Emergency beam out, now!" before receiving a mild flesh wound on his temple. Seven saw the limp body of her partner hanging from one of Tuvok's arms and began a long drawn out "Nooooo".
Just before the Transporter sparkles broke down their molecular patterns, making them impervious to further injury, B'Elanna shrieked as she was hit on her left shoulder and Lancing fell to the ground, clutching his lower right leg.
The acrid smell of burnt flesh and singed material was strong as the officers materialised in Transporter Room 1. "Redirect to Sick Bay!" shouted Tuvok to the operator, altering his grip to hold his Captain more securely. Almost immediately, the Transporter Room disappeared from their view and they were standing in Sickbay.
Tom and the Doctor had been furthering Tom's medical training in Sickbay when the call came through, and they now stood staring as the bodies of the stricken officers materialised.
"What happened?" asked the Doctor moving forward at speed to help Tuvok lay the Captain on a waiting bio-bed. With infinite care, the Doctor positioned the limp body and then tapped his controls, causing the diagnostic arc to close over her. A few seconds of analysing the readings caused him to give urgent orders to Tom to leave tending to B'Elanna's shoulder and bring the injection that may re-start the Captain's heart. The order didn't mean anything to the others in the room as no one but Tom knew what the drug was for, but the speed at which Tom ran across the room had everyone's attention.
"Oh, my God," said B'Elanna, realising the extreme urgency of the situation. She had thought the Captain injured but not.
The Doctor and Tom worked with dedication, long after it was obvious their charge was dead, until the EMH finally had to admit that the situation had been impossible from the start - the body had been too badly damaged to ever live again.
Seven had taken up a position on the floor, with her back against a wall, over the other side of Sickbay. Being low down, she was almost out of sight as she sat, watching with horror, as a pantomime of frantic movement ensued to attempt to bring her love back from the dead. They would fail, Seven knew. Somehow she felt Kathryn telling her she was gone, not in words, but she knew. And all she could do was stare in horror at the scene being played out before her.
B'Elanna climbed off the bed where she had been receiving her treatment and moved past Lancing in slow motion towards her friend, her Captain. "Kathryn?" she called in disbelief, not wanting to fully understand the look on the Doctor's face as his mouth dropped slightly. He touched a control releasing the arc and it moved back down into the base of the bed, and then he stood back. B'Elanna reached the still body and looked down at it, gulping air in a single quick snatch of breath and then letting it out as a clipped "ah."
The activity had ceased entirely now and everyone looked on as B'Elanna stroked an unresponsive head of hair. "Kathryn?" she prompted again, not willing to believe what her brain was telling her was true. Suddenly she let the truth in and screamed, "No!" throwing herself half over the body and holding on, crying and gently pulling at it to help her friend stand up. If she could just get her to stand up, everything would be all right. "Come on, Kathryn, come on. You're all right. Come on, please."
As Seven wasn't one of the people standing around this tragedy she was overlooked as the Doctor approached B'Elanna, gently steering her away from Kathryn's body and back to a bio-bed. "Tom," he called, "treat her shoulder, please. Tom!"
Tom Paris stood staring down at the woman who had given him a new lease of life and a new pride in himself. He didn't hear the Doctor at first. All he could hear was his own inner self screaming, "No. Come on Kathryn. Stop this, now." He snapped out of it when the EMH touched his arm and then led him to B'Elanna.
Tuvok stood next to Stanton, staring down at Kathryn. He knew his Captain had died on the planet's surface - it was instinct: he'd known it when she was hit, he knew it in the Transporter Room, and he knew it now. Even so he turned to the Doctor and asked, with great deliberateness, "Can you do nothing more?" He already knew what the Doctor's response would be.
Pain touched the Vulcan's eyes as moved to Kathryn's body and gently stroked his friend's head, smoothing her hair. His hand stilled over her forehead, willing her eyes to open and a twinkle to come into them as she said, "Had you fooled there, Tuvok, huh?"
He stared at her for a long time, and then drew close to her ear and quoted Ambassador Spock's long famous words: "I have been and ever shall be your friend." Surprising everyone present, the Commander then gave a touching display of raw emotion as he leaned over and kissed Kathryn's cheek, a tear dropping onto her cheek and, giving her one last look, he moved towards the door.
"Mr. Tuvok, your shoulder."
"I am not badly damaged, Doctor. Later," he replied and then left, too much in emotional pain to wonder where Seven was, or even think about trying to comfort her.
Seven watched him leave from her position on the floor, and then she turned her gaze back to Kathryn's body. Slowly, so slowly she got up and became visible to the others in the room who, strangely, showed no surprise at her sudden appearance and stood back for her as she made her way to her love. She collected a chair on the way and pushed it alongside the bed, sitting down and taking Kathryn's limp hand in hers.
No one disturbed Seven for at least three hours. Stanton, uninjured, left first; Lancing and B'Elanna were treated and then left, Tom with them, the Doctor went into his office, and still Seven sat, staring at Kathryn's face. No one knew what she was thinking. No one approached her to ask. She simply sat and stared.
B'Elanna couldn't settle. She'd moved from the bedroom to the bathroom, to the lounge, to the kitchen area and back again to the bedroom. Each time she had passed Kathryn's letter she had been overwhelmed by her reluctance to read whatever lay within; she didn't know if she could handle the emotions. However, she reasoned, this situation would not go away, unless she did something stupid like re- cycling the letter - and then she would never know what her friend had said to her.
She stopped pacing and turned to look at it, that letter sitting so innocently on the table by the couch. `Oh Kathryn,' she whispered as she moved towards it and scooped it up, going into the bedroom to read it. `I'm still mad with you,' she confided as she kicked off her boots and settled on top of the bedding, having piled the pillows up together to prop her head up comfortably.
Taking a deep breath, she pushed her thumb under the loose part at the side of the flap, and broke it open, taking out a few neatly folded pages. Looking all around the bedroom before she finally opened out the pages, she then looked down.
The letterhead was Starfleet Command. `You really didn't expect to be catapulted out here, did you?' she commented in her head. It was undated, although she supposed Kathryn must have continually updated the letters to remain current. Having gone all around the houses, B'Elanna steeled herself to read the rest.
"My dear B'Elanna,
"Nobody writes anymore. Have you noticed that? It's so easy to pick up a padd - but it isn't personal, is it? I wanted this to be a personal thing, from me to you.
"It's strange you know, writing this, because it means, if you're reading it, that I'll have passed away, probably in the line of duty. I suppose I'm hoping that I'm just sitting here writing to myself, and that you never will read it! But, just in case.
"When I first laid eyes on you, my friend, I thought to myself, `I can't work with this! This woman can't be trained - she's a hothead.' I had endless rows with Chakotay over you, you know. Endless rows - the poor man. I argued hard that you were some devil seed and I didn't want you growing in my garden.
"Well, I'm not above admitting I was wrong. Just look at you! You've bloomed - both as an Engineer and as a person, and you've become the most valuable of all things to me: you've become a friend. Whenever I need counsel, you're there. Whenever I need someone who isn't scared to tell me when I'm wrong, you're there. Throughout all these years, sweetheart, you've been there. And you've never let me down - the best friend a woman could ever have; the best Engineer a Captain could ever have. And I thank you, because all that you are has so enriched my life.
"B'Elanna, may I ask one last thing of you? It would mean so very much to me. You know I mean Seven, don't you? When I first imprisoned her in the Brig and refused to allow her to return to the Borg, I became responsible for her. Her learning, her happiness. all up to me, and the burden was great.
"When we realised we were in love, all that changed and we became equals. The fact remains though, Lanna, I am the only person Seven has ever had to look to, on all levels now, I suppose. I am so worried, as I write this, what may become of her if I should die. Would she retreat into her shell? Would she attempt to re-join the Borg? Would she want to live? Or die? I shudder at these thoughts because she is my life.
"My friend, I know you and Seven probably will never get on, but would you please look out for her for me? Especially in the first days: she would be so alone with no one to turn to, and so afraid about the future. I almost feel like asking you personally after I've written this, so I can obtain some level of reassurance that my love will be safe, looked after and helped.
"I know, I know. I worry too much, but when did I ever not? You know the other side of me, Lanna; the one that isn't always sure of things, the one who can show those insecurities to you because you are a safe area for me to display that side of myself. I thank you most sincerely for that. The ability to be oneself with someone is a rare gift. I only found that gift with you and Seven, out here in Delta.
"Don't be sad, Lanna. I'm sure everything is as it should be. None of us live forever, do we? Well, except for the Q! But what's the point of that? To live forever and yet `die' inside of boredom! No, I know I've lived, embraced life and its chances and its choices, and enjoyed it all along the way.
"The role of Captain to this crew has been a difficult path - oh, so far away from home. I have to be so much more to them. And who is there for me? While I am being Mother Earth? You. Tuvok and Seven. My three musketeers.
"You know what I treasure most? You may think this strange. I treasure most the few nights when I've sat in your quarters in tears. The gift of somewhere to cry, so that I did not cry alone, was one of the most precious things you gave me. One of many gifts you have given that I value and love.
"Well, I guess this letter has to come to an end somewhere, as we all do. Know that you are special to me. Know that you have added to my life, my personal security and my happiness. Know that I love you. I wish I could tell you, but it's not the sort of thing we say, is it?
Chin up, Lieutenant - wouldn't want to cry.
All my love,
B'Elanna stared at the letter with her mouth open. `Oh, my friend, I have let you down. I am so sorry. It's been four days and I haven't been near Seven. Oh Kathryn, your last wishes. I have been so selfish.'
She looked at the clock, 22.00, and she made a spur of the moment decision. She swung her legs over the bed and climbed back into her boots and set off as fast as she could ever remember doing, to Kathryn's and Seven's quarters. On the way, she recalled how pleased she had been that Chakotay hadn't claimed the larger Captain's quarters for himself, preferring instead to leave Seven alone in what little security she had left.
Eager now, at last, to carry out Kathryn's wishes and be there for Seven, B'Elanna finally stood outside her door and buzzed, looking up and down the corridor, feeling conspicuous: there was no one else about. She buzzed again.
When the door finally opened, the sight before her shocked the sturdy Engineer. Seven was holding onto the doorframe, pale, weak and unkempt. Her eyes were deep sunken, with dark circles underneath, and they held a stare that wasn't human - more animal. "Seven?"
Seven opened her mouth to object but both Kathryn's request and Seven's present state told B'Elanna she should stay, and she pushed her way into the room, taking Seven in with her. "When was the last time you regenerated?"
"I don't recall."
"Since Kathryn died?"
Seven winced at the words. "No."
"And have you eaten?"
"A nutritional supplement - yesterday - I do not want to eat."
"Have you slept?"
"No. Not - since Kathr." Seven's eyes brimmed over with tears as she stared at the Lieutenant, a look of pure hopelessness in her eyes, eyes that she then closed as though it were too painful to look at a Universe without Kathryn in it any longer. Slowly she sank to the floor in a kneeling position, placing her hands over the top of her head.
B'Elanna watched in amazement as Seven started to rock backwards and forwards in a sure and steady motion. `Oh, God, Kathryn. I'm so sorry. You were right,' said B'Elanna under her breath as she sat beside the distraught woman, stretching her arms around Seven and holding on, not attempting to move her. Seven continued to rock, remaining in the same position for a while until, all at once, she unravelled herself, clung fast to B'Elanna and cried deeply.
The strong half-Klingon's heart was reduced to mush - in her entire life she'd never heard such a sound of pure grief. All she could do was hold the poor woman whilst repeating in her head, `I'm so sorry, Kathryn; I should have read it sooner. I'm so sorry. So sorry.' Gently she rocked Seven in the same motion the young woman had employed, and just remained silent, stroking the matted blonde hair gently.
Slowly, something about the release that Seven was experiencing broke through to B'Elanna's brain. She began to cry. It was something she didn't usually do but then, this wasn't a usual occasion. She cried and cried, unable to stop as the two women rocked together, in the middle of the floor, temporarily inconsolable in their grief.
It was quite a while before the two officers ceased their crying in Seven's quarters, locked in each other's arms, in the middle of the floor. Seven fell silent first and she was left listening to B'Elanna's intermittent sobs, which eventually died down and ceased. Now, two tired, embarrassed and silent people were beginning to feel more self-conscious about their current situation as the moments passed.
"I guess I needed that," B'Elanna sniffed, rubbing a hand over her eyes. "C'mon, let's get you fed," she said with an awkward smile, releasing Seven and getting to her feet.
"I assure you, Lieutenant…"
"Yeah? And I assure you I'm not giving up with this until you've eaten. OK?"
Seven looked up, with a strange mixture of irritation and gratitude in her eyes, as she allowed the smaller woman to pull her to her feet.
B'Elanna yawned and then placed her hands in the small of her back and stretched backwards a little before moving to the replicator. "Supplement or food?" she asked, but the woman by the window was unresponsive. B'Elanna frowned, considering that Seven was in no state to be left alone: she would probably stand and stare out of that window for hours without supervision – who knows how long she had done so already.
Replicating a supplement for safety, the weary half-Klingon took it and stood beside someone who was seemingly unaware of her presence. This was borne out by the fact that Seven jumped as B'Elanna touched her arm and stared at her as though the woman who had interrupted her thoughts was unknown to her.
"Drink this," ordered B'Elanna as she handed the foul-looking liquid over and then watched as it was ingested. Satisfied, she took the empty glass to the recycler and looked back, frowning. Seven still hadn't moved. "This is no good, kiddo. You have to get some rest. Come on." She pulled at Seven gently and was gratified when the woman followed her, glassy-eyed, across the room and into the bedroom.
A short time later the blue eyes closed, possibly for the first time in four days, as their owner fell into a fitful sleep. "Poor kid," murmured the Engineer softly as she decided to stay nearby for a while. She hadn't intended sleeping but sleep overtook her soon after she rested on the couch; when she awoke, early the next morning, she was surprised at how deeply she'd slept and how comfortable she felt.
Seven was still asleep. B'Elanna decided she didn't want it known that she'd stayed the night and she went to look for a Padd in the living area. Remembering seeing one on the floor beside the couch, she reached down for it, flinching as she realised there was an unfinished note from Kathryn to Seven on it. She replaced it and found another, an empty one this time, and composed her note, tiptoeing into the bedroom to leave it beside the bed.
"Eat something today, for Kathryn," it said, "and if you need anything, call me." B'Elanna checked once more that Seven was still sleeping and then quietly let herself out of the quarters - a shower and some breakfast beckoning her elsewhere.
"This is Captain Amal Cotay, of the Federation Starship: Voyager."
Tuvok's eyebrow elevated as his logical brain accepted that life must go on. Harry looked up from his console and he stared at the side of Chakotay's head. Tom Paris looked up in front of him and then down again in a quick movement, in mild surprise at the change in the words, and the voice speaking them. Only Lieutenant Craven, a fine outstanding officer who had now been promoted to First Officer, took the words without reaction.
That Chakotay had decided to revert to his given name in matters of protocol had not upset anyone. That he had just spoken to an alien race, in place of Captain Kathryn Janeway, upset each one of them in their own way.
"Follow us in, Captain. Once you are secured at the docking bay, we can talk business. I am sure we have most of the supplies you seek."
"Very kind, Kem-ran. See you soon. Cotay out. Chakotay to Neelix."
"Here, Captain. What can I do for you?"
"You have the list of the supplies you need ready? We're about to dock."
"Meet me in the docking port in 20 minutes. Chakotay out. Bridge to Engineering."
"Yes Captain," replied B'Elanna.
"You have the list?"
"Then I'll see you in 20 minutes, at the docking port. Chakotay out."
"Seven of Nine to Lieutenant Torres."
"Here, Seven." B'Elanna was more than a little surprised to hear the ex-Borg's voice. Although Seven had been back at work in Astrometrics for a week now and Janeway had been dead for two and a half, Seven had not tried to seek her out since that night when they had cried together.
"I am sorry, not to have thanked you sooner for your assistance last week. I have been…" Seven faltered.
"Hey, it's OK. I understand. What can I do for you?"
"I – I find myself in unfamiliar territory, Lieutenant. I need – I need…" Seven's voice faltered to a stop and then became cold as she added firmly, "I need nothing at all. I am sorry to have wasted your time, Lieutenant. Please forgive me."
The comlink broken, B'Elanna looked around Engineering, not sure what to make of Seven's call. She tried to get on with something that normally would have held her interest but she was unavailable mentally; all she could hear was Seven's voice as she'd said, `I need, I need…' and then had been unable to voice those needs.
Slowly B'Elanna became aware of another voice in her mind, `Look after her for me? She will be so alone, with no one to turn to….' Those words took hold of part of B'Elanna's stomach and screwed it up painfully for a split second (like a hand reaching in and twisting) and tears came to B'Elanna's eyes. She looked around to see if anyone had witnessed her emotion. It seemed no one had.
`Oh Kathryn, I miss you so much,' she thought to herself as she put Carey in charge and left Engineering, heading towards Astrometics.
Seven jumped visibly as B'Elanna quickly took in the nervous and anxious woman's look. "Icheb, would you mind giving us a little privacy please?"
"Of course, Lieutenant. Would 15 minutes suffice?"
"Very nicely, thank you." B'Elanna smiled at Icheb as he warmly returned the smile, curtly nodded and left the two women to their conversation. B'Elanna then turned her attention to the only other occupant of the room, thinking how uncomfortable and trapped Seven looked. "What were you trying to ask me for, on the com. earlier?"
"Nothing, Lieutenant. I remember apologising for wasting your time, as I seem to be doing again. I am fine."
"I do not wish to appear ungracious but why is this concerning you?"
Now it was B'Elanna's turn to look uncomfortable as she decided that the only thing she could tell Seven right now was the truth. "Kathryn asked me to look out for you, in the letter she left me. Wanted me to keep an eye on you - offer my help; said she thought you'd need someone."
"Amusing, Lieutenant," Seven said wryly.
"I know. In her letter, she asked me to do the same thing for you. Her exact words were `watch over her, she's a hothead and runs out of control, but her heart's true. You're probably the only one, bar me, who can stand up to her.' She told me how she'd always kept you in check, and how it was my job now." Seven managed a slight smile.
Instantly embarrassed, B'Elanna strode around Astrometrics thinking how true those words were. "She seems to have thought of everything, including us helping each other after her death! Amazing." B'Elanna turned to look at her old adversary. "OK, let's try this again, for Kathryn. I'm going to go outside the door and then come back in again and ask you a question. Think you can handle that?"
"I believe I can," replied Seven, smiling.
Feigning leaving, by standing over at the door for a while with her back to Seven, B'Elanna then turned and approached the ex-Borg once again. "Hello, Seven. I just thought I'd drop by and ask you what it was you wanted my help with earlier?"
Seven began to formulate an answer in her mind, but the tears must have been standing by, ready to fall, at the reminder of the enormity of what had been lost, and it took her a while to speak. Faltering, she replied, "I find I want to talk about her; talk about how I feel without her. I need help in trying to come to terms with that. I…" Seven paused to try to bring her voice under control.
"Why me? I mean, you're friendly with Chakotay, Harry…?"
"It has been my experience with those individuals that they are largely unprepared for me to just talk without formulating some kind of solution. As there is no solution to my topic of conversation, I would simply wish to talk - therefore a woman, in my opinion, would be the better listener."
"Well now, you certainly have a handle on the male psyche. Again, why me? There are plenty of other women on this ship - women you haven't spent these past years arguing like hell with!"
"I recalled the recent way you allowed me to be with my emotion, without trying to bring me out of it. It was… appreciated."
"OK, I'll listen. But I gotta tell you," the Engineer said with a nervous smile, "all this being nice to me crap is making me damned uncomfortable."
"Well played, Commander. You're too good for me," complained Harry, wiping the perspiration from his forehead and watching as Chakotay absorbed the praise. "Is there something written in the manual for Starfleet officers – you know, that they have to beat poor old Harry Kim nearly every time they play Velocity with him?"
"Come on, Harry. A little more practice…"
"That's like saying that with a little more practice I could be Klingon!"
With a grin, Harry pulled the sweatband from his wrist and threw it at his Captain, who acted out being terribly hurt by this `great weight' landing on him. He walked, smiling, over to the Ensign to return the band but found himself looking down at the band as he fiddled with the material. His smile fading, he asked "Harry, how am I doing?"
Unsure of the nature of the question, the Ensign replied, "Well, you beat me didn't you?"
"I'm not talking about Velocity. How do you think I'm doing in the role of Captain on Voyager?"
"Oh." Harry took the offered band and turned away, asking the computer to activate the exit arch. About to leave, he looked over his shoulder. "Get your shower?" he suggested to the Captain, "and I'll meet you in your quarters in half an hour."
"Not at all," Harry replied, and then amended his answer to "Well, a few things."
"Am I going to need something alcoholic?" Chakotay joked as he met Harry at the door. He was clearly nervous about what the Ensign had come to say.
"Synthahol should do it."
"Please," Chakotay motioned for Harry to sit, and then sat opposite him, looking uncomfortable. "Well, Ensign, let's have it."
"You don't waste time, do you?" Harry studied his Captain's face, wondering how blunt he should be and how much Chakotay could take right now. "People are saying you're a little heavy on security since Kathryn's death, especially on away missions. `Too cautious', they're saying. You're making them nervous. In fact they're wondering if you're the one who's losing his nerve."
Chakotay sighed. "They're right. I can't seem to help it, Harry. I just think that `they' injured us deeply when our guard was down, and I can't allow that to happen again."
"Kathryn would be the first to tell you that you can't creep around after something's gone wrong, you've got to get back in the deep end. And anyway, our guard wasn't down; each officer was armed to the hilt and fully trained for combat. They were either expecting us or they were there already when they saw our transporter beams; either way it gave them the upper hand, time to prepare."
"You're saying we were stung, but that shouldn't stop us eating honey?"
"Not exactly. But I don't see why you should keep beating yourself up over this."
"This? Harry, this? Kathryn died, that's not a little thing we should try to forget." Instantly he regretted what he'd said as he saw the hurt in the young man's eyes. Sighing again, he got up and walked around the room. "I'm sorry, I guess I'm looking for any old outlet to sound off. I not only lost a good friend and a brilliant Captain but I'm now left to walk in her shadow and try to win the confidence of this crew. Sometimes I think I can, but often I doubt it."
"You're bound to be different. No one expects you to be a copy of someone else: you, Chakotay, will imprint yourself and your ways on this crew in time. But you've put out uncertainty to these people, and that's what you're getting back – they're unsure of you now. They need to see you trusting and being positive. And if something goes wrong in the future, well then maybe it would have gone wrong anyway."
"What - fate?"
"Who knows! I only know that the Captain did nothing wrong and now she's dead. If someone with her knowledge and abilities can be outsmarted, then it isn't the system that's wrong, it's circumstance. And you can't predict that. There will always be the unforeseen. You just have to follow the system and start to trust in it again."
"You're a wise man Harry, and I thank you for being honest. You've shown me where I need to work, and I will. Now, can I get you a drink?"
"I'm not through being honest yet."
The Captain, who was halfway out of his seat, sat back down. "Then you'd better continue," he said wearily.
"From what I've heard, the crew feel that you're not there for them. You don't socialise, you don't call in to the Mess Hall or attend any social functions. Kathryn did all those things and her presence among the crew was appreciated." From the look on his Captain's face, Harry knew he had hit a spot. "Why don't you?"
Chakotay stood and walked to the replicator, turning to look at the Ensign, "I need a drink, now," he said, "can I get you anything?" Harry shook his head. Over the years, the synthahol had become more than acceptable to the crew and some could almost imagine it was real alcohol; at least Chakotay hoped that would be the case as he sat once again and sipped it. "I hadn't realised I was avoiding them but now you mention it, it's clear to me why."
"I'm responsible for them all now. Daily, their lives are in my hands with the decisions I have to make." He paused and chose his next words carefully, "Losing Kathryn hurt more than I imagined: I can't get close to the others, Harry, I can't go through that again. I'd rather not try to get to know them any better, you understand?"
"And what difference is it going to make, if someone dies on your watch, whether you knew them well or not? They're still dead and someone's going to hurt."
"But it won't be me! Kathryn went through hell every time we lost a life; it used to cut her up so badly."
"But knowing those people as she did put her in the mode of protecting them more. There may have been fewer lives lost because she cared that much. Have you thought about that?"
Chakotay rubbed at his brow, sighed deeply and took another sip of his drink. "You're right, Harry. You're right," he agreed as he stared at the floor while turning the glass around in his hands. "Look," he said at length, "I don't want to appear rude but would you mind leaving? I want time alone to think about what you've said and what I need to do about it."
"Of course," replied Harry. He got up and walked to the door, pausing as it opened.
"Yep?" said the Ensign, turning slightly.
Seven arrived two minutes early, which puzzled B'Elanna who thought that the ex-Borg ran to perfection in all her dealings. Staying by the counter, putting dressing into a bowl of salad, she waved Seven into the room. "Take a seat," she said.
Seven moved to the chair and B'Elanna found herself wondering how the evening would go, and whether or not they would stay civil towards each other. She then took the bowl over to the table and sat it down in the middle, casting her eyes over the rest of the spread to see that all was in place. "The quiche will take only a second from the replicator. I guess we can eat whenever you're ready." As Seven made no move toward the table, B'Elanna then sat on the couch, looking at her.
"I did not know how to dress for this occasion. I hope my usual attire is acceptable."
"Of course. It doesn't matter." B'Elanna had donned jogging pants and a vest after her shower, and now drew her right leg up (her foot on the edge of the couch) and draped her right arm across the top of her knee. "How's it been?"
"Each day is much the same as any other. It is more a case of getting through it so I can then retreat to the quarters we shared. She… still lives there for me, in that room, somehow."
"Yeah, I know what you mean. I called in on Chakotay in the Ready Room today; Kathryn's impression is still so much in that room it made me jump. He was sitting in her chair…" she trailed off.
"A well-meaning person has told me, `It gets easier with time.' Tell me, Lieutenant, how much time will I need before I feel easier about being without her?" Seven's eyes were searching B'Elanna's face for an answer, and it was clear that she had taken the saying at face value and was now expecting to know how long it would take.
"Well, I think what they mean is that we develop new procedures in their absence - new habits, if you like, for daily living that ingrain themselves into our minds and eventually replace the old habits we had. After a while you don't cry every time you think of that special person and you can talk about them and smile but, I'm sorry Seven, it never gets easier to be without someone you loved, still love."
"As I thought. Perhaps we should eat now, Lieutenant?"
B'Elanna had never spoken this much with Seven before and watched her throughout the meal, talking easily about Kathryn and their life together. It was almost as though Kathryn was still alive to hear Seven speak, and it warmed the Engineer greatly; she knew she was gaining as much from this evening as Seven was. Neither felt the need of a desert and so they migrated to the couch, sitting with a comfortable distance between them. They were silent for a while, but it wasn't an awkward feeling: it was a time when each of them was alone with her own thoughts.
B'Elanna noticed the expression pass Seven's eyes immediately. "What?" she asked, but it took the blonde a while to answer.
"She died… saving me." Seven's eyes were an abstract of pain and regret. B'Elanna nodded gently, knowing it to be true as she had witnessed the event. "She moved in front of me to protect my body from harm, without thought of herself." The next words were almost a whisper, "She must have loved me very much…"
"If she'd been the one in the line of fire, you'd have done the same for her." The sheer intensity of feeling coming from her guest was making B'Elanna a little uncomfortable, but she stayed with it.
"Of course, but it saddens me so much to think that a woman, who was so vital to the running of this ship and it's crew's morale, is now dead, while I remain alive."
"What are you saying?" asked the Engineer, knowing full well.
"That I should have died that day, not her. Her life had more value and she will be the greater missed."
"I don't think you can ever look at people's lives and ask, `who has more right to be here?', Seven. Kathryn considered you worth saving: if you can't live your life to the full in gratitude for her actions, it makes her sacrifice rather pointless, doesn't it?"
Seven looked near to tears again. "It is not easy, Lieutenant, being grateful for living alone in a Universe without her."
B'Elanna didn't reply, choosing instead to study the woman beside her. Never before had she seen Seven, really seen her. This was not a cold woman, this was a woman full of love and warmth; this was not an unfeeling woman, this was a woman of depth and passion. Seven? Surely not. But the evidence was here in this room tonight and B'Elanna felt a stirring, deep within her heart. It wasn't what she'd expected to feel.
The evening had ended with one further drink and an easy arrangement to meet again. Alone in her quarters now, B'Elanna sat back into the corner of the couch with her left arm stretched across the back. She crossed her legs and rested the cold glass, containing the remnants of her drink, against her right cheek as she lapsed into that deeply thoughtful state that strangely (within it's centre) contained no thought at all.
Several weeks passed by without major incident, unless you consider Harry Kim losing his clarinet `major'. Gradually the crew settled into their new pattern of leadership, and their leader settled into his new pattern generally. Daily, Chakotay thought of Kathryn – of her sacrifices, her courage, her wit, her cleverness – and tried to emulate all that she had been but, as Harry had reminded him, he could only be his own version of a leader, not a copy of someone else.
Often, in the privacy of the Ready Room, Chakotay would pace up and down, considering a solution to the latest problem, and would end up over by the window, gazing at the streaking warp-stars and ask quietly, "What would you do, Kathryn? Tell me." Oddly enough, shortly after asking the question he would usually find some kind of inspiration.
Tuvok had taken his guilt and grief into the holodeck where he had fought battles of skill in various ways, from hand to hand combat to mental challenges. He had even temporarily programmed a hologram of his dead friend, and argued with her about his perceived incompetence as a security officer. One day his holographic Captain finally convinced his tired mind that there was truly nothing he could have done that day to avoid her death. She had begged him to get on with his life, free from this incessant guilt that was changing him so. He had stared at her image long and hard, knowing `she' was right.
Instantly, Tuvok had deleted the character and returned to his quarters to meditate; to purge the last weeks of guilt and sadness from his system and attempt to fill his heart and mind with the best of his friend, and not this poison that he had allowed to take hold instead.
Even Neelix, in the days that followed, realised that `Mr Vulcan' had become more at ease, and the crew settled into silently welcoming their colleague back among them again in every sense.
Meanwhile, the Chief Engineer had become a good friend to the grieving ex-Borg. Seven would request meals and time on the holodeck for the two of them, talking about current issues and ideas but also talking often about Kathryn and how she missed her. B'Elanna would watch the blonde's face as she spoke of her dead love; would watch how the blue eyes came alive and sparkled and how the face became animated. No other subject could bring about this transformation.
Over the weeks, the Engineer had learned all about a member of the crew of the Starship Voyager, Annika Hansen – a crewmember previously unknown to her. She had discovered the young woman's inner light, passions, actions - what made her happy, what made her sad - and she loved it all. More and more B'Elanna watched the features of the person before her, realising very slowly that she was falling in love with Seven of Nine, Tertiary Adjunct to Unimatrix Zero One, ex-Borg, Annika Hansen.
Seven, of course, had no idea what was going on in the head of her constant companion, seeing in her someone she could share her main interest with – Kathryn's memory – as the two of them swapped stories and learned more about their dead Captain than they had previously known.
For the most part, B'Elanna enjoyed their time together, but today she had become more acutely aware of her feelings for Seven; at the same moment she'd realised that the woman she loved would forever belong to another, even if that other person were dead.
"Oh, Hi Starfleet. Yeah, I'm fine."
"They've all gone, you know," offered Harry looking around the Mess Hall," even Neelix. They've all gone off to bed." Gazing back at B'Elanna, who appeared more interested in staring out of the window with her chin propped up on her hand than talking to him, he prompted "Seven?"
With a shy half-grin (as Harry lowered himself into the seat opposite her) she asked, "How did you know?"
"We're not stupid. Everyone knows, except perhaps Seven herself."
"Oh, God," she groaned, "that transparent?" and watched as Harry looked down at the table and nodded. Curious, she asked, "What are you doing here this time of night, anyway?"
"Oh, I couldn't sleep. It happens every now and then, and I'd rather take a walk than go to Sickbay and bother the Doc." He looked into the dark eyes looking back at him. "Want to talk about it?"
The Engineer shrugged. "What's to say? I love her, she loves the dead lady!" Leaning back in her chair, she shot Harry a sad look as she placed both hands between her knees and stretched her legs out.
"That's tough, Maquis."
"Yeah, you can't compete with a ghost, and I couldn't even begin to compete with the love they shared. It was something else Harry, you know? The kind of thing we all dream about?"
Harry knew – well, about dreams anyway.
"Seven comes alive when she speaks of how she still feels, and I love to see her like that… But it isn't me doing that for her, is it? It isn't me that makes her come alive, and I don't think it ever could be… Harry?"
B'Elanna looked shyly at the young Ensign, sizing up whether to trust him or not with her next words. "If I had the power, the power to give Seven anything in the Universe, you know what I'd give her?"
"Kathryn's life back." Harry looked more than a little confused. She tried to explain: "When you really love someone, Harry, you want them to be happy… whatever it takes, and you'd do anything in your power to make that happen."
Harry drew in a long breath and he blew it out quickly. "I guess I've never loved anyone beyond the stage of just wanting to be with them and be happy. What you're saying… it sounds amazingly selfless.
The two officers shared a silent moment; the female smiling into the stars, the male frowning at her, trying to work out the logic of her words. When he couldn't stand it any more he argued, "But that would mean losing the person you love to someone else!"
"You can't lose someone who doesn't love you, Harry. Think about it. My love for Seven is unconditional, it's not dependent on her loving me back. If she never breathed a word of love to me, it still wouldn't alter how I feel about her, would it? I'd like more, I'd like the fairy tale, but I have no expectations, really."
The handsome Ensign looked at his friend and smiled at last. "Saint B'Elanna," he pronounced with verbal gravity, as his friend laughed at him and told him in no uncertain terms what he could do with his latest name for her.
"C'mon, let's go to bed."
Harry's words, "Best offer I've had all day!" incited the smiling Lieutenant to friendly violence, and the Ensign was happily buffeted by a mock-enraged Klingon, all the way to the Mess Hall doors.
"You're still beating me. You're not even trying to lose!" yelled Harry at his Captain, his red face showing his disapproval about the winning streak his opponent was enjoying.
"You had enough?"
"Of playing? Or of being beaten?"
Chakotay smiled easily, "Either, both, whatever!" The Captain watched as the Ensign staggered off to the side of the playing area and took hold of a towel, throwing it around his neck as he rubbed the sides of his face and his brow with it.
"There's a play - Holodeck 1, Thursday evening," said Harry as though it meant nothing to him at all. "You going?"
"You bet. And you were right my friend, I know that now; my fear was making me look at this all wrong - I need to know this crew as much as I am able." He patted the Ensign's shoulder, "I'll be there, Thursday, OK?"
Harry smiled. "OK." He turned away to leave the holodeck, happy to think his words had gotten through to a man who had clearly been all at sea just a short time ago.
"Oh, and Harry…"
Chakotay waited until the Ensign turned to face him. "For God's sake, learn to beat me at this game, can't you?"
Harry studied his friend's playful grin and went off muttering under his breath, "Is it my fault if everyone else in the worlds plays this damned game better than me? B'Elanna, Kathryn, Seven, you, and all the others, you all play better than I do. I mean, where's the fairness in all of you winning all the time? Anybody'd think you'd all get tired of…"
B'Elanna awoke slowly, as she usually did, never being that willing to release the peace and blanket nothingness of the night. Some years before, awakening on Voyager had been an ongoing nightmare, a nightmare occurring in `daylight' hours' - still trapped in uncharted space and so far away from home. But now?
A groan, a stretch, a rub of the eyes, a deep sigh and B'Elanna's eyes opened on a real home this time - the safety and security of the `family' that was Voyager. How strange, she thought as she lay with the back of her right hand over her forehead, fingers curled, that a few short years should have altered her perspective of this one small Starship so much.
Slowly coming to full alertness, she lay there looking around the room until her eyes settled on the wall opposite, her senses seemingly betraying her. Her forehead allowed a frown and her right hand moved into a fist above it as, far from appearing a solid object, the wall now seemed to waver in the mid-section.
She watched as the phenomenon continued. Blinking and then rubbing both eyes heavily, she opened them and looked again. Everything now appeared normal and the Lieutenant, after staring at the area a little longer (waiting for it to display its abnormality again) began to relax, allowing her brain to consider she had not been fully awake and it had just been the trick of a sleepy mind.
Having showered, breakfasted, groomed and dressed, B'Elanna had long forgotten the wall incident as she strode with her usual purpose along the corridor, heading towards Engineering.
Ensign Kesh Chowdra, a brilliant young man with a moody disposition, rounded a corner and acknowledged B'Elanna lazily, as was his habit each morning they passed. But something was different this morning. Kesh watched as his superior seemed to be in several places at the same time, like several clones, each one a half a step behind the other, walking in a staggered fashion. The familiar words, "Hi, Kesh," also reached his ears in muffled fragments.
Ensign Chowdra was a good Ensign: he'd read his manuals and studied well, and he had especially been interested in temporal mechanics and subspace fractures. He knew his subject and he knew (although he'd never encountered it before) what he was seeing here, now. He opened a comlink: "Chowdra to the Bridge. I believe there is a subspace fracture on…"
B'Elanna stared at the spot where, a moment ago, Ensign Chowdra had said his customary `good morning'. He was no longer there. Just before he had disappeared, the Engineer was sure she had seen the walls rippling the same way her wall had, first thing that morning. Putting the two incidents together in a second, (realising what had occurred) she was about to tap her combadge and inform the Bridge of the subspace fracture when she stopped abruptly in the corridor and just stared before her, open mouthed.
"What's the matter Lieutenant?" asked Janeway jovially, "you look like you've just seen a ghost."
B'Elanna remained rooted to the spot, too shocked to speak: although her brain had worked out exactly what was happening, her emotions couldn't yet handle it. She stared stupidly at the woman in front of her as the Captain began to suspect all was not well with her Chief Engineer.
"B'Elanna?" Kathryn placed a hand on the Lieutenant's arm and squeezed gently, conveying her concern, but was completely taken by surprise when her friend enveloped her in a hug fit to push all the air out of her lungs. "What is it? What's wrong?"
B'Elanna's mind grappled, for at least two seconds, with the almighty Temporal Prime Directive, before she decided to ignore it. She pushed her Captain away from her, holding her at arm's length. A little excitedly she said, "Look, I don't know how long I can remain here – we have to talk, fast!"
"You're not making any sense. Why can't you stay?"
"Captain. Kathryn, trust me. Site to site transport – your Ready Room. Now."
Something about the woman's eyes and the urgency in her voice had the Captain reacting swiftly, trusting her Engineer enough to realise it must be something fairly serious, and no idle request. As their atoms reassembled in the Ready Room, Kathryn led B'Elanna to the soft seating under the windows and sat with her, urging her to tell what she knew. "B'Elanna, would you tell me what's going on here? What's this all about?"
Having told her inquisitor the easy part (about having just walked through a subspace fracture from 9 weeks in the future), B'Elanna ignored the incredulous expression and went on to ask, "What date is this?" The Captain gave the information and watched as relief spread over the face before her. `Good,' thought the Lieutenant, `I have a day to convince her.' She cleared her throat. "Kathryn, what I'm about to tell you isn't going to be easy for you to hear. In fact, my friend, it's going to be hard for me to say."
Kathryn's eyes softened in empathy. Often, the things she had to say to the crew were difficult – there was simply no one else to say them in many cases, and she just had to knuckle under and get on with it. She smiled reassuringly at her obviously distressed friend and urged huskily, "Go on," almost afraid of what she was about to hear.
"Tomorrow, at 10.27 hours, you will pick up a distress call but will be unable to establish contact verbally. You will decide to beam down a landing party to investigate, and you will include yourself in this landing party." Kathryn raised a hand as if to stop the Lieutenant, but the narrator pushed on, "You will be killed by weapons fire seconds after you materialise." B'Elanna watched the skilful way the Captain hid her feelings, it was as though a curtain were being pulled over the eyes, denying entry to the deeper horror going on within. "Kathryn, I'm begging you. Don't go down on the planet tomorrow."
"You know you shouldn't be telling me any of this, don't you?" Kathryn managed quietly, leaving B'Elanna in no doubt that she was being reprimanded and that her Captain was disappointed in her. "You know you're breaking the Temporal Prime Directive? I shouldn't have this knowledge, Lieutenant."
"But you must have it, if you're to be saved."
"And sometimes fate lends a hand, B'Elanna. Sometimes things are meant to happen exactly the way they do, for many reasons, and on all levels." Becoming wistful, Kathryn shifted in her seat and looked around at the stars, sliding her arm up on the back of the seat, bending it back on itself and leaning her head against it. "Do you think we can ever cheat fate, Lieutenant, however hard we try?"
Looking at the side of her Captain's face, B'Elanna said gently, "If I'd died, and you'd gone through missing me as much as I and Voyager have gone through missing you, tell me, what would you do with this chance I have been given?"
Kathryn angled her head around and eyed her friend sadly. "I'd probably be doing the same thing you are" she answered, reaching out and resting a hand on her friend's shoulder, "knowing it was the wrong thing to do, but unable to help myself. But, you know something?"
"I don't think you'd have allowed it to alter your chosen course of action either."
B'Elanna pulled Kathryn's hand into her lap and played with the fingers absentmindedly. "We all miss you, so much. Seven's not handling it, you know. She's finding it hard to move on." She risked a sideways look to see how the news had been received, but the Command Mask foiled any attempt to read her Captain's emotions.
"Isn't that a compliment to the relationship we `had'? That she can't simply put it down and move away?" When there was no reply she added sadly, "She will adapt."
"You're telling me you're going to make no attempt to alter the events of tomorrow!" shouted a suddenly angry B'Elanna, "events that will lead to your death? She tugged at the hand she held as if to gain a sleeping mind's attention, before releasing it. "What is it with you? You wanna die?"
"On the contrary, I never have; I've always loved life, and it's been good to me, especially now. Now, more than ever, I want to live and enjoy the life I've found with Seven. B'Elanna don't you see, what you've told me does alter things because I shall now beam down in full readiness of whatev…"
"It will make no difference!" screamed the Lieutenant, "You didn't do anything wrong, Kathryn. You made an instinctual split-second decision to protect Seven from the firing and you died. Nothing will change if you go… `again'. You'll make that same decision, you know you will - you know you must. For God's sake, if you want to send someone down, send the EMH, he can't be destroyed by weapons fire."
"That won't be necessary. I can assure you I shall simply be more vigilant."
"And I can assure you that you'll still act from instinct. Vigilance won't be enough! Oooh, kiddo," growled B'Elanna, exasperated, "you can be so stubborn at times. I mean, its not like you uphold all the rules you've ever been given, is it? You bend them often enough."
"Ah, but there's the crux now, isn't it, `bend' them. Yes, that's what I do," Kathryn said carefully, "but I don't blatantly break them – haven't done so yet, anyway. Now, if I was trying to save my crew and not just myself… well that might be a different matter. As it is, I don't think I can do more than just `bend' the rules a little here."
With a sideways look, B'Elanna said quietly, "I thought you might break them… you know, if the stakes were high enough? And I call this pretty damned high."
Kathryn looked into those dark eyes (looking back at her with such care and frustration), eyes filled with tears, and she asked quietly: "Did you look after her?"
Stunned, B'Elanna looked away, knowing instantly what her friend was asking. Taking a deep breath she replied, "No, not straight away." She looked back and saw the pain in Kathryn's eyes and continued accusingly, "I was too mad with you to read your damned letter – took me four days to open it! But when I did, I went straight to her." The Engineer stared at her Captain, sizing up whether to tell her the rest of what was on her mind."
"There's something I want you to know," B'Elanna said, feeling suddenly awkward – she turned away wishing she could change the subject but her ethical side needed to tell all. "I've spent the past nearly nine weeks with Seven," she began carefully, "meals, holodecks, chatting, socialising, and I've got to tell you, Kathryn - I've fallen in love with her." She turned to face her friend, at last.
Kathryn gave a slight frown, adding two slightly raised brows, and stared openly at B'Elanna, studying the honesty contained in that face as she searched the hybrid's eyes for more than just mere words. They remained just staring at each other for quite a while before Kathryn said quietly, "That hurt."
B'Elanna counteracted immediately, "That hurt? Huh? Let me tell you what hurt is, OK?" She sat back a little, getting into her stride, "Hurt is when your best friend dies and leaves you, throwing the ship into chaos, not to mention everyone on board.
"Hurt is realising you're falling in love with someone who can never love you back because she's in love with your dead friend, and that'll never change. Hurt is having a chance to change all that and some obstinate idiot saying, `no, I'd rather be dead, thank you, you're wasting your time.'" B'Elanna's resolve was crumbling and her voice wavered. "Well, go on then, you fool, die all over again."
With her hands over her eyes, B'Elanna wept silently, feeling and not resisting Kathryn pulling her into a hug as she cried. "That better?" Kathryn asked gently after a while, as she wiped her friend's tears away, seeing her nod in reply. "You know, you've said some pretty amazing things since you got here, but nothing more amazing than… you, falling in love with Seven!" Kathryn started to laugh, "I mean, come on - you and Seven? You hate her!"
In spite of herself, B'Elanna joined in with the levity. "I know – amazed me too." They laughed together as they pulled apart and looked at each other.
"Well, at least I know she'll be looked after, if I should die `again'. Although, that wasn't quite what I meant in my letter…"
B'Elanna hesitated, slightly embarrassed, before saying, "In the letter - you called me Lanna."
"I often do, sweetheart, in my head. You mind?"
"No, it just surprised me." Kathryn simply smiled. The Lieutenant returned the smile, thoughtfully. "What you wrote - it touched me. But I wish you'd come to me and said all that stuff to my face. Why didn't you?"
"Oh, call it my upbringing, I don't know. Perhaps we should just say what's on our minds, rather than store it all up and just hope the other person `gets' it." Kathryn looked seriously at her Chief Engineer, "Tomorrow, right after I refuse to die, I'm going to tell the other `you' all about it, then I can go tear the letter up. Where is `she', by the way, the other `you'?"
"Oh, at this time of day, I'd still be in Engineering." B'Elanna smiled, "I seem to remember having another blazing row with your favourite drone right around now!"
The tensions had dissipated between the two Senior Officers somewhat but now B'Elanna risked stirring them again as she asked outright, "You're still beaming down tomorrow, aren't you?"
Kathryn didn't want to disappoint those eyes; she looked away. "Yes, I'm still going," she affirmed quietly, "but I assure you, I will…"
"And I assure you the outcome will be the same. Has to be. You just couldn't react any differently, damn it - I know you."
"I'll do my best, Lieutenant. That's a promise."
`Not good enough,' thought B'Elanna as she pulled her friend close for a final hug `I'll have to try something else.' "I've really missed you. It's been so good to see you again," she said, tightly holding that which was lost before releasing the Captain and getting up. "Hey, I gotta go now, OK?"
She stopped to look back at Kathryn Janeway sitting there alive, assured and smiling. "You know that thing we never say to each other?" she said as the Captain grinned and nodded, indicating that she knew perfectly well. "Well, hell with that! I love you, pal," said B'Elanna with an equal smile before leaving and heading towards Engineering.
The fiery Lieutenant slammed both hands down hard on the console before her and leaned on them, arms taut. She said, more to the console than to Seven, "This is never going to get any easier between us, is it?" Sighing, she faced the `enemy'. "Look, you may be Teacher's Pet (she spat out the word Pet, as though it meant something truly distasteful) but that doesn't mean you can throw your weight around in here, OK?"
The angry hybrid was pacing now. Any observer in Engineering would have sworn that the other staff were busily engaged in climbing under desks (looking for objects that were never lost) or clambering into Jeffries tubes, feigning work to be done, or suddenly needing to stand on the other side of the warp core. In other words, those with previous battle experience were deserting – getting the hell out of the way of the volcano, which had a habit of blowing fast, when it did go.
"Are you implying that I use my relationship with the Captain to `throw my weight around'?"
"Oh, you were doing that long before the two of you were an item, I know. But you're worse now," she accused, stabbing the air with a finger, "you're far too pushy, Borg!"
"Could it be that your attitude towards me has changed since I moved in with the Captain, Lieutenant? You perhaps expect things to be different, and so you go looking for any inflection in my voice, any hint from my actions that fits your theory, and then you blow it out of all proportion?"
Seven's blue eyes blinked innocently at B'Elanna, who had been caught mid-attitude. After a short moment of blind recognition she said graciously, and with a shy smile, "Don't be right about me too often, will you?"
There was no smile from Seven in return. The emotionally guarded Lieutenant was upset that she had just let her guard down a little with this Ice Woman, who infuriated her so, and yet Seven still remained cold – observing her rather than feeling emotion with her. "Just get out of here!" shouted B'Elanna, suddenly mad all over again.
Eyebrow akimbo, the ex-Borg headed for the door, sweeping out of Engineering like a perfect battleship: silver, trim, beautiful but deadly - sailing off down the corridor: the row with the Lieutenant already becoming a blurred memory as she allowed her thoughts to drift to dinner with Kathryn later.
It was only the time travelling B'Elanna's quick thinking and quick reactions that stopped the two of them ploughing into each other, as the Lieutenant saw Seven striding down the corridor towards her and tucked herself out of sight to avoid being seen.
`Future' B'Elanna watched Seven pass by, fighting the incredible urge to approach her and tell her how she felt about her, but this wasn't `her' Seven. `Her' Seven was 9 weeks in the future and she could not talk to this one in the same way. Painfully, her mind accepted that she should simply watch the woman walk on by.
With Seven now out of sight, she eased back out of hiding and stood still, at a loss as to how to proceed. She had headed towards Engineering with a view to speaking to her past self, having left a Captain who was fully resolved to change nothing, except to be more vigilant. B'Elanna was convinced that it wouldn't save her life.
Now she realised (as she looked up and down the corridor) that she couldn't stay here; it was too risky. She knew she would further pollute this reality if she met `herself' out in the corridor and was observed doing so, so she headed slowly home – back to the quarters where she felt safe from prying eyes – her quarters.
"Computer, lights 50%." The answering chirp was accompanied by the computer illuminating a tired Lieutenant, who had just come off her shift looking for the security of her quarters and needing to relax. Thinking of a welcoming shower, she was halfway through unzipping her jacket when a slight movement to the left startled her. "Who's there...?"
"Hello, B'Elanna. Please, if you want your Captain to live tomorrow, and not die, listen to me before you call security."
The Engineer's mouth fell open as she stared at `herself'. She really wanted to raise security but there was something about that face, her face, which rang out with truth and sincerity. She decided to hear more. "And why should I trust you? I mean, you could be…"
"Species 8472, right? In human form? Or a shape-shifting alien?" To her younger self's slight smile she continued, "I'm you, from your future. Please, hear me out… then decide what to do about me, OK?"
Young B'Elanna's mind flashed to the words she had just heard about the Captain dying and slowly decided to trust this situation. She unzipped her jacket fully, moving to the bedroom to throw it on the bed.
"Careful, there's a subspace fra… oh - don't mind me. I'm jumpy. There's going to be a subspace fracture forming there, on that wall, but it won't be for another nine weeks yet."
"That's where you're from? Nine weeks in the future?"
"Yeah, weird, isn't it?"
B'Elanna was good at avoiding issues – oh, she'd handle them when she couldn't avoid them any longer, but she didn't like them foisted upon her. And this was some issue: her future self was effectively telling her the Captain had died. Young B'Elanna stared warily at `herself'.
"Look, I know you don't want to hear what I've got to say, right? But get over here and listen anyway." She sat on the couch and then patted it.
"The Captain…" the hybrid questioned, sitting. "How does it happen?"
It took only minutes to tell the saddened Engineer everything. Both B'Elanna's realised there was now a chance that Kathryn wouldn't die, a strong chance, but the news had hit hard. However, the part that young B'Elanna had heard about her and Seven needed clarification. "And you say that I/you grew to love Seven?" she asked, looking at her future self with the strangest of looks.
Future B'Elanna smiled widely. "Yeah, you believe that?"
"No!" B'Elanna smiled back at her `twin', "but you do, and I know you wouldn't lie to me."
"You're right. We lie to `them' to protect `ourselves', but we never lie to… us – me – you! Oh crap, this temporal stuff is doing my head in."
"So," asked a worried woman, "what do you want me to do?" Looking into a pair of blank eyes she continued testily, "I mean, I assume you have a plan?"
Something about the sharpness of the voice and the frustration that young B'Elanna was feeling right now made the time traveller snap. The volatile Lieutenant got up and paced the room, throwing her hands around for emphasis as she explained, "Look! I didn't expect to be here, right? You got that? Kathryn died. I hurt, we all hurt. Seven fell apart. I fell in love with a woman `married' to her dead lover! Now, why in the worlds would I want to change any of that!" She knew how unreasonable she sounded. Calming a little she turned to a stunned and subdued younger self. "When I got this opportunity.. you know, to come here and set this all right, I told Kathryn everything…"
"What, that she was going to die? That you love Seven now?" Her `twin' nodded. "Oh boy. I'll bet that went well."
"Point is she's not willing to change the events, only willing to show more caution during them, and that won't be enough… so it's up to you now."
"What - you think more caution won't work?"
"No way. You're all fired upon the moment you materialise. You'll have just a few seconds to effect a change. Damn it, I still think Kathryn won't stand a chance."
"Yeah, but surely if we know… we can be more prepared. I'm with the Captain on this one. Prepared stands for a lot. It should be enough."
"Oh no, not you too? What is it with you people, a death wish?" B'Elanna glared at a person who should be seeing a tiny chink of light in all this dialogue and who appeared to be still fumbling around in the dark. She looked at the expression on `her' face and knew it well; it was a look that said, `OK, look, I'm right about this, trust me. Kathryn will be fine now that we know.'
Future B'Elanna smiled wearily. There would have to be yet another tack employed here if the Captain was to live through the events of the next day. Letting go of the present line of reasoning, she said gently, "It's OK. Relax. The distress call won't be received until tomorrow morning. We'll worry about it then." Sighing, she turned to leave.
"Uh, where will you go?"
"I hadn't thought, I…"
"Well," said young B'Elanna, smiling, "these ARE your quarters, and the bed is big enough for two. I assume you harbour no weird sexual fantasies about…"
"Well, you should know the answer to that!"
"Well, OK. Let's get something to eat, kiddo. You're staying right here."
"It's an M-Class planet, Captain. Suitable terrain and atmosphere. The ion storm, however, is increasing. I estimate the area will become unavailable to us within the next 40 minutes."
"Then we need to move fast," replied Janeway. "I want you as part of the Away Team, report to Transporter Room 2 immediately."
"Janeway to Engineering."
"Go ahead, Captain."
"B'Elanna, join the Away Mission in Transporter Room 2 now. We've received a distress call from the planet. We're going to investigate."
"On my way." `This is it,' thought the Engineer as she set off, with determination in her stride.
Entering the Transporter Room, B'Elanna's gaze fell on Seven of Nine and her eyes very nearly betrayed her. Seven would certainly not be used to seeing a softened expression coming from the tough Engineer, and future B'Elanna knew she had to drop the shutters to succeed in her deception. She attempted her usual scowl.
Seven raised her head, and her superior look was very much in evidence as she nodded slightly towards the Engineer. The ex-Borg had no idea what was in her colleague's heart: all she noticed was B'Elanna Torres, standing before her, eyeing her with nothing but the usual coldness she had come to expect.
Waiting for the others to join them in the Transporter Room, B'Elanna wondered briefly about her younger self, and how she would feel when she came around. The dose that had been administered was certainly enough to keep her out of the public eye for a while yet. The poor girl would almost certainly have one hell of a headache when she came to.
Future B'Elanna allowed herself a slight smile as she recalled how she'd spent the latter part of last evening formulating her plan. It hadn't taken the quick-witted hybrid many moments to work out that she should take her younger self's place on the morning Away Mission. Having been there the first time, she had reasoned, there was no one more qualified to know how best to save the Captain's life.
Later, B'Elanna had laid in the dark, patiently waiting for her younger self to succumb to sleep. When the young woman's deeper breathing had passed into a quieter second stage, B'Elanna knew it was her cue to ease out of the bed carefully and scoop up her clothes, dressing silently in the living room before letting herself out of the quarters.
Sickbay had been quiet. With the Doctor off-line, the sure-footed Engineer had located a powerful but harmless drug and loaded it into a hypospray … just enough to render her younger self inactive for a period of time. It had to be long enough to ensure that she could swap places with the woman and go, in her place, to the planet's surface in the morning.
Interrupting B'Elanna's train of thought, the Transporter Room's door swished open and admitted Janeway, Lancing and Stanton, armed to the teeth with guns, which they distributed freely. B'Elanna looked at Kathryn. The Captain's eyes held fear, although her actions were every inch a woman in control as they all took up their outward- facing positions on the transporter pad, weapons raised and ready to fire.
Looking over to the operator, Kathryn nodded her head for the transport to begin.
B'Elanna's mind was racing. She would have to act as the transport began, while she possibly still had some control over her physical body, although she had never tried to move during the transport procedure before and didn't know if she could. If she moved too soon, she knew, the operator would most probably halt the procedure, considering something was wrong.
A mass of sparkles began and the room lost its solidity. `Now' she thought, but it was as she suspected… she was frozen until they all materialised on the planet below. Throwing herself at Janeway immediately, B'Elanna was able to topple the woman before the Captain even began worrying about Seven's safety.
A phaser beam ripped right through B'Elanna in that moment, injuring the Captain also. "Emergency beam out, now!" Tuvok ordered through his combadge, grabbing the Lieutenant around her waist and supporting her limp body. Before the transporter sparkles claimed them, the team sustained more heavy fire from their unseen opponents, and it was a sorry mess of burnt clothing and damaged flesh that finally made it to the safety of Voyager.
Jumping rapidly from the Transporter Room to Sickbay, it quickly became apparent that B'Elanna was non-responsive. Tuvok acknowledged Tom (who appeared to be undergoing further medical training) and then helped the Doctor lay the stricken woman gently on a bio-bed.
Stanton appeared to be the only one of the away team who was uninjured – he stood supporting the Captain heavily as a shocked Seven moved towards him, face ashen, to help him lay the badly injured woman on another bio-bed. Tom winced as he approached and cut away part of the clothing around the Captain's right side, where the skin had been badly burned by the firepower. He administered painkillers before grabbing a medical tricorder and beginning his work, all the while looking over repeatedly to the bed where B'Elanna lay.
Scans completed, checked and re-checked, the Doctor pulled back, his face a picture of human sadness and helplessness as he looked down at the proud Engineer's singed body. "Doctor?" Tuvok questioned, although he seemed to realise the woman was beyond any help that the EMH could give her.
"I'm sorry, she's gone," the Doctor whispered, giving a small, sad, half-smile to the Vulcan beside him. His words seemed to bring the entire Sickbay to a standstill. Lieutenant B'Elanna Torres, Chief Engineer, lay dead in their midst, cold and unresponsive. The only person who didn't realise what had happened was the Captain, the Doctor realised, as he shook himself out of his current inactivity and looked towards her. "Mr Paris?" he asked.
"You need to do something, Doc," urged a subdued Tom as the Doctor approached. Kathryn was groaning, falling in and out of consciousness as the Doctor's scans backed up Tom's findings: there was damage, a lot of it, but nothing that couldn't be healed. Seven had taken up a position at Kathryn's head, stroking her hair. Smiling reassuringly at Seven and loading a syringe to treat the Captain, the EMH motioned for Tom to treat Lancing, who had sustained damage to his right leg below the knee. It took a little while before Tom stopped staring at the dead woman and complied.
"She'll be fine, Commander, just fine," soothed the Doctor as Tuvok approached. The tall Vulcan, sporting a wound on his temple, took hold of his Captain's hand and held it for a moment before squeezing it and returning it to her side. Acknowledging Seven, he informed the Doctor he would return later for treatment, as his wound was not serious, and then left the Sickbay for the privacy of his quarters, where he needed to sit quietly and ask himself what just went wrong.
"Tuvok. Wait up," called Chakotay, who caught up to the Vulcan and smiled at him. "You, uh, you wouldn't do me a favour, would you?"
Tuvok frowned. "If I can."
"Well, B'Elanna just called me from her quarters, says she doesn't feel too good. She wanted me to go sit with her, only I was on my way back to the Bridge, and with the Captain… Tuvok?"
The Security Officer recovered from the shock of finding out there were two B'Elanna's on board ship remarkably quickly. He smelled something very Temporal Prime Directive about the situation, and he knew he should keep quiet. Forcing a near-normal (for him) look to spread across his face, he answered Chakotay. "Of course. You return to the Bridge at once; I shall attend to Miss Torres." He turned and moved away from his fellow officer at speed, hoping Chakotay would leave it at that. He did.
"Lieutenant – Commander Chakotay asked me to call. Are you alright?" queried the Vulcan, walking into the quarters, having been granted entrance.
"I'm in here."
Walking through to the bedroom, Tuvok found B'Elanna sitting on the side of her bed, head in hands and groaning. "You appear to have been drugged," he guessed, squatting down beside her and looking into the enlarged pupils. "What do you recall?"
"Badly injured but she will recover." B'Elanna exhaled and then seemed to just crumple, as Tuvok sat beside her, supporting her. "I was hoping you could tell me what happened here, Lieutenant. It is obvious that you have been here throughout the Landing Party, therefore you could not have been a part of it, as you appeared to be. I therefore conclude there must be two of you."
"Tuvok, I…" began B'Elanna as she searched for the right words to say. "I'm sorry, it would violate the Temporal Prime Directive if I told you anything."
"I had guessed as much. Come, let's get you to Sickbay and get the Doctor to take a look at you."
The fiery Klingon was about to object as she felt that a little water and rest would soon solve the problem of the drug, but the Captain was in Sickbay and she wanted to speak with her; she was the only other person who knew what had happened. "What happened to her? The other me?"
"She stood in front of the Captain to protect her from phaser fire and, in doing so, sustained a direct hit which passed through her and on into the Captain."
"She's dead?" Tuvok looked a little awkward as he stood up and pulled the groggy Lieutenant to her feet, gently supporting her to keep her from falling back again. "She is."
"Oh, God." She wanted to tell Tuvok all about her future self's visit and its purpose but she knew enough about the Temporal Prime Directive to stay quiet until she had spoken to the Captain, and probably beyond that. Wearily, she waited as Tuvok initiated a site to site transport.
"Kathryn?" B'Elanna scanned the room, quickly noting that there was no one else already in Sickbay, apart from the Doctor, who was looking at her with shock in his eyes, remembering that only recently he had committed the body of B'Elanna Torres to cold storage, awaiting an autopsy.
The Captain was sitting up on the side of a bio-bed, rubbing her forehead to try to stave off the headache that was forming. Having filled her full of drugs, the Doctor had brought her the only drug she now required, coffee, and she was sipping it appreciatively. Seven had just left her for the evening, on Kathryn's insistence that the young woman get some rest and relaxation. On hearing B'Elanna's voice and seeing the state she was in (holding on heavily to Tuvok's arm), the Captain tried to move off the bed, only to be stopped by the strong arm of the Doctor.
"Nobody said you could go anywhere, Captain. I've only let you sit up to drink, and then it's back you go," cautioned the Doctor, moving across to B'Elanna once he'd obtained an agreeing nod from his first patient.
"How many of you are there, anyway?" the Doctor asked in his usual `nobody ever tells me anything' sort of way. He sat the drowsy woman on a bio-bed next to the Captain.
Kathryn bit her questions back while the Doctor quickly treated the residual drug in B'Elanna's system and then moved on to treat Tuvok's head wound. At the earliest possible convenience, she ordered, "Doctor, de-activate yourself, and Commander, leave us please." She then watched the Vulcan bow his head slightly and leave as the Doctor frowned and then followed orders. She turned to B'Elanna and began to get off the bed once again.
"Hey, the Doc. said you were not to move around too much, yet. Give it time," cautioned B'Elanna, moving swiftly to her friend and practically pushing her back on the bio-bed, standing over her.
Lying down once again, Kathryn looked up at the dark eyed hybrid. `Which one are you?' she questioned in her mind, not knowing the answer. She considered herself the only person that B'Elanna from the future had approached. Kathryn frowned; she realised that Tuvok and the Doctor now knew there were two Engineers, but did this B'Elanna know.
Looking at her Captain, B'Elanna seemed to pick up on the question. "It's me, from your time," she reassured.
"Well that's a relief. This thing's complicated enough without having to skirt around the damned Temporal Prime Directive too."
"She came to see me;" explained the Engineer, "told me she'd spoken to you already, but that you wouldn't see reason, so she brought the whole thing to me. Like you, I just said extra vigilance should do it, which annoyed her, I could tell, but she didn't argue with me."
"So she drugged you…"
"While I slept."
"And took your place?"
"Yeah, she took my place, and died," finished B'Elanna softly, eyes filled with pain as she looked at her friend. "What'll happen to her?"
The Captain exhaled awkwardly. For a scientist, she really hadn't got a clue about temporal nuances. "Oh I don't know. I guess, in 9 weeks time, she'll just disappear. Or come through the fracture again in some kind of causal loop. She won't be `on a mission' next time though, because it worked, I lived. So she won't need to save me."
"Yeah, but it won't be her, will it. It'll be me." B'Elanna pulled herself up on the bio-bed next to the Captain's, swinging her legs over the side. "In 9 weeks from now, the subspace fracture will appear in my bedroom, not hers. When I see it in the hallway, I just won't go near it. We can warn the crew to be vigilant straight away."
Kathryn nodded in agreement. "That should save us losing people to different time-frames," she paused, "but it won't solve the fact that you, Tuvok and the Doctor, as well as myself, all have temporal violations, of varying degrees."
"Well, the Doctor's easy, anyway, we just delete the relevant parts of his programme."
"There's no deleting you, Lieutenant, or me, or Tuvok though, is there? We can't fix that part, (B'Elanna shook her head) so we just have to observe the Temporal Prime Directive and say nothing," the Captain decided.
"There will be nothing of these incidents recorded in the logs. We'll just have to hope there's no further pollution… best we can do."
"And if she doesn't disappear in 9 weeks time?"
"Let's cross that bridge if and when we come to it, Lieutenant." The Captain wedged a hand under her head as she lay on the bio-bed and looked up at the ceiling. "When I get out of here, would you think about joining me and Seven for a meal, to celebrate our survival?"
B'Elanna smiled nervously. "That would be unwise, don't you think? I mean, I don't love Seven yet, but obviously the potential is there." She paused, awkwardly, "Tell you the truth, I'm not sure I'm comfortable with that knowledge."
Kathryn turned her head and looked sympathetically into the eyes of her Engineer, just as the room began to change. They had enough time to get off the bio-beds, Kathryn catching the look of surprise from her colleague as the two of them were beamed off Voyager and out of time.
The Captain, more startled by her sudden transportation than by the idea itself, quickly wheeled around to stare, face to face, at the Commander of the Federation Timeship Aeon. "Braxton!" she greeted. Sweetly, and slightly sarcastically, she added, "and to what do we owe this honour?"
"For once, Captain, it wasn't you who interfered, but this little play of yours has put me in quite a quandary and, frankly, it didn't surprise me at all to learn that you were somehow involved."
"I've missed you, too." Kathryn smiled and then added seriously, "Just what are you planning to do?" She watched as Captain Braxton paced, and the words `Time Lord' floated into her mind, as they had done on her `first contact' with this man. As a child, she'd remembered her holographic programme based on an ancient Earth sci-fi programme for children called `Dr. Who', about a Time Lord who travelled through time in a telephone box! She's always found that amusingly absurd, much the same way as she viewed Braxton.
"I'm thinking," he informed as he continued pacing.
Slowly, the light went out of Kathryn's smile, as she turned her now- sad eyes on the man. "Am I to die, after all?" she asked, in a voice tinged with bravado.
"If I were to unravel all this pollution and send you back to the moment when you beamed down onto that planet then, yes, history would undoubtedly repeat itself."
Kathryn sighed deeply. "Well, what are we waiting for, then? Let's get on with it," she challenged, feeling B'Elanna's hand on her shoulder.
Braxton raised a brow, "Not so fast. The quandary is that I can't just undo this and send you back to that time, the time before you died."
"Why not?" asked Kathryn, trying to hide her relief.
"Because I don't have the power to alter the fact that Voyager will travel through an area of subspace fractures at a point 9 weeks in your future. With your memory newly wiped and given the same background history," he turned his eyes to B'Elanna, "you will still go through a fracture and meet the Captain. You will then proceed to repeat the actions that have led to me bringing you here today. So, nothing will be gained, will it? Nothing at all."
"So, what can you do?" questioned B'Elanna.
"Something unprecedented, no doubt!" He returned his gaze to the Captain. "To stop the Lieutenant here repeating herself I shall allow your continued life," he allowed himself a slight smile, "and I shall remove the body you have in cold storage by taking her back to before she stepped through the fracture." Braxton looked at both women. "Oh, this is complicated."
"But if my future self goes back to just before the sub-space fracture, surely that would mean she/I would still have lived through 9 weeks without the Captain?" B'Elanna looked totally confused.
"Ah," Braxton eyed them both and then walked over to a viewport and stared out. "That's where I'm going to `bend' my own rules. Before I send her back to that time, I will send your future self down with the Away Mission, as before. She will lunge at you," he said, pointing to and looking at the Captain before returning his attention to the half-Klingon, "and be injured by the weapons fire."
Kathryn rubbed her head with her right hand as she looked at Braxton, battling to understand (once again) the nuances of time. "Not that I'm not grateful for my life, I am, but surely when the future B'Elanna saves me, and dies in the attempt, we'll still end up with a body in Sickbay. How's that going to change?"
"Please, pay great attention. I do not intend to grow old on this subject." Nobody got his little joke. He sighed and continued with his explanation. "As the weapons fire penetrates her body," he turned back to B'Elanna, "I shall swap the two of you over."
"But I was drugged."
Braxton turned a look on B'Elanna, the kind of look an exasperated adult would use with a child. "Dear lady. Think about it. If I can do all that I do here," he swept his hands around his domain, "do you really think I couldn't sort that out too?"
"OK, OK. What then?"
"Really, it isn't necessary for you to know more. I shall return you now and, of course, you will have no memory of prior events, especially you, Lieutenant. You won't remember anything between sleeping in your quarters and suddenly being on the Away Mission. On your return to Voyager, they will diagnose a slight memory lapse: it will be put down to the stress."
The Captain frowned. "But, I still don't understand…"
Braxton raised both hands before him and gestured to the women that the conversation was at a close. "Please, it's time to say goodbye. It would be very nice if I didn't see either of you here again."
Just before transportation, to answer a distress call on the planet below, future B'Elanna took one last look at Seven of Nine. In a few moments, if things went to plan, she would be unable to look upon those fine, pale features ever again. She tried to dismiss the thought and concentrated hard on what she had to do next. There would be very little time, she knew, to save the Captain from the fatal shot.
As the Away Team materialised on the planet below, B'Elanna threw herself over towards the Captain and managed to half-push her away from harm, feeling at the same time a searing pain rip through her back as she realised she'd been hit. She would probably die, she knew. `Seven!' The name ripped through her mind as the pain had ripped through her body. In one split second she felt a mixture of emotions: happiness that Seven would continue being happy with her choice of love, and extreme sorrow that she would never hold Seven in her arms, never love her, never be loved by her. She stared at the blonde; her eyes filled with her love. The weapons fire never had a chance to exit future B'Elanna's body before…
Young B'Elanna suddenly felt herself flying through the air and then landing on her Captain. As if that wasn't surprise enough (as her last memory had been of entering her quarters for a shower at the end of her shift) she found Seven, now also at ground level as she had followed Kathryn down, staring at her in a way she had never seen before, her eyes questioning.
"Emergency beam out, now!" ordered Tuvok sharply as Stanton moved quickly forward to help protect the Captain. Narrowly missing Stanton's leg, weapons fire shot past him and into the crouched body of Seven of Nine. Tuvok took a slight wound to his temple before he reached out his arm to scoop up Seven as she slumped towards him, the sparkles claiming them all then.
Rapidly ordering a second jump to Sickbay, Tuvok barked an order to Tom Paris, who must have been receiving further medical training, to attend to B'Elanna (who he had seen take a direct hit) and then half- carried Seven to a waiting bio-bed, helped by a worried Captain.
"Are you injured, Captain?" asked the EMH, already beginning a tricorder reading of the prone body of Seven.
"I'm fine. Just, please… help her." The fact that the Captain's words had been almost shouted at him had not upset the Doctor; he knew what fear and worry did to these organics and, as soon as he was able, he turned to the frightened woman by his side. "She'll be fine. Nothing a dermal regenerator and a good night's sleep won't fix." The Captain exhaled and smiled gratefully.
"Doc?" Tom asked. "It's B'Elanna. I need your help." The Doctor (followed by Tuvok) left Seven's bedside and approached Tom. Taking the instrument that Tom held aloft, he scanned the Lieutenant. "And what did you find, Mr Paris? With your scans?"
"Er, nothing Doc, but that's not the point." Tuvok stared at Tom Paris. He had clearly seen the Lieutenant receive a full blast of weapons fire to her back. And yet, here she was, uninjured. Something told him to hold his tongue and mask his emotions – neither exercise difficult for a Vulcan.
"And what is the point?" the Doctor asked with his usual endearing sarcasm.
"Well, she doesn't seem to have any injuries, especially head injuries, and yet she…"
"Uh, might it be better if I tell him?" suggested B'Elanna. Tom knew when to back off. "What the hell happened, here, Doc?" she continued, "I mean, one minute I'm looking for a shower in my quarters, and it's evening, the next… it's daylight and I'm suddenly flying through the air under fire! Now, can you tell me what's going on!?" The frightened and confused Engineer gave the kind of look to the Doctor that would have crumbled a mere human being.
The phaser fire cutting through her body had been remarkably painless. As her Captain slumped to the floor, future B'Elanna knew she had taken the main impact and she hoped it would be enough. The last thing she saw, as the life breath refused to enter her anymore, was Seven's sweet face.
Now her mind seemed to be slowing everything down as she saw herself on a riverbank, with a picnic spread out before her. Seven was with her, feeding her maple syrup from the end of a long, graceful finger. B'Elanna closed her mouth around the offering, gazing into open blue eyes, filled with love, and slowly she moved her head closer to the blonde. "I love you, Seven," she whispered, as she kissed the full lips before her.
Just as everything went black for the final time, her heart realised she had achieved her final objective, to save Kathryn for Seven. `Be happy with your chosen love, my sweet,' was her last thought, as she smiled.
Tuvok looked around warily. It soon became obvious that the Lieutenant was in her bedroom; he heard the rustle of a sheet as she turned over. The site to site transport had been soundless, he knew, and there was very little chance that anything he would do next would wake the sleeping woman.
Very quietly, he inched his way over to the bed and held the instrument just above B'Elanna's head. The results both dismayed and pleased him as he detected traces of tipamine in the cerebral cortex of the sleeping woman. Tiptoeing back into the living area, Tuvok quietly asked the transporter to put him back in his own quarters, where he sank onto his couch to think it through.
He knew he had been the only one to see the Lieutenant injured on the planet's surface - he also knew there was no sign of her injury on their return to the ship. His Vulcan mind had drawn its logical conclusion: there were two B'Elanna's at some point, back on the planet and probably before then. And that had to mean something temporal was occurring, but he needed proof for his own peace of mind.
Now he had proved his theory correct: there was always a residue of the chemical substance tipamine in the cerebral cortex of those who had a temporal shift. And it had been present in B'Elanna.
The Vulcan sat himself in his meditation position and considered his options. He could not speak of his findings without violating the Temporal Prime Directive, not even to his Captain, he decided. So, there was really only one option available. He would keep it to himself. It was simply a matter of erasing the findings from the tricorder, and erasing the record of two site-to-site transports.
B'Elanna Torres awoke slowly, unwilling as ever to leave the night behind. She lay there with the back of her right hand across her forehead as she slowly opened her eyes and looked around her room. Something was wrong. The wall opposite her bed was moving in the mid- section and a distant memory was stirring, a memory of having met something like this once before, but she couldn't remember when. A subspace fracture, that's what it looked like, anyway. She rubbed her eyes to check it was not some trick of her vision, played by sleep.
It was gone. She stared accusingly at the wall, but it was normal again and she was about to dismiss the event and prepare for the day when she thought, `No… go with your first thought. Perhaps it was really was a subspace fracture.'
"Torres to the Bridge."
"Go ahead B'Elanna," replied an early-bird Captain, who actually enjoyed getting up in the morning. The Lieutenant smiled as she saw, in her mind's eye, Captain Janeway sitting in the Command Chair, looking as fresh as a daisy, while she…
She rubbed her eyes heavily and continued, "Captain, I think I just saw a subspace fracture on a wall in my quarters."
The response was immediate. "All hands, this is the Captain. Be on your guard on all decks; we could be travelling through a series of subspace fractures. Until further notice and where possible, you will all move around the ship in small groups, with a tricorder to each group. Janeway out."
`Well, that oughta do it,' thought the sleepy Engineer as she climbed into the shower to prepare for the day ahead.
Chakotay slowed his exit from the Bridge and turned back. "What is it, Harry?"
Ensign Kim looked a little embarrassed as he took his Superior's arm and propelled him out into the corridor. "I need your help, if you're willing to give it…"
"OK, if I can."
"It's Velocity," he began to Chakotay's sudden grin, "I'm terrible. Everyone beats me. I wondered if you might spare the time…"
"This sounds like one of those training scenarios they used to set out in the Academy, you know… `this can't be fixed, but go ahead and do your best anyway." Chakotay was very pleased with his analysis of Harry's chances.
Harry was less enthusiastic. "Yeah, well it helps if you (at least) half-way believe in your student's possibilities!"
"Would you settle for an eighth?"
"Done!" Harry slapped the Commander's shoulder and allowed a smile as the two men walked along the corridor. "I can't wait to see the Captain's face when I beat her at this game one day!"
"Oh now, wait a minute." The First Officer looked at Harry while they continued walking, "I can help train you, but… you want a miracle, you're going to have to work for it, Ensign!"
"Yeah, I know. I lost my clarinet, by the way. You see it?"
"I think I'd have noticed."
Kathryn sat, in the privacy of the quarters she shared with Seven. The young woman was still on her shift and the Captain had decided to review the letters she would leave to three people in the event of her death – Seven, B'Elanna and Tuvok. Reading through each one, she became saddened by the fact that these words would only be delivered by letter and not said face to face. Perhaps it was time to alter that – perhaps she could do a little of both.
"Come in," shouted B'Elanna. Her Captain entered and watched with amusement as the Lieutenant wrestled, on the floor, with a large cushion from the base of the couch. "I was doing this when you buzzed. With all the advancements of the 24th Century, the damned cushion covers still move around and need coaxing back into place."
It was the last cushion, and the woman clearly needed no help. Kathryn took up a position on the nearby chair. "Can I talk to you, while you're doing that?"
"Hey – I'm `woman' – what can I tell you. We can do endless things at once!"
They both laughed. "I've written out some letters, to be distributed in the event of… my death."
The Lieutenant stopped what she was doing and sat back on her haunches, giving the Captain her full attention. "I, uh, well I guess it makes sense, although I don't like to think of any of us not getting through this voyage of ours." She studied her Captain's face. "Why tell me now, though?"
"Maybe it struck me as sad that you'd only get to know what's in my heart after my death, and not before." B'Elanna made no move to speak, waiting for more. "I can't think of anyone else on the ship I would ask this of."
"The letter asks – I ask – if you would look after Seven for me, if I die. I know I'm being selfish, but I just want to know someone would be there for her if…" Kathryn stopped speaking as a strange expression crossed the Engineer's eyes. It was unmistakable, and the silence that followed was uncomfortable.
B'Elanna looked away as the tears began to sting, hoping she could keep it together long enough to deal with the next few minutes. Clearly, concealment was out of the question now - she would have to move for damage limitation.
The Captain recovered first, and with a voice colder than before she asked, "Is that why you've been refusing our latest offers to join us for a meal?" B'Elanna was silent. "And I prided myself on the fact that I'd brought the two of you together in the spirit of… friendship. Of course, it all makes sense now," she finished quietly. "How long?"
B'Elanna, still sitting on her knees, threw her head back and snorted a breath. "Oh, I don't know, a couple of weeks, I guess." She looked at the hurt in her friend's eyes. "Hey, but she loves you. And I would never do anything to ruin that. She'll never know, I promise you that. I'll never say a word to her."
The Captain got up and moved to the replicator for a much-needed drink and, following the hybrid's shake of the head, returned with just her coffee, sitting back down and watching the Lieutenant's renewed attempts with the cushion. After a while, and with a slight smile, Kathryn said, "I thought you hated each other!"
"Yeah, well." The cushion suddenly found itself receiving excess force. "When I finally stopped fighting you and accepted your invitations to lunch with the two of you, I began to see Seven in her true light." Looking up, she added shyly, "I liked it, I liked her. And that surprised the hell out of me!"
Kathryn cut right through it. "And when did you realise you were in love with her?" She eyed her Engineer over the rim of the coffee cup, considering what an odd conversation this was.
"Just now." B'Elanna looked away, "when you…" She stopped and composed herself. "I guess, before, I just knew things had started to change and that I should stay away. Whereas before I had felt good around the two of you, I started to feel uncomfortable near Seven; unable to relax in her company, unable to look at her. It crept up on me slowly and I was too stupid to realise what was happening… until now."
"Oh, B'Elanna," there was still pain in the Captain's eyes, but now it was for her friend and no longer for herself. "I'm so sorry."
"Hey, no big deal. I guess, as long as Seven's happy, that's all I should really care about, huh?" The cushion, badly bruised from it's experiences, was finally ready to be re-introduced to the couch, and it was pushed roughly into position, B'Elanna flopping down on it. She sniffed. "Well, that's part of your letter…" She dared a look in her Captain's direction and, catching her superior's eyes, they both laughed, easing the tension substantially. "What was the rest?"
"Only that I love you, my friend. I wrote in the letter how I wished I could tell you, but that it's not the sort of thing we say to each other." The Engineer finally managed to crumble and tears ran softly down her cheeks.
"You love me? Then get over here and give me a hug," B'Elanna said through a watery smile, "'cause I've just decided this hurts like hell."
"Oh, sweetheart." Kathryn sat beside her friend and gathered her up, allowing her to cry freely.
"I'm sorry, I can't change it," B'Elanna sniffed. "I wish I didn't love her, but I do. But listen, anyone with half an eye can see the love she has for you, so don't worry yourself, OK?." The Captain murmured an acknowledgement.
B'Elanna rubbed both hands across her cheeks, sniffed and sat upright. With the mood lightening slightly, Kathryn risked it. "So, I can assume, then, that if I died you would take care of Seven for me?" It was all it needed. The two women were both sporting more tears in a short space of time, but this time they were tears of laughter.
"Seven?" Caught just outside the Mess Hall doors, B'Elanna turned around to look at the Astrometrics Officer. "What can I do for you?"
"I hoped you would explain something."
"If I can," answered the Engineer, looking down the corridor and shuffling, "shoot."
"The look you gave me during the Away Mission, I have tried to explain it but I cannot. It has puzzled me ever since."
"Well," replied B'Elanna, becoming frustrated by this conversation, "if I knew what you were talking about, perhaps I could help you." She stared directly at Seven.
The ex-Borg searched the Lieutenant's eyes and saw nothing in the way of recognition of her words. "I'm sorry, Lieutenant, I must have been mistaken. Good day."
Seven moved on through the Mess Hall doors, followed by a confused Engineer. `Well! She doesn't get any better…' muttered B'Elanna mentally.
"What?" said Harry as she joined him for lunch.
"Huh? Oh, that damned drone. I don't know what the Captain sees in her."
"Oh, I do…" dreamed Harry, staring around his luncheon companion at the woman in question. He enjoyed a longing look for at least two seconds before receiving a friendly cuff around the ear. He returned his attention to his friend. "OK, Maquis, so how's your day going?"
"Pretty boring so far. Trust me, nothing ever happens around here…"
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