Fragile Things

Summary: An encounter with a quantum rift sends Janeway and Chakotay on a journey through what might have been.

 

Characters: Janeway, Chakotay, Voyager crew

Codes: Janeway/Chakotay

 

Disclaimer: Paramount built the amusement park. We just play in it.

 

Notes: All quotes are from Neil Gaiman’s Fragile Things story collection, and I’ve borrowed heavily from the TNG episode Parallels.

 

Warning: Dubious consent elements in a couple of chapters.

Rated E

3. Words That Live Forever - Janeway (I)

Stardate 51130.7

 

We wrapped our dreams in words and patterned the words so that they would live forever, unforgettable.

 

 

“Captain.”

 

I struggle into consciousness, throat dry and head thumping. The sound I make in answer to the Doctor’s voice is more a groan than words. “What happened?”

 

“You were transported here approximately four hours ago. Apparently your shuttle was caught in some kind of rift and the warp core overloaded.”

 

“Chakotay?”

 

“The commander is fine. I’ve released him to the bridge. You, however, were quite seriously injured. You had several broken ribs, one of which punctured your lung. I’ve repaired the damage but you’re off duty for twenty-four hours to recuperate.”

 

I struggle to sit up. My head swims and I drop back to the biobed with a moan. “All right, Doctor. For once I’m not going to fight you on that.”

 

The hiss of a hypospray against my neck clears some of the ache in my head. “This should bring you some relief. I’d like you to remain here for observation for a few minutes, but after that you’re free to return to your quarters.” He arches an eyebrow. “To rest, please, Captain. No working, and no – ahem – other activities. At least until tomorrow.”

 

Other activities?

 

~Chakotay to Sickbay.~

 

“Sickbay here,” the Doctor answers. “The Captain has regained consciousness, Commander. I’ll be releasing her to quarters shortly.”

 

~Understood.~ Chakotay’s voice is warm with relief, and I can’t help a small smile. We may have become estranged in recent times, but I never have cause to doubt his concern for me.

 

 “Report, Commander,” I cut in, then glancing at the Doctor’s expression of annoyance, I add, “In brief, please.”

 

~We encountered a quantum rift. The energy output of the warp core was incompatible with the quantum flux. It caused an overload in the warp core.~ I hear a sheepish note creep into his voice. ~I’m afraid I’ve managed to lose us another shuttle, Captain.~

 

I can’t help smiling. “I think we can chalk this one up to bad luck rather than pilot error, Commander. Janeway out.”

 

“Well,” the Doctor says, closing the tricorder he’s been waving at me. “Your readings are looking good, Captain. I see no reason why you can’t return to your quarters.”

 

I glance down at my blue sickbay gown.

 

“I’m afraid I had to cut your jacket to treat your injuries. The rest of your uniform is over there.” He gestures toward the privacy screen shielding an empty biobed.

 

“Thank you, Doctor.” I duck behind the screen and strip as quickly as my still-sore ribs allow, carefully pulling on my pants, boots and undershirt. I nod at the Doctor as I head for the sickbay doors.

 

“Remember, Captain – you need to rest,” he calls after me.

 

I make it to the middle of my bedroom before I sway on my feet, a wave of exhaustion turning my eyelids to lead. Pulling off the clothes I’ve just put on, I move toward the bathroom, intending to soak in the tub for a while, but halfway there I’m suddenly certain I’ll never find the energy. I reverse my steps and collapse naked into bed, too tired even to pull on pyjamas, and almost instantly I’m asleep.

 

=/\=

This is my favourite dream.

 

He’s pressed up against my back, his skin hot against mine, his lips warm as they graze my neck. His hand strokes lightly down my arm, over my hip, flattening against my stomach and sliding slowly downward. I sigh, my thighs parting to welcome his questing fingers. He strokes me, his touch feather-light, letting my excitement build gradually, until his fingers are slick with my moisture and I’m pushing myself into his hand, my breath quickening.

 

This is usually the point at which I wake, gasping, frustrated, aroused beyond reason.

 

Only this time it’s different.

 

Long fingers slide inside me, his thumb stroking my clitoris, and it pushes me past the point of no return. My body convulses, waves of pure pleasure taking hold of me. A low moan rattles in my throat and he sucks harder on my neck in response. I feel his erection pushing against the cleft of my backside and I push my hips back and widen my legs involuntarily, wanting him, needing him inside me. He pulses against me, the head of his penis nudging at my entrance.

 

“Kathryn,” he murmurs against my ear as he begins to push inside me.

 

My eyes open.

 

This is not a dream.

 

A scream rips from my throat and I throw myself off the bed, landing hard on the floor and scrambling to get away. He bolts upright in bed. “Kathryn! What’s wrong?”

 

“What’s wrong?” I’m hyperventilating. “Chakotay, what are you doing in my bed?”

 

He stares at me. “What are you talking about? Where else would I be?”

 

I can’t find words – my mouth opens and closes as I gasp for breath. My back is pressed against the wall, my knees clutched to my chest.

 

He swings his legs over the side of the bed, his hands held out in a gesture of placation. “Kathryn, I don’t know what’s wrong, but I think we should get you to sickbay –”

 

“Just get out!” I scrunch my eyes shut to block out the sight of him, naked and half-hard. “Please get out.”

 

“Kathryn…”

 

“Just go!”

 

“All right,” he says, projecting calm into his voice. “It’s okay, Kathryn. I’m leaving.”

 

I hear the rustle of clothing, footsteps padding across the carpet, the sound of the door opening and closing. Slowly, my breathing evens out and I stop trembling. I open my eyes cautiously. The bedroom is empty.

 

There’s a framed photograph on the nightstand, but I put away my photograph of Mark and Molly over a year ago. I get up, snagging a robe as I realise I’m still naked, and walk nervously toward it. It’s a picture of Chakotay and me, both of us in dress uniform, laughing and holding hands as we duck under a shower of confetti.

 

I shove the photograph face-down onto the nightstand.

 

What the hell is going on here?

 

I look around my quarters and realise there’s an unfamiliar painting on the wall, a tall, smooth timber sculpture standing in the corner. Draped over the end of the bed is a patterned throw rug I’ve seen before in Chakotay’s quarters. On the dressing table is a small earthenware bowl containing two gold rings.

 

Holding my breath, I pick up the smaller one and slide it onto the third finger of my left hand.

 

It’s a perfect fit.

 

I yank it off and drop it into the bowl, backing away toward the door. When I hear the entry chime I almost jump out of my skin.

 

“Who is it?”

 

“It’s the Doctor. Captain, please let me in.”

 

I stab my finger at the keypad and the door slides open. The Doctor holds up both hands. “I come in peace.”

 

I step back to let him in. “I assume Commander Chakotay sent you.”

 

“Yes, Captain. May I scan you?”

 

“Go ahead.”

 

I stand still as he takes readings. “The commander said you were disoriented and confused.”

 

“That’s putting it mildly.” I cross my arms.

 

“Can you describe your confusion?”

 

I can feel two bright spots of colour burning on my cheeks. “Suffice to say, I woke up to find Commander Chakotay in my bed. As you can imagine, I was shocked. A state of mind which was further compounded when the commander appeared to believe this was an entirely natural and expected state of affairs…” I blush harder, wishing I hadn’t picked the word affair.

 

“I see,” the Doctor says neutrally. “What would be the natural and expected state of affairs, then?”

 

I stare at him. “Not that’s it’s any of your business, Doctor, but Commander Chakotay and I do not have that kind of relationship.”

 

“I see,” he says again. That’s starting to get on my nerves. “Captain, could you tell me the stardate?”

 

“It must be Stardate 51132.”

 

“That’s right,” he murmurs.

 

I have to know. “Would you care to explain to me exactly what my relationship to Commander Chakotay is supposed to be?”

 

“You have been married since Stardate 50532.”

 

Seven months ago? I can feel the blood draining from my face.

 

“How?”

 

“How were you married?” The Doctor’s brow crinkles in confusion.

 

“How did we get to that point?”

 

“Well…” The Doctor hesitates. “Perhaps we should sit down, Captain? You look a little pale.”

 

I let him guide me to the sofa. I clasp my shaking hands on my knees and nod. “Go on, Doctor.”

 

“It’s my understanding that the two of you became romantically involved while you were stranded on the planet you called New Earth. You decided to marry shortly after you endured a near-death experience -”

 

“- with the alien who wanted to take me into his matrix,” I finish, my voice hollow.

 

He studies my face. God only knows what he sees in it.

 

“That’s not what happened,” I tell him, rousing myself. “We never became involved on New Earth. And we certainly never got married.”

 

He tweaks something on his tricorder. “What’s the last thing you remember prior to the events of this morning?”

 

“I was in a shuttle accident with Cha- with the commander. I woke up in sickbay. You said I’d suffered a punctured lung and sent me home to rest.”

 

“And before the shuttle accident?”

 

“The commander and I were in the Tereshkova. We were talking about...” I hesitate, not wanting to share too much with the ship’s gossip. “We talked about his recent experience with the Vori, and how Seven of Nine was progressing. Then we encountered some kind of tachyon disturbance and were hit with an energy surge.”

 

The Doctor raises his eyebrows. “I’ve never heard of the Vori. And I believe your mission yesterday was in the Cochrane, not the Tereshkova.”

 

I stare at him. “The Cochrane was destroyed several weeks ago by the Cataati.”

 

“I’m afraid I’ve never heard of the Cataati either.”

 

“How is that possible?” My heart feels like it’s lodged in my throat.

 

The EMH finally shuts his tricorder and meets my gaze. “I believe I have an explanation. Your quantum signature indicates that you are not of this universe.”

 

And that’s when it hits me. I start shaking and gulping for breath, nausea rising to choke me.

 

“Shock,” the Doctor diagnoses, quickly preparing a hypospray and emptying the contents into my neck. “Take slow, deep breaths,” he advises me, one hand on my back as the sedative works its way through my bloodstream and I gradually gather together the shreds of my control.

 

“I’m all right now, Doctor.”

 

“I’d like you to accompany me to sickbay.”

 

“No.” I flatten my hands on my knees, gathering my strength, then push myself upright. “I need to call a senior staff briefing immediately.”

 

“But Captain –”

 

“Sorry, Doctor. Not right now.”

 

I can still hear him grumbling as I push him out into the hallway.

 

=/\=

Dressed in uniform with my hair tamed into a ponytail, my control returns and I’m able to regard my senior staff calmly as they enter the briefing room. Except for Chakotay; I can’t deal with him right now, and my gaze skips right on past.

 

“Good morning,” I address them when they’ve settled in, the Doctor scowling at me from directly across the table. “Unfortunately, we’re beginning the day with a problem. It appears I’ve somehow shifted into an alternate reality.”

 

“Captain?” It’s Chakotay, his shoulders suddenly rigid with tension.

 

I address a point somewhere to the left of his temple. “The Doctor has discovered that my quantum signature at the cellular level is incompatible with this universe. I can only assume my appearance here has something to do with the quantum rift I – we – encountered yesterday.”

 

There’s a brief silence, then Tuvok speaks. “Did the phenomenon also affect Commander Chakotay?”

 

“Ah.” The Doctor gets up, looking a little abashed, and scans him. “No. It would appear the commander is precisely where he’s supposed to be.”

 

I nod at Tom. “Mr Paris, we’ll return to study the rift. Set a course at maximum warp. Lieutenant Torres, Ensign Kim –”

 

“Ensign?” Tom raises his eyebrows, and I turn to him, questioning. “Sorry, Captain,” he mumbles sheepishly. “It’s just – I guess in your universe Harry hasn’t been promoted yet.”

 

The tips of Harry’s ears turn red.

 

“Moving on,” I say coolly, “I’d like Lieutenant Kim to work with B’Elanna to analyse the rift and theorise why my encounter with it caused me to shift quantum realities. Seven, you might also have something to contribute. Tuvok, several years ago the Enterprise encountered a similar situation in which one of their crewmen also began to travel between quantum universes. You and I will study those logs in my ready room. Commander, you have the bridge.” I stand. “Dismissed.”

 

They all file out: B’Elanna and Harry already in animated discussion, Seven striding slightly behind them, Tom shooting me a look I can’t quite read as he ambles out onto the bridge. Tuvok waits for me at the door.

 

Chakotay remains at the table, his gaze fixed on me.

 

“Dismissed, Commander,” I repeat, not looking at him.

 

“Tuvok,” he says, “would you give us a moment, please?”

 

Tuvok exits, and Chakotay waits in silence until I can no longer bear the weight of his patience.

 

“Did you have something you wanted to say, Commander?”

 

“Yes,” he says quietly.

 

“Well?” I finally turn to face him and realise he’s hunched over, staring at the way his fingers are gripping each other.

 

“If you’re not my Kathryn…” He raises his eyes to me and I see naked dread. “Where is she?”

 

“It’s possible that she also shifted to another reality.”

 

“But you don’t know.”

 

“No, I don’t know.” I swallow. “I’m sorry.”

 

“I’m sorry too,” he says, rubbing the indent on his ring finger. “About this morning, I mean. It’s clear now that in your universe, you and I aren’t…” He trails off.

 

“No,” I answer, my fists clenched with the effort of staving off memories of this morning, “we aren’t.”

 

“Were you stranded on New Earth with your – with the Chakotay from your universe?” He looks up.

 

“Yes.”

 

“But you never –”

 

I can’t bear any more of this. I cut him off. “No. Never. I need to get to work, Commander.”

 

He flinches. “Understood, Captain.”

 

I walk to the door with my back held very straight and he follows me in silence.

 

=/\=

For hours, Tuvok and I pore over the logs from Lieutenant Worf’s unexpected side-stepping between universes, searching for clues to my situation. The Enterprise crew postulated that the subspace field pulse, emitted whenever Commander LaForge’s visor was activated in proximity to Worf, had intensified the quantum flux that sent him travelling through realities. But we have no LaForge and no visor, and there was nothing on board that shuttle that would have emitted a subspace field pulse.

 

After a quick lunch at my desk, I send Tuvok back to the bridge and continue working on my own. The best hypothesis I can come up with is that, when Voyager activated the emergency transport to beam us out of the breaching shuttle, the transporter beam somehow interacted with the subspace flux in the quantum fissure to direct me into this alternate reality. But there seems to be no explanation for why it only affected me, and not Chakotay.

 

Chakotay.

 

I push thoughts of him ruthlessly aside and contact engineering, but B’Elanna’s team has nothing substantial to report. I explain my transporter theory and Seven opines that another transporter activation within the quantum rift might produce the same effect, but is unable to state whether it would send me back to my own universe or to yet another parallel reality. She also points out that sending me back into the rift in another shuttle would likely initiate another warp core overload, and this time they might not be lucky enough to pull me out in time.

 

I tell her I’m not willing to abandon the idea, and Seven consents to investigate further.

 

Alpha shift ends and Tuvok appears in my ready room, politely requesting I vacate the bridge and return to my quarters to rest; when I pull rank, he calmly replies that he will leave me alone if the Doctor will agree to give me a clean bill of health. As I’ve already been badgered by the Doctor several times over the course of the day, reminding me with increasing irritation that I’m supposed to be on bed rest, I grumpily pack up my PADDs.

 

My step falters as I approach the quarters my counterpart shares with Chakotay. On the verge of entering, I stop and press the chime instead.

 

“Enter,” he says.

 

I step over the threshold.

 

He comes out of the bedroom and stuffs a few things into the open bag on the table, sparing me a quick glance. “I thought it might be best if I stay somewhere else for the night,” he says.

 

“You don’t have to move out. These are your quarters, not mine.”

 

Chakotay zips up the bag and straightens, facing me. “It’s all right, Captain,” he says, his voice gentle. “This is unnerving enough for you as it is. You should at least be in familiar surroundings.”

 

I turn away, unable to hold his gaze. “Always looking after me,” I murmur, half under my breath.

 

“I wouldn’t have it any other way.” He slings the bag over his shoulder and walks past me, turning at the door. “I’ll be bunking in the spare quarters on deck six if you need to reach me. Good night, Captain.”

 

“Good night,” I whisper.

 

Then I’m left alone in a room full of memories that aren’t mine.

 

I replicate something light for dinner and take it to the table, pulling a monitor toward me. It only takes a moment or two of wrestling with my conscience before I give in.

 

“Computer,” I request, “activate personal log, Kathryn Janeway. Find and display all logs relating to New Earth.”

 

=/\=

My head rests in my hands, fingers rubbing small circles on my aching temples. A glass of wine and a half-empty bottle sit within easy reach beside me. I’ve taken off my jacket and turtleneck, kicked off my boots. At some point in the evening I gravitated to the couch, too tired to hold myself upright in that straight-backed chair while I watched the logs of the woman I could have been, if I’d made different choices.

 

If I’d been different.

 

I’ve never been one to unburden myself in my personal logs – they are, after all, ship’s records, and the ‘personal’ tag has never stopped Starfleet Command from accessing a crewmember’s log when it deems necessary. In that, the Captain Janeway of this universe is no different. But I know her – she is, after all, me – and as circumspect as her logs have been, I know exactly what she’s thinking and feeling but not saying.

 

I’ve watched her logs from the day she and her Chakotay were rescued from that paradise planet, right up until the one she recorded yesterday before I usurped her place, and one thing is achingly, spectacularly clear.

 

She loves him.

 

In the log she recorded on their return from New Earth, she looks brittle, dazed, as though she’s on the verge of cracking. It makes me wonder if I looked that way, too. She says she and her first officer became close while stranded on the planet. She says she expects it will be difficult to adjust to their return to Voyager. I don’t remember saying anything particularly different in my first log after we got back.

 

But it was different for us. We may have come close, but unlike them, we never crossed that barrier.

 

I wonder what tipped the balance for her, that other me? A slightly more lingering gaze, a touch, a few altered words in a legend? Because, looking back, I suspect that’s all it would have taken for me.

 

Sometime later, that other Kathryn Janeway also changed her mind. It’s clear to me – from the pinched and haunted look to her – that on their return to Voyager, she and her Chakotay also broke off whatever had come to life between them. On my second viewing of her logs, I intuit that the moment it changed must have occurred when they went back in time to the real Earth. Something happened that made her stop pushing him away. In her first log after those events, she’s excited, on a high from being among humans again, but it’s more than that. She looks at peace.

 

I replay her log from Stardate 50525, just after the alien that looked like my father tried to entice me – her – into his matrix. Her face is schooled, composed, but she can’t hide the sparkle in her eyes. Chakotay asked me to marry him, she says, and then the smile she can’t suppress lights up her face like a sunrise. I said yes. There will no doubt be opinions on this, when we get home, but I want this with all my heart. If Command sees fit to reprimand me for my decision, I’ll willingly accept their censure. It will be worth it.

 

They were married a few days later, according to her logs, by the local authorities on a friendly M-class planet. Almost the entire crew was in attendance, and Tuvok stood up with her in her father’s place.

 

In the log she recorded yesterday, she implies that they’ve been discussing whether to have children.

 

I down my glass of wine and get up to pace, restless. I don’t know what to think.

 

After they were married, she and her Chakotay instituted a new command protocol, enabling the second officer and the CMO to relieve one or both of them of command if, in certain circumstances, it was agreed their personal attachment had compromised their ability to lead the ship. It’s a wise move, I think, though that other captain seems confident it’s an unnecessary one. I wonder how she can be so sure, so certain she would able to order her husband on a suicide mission, or that he would be able to put the good of the ship above her personal safety.

 

I wonder if I could be so sure.

 

And what about my first officer? Could he make the hard call, if it came down to it? If my life was weighed against the lives of the crew, would he make the right decision?

 

“Janeway to Chakotay.”

 

I’ve already activated my commbadge before I even knew what I was going to do.

 

~Chakotay here, Captain. What can I do for you?~

 

I hesitate, and my gaze flicks to the chronometer. It’s almost midnight – surely too late to be summoning him for this kind of conversation.

 

~Kathryn,~ he says over the commlink. ~Are you all right?~

 

“I – never mind, Commander. It’s late. I’m sorry to bother you.”

 

Something he hears in my voice makes him answer, ~I’ll be right there.~

 

Minutes later he’s at the door, dressed in civvies and smoothing his rumpled hair.

 

“I’m sorry. Did I wake you?”

 

“No.” He gives me a small, tight smile. “Sleep isn’t coming easily tonight.”

 

“I’m sorry,” I repeat, pointlessly, and wave him in. “Wine?”

 

“Sure.”

 

“I’ve been watching her personal logs,” I blurt when we’re seated, figuring that now he’s here, I might as well get the answers to the questions I’m burning to ask.

 

He waits while I fidget, working out what to ask first.

 

“What happened on New Earth?”

 

Immediately I cringe, my hands coming up to hide the burn in my cheeks. To my surprise, when I look at him, he’s smiling.

 

“I told her a story,” he begins, his eyes far away.

 

“About an angry warrior, and a woman who led a neighbouring tribe?”

 

“Yes,” he says, looking up in surprise. “You know it?”

 

“I’ve heard it,” I mumble.

 

“But you’re not –” He stops. “Sorry. It’s none of my business.”

 

Yes, it is, really, but I hold myself back from telling him so.

 

“I told her she’d helped me find peace in myself, and that I made a vow to lighten her burdens. She reached out and held my hand. Then I told her I loved her, and she kissed me. She said she loved me too, and then we…” He breaks off, catching my shocked gaze. “What’s wrong?”

 

“That part,” I clench my fingers in my lap, “didn’t happen in my timeline. You – he never said he loved me.”

 

His voice is so quiet I almost don’t hear him. “Can you possibly believe that he doesn’t?”

 

Instead of answering, I tell him that in my reality, the story ended with the warrior finding peace. That I clasped his hand across the table, and that after a moment I got up and went to bed. Alone. And that we never spoke of it again.

 

What I don’t tell him is that over the days and weeks following that night, I found myself no longer able to pretend I only felt friendship for him. I realised I’d been lying to myself for months, since long before we were stranded. I was holding my breath, waiting for the perfect moment to turn to him, to kiss him, to tell him I wasn’t afraid anymore of what was happening between us. That moment never came.

 

He’s quiet for a while after I finish telling him the things that never happened between us. “What are you to each other now?” he asks eventually.

 

“Now?”

 

I think about how to describe the way he and I are, the way our friendship slowly began to sour after Riley Frazier, how it all but disintegrated after the Borg and Species 8472.

 

“The commander and I have a good working relationship,” I answer.

 

“Don’t you even call him by his name?”

 

I have to close my eyes and clench my fists at the desolation in his voice. “Yes. Sometimes.”

 

“I see,” he says. “So you’re not even friends?”

 

“Of course we’re friends,” I snap, defensively. “We’re just – a little estranged, right now.”

 

“Why?”

 

I sigh. “Things have been difficult. We argued, badly, over the Borg alliance. And Seven takes up a lot of my time and energy. He never wanted her on board.”

 

Chakotay tugs on his ear. “To be honest, my Kathryn and I didn’t exactly see eye to eye on that, either.”

 

“How did you get through it?”

 

“We tried not to let the job bleed over into our marriage. We agreed to remember what’s important.” He shrugs. “We just do our best, I guess. Like any other couple.”

 

“You’re lucky.”

 

“We are,” he agrees. “But we work hard at it, too.”

 

“How do you…” I bite my lip. “How do you reconcile knowing that she might have to send you on dangerous missions? Or that one of you might have to let the other die to save the ship?”

 

He turns his body toward me, reaches for my hands. I should pull away, but I don’t. The contact grounds me, and right now I need that.

 

And I don’t need to keep him at arm’s length, the way I do with my – with the Chakotay from my reality.

 

“We talked about that,” he says, softly. “It was one of her greatest fears that she’d lose me on a mission she ordered me to lead. And she was afraid I might not be able to choose the ship over her, if it came to that.” He squeezes my hands gently. “In the end, we decided it was worth the risk. If one of us lost the other, at least we wouldn’t regret wasting the time we had together.”

 

That’s all it takes. Tears well up in my eyes and I squeeze them shut before any can spill over. My throat aches and I can’t look at him.

 

“Oh, Kathryn.” His voice is so gentle as he brushes a thumb over my cheekbone. “When you get home, promise me you’ll be open to something more between you. You’ve seen what you could be to each other. Don’t let yourself wake up one day and realise all you have left is regret.”

 

=/\=

I can’t make any such promise, of course. This Chakotay is not my first officer, and I am not the same woman he married. And even if I could be, it may well be too late. I don’t even know if what he feels for me now is anything close to the way he evidently used to.

 

The possibility of what we could once have been hurts, though, and I toss and turn for hours in that bed after he’s gone.

 

I’m up early the next morning, so after quickly downing a coffee I head straight down to engineering to check on B’Elanna’s team. I’m unsurprised to find that she and Seven have pulled an all-nighter. They’ve been working on the theory that Voyager could direct a subspace differential pulse into the fissure in hope of detecting the quantum signature of the other universe, and Seven had an idea sometime in the early hours of the morning that aligning the frequency of a transporter beam to the pulse might allow me to transport back to my own reality. It’s still theoretical but it has promise, so I roll up my sleeves and pitch in.

 

By midday, we’ve run a dozen successful simulations and we’re ready to give it a trial run. Chakotay leaves Tuvok in charge of the bridge and joins us in the transporter room. A bio-container sits on the transporter pad while B’Elanna finishes modifying the targeting scanners, then nods to me. “We’re ready.”

 

“Do it,” I order.

 

Seven, at the auxiliary station, activates the differential pulse. “I am detecting a breach in the quantum rift,” she reports. “Scanning for quantum signatures…” A few moments later, she says, “I have located the quantum signature that matches Captain Janeway’s.”

 

I nod to B’Elanna.

 

“Energising,” she says. “The matter stream is entering the rift. It’s destabilising.”

 

“Adjust the annular confinement beam.” I’m standing over her shoulder, eyes glued to the console.

 

“Compensating for the quantum flux… Transport complete, Captain.”

 

“Location?”

 

“As far as I can tell it’s exactly where it’s supposed to be, but the breach isn’t stable, Captain. I can’t absolutely guarantee we hit the mark.”

 

I rub absently at my temple. “Let’s incorporate a homing beacon into another bio-container and try it again. We need to be sure.”

 

“Captain,” Chakotay interrupts, eyes on me, “may I see you for a moment?”

 

I give him a short nod and follow him out of the transporter room.

 

“Headache?” he asks as we pace along the corridor.

 

“Mm,” I answer non-committally.

 

“You haven’t eaten yet today, have you?”

 

I give him a mild glare.

 

He takes me by the elbow and steers me into the turbolift. “Deck two.”

 

“I don’t have time for lunch, Commander.”

 

“Make time,” he returns. I raise an eyebrow at him, and he grins, although it doesn’t quite reach his eyes. “Sometimes that works on her.”

 

“I’m not her,” I retort, but as we step out onto deck two, I don’t object as he steers me into the mess hall.

 

Neelix’s special is actually quite edible today. We eat mostly in silence, each of us preoccupied with thoughts we don’t care to share. As we walk back to the transporter room, Chakotay’s steps slow.

 

“What is it?”

 

He checks that the hallway is empty, then faces me. “From what I’ve gathered, even if you’re successful in returning to your own universe, there’s no guarantee that my Kathryn will return to mine.”

 

I meet his gaze. “No, there isn’t. This is a theoretical science, Chakotay. It’s not like we have a lot of experience with alternate quantum realities.”

 

“You could stay here,” he says quietly.

 

“You know I can’t do that.” I stare at him. “It would contaminate the timeline in my universe, as well as yours.”

 

He scrubs his hand over his forehead. “I know. And I want my Kathryn back, desperately. I’m just afraid…”

 

“What?” My hand rests on his arm. He looks down at it.

 

“What if I lose you both?”

 

It’s my turn to glance both ways, making sure the corridor is still empty. It is, so I lean up and press my lips to his cheek. He folds his arms around me and for a brief moment I close my eyes, drinking in the feel and the scent of him. Then he loosens his hold and I step back.

 

“Let’s go,” I say quietly, and we enter the transporter room.

 

B’Elanna looks up from the transporter controls. “The homing beacon transmitted a signal for a moment before the breach went into a state of flux again. It confirmed the transport was successfully completed and the bio-container rematerialised in the other quantum universe. We’re as ready as we’ll ever be, Captain.”

 

“The rift is continuing to fluctuate,” Seven points out. “There is still a risk that another transport will not reach the desired coordinates.”

 

“It’s a risk we have to take,” I decide, stepping onto the platform. I nod to B’Elanna. “Energise when ready.”

 

“Initiating transport,” she replies.

 

As the beam takes hold of me I turn one last time to Chakotay, our gazes locking through the mist of dematerialisation. Something passes between us – acknowledgement, affirmation? – and then, as the image of him fades, a blank, horrific agony takes hold of me, and everything goes dark.

© 2021 by Mia Cooper