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 Three: Reversion

 

Stardate 49315.1

~ Day 173 ~

When he realised that the meals the Krenim crewmen left outside Janeway’s quarters had gone uneaten for over a week, Tom Paris knew it was time to act. He knocked gently on her door. “Commander? Let me in.”

His answer was silence. Paris knocked again. “Commander, I’m not going to go away.”

“Leave me alone.”

Paris entered a short command into the control plate and the door slid open. The room was in darkness; apparently she’d activated the blind on the viewport so that not even the stars provided illumination. The square of light that fell into the room from the open doorway only penetrated far enough for him to see that debris scattered the floor. Apparently she had smashed everything in the room that could be broken.

“I told you to leave me alone.” Her voice sounded muffled, emotionless. He thought it was coming from the couch near the windows.

“You’ve been alone in here for days. Enough is enough.” Paris made his way cautiously in her direction, stumbling occasionally on the obstacles strewn across the floor. He heard her sigh, close by, and felt for the edge of the couch, sitting carefully.

“I can’t see a thing in here,” he said eventually, after minutes of silence. “Computer, lights at twenty percent.”

She was huddled in the corner of the couch with her knees clasped to her chest. Her hair was tangled over her face and shoulders and she appeared to have slept in her clothes; it was possible she hadn’t showered or changed since Voyager had been – He stopped that train of thought in its tracks. It was too big, too painful. Too soon.

“Commander,” he said gently. “You have to eat.”

She said nothing.

“Okay,” he tried again, and stood. “Come on. You need a sonic shower.”

She didn’t move. So he scooped her up and carried her to the bathroom.

She fought him like a wildcat – thrashing legs, teeth bared, fingers curled into claws. But he held her tight and close and bore her flailing fists until he could deposit her fully clothed in the shower recess and turned it on high. At that she slumped against the wall, her face turned away. He kept a hand on her shoulder just in case she decided to fight him again, but by the time he turned off the sonic waves all the fight seemed to have drained out of her.

She didn’t protest when he picked her up again and carried her back to the couch, simply resumed her previous pose; knees clutched to her chest, head bowed. He went to the food dispenser and ordered something he’d tried previously and knew bore a passing resemblance to chicken soup. “Eat,” he commanded, thrusting it toward her. Kathryn looked at him blearily – progress, thought Tom – and he continued, “I’m not taking no for an answer.”

Slowly, Janeway took the bowl. “If I eat it, will you go away and leave me alone?”

“No. But eat it, anyway.”

She took a reluctant sip and he heard her empty stomach growl. Before she realised it, she had picked up the bowl and drained it. Paris smiled and handed her a glass of water, which she also drank. “Better?” he asked.

Tears filled her eyes and she started to sob – great, heaving, ugly sobs. After a moment Tom got over his shock and pulled her into his arms, stroking her hair and murmuring meaningless words of comfort. She clung to him, her wet face against his throat, bawling out her pain and anguish. Eventually she quieted, curled against his chest in the circle of his arms. He pressed his mouth to the top of her head. “I’m here,” he told her quietly.

She pulled away and scrubbed at her eyes with the heels of her hands. “I need you to leave now.”

“I can’t –”

“Please.” She stood. “Just go.”

He went.

 

=/\=


Within a month of meeting the Saklat and beginning the search for the missing Voyager crewmembers, Bendera and his team had found more than half of them and, with assistance from their new allies, brought them safely back to Saklat IV. Some, he knew, would be difficult to rescue; Sharr had told him at least four had been captured by the Arkaan, and according to Torna the Arkaan prison camps were desperate places, and well-guarded. Some seemed to have disappeared without a trace; he hoped they were holed up somewhere in safety, biding their time. Some were dead. Anderson and Mendez had been killed by Arkaan fire, reported Ensign Culhane. Boylan and Crag had also been attacked; debris from their pod had been strewn across the surface of an asteroid and showed traces of scorch marks from the phasers of an unidentified species. The escape pod holding Nozawa and Platt had been found drifting, rotating slowly around an F-type star, the two crewmen dead inside, victims of an environmental systems failure. Bendera found that one the hardest to accept. At least the others had died in battle.

To his surprise, it was Celes who’d managed to find a good thirty percent of their refugees so far. She seemed to have a talent for divining the probable thought processes of the crew, and by extension the probable courses of their escape vessels. Bendera supposed he should stop being surprised. When he’d been assigned to the Drake with those three young ensigns he’d expected Celes to need coddling, but she’d shown him otherwise.

She was in the seat beside him now, checking the coordinates of the subspace transponder signal they’d identified as belonging to the shuttlecraft Sacajawea. Lieutenant Mulcahey, Ensigns Dorado and Ming, and Crewman Telfer had been assigned to that shuttle, and Celes was particularly anxious to make sure her friend Billy Telfer was safe and well. “We’re approaching the planetary system,” she informed Bendera. “The beacon is transmitting from high orbit around the second planet.”

“Slowing to half impulse. Approaching the planet.”

“They’re hailing us!” Celes’ face lit up with joy. Bendera flicked the viewscreen on. Mulcahey’s grinning face filled it, and they could see Ming and Dorado at the ops and engineering stations behind him. “Hey there, USS Drake,” Mulcahey greeted them. “What’s a nice shuttle like you doing in a place like this?”

Celes couldn’t contain herself. “Where’s Billy?” she asked desperately. “Is he okay?”

“He’s fine,” Mulcahey assured her. “Well, he might disagree. He’s in the aft compartment. Says he has an upset stomach.”

Celes sat back in relief.

“Some things never change.” Bendera hid his smile; Telfer was an unrelenting hypochondriac. “So, Mulcahey, what’s news?”

“Too much to tell over the comm. We have a base down on the surface. Why don’t you beam down with us? There’s food and shelter, and a few people who’ll be happy to see you.”

An hour later, after they’d reunited happily with not only the crew of the Sacajawea but several others from the Voyager escape pods they had been unable to find, been shown around the small collection of shacks Mulcahey’s group had constructed, and eaten an interesting meal consisting of local flora and fauna, Mulcahey launched into their tale. It appeared that the Sacajawea had also been scouting for other evacuees, and had also made an alliance with an alien race, the Nihydron. “Never heard of them,” Bendera admitted. Mulcahey explained that they were scholars, collectors of history, and had been deeply offended by the idea of that history being altered by the whims of an obsessed fanatic.

Bendera told their story, and finished by explaining his plan to convince the Saklat to locate Voyager and help them mount an attack on the weapon ship. “Do you think the Nihydron would be willing to join us?”

“We can only ask,” Mulcahey said with enthusiasm.


Stardate 49391.6
~ Day 201 ~


They never spoke of the loss of Voyager. Paris had tried several times to bring it up; as grief-stricken as he was, he knew Janeway was taking it even harder, and he knew she wouldn’t begin to deal with it until she accepted it. But each time he tried, she cut him off flat.

After he’d ambushed her in her quarters she stopped refusing meals, stopped spending all day and all night alone in her room. She showered and dressed each morning and joined him for breakfast in the anteroom. He wasn’t sure if she did it because it made her feel better, or because she just didn’t want him to see her distraught and debilitated again as he had that night. After a few days of them eating together in silence, she started to talk.

She told him about her childhood in Indiana, her heroic father, her gentle mother, her firecracker sister. She talked about Starfleet Academy, how she’d been so happy there, how she’d thrived on learning everything she could from her instructors, how she’d felt as though she belonged. She began to tell him about her first Starfleet posting on the Al-Batani and what it was like to serve under Tom’s father, her captain, but all too soon she stopped talking about that. Paris was familiar with her service record; he knew she’d first met Chakotay on the Al-Batani. He tried asking careful questions to get her to mention him, surmising that acknowledging Chakotay’s existence would be the first step to accepting his death, and the deaths of their crew. But she would not.

When she ran out of things she was willing to talk about, it was his turn. He talked about growing up with his overachieving older sisters and a father who expected great things of him, things that had always seemed to the young Tom Paris beyond his reach. He told her how he’d lost his virginity, a story that still made him squirm with remembered embarrassment, and was gratified when she laughed. He told her about Caldik Prime and its aftermath, a tale he could not tell without flinching, and when he finished and raised his eyes to her, he saw that hers were filled with tears. She had reached for his hand then, an act of wordless sympathy.

One morning, when she came in for breakfast and he said “Morning, Commander,” she held up a hand and said, “I think it’s time you called me Kathryn.”

“Okay, Kat,” he grinned, and she couldn’t help laughing. But after breakfast she fell quiet and retreated to her room, and when he rapped gently on her door she said, “Leave me alone, Tom.”

She didn’t come out when it was time for the midday meal, or when Paris knocked again and invited her to play a hand of poker with Obrist and one of the other Krenim officers, or when their dinner arrived. When he called through her closed door that he was retiring for the night, she didn’t answer. Paris went to bed with a cold ache in the pit of his stomach and lay for hours before he finally, fitfully, slept.

He dreamed of hours spent alone in his bedroom as a child, and the exhilaration of his first time riding a hovercycle, and the touch of human hands, both tender and unkind. He thought he was still dreaming when he felt a body slip beneath the sheets beside him and a hand creep tentatively over his chest. His arms came automatically around her and she shifted closer, fitting her body against his, her head nestling under his chin. “Hey,” he whispered, and she touched her fingertips to his lips and murmured, “Don’t say anything.”

After a few minutes he heard her soft, even breathing and realised she was asleep. For him, sleep didn’t come again til many hours later.

She wasn’t beside him when he woke, late, and she wasn’t at breakfast. When she finally came out of her room she had her hair pinned up in the complicated twist she used to wear on Voyager and her face bent to a portable tablet. “Morning, Kat,” Paris said, and she mumbled something, barely glancing at him as she exited the anteroom.

When Obrist stopped in, Paris asked if he knew where Janeway was, and was told she was in the arboretum. Paris hadn’t even known the ship had one. She didn’t return until after he’d eaten dinner, and all he saw was her back as she disappeared into her quarters.

But that night she crept into his bed again, and she slept the sleep of the innocent while he lay wakeful, staring at the ceiling, willing himself not to think about the way her body curled into his in slumber, the scent of her hair, the soft sounds she made in her sleep.

By the fourth night he thought he might actually be going crazy. She’d shifted in her sleep and her leg was thrown languidly over his thigh, the length of her body pressed against him, her soft breath against his throat. He wanted to believe he was an honourable man, that he’d never take advantage of her, but he found his hand flattening on her lower back, pulling her closer against him, his fingers tangling in her hair. He was trembling. After a moment he realised her breathing had changed, felt her eyelashes brush his chin. She was awake.

Tom tried to pull back, but she pressed a hand against his chest to still him, and then she turned her face a fraction and he felt her lips against his throat. He felt her tongue trace his adam’s apple and up along the line of his jaw, and he couldn’t hold still any longer. He dipped his head and caught her mouth with his own.

For a moment, neither of them moved. Then he tightened his arms around her and bit lightly at her lower lip, and she curved her body into his and threw herself into the kiss.

It couldn’t last. He pulled back momentarily to gasp for air, clear his head a little, and as though a switch had flipped he felt her jerk away from him. She slipped out from his arms and was halfway to the door before he could speak.

Kat,” he said through the sudden ache in his throat, and she said “I’m sorry,” and then she was gone. Again.

Paris flopped back on the pillow and shoved the heels of his hands into his eyes.

 

=/\=


The closest Nihydron planet was two light years from the settlement. Mulcahey had suggested they proceed there immediately to introduce Bendera and Celes and explain their plan. The two Starfleet shuttles weren’t big enough to carry all the Voyager refugees, so Mulcahey decided they’d take the Sacajawea with minimal personnel and leave the Drake behind. Celes opted to stay behind – now that she’d reunited with Billy Telfer, she wasn’t keen to be parted from her best friend again in a hurry – so Mulcahey and Bendera took Ensign Dorado and Crewman Carlson for the ride. Dorado, a historian, had meshed well with the Nihydron they’d encountered so far, and Carlson had tactical experience and would be useful in helping convince the Nihydron that they could come up with a workable battle plan.

In the end, it didn’t take long to persuade the Nihydron to join their crusade. Within a couple of weeks the Sacajawea was back at the settlement with several quickly-mobilised Nihydron battle cruisers in tow. The settlers dismantled their huts quickly and used the two Starfleet shuttles to transport all their belongings and personnel to the largest Nihydron ship. Bendera gave the Nihydron fleet commander the coordinates of the Saklat homeworld and the fleet headed for it at maximum warp.

So as not to alarm the Saklat by the arrival of an unfamiliar, heavily-armed alien fleet at their homeworld, Bendera had transmitted their mission details ahead of time. He was expecting a measured, stately reception, but when they arrived at Saklat IV, he found what could only be described as a party.

The Saklat had struck him as less the partying kind and more the type to get their kicks out of meditating or going on spirit quests, so Bendera figured the celebrations were down to the Voyager crew. He couldn’t have approved more. The Nihydron were flattered by the attention and any tension that might have marred their first contact with the Saklat was immediately defused. And besides, Bendera thought, if bringing the Voyager family back together wasn’t reason for a party, he didn’t know what was.

He took a break from the energetic dancing Ensign Sharr had roped him into and flopped onto a comfortable couch next to Ensign Celes. “Hey, Tal,” he grinned at her. “Enjoying the party?”

Celes turned luminous smiling eyes to him and it occurred to Bendera for the first time that she was really, really pretty. As she waved a hand that held a drink that was bright purple and very close to slopping all over him, it also occurred to him that she was really very drunk. He laughed. “Where’s Telfer?”

Celes waved her drink in the opposite direction. “Telling that Nihydron doctor about the time he got worms. Or something.” She yawned, suddenly and explosively, and rested her head on his shoulder. “I’m tired.”

Bendera helped her up. “I’ll walk you to your quarters.”

She stumbled occasionally and leaned on him a lot on the way back to the dormitory-like building the Saklat had prepared for the Voyager crew. From the outside it was squat and grey, but inside each crewmember had their own large, attractively decorated room with a bathroom attached. “Wow,” said Celes when she stepped inside. “This sure beats my old Academy dorm room. Or my quarters on Voyager, for that matter.”

“Beats anywhere I’ve ever lived, too,” he said.

Celes slumped down onto the couch and toed off her boots, patting the cushion beside her. “Sit with me for a bit,” she invited.

Suddenly cautious, Bendera sat gingerly beside her, and she immediately settled herself against his shoulder, curling her feet up under her. “I used to be scared of you,” she said on the wake of another yawn, leaning back on his chest. “But now I think you’re really nice.”

Bendera cleared his throat. She said drowsily, “You probably think I’m like your little sister or something. Most guys do.”

At that moment, Bendera was definitely not thinking of her as a sister. Fortunately, she fell asleep on his shoulder a few minutes later, and he carefully carried her over onto her bed, tucked a blanket over her and left.

The next morning, he and Lieutenant Mulcahey took point on the first strategy meeting between the Saklat, the Nihydron and the Voyager crew. Calling up a spatial map of nine sectors, Bendera indicated the coordinates Voyager had been at when the shuttles and escape pods were launched. “The ship was in bad shape when we left,” he said, “so the first priority would have been to start repairs. They would have needed somewhere safe to do that, hidden from the Arkaan and anyone else who wanted a piece of them. My guess is they headed either for this asteroid belt,” he indicated a section on the map, “or this nebula. The asteroid field might be a good source of minerals but given that the deflector had taken damage, they’d have had no protection from micro-meteoroid showers. The nebula would seem to offer a better hiding place.”

Torna looked doubtful. “You left the ship several months ago, correct? Is it reasonable to believe they would still be in the region?”

“The damage to the ship was extreme,” Mulcahey stated. “They had only a skeleton staff on board. It would have taken weeks, if not months, to get her spaceworthy again.”

Jilana, the Nihydron fleet commander, spoke gently. “Has it occurred to you that Voyager and her senior crew may not have survived?”

Stony silence met that suggestion.

Jilana relented, inclining her head. “Whatever Voyager’s fate, we must stop this Krenim time weapon. Perhaps we should move on to discussing offensive strategies.”


Stardate 49433.5
~ Day 216 ~


“I figured I’d find you here.”

He’d expected her to tense up at the sound of his voice, half-expected her to run away, but instead she put down her tablet and turned to him with an expression that looked like resignation. “Mr Paris,” she acknowledged him.

“Kat,” he said, pointedly, and lowered himself onto the bench beside her. “What are you reading?”

She looked down at the tablet on the bench beside her. “History.”

His brow furrowed.

“The history of species that never were,” she clarified. “This ship’s database of all the civilisations Annorax has ordered destroyed.”

He waited silently for her to go on.

“Annorax believes he’s saving the most important relics of each culture by keeping them in there. His library of antiquities.” She gestured toward a door at the opposite end of the arboretum. “Take a look sometime. You’ll find sculptures, plant species, replicas of buildings, literary works, even a few recipes. Hundreds of objects of beauty and creativity representing people who never existed, forgotten by everyone except the crew on this ship.” She paused. “In a way, we’re relics of a lost culture ourselves. I felt I owed it to them to remember.”

It was the first time she had referred, even obliquely, to Voyager’s destruction. Paris wondered if this was one of the stages of her grief, and what kind of push-me, pull-me torture he’d have to endure this time in his efforts to help her through it.

“You stopped coming to me at night,” he blurted. “Why?”

As he’d expected, she turned away. And suddenly he couldn’t take it.

“Kat.” He took her face in his hands, making her look at him. “For God’s sake, please talk to me. Please. I can’t do this anymore.”

Her breath caught. “Why do you keep trying?” she asked.

“Because I’m in love with you.”

Her eyes went wide, then filled with tears. He caught one on his thumb as it spilled over. She said nothing, and finally he sighed.

“You know where to find me,” he told her, and this time he was the one walking away.

 

=/\=


Celes slumped despairingly over the console. “Nothing,” she complained. “I could scan til the Prophets return to Bajor and still not find anything. There’s just too much space out there.”

Renlay Sharr sent her a sympathetic look. “Why don’t you take a break? I’ll start scanning the next sector.”

“Okay.” Celes dragged herself to the food dispenser and randomly punched in a number. Alien replicators were a lucky dip, she thought as a plate of something that resembled seaweed wrapped in a tortilla materialised in front of her. She tried it, and was pleasantly surprised to find that despite its appearance it tasted not dissimilar to hasperat, without quite the same spicy kick. She sat behind the astrometrics screens where Sharr had started off the next scan and put her feet up on the console in front of her.

Without turning around, Sharr said, “You know, when I said take a break, I meant get out of here. Take a walk, clear your head.” A note of amusement crept into her voice. “Go talk to Kurt Bendera.”

Celes’ boots dropped to the ground with a thud. “What do you mean?” she asked defensively.

“You know what I mean,” Sharr grinned.

“Crewman Bendera is working with the fleet commanders,” Celes stammered. “He’s far too busy to be talking to me.”

“Oh, I’m sure he’d make the time for you.” Sharr snickered. Something on the astrometrics screen flickered and she stared at it hard, then tapped a few commands into the console, zooming in on a section of the screen. “Tal,” she said urgently. “Come here.”

Celes was at her shoulder in an instant. “What is it?”

“A duranium signature.” Sharr indicated the readout. “It matches the composition of Voyager’s hull plating.”

“Is it them?” gasped Celes.

“Too far away to say. It could be Voyager, or it could just be a piece of the hull. Maybe they had to jettison a hull section after a breach. Or …” Sharr stopped. The alternative was not something she wanted to put into words.

“I’ll tell Ku- uh, Crewman Bendera,” Celes said. “He’ll want to send a scouting party.”

“You do that,” Sharr said, grinning again. “Tell him I said hi.”

 

=/\=


Kathryn Janeway had faced down Cardassians, Kazon, Romulans and Vidiians, but the fear she felt now was of a different nature altogether. She had stayed in the arboretum through the dinner hour and long past it, and had finally come to the conclusion that, if she was fated to spend the rest of her life on this ship, this was something she could no longer hide from. She squared her shoulders and knocked.

“Come in,” Tom Paris said dully.

His quarters were in darkness, but the stars through the viewport illuminated them enough for her to see he was sitting on the edge of his bed, his chest bare as though he’d begun to undress and lost interest. Before she could second-guess herself, she crossed the room and sat beside him.

“Hi,” he said quietly.

“Tom,” she began, and stopped. She opened her mouth to say something, and what came out was, “I miss them so much.”

“I know,” he said, and she turned to him, going gratefully into his arms. “I know, Kat. I do, too.”

She felt his hands in her hair and leaned her face against his throat, closing her eyes. “You’re too good to me,” she said, her voice muffled. “I’ve treated you shamefully and all you’ve ever done is be my friend.”

She felt him smile and pulled back a little to look into his face; in the starlight he looked different, older. Sadder. She reached up, wanting to smooth the sadness away, and he turned his face into her hand, his mouth against the sensitive skin of her wrist. She watched him close his eyes, felt his breath against her skin. Her pulse jumped. Her head felt suddenly light, her skin peppered where his lips touched it.

She wanted more.

She curled her fingers into his hair and felt him wind his arms around her, one cradling the back of her head, the other snaking round her waist, pulling her closer. She slid onto his lap, pushing her body into his. She felt him catch his breath and tightened her hold on him, suddenly afraid he'd pull away. “Kat,” he began, and she touched her fingers to his lips.

“Shh, Tom, please ... just let me stay. Please.” She brushed her lips against the corner of his mouth.

The effect was electrifying. She heard him say, softly, “God,” his whole body tensing as she gave into her instincts and licked delicately at his lips. For a moment his grip on her loosened and she felt him start to pull away. So she kissed him.

That kiss. She couldn't have found words to describe it. She only knew that the universe could implode right now and it wouldn't be enough to tear her away from this man.

Tom knew that if this happened, there would be no coming back for him. He made one final effort to hold himself back from her. But then she rocked against him and he felt the swell of her breasts through her tunic, the heat of her against his aching groin, her soft mouth exploring his, and all thoughts of escape vanished. He was trembling as he eased her down, moving over her, trying to press every inch of himself to every inch of her. She clutched at him, as desperate as he was, and suddenly it wasn't enough. He had to be against her skin.

He rolled onto his back, pulling her with him, and fumbled desperately with the fastenings at the back of her tunic, finally wrenching the fabric away. He cupped her breasts, thumbs dragging across her nipples, and she gasped into his mouth. She sat up, tugging at the fastening of his pants until he dragged them off and kicked them away. She pulled away long enough to stand, kick off her leggings. Then she climbed onto him, legs locked around his hips, her mouth pressed to his throat as if she could drown in the scent of his skin.

He was hard and hot against her. She took him in her hands, felt him pulse and shudder. He flattened his palm against her spine, arching her against him. She felt intoxicated, almost boneless as he lowered her onto her back. He moved between her legs, his fingers walking down her hip and slowly, carefully along her thigh, into slick heat, dragging a low moan from her. Suddenly, inexplicably, she was afraid. She tried to turn her face away, but he bent down and kissed her with such agonising, unhurried delicacy, his fingers sliding inside her with such deliberate and practised skill, that her breath began to come in gasps and her body strained toward him.

“Look at me,” he whispered, and she opened dark and starlit eyes. He took her lower lip between his teeth and she whimpered at the answering throb low in her belly. “Kat,” he breathed into her mouth. “Let me in.”

Eyes wide and gazing into his, she did.


Stardate 49520.9
~ Day 249 ~


“Another incursion, sir?”

Annorax turned at the barely-tempered insolence in his first officer’s voice. “Is there a problem, Obrist?”

“I’m curious, sir,” Obrist replied. “Your calculations do not appear to predict any increase in the size or configuration of the Krenim Imperium. I do not understand the purpose of this incursion.”

“Then it’s fortunate that I don’t require your understanding. Commence firing.”

Obrist jabbed at the console. “Firing,” he said, surly. “The meteoroid has been erased from history. No counterindications so far.”

“Good.” Annorax nodded. “Map the continuum and bring your reports to my office.”

Obrist nodded shortly and turned back to his console. The long looping trails representing the space-time shockwave curved gracefully on the display terminal. He could not fathom Annorax’s interest in destroying a paltry meteorite. Grimly, Obrist wondered if his captain had finally, irrevocably lost his mind.

His gaze followed the path of the temporal shockwave and he began to pay closer attention. At some point in history, the meteoroid had wandered into a solar system three sectors distant and collided with a small moon. The majority of the meteoroid matter had then been ejected out into space, but the moon had imploded. Shrapnel from that moon had impacted a nearby planet, which at the time had been inhabited by the Xilith, a scientifically advanced but non-warp-capable humanoid species. The moon-rock impact had triggered a catastrophic ice age and a seismic shift in the planet’s core, killing all life on the planet.

Obrist shook his head. Annorax was, apparently, intending to restore that species to the space-time continuum. He could not understand why.

He handed command of the bridge to the helm officer and went to his quarters, where he set his personal tablet to run a search on the logs of previous incursions. It took several minutes before the tablet alerted him to a match. Obrist pulled the data tablet toward him.

One hundred and forty years ago, Annorax had ordered the destruction of a G-type star at the centre of the solar system that was home to the Ker’ok species. That species had been wiped from history, triggering a sixty-one percent restoration of the Krenim Imperium. But a side-effect had been that the minor black hole created by the star’s destruction had altered the gravitational direction of a nearby asteroid belt, splintering several of those asteroids into meteoroids, one of which had collided with the Xilith moon. Annorax had, of course, foreseen this eventuality, and had duly noted the accomplishments that he believed represented the best the Xilith race had had to offer. He had, however, neglected to collect any relics, perhaps dismissing the Xilith’s achievements as unworthy of record.

Obrist quickly tapped into the antiquary records. It seemed that the Xilith, a peace-loving race, had shown no interest in travelling the stars, but were keenly curious about them. They had developed deep-space telescopy and sensor technology of incredible and far-reaching accuracy. One innovation, a long-range sensor probe, exceeded the most advanced in Krenim sensor equipment. Obrist sat back. Annorax had noted that the probe technology existed but had not recorded its specifications. It was clear that Annorax wished to restore, and use, the Xilith sensor specifications. What he could not understand was why.

What was Annorax looking for?

It came to him on a wave of nausea. Hands shaking slightly, Obrist tapped in a new query, bringing up the sensor logs from the destruction of Voyager. He went over them minutely, double-checking each image frame against the log’s time indexes, the sensor analyses of mineral composites, the readings of the energy output from the ship’s explosion. Finally, he sat back, almost unable to believe what he was seeing. He watched the replay of the Starfleet vessel exploding once again, and shook his head.

“It’s a fake,” he whispered to himself.

 

=/\=


In the end, due to Bendera’s insistence that there was no more time to waste on scouting parties, the entire fleet had gone seeking the duranium signature Sharr had detected. Bendera and the rest of the Drake crew had joined the Saklat vessels, along with half of the sixty-four Voyager crewmen they’d rescued; the other half joined Mulcahey’s group on the Nihydron ships.

They had reached the coordinates after ten days of travelling at warp six, the highest speed the Saklat ships could maintain for any length of time. As they got closer it became clear that they had not found Voyager whole. They dropped out of warp near a twin-sun system. Bendera stared at the image of the large hull fragment rotating slowly onscreen. It appeared to be one of the shuttlebay doors.

That, in itself, was not surprising or particularly alarming. There were any number of reasons why the shuttlebay door might have been expelled, chief among them the fact that Voyager had been through a series of battles before the majority of the crew left the ship, and there was a good chance the ship had had to retreat to the safety of the nearby Class 9 nebula before being able to retrieve it. The worst case scenario, and one Bendera refused to allow himself to believe, was that this was all that was left of Voyager after it had been, somehow, destroyed.

“Scan for warp trail particles,” he instructed the Saklat operations officer, and after a moment she replied, “There doesn’t appear to have been recent warp engine activity in this region. However, I am detecting a subspace signature that may be emanating from a beacon.”

Bendera went to look over her shoulder. “That’s a Starfleet signature,” he said, excitement quickening his voice. “May I?” He indicated his wish to use her control panel; the Saklat stepped aside and Bendera swiftly entered a series of commands. “It’s a set of coordinates,” he announced eagerly. “Transferring them to the helm now.”

Two weeks at maximum warp later, the fleet arrived at a planetary system. Bendera suggested the Saklat ship enter the system alone, leaving the rest of the fleet at a polite distance, and Torna agreed.

“There’s an M-class world,” Sharr reported, standing behind the Saklat pilot and reading the navigation panel. “Seven billion life forms, a planetary defence grid, several dozen warp-capable ships in orbit. One is approaching our position.”

“Hail them,” Torna ordered. A grey-skinned humanoid appeared on screen and Torna addressed him. “I am Torna of the Saklat Fealty.”

“I am Commander Sulawe of the Mawasi vessel Kicha,” the alien replied. “What is your purpose?”

“Our intentions are peaceful. We are seeking a ship named Voyager, not native to this quadrant of space. We were led to believe that this ship might be here.”

At that, Sulawe stepped back and indicated that someone should move forward into view.

“B’Elanna!” Kurt Bendera shouted in delight, and the half-Klingon’s face broke into a grin. She said, “I never thought I’d see your ugly face again, Kurt. I have to say I’m pretty happy I was wrong.”

“Where’s the Captain and the others? Where’s Voyager?” Bendera couldn’t get the words out fast enough.

Torres held up a hand. “Everyone’s here. Voyager is docked at the Mawasi planet while we finish repairs. The Captain is overseeing them. I happened to be on the Kicha fine-tuning their temporal shields when we detected your ship.” She laughed. “It’s so good to see you, Kurt. Have you come across any of the other crew?”

“I don’t even know where to start,” Bendera grinned. “But first, there’s a fleet of allied ships holding position outside this solar system. May we invite them to enter?” This last was directed at Commander Sulawe, who nodded assent.

Some time afterward, Bendera, Mulcahey and the Saklat and Nihydron fleet captains were seated around a large conference table in a tall building on the Mawasi planet. Opposite them sat the Mawasi commander, the planet’s Grand Minister, Chakotay and Tuvok, whose sight, Bendera was relieved to see, had been restored. The Voyager crewmembers had had time to reunite and share their separate stories, and the remainder of the crew and senior staff were currently living it up at a feast the Mawasi had generously put together at short notice. As the representatives of each separate contingent, the eight people around the conference table were diving straight into tactical plans.

Six Mawasi vessels had been fitted with the temporal shielding Kim and Tuvok had designed, and a schedule was being drawn up to install the shielding on the four Nihydron and three Saklat ships in the coming days. But Tuvok believed defensive capabilities against the Krenim weapon ship would not be enough. He was working directly with Captain Chakotay on designing a new offensive weapon, one that could rival the Krenim’s chroniton-based torpedoes in their ability to pass through standard shields. Neither Tuvok nor the Captain would be drawn on what technology was being used to create the new weapon.

When they broke for the night, Bendera caught up to Mulcahey in the corridor. “Hey, Lieutenant,” he murmured. “Is it just me, or is there something shady going on?”

Mulcahey shrugged. “Maybe the Captain just doesn’t want to get our hopes up about some experimental super-weapon that might not work.”

“Maybe.” But Bendera found he couldn’t accept that, although he wasn’t sure what was causing him such unease.

 

=/\=


She felt stretched and sleek and lazy, like a cat lying in a patch of afternoon sun. Kathryn Janeway extended her arm and traced the curve of his shoulderblade with her fingertips. Tom Paris stirred beside her, and she watched the play of muscles under his skin as he rolled toward her, curving an arm around her waist. He pulled her close, teased her mouth with a slow, languid kiss, and grinned. “Hey there,” he murmured.

“Hey,” she whispered back, and she gave him that crooked, tender smile that always made his heart pogo-jump into his throat. She squirmed a little closer and his grin widened. “Again?” he asked.

With sudden and surprising strength, she pushed him down on the bed and straddled him, rocking her hips against him in a way that made him groan and harden immediately. “Again,” she confirmed, and bit her lower lip against a smile. Tom’s hands slid up to her breasts, his thumbs teasing her nipples, making her sigh and push herself into his hands. Her hair fell like a curtain around him as she leaned in and dragged her teeth lightly against his lower lip, then began to kiss and lick her way down his chest, his stomach. By the time her mouth reached lower, he was harder than duranium. He reached down and tangled his hands in her hair, anticipating the sensual torture he knew was coming, but she slipped out of his grasp and the next sensation he felt was her sharp white teeth against his hip. He jumped a little and she placed a hand firmly on his chest and held him still.

He hadn’t thought he could get any harder, but he was wrong.

He felt the tip of her tongue tracing the line of his hipbone and tried not to shiver. Her hair slid smoothly over his heated skin, she licked delicately at his inner thigh, and he said, “Please.”

Relenting, she knelt beside him, sliding her hands over the planes of his stomach, finally curving her fingers around him. She held his cock reverently in her hands, then bent to take him in her mouth. Tom moaned ecstatically, his hands in her hair, guiding her. She tasted him, using her tongue and teeth to wring small gasps from him. She almost choked on her own delight.

“Oh Jesus, stop now,” he warned her. She raised her head; her lips were wet and her eyes dark blue and he almost came just from looking at her. “Come here,” he said, his voice gravelly. She slid smoothly up the length of his body and gave him a small, self-satisfied smirk. In answer he trapped her legs between his own and flipped her onto her back, pinning her arms above her head with one hand. With the other he lazily explored her body, tugging lightly at her nipples, skimming over her belly, slipping his fingers between her thighs until she squirmed. She was slick and ready for him, and he grinned. “This is not going to be gentle,” he told her, and then he pushed her thighs apart and thrust inside her in one long move. She cried out and arched her back and he stilled for a moment, afraid he might have hurt her, but then she gasped, “Don’t stop,” and so he drew out and plunged inside her again, and again, until she screamed and dug her fingernails into his back and shuddered in his arms.

When they finally broke apart and lay still, sweat cooling on their skin, heart rates slowing, Kathryn Janeway thought about the previous few weeks and wondered what in the universe gave her the right to this tiny corner of paradise.

She couldn’t have imagined this. For the fourth time in her life she had lost almost everyone who meant something to her; she was a prisoner of the man who had killed almost everybody she knew in this damned corner of the galaxy; and yet there was Tom. She couldn’t have imagined him.

She turned her head to look at him. He lay on his back, one arm trailing over the edge of the bed, eyes closed, his chest rising and falling. “Tom?” she whispered.

Her only answer was his soft, even breathing. She smiled. He always catnapped after sex. She didn’t mind; it meant he woke refreshed and ready to go again. She propped herself on one elbow and gazed at him – his tousled sandy hair, the long eyelashes resting on his cheek, the lips she couldn’t help but want to kiss. Something fierce welled up in her, something she wasn’t sure she wanted to analyse. She turned it over carefully in her mind, and finally admitted she knew its name. She was falling for this man, and she wasn’t sure whether to be terrified or take her heart in her hands and jump.

 

=/\=


Captain Chakotay hoisted himself up the ladder to the upper-level Engineering office on Voyager. “Progress, Tuvok?”

The Vulcan turned, and Chakotay experienced again the relief he’d felt ever since Tuvok’s eyesight had been restored and his gaze could once again fix on a person’s eyes, rather than staring blankly through them. “I believe I have managed to sufficiently reduce the size of the phasing coils,” Tuvok replied. “I have installed plasma infusers in four torpedo casings and collected sufficient warp plasma from the nacelles. I am confident we are ready to test the weapons.”

Chakotay nodded. “How will you proceed?”

“I propose to take a shuttlecraft to a point several light years distant, where there is an area containing a series of astral eddies which should camouflage the weapons tests from sensors. I will require a pilot.” Tuvok met Chakotay’s eyes. “The logical choice would be Ensign Seska.”

“No,” Chakotay said flatly. “I don’t want any questions until the weapons have been tested successfully. I’ll be your pilot.”

“Understood, sir.” Tuvok paused. “If I may speak freely, Captain?”

“Go ahead.”

“I am curious. How did you come up with the idea for phased plasma torpedoes?”

And there it was: the moment Chakotay had been anticipating, and dreading, since he first ordered Tuvok to construct the weapons from the somewhat sketchy schematics Chakotay had provided him from memory. It had, after all, been almost three years since Dari Ajuta, his former aide, had handed Chakotay the PADD containing the specifications for the Romulan phased plasma torpedoes Section 31 had been intending to install in the Liberty. Now was the moment Chakotay would have to decide, once and for all, whether he trusted Tuvok, or whether he still believed the Vulcan could be a spy.

Chakotay looked at his first officer, his former tactical officer, his friend, and said, “You may want to sit down, Tuvok. I have a pretty incredible story to tell.”

 

=/\=


In her newly-restored quarters, Ensign Seska listened intently; she had been forced to tap into the comm system in Engineering by way of the internal sensor relays, and the quality of the signal left something to be desired. This, however, was a conversation she did not intend to miss.

When Chakotay had finished speaking she disconnected the comm line and sat back in her chair. She took a moment to collect her thoughts, and then she knew what she must do.


Stardate 49613.8
~ Day 283 ~


Paris was alone in the anteroom when Obrist entered; Janeway was in her quarters taking a very long shower, and he was savouring a few moments to himself to reflect on the past two months. Despite the circumstances that had brought them here and the fact that, no matter how luxurious their accommodation, it was still a prison, he could not remember ever feeling such pure happiness. His peace was shattered the moment he saw Obrist’s face.

“What is it?”

Obrist was having trouble finding words. Eventually, he thrust a tablet toward Paris. Tom looked at it and his face froze. It displayed the moment of Voyager’s destruction. “What is this?” he asked harshly.

Obrist tapped at the screen and a series of numbers scrolled; Paris’ eyes blurred. “Explain,” he demanded.

Voyager was never destroyed,” Obrist said bluntly. “My captain falsified the readings. It was a holographic projection. The evidence file was hidden under several layers of encryption.”

Paris thought he might be sick; he swallowed, hard. “Who knew about this?”

“Annorax. The crewman he ordered to fire on Voyager, I assume. Perhaps others.”

“But not you,” Paris said.

Obrist shook his head. “My captain no longer trusts me. He is aware I have had misgivings about our continued mission. I have been deliberating whether to show you this for some time. But I can no longer stand aside while Annorax continues to bend the space-time continuum to his will. My hope is that we can contact your ship and enlist their assistance to stop him. But we must hurry.”

“Why?” Tom said sharply.

“You may not be aware that Annorax initiated another incursion several weeks ago. I could not understand the purpose of it, so I investigated. It was that investigation that led me to this discovery.” He indicated the tablet. “His purpose was to resurrect a species that created a very advanced type of astrometric probe. I surmised that Annorax wished to use this technology to locate Voyager and destroy it in reality.” Obrist paused. “I believe he has already employed it, and may be close to finding your ship.”

Paris went cold.

“There’s one thing I don’t understand,” he said slowly. “Why bother with the deception? Annorax must have known we would never help him find Voyager. Why make us believe it was destroyed?”

Obrist shook his head. “Annorax is deranged. He believes absolutely in the legitimacy of his mission, in the sovereignty of the Krenim Imperium. Your crewmate questioned both that belief and his sanity. In return, the captain wished her to suffer as he has suffered for the past two centuries.”

Paris had never wanted to kill anyone as much as he wanted to kill Annorax at that moment. “So how do we proceed?” he asked Obrist when he was able to speak again.

“I will help you to send a covert message to Voyager. You can access the communications array from this terminal.” He gestured to the console in the anteroom. “Tell them to proceed on an intercept course and prepare to mount a coordinated assault. Voyager’s weapons will have no effect on this ship while it remains out of phase with the space-time continuum, so we must disable the temporal core from within when Voyager attacks. It will require precise timing.”

“And how are we supposed to take the temporal core offline without setting off every alarm on the ship?”

“Leave that to me.” Obrist straightened, and reached out to clasp Paris’ shoulder. “We, the Krenim, have done great harm to you and your crew, among countless others. I would like to do something to make amends.” He let go. “I will leave you to advise your commander now.”

Janeway came into the anteroom shortly after Obrist left. Her hair hung to her waist now and her skin looked scrubbed fresh. She wore a lightweight blue tunic that matched her eyes, soft leather boots and a smile. “Hey,” she said softly as she came toward him and leaned up for a kiss, and then she saw his face. “Tom, what is it?”

“It’s Voyager,” he said, knowing the only way to say it was just to say it. “Annorax faked the attack. Voyager was never destroyed.”

He watched the colour drain from her face. “They’re alive?”

He nodded, and she swayed on her feet. For a moment he thought she might faint, and he caught her hands. “Kat,” he said urgently. She focused on his face and slowly the colour returned to her skin and he watched as her eyes hardened, darkening to a steel grey. She withdrew her hands.

He repeated Obrist’s explanation and watched as she drew herself upright, her eyes snapping fury. She turned away from him and strode to the viewport, staring outward, her fists clenched. When she finally turned to face him again, her voice was ice. “Send the message,” she said, and then she walked back into her quarters and locked the door.

She did not come to his bed that night.

=/\=

Most of Voyager’s senior officers, plus Bendera and Mulcahey, waited around the table in the newly-repaired briefing room. The Captain had summoned them to an urgent meeting, and now only he and Ensign Kim were absent.

 

When they entered, Bendera could tell at once that there had been a seachange. Chakotay sat at the head of the table and nodded to Kim. “Take it away, Harry.”

 

Kim was almost bouncing in his chair. “We’ve received a transmission,” he announced. “I’ve analysed the carrier frequency. It contains a classified Starfleet identity code that can only have come from Lieutenant Paris. It’s real.” He broke into a grin.It was a testament to their training that the officers around the table did no more than murmur. Chakotay held up a hand anyway. “We’ll celebrate later. Paris sent a set of coordinates that should lead us directly to the weapon ship.”

 

“Its location?” asked Tuvok.

 

“Approximately fifty light years from here. The fleet should reach the coordinates in four weeks at warp six. Once we’re in range, Tom says he’ll try to take the weapon ship’s temporal core offline. When that happens they’ll be vulnerable to conventional weapons. Tom will then transmit the exact location of the core, and we’ll disable the ship and get our people out. Clear?”

 

There was a chorus of “yes, sir”s around the table.

 

“Good. I don’t imagine Annorax will make it easy for us, so the fleet will keep temporal shielding up at all times. Mulcahey, Bendera, work with Mr Tuvok to devise a fleet formation suitable for our allies. The Mawasi ships are capable of carrying additional armaments so we’ll outfit them with extra torpedo cannons. The Saklat vessels are small and highly manoeuvrable. It might be best if they take point when we attack. The Nihydron …” He stopped. “I’ll stop doing your jobs for you. Dismissed. Tuvok, please remain behind.”

 

They filed out, and when the room was otherwise empty Tuvok turned to Chakotay. “I presume you wish to discuss the use of the phased plasma torpedoes,” he said.

 

“Yes.” Chakotay tapped his fingers on the table, thinking. “Considering the security implications, I’d prefer to avoid using them if at all possible.”

 

“The Krenim ship is invulnerable to conventional weapons as long as it remains outside of normal space-time,” Tuvok said. “The new plasma torpedoes would enable us to deliver their payload by phasing out of the space-time continuum to penetrate the ship’s hull, and re-emerging at the exact coordinates of the temporal core. However, if Lieutenant Paris can disable the core, the phased torpedoes may not be required.”

 

Chakotay nodded. “Ready them anyway. Failure of this mission is not an option,” he emphasised. “Dismissed.”

 

It was only when he was alone that Chakotay allowed himself to give in to his relief, his joy, at finally knowing they were alive and well. Tom Paris, the misfit who’d touched something protective inside Chakotay, some feeling of kinship. And Kathryn. Somehow, he’d always known on some deep hidden level that she was alive. He’d known it because his heart was still beating.

 

=/\=

It took time and concentration to encode the message, to direct it through the convoluted pathways she had devised and to the Krenim timeship. Concentration she had, but time she did not. Fortunately she was sufficiently competent in the procedure, and working under pressure had always been her strong suit.

 

Within three hours of Voyager receiving Tom Paris’ communication, Annorax had received one of his own.

 

 

Stardate 49635.7

~ Day 291 ~

 

Ensign Kim stood at attention in Chakotay’s ready room. “Report, Ensign,” Chakotay ordered.

 

“Captain, we’ve received another coded message from Lieutenant Paris,” he replied. “The timeship is on an intercept course. We will encounter them approximately seven days earlier than expected.”

 

“They are, huh?” Chakotay leaned back in his chair. “Coincidence?”

 

“No, sir.” Kim looked stressed. “Tom – uh, Lieutenant Paris – says Annorax is coming after us.”

 

“Interesting,” stated Tuvok.

 

“Lieutenant?” queried Chakotay.

 

“Our last encounter with the weapon ship was almost eight months ago,” Tuvok stated. “Voyager suffered extreme damage in that attack, and was not in combat-ready condition for some time afterwards. If Annorax wished to destroy us, that opportunity offered his highest chance of success.”

 

“Maybe he couldn’t find us.”

 

“It is likely,” Tuvok replied, and Chakotay suddenly realised what he was getting at. “Which begs the question: how has he found us now?”

 

Chakotay tucked that away for further analysis – later, when he had time. “The important thing is that we’re now far better prepared. We have a fleet of fourteen heavily armed ships with strong defensive capabilities. He won’t be able to swat us down like a fly, not this time.”

 

“I concur.” Tuvok segued into his report on the fleet’s readiness. Battle drills were being executed regularly, and all weapons and shields were at full capacity. Chakotay nodded, satisfied. They would be ready.

 

=/\=

If the previous two months had been a kind of paradise, the past eight days had become Tom Paris’ own private hell.

 

It was eight days since they’d properly talked, and eight long, desolate nights since he’d touched her. From the moment Janeway had found out that Voyager was still out there, she’d built a wall around herself that he couldn’t chip through no matter what tactic he tried. All she would talk about was how they would get back to their ship, and how they would take Annorax down. She maintained that Annorax’s interference with the natural course of history had to be stopped, and she became determined that the only way to ensure that was the destruction of the weapon ship.

 

Paris agreed, and for the first few days he was as motivated as she to devise a plan to achieve that. He also tried to be understanding about her need for physical distance; he’d seen her struggling with shock before, and he knew that self-containment was her protection protocol. After a while, though, he began to realise that she was deliberately maintaining her distance from him. If he leaned over her shoulder to help her with a navigational computation on the tablet, she immediately got up and moved away. If he passed her a plate at the dinner table, she manoeuvred herself so that their fingers would not touch. And once, when she was brushing her hair and he forgot himself and reached out to run his fingers through it, she jerked away as if he’d burned her. From then on he never saw her with her hair out of its regimented bun.

 

On the eighth day he couldn’t stand it any longer, so he went to find her in the arboretum. She looked up warily as he sat beside her on her favoured bench seat, placing her tablet on the bench beside her. He waited for her to speak. She didn’t, but she also didn’t move away.

 

“You know, I miss leola root,” he said, out of the blue, and was gratified when she looked directly into his eyes for the first time in days, wrinkling her nose. He nodded. “It’s true. All the one of a kind delicacies on this ship’s menu, all the priceless bottles of wine, and I’m longing for a good honest bowl of the scourge of the Delta quadrant. Why do you think that is?”

 

She smiled, faintly. “Maybe it’s because it tastes like home.”

 

“Yeah.” He stretched out his legs, crossed at the ankle. “I wonder how Neelix is doing. You think he’s talked Tuvok into letting him wear a security uniform yet?”

 

“If anyone could wear Tuvok down, it would probably be Neelix.”

 

“I never returned Harry’s book,” he realised.

 

“His book?”

 

“He lent me his copy of Madame Bovary. Said it was one of his favourites, but I never got past the first couple of chapters.”

 

She raised her eyebrows. “You should have kept reading.”

 

“How come?”

 

“Well.” She played with the hem of her tunic. “Let’s just say it gets more … stimulating. I have to say, I didn’t think Ensign Kim had it in him.”

 

“Maybe B’Elanna’s taught him a thing or two.”

 

She turned to stare at him again. “B’Elanna Torres? And Harry Kim?”

 

He smiled. “You didn’t know?”

 

“No, I didn’t,” she said, and he suspected she was more surprised at her ignorance than at the seemingly unlikely pairing.

 

Tom shrugged. “They were pretty discreet, I guess. Didn’t want to force Chakotay to stop turning a blind eye.”

 

She said nothing for a while, and just as he was about to say something else, she spoke in a choked voice and he realised she was trembling. “Captain Chakotay,” she said, fingers twisting in her lap, “would not condone a relationship between members of the senior staff. Especially when one party is in direct command of the other.”

 

“I guess it’s lucky Harry doesn’t report directly to B’Elanna, then,” Paris said, and then he realised what she was saying and felt his stomach lurch. “Oh, hell,” he said quietly. “Kat, please don’t.”

 

He stretched out a hand to her but she was suddenly standing, out of his reach. Her voice was perfectly even as she said, “When was Obrist’s last report on the status of the core shutdown program?”

 

She watched him wrestling to control his emotions, watched him stand to face her, feet slightly apart, hands clasped behind his back; parade rest. “This morning. He estimates he’ll have it complete by tomorrow.”

 

“Good,” she said, and swallowed hard, lifted her chin and forced herself to look into his eyes. “You’re dismissed, Lieutenant.”

 

“Aye, Commander,” Paris said, and she turned away from the ache in his eyes.

 

 

Stardate 49673.4

~ Day 305 ~

 

“Sir, I’m detecting several vessels approaching,” Obrist announced.

 

“Identify them,” Annorax ordered.

 

Obrist scanned the readouts and did his best to sound surprised. “Sir, It’s Voyager, with a fleet of Mawasi, Nihydron and Saklat vessels … But, sir, Voyager was destroyed. I saw it with my own eyes.”

 

“Then perhaps it’s time to stop believing everything you see,” Annorax replied without turning. “Full power to shields. Arm chroniton torpedoes.”

 

“Captain, there are fourteen heavily-armed ships in that fleet, and they have a defence against our torpedoes. We will be outgunned.”

 

“As long as this ship remains out of phase, they cannot touch us. Power up the temporal weapon and stand by for multiple incursions.”

 

Annorax settled more comfortably into his chair.

 

“Let them come.”

 

=/\=

“Harry, anything from Paris yet?”

 

“Not yet, Captain.” Kim was biting his lip. Come on, Tom, he pleaded silently.

 

“Status, Mr Ayala?”

 

“The Krenim ship is approaching on vector three two one mark four. Time to intercept, three minutes.”

 

Chakotay stood and nodded at Kim to activate the comm system. “This is Captain Chakotay to the fleet,” he announced. “All ships, bring your temporal shields online and proceed in standard formation. We will enter weapons range in less than three minutes.”

 

He waited for the acknowledgements, then Kim closed the channel, switching to shipwide. “Red alert,” Chakotay said. “All hands, secure systems and prepare to engage the enemy.” He sat, glancing at Tuvok, sitting in Janeway’s chair. Soon, he told himself, soon she’ll be back where she belongs.

 

“We’ve entered weapons range,” Ayala said from tactical. “The weapon ship has powered its chroniton torpedoes.”

 

“Battle stations,” said the Captain.

 

=/\=

“Come on, come on,” Paris muttered to himself, fingers flying over the console. “Encrypt, you bastard … Yes,” he finished triumphantly. “I’ve sent Voyager the coordinates of the temporal core. Ensign Kim is confirming.”

 

Janeway stopped pacing long enough to nod. “Good work. Anything from Obrist?”

 

“Nothing yet.” Paris didn’t take his eyes off the console. “He has to bypass several layers of security even to get into the core controls. If someone detects it before he can get in …” He let the sentence trail off.

 

Janeway moved to stand next to him. “There has to be something we can do from here.” She started tapping commands into the console. “If I can just tap into their power relays, maybe I can access the core shield matrix –”

 

“Wait,” he said urgently. “If you trip the alarm there’ll be a dozen guards here within ten seconds. Give Obrist a chance.”

 

“I can’t just sit here doing nothing,” she snapped back fiercely. “I have to –”

 

She was cut off by the lurching of the deck beneath her feet as the timeship was rocked by weapons fire.

 

=/\=

“We’re in weapons range,” reported Ayala.

 

“Let’s see if Tom has done his part. Attack pattern gamma,” Chakotay ordered, and the fleet broke formation. Voyager took point, Seska rolling her through a series of stomach-dropping manoeuvres as they pummelled the timeship with phaser fire. The Mawasi cruisers followed, pulse cannons firing, scattering blooms of light across the Krenim shields. The Saklat ships, small and nimble, swooped and dived, targeting specific points in their attempt to weaken the shields, and the huge Nihydron warships ran interference, protecting Voyager and the Saklat from retaliatory fire.

 

“Minimal damage to their shields,” Ayala said. “Their temporal core is stable. Our shields are down to sixty percent. Damage reports are coming in from the fleet … One Saklat vessel is dead in space, the Nihydron have taken heavy damage, and the two rear Mawasi ships are losing temporal shields.”

 

“Evasive pattern beta-five,” Chakotay said. “We’re going to have to wait.”

 

=/\=

She found herself balanced in Tom Paris’ arms, clutching his shoulders to stay upright. “You okay?” he asked. His face was very close to hers, the concern in his blue eyes disarming her. She nodded, a little breathless, and told herself it was simply from being thrown off-balance.

 

He set her on her feet and she moved immediately back to the console. “No change to the temporal core. What is Obrist doing?”

 

“Everything he can, I’m sure,” Tom said evenly.

 

She whipped her head around. “How can you be so damned calm about this?”

 

“Have a little faith,” he retorted, annoyance creasing his forehead.

 

“Faith,” she snorted. “Voyager could be destroyed at any moment if your Krenim buddy can’t get it together and do his part.”

 

“He will,” Paris repeated. She had turned back to the console and was trying again to tap into the power grid. Failing again, she slammed her hand down on the display panel, then turned the Janeway death glare on him.

 

For once, it failed to quell him; he gave her back a glare of his own. “Stop meddling,” he ordered her.

 

Her cheeks flushed and she stepped toward him. “Watch your tone, Lieutenant.”

 

He stood his ground. “You’re not angry at me,” he told her flatly. “So stop taking it out on me.”

 

That stopped her short. He’s right, she thought, her anger fading. She looked at him properly, standing tall and straight before her, blue eyes resolute. She felt ashamed. Tom Paris had been the target of her misdirected temper too many times, and whatever happened next, she knew she had to stop taking his forbearance for granted.

 

“I apologise, Lieutenant,” she said.

 

“That’s better,” he said as the flush faded from her cheekbones and the stormclouds in her eyes returned to blue. “Oh, and one more thing.”

 

He moved so quickly she hadn’t even registered it before he had her in his arms and was kissing her as though their lives depended on it.

 

=/\=

“Incoming subspace signal,” Obrist reported.

 

Annorax had been expecting this. “Route it directly to my station.”

 

He read the short message and stood, addressing a crewman. “Tersin, lock onto these precise coordinates. On my command, initiate transport of one life form directly to the bridge.”

 

“Captain?” asked Obrist in alarm. “Who are we transporting?”

 

“That’s none of your concern.” Annorax didn’t even bother to look at him.

 

“Sir.” Obrist left his station and stood quivering with indignation before his captain. “I am your first officer. I cannot adequately serve you unless you keep me informed.”

 

His captain fixed him with a gimlet glare. “Obrist, you have not served me adequately for some time. You are relieved.” He nodded to two security officers. “Take him to the brig.”

 

As the guards took him by the elbows and marched him off the bridge, Obrist’s sole regret was not of his failure to serve his captain, but that he had failed to deactivate the temporal core, and in doing so had almost certainly condemned Paris and Janeway to eternal captivity and the Voyager fleet to obliteration.

 

=/\=

 

“Attack pattern alpha,” Chakotay ordered, and the fleet made another swooping pass at the weapon ship, firing repeatedly.

 

“No damage to the weapon ship,” Ayala reported. “The temporal core remains stable. They are returning fire … Two Saklat ships have been destroyed. One Nihydron cruiser’s warp core is overloading. The lead Mawasi vessel’s shields have been disabled and their weapons are offline. Voyager has sustained damage to the starboard nacelle and Engineering reports several EPS conduits have blown out. No casualties. Our shields are at fifty-two percent.”

 

“Damn it,” Chakotay muttered. “This is not going according to plan.”

 

He stood and addressed Lieutenant Tuvok. “I think we have to assume we won’t get any help from inside the weapon ship. Implement protocol gamma six red.” Tuvok nodded and pulled his console toward him, entering commands. Chakotay tapped his commbadge. “Transporter room, on my command, get a lock on our people on the Krenim ship and beam them over here immediately.”

 

~Acknowledged,~ Ensign Ming replied.

 

“Ready,” Tuvok said.Chakotay nodded. “Allied fleet, this is Captain Chakotay. All ships, fall back. We’ll take it from here.”

 

He waited until the straggling fleet had reached a safe distance, then said to Tuvok, “Fire.”

 

Two torpedoes left the Voyager launchers on a direct course to the Krenim weapon ship, then disappeared.

 

“Status?” Chakotay asked.“The torpedoes are on course. Ten seconds to rephase coordinates.”

 

“Uh, Captain?” Ensign Kim couldn’t keep silent any longer. “May I ask what’s going on?”

 

“You may not,” Chakotay said shortly.

 

“Rephasing,” Tuvok reported. “Impact in three, two, one –”

 

The Voyager bridge crew, with the exception of Chakotay and Tuvok, watched open-mouthed as onscreen, the weapon ship began to shake.

 

“Direct hit on the temporal core,” announced Tuvok. “The Krenim ship is returning to normal space-time.”

 

“Chakotay to Ming,” the Captain said urgently. “Energise.”

 

=/\=

“Initiate transport,” Annorax ordered, just as his operations officer called out in alarm, “Sir, two high-yield plasma torpedoes just exploded inside the temporal core. We are phasing back into the space-time continuum!”

 

“What?” Annorax snapped. His ship groaned and lurched, and a chain of small explosions blossomed at a console behind him and travelled the circumference of the bridge. He heard cries of pain. A crewman landed, dead, at his feet.

 

“Transport has failed, sir,” Crewman Tersin reported, his voice shaking. “I am unable to lock onto the coordinates … Transporters are down.”

 

Annorax was on his feet. “Who fired those torpedoes?”

 

“They came from Voyager, Captain.” The operations officer had to shout to be heard above the mayhem on the bridge. “The torpedoes momentarily phased out of normal space-time, penetrated our shields and rephased inside the temporal core.” He stared at his captain, his eyes growing wide with horror. “A temporal incursion is beginning inside the ship.”

 

=/\=

She felt the familiar tingle of dematerialisation and wrenched herself away from his kiss. They rematerialised, separated, on Voyager’s transporter pad. Janeway dragged an arm across her mouth, her breath gone. She was trembling.

 

~Chakotay to transporter room,~ she heard, and at the first sound of his voice in eight months she felt faint. ~Do you have them?~

 

“I have them, sir,” replied Ensign Ming from the transporter controls, grinning widely at them. Janeway tried to smile at him.

 

~Welcome home,~ he said, and she knew he was addressing her. ~Report to the bridge immediately, Commander, Lieutenant. Chakotay out.~

 

She felt Voyager shudder and strain and realised that whoever was at the helm was wrenching the ship into a roll to evade the Krenim torpedoes. “Jesus,” muttered Paris, at her side. “Who the hell is flying my ship?”

 

She didn’t reply, and as they stood side by side in the turbolift on the way to the bridge, they didn’t look at each other once.

 

=/\=

 

“Captain,” Tuvok warned. “The temporal incursion will destroy the weapon ship in less than two minutes. The shockwave will extend throughout this sector, impacting all vessels, planets and life forms in its path. I theorise that it will effect a complete restoration of the space-time continuum to its original timeline. Any alterations Annorax has caused may be reverted.”

 

Chakotay stood silent for a moment, thinking. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking, Tuvok?”

 

Tuvok stood slowly, facing him, searching his eyes. “The temporal prime directive would seem to apply.”

 

“I agree,” Chakotay said quietly. He switched on the fleet-wide comm. “Chakotay to the fleet. Take your temporal shields offline. All hands, brace for impact.”

 

“SirI” Harry Kim’s eyes were wide. “If they deactivate their shields, they won’t be protected from the temporal reversion.”

 

“Exactly,” Chakotay answered. “When that ship implodes, all of history might be restored. And I’m sure this is one year all of us would like to forget.”

 

=/\=

Words could not do justice to her fury and resentment. All her careful planning, gone to waste in one fate-changing moment. There would be no escape for her now.

 

But perhaps there was one thing she could do. In the chaos, nobody would notice her entering the pre-prepared commands into the helm controls, disguising their origin by routing them through several connected systems, and thwarting this Federation captain’s bleeding-heart, temporal prime directive idiocy once and for all.

 

Bitterly, Seska executed her revenge.

 

=/\=

From deep in the bowels of the ship came a series of booming explosions, and the alert klaxon whined a warning. “Fifteen seconds til catastrophic core breach,” shouted Tersin. The entire ship creaked, and crewmen were flung to the deck as metal whined and the hull began to come apart.

 

Annorax stumbled into his office, eyes fixed on his goal. The small glass pyramid that held the lock of auburn hair tumbled from his desk and shattered on the floor. As he watched, the lock of hair shimmered and dissolved from history.

 

Annorax’s visceral howl of defeat was cut short by Obrist’s knife slicing into his throat.

 

=/\=

Janeway and Paris entered onto a bridge that, while in better shape than the last time either of them had seen it, was nevertheless a scene of controlled disarray. Chakotay turned, but had no time to do more than nod before Ensign Kim interrupted. “Temporal shockwave approaching. Impact in ten seconds.”

 

“Report,” Janeway demanded, as she crossed to her chair. Tuvok stood to vacate it for her and she took a fleeting second to note that he could actually see her, and smiled, and then he answered, “The weapon ship has been destroyed. A temporal incursion has occurred within its core.”

 

“Shield status?” Chakotay asked tensely.

 

“Shields are down,” Kim answered, then stopped. “Sir, shields are up! The temporal shielding is at one hundred percent!”

 

The Captain opened his mouth to demand answers, but before he could utter a word, the shockwave hit.

© 2021 by Mia Cooper