DISCLAIMER: The characters of Star Trek Voyager, the ship, and the stars all belong to Paramount/Voyager. No copyright infringement was intended. I just bought them an ice cream cone and then tucked them safely into bed. This story contains references, both blatant and oblique, to the relationship between two women. If this is not your cup of tea or if your head does not quite reach the clown's hand to get on this ride, then please have a lovely time somewhere else.
SPECIAL NOTE: This story also explores the concepts of faith and religion. If you feel that you may be offended by the honest and respectful exploration of this subject, then please, don't read any further. To everyone else, I welcome all polite dialogue on the ideas and issues explored in this story. I want to be clear that I intend no offense or impiety to any religious belief or to any faith.
ADDITIONAL NOTE: I often find that when I am reading a story, it helps to have a clear idea of the pronunciation of certain words or names, especially those dealing with or derived from different cultures.
The name KYRENE (Kir [as in Kira] - Ren [as in the bird]), is a name of Greek origin.
The word a 'g g e h o d o is from the ancient Greek and is translated as "ANGEL".
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Dedicated to Elizabeth, my dear friend, for showing me the wonder of God in the amazing composition of an atom. Special thanks go to Gina for her encouragement and advice. Deepest gratitude to AbyKitten for reaffirming my faith in the goodness of people. And last but never least, this is for Rhoda.... There is no such thing as coincidence or Fate, only the will of God. This is for my grandmothers, Clara and Regina, who always believed in my abilities. Their "strength like a rock" and their quiet beauty will always be with me.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
The Nature of Faith
Kathryn Janeway opened her eyes to find herself in an unfamiliar room. She was dressed, not in her uniform, but in a long gown, a sheath of white wool, lined in warm silk that whispered against her body. The room was large and open, with only a single window, set deep into one wall. The panes of the window were wide and thick, and moving closer, Kathryn could see the bubbles and waves in the hand-blown glass. Through the windowpane, she could see a garden, lush and bursting with a kaleidoscope of colors. Beyond the garden lay a meadow, a verdant, succulent river of green, flowing down out of sight into the shade of the trees that rose up against the vibrant blue sky.
Turning to study the room, Kathryn saw an ancient oak table that stood against the far wall. Walking over to it, Kathryn slid her hand along its worn surface. The wood was cool and smooth, and seemed to push up to meet her hand, like a lover luxuriating in a warm caress. On the table was laid a simple earthenware bowl of fruit, along with a cutting board of mottled blue marble on which rested a crusty loaf of bread, and a thick aromatic wedge of cheese. A pewter pitcher containing wine the color of blackberries, its metal gleaming dully in the light, stood at the far end of the table. The pitcher was framed on either side by two heavy goblets of the finest Venetian glass, crackles of age threading through like spider's webs, captured beneath the crystal. Two matching chairs, their wood as worn and aged as the table, stood invitingly, adorned with cushions of the deepest purple.
The room was luminous, the walls a pristine white, the floors made of wide planks of the palest pine. Yet, it wasn't simply the colors of the room. It was the quality of the light, the scent of a dew-laden Spring morning that lingered in the air, and the enveloping, pervasive feeling of peace. In one wall was set a thickly carved, paneled door, and as Kathryn moved toward it, she could hear footsteps approaching from the other side. The faded brass doorknob turned slowly, and with a muted sigh, the door swung open.
A woman stood framed in the doorway, clothed just as Kathryn was, the long white sheath falling around her bare ankles. The brilliant sunlight from the garden beyond the door filtered in around her, almost too bright for Kathryn's eyes. The woman was lovely, her blonde hair cut in a short bob that fell like a curtain of silver around her face. Her features were perfectly formed, elegant and refined. It was her eyes however that caught Kathryn's attention. Crystal clear pieces of emerald ice stared out of that ethereal face, their expression gentle and surprisingly fond. Yet there was something more in those eyes, something barely glimpsed, like a light moving quickly behind a drawn curtain. Something elusive and nebulous that caused Kathryn's breath to catch in her throat, uncertain of what she had seen there.
"Hello Kathryn," the woman said softly, her voice as rich and burnished as the silver of her hair. She spoke in Federation Standard, the faint accent difficult to place.
Up until this point Kathryn had merely been curious, cautious but not unduly concerned, but something about this stranger knowing her name, coupled with what she had glimpsed behind those brilliant eyes, set off alarm bells inside Kathryn's head.
"Computer, freeze program." No response.
"Computer, end program." Still nothing.
"Computer, arch." The only response was a slight chuckle from the woman standing before her.
"Don't be alarmed, Kathryn. This is not your ship, and I am not a hologram. Please, I assure you, there is no reason for you to be apprehensive," she said gently, a smile just touching the corners of her mouth.
Kathryn found herself staring into those remarkable eyes. A faint feeling of recognition stirred somewhere deep inside her mind, like a cat stretching after a long nap. She was certain she had never seen this woman before, and yet, some small part of her knew an instinctive bond.
"Do I know you?" Janeway asked finally, her voice hesitant.
The woman smiled again, a fond, slightly amused smile. Shaking her head, she moved around Kathryn, crossing the room to stare out the window at the lush garden that lay spread out before her. After a moment, she turned back to Kathryn.
"To answer your question, no, we have never met. But you do know me."
"How can that be?" Kathryn asked, an edge of frustration just beginning to be heard in her voice.
"I believe your scientific mind would call it a genetic memory. I have known your people since you were nothing more than a vague plan in the mind of God."
"The mind of God?" Janeway responded, the skepticism plain in every syllable. "Are you one of the Q?"
Gazing at Kathryn as one would a precocious and recalcitrant child, the fond smile still gracing her lips, the woman said somewhat reproachfully, "Given your past dealings and experiences with the Q, I have a hazy suspicion that I should be a trifle insulted by that question. However, given those dealings, I suppose that you would have cause to be a bit suspicious yourself. No, I am not one of the Q. The Q are not God by the way, though they behave as though they think otherwise."
"Then who are you and why have you brought me here?"
"Would you like to walk in the garden? You'll find it quite lovely."
"I want you to tell me who you are and why you have removed me from my ship."
"What makes you think that you aren't still sleeping soundly in your bed, Seven curled up sweetly beside you? How do you know that this isn't merely a dream?"
Drawing in a deep breath, Kathryn attempted to control the feelings of impatience and frustration she was experiencing. It seemed that this woman, whoever she was, knew a great deal about her life. Getting angry would do no good. After all, if this being was powerful enough to remove her from her ship and bring her here, wherever here was, then upsetting the woman seemed somewhat foolish.
"Please," Janeway asked calmly, "Who are you and what do you want from me?"
"What do you believe in, Kathryn Janeway?"
"What do I believe in?"
"Yes, what do you believe in?"
"Myself I suppose, and my crew. I believe in what I can see, in what I can prove."
"Do you not believe in something greater than yourself? A Supreme Being, a unifying force?"
"Are you asking me if I believe in God?" Kathryn asked, a puzzled expression on her beautiful face.
"Do you?" The woman asked, seeming to already know the answer.
"You took me from my ship, from my bed, and brought me here to ask me if I believe in God? That's all?" Kathryn couldn't quite keep the slightly sarcastic tone out of her voice.
"You don't think it's an important question?" As the woman spoke, Kathryn caught another brief glimpse of something unfathomable in those green eyes.
"To be perfectly frank, no, I don't really think it's all that relevant," Janeway answered honestly, "But you knew I was going to say that didn't you?"
"Yes, I suppose I did, but I still had hope that perhaps I might be mistaken."
"Why? What possible difference could it make to anyone if I believe in a God, or any God for that matter?"
A trace of sadness, of ancient and untold sorrow, ghosted across those exquisite eyes, and suddenly Kathryn felt as she had as a young girl in the face of her parent's disappointment. Though she was loath to admit it, part of what the woman had said rang true. Kathryn did know her. She had seen her face thousands of times, in a hundred thousand different places, over the course of millions of years. It was a genetic memory, a recollection of the entire human race. Yet, the memory did not inspire fear. With it came, instead, an encompassing feeling of absolute peace and abiding love.
"Who are you?" Kathryn entreated her, the need to know, to name overwhelming her.
"Would you honestly believe me, if I told you?" the woman rejoined, her voice full of regret.
"I promise to try," Janeway said sincerely, her brows pulled together in concentration.
"Very well. I am a part of God."
"Of God? What God? Or rather, whose God?"
"There is but one."
It was Kathryn's turn to shake her head ruefully. Since time began, various cultures, including her own, had, at some point in their evolution, claimed that their deity was the one and only true god. Wars had been fought, whole races enslaved and slaughtered in the name of one god or another. While some cultures, like the Bajorans, had managed to grow and evolve with their religious beliefs primarily intact, most were like Kathryn's own, leaving the alter of faith cold and untended, turning instead to the worship of science and empirical fact.
"I'm sorry but too many worlds have been conquered, too much suffering has been caused in the name of the one true God. I meant, what race are you, which God do you follow?"
"I know what you meant Kathryn. And, sadly you are correct. Too many have taken the wrong path, too much has been destroyed in the name of faith. However, I was not referring to the Gods of the Egyptians, or the Klingons, or the Talaxians, or to the Prophets of the Bajorans, or even the God of the Israelites. They are all one. There is but one God, one creator, one force that controls the universe. I am an aide if you will, a First Officer to put it in terms you will understand."
The disbelief and skepticism was evident not only in Kathryn's expression, but in every line of her body. The woman simply watched her, her own expression pensive and yet, still quite affectionate. Janeway had decided some minutes ago that the best course of action right now was to appear be receptive and open-minded. She had no way of knowing where she was, where Voyager was, or how to get back to her ship. At this point, it seemed that discretion was the better part of valor.
"Come now, my dear, surely you have speculated on the existence of a unifying force? I have always been somewhat amazed that so many cultures have had difficulty reconciling faith and science. It is so clear that they are complementary not mutually exclusive. After all, Kathryn, the universe functions by an astonishingly complex and paradoxical set of rules. Does it make sense to you, as a scientist, that if the natural state of life and matter is a state of chaos, that the known universe should exist instead in a state of flawless, prearranged order?"
"If that is true, then how do you explain black holes or the immense paradoxes to be found within time and space? If your god is responsible for creating the laws of physics that govern the universe, then he or she obviously missed a few details," Kathryn replied, a slightly acerbic note in her voice.
A smile of pure amusement lit her companion's beautiful face, as she slowly shook her head. A soft chuckle, musical and low, echoed off the bare walls, as the woman slowly crossed the room to the table against the far wall. Effortlessly lifting the heavy pewter pitcher, she poured the deep violet wine into the crystal goblets. She turned to Kathryn, a proffered goblet held in her outstretched hand, the fond smile still gracing her full lips. She stood there for a moment, obviously expecting Kathryn to take the glass.
When Janeway failed to move, the woman chuckled again, quirking an eyebrow in a way that reminded Kathryn of Seven.
"You don't really think I would attempt to poison you, do you my dear?" she said gently, "I assure you, my ever-suspicious friend, if I did wish to end your life, I wouldn't have to resort to such a primitive method. It simply would end." As the being spoke, Kathryn glimpsed again that specious light, that ambiguous, indistinct something, that lurked behind those verdant eyes.
"Please, share the wine with me," the woman entreated, the glass still held in her outstretched hand, "Most cultures, including your own, consider it good form to carry on a discussion while breaking bread together. Please, won't you join me?"
Somewhat reluctantly, Janeway moved across the room, carefully taking the goblet from the woman's hand. As she did, their fingers touched, the barest brush of skin, but Kathryn felt a palpable shock, as if a current of some sort had been channeled into each and every one of her nerve endings. It wasn't like the electricity that she felt whenever she and Seven touched. There was nothing sexual to this. It felt instead as if she had laid her hand against the warp core itself and felt the hum and energy, the sheer might of the antimatter and matter mingling and churning together, creating a force that could propel a starship to the unknown reaches of a vast universe.
Startled, Kathryn looked up into those green eyes and saw that the woman had noted her reaction. Yet, her expression was not one of omnipotent gloating or smugness, but remained gentle, holding the tenderness of one gazing at a favored and beloved child. Gesturing for Kathryn to join her, she seated herself gracefully in one of the chairs.
After a moment's hesitation, Kathryn seated herself in the other chair. Taking a cautious sip from her glass she was pleasantly surprised to discover that the wine was dry, smooth and mellow, lying on her tongue like the richest of chocolate. Almost idly, she wondered how long she had been away from her ship, and if Seven had noticed her absence and alerted Chakotay and the rest of the senior staff. Not that they would be able to attempt a rescue. For a brief instant, gazing into the impossible depths of her companion's green eyes, Kathryn wondered if she even needed to be ransomed.
This place, wherever it was, seemed to exist out of time. It was difficult to describe but there was a stillness here that she had never before encountered. It was a place of lacking, an expanse of encompassing absence. No sound or distraction, no feeling that anything existed outside this one finite time and place. It was a state of tranquility, an overwhelming feeling of peace. And, yet, Kathryn felt restless, anxious to know who this being was and what she wanted from her. She hadn't risen to the rank she held, and managed to keep her ship and crew intact, alone in the Delta Quadrant for almost seven years, without being a trifle paranoid.
"Well, now that we have gotten the social pleasantries out of the way, why don't we get back to the subject at hand?" Janeway urged, attempting in some small way to gain the upper hand in an uncertain situation.
With another amused chuckle, her companion responded, "Of course, Kathryn. I believe we were discussing the mutable laws of physics, were we not? Specifically paradoxes of time and space correct? And you were suggesting, in a typically arrogant, and I might add, somewhat caustic way, that you, and by extension, your race, have a much better grasp on the finer points of astrophysics than, 'my god', as you put it. A claim, I must tell you, as accurate as that of a four year old human child asserting that she could construct an antimatter containment field using wooden blocks and some glue."
"Even after all of these centuries, your race is still so young, yet, as ever, so arrogant and sure of itself. Honestly, Kathryn, do you truly insist that simply because you do not understand a law, or even recognize its existence, that it does not in fact exist? Somehow, that doesn't seem very scientifically minded of you," the woman finished, just a hint of reproach on her face.
Kathryn paused for a moment, unsure of whether to argue the point or to graciously acknowledge that there still were things beyond the current scope of human understanding. Since it seemed quite clear that this was one argument she couldn't win, she opted for a different tactic, hoping that by sending the conversation off into another direction, she could learn something that would tell her what this being wanted with her.
Inclining her head, Kathryn said, "Point taken. I will freely admit that there are a great many things that we still don't know or understand about the workings of the universe." Janeway paused again, giving her next words greater impact.
"You say that there is but one god, one creator of all things?" she asked, continuing on before the woman could do more than nod her head in agreement, " And that this being is a kind and benevolent one, concerned with the lives of his or her creations? If that is true, if there is a supreme being, one powerful enough to mold the galaxies and bring forth life from inert matter, why then is there so much suffering, so much pain? Why are wars fought, whole races enslaved or slaughtered at the whim of another? If your god is so omnipotent, and so loving, why isn't it responsible for all the misdeeds committed in its name?"
By the time that Kathryn finished her questions, she was surprised to find that her voice had altered, taking on a tone of earnestness and emotion, the voice of a child asking why a beloved pet had died. She stared into those fathomless green eyes as images of death and destruction scrolled through her mind like an old motion picture. Frame after frame showed the mangled hulls of ships spinning lifeless in the void of space and the bodies of friends and strangers, robbed of life long before their time, rendered spiritless and irretrievable.
The woman regarded her thoughtfully for a few minutes. She had obviously been expecting this argument, but she seemed intent on giving Kathryn's clearly heartfelt questions due respect. Finally, she spoke, her own voice quiet and gentle.
"Tell me Kathryn, do you know who designed and built your ship?" she asked her.
Janeway had been expecting platitudes about accepting God's will, or trite statements about the mysteries of the universe, not this seemingly innocuous question.
"You want to know who designed and built Voyager?" she queried, a somewhat baffled look on her face, "What does that have to do with this discussion?"
"Who built your ship Kathryn? Do you know?"
"I believe that Dr. Leah Brahms and her team at Utopia Planetia designed Voyager. It was built at the shipyard there on Mars." Kathryn answered, her mind still registering a bit of confusion at the sudden change of topic.
"Bear with me here a moment, will you?" the woman asked, rising from her chair to cross to the window, gazing out at the garden spread before her, as if she would find the answer in the lines and patterns of the flower beds. She turned, at length, to face Kathryn, her expression grave.
"So, following your apparent line of reasoning to its obvious conclusion, Dr. Brahms and her colleagues are responsible for all of the terrible events that have befallen you and your crew. They are responsible for your ship being lost in the Delta Quadrant, responsible for your encounters with the Kazon, the Hirogen, with Species 8472, and the Borg, indeed, responsible, in fact, for the deaths of many of your crew. Given this, I am certain that upon your return to Earth that you will have the good doctor and her team brought up on charges of treason, of giving aid and comfort to the enemy and, of course, of murder."
"My line of reasoning?" Kathryn questioned, a puzzled frown etched into the skin of her forehead, "I'm afraid I don't follow you."
"Wasn't that what you were suggesting, Kathryn? You did suggest that a being capable of designing and building an object of awe and wonder, of technological advancement, of great beauty and amazing power was, in some way, responsible for all the deeds and misdeeds for which and with which it was utilized, did you not? After all, to the people of 11th century Earth, wouldn't your starship, with all its power and beauty and possibilities, be as much of an object of wonder and awe as the universe is to you?"
"And following that reasoning, would not the designer and creator of such a marvel be responsible for its might, for the wasteful and malicious use of its power, and thus responsible for whatever horrors the cruel and vengeful may bring about?"
"Thus, it follows that Dr. Brahms bears the weight of responsibility for everything that has happened to your ship. After all, she designed it, gave it its own unique style and shape, endowed it with power and strength and grace. The fact that once it left Utopia Planetia it was no longer hers to control, that others sat at its helm, guided its motion, inhabited its innermost workings, marveled at the beauty and wonder and unfathomable cruelties it revealed to them, mattered not at all. Nor did the fact that their will, their desires, their dreams, and their actions were never hers to govern." The being paused a moment, crossing to stand directly in front of Kathryn before continuing.
"If a creator does not merely create and then hand over her creation to the will and pleasure of others but instead continues to bear the onus of her creation, what then? If a creator is, in fact, accountable for all the joys and sacrileges wrought with her creation by others, as you suggest God is, then how can your Dr. Brahms not be chargeable for all your misfortunes, Captain?"
Kathryn sat for an immeasurable amount of time, silent and contemplative. As the counterpoint had been made, her brain had registered a bit of awe at the skill and intellect of her companion. Had the woman merely suggested the concept of free will, Kathryn knew she would have simply dismissed it out of hand as a naive and ineffectual response. Yet there was something compelling about the analogy, something Kathryn knew she couldn't quite repudiate.
"Free will, eh?" Janeway replied finally, "Dr. Brahms is no more or less answerable for the events that have befallen my ship than your god is for all of the catastrophes and cataclysm that have come to pass in this ship that he or she built that we call the universe?"
The woman smiled at her, honestly pleased that Kathryn had so quickly understood her point, yet certain that Janeway hadn't quite given up the argument.
"A little too easy isn't it? What if the builder discovers that the crew chosen to man the ship isn't ready yet, aren't prepared for the technology or the journey? What happens then? Doesn't your builder then have some responsibility, if not to insure the safety of the crew then to insure the safety of the ship?"
Chuckling softly, the woman replied, "You aren't going to break the ship Kathryn. And if you did, there are other ships to build. The ship builder has to trust the crew, has to rely on their judgement, their skill in sailing it, their ethics, and their morals. If the builder only allowed those ships to sail whose crews were ready, all but a few of the ships would be left bereft and unpopulated, stranded forever in dry dock. After all, my dear, what is the point of building a ship if you never experience the joy and wonder of seeing it slip silently through the stars?"
"There would seem to be one major difference between poor Dr. Brahms and God however. After all, the good doctor is only human, plagued with all the inherent frailties and weaknesses of mere mortals. Even if she wanted to save the crews of any of the ships she has designed from death or destruction, she doesn't have that power," Kathryn said resolutely, "Yet, according to you and all that I know of various religious beliefs, God does. God is all-powerful, all knowing, capable of all things. Shouldn't a being that omnipotent use its power to stop the calamities and horrors, the atrocities and slaughters that happen in this ship daily, hourly? Is it really enough to say that the architect and builder of our universal ship can't be held accountable for the daily carnage when he or she is potentially able to stop it? Doesn't omnipotence carry a heavier burden?"
"You tell me, Kathryn. Does vastly superior intellect, infinitely more advanced technology, inordinately more evolved socio-cultural ideals and ethics give you the right to interfere in the daily lives and workings of other cultures and planets? Is that burden for you and your people of a weightier nature than it is for, oh, shall we say the Kazon or the pre-warp society of the last planet you passed? After all, you have the power to have a profound effect on their cultures, their lives. You could make everything perfect, give them knowledge and technology, cure all their diseases, end all their conflicts. In short, you could curtail every calamity with the touch of a few buttons on your ship. Yet, you don't. Why is that Kathryn?"
"I think you already know the answer to that question," Janeway responded.
"Pretend I don't. Tell me why, with all the wonders of your civilization, with all your powers you don't end the suffering of those less fortunate souls?"
"Our Prime Directive forbids us to interfere in the internal workings or affairs of other planets or cultures. We are also forbidden to give technology or knowledge of such technology to peoples not yet advanced enough to have developed them for themselves, or to have contact with any pre-warp society for fear of contaminating their evolution," Kathryn answered woodenly, her tone forced.
"I see where you're headed with this," Janeway stated, her hand raised to forestall comment from her companion, "But there is one major difference. We didn't create those other races. Despite our advancements, we are not significantly more evolved than they are. In other words, while we may have achieved a great deal in terms of technology and space travel, we are not all powerful."
"Quite true. But, answer one last question for me, if you will?" the woman asked respectfully, "Do you not believe that there should be some limits to omnipotence?"
It was Kathryn's turn to chuckle as she replied. "Isn't that something of a contradiction in terms? Limited omnipotence?"
"Not necessarily. I know for a fact that you are among many that feel that the Q should use a bit more... discretion, shall we say, in the use of their rather extensive powers. Or do you enjoy being treated as no more than a party favor or better yet, a beloved pet, by that group of puerile and destructive beings, simply because they have that power?" When Janeway didn't respond she continued.
"So, doesn't it make sense that a truly omnipotent being should exercise some restraint, should not become involved in the daily struggles of less advanced species, in the lives of those to whom that being gave life, even if in doing so, lives are lost or worlds destroyed?"
Kathryn sighed deeply. It was becoming more and more obvious that she was out of her league here. Every point she made was met with a brilliant counterpoint, each striking a decisive blow to her core argument. And she still had no idea why she was here.
"Well, despite enjoying the wonderful wine and the scintillating conversation, I'm afraid I need to get back to my original questions. Why am I here and what exactly do you want from me?"
"Salvation," the woman replied quietly.
"Salvation?" Kathryn asked sharply.
"From the Latin, salvare, to save. A deliverance from difficulty or evil; redemption," her companion supplied, a slight smile ghosting across those green eyes.
"I know the definition," Janeway retorted, "I was interested in whose salvation, and what it had to do with me and my ship."
"You are in a rather unique position, Kathryn, one in which very few beings ever find themselves. You have the opportunity to be both the saved and the savior, if only you find the purpose and the faith. One without the other will do you no good."
"At some point are you going to stop talking in riddles and analogies and tell me what it is you want me to do?" Kathryn rejoined, her patience wearing thin.
"Very well. Eighteen light years from your present course is what you term an M-class planet, populated by a race called The Senoch. There are approximately thirty million people on this planet. The Senoch are warp-capable, though their technology is about one hundred and fifty of your years behind your own. However, in terms of moral and ethical development, of what some consider the true marks of civilization, they are far more advanced than your Federation members are. They are also an extremely religious and spiritual people. Their faith is as much a part of their culture as science is to yours," she told Kathryn, her voice eerily calm.
"In eight days time, a meteor will impact their planet, leaving a crater the size of your Australian continent and destroying all life. Thus far their scientists, capable though they are, have been unable to find a way to destroy the meteor before it reaches their planet. While attempting to find a scientific way to save their world, The Senoch have also depended upon their faith. They have prayed for God to save them from this catastrophe."
"Didn't we spend the last few hours discussing the fact that God doesn't interfere, that he or she is not responsible for cataclysmic events?" Janeway asked, true frustration in her voice.
"Yes, we did. However, at no time did I ever suggest that there were any absolutes. After all, Captain, have there not been several occasions when you yourself disregarded your Prime Directive, because not to do so would go against everything you believe or know to be right? Shouldn't the Supreme Being be allowed the same courtesy as a starship captain?"
"So, you want me to find a way to stop the meteor and save these people, is that the gist of this?" Kathryn couldn't quite hide her bafflement at why it had taken so long for the woman to make this simple request, "Why didn't you just ask me that at the very beginning?"
Sighing softly, the woman crossed the room again to stand in front of the window. She turned to face Kathryn, her expression unreadable. The angle of the sunlight streaming in through the aged glass caused the rays to frame her head, turning her hair to a brilliant cap of silver and gold. Her eyes glowed dimly in that exquisite face and the white sheath she wore fell without a wrinkle, barely brushing the hardwood floor. In that single moment, staring at the vision across the room, Kathryn Janeway was no longer a starship captain, no longer an acclaimed scientist. Instead she was but a child of five, standing, her mother's hand clasped tightly in her own, in the chapel of a medieval church in England, gazing up at the colors of an ancient stained glass window.
"You're an angel," that child exclaimed, before the grown woman she had become could stop her.
"Yes, that is what your people called me. Archangel to be precise," the woman replied with a fond smile, "I'm surprised Kathryn. I thought you didn't believe in God, much less angels?"
Slightly flustered and embarrassed at her outburst, Janeway responded brusquely.
"I don't. It simply occurred to me where I had seen your face before. It was in an ancient representation of Judeo-Christian beliefs. Your people must have come in contact with the people of Earth early in our development and they simply assumed you were gods, or messengers of gods anyway."
"Getting back to my question, why didn't you tell me about this planet at the outset? Did you think I wouldn't try to help?"
"I knew you would try help, Kathryn. It isn't that simple however. There is much more at stake here than just averting a tragedy. Besides, you should know by now that nothing is ever as clear as it first appears. In order to save The Senoch, you will have to make a choice Kathryn, a choice that will risk your ship, your crew and alter forever everything you thought to be true. I said earlier that you would need not only strength of purpose but faith as well. Without the latter, you will not succeed."
"Faith in what?" Janeway asked, suspicious that she already knew the answer.
"Faith in something you can neither explain away nor understand, something that doesn't fall within the parameters of your science. Something you can't control. Something that is inexplicable and mysterious. You must have faith in something greater than yourself, in a being greater than yourself. Without it, you will fail."
"If The Senoch are so devout and obviously so worthy of salvation, why don't you save them yourself? Clearly, you are more than capable of turning away a chunk of frozen gas and rock. What do you need me for?" Kathryn queried, a bit taken aback by her companion's words.
"If I saved them, what would it serve you, my dear?"
"How would saving them serve me in any way?" Janeway questioned.
"I told you, Kathryn. A deliverance from difficulty or evil; redemption. Surely even starship captains deserve that?"
"I see. This is about the state of my soul?" Kathryn replied, unable again to completely keep the mocking tone from her voice.
"It's time for you to return now," the woman responded, not even acknowledging Janeway's question, "I will see you again when you reach The Senoch. Think about what we discussed Kathryn. Sweet dreams."
"Wait!" Janeway said urgently, "You never answered my very first question. You never told me who you are, what to call you."
"You may call me Kyrene. If you should wish to speak to me before you reach the planet, simply call my name. Now, back to bed with you."
The next instant Kathryn was indeed back on Voyager, back in her own bed, Seven sleeping peacefully beside her. Glancing quickly at the chronometer on the bedside table, she saw that it was only a few minutes past two. She and Seven had been up late, not turning in till after 0100 hours. Kathryn realized that what had seemed like hours away from Voyager had in fact been nanoseconds at most.
Lying quietly, listening to the steady sound of Seven's breathing, Kathryn wondered if it had all been a dream. She realized she should have immediately awoken the senior staff, had the Doctor run tests to determine if indeed her body's internal chronometer and cells reflected a discrepancy with that of the ship's instruments. She should be recording all that had transpired in her log, having Seven and Harry run scans to attempt to locate a cloaked ship or any other possible explanation for what had occurred. Yet, she did none of this. Her eyes slipped shut, a feeling of peace settling over her. There would be time for all of that in the morning. Perhaps it was something in the wine or perhaps Kyrene had in some way affected her biorhythms. Regardless of the reason, Kathryn Janeway fell into a deep and untroubled sleep.
Kathryn awoke suddenly. Glancing at the chronometer, she saw that it was 0624. Soon the modulated voice of the computer would announce the time and raise the lights, informing her that it was time to awake and prepare for Alpha shift, morning watch. Allowing her eyes to adjust to the semi-darkness, she gazed around the room, taking in the comforting and familiar sights of her furniture, her quarters. Turning her head, she saw the beautiful, sleeping countenance of Seven of Nine. As she watched Seven, Kathryn began to go over the events of last night in her mind. She immediately discarded the idea that it might have been a dream. Her mind had never been one that had supplied her with extreme flights of fancy, waking or asleep. And the being she had met had most definitely fallen into the extremely fanciful category.
As soon as she reached the Bridge she would have Seven or Harry scan for the planet. If it actually was there, as Kyrene had told her, then she would have the helm set a course. After all, it was only eight light years away, and if what she had been told was true, then The Senoch definitely seemed to be in dire need of help. For some reason that she had trouble explaining even to herself, Kathryn felt hesitant about calling a staff meeting, and sharing her experience with the members of her crew. Rationally she knew that she had done nothing wrong or unwarranted, and yet, she felt a reluctance to place the experience and Kyrene under scrutiny.
Starship captains are trained to show no fear, no emotion in potentially dangerous or unknown situations. Janeway never allowed that command mask to slip in front of her crew, never let them have an inkling that she might be experiencing any trepidation. Yet, for some inexplicable reason, in this instance, she also had difficulty with the idea of having them know that, aside from that first moment of anxiety last night, upon discovering herself off her ship, she had never felt anything but an odd, and upon reflection, discomfiting feeling of peace.
She should have been more aggressive, should have asked more questions, been less cooperative with the being that had abducted her. She had made no demands to be returned to Voyager, no stipulations on what information she would share. Instead she had spent what, she had to admit to herself, was a strangely enjoyable few hours with a brilliant and inordinately fascinating woman.
To compound it, upon being returned to her ship, she had made no effort to ascertain who or what the being was or where it might have taken her. She hadn't tried in the least to verify any of the information the being had provided, hadn't even woken Seven to tell her of the bizarre incident. A small part of her that was still the Admiral's stickler-for-regulations-daughter felt almost as if she had given aid and comfort to the enemy. It was this part that felt reservations about sharing the experience, whole or edited, with her senior staff.
As Kathryn lay there, attempting to convince herself that there was no way not to inform her crew, the computer suddenly brought up the lights, announcing that it was time to prepare for morning watch. Seven's Prussian blue eyes opened at the sound of the computer's voice. A slow, sweet smile slid lazily across her face as she found herself staring into the beautiful face of the woman she loved.
"Good morning," she murmured, moving closer and slipping her arms around the warm body beside her.
"Morning," Janeway said, the debate underway inside her head forgotten for the moment as she felt the soft, supple curves of Seven's body mold themselves to her own. Gazing for what seemed like an eternity into Seven's eyes, Kathryn inclined her head, barely brushing her lips over the full, coral shaded mouth of her love. Seven responded languidly, sliding one hand behind Kathryn's head, fingers tangling in silky auburn locks, as she pulled Kathryn closer, capturing her mouth in a much deeper embrace, her other hand slipping down to nestle in the small of Kathryn's back, urging that slender body ever closer.
"Darling, "Janeway murmured reluctantly against Seven's persistent mouth, 'We really have to get up. There are several things I need to take care of and then I am calling a meeting of the senior staff."
Pulling her face away to look into Janeway's eyes, a concerned frown creased the unlined skin of Seven's forehead.
"Is something wrong, Kathryn?" Seven asked, "If you will recall we had our weekly staff meeting yesterday. Has something occurred to cause you to have another?"
Closing her eyes briefly, Janeway released a long sigh. This wasn't going to be easy. Of all the people on board Voyager, Seven had had the least exposure to spiritual matters. During her time with the Borg, ideas and memories concerning religion or metaphysics had been discarded as irrelevant. Kathryn knew that in the three years since she had regained her humanity, Seven had not found spiritual matters any more relevant that she had as a drone. If there was anyone who was more of a consummate scientist than Janeway herself, it was the woman with whom she had fallen in love. There was also the fact that she hadn't woken Seven right after the incident occurred. So far two strikes against her and she hadn't even said the first word.
Noticing that Seven was pointedly staring at her, Kathryn pushed herself up against the pillows, and finally responded.
"It's difficult for me to explain, but last night, after we went to sleep, something happened to me," she began, interrupted almost immediately by the concerned tones of her lover.
"Are you all right, Kathryn? Are you injured in any way? Should I contact the Doctor?"
"No, I'm fine, really," she assured her.
"You say 'something' happened to you? What specifically, and why did you not immediately awaken me?" Seven asked, disquiet evident in her voice.
"I was taken from the ship, or at least I think I was, by an alien being. I wasn't harmed in any way," she quickly assured Seven, seeing the distress evident in those lovely blue eyes, "The being simply wanted to ask us to help someone. I promise, I'm fine, honest."
"I'll tell you every detail of what happened, I promise. Right now though, we both need to get ready for our shifts. Let's get going, and then once I take care of a few things on the Bridge, I'll meet you in my Ready Room and tell you the whole story before the meeting, ok?" Kathryn said soothingly.
She knew that she needed to find out if The Senoch planet was where Kyrene had said it would be, and if so head her ship there with all due haste. Eight days wasn't a lot of time to figure out how to derail a runaway meteor. As for the rest, well she would simply have to buckle down and admit that while of course she hadn't bought into the whole 'angel' part of it, the being she had met had been attempting to find help for a beleaguered people.
Seven acquiesced to her suggestion, though the troubled expression did not leave her face, even as they rode the turbolift to the Bridge. She knew that there was a great deal that Kathryn hadn't told her yet, and the fact that something had happened to Kathryn while she lay sleeping beside her caused Seven an enormous amount of agitation. She was supposed to be able to protect Kathryn, to keep her from harm, and yet, evidently, she had slept soundly while an alien presence had removed Janeway from the very bed they shared.
Striding onto the Bridge, Janeway gave a brief nod and smile to her First Officer as she seated herself in her command chair. Seven immediately took up the science station position, directly behind her Captain.
"Report," Janeway demanded.
"Smooth sailing today, Captain. Not a cloud in sight and calm seas all the way to the horizon," her helmsman, Tom Paris replied in a whimsical tone.
A slight smile touching her lips at the response, Janeway ordered, "Seven, scan the surrounding systems in a radius of twenty light years and see if there are any M-class planets in this area."
"Yes, Captain," Seven answered, briefly glancing at the back of Kathryn's head, as if she could ascertain from that exterior view what was going on inside her beloved's mind.
Studying the screen on her station, Seven announced her findings.
"There is one M-class world, approximately eleven light years from our current position."
"Seven, send the coordinates to the helm. Tom, punch in a course to the planet. I've scheduled a meeting of the senior staff for 1000 hours. Until then, Chakotay you have the Bridge. I'll be in my Ready Room. Seven, you're with me," Janeway stated quietly, ignoring the puzzled and questioning looks being thrown her way from not only Chakotay, but the rest of the bridge crew. Rising from her chair she crossed the short distance to her private sanctum, Seven close on her heels.
As the door to the Ready Room slid closed behind them, Seven pronounced in a no-nonsense tone, "I have been patient, Kathryn, but now you will tell me exactly what occurred last night and why you did not feel it advisable to inform me of it immediately. In addition, I wish to know what this planet is we are headed for and why you have such a compunction to visit a relatively undistinguished and unknown world."
"I told you earlier that I would tell you the whole story and I will. Just let me get a cup of coffee. Sit down and I'll be right there," she said, gesturing Seven to the couch on the raised platform under the viewport. Kathryn crossed to the replicator, ordering up a cup of steaming hot, black coffee. Cup in hand, she moved to seat herself at Seven's side on the couch. After taking a few sips of her coffee, she set the cup on the low table in front of her and looked up into Seven's impassive face.
"It all started when I woke up and found myself in this large, airy room," she began.
Kathryn Janeway sat at one end of the large table that took up most of the space in the Conference Room. Arrayed around the table were the members of her senior staff. Janeway had just finished her debriefing on the events of last night and had explained in as much detail as she could why they were now on course to an unknown planet.
"Questions, comments?" she asked calmly, glancing down to the opposite end of the table where Seven sat, expressionless and silent. Blessedly silent, Kathryn thought, given what she had just endured in her Ready Room. That Seven of Nine had been upset was something of an understatement. At one point Kathryn was certain that Tuvok, her head of Security, would be compelled to investigate the raised voices and shouting coming from the Captain's Ready Room, for she couldn't see how the sound of Seven's voice could not have carried onto the Bridge.
"Kathryn, how could you not awaken me and tell me what had transpired? Did it not occur to you that the Doctor should examine you? What if this being was simply on a cloaked vessel in close proximity to Voyager? Were you not concerned about the possibility of attack on the ship?"
The questions had come hard and fast, Seven's anger and distress obvious in her voice and on her beautiful face. None of Kathryn's attempts to soothe her had been effective.
"I do not care if this being claimed to be a messenger from God or a direct representative of the Federation. You should have told me immediately and you did not. You might have been in grave danger and I did not even know it, Kathryn," Seven said vehemently, fear of any harm coming to Janeway evident in the undertones of her voice.
"She wouldn't have hurt me, Seven," Kathryn asserted, gently cupping Seven's face in her hand, her skin cool against the warmth of her cheek.
"You can not be certain of that," Seven responded, her eyes a dark and troubled blue.
Janeway stared for a moment out the viewport, her eyes distant and unfocused before returning her gaze to Seven's face.
"I don't know how to explain this, even to myself, but I know with absolute certainty that Kyrene would never have harmed me. I am as unequivocally sure of that as I am that you would never do anything to hurt me," she told her, knowing that the statement did little to alleviate either Seven's fear or her distress.
Now her words hung in the air of the Conference Room like fog settling in along a riverbank. She could see from the varying expressions on the faces of her crew that there was a wide range of reactions to her story.
"Chakotay? Any ideas? Have you ever heard of anything like this occurring?"
Of all of the crew, her First Officer was the most spiritual and she was interested to hear what his take on the whole incident might be.
"Of course, there are innumerable instances down through the ages where people have claimed to have been visited by holy messengers, or had visions or revelations. Even some who have claimed to have been spoken to directly by their God. In fact, most Earth religions are based in some way or another on divine manifestation from the ancient Greeks and Egyptians, to the ancient Jews to my own peoples spirit quests and journeys. Other cultures have the same theme, of some sort of divine intervention."
"But weren't alot of those people who experienced some kind of cathartic religious experience dismissed as crazy? No offense, Captain," Tom Paris questioned, with a somewhat apologetic look at Janeway.
"None taken, Ensign," Kathryn responded dryly.
"It is true that a great many mystics and even common people who said they had received divine communication were treated as either merely insane or in some instances, possessed by forces of evil. Joan of Arc is a good example. She claimed that God had spoken to her and instructed her to save France. She was burned at the stake as a witch," Chakotay agreed, an intense expression of interest on his face.
"I think we're getting away from the point here people. I didn't ever say that I believed that this being was in fact an angel or some other heavenly messenger, merely that that is what she claimed to be," Kathryn intoned, quick to quash any ideas that she was actually claiming to have had some religious experience.
As she spoke, the Doctor rose from his seat, a medical tricorder in his hand.
"If I may, Captain? I'll just run a few scans and see if there is any physical evidence to help make things a little clearer."
He moved to stand beside her, running scans of her cellular decay, using it as an internal chronometer. His examination had brought the discussion to a halt, as the rest of the senior staff waited for his findings. After what seemed an interminable amount of time, he looked up from the instrument, a slightly discomfited expression on his face.
"Well, Doctor?" Janeway asked.
"I have run scans of your cells, using their decay as a template, based on previous medical examinations of you to determine if, in fact, you are several hours older than the rest of us, due to some sort of temporal displacement. As far as I can tell from these readings, there is no difference between your internal chronometer and our ship wide, recognized time. In other words, I can't see how you could have been gone for two plus hours Captain. Are you certain that this could not have been a dream of some sort?"
"I'm positive," Janeway replied, though she experienced a momentary lingering doubt. After all, there had been no clocks, no way to tell the time except the sun outside the window, that had moved gently across the sky as she spoke to Kyrene.
"Captain, we have encountered species capable of telepathic communication. Is it not possible that this being interceded in your dreams and therefore there would be no evidence that you actually left the ship?" Tuvok inquired calmly.
"Possible I suppose, but not probable. It was too real to have been a dream or an induced hallucination. Computer? At any time in the past twenty-four hours have I been absent from the ship?" Janeway asked, experiencing a distinct feeling of trepidation at what the answer would be.
"Negative," the computer intoned.
"Computer, run a broadband scan for any subspace communications, any potentially telepathic emissions on any frequency from outside Voyager in the past twenty-four hours," she commanded. A moment passed as they all waited for the familiar tone of the computer to relay its findings.
"Scan complete. No subspace communications detected. No emissions on any known frequency."
Janeway sighed, staring down at the table for a moment before looking up, meeting Seven's eyes. She had expected to find reproach in them, but instead found that they were full of sympathy. In fact, all of her staff had similar expressions on their faces, all except Tuvok, ever impassive and Neelix, whose face displayed his continuing belief in whatever his Captain believed.
"So, you all think I just imagined this, that it was all a dream? How then do you explain the planet? How did I know it was there?"
"Begging the Captain's pardon, but given the relatively populated systems we have been travelling through, there was a pretty fair chance that there would be an M-class planet somewhere in the surrounding systems," Harry Kim said almost reluctantly.
"Chakotay, do you believe me?" Janeway asked, turning to face her First Officer in his place to her right.
"I believe that you had some kind of spiritual encounter or that your mind feels that it did. What that encounter was or if it was based on reality or simply on a need of your subconscious mind, I can't say. Though, to be truthful Kathryn, of all the people on board, you are one of the last that I would imagine having some sort of metaphysical vision," he responded honestly.
Pursing her lips together and bringing her steepled hands to her face, Kathryn sat for a moment without reaction. She couldn't explain to herself why it was so important for her crew to believe that what had happened was real, but it was. The experience had been troubling and disconcerting, solids blow to the base of her core beliefs, to all that she knew to be true and absolute in the universe. It felt imperative that there be some explanation for it other than a flight of fancy.
"What I have described did happen. I was removed from Voyager, and I did have an encounter with an alien being. I can't prove it to any of you," she said quietly, her eyes never leaving Seven's, "but it did occur."
Tilting her head to one side, Janeway suddenly had a distant look in her grey eyes.
"Captain? Are you all right?" Harry asked, noting the odd expression on his Captain's face.
"Maybe I can prove it to you, " she murmured softly, rising from her chair to glance swiftly around the table.
"The being said if I wished to speak to her again before we reached the planet, all I had to do was call for her," Janeway uttered, renewed confidence in her voice.
"Captain, I do not believe that would be wise," Tuvok stated.
"Why, Tuvok? After all, if she isn't real, there's nothing to worry about now is there?" Kathryn queried, a slightly mocking smile just touching the corners of her mouth.
Before any one else could register a warning or urge her to reconsider, Kathryn raised her face unconsciously toward the ceiling and called out a name.
"Kyrene. Kyrene, I need to see you," she said loudly, "Please," she added in an afterthought.
Kathryn didn't know what she was expecting, nor did anyone else. Perhaps a cloud of smoke, or a shimmer of light, something tangible and yet magical. None of that happened. Indeed, for several long moments, nothing happened and Kathryn could see the looks of something close to pity on the faces of Tom and B'Elanna as they glanced at her surreptitiously. A heavy feeling of doubt was just beginning to take root in her stomach, when the door to the Conference Room slid open with its customary whoosh, and Kyrene walked easily into the room.
The astonished gasps from those gathered around the conference table told Kathryn that whatever else she might be, Kyrene was not a figment of her imagination. The woman walked quietly into the room, the only sound the gentle rustle of her dress as she moved slowly across the floor, coming to a halt at the head of the table, an arms breadth away from Kathryn. Her green eyes still held their fond expression and a benevolent smile graced her lips as she looked at Kathryn.
Responding with an answering smile, Kathryn glanced down the table at the assembled members of her crew. Tom, Harry, Neelix, Tuvok, B'Elanna and Chakotay were all staring, fixated on the woman at her side, all wearing various expressions, from wonder and awe, to bemusement and fascination. Even Tuvok wore a look of intense interest, one eyebrow raised in contemplation of the being standing at the Captain's right.
However Kathryn's forehead creased in concern and worry as she noted Seven's response. She was looking quickly back and forth between the other members of the crew, her manner almost agitated. She seemed to be attempting to discover the cause of the other's reactions and having no success.
"Seven? Everyone, this is Kyrene," Janeway said, gesturing automatically to the woman standing beside her.
Murmurs of greeting sounded from all but Seven and the Doctor, both of whom glanced at each other in bewilderment and confusion. Finally, the Doctor spoke.
"Who are you talking about, Captain?"
"What do you mean, Doctor? This is Kyrene, the being I told you all about?" Janeway replied, the frown of concern deepening.
"As far as I can tell, Captain, there is no one in this room except yourself and the members of the senior staff," the Doctor stated, his voice a bit distressed at the obvious hallucinations of not only his Captain, but most of the senior staff.
"Seven? Can you see her?" Kathryn implored, her concern at Seven's response growing.
With a deep sigh, Seven finally answered, "No, I cannot. I must agree with the Doctor. There is no one here except for members of this crew."
Quickly surveying all the other faces at the table, Kathryn asked, "And the rest of you? Can all of you see her?"
"Tom, what do you see?" Janeway asked urgently.
"Ah, I see a woman, blonde hair, green eyes, wearing a long white dress," Paris answered slowly, his own blue eyes never leaving the figure he described.
At his description, B'Elanna turned to look at him incredulously.
"Have you lost your mind, Tom? That is Cymele, the Klingon Goddess of the Hearth. She is one of the most powerful of the Klingon gods," she affirmed vehemently.
"You are yourself mistaken, Lieutenant," Tuvok stated firmly, "This being is a Reldai, one of the religious leaders of Vulcan. Can you not see her distinctive ceremonial dress?"
"No, Tom's right. She looks like one of those paintings in Rome I saw when I was at the Academy," Harry argued.
Kathryn stood fascinated by the exchange between her crewmembers. Turning to Chakotay, she asked softly, " What does she look like to you, Commander?"
"Dark hair, dark, depthless eyes. She is dressed in soft buckskin, embellished with beading and Elkhorn, her head adorned with the feathers of an eagle. She is Estsanatlehi, Earth Goddess," he murmured almost dreamily.
"Neelix?" Kathryn prompted.
"I see the spirit of the Great Forest of Talaxia, festooned with the flowers and plants of the sacred wood. She's so beautiful," he said, awe in his voice.
Turning to Kyrene, Kathryn asked her the obvious questions.
"Why are we all seeing something so very different? And why can't the Doctor and Seven see you at all?"
"You never ask just one question at a time, do you my dear?" Kyrene chuckled softly, "Very well, to answer your first question, I have no 'true' form. I appear to you as you wish to see me, based upon the images and ideas that your own culture holds of divinity. Whether or not you yourself believe in God or whatever Supreme Being your cultural heritage provides for you, those images and ideas are an essential and ingrained part of your society and its history, learned from an early age. The first response provides the answer to the second question. The Doctor, being a hologram, has no cultural clues upon which to rely. No offense, Doctor, but you are directed energy, and thus, unable to see that in which you have no belief."
"As for Seven," she continued, "She too has no basis for belief, no cultural foundation on which to rely. She was too young when she was taken by the Borg to have learned much of her family's heritage or culture. Besides, being staunch and true scientists, I doubt that the Hansens would have provided her with much of a base outside of their own empiricist beliefs."
Smiling sweetly at Seven she finished softly, "However, the religion she has been entrenched in, pure and unadulterated science, has proven that I exist in some form, has it not Seven?"
Seven looked up slowly from the tricorder she held in her hand. Her eyes met Janeway's, their blue depths clouded and troubled. She held Kathryn's stare for a long moment, trying to push down the growing distress she was feeling. At length she returned her attention to the tricorder, her fingers swiftly flying over the controls, running scan after scan.
The muscles in her jaw jumped as she completed her scans and looked up.
"I am reading a mass of unknown origin, without specific parameters and consisting of indeterminate and unrecognized energy particles," she said, her voice without inflection.
"Well, I must say, I have been called nicer things," Kyrene rejoined, "But then I've also been called worse."
As those members of her crew who could see and hear Kyrene chuckled at the comment, Kathryn noted her Astrometrics officer's reaction. A somewhat rueful smile gracing her lips, Kathryn moved from her spot at the head of the table to Seven's side. She could she that Seven was becoming increasing agitated, unable to hear the other part of what would sound to her like a very one-sided conversation.
"Seven? Are you all right? I know this must be difficult for you, but if I act as an interpreter perhaps that will make things easier. After all, if we are to figure out some way to save The Senoch, we will need your help and expertise," she said gently, her hand coming to rest lightly on Seven's lower arm.
"As you wish, Captain," Seven answered, her inflection more that of a Borg drone than the human self she had reclaimed.
"Doctor, we will of course need your input as well. Please, everyone, sit down and I am sure that Kyrene will be happy to answer any questions you might have," Janeway suggested, meeting Kyrene's eyes. The woman nodded her agreement, taking the chair that Kathryn had vacated.
Kathryn sat down next to Seven, noting that she had reverted back to her more Borg-like mannerisms, as she always did when she felt insecure or threatened. Kathryn knew that the fact that, aside from the Doctor, a holographic projection, Seven was the only one in the room who could not see Kyrene was deeply troubling to her. For one who had always felt like an outsider, who had always felt somewhat less than human, this experience was devastating.
Kyrene seemed to be aware of this as well, for she gazed sympathetically at Seven for a long time.
"If there were something I could do, some way I could make her see me, I would. I hope you can make her understand that it has nothing to do with how human she is, Kathryn, merely with the basic knowledge with which her parents provided her. She knows I exist as a force of energy. Only if and when she believes that I exist as something more will she be able to truly perceive me," Kyrene said kindly.
Before Janeway could respond, Tuvok spoke, the look of interest still clear on his face.
"Your statement is premised on the idea that those of us who can perceive you in some humanoid form share a common belief in a higher power, and yet, I cannot, in truth, agree that that is so. While I myself follow the traditional tenets of Vulcan philosophy, which is monotheistic in principle and does recognize the possibility of a more supernal being, others among us, Captain Janeway in particular, do not hold to the concept of a supreme being. In fact, she is closer to Seven's position and is inclined to adhere firmly to the ideals of science. Given these truths, how is it that the Captain is able to perceive you while Seven is not?"
"That is a question that you will have to pose to your Captain, Commander Tuvok. Perhaps it is merely the conditioning and exposure to a cultural or societal belief system that allows for the possibility of God, as I suggested earlier. Or perhaps your Captain is not so firm in her denial as she may appear," Kyrene replied, those impossibly green eyes boring into Kathryn's own.
Janeway felt all eyes turned on her as they waited for her response. Determined to change the path this conversation seemed to be taking, she deftly altered course.
"Now that you all have seen that this experience was not a figment of my imagination, does anyone have any firm questions?"
"How do we know that this isn't some kind of trick? You could have placed a listening device on Voyager, and then when the Captain called you, transported in from a nearby cloaked ship. After all, you walked in the door. Maybe that was to prevent us from detecting a transporter beam," B'Elanna asked, her head tilting to the side as it often did when she was suspicious.
"You don't," Kyrene responded calmly, "I have found that people have a tendency to be disturbed or taken aback when I simply appear, so I try to utilize less dramatic methods of arrival. If you are expecting parlor tricks, however, you will be quite disappointed. I don't intend to pop in and out or pull imaginary rabbits out of imaginary hats, merely to satisfy your curiosity or to prove my existence. You may believe what you wish to believe. It does not really concern me. I came here only because your Captain requested I come. Why she felt a deep seeded need to have all of you accept what she had told you is a matter you will have to discuss with her."
"There is a mention in the Star Fleet records of a similar occurrence," the Doctor interjected, following up on B'Elanna's comments, though unaware of Kyrene's answer," that involved the Enterprise and the people of Ventax II. It seems that a being, purporting to be an entity named Ardra, had appeared on Ventax and demanded that the people live up to an agreement made centuries ago by their ancestors. The agreement would in essence have given over the planet to this Ardra, who had promised their ancestors a millenium of peace and prosperity in return for the lives of the people and control of the planet."
"Though," he continued on, quite caught up in the tale, "apparently this entity was supposed to be, well, for lack of a better word, the Devil. Fortunately for the Ventaxians, Captain Picard was able to discover that all the accredited acts of Ardra were in actuality special effects from a cloaked ship in orbit. They uncovered the fact that Ardra was a con artist who had heard the story of the agreement and decided to run a scam on the good people of Ventax."
As the Doctor finished relaying his tale, all eyes turned to where Kyrene sat, unblinking and silent.
"Is he quite through?" she asked, a slow smile touching her lips as that nebulous light moved quickly behind her eyes, causing Kathryn's breath to catch briefly.
"Doctor, thank you for your input. That will be enough for now," Janeway said firmly.
After a brief moment, Kyrene began to speak.
"I understand your skepticism, all of you. However, I do not wish nor do I feel the need to defend myself, to prove anything to any one of you. You will believe what you will believe. That will never alter what I am nor will it alter the eternal fact that despite your denial of me, or even your damnation of me, I will always be a part of you as you will always be a part of me. Even the scientists among you will acknowledge that there is only a certain amount of energy in the universe. It cannot be added. It cannot be destroyed. It is all connected. It is all one. We are all one."
Rising from her seat, Kyrene walked the length of the room to stand looking down into Kathryn's upturned face.
"So, you may run your scans. You may theorize and debate. You may decide to accept what you decide to accept. I cannot alter that. I came to you Kathryn, because I wished to give you an opportunity that few are given, the chance to save and be saved in return. The choice to accept that opportunity is yours alone. Choose wisely, my dear," she pronounced softly.
For a long moment, the only sounds in the room were the hum of the warp engines and the breathing of the bridge crew. Kathryn sat unmoving, caught in Kyrene's gaze. The woman remained standing over Janeway for what seemed like an eternity.
Suddenly, with a sigh, she raised her hand, gently reaching out and running the back of one slender finger along Kathryn's cheek. At the touch, Kathryn closed her eyes, her breath leaving her in a single gasp as brilliant bursts of color, a kaleidoscope of lights erupted inside her head. For a brief, miniscule, precious instant of time Kathryn felt an inexpressible joy. She could see galaxies and nebulas, supernovas and black holes, swirling gases and glittering planets, all the wonders and majesties of the universe, arrayed out before her like jewels tossed out across a blanket of black velvet.
Kathryn's gasp of surprise as Kyrene's finger moved slowly along the curve of her cheekbone brought Seven to her feet, along with Tuvok and Chakotay. Although she couldn't see the being in the room, Seven did know Kathryn and knew that whatever had caused her to utter that sound and then sit, transfixed and barely breathing couldn't bode well.
"Kathryn, what is wrong?" she asked anxiously, "What is happening to her?" she directed at the others.
As the rest of the senior staff rose and began to move cautiously towards this being and their Captain, Kyrene moved her finger to trace across Kathryn's lips with the lightness of a feather, a tender and loving caress, eliciting another shuddering gasp of breath from Janeway. Then she was gone. No smoke, no flash of light. She simply vanished.
"Kathryn, are you all right?" Seven asked, still unaware of what had transpired yet certain that something of moment had occurred.
Taking a deep breath, Janeway opened her eyes, startled to find her staff surrounding her, their faces full of concern. The feeling she had just experienced had left her surprisingly rejuvenated. The memory of that momentary feeling of peace and exaltation was something she would ponder later, alone.
"I'm fine. Really, I'm all right. She didn't harm me. I'm not sure I understand what just happened but I know with absolute certainty, that she wouldn't hurt me. Or anyone," Kathryn said resolutely, a fierce light of conviction in her eyes, brushing aside the Doctor's attempts to examine her.
"Harry, we should be close enough to the planet to scan for the meteor. See what you can find out from the sensors. Tom, maintain a course to the planet. B'Elanna, I want you and Seven to begin formulating some theories and ideas about how we can derail this meteor. Chakotay, start making plans for evacuating as many people as we can from the planet. I know we don't have any idea of the conditions or what help they can provide, but it won't hurt to get a head start. All right people, any questions?" Kathryn stood, her voice firm and clear. She looked from one face to another, searching for lingering doubts or uncertainties in the eyes of her crew.
"Whatever just happened, whatever any of us decide Kyrene is or isn't, the fact remains that there is a planet in grave danger of being destroyed. I know that each and every one of you will do whatever it takes to save those people."
Satisfied at what she saw, she nodded her head. "Dismissed," she said, walking swiftly out the door and onto her bridge.
It had been eight hours since the encounter in the Conference Room and since then, all the members of Janeway's senior staff had been working industriously to try to get a head start on the monumental task before them. Harry's scans had revealed the wayward meteor, spinning impassively through space as it hurtled ever closer to the planet. It was of impressive size and would, without question, wreak irreparable damage on the Senoch planet and environment. The area of impact would be immense in scale, causing earthquakes and tidal waves of colossal size and strength. Even those surviving the initial collision would not live long, as the dust and gases from the meteor threw their world into complete darkness, blocking out the sun for generations.
The away team beamed down to The Senoch homeworld, materializing in the grassy square at the center of their capital city. They had contacted The Senoch as soon as they had come within communications range, offering Voyager's help in attempting to avert the coming apocalypse. The Prelate of the planet had welcomed them with sincere gratitude and invited them to meet with their representatives and scientists as soon as Voyager reached the planet.
As the sparkling beams of light faded to reveal the members of the away team, a slight, elderly man stepped forward from the crowds gathered on the green, the colors of their clothing brilliant against the verdant background. The aged man advanced toward them, obviously intent on offering greetings and welcome. The Senoch were a humanoid species, startlingly similar to humans in appearance. The only real discernable difference was the marking that was visible in the center of their foreheads. It was unclear whether it was a natural occurrence or a tattoo of some sort, but Janeway felt shock and a bit of unease as she recognized the designation. It was the ancient Greek letter Q, theta, indelibly marked in a variety of colors on all of The Senoch.
To find a symbol of an ancient Earth language here, thousands of light years from the Alpha Quadrant, was more than a little disconcerting. The feeling of discomfiture only increased as she looked around at her surroundings. She could have been on Earth, so similar was the landscape.
As far as the eye could see rolling hills of the deepest, purest green, the same intense color of Kyrene's eyes, undulated gently, dotted here and there with white farm houses and red barns. The city that surrounded them seemed more like the small agricultural society in Indiana where Kathryn had grown up than the thriving capital of a warp-capable society. The houses and buildings were all constructed of wood or brick, the mellow red blending with the whites and yellows and blues of the frame houses. There was no apparent evidence of technological advancement at all, no hover cars, no bustle of travelers from throughout the quadrant. There was only a calm, a peace that seemed to be part of the light breeze that ruffled her hair, carrying with it the scent of newly cut grass and sunshine.
"We bid you welcome, Captain Janeway," the man said, a warm smile on his face, "I am the Prelate, the appointed leader of my people. You cannot know the joy we feel at your arrival. Your coming has been anticipated for some months now. Peace be with you, Captain, and all your people."
"Thank you, Prelate, for your kind greeting. We are glad to be here, and sincerely hope that we will be able to help you in any way we can."
Janeway turned, gesturing to her team. "Prelate, allow me to introduce some of the members of my crew. This is Commander Tuvok, Voyager's Chief of Security. Beside him is Ensign Harry Kim, Operations Officer. To Harry's right is Lieutenant B'Elanna Torres, Chief Engineer. And lastly, this is Seven of Nine, my Astrometrics Officer."
With a broad smile the Prelate responded, "Most welcome, most welcome, all of you. My people are eager to meet you. We have much to celebrate. Come, Captain. Bring your crewmembers with you. In fact, invite any on your ship who wish to join us here for our festivities."
Glancing at the members of the away team, Kathryn could see the confusion and unease on their faces. They had expected to beam down to a planet in turmoil, preparations underway to evacuate, panic and despair evident in the population. Instead they found a place untouched by any feeling of anxiety or dread and a people who seemed to be without a care or concern. It was almost as if they were unaware that a massive boulder of gas and ice and rock was racing through the emptiness of space to shatter all that they knew, all that they were.
Kathryn knew that the feelings of her crew were mirrored in her own eyes as she placed her hand on the Prelate's arm, drawing him to one side to find out what was going on.
"Prelate, forgive me for sounding ungrateful or abrupt, but you are aware that in less than six days a meteor of monumental proportions well impact your planet, devastating your world and killing your people?" Kathryn said as gently as possible.
The old man smiled at her, a beatific smile, full of kindness and affection. She felt the smoothness of his skin as his hand, aged and wrinkled, slid to cover hers where it lay on his arm. He squeezed her hand benevolently, his sun worn blue eyes gazing humbly into her own.
"Of course we know that, Captain. We have known for some time now. Our scientists frantically attempted to discover some way to stop the meteor or change its course. We realized several months ago that we would be unable through scientific methods to alter the trajectory of the projectile. So, we made peace with it, trusting that if we were truly worthy, if our souls were pure and we kept to the teachings of our faith and lived out what may be our last days with love and kindness and mercy towards each other, that perhaps our God would show mercy to us, and send us a means of salvation. When we received your communication, we knew that God had heard our prayers. You and your crew are our salvation, Captain. So, before we do anything else, before we allow you to begin to work on our dilemma, we must give thanks and celebrate God's bounty and kindness."
"Prelate, please, you must know that there is every possibility that we may not be able to find an answer, that we may not be able to stop the meteor. You must prepare for that contingency, begin preparations for evacuation of coastal areas and begin stockpiling medical supplies and food. Even consider getting as many people off the planet as possible," Janeway said urgently, her voice low and fierce, "There isn't time to waste on a celebration, even if there was something to celebrate."
Shaking his head slowly, the Prelate looked up at her with a serene yet somber expression on his face. Glancing around at the other Senoch who were gathered nearby, Kathryn saw the same look of melancholy on their faces. It took her a moment to realize that the look was in regard to her and her crew, not the impending destruction of their world. It was an air of pity that took her aback.
"Captain. It is clear that though you have been sent here to aid us, you and your people do not share our faith. Perhaps that is the reason you have been sent, to lead you in the ways of God's will. Whatever the reason, we do not question our blessings. And you and your ship are a blessing Captain, one that we must acknowledge and celebrate. We would be most honored if you would join us."
"You said that you have known that we were coming for some time? And that we had been sent here to save you?" Janeway queried, her gaze never leaving the Prelate's face, "I must ask you, how did you know this? Were you visited by a being, claiming to be a messenger of God?"
A small trickle of doubt had begun to seep into Kathryn's brain. Perhaps there was something to the paranoia and distrust of her crew towards Kyrene. These people were making no effort to save themselves, something that a natural feeling of self-preservation should have dictated. The thought that they had been manipulated, either as some sort of sick lesson or for someone's amusement made her stomach turn.
"We have been visited by no one, Captain. That is why your arrival is doubly welcome. We had received no signal or message from God that our petitions had been heard until we listened to your communication telling us of your imminent approach. It has been many centuries since my people were so honored as to be visited by a divine messenger. The a 'g g e h o d o who appeared to our ancestors left us this pendant to tell all who may attend upon us, that we are children of God," the Prelate answered, raising the pendant he wore on a rope of purple silk around his neck.
Kathryn studied the medallion, the feeling of unease and premonition increasing as she deciphered the intertwined symbols, wrought in the burnished gold. The Greek letters A W, Alpha and Omega, coiled and interwoven were surrounded by symbols of sun and stars, while all along the border the braid of two strands of silver interlaced in the representation of infinity. At the center of the A W lay a single, perfect emerald-cut ruby, its fire glowing fiercely in the bright sunlight.
"Prelate, how long ago was this given to your people?" Janeway questioned, her need to explain the presence of what she thought to be solely a Terran language here half a galaxy away.
"Millennia ago, my dear Captain. You seem disturbed by it and by the marks of salvation that adorn our faces. Why is this, Captain Janeway?"
"It's difficult to explain, Prelate. Perhaps, during the celebration you and I may talk some more, and I will tell you why I seem taken off guard by the symbols?"
"Of course, my dear, of course," he answered, drawing her hand back to his arm as he lead her towards the immense, round building at the center of the city. With a few uncertain glances, the away team followed, joined by the rest of The Senoch who had gathered for their arrival.
Kathryn Janeway slid quietly between the smooth sheets, careful not to disturb the woman who already occupied her bed. Seven sat propped up against the pillows, one PADD in her hand, as others lay strewn around her on the blankets. Kathryn settled down beside her, glancing up to meet that azure gaze as Seven looked away from the PADD, silently contemplating her love.
"Working on calculations?" Kathryn asked softly.
"Yes. I have been attempting to determine if there is a way to divert the meteor from its present course utilizing a variety of methods," Seven responded, her voice lacking the normally warm tones it usually held when alone with Janeway.
"Seven, I know that this has been a very stressful and unbalancing day for all of us, but especially for you. Do you want to talk about it?" she urged gently, running her fingers lightly up Seven's arm.
Kathryn could see the wealth of emotions ghost across Seven's beautiful face, see all of the uncertainty and sadness, all of the confusion and frustration. She waited patiently for Seven to speak, knowing how difficult it still was for her to articulate the rush of feelings that at times like these threatened to overwhelm her.
"I find the fact that, of all the members of the senior staff, only the Doctor and myself were unable to see this being to be troubling. The Doctor is not human, he does not possess the faculties to perceive anything beyond solid matter. His program, while allowing him to fantasize and dream, cannot make him more than he is, a hologram. I am supposed to be human. I possess the ability to see beyond that which is obvious. And still, I could not see her. Does this not suggest that I am in fact more like the Doctor, more of a machine than human?" Seven said finally, distress clear in her voice.
"Seven, Kyrene explained that your inability to see her had nothing to do with your being less than human. It's simply that you have no basis on which to rely, no cultural background that would provide a shape or a form to her. The rest of us have some foundation, some knowledge of our cultural history that allowed us to endow her with a substantive image. You never received that knowledge, were never taught those things by your parents. And we both know that the Borg would have viewed any type of religious or spiritual belief as irrelevant," Kathryn reassured her.
"Perhaps. However what of the Doctor? He possesses the knowledge and ideas of multitudes of cultures and races. Surely, in his substantial database and programming, he has access to all of this information to which you refer?"
"Information, Seven. That is all it would be to him. There is no cultural or spiritual programming involved. And that is where these images come from, from the ideas and stories and rituals of our various cultures. It isn't simply information, but something ingrained and imprinted on our psyches from an early age," Kathryn replied, her voice holding a tone of compassion and tenderness that would make it unrecognizable to anyone but this woman lying beside her.
She could see that Seven was trying to accept her explanation, that she dearly wanted to believe what Kathryn was telling her. It seemed just one more setback in Seven's efforts to regain not only her humanity, but also her confidence in the fact that she was human. Too many times she had found herself an outsider, her natural inclinations stifled by so many years with the Borg. Even the events of the past few months and the initiation of an intimate relationship with Janeway, her mentor and Captain, had not completely succeeded in bringing her entirely into the fold. There were times, such as this, when it seemed that it was a game of two steps forward and one step back.
Yet, before Kathryn could try to reassure her further, Seven abruptly changed the subject.
"While we were working tonight, after the celebration on the planet, B'Elanna Torres informed me of what had occurred in the Conference Room. She said the reason for your abnormal actions, your gasp for breath and the curious expression that appeared on your face, was that the alien being had moved to stand over you and had in fact touched you. Lieutenant Torres maintained that the being touched your face in, what she termed was an intimate way," Seven said stiffly, her eyes averted from Kathryn.
Janeway sat thoughtfully for a moment, not responding. She was pretty certain that she knew what B'Elanna meant by 'intimate' and she found herself amazed that someone could have so completely misinterpreted that brief touch. Of all the things that it had meant, of all the feelings it had evoked, there had been nothing even remotely sexual.
Raising her eyes to meet Seven's troubled gaze, Kathryn tried to think of the right words, of how to explain the inexplicable.
"Yes, she did touch my cheek with her hand. But let me be clear, darling, that whatever B'Elanna may have thought, whatever reading she may have given to that touch, it was not in any way what she suggested to you."
"It was not intimate in nature?" Seven pressed on.
"Yes, it was, but not in the way that she implied. It was," Kathryn paused, searching for a way to say it so that Seven understood, "it was...how do I say this? It felt the same way that it always felt when I was a small child and my mother would come into my room at night. She would tuck the covers around me and kiss my forehead. The feeling I always had was one of unconditional love. It always made me feel so safe and protected, so completely content. I know that it must sound ludicrous and bizarre, but that is how I felt when Kyrene touched my cheek."
"That was all?" Seven asked, a trace of skepticism in her voice, "Your facial expression suggested much more than a simple maternal caress."
Kathryn knew she couldn't explain to Seven what had happened. There was no way she could describe the wonders she had seen or relay the feeling of immeasurable joy and exaltation that had threaded through her body and mind, quicksilver running through her veins. Hell, she couldn't explain it to herself. She just knew that it had been as real, for that ephemeral, fleeting moment, as anything she had ever known, even as real as the love she felt for this beautiful, amazing woman next to her.
"No, that wasn't all. I just don't think I can adequately convey what I experienced," she said softly.
"You believe her to be what she has professed to be, an angel, a messenger of a Supreme power?" Seven asked directly, turning her face to meet Kathryn's eyes.
"No. That is, I don't think she's an angel. I'm not certain what she is frankly," Kathryn replied with a sigh, raking a hand through her thick auburn hair, "I do believe that she is a being of immense power, beyond that of any race or species the Federation has ever encountered. I also believe that her intentions are benevolent. Throughout my talk with her and in the Conference Room today, she behaved with the utmost kindness and respect. I believe that she has honorable goals and that she wishes to see The Senoch saved. What her reasons for choosing Voyager to deliver The Senoch may be, I don't know," Kathryn answered thoughtfully.
"Kathryn, you said a moment ago that the reason that you and the others could see this being was that you had ideas and images imprinted on you from an early age. Yet, is there not some element of belief in that statement? Does there not have to be some small component of acceptance in order for you to perceive this being, in spite of or in addition to this 'cultural legacy'?" Seven questioned.
Janeway didn't respond for a long moment, the ramifications of what Seven had asked slamming hard into the foundation of her fundamental principles and ideas about herself. She was first and foremost a scientist. Her beliefs were based on empirical truth, on what she could see and prove. The idea that she might, somewhere in the depths of her consciousness, hold such an arcane and unscientific tenet felt like a physical blow.
"I don't believe in God, Seven. Especially not the God of my heritage, with the images of angels and heaven, of hellfire and damnation. The universe was created by the Big Bang, not by some Supreme Being molding energy and matter into planets and stars. I have no doubt that there are species and races far more advanced than our own. I have no problem believing that there are beings of unknowable power and intelligence, and that Kyrene may be one of them, but none of them created the heavens and the earth and none of them are God." Janeway stated firmly, the muscles in her jaw jumping as she clenched her teeth.
Looking into Kathryn's blue-grey eyes, Seven saw the fire of conviction burning brightly. It briefly crossed Seven's mind to wonder who exactly Kathryn was trying to persuade.
"I asked the Prelate about the symbols on their foreheads and the medallion at dinner tonight," Kathryn said suddenly, swinging the conversation into less treacherous territory.
She wasn't prepared to debate the finer points of Seven's argument. Delving too deeply into what she had always considered the safe waters of her own beliefs seemed less than prudent right now. Kathryn wasn't at all certain that she was adequately equipped to handle any more ramming blows to her personal citadel tonight. And the thought that she might actually, in some long forgotten, hidden, dusty corner of her mind, give credence to the idea that Kyrene really was a holy messenger from the One God was a concept that might just be capable of bringing that stronghold crumbling to the ground.
Seven noted the quick subject change but chose not to press Kathryn on the subject any further. It was clear that the idea that she might believe that this being was a divine messenger seemed as disturbing to Kathryn as the fact that she could not see the being was to Seven.
"Did you discover anything that would explain the use of an ancient Earth language in the Delta quadrant?" Seven inquired.
"He gave me a brief history of their people and told me that the legend of the medallion and the symbols that they wear is six millennia old. That makes it comparable with the emergence of the Greek language on Earth at approximately that same time," Janeway related, some of the tension in her shoulders lessening as they moved on to a less personal subject.
She turned and leaned back, half against the pillow and half against Seven, who shifted accommodatingly, setting the PADD she was holding and the ones scattered on the bed safely on the nightstand and slipping one arm beneath Kathryn's head. Kathryn slid closer, sinking back snugly against the warm, supple curves of the woman she loved.
"He said that a messenger from God came to the leader of their people and gave him the medallion. The messenger told the leader that the symbols were those of 'The Most High' and were a sign of God's favor. As a further recognition of God's pleasure with The Senoch, the messenger touched the forehead of their leader and placed, what the Prelate says is, the 'mark of the Lord', the theta. Now, in Greek, God is translated as 'Theos'. If Greek is the native or historical language of these people then it makes sense that they would choose the theta as the symbol of their faith," Kathryn said, her voice taking on a note of interest as she relayed the story.
"So, you believe that a member of Kyrene's race visited both this planet and Earth approximately six thousand years ago and gave to the aboriginal peoples corresponding language, thus providing an explanation for the similarities to be found in their archaic symbols?" Seven inferred.
"It makes sense. After all, we're clearly talking about an ancient race. To have developed the power that they obviously possess, it doesn't seem like a stretch to wonder if Kyrene's race is one of the oldest in existence," Kathryn replied, turning her hear slightly to look up at Seven's profile, " It also makes sense to assume that a race that old and that highly developed would have made efforts to make certain that their culture and civilization survived, even if it lived on only through another, much younger and more undeveloped people."
"In fact," she continued excitedly, "The Enterprise helped to uncover the very beginnings of life, not only on Earth, but on Vulcan and the Klingon homeworld, and on numerous other planets throughout the quadrant, seeded on each world by an ancient race. These people left behind a record of their deeds and their accomplishments. They did so in the hope that when our races were old enough and wise enough, we could appreciate and recognize that we all evolved from those first seeds and that how we are alike is far greater than how we are different."
"Do you believe it is possible that Kyrene is a member of that ancient race?"
"If not that one, then definitely one as old and as highly developed," Kathryn answered, her body beginning to relax as her mind registered how exhausting the day had been. As her eyes began to slip closed a stray thought caught at her consciousness, like a brittle leaf against a garden gate.
"There's only one thing that I can't quite explain, though I am sure that given enough time we could uncover the answer," she murmured.
"What is that Kathryn?" Seven whispered, sleep slowly overtaking her as well.
"The symbols on the foreheads of The Senoch? They aren't tattoos. According to the Prelate, they're born with them," she responded as sleep claimed her.
Seven was left to wonder, as she herself drifted off, if there would be time enough to discover the secrets of this race before the sphere of ice and rock that was hurtling towards the planet enshrouded forever the mysteries of The Senoch.
B'Elanna Torres' voice echoed loudly in the confines of the Astrometrics Lab. She looked down for a moment at the PADD that she had been working on, before, with one powerful movement, she flung it hard against the bulkhead. It landed with a resounding crash and finally skittered off under a console.
"That was not productive," Seven stated calmly, never looking up from her calculations.
"None of this is productive, Seven. We've been at this now for eighteen straight hours, trying formula after formula and we keep coming to the same conclusion, every time. There is no way, short of a miracle, that we are going to be able to save those people. That meteor is too big and we have no viable means of altering its trajectory. Even if we use our phasers and try to cut it into smaller pieces, those smaller pieces will wreak as much havoc with the planet as one big piece. There is nothing we can do," B'Elanna raged, frustration and anger at failing to come up with a plausible and doable solution evident in every line of her body.
"I am still working on the calculations that will allow us to utilize an enhanced tractor beam and the meteor's own velocity to attempt to slingshot it away from the planet," Seven responded, her fingers flying over the console in front of her.
On the massive viewscreen behind her, the meteor and its fatal course were projected in vivid color, the hapless planet laying clearly in it path. B'Elanna turned to stare at the viewscreen for what seemed like the thousandth time, her mind examining and discarding theory after theory.
"Seven, even if we can figure out the right calculations to alter the trajectory, the pull and sheer on the ship would destroy Voyager before we had enough time to complete the modification," she said, her voice manifesting the exhaustion she was feeling, "We've been over this ten times already. Why can't you admit that there is nothing we can do?"
There was a long silence as Seven continued with her work.
"Fine, don't answer me," B'Elanna muttered, stalking out the door, "I need to eat something."
As the door slid shut behind her, Seven drew in a deep breath. She hadn't answered Torres, not out of spite or animosity, but because she wasn't quite sure of the answer. As a Borg, she had witnessed countless deaths, seen hundreds of worlds destroyed. Her regained humanity had taught her that such destruction was abhorrent and the recent discovery on Ti'Niri had imprinted that repugnance for senseless death on her very soul. Yet, there was something more here, something that spurred her on, even in the face of what she knew, in her heart, was certain failure.
The potential annihilation of any race would have pushed Kathryn Janeway and her crew to untold measures in order to prevent it. However, in this particular instance, Seven felt an urgency, a deep seeded need from Kathryn that she had never encountered before. It seemed as if the very thought of failing The Senoch and thus, failing Kyrene, was something that Janeway would never accept.
She and B'Elanna had been working non-stop since early this morning, running into one dead end after another. The celebration that The Senoch had held for them last night had been confusing for her. Here was a people on the edge of sure extinction and instead of mounting a last ditch effort to save themselves, or at least, assist those who had come to help them, they had thrown a huge and joyful jubilee. People from around the planet had come to welcome their saviors, as they called the crew of Voyager, joining wholeheartedly in the ecstatic proceedings. A stranger wandering onto the scene would have been justified in thinking the more somber members of Janeway's crew to be those in danger of eradication, for one could never conceive that those jubilant souls dancing and raising their voices in praise to God teetered on the precipice of destruction.
The concept that anyone could have such faith in an entirely unknown, unseen, and unverifiable entity, faith enough to place ones very existence completely in the control of that being, seemed incomprehensible to Seven. It seemed clear that no matter what their scientists attempted or what help they received from the outside there was no solution, no way to delay or stop the inevitable end in sight for their world. The notion that they would rely instead on God to save them was beyond the scope of Seven's understanding. To do so with such joy and gratitude bordered on the obscene.
Returning to her computations, Seven attempted again to make the numbers work in their favor, but it seemed the more she tried, the more frustrated she became. B'Elanna was right. Even with the calculations she had finally finished, endeavoring to slingshot the meteor out of its current course, just slightly away from the planet, using the deflector grids, maximum warp and enhanced tractor beams, the pull and sheer on Voyager would tear the ship apart long minutes before the measure would be effective. Steeling herself, she began anew, punching in the numbers, hoping against hope that she had somehow overlooked something, that this time the projections would be positive and she would be able to go to Kathryn and tell her that they would be able to do the impossible.
Seven was intent on her work and so did not respond immediately to the subtle whoosh of the door as it slid open. Finally, after inputting the last of her numbers, she looked up to find Neelix, the ship's chef and morale officer standing before her, a stasis tray held in his hand.
"Er, um, Seven, I'm sorry to disturb you. I know that you're doing very important work, but, well, I thought you might be getting a little hungry, and since you didn't come to the Mess Hall, I thought I would bring a little something to you," Neelix said genially, setting the tray down on the top of the nearest console and removing the lid to reveal his latest concoction, steam rising gently into the air.
Until recently, Seven had not had to consume any solid nutrition, her system being sustained by the Borg alcove that still graced Cargo Bay 2. However, as her human physiology continued to reassert itself, she had found herself subjected more and more to the Talaxian's own blend of home cooking. It was not an experience that she had found to be particularly enjoyable and she eyed this latest creation with a great deal of skepticism.
Drawing in a deep breath, Seven silently admonished herself to be grateful and courteous. It was clear that Neelix was attempting, in his own way, to help the task with which they found themselves.
"Thank you, Mr. Neelix. It was kind of you to bring me this....food," she said, her words eliciting a smile from the Talaxian, "However, I do not require nutrition at this time. Perhaps some other crewmember would benefit from your thoughtfulness. Ensign Kim, perhaps?"
"No, Harry actually knew enough to come to the Mess Hall and get something for himself. In fact, when I noticed that B'Elanna had come in to eat, I asked her where you were and when she said that you were still here working, well, I decided that if you wouldn't come to the food, the food would come to you. After all, you have to keep up your strength in this stressful time," he countered, setting out silverware and a napkin beside the tray.
Deciding that simply trying the food would be easier than attempting to explain that she was not hungry and also that she had no wish to try this rather unsavory looking dish, Seven obligingly picked up the fork and speared a morsel, raising it bravely to her lips. The taste was an unpleasant combination of sour and spicy and it was with difficulty that she managed not to grimace as she swallowed the first bite. Kathryn had impressed upon her some time ago that Neelix's feelings were easily wounded and considering all that the diminutive alien had done for her and her crew, Kathryn was determined that the crew's true feelings about his cooking would never come to light.
"So, how are things going?" he asked, a genuine look of concern clouding his eyes.
"Not well," Seven admitted, "We have been unable to develop an effective method of altering the meteor's course. The chances of The Senoch being saved from this disaster are quite negligible."
"I've been talking to quite a few of their people today. Despite the fact that their scientists decided months ago that there was nothing to be done, they continue to believe that their world will be spared. Their faith is an amazing thing," he said, a look of admiration on his face, "I have encountered a good many cultures in my travels, but I have never met a people who had such incredibly strong beliefs. Listening to them, looking in their eyes when they talk about God and mercy and true faith, it's hard not to believe yourself, you know?"
"No, I do not know. In fact, the entire concept is ridiculous. There is no Supreme Being. I find their behavior bizarre and inexplicable. Aside from their initial efforts, they have made no attempt to insure their own survival. They have made no contingency plans, no decisions regarding who will be evacuated and who will not. It seems that all that they have done is pray to a being that does not exist. They now rely entirely on this vessel and its crew to formulate a plan to save them, and to add an element of absurdity to this, claim that our presence is a direct result of their pleas to their deity. I do not understand their logic or their conduct," she finished, a frown marring the perfect skin of her forehead.
Neelix paused a moment before replying, speaking finally in a voice that bore little resemblance to his normally jovial tones.
"Sometimes, when the very worst thing you can imagine has happened, and you don't know where to turn or how to explain or understand why such things occur, the only place you can look is to something larger than yourself. Believing in something or someone more powerful, capable of righting all wrongs, and more importantly, of showing complete love and compassion is the only way that you can endure the pain of your losses. And sometimes, its the last refuge you can turn to, the only way you can find to hold on to your hope. You see, at times like this, hope is truly too precious to let slip away. Believing in God, trusting in your faith can mean the difference in living or dying, even if death is inevitable," he told her gently, an odd light glowing brightly in his eyes.
"What if that faith is, in fact, a collaborator in your destruction? What if believing too much blinds you to what you must do in order to survive?" Seven asked, her face troubled.
"What if faith allows you to see?" Neelix countered, "What if it isn't until you truly have faith in something or someone that you can see the truth? Isn't that what happened to you, Seven? Wasn't it when you finally had trust in Captain Janeway, believed that she had your best interests at heart, realized that she was trying to protect you and help you, that you saw the truth about yourself, that you weren't really Borg, that you were human?"
"Captain Janeway is not an omnipotent being," Seven responded, disconcerted at the point Neelix had made.
"No, but to a great many people, in fact all of the ones on this ship, she holds their lives in her hand on a daily basis. She decides where we go, when we stop. She is responsible for our safety and our happiness. And because she has always taken to heart our needs and wants and responded appropriately, we trust her, we have faith in her," he answered.
"How is that so very different than trusting in a higher power, even one you have never seen? I thought that was the basis of Starfleet and every other hierarchy. The people on one end of the spectrum don't necessarily ever meet or even see the people on the opposite end, but that doesn't mean they don't exist. And it doesn't mean that the actions of those higher beings don't have a profound effect on those other people, right?" he finished, responding with remarkable acuity.
Seven was taken aback by his reasoning. Part of her mind began an immediate counter argument, but some component of what he had said struck a cord inside her. She did have faith in Kathryn, complete and unerring faith. It was that belief in Kathryn's belief in her that had allowed her to grow and evolve. Without it, she would still be a mindless automaton, following the dictates of the Borg Queen. It occurred to her that perhaps faith did have some place in the lives of people, as long as it did not blind them to what might happen.
"Your point is noted, Mr. Neelix. However, I still disagree with the concept that faith is enough in and of itself. It is all well and good that The Senoch believe, if they also expend every effort to find a solution to their pending disaster. Is it not possible to pray and prepare for evacuation at the same time?"
"But you see, Seven, to them, praying is doing something decisive to save their world. The rest simply isn't necessary, because they truly believe that God will spare them, if they are faithful enough in their petitions. To them, the intensity and fervor of their prayers is an action. While others may view it as a surrender on their part, they see it as a statement of continued struggle," Neelix explained.
"And they are convinced that the arrival of Voyager is the result of those prayers?"
"Exactly. So, even though we don't see their actions as proactive, they do. And, you must admit Seven, we are here, brought to this particular planet, at just this moment by a being that everyone, even the Captain, acknowledges is extremely powerful. If they choose to view that as the workings of God, then it really does become a little tricky to disagree, don't you think? Neelix concluded, beginning to pick up the utensils and tray.
Seven was surprised to find that during the discussion, she had been so distracted that she had consumed almost all of the meal. She was more than a little astonished at the turn of the conversation and the compelling argument presented by the Delta Quadrant native. Perhaps she had again been too quick to dismiss Neelix, simply based upon his over the top exuberance and need to please. The Talaxian continued to astound her with the insights that lay beneath that somewhat frivolous exterior.
"Possibly, though I wonder what argument can be made from the fact that, unless Lt. Torres and I can formulate a feasible plan in the next fifty-one hours, we will fail. Is that something they will be able to attribute to their prayers and their God as well?"
Before Neelix could respond, the door to the Lab opened and B'Elanna entered, glancing curiously at the rather unusual couple occupying the room. It wasn't often that you saw Seven and Neelix engaged in what seemed to be an intense discussion, and B'Elanna had to admit that she was a tad bit interested in what the two had been talking about.
Casting a look in B'Elanna's direction, Seven turned to Neelix.
"Thank you for the meal. It was thoughtful of you to bring it to me," she said, sincerely this time.
"You're welcome, Seven. Maybe we can finish this talk later? I think you are underestimating The Senoch. Just remember, the meteor hasn't struck the planet yet. There's plenty of time for a dozen or so miracles," he replied, lifting the tray and moving towards the door, "If we do manage to save them, will it have been solely because of your science?"
The door slid quietly shut behind him, leaving Seven to weather a rather intense stare from B'Elanna. Turning back to her work, she hoped that the Lieutenant would just ignore the part of the conversation she had overheard. That, however, was not to be.
"Having a religious debate with Neelix? I would never have taken you for the god-fearing type, Seven," B'Elanna needled.
Ignoring her comment, Seven replied, "I have run the scenarios again and made the corrections in the calculations. According to my findings, our best chance of saving the planet is the use of the tractor beam. There is a ninety-eight point eight percent chance that Voyager will be destroyed before we are able to produce the needed change in the meteor's path."
"In other words, if we don't try to save them, they die. If we do try to save them, they die and we die along with them. Does that about cover it?" B'Elanna asked, anger at the defeat clearly written on her face.
"Yes. I have exhausted every avenue. Despite the hopes of The Senoch for our success, there is no way for Voyager to change the way these events will play out."
"I guess we better tell the Captain. She can contact the planet, give them as much time as possible to evacuate whoever they can. Chakotay has the plans for transport all ready," Torres said resignedly.
Seven stood silently, her heart unwilling to see the disappointment and frustration that she knew would cover Janeway's face when she was informed of their conclusions. Accompanying that unwillingness was the nagging feeling that Kathryn might just be inclined to wager her ship and her crew on that 1.2 percent chance of success, secretly hoping for a miracle.
Kathryn Janeway beamed down alone to the surface of the planet. She had contacted the Prelate and requested an audience. He had asked her if the crew of Voyager had found a solution to the impending crisis, but she had simply told him that it would be better if they could discuss it in person. She had told the Chief to beam her down about half a kilometer from the outskirts of the capital city. She thought that the walk into town would help her to figure out how to tell a kind old man that his world and everything he had ever known and loved was going to vanish forever. Hardest of all would be looking him in the eye and admitting that there was absolutely nothing that she could do to stop it.
The Senoch world was so like Earth that it made her heart hurt a bit as she looked around. The warm sun shone impossibly bright, turning all the hues of the landscape to Technicolor. The road she walked was deserted, just solid, reddish clay meandering through lush fields and thick groves of trees. The sky was amazingly clear, cloudless and tinted with cerulean and indigo. She could smell the heady, slightly musty scent of the vegetation along the road, acre upon acre of fields laden with burgeoning crops. There seemed to be as many shades of green as there were leaves on the trees, from the palest lime to fetching olive to the deepest, purest emerald.
It was the emerald carpet of soft grass on a hill to her right, rising up above the low lying field, that caught her eye, causing her to stop momentarily, as she gazed, unfocused at the brilliant hillside. It was the very color of Kyrene's eyes, resplendent and bright. Kyrene, who had brought them here to this world on a mission of mercy, a mission that had left Kathryn feeling helpless and angry, unable to reconcile herself to the fact that there was nothing she could do to save these people.
In less than a year she had witnessed the extermination and annihilation of one race and now, would bear witness to the virtual destruction of another. At least this time it would be different than it had been all those months ago. This time, she and her crew would be able to save some of The Senoch. They had not been afforded that opportunity with the Ti'Niri. Somehow she knew that it would serve as cold comfort to the people of this planet that her conscience had been partially eased.
Kyrene had not appeared again since her visit to the Conference Room. After B'Elanna and Seven had come to her with their findings, both of their faces drawn and weary, both hating to admit that with all the technology at Voyager's disposal, they could not find a way to alter the meteor's course, Kathryn had called for Kyrene. She knew that her Bridge crew must have heard her through the door to her Ready Room, but right at that moment, faced with the imminent destruction of a planet of thirty million people, her dignity didn't seem to matter all that much. She had yelled Kyrene's name, loudly, belligerently demanding she appear, her anger shaking her to the core. She had coaxed, pleaded, even begged for the being to show herself, until her voice was hoarse, but her demands, her pleas, went unanswered.
Now Kathryn stood on this empty road, the only living being in sight, on a world that two days from now would lay cold and lifeless, the sun blotted out for generations. There was such an element of the surreal to it all. It seemed unimaginable that all this life would soon be brought to an untimely and obscene end. These fields that were fairly bursting with crops, the forests that teemed with wildlife and the peaceful cities that lay beyond these fields and woods, inhabited by millions of people who would soon be left homeless and bereft or hideously dead.
The sun's rays in the late afternoon sky beat down on Kathryn, bringing a bead of sweat to her forehead as she walked the remaining distance to the Prelate's house. As she turned onto the tree lined street where he resided, she could feel the temperature drop beneath the shade of the enormous hardwoods, their branches reaching out and across to embrace those of other trees, forming a canopy of fragrant green. The houses were all neat and tidy, the lawns trimmed and dotted all about by vivid points of color, from the brightest yellows, to the most intense reds, as flowers and shrubs showcased their hues against the verdant background.
The Prelate's house was a freshly painted white, glowing softly in the dappled light that slipped through the leaves of the enclosing trees. The wide porch sent a pang of sadness through Kathryn as she remembered a similar porch on her Mother's house in Indiana. She and her sister Phoebe had sat for hours and hours, talking and watching as the dark thunderclouds in the distance crept ever closer, bringing with them a rain-scented wind and brilliant streaks of lightening, forked tongues across the sky.
The Prelate sat in a large rocker at the far edge of the porch. Seeing her arrival, he raised a hand in greeting, his warm smile sending chills down her spine.
" How in the world am I going to tell this kind, gentle old man that there's nothing I can do to save his planet," she thought mournfully.
"Welcome, Captain," he said graciously, coming to the edge of the porch to meet her as she climbed the four stairs to the wide-planked deck, "Please come and sit with me. I always sit here in the late afternoon and listen to the birds and the children playing. One of the few pleasures left to an old man."
Kathryn thought that surely he must have seen in her face that her visit was of an unhappy nature, but if he did, he chose to ignore it, ushering her to one of the two large white rockers at the end of the porch. She seated herself reluctantly, her heart heavy with the message she was forced to deliver. Janeway had never been one to sugarcoat bad news and so she took a deep breath and steeled herself to share the desolate tidings.
"Prelate," she began, her voice low and laden with emotion, "I'm not sure how to say this. I hoped against hope that it wouldn't be necessary, that we would be able to find something, some way of diverting the meteor, but we didn't. My crew has been working around the clock, trying desperately to find a solution, but to no avail. I am so very, very sorry to tell you that there is nothing we can do to stop the meteor from destroying your world."
When the Prelate didn't respond, she continued, a slight tremor evident in her husky tones.
"I know my sympathy must seem like small comfort to you right now, but please know that anything that my people and I can do to help to evacuate as many of your people as possible we will do. My First Officer, Commander Chakotay, has been working on just such a plan, designed to utilize both your ships and our own, using our transporters to evacuate your people. We have approximately forty-nine hours, which doesn't leave us with that large a window of opportunity. As soon as you and your Council tell us where to begin, we can get started."
The old man had sat, unmoving, while she talked. His face showed no sign that the dire forecast had even registered in his mind, as he continued to gaze at her, his expression amiable. He waited for her to finish speaking before he nodded his head in acknowledgement of her words.
"On behalf of myself and my people, I thank you, Captain, and your crew, for all of your efforts and all of your concern. We have never encountered a race so willing to help another, so full of goodness and mercy. Your visit has been a revelation to my people of the true extent of God's grace. We will be forever in your debt for not only your assistance, but for your concern at our predicament. Few people would have come to our aid, Captain. The Lord was truly wise in sending you to save us," he said gently, a beneficent smile glowing softly on his weathered face.
Pushing down the wave of anxiety that she felt at his obvious state of denial, Kathryn tried once again to make him understand how things stood.
"Prelate, I don't think that you really grasped what I just told you," she said, her voice that of one talking to a child, "We can't save you. There is no way for Voyager to stop the meteor, or change its course. It will impact your planet, it will cause a crater of immense proportions, the impact will cause massive tidal waves and earthquakes, and the resulting dust and gases that are thrown into the atmosphere will block out your sun, for many generations. You must do what you can to try and save as many people as possible by evacuating them off the planet to ships in orbit, both yours and mine. It is imperative that we begin this evacuation as soon as possible in order to save the lives of at least some of your citizens. Do you understand what I am saying?"
While she was speaking, Kathryn had reached over and taken the old man's hand in her own, holding it tightly as she tried to get through to him the urgency of the situation.
"I understood you, Captain. Your science, like ours, has found no way to change the meteor's path. I can accept that. God's ways are not for us to know or understand. If I did not keep covenant with that, if I did not have faith that only that which is best for us will occur, I would be a poor leader to my people and an ungrateful follower of my God."
"Prelate, you must know that I do not share your faith. While you continue to believe that somehow, God will save you, I am faced with my reality. In that reality your world will soon be devastated. The only, miniscule hope that I can offer is a statistically nonviable option, one that will end not only in the destruction of your planet, but of my ship and crew. This plan has a 1.2 percent chance of success. In case you aren't aware, those are very bad odds. I would rather use my ship as a transport vessel, to take however many of your people as we can to another planet to begin again. Frankly, that seems a better use of it than having it break apart and explode trying to move a hunk of ice and rock that simply won't be moved," Kathryn replied tiredly, her eyes falling to the whitewashed floor of the porch.
"I would never presume to ask you or your crew to put themselves in harm's way to save us, Captain. You must follow your own course, be what God intends you to be. If, in the end, it is to be that our world is destroyed, we will accept that as God's plan for us. When you and your ship arrived, sent to us by a divine messenger, we took that as an answer to our prayers for salvation, that God had seen fit to spare us. Yet, it now seems possible that God intended you for another purpose, to test our faith. If we leave now, simply because your science cannot save us, we would be abandoning all that we are, all that we have ever been. And that, Captain, would be, for us, a fate far worse than mere death. Our religion tells us that in death the faithful are sanctified. Only the faithless truly die, Captain," he concluded.
"What if your God intended for some of your people to live, to carry on your traditions and your teachings?" Kathryn asked, trying desperately to break through the spirals of the Prelate's argument.
Smiling gently at her, he patted her hand.
"My people decided this all those long months ago, Captain. It is our will to perish or survive as one. Indeed, what Mother would leave her child, what son would abandon his Father, what lover would leave their love? Could you do that, Captain? Leave your home, leave all you had ever known, leave the person you loved more than your very breath simply because you drew a number or had your name picked by a stranger? Could you leave your lovely Seven behind, knowing her fate?" the old man asked.
The impact of his words was a palpable blow as the thought of having to make such a decision was brought home to her. He was right. She couldn't even begin to imagine how terrifying and horrendous it must be to contemplate your own death in a matter of hours. But to know, as you sat safe and alive, that the ones you loved, your family, your friends, your neighbors would soon meet a monstrous fate would be unbearable.
"I understand. We will continue our efforts to find a way to stop this from happening. I can't, in good conscience, offer you much hope that we will be successful. Should we fail to find any way to alter the meteor's course, we will remain in this system for several days, as our way to honor you and your people. If there are any files, any records of your culture that you wish to have preserved please just let me know and I will make certain that they are loaded into our database. In that way, your people will continue to live on with us," Kathryn said, her voiced thick with unshed tears.
"Thank you, Captain. As long as we hold fast to our faith, we will live on in God. As for remembrances of our culture or way of life, I ask only that you take this," he said, standing up to walk the short distance to the porch railing, where a beautiful bush spread its branches over the edge of the porch. He removed one, perfect blossom, its petals a lustrous purple, and turning handed it to Kathryn, "It is as good a symbol of our lives as any. Beautiful, rich, in the prime of its existence, it is warmed by the blessed sun, nurtured by the heavens that pour down their essence upon it and by the earth that gives up precious lifeblood so that it may live. Just as we are nourished by the earth and given life by God's love raining down upon us. Keep it to remember us, Captain, if our apocalypse is in fact at hand."
As she took the blossom in her hand, Kathryn felt the dam she had been holding inside begin to crack as one, solitary tear slipped down her face, falling with a tiny splash against the velvet petals of the flower.
"Please, Captain, the rain has watered it well these past days. It does not require your tears. And neither do we," the Prelate expressed kindly.
"Peace be with you, Captain."
Both of them stood silently for a long moment, looking intently into one another's eyes, before Kathryn nodded her head slowly. Turning away, she walked the length of the porch, carefully navigating the steps and without looking back, thoughtfully retraced her route back to the beam down point, through the open fields and quiet stands of trees, the purple blossom clutched solemnly in her hand.
Seven entered the Captain's quarters to find the room dark, the only illumination the soft glow of the running lights that shone in through the viewport, creating a pattern of light and shadow across the walls and deck. It took a moment for her to realize that Kathryn sat silently at one end of the sofa that lay directly under the viewport, her face turned to gaze out at the globe of green and blue that lay spinning against the blackness of space.
"When I was a child, we had a Christmas tree, decorated with the most beautiful ornaments, these balls of hand-blown glass, swirled and frosted with greens and blues, white and subtle pinks. I thought they were the loveliest things I had ever seen. I was so careful hanging them up, I wouldn't even let Phoebe help me because I was scared she would crack one. We always celebrated the holiday, even though the significance and original meaning of the day had long since been virtually forgotten," Kathryn said so quietly, her voice almost a whisper in the darkness.
"One Christmas, I was just finishing hanging the ornaments on the limbs of the tree, and I could smell the wonderful scent of the evergreen. There was a fire crackling in the hearth and it was one of those perfect moments that you look back on with such longing as the years go by. I remember my mother said something to me and I turned to answer her, and as I did, the last ball slipped from my fingers. I watched as it fell, almost in slow motion, and then shatter on the hard wooden floor, pieces of blue and green and white glass thrown to all corners of the room. There was such a feeling of loss, that this perfect thing could be destroyed."
Sitting up and turning to face Seven, Kathryn had such a look of sadness, of deep and irreconcilable melancholy on her face that Seven felt as if a hand had reached in and squeezed her heart. It wounded her on levels she did not understand to find Janeway so lost and mournful. She crossed the room to Kathryn's side, seating herself beside her on the sofa and taking her gently into her arms. Kathryn buried her face in Seven's shoulder, wrapping her own arms tightly around the slender form of her love, as if she might go under for the last time if she let go.
"Why were you thinking of that story, Kathryn?" Seven asked gently.
She felt Kathryn sigh deeply and pull back a little from her shoulder, enough to speak.
"I was just staring at The Senoch's world and it reminded me of those balls of glass. And it occurred to me that the same thing is going to happen to the planet that happened to the ornament. With one careless motion, it will be destroyed, shattered into a million little pieces, unable to be mended."
"The carelessness is not on your part, Kathryn. You have done everything that could be done. If this world is destroyed, it is not through your actions. You must believe that," Seven reassured her.
"I've been trying to convince myself of that, but it hasn't been working," she heard Kathryn mutter, her voice muffled against her biosuit.
"You and B'Elanna didn't come up with anything else?" she added, almost as an afterthought.
"No. Our best chance is still the tractor beam and the odds of success are still negligible. Not only would the planet still be destroyed but Voyager would be destroyed as well. We must accept that there is nothing we can do to prevent the impact. You have done your very best, Kathryn. No one can expect more from you."
Her statement was met with silence. Seven knew that this situation was tearing Kathryn apart and she secretly cursed the being who had lead them to this place. After all, a being of that kind of power would have known the exact details of both the circumstances and the final outcome. It seemed clear that Kyrene had brought them there with the certain knowledge that they would fail.
As if sensing her thoughts, Kathryn pulled away from her, wiping the moisture from her eyes and face. Her face was half in shadow, only her eyes clearly illuminated by the light pouring in through the viewport. Those blue-grey eyes that Seven loved, that could flash with anger or passion, or melt her heart with their soft light were now clouded and flat, like a winter sea after a fierce storm.
"When I returned to the ship, after I met with the Prelate, I was so distraught, so angry at what was happening to those people. I came back here to our quarters, intent on making Kyrene appear, if I had to rant and rail till I could no longer speak. But I couldn't. I looked down at that damn flower the Prelate gave me and suddenly, all the anger went out of me and all I was left with was this overwhelming sadness," Kathryn relayed, the flatness extending to her voice.
"If she is as powerful a being as you say, she could save them, could she not?" Seven asked, trying not to further wound the woman still sitting in her embrace.
"Yes," Kathryn said almost inaudibly, "Yes, she could. She won't though. That's why this really is my fault, you see? She told me that in order to save them, I had to have faith. That merely having a purpose wasn't enough. She said I had the rare opportunity to be both the savior and the saved. I wish, as I have not wished for anything in a long time, that I could be what she requires me to be, but I can't. I can't have faith in something I don't understand or believe in, no matter how hard I might try. So, The Senoch will be destroyed because of me."
"The Senoch will be destroyed because a large meteor will impact their planet. A meteor that this being is fully capable of stopping. You have told me that you experienced a feeling of unconditional love from Kyrene when she touched you and that she claimed to represent a loving entity. Yet, she is causing you and the people she has said she wishes to save untold sorrow and sadness, simply because you refuse or are unable to conform to her will. This does not suggest a loving deity," Seven voiced firmly, attempting to snap Kathryn out of her trance of despondence.
"I don't think it's that simple, darling. I really don't believe that Kyrene is trying to punish either The Senoch or me, and yet I don't know how to explain her actions," Kathryn answered, her face and voice showing the extent of her exhaustion.
"You must attempt to sleep, Kathryn. It is late and though I hesitate to mention it, tomorrow will no doubt be even more emotionally draining for you," Seven said, gently drawing an unresisting Janeway to her feet. Leading her to the bedroom, Seven tenderly removed Janeway's uniform, helping her to pull a nightshirt of soft cotton over her head.
Easing back against the pillows, Kathryn felt the lassitude creep up her body into her very bones. Seven slid noiselessly into the bed beside her, rolling towards Kathryn just as Janeway, with an inarticulate murmur, turned and slid her arm around Seven's waist, her head coming to rest lightly on Seven's shoulder. In a matter of minutes, Kathryn was fast asleep, cradled safely in Seven's arms.
Kathryn Janeway awoke to find she was standing on the very top of the slope of a brilliant green hillside. Looking out, she could see for kilometers, as the lush green valley lay spread out before her, a patchwork quilt of greens and browns dotted here and there with the white of a house or the brittle red of a barn. The sun was a soft golden light, its rays slanted and growing dimmer, as the evening slowly made its way across the fields and meadows, leaving patterns of shadow, pockets of duskiness in the shade of the trees. The air held just a hint of coolness, a soft breeze just touching her skin like a lover's caress. She could smell the rich soil, the tangy scent of the grass and the damper, musty smell of the woods that lay behind her, the pleasant breeze urging the leaves and branches to tell their secrets, as it whispered conspiratorially through their ranks.
Kathryn slowly sank to the ground, sitting on the sun-warmed earth and cool grass, her eyes taking in the landscape and recognizing the road she had traversed earlier that day, its red clay almost black in the fading light.
"I noticed that you appeared to like this hill," announced a voice that she knew as well as her own, "I thought this as good a spot as any for our discussion. The scenery is without equal and it is a trifle isolated. Considering that I have a vague idea that you are extremely displeased with me, it seemed advisable to take you out of earshot of your ship. After all, Seven has worked hard and she deserves the rest."
Kathryn didn't respond immediately as she tried to temper the astonishing rage that had flared within her at the sound of that lovely, melodious voice. Only when Kyrene seated herself beside her on the hill, her long legs stretched out in front of her, bare feet luxuriating in the feel of the thick grass, did Kathryn turn to face her. She knew that the fury she was feeling must be clearly written in her eyes, embers burning brightly.
Noting the look of barely contained rage that marked Kathryn's features, Kyrene gave a somewhat rueful grimace. With a deep sigh, she replied to the unspoken words of anger and betrayal.
"I did warn you, my dear, that you would not be able to simply speed here in your magnificent starship and with a few deft calculations and a few quick orders suddenly make everything all right again. I told you it was far more complex than that, that something more than bravado and superior technology would be required to accomplish this task. I knew at the time that you didn't believe me, but I also knew that only by coming here and actually finding out for yourself would you finally be made to realize that what I advised you was true. If that incurs your anger, then so be it."
"Are you going to save them?" Kathryn asked harshly, speaking for the first time since the alien had appeared.
"I've already answered that question. I will tell you again what I told you before. What would it serve you for me to save them?"
"Damn it!!" Kathryn cried out, springing to her feet and looking down at the woman seated calmly on the hill, the late day sun turning her hair to the richest of golds, "These people, these kind, generous, faithful people are going to be destroyed."
"This world," she shouted, gesturing with her arm to the panorama before them, "this beautiful, glorious world will be reduced to nothing more than dust and scorched earth. None of this has anything to do with me. It has to do with a people who actually believe in you. They believe that God sent you to deliver them, that our arrival here was part of God's salvation. How can you sit there and ask how it will serve me when in less than forty hours, these devout, unswerving people will perish?"
"I have done all that I may do. The rest lies with you," Kyrene replied.
"All that you may do? What exactly does that mean?"
"It means just what I said, all that I may do. The prayers of The Senoch were heard and acted upon, in the way that God wished, in order that they might be spared. Clearly that way does not meet with your approval Kathryn. The means of salvation have been put into place. The Senoch have done all that is expected of them. The rest is entirely up to you," she answered, that nebulous light in her eyes much clearer than ever before.
"You're not going to lift a finger to save them?" Janeway asked incredulously.
"I already have," Kyrene replied, a flash of something fierce and bright leaping in the emerald depths of her eyes.
She met Janeway's gaze unflinchingly, her meaning evident as she glared resolutely at Voyager's Captain. Thinking that perhaps there was another way into this citadel, another way to convince Kyrene to act, Janeway tried a different tactic. Switching gears without warning, Kathryn's voice changed, calmer tones prevailing.
"When you appeared in the Conference Room, the other members of my crew perceived you as various religious figures from their own diverse cultures, from a Vulcan Reldai, to the Great Spirit of the Talaxian Forest. Yet, for me, and for Tom and Harry, you appear as, and I hope you won't be offended, but as a somewhat generic being, having the attributes usually associated with an angelic host. So, considering that my own education in regards to religious matters is sorely lacking, I decided to do a bit of research. I asked the computer to examine all the known religious and spiritual figures, including mythological and lesser-known gods, etc. from Earth's history to see if your name appeared anywhere," she said diffidently.
Circling to seat herself on the other side of Kyrene, Janeway continued.
"I didn't find anything. No stories, no parables, no myths were found that included your name. So, I expanded the search, asking the computer if, anywhere in its database it found your name. The response was yes, one item found matching that criterion. It was in a dictionary of sorts, one that tells the meaning of names. When I asked it to supply me with the entire listing, the computer responded, and I quote, 'Kyrene: a female name of Greek origin, meaning God or the Lord'."
Kyrene had not looked at her since she had sat down beside her, looking out instead at the open vista ahead of them. The sun had gone down, lingering rays painting the horizon with smudges of rose and orange, gold and crimson, as up above the sky settled into darkening blue, as if submerged in a cerulean ocean.
Her voice still and quiet, Kathryn asked the question that had been perplexing her.
"Are you God?"
A slight chuckle was her only answer, as Kyrene lowered her eyes finally from the skyline, turning her head slowly to meet Kathryn's gaze.
"I thought you didn't believe in God? Therefore, what possible difference would it make what my answer is?" Kyrene responded, the corners of her mouth lifted in a delicate smile.
"Humor me," Janeway said lightly, "After all, don't I have the right to truly know who or what I am dealing with?"
"I told you in the beginning, I am part of God. Everything that exists is God and God is everything that exists. We are all part of a greater whole and that greater whole dwells in all of us."
"That's not an answer," Kathryn complained.
"Yes, it is. It is the only answer I have. Am I the one, all-encompassing entity that is God? Yes and no. That entity comprises me and I comprise a part of it. For a captain of a starship and an acclaimed scientist, I would have thought that you wouldn't try to reduce things to such simple equations. You should know that nothing is ever that simple, that black and white," Kyrene told her.
Taking a deep breath, Kathryn decided to move on, asking another question, this one more personal and troubling.
"All right, I guess I'll just have to accept that as your answer. I hope you don't mind if ask another?"
"You may ask anything you like."
"Why did you choose me? Of all the people in the universe, why me?" Kathryn posed, a part of her uncertain if she really wanted to know the answer.
"To put it in a way you will understand, it was your turn," Kyrene replied, anticipating Kathryn's frustration with her response.
"But, you see, you're wrong about that. I don't understand that at all. You make it sound like there's some line somewhere to participate in miracles or healings and I suddenly got to the head of it."
"In a way you did. There is so much inside of you, Kathryn, so much goodness, so much potential to grow and learn. Of all your people, so few of you have reached that plateau, that moment when they stand on the cusp of something monumental, when they have the chance to become something greater than all who went before them. You have climbed to the very edge of that plateau, Kathryn, and it was your time to decide whether or not you would simply stay there or if you had the courage to reach beyond it," Kyrene explained, her eyes luminous in the fading light.
"And there was another reason, the reason that I intervened, that I came to you in a form you could see and with which you could communicate. There are very few who receive a personal visit you see. I could have simply lead your ship here and let you decide for yourself. You would never have known that there had been any outside influence. But I wanted to talk to you, to help you if I could, to make certain that you knew that what was at stake was not simply The Senoch, but you as well," she said, her face taking on an expression of such sweetness, of tremendous affection.
"You see, Kathryn, despite the fact that you have never acknowledged me, that in truth you have spent a lifetime denying me, you are most dear to me. There is a passion for life, a longing for truth and knowledge, a deep commitment to your ideals and dreams that I have always felt set you apart from most of the others, not only of your people, but of any race. You said earlier that you had researched the meaning of my name. Did you also find the meaning of your own name, Kathryn?" Janeway shook her head slowly, indicating the negative.
"Kathryn is also a name of Greek origin. It means 'beloved', as you are to me," Kyrene told her, the expression of disbelief on Janeways' face telling her what Kathryn believed.
"Apparently you haven't been paying much attention for the past seven years or so. I haven't done anything to merit your admiration, much less your affection. I am responsible for stranding my crew 70,000 light years from home, for several wars, three time incursions and more deaths than I care to remember. Whatever I might have been, or whatever potential anyone might have seen in me is no longer there," Kathryn answered, such profound regret in her voice and on her face.
"My very dear Kathryn, don't you think that you have repented enough for all of your imagined sins? They never were sins, you know and your repentance never was required," she said so tenderly that Kathryn felt tears sting the back of her eyes.
"How can I feel such love from you, such a desire for me to love myself? You are the same being who is going to let these people, these thirty million people, all of whom believe in you with a fierceness and a fire that I must admit, I envy, die a horrible, prolonged death? How can that be?" Kathryn pleaded, the tears now falling without check over her elegant cheekbones.
"Why do you think I am here with you right now, in this place, at this moment, Kathryn? Why do you think I didn't send back an answer of 'no' to the prayers of The Senoch for salvation? I want nothing more than for these people to be spared, nothing more than for you to find that part of yourself that is part of God. But I have done all I can to make those two things happen. We discussed it you know, in the very beginning, the whole concept of limited omnipotence. I have reached my limit, Kathryn. I have faith in you. Can't you have faith in me?" Kyrene implored.
Leaning forward, she took both of Kathryn's hands in her own. As Kathryn raised her eyes to meet Kyrene's, something changed. Those eyes that, even in the growing darkness, had glowed bright and fierce faded for a single instant to black. Then, as Kathryn stared, all the wonders that she had witnessed so briefly in that moment Kyrene had touched her face suddenly surrounded her. She was no longer simply viewing them, as one would through a viewport. She was a part of them, of novas and supernovas, nebulas and black holes, comets and meteors, planets large and small. She could feel the vibrant hum of the living universe, hear the steady and eternal pounding of its heartbeat. She was one with all the pieces of the vast macrocosm, seeing with newly comprehending eyes how all the pieces molded together to form a whole, each piece separate and distinct, the whole incomplete without each unique part.
Suddenly, without warning, it all disappeared, and she was left with the most intense and unimaginable sense of emptiness, her mind and body somehow lacking something she couldn't name. Opening her eyes, Kathryn Janeway found herself lying in the darkness of her own room, Seven's soft breathing the only sound.
Kathryn Janeway stepped off the turbolift onto her Bridge, her command mask firmly in place. The things that Kyrene had said, the things that Kathryn had seen, all played across her mind, disjointed but somehow recognizable. She had woken Seven immediately this time and they had lain in bed till early morning as Kathryn told her, almost word for word, what had transpired. Seven's skepticism hadn't wavered, as she questioned again and again why this being simply did not save The Senoch herself. When she reached the point in the story where Kyrene had taken her hands and she had been transformed, Kathryn found that words escaped her. It was impossible to describe the unimaginable.
Finally, just before the computer announced morning watch, Kathryn made a decision, one that Seven had somehow always known she would make, even before this last encounter with Kyrene. Janeway had never been a quitter, had never backed down from the consequences of making the only ethical choice she could make. As they had lain talking, Kathryn had realized that she had made similar sacrifices for other, far less worthy races. When did the choice to try anything even remotely possible to save a planet full of people suddenly change and become more about her ship and crew? She had risked both so many times. She had to try this time, even if the odds were decidedly against them. After all, she had never relied too heavily on the benefit of fate, but rather on her own abilities and those of her crew.
As she walked down the ramp to sit in her command chair, she smiled to herself. She remembered Kyrene asking her what she believed in and responding, 'Myself and my crew'. It was time to find out if that belief was justified.
Glancing back, she saw that Seven had taken up her position at the Science station behind her. Their eyes met, blue into blue, acknowledging the depth of love that they shared. Regardless of what happened, both she and Seven knew that what they had shared was the greatest of blessings, even to the disbeliever.
"Computer, open up a shipwide channel. Attention, this is the Captain. As you are all aware, we have been attempting to find a way to knock the meteor headed for this planet out of its current trajectory. We have determined that our best chance at success is the use of our tractor beam in conjunction with the warp engines to try to pull the object out of it path and away from the planet."
"The strain on our engines and our structural integrity will be tremendous. In fact, our projections indicate that there is only a 1.2 percent chance that this procedure will be effective. There is a 98.8 percent chance that not only will we not succeed in altering the course of the meteor, but that Voyager will be torn apart by the effort. Despite these odds, I feel we must try. The thirty million people on the planet below deserve our best attempt. You are, without question, the finest crew to ever walk the decks of a starship. It has been an honor and a privilege to serve as your Captain. All hands to stations. Janeway out."
Glancing over at her First Officer, she could see the emotion and pride on his face. She had informed him and the rest of the senior staff of her decision earlier this morning. There had been little surprise on the faces of her crew as she told them to prepare for the maneuver. They knew their Captain and had held few doubts that she would try anything, even at the risk of her ship to save those people. To simply stand by and watch their world destroyed and always wonder if somehow in the intricate workings of the universe, that 1.2 percent might have been enough just wasn't Kathryn Janeway's way of doing things.
She had decided against informing The Senoch of their determination to make the attempt, feeling that there was no point in raising their hopes for what would quite probably be a failed attempt. It would be far kinder if they were allowed to spend what would probably be their last moments focused entirely on being with their loved ones, not desperately praying for a rescue that stood a great chance of failure.
"Janeway to Engineering. B'Elanna, are you set down there?"
"Aye, Captain. Engines are standing by," came the quick reply.
"Seven, are the enhancements to the tractor beam complete?"
"Affirmative, Captain. Modifications are in place. We may begin at anytime," Seven responded.
"Tom, take us to the coordinates. Seven, prepare to lock onto the meteor," Janeway said firmly.
Voyager moved to within the proscribed distance of the meteor, an enormous, starship sized piece of rock and ice and gas, spinning silently on its course towards the planet. The Captain ordered Harry to put it on the front viewscreen. At the exact moment Seven locked onto its coordinates, B'Elanna punched the engines, sending Voyager to maximum warp in a matter of seconds. The strain to the engines and to the tractor beam became evident the moment they locked on. The ship began to moan and shudder as the stress on the engines and the structural integrity began to increase.
"Structural integrity down to sixty percent. Fifty-eight. Fifty-five," Tuvok intoned, his voice impassive.
"Maintain course and speed," Janeway ordered above the whine and rattle of her ship.
"Aye, Captain," Paris replied. The words had barely left his mouth when a sudden explosion sent sparks shooting from the console in front of him, throwing the Ensign to the deck where he lay motionless.
Moving quickly to his side, Janeway could see the damage to the skin of his face and the blood that flowed from a deep cut above his left eye. She swiftly hit her COMM badge. "Medical emergency on the Bridge. Immediate transport directly to Sickbay."
As the still body of Tom Paris disappeared in a shimmer of light, Janeway pushed herself up from her kneeling position and took the seat at the Helm, quickly assessing the damage to the console. Her fingers flew over the controls, trying to stabilize their somewhat erratic course. The meteor had pulled the ship along with it, lessening the strain on the hull and the engines, but drastically reducing their chances of altering its path.
Finally reestablishing the proper course, she kept her fingers firmly on the panel, certain at this point that any waver on her part would end any possibility that they still had for success. The whine and groan of the hull had increased as Tuvok announced that hull integrity was down to forty-five percent.
"Seven, are we having any effect?" Janeway practically had to yell over the noise from the ship. She turned momentarily in her seat as she waited for Seven's answer.
"No, Captain and within the next ten minutes, the engines will overload from the strain," Seven responded, raising her voice to carry over the clamor.
Turning back toward the viewscreen, at first Kathryn couldn't quite reconcile the vision she was met with. Kyrene stood in front of her console, her expression somber.
Glancing quickly back at the rest of the bridge, Kathryn could see that none of the others had noted her presence. Facing towards her again, Kathryn swiftly readjusted the controls, which had slipped somewhat in her surprise.
"No, they can't see me, or hear me," Kyrene said just as Tuvok declared that the hull integrity was now at only twenty-eight percent, "The time has come, Kathryn, for you to make your decision."
"I made my decision. I decided to at least try to save those people, even if it means the destruction of my ship as well," Kathryn answered, the death cries of her ship too loud for any but Kyrene to hear her. The struggle to keep the ship on course was causing her to clench her teeth tightly.
"You have reached the edge of the precipice, Kathryn. What you do right now will determine not only the fate of The Senoch, but of your crew. Your ship is breaking apart around you and your engines are about to give out, initiating a warp core breach. If you can continue to hold on for three point two more minutes, the time left before your hull collapses, you still will not succeed in your mission. And unfortunately, the stress on the tractor beam has caused the controls to freeze, so that, even if you wished, you could not disengage. Your warp core is preparing to overload as we speak," Kyrene proclaimed relentlessly.
"You are standing on the brink. Let go of the controls, Kathryn. Take you fingers off, and believe, that is all I ask of you."
"If you can save my crew, Kyrene, please, save them," Janeway yelled, her voice almost lost over the scream of torn metal and the cries of her crew as they tried to hold Voyager together.
"I can't. Only you can. Take your fingers off the panel. Trust, for once in your life, Kathryn, trust in something greater than yourself. Trust in me," Kyrene leaned against the Helm, her face almost pleading.
Before Kathryn could respond a loud explosion echoed through the Bridge. Janeway turned to see Seven slowly pick herself up from where she had been thrown by the force of the blast. She saw Seven look at her, intent on reassuring Kathryn that she was all right. Then Kathryn saw her look beyond her, to where Kyrene stood, still leaning forward against the console. Seven's eyes narrowed and Janeway watched as she shook her head, trying to clear her vision.
Seven moved forward, heedless of the chaos around her, her eyes fixed on Kyrene's position. There was a look of incredulity on her lovely face, her hair falling around it in disarray.
"Seven? What is it? Can you see her?" Janeway implored, her hands still firmly fixed on the controls.
"I can see something. There is no distinct form, merely a shape," she replied, "However it is a shape that seems familiar."
As she moved to stand behind Janeway's chair, Seven gave a startled gasp, as all the air rushed from her lungs. Kathryn swiveled in her seat to stare up at her. The expression of awe on Seven's face was something Kathryn had never thought to experience. The normally stoic, controlled mask that Seven habitually wore was gone and in its place was the face of a child gazing in wonder and joy as it beheld the earth spinning below in space for the first time.
"Darling, what do you see?"
"Perfection. I saw it once before, a single molecule, but never this. Thousands, millions of molecules, all distinct, all perfect." Seven answered, her voice barely a whisper.
"I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last," Kyrene spoke in a reverent tone, her voice reaching Seven's ears, resonant and clear.
Looking again at Janeway, Kyrene said gently, "The Senoch have a saying, a belief about faith Kathryn. They tell their children, when you come to edge of the light you know, and are about to step off into the darkness of the unknown, Faith is knowing one of two things will happen. There will be something solid on which to stand, or you will be taught how to fly. Fly, Kathryn. Be brave enough to step off the edge and know that I will not let you fall. Close your eyes, take your fingers off those controls, and fly."
Glancing up at Seven's face, she felt tears come to her eyes at the look of joy on that beautiful face. She felt Seven's hand lightly grasp her shoulder.
Closing her eyes, Kathryn Janeway drew in a deep breath and let her fingers slip off the console. The last thing she heard was Kyrene's voice, close to her ear, whispering, "I will never leave you. Remember that, Kathryn, remember."
There was a sudden, blinding flash of light, and Kathryn assumed that the warp core had overloaded. The shock wave rocked the ship, tossing it like a child's toy across the blackness of space. Kathryn was thrown from her seat, hitting the hard, unyielding deck with a sickening thud, Seven lying not far from her. For a long moment there was a silence, then the moans of the injured and the voices of her crew carried to her.
Pushing herself up, she rose stiffly from the deck, glancing around in bewilderment as it became clear that her ship had not been destroyed.
"Report," she gasped, as a sharp pain shot up her left arm. She had landed on it and from the angle of her wrist, it was obvious that it was broken.
Harry Kim's voice answered her, confusion evident in his voice.
"It's gone, Captain."
"What's gone, Harry?"
"The meteor, Captain. It's just gone, disintegrated. The largest pieces are only a meter in diameter," he replied, clearly at a loss to explain the readings.
"So they pose no danger to the planet?" Kathryn asked, the reality of what was happening just beginning to sink in.
"No, Captain, they should just burn up in the atmosphere," he agreed, "Natural fireworks."
"Janeway to Engineering. Report, B'Elanna."
"I don't know how to explain it, Captain, but the engines look okay. I've taken them offline, but there doesn't seem to be any serious damage."
"Chakotay, organize repair teams and get started on the hull. It must have breached in a number of places. Tuvok, you and Harry get as much of this damage on the Bridge under repair as possible," Janeway ordered, her mind functioning purely on autopilot.
Sinking heavily into her command chair, she met Seven's eyes. Kathryn regarded her for a moment, silently communicating her wish, that for now, Kyrene's visit remain between the two of them. There would be time in the future to discuss what had happened, time to examine the sensors and to find a reasonable explanation for the seemingly miraculous event they had just witnessed.
Committing her thoughts to the tasks at hand, Janeway began to oversee the repair of her ship, contacting Sickbay to check on Paris' condition. The Doctor assured her he had suffered no permanent damage, only minor cuts and burns.
She realized with an intense pain, that chances were good that she would never see Kyrene again and Kathryn felt it as a palpable loss. Yet, as she sat surveying the ruin of her Bridge, Kyrene's last words reverberated in her mind.
"I will never leave you." With the words came an overwhelming feeling of peace.
"Ensign Lano, take the Helm. Take us back into orbit around The Senoch planet. Harry, send a message to the Prelate, requesting an audience," Kathryn said, leaning back in her chair.
"Actually, we're just receiving a transmission from The Senoch, Captain, text only. It's a little odd," Harry answered, a curious look on his young face, "It says 'The blossoms are in full bloom, Captain. Perhaps they needed water after all.' Do you know what that means?"
"Yes, Harry, I do. I actually do," she replied, a smile of contentment touching her lips.
Kathryn Janeway laid back on the soft, fragrant grass, her head pillowed on Seven's lap. From their spot at the top of the hill they could see all the way across the valley. The setting sun had left behind a few wayward rays, that danced and chased one another along the edge of the horizon, leaving ribbons of dusky hues against the deepening blue.
Kathryn lay relaxed and content, Seven's fingers slipping gently through the hair at the edge of her temple. Above them, all around in every direction, brilliant streaks of light lit the sky, as the millions of small pieces of the meteor burned up harmlessly as they entered the atmosphere. It was indeed natural fireworks, as Harry had said.
Kathryn and Seven had left the celebration in the capital early, saying goodnight to the Prelate and leaving behind the noise and laughter of the party, had walked hand in hand down the tree-lined streets, and out of the city, into the embracing quiet and solitude of the countryside.
The Senoch had been monitoring the meteor and had witnessed Voyager's valiant effort to pull the monstrous rock out of its trajectory. They had also witnessed the sudden, inexplicable explosion that had thrown the ship clear of the splintering fragments. Their instruments had revealed that just a few seconds before the explosion, the geotectonic state of the meteor had been perfect, with no hidden fissures, or anything that might explain why it had shattered. Their readings also revealed that according to the known laws of physics, Voyager should have been destroyed as well. The structural integrity had been so completely compromised that the ship should have been blown to pieces from the force of the blast, not to mention the condition of the warp core, which was in the process of a breach at the moment of the explosion.
The Senoch had offered only one interpretation of what had occurred. They believed that the willingness of the crew of Voyager to sacrifice themselves in order to save these relative strangers had been recognized by God and rewarded. Neither Kathryn nor Seven shared with The Senoch or the rest of the crew, what they had experienced on the Bridge in those final moments. B'Elanna, of course launched herself wholeheartedly into discovering a scientific, rational reason for the events, without much success.
As they had walked out into the sweet-smelling countryside, Kathryn had lead Seven to her hillside. They raced each other up the gentle slope, Kathryn laughing and out of breath as she reached the top, falling happily into Seven's arms. Looking up into Seven's eyes and seeing the love reflected back at her, she gently pulled Seven's face down to her own, kissing her sweetly, savoring the taste and feel of her.
Their first kiss had been less than a year ago, on another alien world, that one beyond their attempts at salvation. Somehow, it felt as if they had come full circle, able this time to preserve life rather than simply bearing witness to it.
Reclining now on the green grass, watching as shooting stars made their journey across the night sky, Kathryn couldn't help but think of Kyrene. Forty-four years of living and believing certain things made it difficult for her to suddenly embrace the notion of a Supreme Being, even one as clearly loving and generous as this one seemed to be. The scientist inside of her could rationally put it all into perspective as the actions of an advanced alien race, powerful, but not the creator of all things.
Yet, as she closed her eyes, Kathryn still held those feelings of abiding love that she had experienced in Kyrene's presence. She hadn't told anyone, even Seven, but in that final moment, when she had let her hands slip off the controls, she had felt herself falling and then felt tender arms catch her and carry her up. Perhaps it had merely been a hallucination brought on by the extreme stress. She wasn't sure, and that, in itself, that recognition of doubt, was enough to almost bring her tower of knowledge and belief tumbling around her.
Opening her eyes to look up at Seven's face, lit by the myriad of lights, Kathryn said softly, "Make a wish."
"A wish? Why?" Seven asked, perplexed.
"It's an old custom. You wish on a falling star and your wish comes true. You can't say your wish out loud though. With all of these to choose from, I think we're safe in assuming that at least one wish will come true," Kathryn chuckled.
Seven sat for a long moment, silent. Finally Kathryn raised herself up on her elbow and asked her, "Did you make a wish?"
"It is unnecessary," Seven answered matter-of-factly, "I have all that I could ever wish for."
Laughing, Kathryn sat up, reaching over and slipping her hands around Seven's neck. With one swift motion, she pulled her down on top of her, marveling as ever, at the incredible softness of that supple body.
"Come here, sweet talker. I have something that I wished for. I'll give you five or six chances to guess what it was. The only hitch is that they have to be non-verbal guesses," Kathryn said, her voice low and seductive.
"And if I do not manage to discover your wish within my allotted number of guesses?" Seven inquired, her hands already sliding up under Janeway's shirt to caress warm skin.
"I suppose I could be persuaded to give you a few more chances," she gasped as Seven's hands circled around to just brush across her breasts.
"Indeed. Shall I begin with guess number one?" Seven asked, her lips turned up in a slight smile.
"Guess away, darling, guess away."
Above them one particularly brilliant streak of light moved almost languidly across the indigo background, before vanishing in a dazzling burst of color, lingering particles of dust floating gently to the ground to cover the two women in a shimmering dust of silver and green and gold.
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