Erasure

Summary: Voyager limps through alien space, pursued by a relentless enemy. With the crew split apart, stranded officers turn to each other, and suspicions arise that a traitor may be working from the inside. But fates can change in breathtaking ways.

 

Characters: Janeway, Paris, Chakotay, Tuvok, Kim, Torres, Kes, Neelix, EMH, Seska, Bendera, Celes, VOY crew

Codes: Janeway/Paris, Janeway/Chakotay, Kim/Torres

 

Disclaimer: Paramount owns all things Trek, including any dialogue I’ve borrowed from the series. I sincerely hope they take this as a compliment.

 

Notes: Book 3 of the Parallels series. Related episode: Year of Hell. Thanks to their moderately successful use of the Sikarian spatial trajector, Voyager has managed to bypass Borg space without encountering the Collective, and other events that happened in the series between Prime Factors and Year of Hell have also been bypassed. I’ve also taken some liberties with the timeline, but not as many as Annorax.

Rated M

Part Two: Incursion

 

Stardate 48844.6

~ Day 95 ~

“Come in.”

Tuvok entered the Captain’s ready room, feeling his way around the debris on the floor until he found the back of a chair. Gripping it, he held out a PADD. “The situation report, sir.”

“Have a seat, Lieutenant.” Chakotay scanned the PADD. “This looks worse than yesterday.”

“A malfunction in the EPS conduits on Deck Three caused a number of relays to burn out, which initiated a power overload in the replicator system on that deck. The fire suppression system was offline. Most of the crew quarters on Deck Three have been rendered uninhabitable. Repair crews have been assigned, but it is likely the deck will have to be temporarily shut down and crew members reassigned to shared quarters.”

“Well, that’ll help crew morale,” Chakotay muttered sarcastically. “Who am I sharing with, then?”

Tuvok raised an eyebrow. “As the Captain, it would be inappropriate for you to share quarters with a junior crewman. Ensign Ryson’s quarters will become yours, and he has been reassigned to share with Crewman Harren.”

“Lucky Ryson,” Chakotay smiled, and put down the PADD with its catalogue of catastrophe. “How are you, Tuvok?”

“I am well, thank you, Captain.”

Chakotay studied him. “I know you well enough to know when there’s something on your mind. Spit it out.”

Tuvok inclined his head. “Very well. I am uncertain as to our future, immediate and otherwise.”

“Explain.”

“Commander Janeway and Lieutenant Paris were taken by the Krenim weapon vessel almost a month ago. You repeatedly make mention of a rescue mission, yet it is quite clear that Voyager is in no state to mount a rescue, and in fact is barely spaceworthy. Over the past four weeks we have been attacked by three separate species intent on plundering this vessel. We have made no allies, found no trade opportunities. In short, Captain, I am doubtful that we can continue in this manner for more than a week at best.”

“Well, don’t hold back.” Chakotay sighed. “I suppose you have a proposal.”

“Indeed. I would suggest that we allow the crew to disembark and seek alternate routes through this region, or sanctuary, if that is their wish. Such a plan would offer this crew its greatest chance for survival.”

“You know, Kathryn recommended the same thing, the day she and Paris were taken,” Chakotay said quietly, leaning back in his chair. “I guess it’s good to know that my first officers have consistent advice for me.” He rubbed his forehead. “I won’t abandon Voyager. The senior staff should stay. Once we’ve completed repairs, we’ll attempt to rescue Kathryn and Tom.”

“There is a Class 9 nebula two light years distant. It could provide a refuge while we effect repairs. However, Captain, I would caution you that with a skeleton staff and no access to supplies or resources, repairing the ship will not be an easy task.”

“Understood.” Chakotay stood. “Advise all hands to gather in Cargo Bay Two in thirty minutes.”

He walked the halls of the ship – what was left of it – in the half hour reprieve before the hardest order he’d ever had to give. Debris was everywhere; flickering consoles, darkened passageways. And everywhere were reminders: of scars earned in battle, of systems cobbled together by ingenuity and sweat, of the people who made this ship a home.

Half an hour passed and he found himself standing before the doors to the cargo bay, afraid to enter. But he was the captain, and he had no choice.

The crew stood at attention, and Tuvok announced, “Captain on the deck.”

“At ease.” At his words, they relaxed. He knew it wouldn’t last long.

“I promised myself I would never give this order,” Chakotay began. “But it’s time to face reality. We’ve lost nine decks. Half the ship has been destroyed. Life support is nearly gone. Voyager can no longer sustain her crew. I never wanted to break up this family, but asking you to stay would be asking you to die.”

He paused to gather his thoughts. “You will proceed to the escape pods and shuttles - Lieutenant Tuvok has your assignments. Set course for the Alpha quadrant and activate your subspace transponders to enable us to track you. The senior staff will remain on board. We will try, somehow, to rescue Commander Janeway and Lieutenant Paris. And when we find each other again – and we will,” he said emphatically, “I expect to find you all in good shape and with some interesting tales to tell.”

He steeled himself to cast his gaze one last time around the room, meeting the trusting eyes of his crew. There was Celes, wide-eyed and trembling, a black smudge of grease on her cheekbone. There was Gerron, scowling to hide his fear. There was Batehart, standing straight and tall, fists clenched at his sides. So young, the three of them, he thought. He tried not to wonder how they’d survive, out there in space in their lonely escape pods. He couldn’t think that way. They would survive, and they would thrive, and one day they’d all be back together again.

“Dismissed,” he said quietly, and watched them file out of the cargo bay.

 

=/\=


After days or weeks of darkness, Kathryn Janeway squinted watery-eyed as the oblong of dazzling light fell across the suddenly opened doorway. Ungentle hands reached down and plucked her from her corner. “Where are you taking me?” she rasped in a voice hoarse from disuse, but no answer was forthcoming.

She was stripped – under protest; a Krenim underling would be nursing a black eye and a sour temper for a while, she thought with satisfaction – and pushed under a sonic shower. Fresh clothing had been laid out for her, and she sullenly pulled it on. She used the hairbrush provided for her and looked for pins to pull her hair out of her face, but found none; she let it fall unbound. She stood and faced the silent guard by the door. “Well, I guess I’m ready for my date now,” she said with heavy sarcasm. “Dinner or dancing?”

The guard led her through corridors and doorways until they reached a room with a table, laden with dishes and bowls of exotic food. “Dinner, then,” Janeway muttered, but she couldn’t help salivating a little. She’d been fed occasionally, in that dark room, but she wouldn’t have called it fine dining. The guard nudged her into the dining room and she saw that a man was seated at the end of the table. He appeared middle-aged, at least if he’d been human, but strong and vital. His face was square, his hair greying, his eyes a cold, pale blue. “Welcome,” he addressed her. “My name is Annorax. I trust you feel rested?”

“Where’s my crewmate?” she demanded.

“He should have been here by now. No doubt he’s making himself difficult. I’ve never met such an intransigent young man.”

“What do you expect?” she demanded. “You’ve had us in isolation for weeks. I’ve been starved, scanned, questioned and manhandled. I’m guessing you’ve done the same to him.”

“It was a necessary process. You are an unknown species; I had to know what you were capable of, and how your presence and abilities might affect my mission. No matter. You may consider yourselves my guests.”

“How kind,” Paris said sardonically, striding into the room and taking the seat beside Janeway. “You okay?” he asked her, his eyes soft. She nodded, and he turned back to Annorax. “What do you want from us?”

“Information,” Annorax replied. “But first, eat.” He indicated the expanse of food before them. “You won’t find these delicacies anywhere else in the galaxy.”

Still suspicious, Janeway picked up her fork and tentatively tried something that was blue and looked like caviar. It tasted like peaches. “Interesting,” she muttered. Paris followed suit, and before long Janeway realised they’d both eaten a plateful.

Annorax uncapped a crystal bottle and poured them each a burgundy-coloured glassful. “Malkothian spirits. The only bottle known to exist. Commander Janeway, when I first encountered your vessel, it was badly damaged. What would you say if I told you that in a matter of moments, I could restore your ship to its former condition? That you might even find yourselves closer to the Alpha quadrant?”

“By using your temporal weapon to alter history?” she asked.

Annorax smiled. “Yes. I can control the destiny of a single molecule, or an entire civilisation. How’s your wine?”

She shrugged. “I’m no expert.”

Annorax sighed. “This bottle is the only remaining component of the once powerful Malkoth race. Everything else about them – cities, culture, the very species – never existed, because of me.” He indicated the table. “Every dish you see here comes from a civilisation that I have erased from time. I have collected artefacts from hundreds of worlds. This vessel is more than a weapon. It’s a museum of lost histories.”

Slowly, Janeway put down her glass. The meal she had enjoyed suddenly lurched in her stomach, and glancing at Paris, she saw he looked pale too. This megalomaniac had made them unwitting accessories to murder. She swallowed down the rising nausea. “What exactly do you want from us?”

“I want us to help each other. You’re trying to reach your home; in a way, I am too. But in order to make the calculations required to restore Voyager, I need to know about some of your experiences in this quadrant. What species you interacted with, how other components were affected by your presence.”

“You can’t find them,” Paris blurted. “Captain Chakotay is eluding you. You want us to give them up so you can destroy them.”

“I’m offering you a way out of your situation,” Annorax replied, and his eyes were cold as a glacier. “Accept my offer, or when I find your ship, I will destroy it.”

“I’m not listening to any more of this.” Paris shoved his chair back and stood. “I won’t be party to wiping out entire civilisations. Commander?” He turned to her, expecting her to stand with him.

She wanted to be sick, wanted to leap across the table and put her hands around Annorax’s scaly neck. But Janeway forced herself to remain still. “Tom, wait a minute.” She faced Annorax. “You said you could control the destiny of a single molecule. If you made a precise enough calculation, could you restore Voyager without harming anyone?”

Annorax inclined his head. “It is possible. But it’s extremely difficult. Which is why I need your help.”

“Commander, you can’t trust him,” Paris pleaded. “He’s insane.”

Annorax pressed a button on the edge of the table and another dark-suited Krenim male appeared. “Obrist, I believe Mr Paris is ready to retire to his new quarters. Please see that he is made comfortable. Mr Paris, perhaps a good night’s sleep will help open your mind.”

Obrist nodded and led Paris from the room, and Annorax turned back to Janeway. “I was impressed with your question. You may be unable to appreciate a rare vintage, but perhaps you can appreciate the subtleties of time.”

She made herself smile. “I’m certainly willing to try.”

 

=/\=


The Krenim had put Janeway and Paris in quite luxurious quarters, adjoined by a common anteroom filled with fat couches and abundant green fronded plants. Janeway was only halfway through her ostensibly lazy tour of her room, running her fingers over surfaces and picking up objects in a clandestine search for covert surveillance devices and potential useful tools or technology, when Paris burst through the antechamber doors. He stopped in front of her. “Hey,” he said, and reached impulsively for her hand. “It’s good to see you.”

She couldn’t deny it was good to see him, too. Janeway smiled, returned light pressure on his fingers and let go. “Did they mistreat you?”

“I gave as good as I got,” he shrugged. “I’m guessing you did, too, judging by the puffy eye on one of those meathead guards.”

She moved away, continuing her prowl around the room, picking things up and putting them down. “What are you doing?” he asked.

“Making sure we’re alone.”

He caught on, and took the opposite side of the room. Eventually they met at the couches. Janeway sat and waved a hand, inviting him to sit beside her. “So what now?” he asked quietly.

“In a captive situation, a Starfleet officer’s first obligation is to attempt escape.” Her mouth turned up at the corner as she quoted from the rulebook. “So we escape.”

“I suppose you have a plan.”

“Not exactly. But I’m open to opportunities.”

They were silent for a while, and then Tom said, “Commander… do you think they’re still out there?”

Janeway stood briskly, smoothing her tunic. “I have no doubt of it, and neither should you.”


Stardate 48865.9
~ Day 116 ~


“God damn it.”

Paris glanced up just in time to watch the little PADD-like tablet sail across the anteroom and bounce off the wall. Janeway stomped over and kicked the tablet for good measure.

“So I guess the calculations aren’t coming along so well,” he said drily.

For three weeks he’d barely seen her without her gaze bent to that tablet in her hand or her head bowed in front of a console, tapping on the keypad, entering calculation after variable after projection. She spent hours every day sequestered with Annorax, and when Tom joined them for meals, they spoke a language he could not understand. He’d tried to ask her what she was doing, why she was buying into Annorax’s mania, but her answers had not satisfied him. He was lonely and stiflingly bored and fearful for the crew of Voyager, and his temper had been further frayed by the knowledge that she was shutting him out.

“Every time I think I’ve nailed it, I run a simulation and all I’ve done is wiped out another species, or caused the destruction of Voyager. It’s like every time I pull on a thread it unravels all of history. I know there’s a way I can make it work. If I could just see …”

He was halfway across the room before he realised he was moving, crowding her, getting in her face. “I’ll tell you what you need to see,” he said, and his voice trembled with anger and desperation. “No matter how many calculations you make, you’ll never find the perfect equation. How many years, how many centuries has this crew been at it? What makes you think you’re so smart, so special, so lucky that you’ll be the one to fix everything? It’s so arrogant!”

In the silence that followed the echoes of his diatribe he stood with every muscle rigid, hands clenched into fists at his sides. Shock reflected in her blue-grey eyes. Tom realised how close he was to her, inches from her upturned face. Sanity rushed in and it took conscious effort to step back. There was no doubt in his mind that had he spoken to her like this on Voyager, he’d have been spending the next eternity in the brig. “Commander, I can’t – I’m so -”

“Stand down, Lieutenant,” Kathryn said softly, but her eyes were ice.

He shut up, and she regarded him for a moment longer, and then she turned to her quarters and let the door slide closed behind her. And once again, Tom Paris was left shut out and alone.

 

=/\=


The senior officers had fallen into a regular pattern of taking their meals together in the briefing room off the bridge; after an attack by a species identifying themselves as the Arkaan shortly before Chakotay had given the order to launch the escape pods, Deck Two had been badly damaged and the mess hall was all but impassable. It made Neelix’s job harder and meant that the EMH had been rendered semi-permanently offline, activated only when Kes was unable to provide the required medical care for the few remaining crew. But Chakotay had determined during their first days in the nebula that this communal mealtime served as both a necessary briefing session and a mood-lifter. Without it, some of them would rarely see another soul.

Chakotay unwrapped his ration pack and, as was his habit, broke it into individual small squares, which he ate slowly, trying to trick his stomach into believing it was a delicious, fresh, abundant meal. Four days ago an EPS manifold had blown, triggering a power failure on two decks and knocking out one of the refrigeration units; they had lost two-thirds of their remaining cold food stores, and so two meals a day were now replaced by ration packs. As a result, the mood at the dining table was lacklustre.

He noticed that Torres and Kim sat close together, almost but not quite touching, and that frequently, one of them would dart a glance at the other and look quickly away. They had been working closely together of late; engineering and ship’s operations often criss-crossed, but with so few people on the ship the only staff B’Elanna could delegate to were Harry and occasionally Neelix, who was assigned to Engineering when he wasn’t back-filling for other missing crewmen.

He waited until B’Elanna had finished chewing her mouthful with a grimace of distaste, then asked “Report, Lieutenant? How are we looking?”

She shook her head. “I’m still having trouble with the starboard nacelle.”

“How long?”

“Three weeks. Minimum,” she said firmly, knowing the Captain had been about to give her two.

He sighed. “Ensign Kim, the power grid?”

“We’re operating at thirty-two percent. I think I can bring it up to fifty in a few more days. Structural integrity is still fluctuating, but there’s not much I can do about that until I can stabilise the power grid.”

“Weapons, Mr Tuvok?”

“Mr Ayala and I have repaired the phaser array. It is operating at eighty percent efficiency. Three of the torpedo launchers are online. The fourth is irreparable in our current situation. Standard shields are at sixty-eight percent. Temporal shielding is online.”

“Good,” Chakotay nodded. “Ensign Seska, helm report?”

“Navigational systems are functioning at peak efficiency,” she replied. “Impulse engines are online but there’s a power fluctuation in the starboard engine. I’ll be working on it tomorrow.”

“Kes?”

“We’re running low on inaprovaline, but medical supplies are looking good otherwise. I haven’t treated any major injuries in over a week. Captain, I’d like to volunteer to assist elsewhere, if you think there’s a suitable post for me.”

He nodded. “Help Ensign Seska with the impulse engines. Once they’re repaired, see Lieutenant Tuvok for your next assignment. Ayala, I’d like you to work with B’Elanna on the nacelle repairs, since you have the defensive systems under control.”

“Aye, sir.”

Chakotay leaned back in his chair and regarded his senior staff. “I know you’ve all been working long hours,” he said slowly. “And I’m very pleased with your progress. This ship may be battered, but there’s life in her yet, and she’s not meant to lurk in a cloud for the rest of her days. Not while our crew is out there. As soon as we have warp capability, we are leaving this nebula.” He turned to Tuvok. “We need a strategy – a rescue mission. Our first priority is to locate and rescue Janeway and Paris. Once they’re back on board, we’ll search for the rest of the crew and bring them home. I want options and recommendations on my desk by tomorrow afternoon.”

There was a chorus of “yes, sir”s, and when they pushed away from the table to return to their duty stations, he thought he detected a spring in a few steps.

 

=/\=


“I understand your latest simulation failed.”

“Yes.” Janeway blew out a huff of frustration. “There was a comet that passed through Sector 4879 six months ago. Voyager made a course correction to avoid it; if we hadn’t done so, we would have avoided Krenim space altogether. I ran a simulation erasing the comet, but all I achieved was wiping out all life within a four parsec radius. Fragments from that comet had impacted a planet several millions of years ago and created hydrocarbons which gave rise to several species of plant life, and eventually, sentient life forms.” She slumped in her chair. “How do you do it? How do you take into account all the variables, all the odds? How could this possibly ever succeed?”

Annorax smiled a little and steepled his fingers before his chin. “We have had successes, but you’re right; the odds are immense.” He stood and went to the viewport, hands clasped behind his back, staring outward. “It seemed so easy at first. The calculations were perfect; in a blink of an eye, I had wiped out our greatest enemy, the Rilnar. In an instant, my people became powerful again.”

“A staggering achievement,” Janeway replied, smothering a wave of nausea at his casual disregard for an entire species. “And yet you made another incursion, and another.”

Annorax bowed his head. “A disease broke out among our colonies, and spread throughout our territory. Within a year, fifty million people were dead. I had failed to realise that the Rilnar had introduced a crucial antibody into the Krenim genome. My weapon had eliminated that antibody as well.”

“You lost everything,” she murmured.

“My people were all but wiped out. I have been attempting ever since to reverse what I had done.”

“I’ve been studying your logs,” Janeway said, “the records of your previous incursions. Three months ago, you achieved the seemingly impossible – a ninety-eight percent restoration; your greatest success by far. And yet, a month ago, you made another attempt. Why?”

“My accomplishment was insufficient.”

“You didn’t achieve your target event,” she said evenly. “The colony on Kyana Prime.”

Annorax turned. “How could you know that?”

“It seems that no matter how close you get to restoring the original timeline, one component is always missing. Kyana Prime. Who was on that colony? Who did you lose?”

“My wife, and with her my future.” Annorax’s gaze fell on the glass pyramid on his desk with its single lock of auburn hair. “This is all I have left of her now.”

Janeway crossed her legs. “Forgive me, but your wife has been dead for over two hundred years now. And yet you keep trying. Yearning after a past that will never be.”

Annorax turned pale eyes on her, eyes that held no warmth at all. “I have all eternity to change that past.”

“And how much damage will you do in that eternity?” she challenged. “It seems that, in the majority of attempts, your race has ceased to exist. What makes you think you can do any better? Perhaps your race was never meant to survive?”

For a moment, she thought he might kill her; his throat convulsed with the effort of containing his anger. Finally he spoke. “I had hopes for you. I thought perhaps you understood the vagaries of time – its whims, its moods. But you are just another fatalist.” He smiled with no humour. “Return to your quarters, Commander Janeway, and endeavour to live – forever - with the knowledge that you have just condemned your crewmates to death.”

She walked to the door on legs that trembled. Just before she exited, he called her name, and she turned. He was looking at her, and she couldn’t believe that for a while she had actually thought that perhaps he wasn’t insane. “We are not so very different now, you and I,” he said, and she escaped before her legs could no longer hold her.

 

=/\=


“Pass me that hyperspanner.”

Kes held out the instrument and watched closely as Seska used it to bypass the power relay, then sat back on her heels and sighed with frustration. “I just can’t isolate the power fluctuation. Every time I reroute power through a different relay, something else overloads.”

“Why don’t we take a break, Ensign? We’ve been working for four hours. I know I could use a cup of tea.”

“You go ahead.” Seska was already shoulder-deep in the panel again. “I want to try a few more things.”

“I’ll bring something back for you.” Kes made her way to the kitchen behind the mess hall; it was the only accessible part of that section of Deck Two and Ensign Kim had rigged a kind of food transport plate in a Jeffries tube hatch that Neelix used to send meals up to the briefing room on Deck One. Kim called it a dumbwaiter, which Kes found incomprehensible but amusing.

She made a flask of hot tea and carried it back through the Jeffries tubes to Deck Seven. She could see Seska was still hard at work on the impulse power arrays, so she approached quietly and stood behind the Bajoran, waiting for an appropriate moment to speak so she wouldn’t startle her. She watched as Seska worked. Kes had learned a lot about the impulse drive already from observing Seska, but she hadn’t had the opportunity to actually do very much. Seska preferred to use her as an aide much the same way as the Doctor used her as a medical assistant: pass this, read out that. At least the Doctor was happy for her to perform less critical medical procedures. And over the past few months while he’d been mostly offline, Kes had been the acting Chief Medical Officer, and she hadn’t yet encountered a condition she couldn’t fix. Well, except for Tuvok’s blindness, but he wouldn’t have let her fix it anyway.

She cocked her head, trying to decipher what Seska was doing now. “Why are you tying the comm system into the power grid?” she asked.

Seska jumped. “Prophets, Kes, you scared the life out of me!”

“Sorry, Ensign. I was trying to see what you were doing without disturbing you. I don’t understand what the communications system has to do with stabilising the power flow to the impulse engines?”

“That’s not what I was doing,” Seska said. “Is that peppermint tea?”

Kes handed her the flask. “I’m sure I saw you –”

“You were mistaken,” Seska said flatly, sipping from the flask. “Now, could you please monitor those readouts? I’m going to try bypassing a different EPS conduit.” She thrust the flask at Kes and turned back to the panel.


Stardate 48890.2
~ Day 141 ~


Crewman Kurt Bendera eased the shuttle into high orbit above the planet and set the sensors to a continuous scanning pattern. He didn’t think the Arkaan scout ship had followed them – he’d masked their warp trail with thoron emissions – but they’d had too many narrow escapes since leaving Voyager and he was afraid their luck was due to run out. “Okay, we’re parked,” he announced, turning from the viewscreen.

Three Starfleet ensigns stared back at him: Tal Celes, Lyndsey Ballard and Marya Swinn. Bendera sighed a little. Fate, and Lieutenant Tuvok, had played an unkind trick on him. All three outranked him, but all three had been fresh out of the Academy when Voyager landed in the Delta quadrant. And just when they were hitting their stride they’d been ripped away from the ship. Ballard had spunk and Swinn was a capable engineer, but they were scared and uncertain. He’d had no choice but to take charge.

“Come on, let’s get down there and see what we can forage. Ballard, secure all systems. Swinn, find weapons and something we can use to carry whatever food we find. Celes, why don’t you go grab the survival packs. We’ll beam down in ten minutes.”

He made a few refinements to the transport coordinates, ensuring they’d be set down in a hilly area with a fair chance of abundant vegetation, then said “Let’s go.” The four stepped onto the transporter pad.

They rematerialised on a gentle green slope covered in purple flowers. Fat insects buzzed lazily, avians darted overhead and the sun was warm and bright. Bendera felt his muscles relax for the first time in weeks. “Nice place,” he remarked. “Ballard, Swinn, go check out that grove of trees over there and see if there’s any edible fruit. Celes, you’re with me.” He indicated a cave system in the hillside to their left. “Could be some small animals we can trap, and we’ll check for natural minerals too.”

The teams struck out separately. “You’re really good at this, Kurt,” Celes remarked, and he shrugged.

 

“I grew up on Telfas Prime. It’s a rough place; you learn to fend for yourself pretty quickly, or you die.” He glanced at her. “But I don’t have to tell you about growing up rough. You’re Bajoran.”

She ducked her head. “I’m a lucky Bajoran. My family stowed away on a Terellian trade ship when I was three. We settled on Betazed a few months later. I don’t even really remember Bajor, or the Cardassian occupation.”

“Did you become Federation citizens?”

She nodded. “My father wanted to join Starfleet, but he didn’t pass the medical requirements, so he became a civilian scientist instead. My mother was a teacher. We rarely talked about Bajor. Even changed our names around, first name-surname instead of the Bajoran way of surname first. We wanted to assimilate, I guess.”

“You joined Starfleet,” he pointed out. “Looks like you assimilated nicely.”

She looked embarrassed. “I may not have grown up in the refugee camps, but I’m pretty sure the sympathy vote still helped get me through the Academy.”

“What makes you say that?”

She laughed, but it wasn’t a happy sound. “Look at me. Look at my service record. I barely scrape through my job, I’m constantly put on report for substandard work …” She sighed. “Sometimes I think I should have just stayed on Betazed and become a shuttle driver or something. I was happy there.”

“But you wanted to better yourself?”

“I wanted to see space.” She laughed again. “Ending up on the other side of the galaxy wasn’t exactly what I had in mind. I’m … I don’t fit on Voyager. The ship would be better off with someone whose work doesn’t need triple-checking. Someone … competent.”

“Don’t sell yourself short,” he advised her. “You’re not the only one on the crew who doesn’t fit the Starfleet mould, remember?”

She smiled. “So how about you? What made you join the Maquis?”

“I like a good fight,” he grinned. “Also, my main career choices on Telfas were mining and bartending, and I wanted to see space, too.”

“How did you join?”

They had reached the caves, and Bendera indicated she should scan the walls for mineral deposits while he searched for signs of animal life. “I kind of fell into it,” he admitted. “I was drinking at a bar on Telfas when a fight broke out. Three big Telfan guys against a man and a woman. I went to school with those guys and never liked them, so I thought I’d even the odds. Not that the strangers really needed my help – they held their own. But they were grateful, so they invited me back to their ship and told me about the Maquis. They said they were looking for crew members, and I knew my way around an engine room, so I joined them.”

“Commander Janeway and Lieutenant Ayala?” Celes guessed.

“Right.” Bendera stilled and held up a hand. “I’m detecting life signs ten metres ahead. Some kind of small mammal.”

Celes held back and continued scanning the cave walls while Bendera slipped further into the cave. Several minutes later he returned holding something dead that looked like a giant rodent. “Dinner,” he grinned.

Celes tried to suppress her distaste. “I’m detecting veins of hematite in these walls,” she indicated. “We could mine it and convert it to bolster the engine coils.”

“See?” he said approvingly. “You’re not so incompetent.”

She smiled and was about to answer him when her commbadge chirped twice, urgently. Her face changed. “What is it?” he asked.

“I set the shuttle’s comm system to alert me if any alien vessels entered sensor range,” she whispered.

Bendera looked at her with respect. “Smart,” he said, and tapped his own commbadge. “Bendera to Ballard and Swinn. We may be about to have company. Get to the transport coordinates as soon as you can. We’re beaming up.”

~Acknowledged,~ answered Ballard.

Bendera nodded to Celes. “Let’s go. We’ll come back for the hematite later, if we can.”

When they met at the transport site, Swinn was carrying a basketful of fruit that might have been apples, if apples were white, and Ballard had a case filled with root vegetables. They both looked a little disconcerted at the sight of Bendera’s rodent, but said nothing. “Energise,” Bendera said, and they rematerialised on the shuttle’s transporter pad. Celes immediately moved to the ops station. “There’s a small ship on an intercept course, five million kilometres from our position. They’ve detected us.”

“Arkaan?” asked Bendera.

 

Celes shook her head. “I don’t recognise it. We’re being hailed.”

“Onscreen.”

The viewscreen switched to an image of a yellow-skinned humanoid alien with large dark eyes, a long narrow mouth and a small snub nose. “Greetings,” it said. “I am Torna of the Saklat Fealty.”

“I’m Kurt Bendera of the Federation shuttlecraft Drake,” Bendera replied.

“May I enquire as to your presence in this area?”

“We’re on a peaceful mission, looking for supplies.”

“You are not native to this region. How did you get here? Your vessel is not capable of speeds higher than warp four, and we have not detected a mothership.”

Bendera hesitated. They seemed friendly enough, but so had the Arkaan, on first contact. “Our main vessel is several light years distant,” he answered cautiously. “We’ve had some encounters with a species called the Arkaan. This crew is on a scouting mission while the ship undergoes repairs.”

“The Arkaan.” The Saklat’s narrow mouth curled in what Bendera thought was disgust. “We know them well. Can we offer any assistance? Our homeworld is nearby. We may be able to provide you with whatever supplies you need.”

Bendera weighed his options. This could be some kind of trap, but it could also be exactly what they needed. He glanced quickly at his crew; they were looking back at him hopefully. He turned back to Torna. “Thank you,” he said. “That would be very welcome.”

Torna nodded. “I will send you the coordinates of our home planet. You are welcome to stay as long as you need, to replenish your supplies. Torna out.”

Bendera leaned back in his chair. “Okay,” he said, half to himself. “Let’s give this a try.” He set the helm to the coordinates the Saklat ship had sent and engaged at warp three.

 

=/\=


There were no more calculations, no more hours shut away with Annorax. Janeway was no longer the favoured protégée. It was clear there had been a game-changing conflict between them, but since Janeway wasn’t talking, Tom Paris could only guess at the details.

She’d barely spoken to him for weeks. He’d tried, at first, wanting to make amends for his outburst in the anteroom. But his attempts at conversation were coolly rebuffed. He’d tried cracking jokes and she’d just looked at him, unsmiling. He’d tried asking about her past – which ships she’d served on, where she’d lived on Earth – and she’d given him clipped, closed replies. He’d tried talking about what the Voyager crew might be doing, and she’d responded in a monotone that she was certain they were alive and well. He’d tried, but eventually, he’d given up.

He had started spending time with Obrist, the first officer, who taught him a couple of Krenim board games and told him stories of the Krenim homeworld as it was centuries ago. Mostly they spent time in the anteroom while Janeway shut herself in her quarters. Tom had no idea what she did in there, alone all day long.

Then came the day when the ship’s alert sounded and Obrist leapt up from the game table and rushed to the bridge. Because he was curious, and figured all Annorax was going to do was throw him off the bridge or maybe confine him to quarters, Paris followed. He slipped through the doors just behind Obrist and melted into the shadows, hoping he wouldn’t be noticed.

“Sir, what’s happening?” Obrist asked.

“We’re preparing for a temporal incursion,” replied Annorax.

Obrist stiffened. “I did not realise our calculations had advanced enough for an incursion.”

“I had an inspiration last night,” Annorax’s voice held an undercurrent of excitement. “By my calculations the eradication of the Ram Izad species will result in a fifty-two percent restoration of the Krenim timeline.”

“Sir, it’s too soon,” Obrist protested.

“When time offers you an opportunity, you don’t ignore it.” Annorax watched as a planet loomed in the viewscreen. “Take us into high orbit. Full power to the weapon.”

Paris couldn’t keep silent any longer. Stepping away from the wall, he addressed Annorax. “Please. You don’t have to do this.”

Annorax looked straight through him. “Target the focal point and fire.”

Paris looked, pleading, to Obrist, who met his gaze with an unreadable one of his own, then closed his eyes. “Firing, sir.”

“Trace elements?”

“Diminishing.”

“Counterindications?”

“None so far.”

Annorax stood. “Scan the continuum. Bring the results to my office. You have the bridge, Obrist.”

As soon as the door slid shut behind him, Paris was over at Obrist’s station. “How can you stand this?” he asked, keeping his voice low. “I know you don’t share your captain’s ideals. He’s insane. Surely you see that.”

Obrist sent him a glance. “Not here. We will talk later.”

When he returned to quarters, Paris was unsurprised to see that Janeway’s door was, as usual, firmly closed. This time he didn’t let it stop him. He rapped lightly on the door and without waiting for her summons, walked straight in.

Too late, he realised he should have waited. Janeway was rubbing her wet hair with a towel and clearly hadn’t heard him; her back was to the doorway and she was wearing some kind of robe that clung to her damp skin, stopping him in his tracks. Tom closed his eyes. He was so headed for one hundred years in the brig if they ever made it back to Voyager.

Just as he was wondering whether he could sneak back out, she turned. Paris started fumbling out an apology, fully expecting an arctic blast from the Janeway glare. Instead, she waited til he’d finished and shrugged. “You’re a medic. It’s not like you haven’t seen it before.”

“It’s not the same,” he muttered without thinking, and she folded her arms (he wished she hadn’t folded her arms; it shifted the fabric of the robe over her form in ways that made him extremely uncomfortable) and raised an eyebrow at him. Paris didn’t know where to look. “I mean, it’s one thing to treat someone lying injured on a biobed, and another thing entirely when you’re dressed in, um.” He gestured at the robe. “That.”

Was she smirking at him?

Janeway tossed her towel in the general direction of a chair and dropped casually onto the couch. “You came in here for a reason. Report, Lieutenant.”

Her tone was military crisp, but the way she crossed her legs and rested an arm along the back of the couch was making it hard for him to focus. She gestured for him to sit beside her and he perched awkwardly on the edge of the couch. “Ah, it’s about Obrist. Uh, there was another incursion. And Obrist wasn’t happy. I’ve been getting to know him lately and he’s been more than willing to share information about this ship. And he’s not the only one. This crew has been following Annorax on his crazy quest for centuries and they’re tired of it. They want it to end.”

“You think they’d be willing to mutiny?”

“I think they’re pretty close to it.” He bent toward her. “That’s not all. This ship is protected from conventional weapons as long as it’s out of phase with normal space-time, but Obrist says if you take the temporal core offline, the shields are incredibly weak. A photon grenade could penetrate them.”

She looked like she was absorbing the information. “Any chance you can convince Obrist to help us get a message to Voyager?”

“If they’re still out there?”

He felt the cushions shift and she was on her feet before him, hands on her hips, legs planted. “They’re out there. And I need you to find them, Lieutenant.”

Tom stood, looking down at her face, trying not to look any lower. He swallowed. “I’ll do my best, Commander.”

“Good.” She stepped aside. “And, Paris? Next time you want to visit my quarters, I suggest you wait until you’re invited.”

 

=/\=


As the senior staff filed into the briefing room, Chakotay pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to will away the headache he’d had for days. He greeted each of them by name as they sat. “So, what’s for dinner?” Torres asked.

Neelix dished out the meals and Torres groaned. “Ration pack 187.”

“It’s not so bad,” Kim said, everlastingly cheerful. “Kind of reminds me of the hair soup I used to eat in a little place in Chinatown when I was a cadet.”

Torres snorted. “Hair soup. That’s a pretty accurate comparison.”

“You’re pretty picky for someone who comes from a culture that considers live worms a delicacy,” he teased her.

“Shut up,” she retorted, but she was grinning.

When they’d finished their hair soup, Chakotay asked for status reports. Surprisingly, although the ship still looked like a derelict and many decks were inaccessible, the basic systems were in relatively good shape. The one exception was the starboard nacelle; Torres had still been unable to repair the damage. Chakotay shook his head. “We can’t stay in this nebula any longer. We have to get out there, make allies, build a fighting force and rescue the rest of our crew.” He stood, hands planted on the table. “B’Elanna, I need warp drive online by tomorrow. Deputise whoever you need to make it happen.”

Torres lifted her chin. “Understood, Captain.”

Chakotay sat back down as they moved out of the room, rubbing gently at his forehead. He heard a slight sound, looked up and realised that Seska had lingered behind the others. “Captain, are you all right?”

He looked a question at her, and she explained, “Your headache.”

“You can tell?”

“I am a medic,” she pointed out.

He shrugged. “It’s just a headache. I don’t want to bother Kes with it.”

“I can help you,” she offered, and as he started to demur, she went on, “It’s no bother, Captain.”

Chakotay submitted. A cool hypospray was pressed to his neck and for the first time in days he felt his head begin to clear. “Thanks,” he murmured, and then he felt her hands in his hair, her fingertips drawing lazy circles on his scalp. He went still.

“Ensign?”

He felt light pressure on his temples, on his jaw. “It’s a Bajoran relaxation technique,” she murmured. “Purely therapeutic, Captain, and I promise it will help you more than a hypospray.”

He felt his eyes closing of their own volition. He wasn’t sure whether it was the hypospray or her gentle fingers but he felt the pressure inside his head start to ease. “Carry on,” he mumbled, and felt her shift to stand in front of him, her thumbs pressing lightly on his cheekbones, fingers cradling his head. He felt lulled, boneless.

He could hear her soft breathing, feel the brush of her leg against his thigh. Her hands moved to his shoulders, slipping under his uniform collar to caress his neck. He felt her knee slip between his own, her hair brush against his chin. There was a buzzing in his ears; he felt drunk. He felt, so lightly he wasn’t sure it had happened, her lips skim his mouth. Chakotay opened his eyes and kissed her back.

In some corner of his mind, sanity still lived and was protesting that this could not be happening, but the rest of him couldn’t have cared less. He pulled her onto his knees and shoved his hands beneath her uniform jacket. Seska wound her arms around his neck and he stood, still kissing her, her legs around his hips, and pushed her down onto the conference table. His commbadge chirped and he ignored it. She grabbed the back of his neck and pulled him down on top of her.

~Tuvok to Chakotay. Captain, are you all right?~

Chakotay fought through a fog to make sense of the sound. He pulled away from Seska’s hands and lips, stumbling backward. He had to swallow twice before he could answer. “I’m here, Lieutenant. Go ahead.”

~I have detected a vessel on the outskirts of the nebula. It is not Arkaan and does not appear to have detected us, but is running sensor scans of the area. Do you wish to make contact?~

Chakotay wiped the back of his hand over his mouth. Seska was still sprawled on the table, watching him with hooded eyes. He looked away. “Hold on, Tuvok. I’m on my way to the bridge.”

He cut connection and forced himself to meet Seska’s eyes. “Ensign. I don’t know – I can’t explain what just happened. I can only apologise for my, uh, behaviour. If you wish to file a report against me, Lieutenant Tuvok would be the appropriate channel. Or if you need, ah, a counsellor …”

Her laugh stopped him short. She slid off the table and stepped closer to him; he found himself moving backward to stay out of her reach. “I don’t need counselling, Captain,” she said over her shoulder as she left the briefing room.

The buzzing in his ears subsided and Chakotay took a breath and stepped onto the bridge. “Onscreen, Tuvok.”

A vessel half the size of Voyager appeared on the viewscreen. “Analysis?”

“The vessel has two phaser banks and a full scientific sensor array. There appear to be several dozen humanoid lifeforms aboard, although the nebula gases are interfering to a degree with our sensors. They have now detected us and have changed course to intercept.”

“Hail them.”

A slightly fuzzy image of several grey-skinned humanoids appeared. Chakotay gave his standard greeting identifying their mission. The aiien at front and centre bowed in response. “I am Commander Sulawe of the Mawasi vessel Kicha. We are on a scientific mission, studying this nebula. May I ask what you are doing inside it?”

“We have been through a series of battles and have taken refuge in the nebula to make repairs,” Chakotay explained. “Are you familiar with a species known as the Arkaan?”

“We know them well. They attack our borders regularly, but our fleet has always managed to repel them.”

“How about the Krenim?”

The Mawasi commander shook his head. “I don’t believe so. Are they from this sector?”

“In a manner of speaking.” Chakotay paused. “Commander, I have a story to tell that might be of interest to you, and I’d like to get to know you and your crew better. Perhaps we could beam you aboard?”


Stardate 48912.9
~ Day 164 ~


Ensign Renlay Sharr hoisted the sack of tubers over her shoulder and trudged up the hillside to the small settlement. Crewman Chell would be pleased, at least, that their small group would eat tonight, even if the taste of these potato-like vegetables left plenty to be desired. She sighed. What she wouldn’t give for a bowl of pasta marinara.

“Dinner,” she announced, letting the sack fall to the rough-hewn table Crewman Mitchell had built when they realised they were stuck on this moon for the foreseeable future. Her companions looked up from their various activities. Ensign Batehart had been continuing his attempt to map the various routes each escape pod and shuttle might have taken when they’d abandoned Voyager; Lieutenants Chapman and Nicoletti were working on the power coils in the hand-held phasers, long since depleted of energy, trying to modify them to handle the power flow from one of their escape pods’ EPS conduits; Chell was busy with the pots and pans he’d fashioned out of pieces of the hull of Sharr and Mitchell’s pod when it crash-landed on the moon’s surface; and Mitchell was building a fire in the pit at the far end of their hut. Sharr sighed again. “Chell, I’ll give you a hand peeling these potato things.”

It could be worse, she mused as she peeled the tubers with a small knife. They could have ended up on a less hospitable rock than this M-class moon, which she had to admit boasted plenty of edible plant life as well as some pretty scenery. She and Mitchell could have been stranded alone, and thought they had been until the other two pods arrived in orbit a week after they’d crashed, almost six weeks ago now. Worse, they could have been captured by the Arkaan, as she knew some of the Voyager crew had been. She remembered watching helplessly as the Arkaan ship tractored two pods into its cargo hold only hours after they’d left Voyager. Sharr didn’t want to think about what might have happened to Ensigns Molina and Ashmore, Lieutenant Rollins, and Crewman Andrews.

“Dinner’s ready,” Chell announced an hour later, and they sat around the table spooning up the tuber casserole. “Not bad,” Chapman said cheerfully. Sharr hid a smile. Chapman would find the positives in any situation, and if there weren’t any, he’d make them up. He was right in a way, though. It beat leola root.

She heard a familiar chirp and around the table, the crew stilled. “Was that what I think it was?” Batehart asked. Nicoletti leapt to her feet and started shoving aside PADDs and tools until she found her commbadge. It chirped again. Eyes wide, she pressed it. “Nicoletti here.”

~Lieutenant, it’s Crewman Bendera,~ came the reply. ~It’s great to hear your voice. How are you?~

“Bendera?” Nicoletti’s pretty face split into a grin. “Is it really you? Where are you?”

~On our way to your position. Hold tight, Lieutenant. I’ve brought some friends. We’ll be landing in a few minutes. Bendera out.~

There was a moment of silence, then the six stranded crewmembers were on their feet, laughing, shouting, embracing each other. Sharr wiped tears from her eyes as she flung her arm around Chell’s thick blue neck. “Thank God,” she teased him. “I thought I was doomed to spend the rest of my days eating your cooking.”

“You should be so lucky,” he retorted. “Maybe when we get back to Voyager I’ll ask the Captain for a transfer to the kitchen.”

They heard the Drake’s engines as it eased into a landing, and ran outside. As the landing bay door lowered to the ground, Bendera stepped out wreathed in smiles. Sharr was about to throw her arms around him in a display she knew was very un-Starfleet, but she didn’t care, when she realised he was accompanied by two yellow-skinned aliens. She stopped short.

Bendera introduced the aliens as Torna and Kuvit of the Saklat Fealty. “These good people found us surveying a planet twelve light years from here,” he explained. “We’ve told them what happened to Voyager and they’ve generously agreed to help us locate the rest of the crew. You’re the fifth group we’ve found. Their ship is in orbit. We’ll take you up in the shuttle and head back to the Saklat homeworld. Then we’ll keep looking for the others, and hopefully Voyager.”

On the trip to Saklat IV, Sharr filled Bendera in on their adventures since departing Voyager: the white-knuckle manoeuvres she’d employed to get their escape pod away from the Arkaan ship that had chased them into the atmosphere of a gas giant, how the Arkaan had given up and she and Mitchell had eventually dared to leave the planet’s atmosphere, the damage their navigational array had taken from the planet’s gases, how they’d been forced into an emergency landing on a nearby moon. She told him how the pods commanded by Nicoletti and Chapman had arrived within a week, also seeking sanctuary from the constant Arkaan attacks, and how they’d been living in fear ever since that the Arkaan would find them.

Bendera gave her shoulder a squeeze at the last part. “You’re safe now, Ensign,” he assured her. “The Saklat have been a godsend.” He explained the Drake’s rescue and listed the crew he and his shuttle-mates had found with the help of the Saklat. “There are still over a hundred of us missing,” he went on. “But we’ll find them.”

“And then what?” Sharr asked.

“Then, I’m hoping to convince the Saklat to help us find Voyager, form an alliance against the Krenim weapon ship and put an end to Annorax’s screwing with history.”

Sharr nodded emphatically. “Now that’s a timeline I want to be a part of.”

 

=/\=


The encounter with the Mawasi ship had been even more fortuitous than Captain Chakotay had dared to hope. When he’d explained Annorax’s mission and the countless changes it had wrought in the timeline, the Mawasi were outraged and promptly suggested, no, insisted, they join Voyager in their search for the weapon ship and their captured crew. As soon as Voyager’s warp drive was back online they’d followed the Mawasi ship to their planet. He had assigned Torres, Kim and Seska to assist the Mawasi with installing temporal shielding on the ships they’d volunteered to aid them. It was with no small relief that he personally transported Seska to one of the Mawasi vessels.

Ever since the – he mentally searched for an appropriate word – incident in the briefing room, he’d made it a goal to avoid being alone with Seska. On a ship staffed by only eight crewmembers, including himself, that had not been an easy task. While she was present on the ship he’d found himself avoiding even thinking about that evening; with her absence, he tried to reason through what had happened. He’d been exhausted, lonely, troubled, afraid. She had offered relief and solace, the gift of intimate contact. And yet, his reaction to her had been out of all proportion. He’d never even looked at her in a desirous way before; in fact, if he’d ever thought of her, it had been with a slight sense of unease. So why was it that the supposedly therapeutic touch of her hands on his face had turned him into a sex-crazed animal?

Three days after Seska had gone over to the Mawasi ship he was reading Kes’ weekly medical report, which mentioned in passing that a hypospray was missing from their temporary sickbay in Cargo Bay One, and he suddenly remembered the medication Seska had given him that night. What had she put in that hypospray? And, if she had somehow doctored the spray with some kind of aphrodisiac, why? he wondered. What kind of Starfleet officer would drug her captain so she could seduce him?

The implication struck him like a fist to the solar plexus. Could Seska be the spy he’d half-suspected Section 31 had planted on his ship?

But if so, what was her mission? No matter how many scenarios he played out inside his head, he couldn’t fathom it. And for now, he didn’t have the time to consider it further. Voyager and the Mawasi fleet were preparing for battle, and he needed all of his attention on that.

 

=/\=


“Kes to Ensign Kim.”

After a moment, Kim replied from the second Mawasi vessel, where he and Ensign Seska were almost finished installing the temporal shield generators. ~Kim here. What’s up, Kes?~

“I was wondering if you had a few minutes sometime today. I’d like to run something past you.”

~Sure thing. Let me finish up here and I’ll contact you when I’m done. Kim out.~

Several hours later, Kim contacted her on her personal console. “What can I help you with, Kes?”

“I wanted to ask your opinion on something. I don’t know enough about Voyager’s systems to figure out whether I’m bothered by nothing important.” She took a moment to think about her phrasing. “Several weeks ago, when I was assisting Ensign Seska with the power fluctuations in the impulse drive, I noticed that she appeared to be tying the comm system into the EPS conduits. I asked her about it and she said I must have been mistaken. But I’m sure of what I saw. Could there have been a valid reason for doing this, Ensign? Could it have helped stabilise the impulse power grid?”

She saw Kim’s brow furrow onscreen. “I can’t think of any reason she’d do that. The comm system runs off a different power frequency to the impulse drive. There’d be no point using it to stabilise the power flow to the engines.”

Kes bit her lip. “What should I do? Should I report it to the Captain?”

Kim thought about it. “I could do a bit of poking around, see if I can figure out what she was doing. I’m almost done with the shield generator here, and B’Elanna’s scheduled to check it over tomorrow. I’ll transport back to Voyager now. Meet me on Deck Seven in fifteen minutes.”

 

=/\=


Paris was teaching Obrist to play poker when Annorax commed his first officer and instructed him to bring the captives to the bridge immediately. By the time they arrived on the bridge, the timeship was at red alert. Annorax swivelled in his chair, fingers steepled, and smiled at Janeway and Paris with no warmth at all.

“Why are we here?” Janeway demanded.

“We’ve located your ship.” There was an undercurrent of triumph in his voice. “I thought you’d like to join me in watching as I destroy it.”

Paris went cold and gripped the back of a chair. Janeway said, strangled, “No.”

Annorax turned back to the viewscreen. Voyager hung in space, her sleek white lines marred by battle scars. “She appears in bad shape. Her shields are offline. We won’t need the temporal weapon – conventional ones will do it. Arm torpedoes,” he addressed a crewman. “Fire when ready.”

Janeway stumbled down to the main bridge level. “Don’t do this,” she implored, fists clenched at her sides. “Please. You don’t have to do this.”

“Firing, sir,” said the crewman, and she watched as the torpedoes arced toward Voyager and the ship, her home, exploded into pieces before her eyes.

 

Disbelieving, she let out a wail and fell to her knees. In an instant Paris was at her side, helping her to her feet, holding her close. “Come on,” he whispered, his own voice choked. “Come on. I’ll get you out of here.”

At the door she couldn’t help looking back at the screen, where millions of tiny fragments of hull were already fading into space. The image blurred as her tears spilled over.

Annorax smiled.