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

4. Things We Lost On the Way - Chakotay (II)

Stardate 51133.4

 

Nobody gets through life without losing a few things on the way.

 

 

I wake up swinging.

 

Firm hands grasp me by the wrists as a voice speaks to me urgently, but it’s not until I feel the hiss of a hypospray and the cool soak of the sedative blurring my veins that I finally stop struggling. My breath is still coming in harsh gasps, but my eyes are gradually coming into focus.

 

“You’re safe, Commander,” the Doctor has been saying to me, over and over, I realise. “You’re in sickbay. You’re all right.”

 

A shudder passes through me. “What’s happened?” I manage. “Have the Borg taken the ship?”

 

“The Borg?” Doc stares at me, then exchanges a glance with Ayala, who I now realise is standing on the other side of my biobed.

 

Ayala.

 

He’s alive.

 

I’m no longer in that reality – the reality in which I watched Kathryn assimilated in front of me.

 

I jerk upright again at the awfulness of that memory, then hold my hands up as Ayala steps forward. “Stand down, Lieutenant. I’m okay.”

 

I’m home.

 

I pass a shaky hand over my face, take a deep breath, and ask, “Where’s the captain? Is she all right?”

 

“The captain is on the bridge,” the Doctor replies. “And as far as I know, she’s perfectly fine.”

 

“What am I doing here?”

 

“You materialised in transporter room one in a highly agitated state and were immediately transported here, where I sedated you. What happened on the planet, Commander?”

 

“Planet?”

 

“Yes. The planet you and Crewman Carlson were surveying. Your shuttle ran into trouble and you both had to be extracted. You’ll be pleased to know that the shuttle has been retrieved without irreparable damage.”

 

“I haven’t been planetside for weeks,” I tell the Doctor slowly. “And the shuttle was destroyed.”

 

The Doc frowns, picking up his tricorder and scanning me. “Hmm,” he says, then turns his head aside and calls, “Kes, bring me the neural scanner.”

 

My heart takes a pogo-leap into my stomach.

 

Kes?

 

“Doctor, forget about my brain. You need to scan me at the cellular level. I’m pretty sure you’ll find that my quantum signature is incompatible with this plane of reality.”

 

Doc’s eyebrows climb into where his hairline should be. “Interesting,” he mutters, adjusting his tricorder.

 

Kes appears at his side, her sweet face creased with concern, and I can’t help it – I reach for her hand. “It’s so good to see you,” I tell her softly.

 

“Thank you, Commander,” she says in surprise, then cocks her head to one side, her blue eyes sharpening with understanding. “Doctor, the commander is correct. He’s from another Voyager. Another universe.”

 

The Doctor finishes scanning me and snaps his tricorder shut. “So it seems. Do you have any idea how this happened, Commander?”

 

“Some. But I think the captain should hear this, too.” I tap my commbadge. “Chakotay to Janeway.”

 

~Janeway here.~

 

“Captain, would you come to sickbay, please?”

 

There’s a brief hesitation, then she replies, ~On my way.~

 

She enters moments later, and when I look at her all I can see is her double’s eyes in the instant that the nanoprobes took her from me. My heart lurches again and I have to swallow hard and clamp my fists around the edge of the bed to stop my hands from shaking. She glances at me for a moment, then turns her attention to the EMH.

 

“Report, Doctor.”

 

“Commander Chakotay claims he is from an alternate universe, Captain. According to my scans, he is correct.” It’s about as succinct as the Doctor ever gets.

 

Kathryn’s gaze finds me again, and something chills me. The coolness, the sheer disinterest in it makes my stomach tighten.

 

I don’t think I’ve ever seen her look at me like that before.

 

“Explain, Commander,” she orders, folding her arms.

 

“We were on an away mission yesterday,” I begin – God, was it only yesterday? – “surveying an M-class planet. Our shuttle encountered a quantum rift and the warp core overloaded. I lost consciousness, and when I woke up I was in an alternate reality.”

 

Her mouth tightens. Still watching me, she asks abruptly, “Doctor, have you scanned him for neural damage?”

 

My chin jerks back.

 

Even the Doctor appears disconcerted at what I can only describe as the contempt lacing her tone. “I was about to, Captain, but then the commander supplied me with this alternative explanation, which I confirmed.”

 

“Do it anyway,” she says.

 

I start to speak, but she raises her hand and turns away from me. “Now, Doctor.”

 

Anger starts to build in me, and I tamp it down with effort. “I’m not brain-damaged, Captain. I’m telling you what happened. I was on another Voyager in another quantum universe. And now I’ve somehow appeared in yet another version of reality.”

 

The Doctor finishes his scan. “No sign of neural trauma, Captain.”

 

She nods. “You’re excused, Doctor.”

 

The EMH backs away, followed by Kes.

 

Kathryn stalks up to my biobed, and needing the security of feeling my feet on the ground, I stand to face her.

 

“Do you have any theories about how you’ve apparently managed to travel between quantum realities, Commander?”

 

“Possibly,” I answer, staring down at her. “Are you willing to listen to them?”

 

“Oh, I’m always willing to listen to you, Commander,” she fires back, and the sheer venom in her voice makes my mouth go dry. “Even when it goes against my better judgment.”

 

It’s then that I understand. Something in this universe has gone horribly wrong between this Kathryn and her Chakotay, and she’s far too angry with him to distinguish me from that other version of me.

 

I’ve got my anger under control, though, so I keep my voice even when I answer her. “Captain, could we continue this discussion elsewhere?” I glance over at the Doctor’s office, where he and Kes have wisely retreated.

 

She nods sharply. “My ready room.”

 

She’s silent in the turbolift, but I can practically feel the ice crackling from her. It’s no better when we enter the ready room and she flicks her hand toward the couch, clearly bidding me to sit. She, however, remains standing. It strikes me that this version of Kathryn needs, and uses, every tool available to her to distance herself from me. To remind me – him – of that distance.

 

I think about my Kathryn, about the tenuous grip we currently have on our friendship, and I wonder what it would take to tip the scales into the kind of cold war these two are apparently waging.

 

It scares me.

 

She’s not my Kathryn.

 

“Well, Commander, this silence is very restful, but I’m quite busy at the moment, so unless you’re going to start talking soon…”

 

I drag my wandering mind back to the woman standing in front of me. “Sorry, Captain. I’m a little unsettled.” Gathering my thoughts, I launch right into it. “In my universe, you and I were on our way to an uninhabited planet to find food supplies. We ran into a quantum fissure. It caused a warp core breach.”

 

“And somehow, as you say, you ended up in a different universe?” She almost looks bored.

 

“I think it has something to do with the transporters.” I try to keep my voice even, calm. “Just before the core breach, we contacted Voyager to let them know we were in trouble. I lost consciousness, but if I know Tuvok at all, he would have ordered us beamed out immediately. And when I appeared in this universe, it was immediately after another transport attempt.”

 

I decide it’s unnecessary to tell her, at this point, that it was a Borg transporter beam that sent me here. That somewhere out there, another Voyager, another crew, is being assimilated as we speak.

 

“I see,” she clips out. “This is an interesting diversion, Commander, but I fail to see the point –”

 

“I’m not making this up, Kathryn,” I snap, rising from my seat.

 

Instantly she steps up to me, eyes flashing steel. “You’ll address me as Captain.”

 

I stare at her. I don’t know what to say.

 

“What happened between you two?” I can’t help asking. “In my reality, you and I are friends. We’ve had our differences, especially recently, but –”

 

“You know very well what happened,” she says, her voice deadly quiet. “You wilfully disobeyed my orders. You deliberately chose a course of action counter to my intentions as soon as I was out of commission. You conspired against me with members of the senior staff. In the Alpha quadrant you’d have been court-martialled for mutiny, Chakotay.”

 

The bitter emphasis she places on my name when she speaks it for the first time is as galling as her accusations.

 

And then I understand.

 

“You made a deal with the devil,” I murmur, half to myself. “And it failed.”

 

“It failed,” she fires back, her voice dropping even lower, “because you didn’t trust me.”

 

Kathryn.” I step up, catching her cold hands in mine – and it’s so her that she neither stiffens nor flinches – pitching my voice to a level of urgency that my Kathryn would never - could never - ignore. “I’m not him. Whatever he did, it wasn’t me.” I stare at her, willing her to believe me. “And there’s nobody I trust more than you.”

 

For the first time, a flicker of doubt clouds her eyes.

 

“I countermanded her orders, yes,” I continue, willing her to understand, “because I felt I had no other option. The Borg demanded we reverse course and finish building the weapon. I refused, and the alliance fell apart. But it was a tactical decision I made based on the situation at hand. There was never a moment when I didn’t trust her judgment.”

 

She searches my eyes.

 

“And yes, she was angry with me when she woke up and discovered we were in fluidic space and no longer had Borg protection from Species 8472,” I finish. “But we came up with a solution together. There was no mutiny.”

 

Fractionally, her shoulders relax. Now that I’m certain she’s listening, I loosen her hands, and they drop to her sides.

 

“And what was that solution?” she asks, her entire attention focused on me as though it’s the most important question she’ll ever ask.

 

“We engaged the aliens in their realm and destroyed a number of them using the nanoprobe weapons. Seven of Nine opened a quantum singularity and returned us to normal space, and then we disconnected her from the Collective using a neural link.” I pause. “She’s becoming an asset to the crew, thanks to you – I mean, the other Kathryn Janeway. Nobody else would have believed she could recover her humanity, but you wouldn’t give up on her.”

 

“Seven of Nine? The Borg drone?” She stares at me. “She joined your crew?”

 

“Yes. What happened in this universe?”

 

She hesitates, then puts a hand up to her head – a familiar gesture, and one that I recognise she uses to stall for time. “I’ll need a coffee for this,” she sighs. “Tea?”

 

“Please.”

 

She keys in the order for our drinks in silence then brings them over to the couch. Her expression would appear serene to anyone who doesn’t know her as well as I do, doesn’t study her closely enough to note the tell-tale tightness around her eyes. She takes a couple of bolstering sips and places her cup decisively on the low table.

 

“After I was injured on the Borg cube,” she begins, “the alliance disintegrated, much as it did in your reality, I assume. The drones attempted to disable Voyager and Commander Chakotay spaced them – all of them, including Seven of Nine. They never had a chance to open a singularity into fluidic space, and we never engaged Species 8472. But the Borg sent two cubes after us immediately, and we were forced to flee.”

 

She gives me an even look. “Fortunately for us, the aliens attacked those cubes and we escaped. We set a course away from Borg space. Our last sensor readings indicated that Species 8472 was overpowering the Collective.”

 

“And the conspiracy?” I have to ask. “The mutiny?”

 

“Yes. That.” She picks up her coffee cup, drinks, sets it down with a click. “I decided the best course of action was to re-establish the alliance with the Borg. They were weakened and desperate. We had them at an advantage.” She meets my eyes. “The commander disagreed. He believed the Borg were more likely to assimilate us, and the weapons technology, immediately. He argued that we should find another way home.”

 

“One that circumnavigated Borg space?” That would have added dozens of years to their journey, and that’s a fact that must have churned inside her like bile.

 

“I refused. The commander convinced Tuvok and the Doctor to examine me for psychological unfitness to command.”

 

I can’t help the jerk of my hand at that, the involuntary recoil. Would I have done that, in his place? And if he did it, did he understand what it would do to her? To them?

 

Of course he did. He’s me.

 

“I was placed on involuntary medical leave for three days. The commander ordered the crew to scan for a planet suitable for permanent resettlement.” She stares at me, and I see the banked fury in her eyes, the soul-deep hurt behind it. “When I returned to duty, I was forced to compromise. I agreed to continue on our course around Borg space with the proviso that if we came across a nice comfortable M-class planet, Voyager’s crew would make it their permanent home.”

 

It cuts deep. Almost as deeply as it cuts her. Not because I disagree with that other Chakotay’s ultimatum, but because I understand it. Could even, in the same circumstances, condone it.

 

But to do that to her. To take that away from her – her ship, her one and only goal – well. Now I’m beginning to see why she’s so angry.

 

“What about Kes?” I ask. “In my timeline, her encounters with Species 8472 hyperstimulated her telepathic abilities. She …” I’m not sure how to explain it. I try, “She became something more. A non-corporeal being. In the process of leaving my Voyager, she threw the ship clear of Borg space, ten years closer to the Alpha quadrant. But she’s still here, in your reality.”

 

“You lost your Kes?” For the first time I see an emotion other than hurt or anger in this Kathryn’s eyes. Clearly, she’s as close to her Kes as my captain was to ours. And given her loss of trust in her two right-hand men, her former friends and allies, I wonder if she relies on Kes even more than my Kathryn did.

 

I nod.

 

The breath she takes in borders on a shudder. “Kes has been experiencing some unusually heightened abilities since we met Species 8472. Telekinesis, telepathy… She knew about you right away, didn’t she?”

 

“Apparently so.”

 

I see it, the fear that her Kes will be taken from her in the same way, and hard on the heels of that the realisation that in my timeline, thanks to Kes, we not only made our escape from the Borg but managed to get so much closer to home. A home that, for her, is fast becoming a failed and distant dream.

 

“All right,” she says eventually, fighting back the emotions I can see in her eyes. “All right, I believe you. So you said you think these quantum shifts occur when you undergo a transport. I’d like you to work with B’Elanna to see if there’s a way to determine exactly where another transport attempt would send you to. Perhaps we can direct the beam to your home universe.”

 

“Thank you.”

 

She stands, and I stand with her. “I’ll call a senior staff briefing and inform them of your situation,” she says, turning for the door.

 

“Kathryn, wait.”

 

She stops, looks up at me.

 

I’m not sure she’ll even want to hear this, but I have to try. “I just want you to know that disobeying your orders, undermining your authority – he would not have done that lightly. He would have believed it was the only option. And he’d have done it for the ship.” I soften my voice. “He never would have wanted to hurt you. If I know him at all, it’s got to be poisoning him inside.”

 

She looks stricken. “It doesn’t matter, though, does it?” she almost whispers. “It’s done, and nothing can change that. He took my ship, and I can never trust him again. Him or Tuvok or the Doctor.”

 

And she’s right: nothing can change it. So I nod, and she lets the command mask settle over her pained, exquisite features, and pivots on her heel.

 

=/\=

“Okay,” B’Elanna says, her fingers drumming on the conference table. “So somewhere out there is a quantum fissure, and it’s interacting with the transporters in some way that’s causing Chakotay to shift realities.” She almost looks exasperated when she levels her stare at me. “You know, it was supposed to be my day off tomorrow. I had holodeck time booked.”

 

“Sorry.” I can’t help grinning.

 

“Oh, what the hell,” she mutters. “It makes a change from kicking your ass at hoverball.”

 

“Captain,” Tuvok interrupts. “I believe studying the Starfleet database could assist. The Enterprise encountered a similar anomaly several years ago. One of their crewmembers also experienced shifting quantum states.”

 

“Of course.” Kathryn’s eyes light up. Scientific mystery – the only thing I’ve seen bring back the Kathryn I know; the Kathryn she must have been before her two closest friends backhanded her. “I’ll study the logs in my ready room. Harry, scan for the quantum rift and transfer all sensor data to my console. Tom, you have the bridge. Dismissed.”

 

She’s halfway out the door before anyone gathers enough wits to speak. I catch Tom and Harry exchanging a look that’s full of trepidation.

 

Tuvok rises from his seat. “Captain, I am currently scheduled for bridge duty.”

 

She barely bothers to glance at him over her shoulder. “Good. You can assist Harry with his scans, then. Stations, people.”

 

And she’s gone, leaving behind her a roomful of stunned disbelief.

 

Tom’s eyes cut to Tuvok, then to me. “Uh, so, should I take the bridge, sir?” It’s not entirely clear which of us he’s asking.

 

Tuvok appears as unflappable as ever. “That is what the captain ordered, Mr Paris. Mr Kim, perhaps we should begin by initiating scans for tachyon and chroniton particles.”

 

“Yes, sir,” Harry stumbles. He’s clearly mortified, more for Tuvok than himself. Kathryn has always been adept at the subtle reminder that she’s the one in command, but I’ve never before seen her display such casual malice.

 

If the timelines in this universe match up with mine, it’s been six weeks since the failed Borg alliance. I’ve always known Kathryn can hold a grudge. But if she’s this angry with Tuvok and her Chakotay six weeks after the fact, I can only imagine the venom she must have been spitting right after it happened.

 

Tuvok, naturally, takes it on the chin, merely nodding to Harry and striding, measured, past him onto the bridge. Taking his cue, I meet B’Elanna’s eyes and tilt my head at the door. She follows me silently to the turbolift.

 

“So,” she says diffidently after I’ve called for deck eleven, “you’re not Chakotay, huh?”

 

“Oh, I’m Chakotay. Just not the one you’re used to, I guess.”

 

“What’s different about you?” She turns to look me up and down, her eyes frank with curiosity. “You look the same. Do you have that scar? The one from the ambush on Trelka?”

 

I show her, and her eyebrows arch.

 

“So I guess that means you remember that brunette you picked up at the bar after we dispatched the Cardies?”

 

“Her name was Dalma,” I answer her. “And she was blonde.”

 

B’Elanna nods – apparently I’ve passed her test - then grins. “Some things never change.”

 

I send her a sour look for form’s sake as the ‘lift doors open into engineering. “Speaking of blonds,” I lower my voice, “how are things going with Paris?”

 

“Tom Paris?” She snorts. “Exactly what things are you referring to?”

 

I raise an eyebrow at her, and she bristles. “Look, I don’t know what insanity happened in your universe, but in this one, I wouldn’t touch Tom Paris with a Ferengi energy whip.”

 

“Whatever you say,” I answer mildly as we step onto the internal lift to the upper level. “Shall we get started, Lieutenant?”

 

“Immediately,” she mutters, and stabs at her console.

 

Harry comms engineering a little while later to inform us that he’s located the quantum rift, and that it appears to have somehow been breached. I’m not surprised that B’Elanna quickly confirms that the cause of the breach was the warp energy output of a Starfleet shuttle, and that the activation of a transporter was somehow, in both cases, the trigger for my shifting quantum realities.

 

“But what about the captain?” I ask her. “She was in the Tereshkova with me when we hit the quantum barrier. Why didn’t she shift realities with me?”

 

B’Elanna stops what she’s doing and turns to me, eyes wide. “How do you know she didn’t?”

 

“What are you talking about? She’s not here, is she?”

 

“No,” she agrees. “But theoretically, there exists an infinite number of possible alternate universes on different planes of reality. What if she was transported to one of them – but not the one you ended up in?”

 

“She could be anywhere.” The realisation makes me swallow, hard.

 

“Well, there’s nothing we can do about her right now,” says B’Elanna, practical to the end. “Let’s focus on figuring out how you get back to your universe.”

 

She taps her commbadge. “Torres to Janeway.”

 

~Janeway here. I’m in the turbolift, B’Elanna. I’ll be there in a moment.~

 

Kathryn appears at the upper-level engineering workstation a minute later, PADD in hand. “According to the Enterprise’s logs,” she launches in without preamble, “a subspace differential pulse directed at the rift might detect the quantum signature of the originating universe.”

 

“I was just thinking the same thing,” B’Elanna says, and they share an approving glance. “It’ll take about fifteen minutes to realign the main deflector dish.”

 

“All right. I’ll return to the bridge. Contact me when you’re ready to initiate the pulse.”

 

With a brief nod to me, Kathryn exits.

 

I watch B’Elanna tinkering with her console for a minute or two, until I can no longer contain myself. “I have to ask you a question.”

 

“Shoot.”

 

There’s no delicate way to ask this. “Whose side were you on?”

 

B’Elanna’s fingers falter, then rest on the console. She bows her head. “You know,” she says slowly, not bothering to pretend she doesn’t know what I’m talking about, “I didn’t want to take sides. I mean, you’re my best friend on this ship. I’ve always trusted you. I’d die for you.” She casts me a sidelong glance, clearly discomfited by her own emotions. “But she’s the captain, Chakotay. As you once pointed out.”

 

I wait, and finally she sighs, squares her shoulders. “I followed her orders, okay? Hers. And I can barely even look at you because of that.”

 

To be honest, I wasn’t expecting that. B’Elanna Torres, Maquis, half-cocked half-Klingon, siding with a Starfleet captain when her own best friend - and former captain – staged what effectively amounted to a – however well-intentioned - mutiny?

 

And all I can think is, thank the spirits Kathryn had her loyalty. Because I’m not sure she’d still be standing if she’d been crushed under the weight of yet another betrayal.

 

For that alone, I want to hug B’Elanna. Knowing it would embarrass her deeply, I restrain myself.

 

“You did the right thing, Torres,” I tell her quietly.

 

She dips her head again, but slowly her shoulders relax.

 

“Thanks,” she answers, barely audibly.

 

After a minute her fingers start moving on the console again. “We’re ready,” she says in her normal voice. “Torres to bridge.”

 

~Janeway here.~

 

“The deflector is ready to emit the pulse, Captain.”

 

~Good work, Lieutenant. Send the data to Mr Kim’s station so we can monitor it from here.~

 

“Transfer complete,” B’Elanna confirms. “Initiating the pulse.”

 

We watch as the readings come in. “There,” B’Elanna says with satisfaction. “Captain, we’ve been able to detect one hundred and thirty-seven separate quantum signatures through the breach. I’ve identified the one that matches Chakotay’s.”

 

~Well done,~ comes the reply. ~Any suggestions on how to transfer the commander back?~

 

“Captain, if I may?” I cut in. “It’s almost 2300 hours. I suggest we start working on a plan after we’ve all had some rest.”

 

~All right, Commander,~ she answers after a brief pause. ~Lock it down, Lieutenant. We’ll meet in the briefing room at 0800.~

 

“Aye, Captain,” we chorus.

 

I rest my hand on B’Elanna’s shoulder. “Thanks,” I tell her, and I mean it for more than her efforts on my behalf.

 

“Anytime, Chakotay,” she says softly. “Good night.”

 

I realise how exhausted I am as I walk slowly to the turbolift. Every time I close my eyes, however briefly, all I can see is Kathryn’s pale, perfect skin marbling with Borg nanoprobes and the essence of her fading from her blue eyes. The same Kathryn who kissed me so sweetly, so enticingly, will now never kiss her Chakotay again.

 

I wonder where he is, her Chakotay. Did he somehow shift to my universe, to take my place? Will he, somehow, return to his own to find his Kathryn and his Voyager lost to the Collective?

 

And what about the Chakotay of this universe – where is he? And if, by some miracle, he makes it back here – what then?

 

I wonder if he can ever make up for his betrayal.

 

I wonder if his captain will ever forgive him.

 

I’ll never be able to ask him what was going through his mind when he conspired to take her command. But it occurs to me that there’s someone else I can ask.

 

“Deck six,” I order the turbolift.

 

“Commander Chakotay,” Tuvok greets me when he’s granted my entrance to his quarters. “How may I assist you?”

 

He inclines his head toward a chair in silent invitation, and I take it, feeling the heaviness settle in my bones as my body moulds to its contours. Tuvok, dressed in Vulcan robes, snuffs his meditation candle and sits silently opposite me, his dark eyes waiting.

 

“I want to know how you justified it,” I start abruptly. “What logic you used to convince yourself it was the right course of action.”

 

He, like B’Elanna, doesn’t bother to pretend ignorance.

 

“I assume you’re aware of the events that led to the commander’s decision to question Captain Janeway’s fitness to command.”

 

I nod.

 

“The captain proposed that she take a shuttle, alone, back into Borg territory to re-establish the attempted alliance. My objection to that plan was based on serious concerns for her safety.”

 

Yes. Well, that’s not unexpected. From either of them.

 

“However, I did not support the commander’s insistence that she report to sickbay for examination until the captain threatened to have him removed to the brig. Upon voicing my protest, the captain excused me from duty. She then ordered Lieutenant Paris to assume command of Voyager and hold position on the outskirts of Borg space until she returned from her away mission, and Lieutenant Torres to download the specifications for the nanoprobe weapons into the shuttle’s computer. When I reiterated my objections, the captain ordered Lieutenant Rollins to accompany the commander and me to the brig.”

 

“She felt that you backed her into a corner.”

 

“Perhaps. I fail to see another course of action I could have taken.”

 

“What happened then?”

 

“The captain then ordered Ensign Kim to prepare the Cochrane for launch. Commander Chakotay belayed that order and contacted the Doctor, requesting that he immediately transport the captain to sickbay. He did so. When the commander and I reached sickbay, it became apparent that the captain had refused a medical examination. The Doctor was attempting to reason with her, without success.”

 

“I’m surprised she didn’t just deactivate him.”

 

“I believe she was intending to do so. However, the commander and I arrived in time to prevent it. The commander explained the captain’s intentions to the Doctor, who invoked Medical Protocol 121, section A.”

 

The regulation allowing the chief medical officer to relieve a captain of command due to medical unfitness or seriously impaired judgment. I imagine her reaction and can’t hide a wince. No wonder Doc appears completely cowed by her now.

 

“The Doctor diagnosed no medical condition preventing the captain from effectively undertaking her duties. However, it was his opinion – and mine – that she was operating under an extreme level of stress, and that this was affecting her judgment.”

 

Your opinion?” Did that mean –

 

“At Commander Chakotay’s request, I initiated a mind-meld with Captain Janeway.”

 

It knocks me sideways, I don’t mind admitting. When I can speak again – and even after several minutes of struggling, my voice comes out hoarse - I ask, “With her permission?”

 

Anyone who tells me Vulcans have no emotions can go right to hell, because the regret, the soul-deep pain I read in Tuvok’s dark eyes in that moment will live with me for the rest of my days.

 

“The captain threatened to strip both the commander and myself of rank permanently if I proceeded. Given the disconcerting nature of her other recent statements, as well as her intention to return to Borg space alone, I judged the mind-meld a necessary action despite her strongly voiced objections.”

 

And now I truly understand the depth of Kathryn’s bitter, aching fury. Her second in command took her ship, and her oldest friend helped himself to her inner thoughts. For someone as private, as dependent on her ability to conceal herself as she is, it’s the ultimate betrayal.

 

“How is it that the two of you are still serving on this ship?” Not to mention still breathing, I add silently.

 

“That decision was Captain Janeway’s.”

 

And if I’m not mistaken, the Vulcan is as surprised by that as I am. But then, when I think about it… For her, it’s always the ship and the crew that come first. Her own discomfort comes a long way down her list of priorities, and no matter how she resents them, she’d know that stripping her first and second officers of rank would unnerve the crew, perhaps cause them to lose confidence in her. And there’s no denying that Tuvok’s tactical abilities have saved this ship on many occasions. In hostile space, she’d need him.

 

And as for me – or rather, that other Commander Chakotay – well, the unease between the Starfleet crew and the former Maquis may have been put to bed long ago, but relieving him of rank and duty would polarise the crew. Particularly if she did it out of perceived spite or anger, or a sense of personal betrayal.

 

She’d been backed into a corner, all right. One she couldn’t fight her way out of.

 

I can’t be here anymore. I’m not sure what I want more: to throw myself at Kathryn’s feet and apologise on behalf of her turncoat first officer, or simply smash Tuvok’s expressionless Vulcan face. I need to think. I need to sleep, but I’m not counting on that happening anytime soon.

 

I stand, and Tuvok stands with me. A short nod is all I can manage before I move toward the door.

 

“Commander.”

 

I stop and wait.

 

“It may interest you to know that the Commander Chakotay indigenous to this universe, while regretful that his personal relationship with the captain has been damaged, is still of the belief that his decision was the correct one.”

 

“Cold comfort, Mr Tuvok,” I reply without turning my head, and I step out into the empty corridor.

 

=/\=

As expected, sleep doesn’t come easily, and when I arrive at the senior officers’ briefing in the morning, my limbs feel deadened and my eyes gritty with fatigued unease.

 

“The transporter is definitely the key,” B’Elanna explains, hunching forward over the conference table when the captain asks for her report. “The Doctor’s scans of Chakotay showed high levels of chronitons and tachyons in his system, probably as a result of his shuttle’s warp energy creating a breach in the rift. Something about initiating a transport near the rift is interacting with those energy particles and pushing him into a state of quantum instability. Unfortunately I can’t tell you what that something is, yet.”

 

“According to the Enterprise logs, Lieutenant Worf’s quantum travelling was triggered by the subspace field pulse emitted by Commander LaForge’s visor.” Kathryn taps her fingers on the table. “The transporter converts matter into energy by destabilising it at the quantum level. My guess is that conversion process is what’s causing the reality shift.”

 

B’Elanna nods, clearly intrigued. “I could test that theory by injecting a biospecimen with chroniton and tachyon particles and transporting it into the rift. There’s no way of knowing where it would end up, though.”

 

“It’s a place to start.” Kathryn stands. “You have my authority to pull in any extra hands you need, B’Elanna. Dismissed.”

 

As I stand to leave, she looks up at me. “Stay a moment, Commander?”

 

When the room is empty, she moves over to the viewport, one hand on her hip as she stares out at the stars. “Captain?” I prompt her.

 

She doesn’t turn as she asks in a voice so hollow, so weary, it makes me want to fold her into my arms. “What would you have done, Chakotay? If you were in his position.”

 

It’s the question I’ve been torturing myself with ever since I heard her side of the story, and even more so since I listened to Tuvok’s version.

 

“I don’t know,” I answer her honestly. “I’d like to think that you and I would have found a better way to handle it than this.”

 

“Like you did with your version of me?” She dips her head fractionally.

 

“The circumstances were different,” I demur. “And I’m not saying we handled it well. We lost a little faith in each other and we’re still working on getting it back. But you’re right – we didn’t let it destroy us. Neither our working relationship nor our friendship.”

 

And if the sentiment is a little overstated, a little too sanitised – well, at least neither of us intended that kind of destruction.

 

I watch her pale hand rise to rub at her forehead. “Sometimes I wish –” she starts, then shakes her head. “Well. It’s too late now.”

 

“It isn’t too late.” I step closer, resting my hand on her fragile shoulder. But I feel the twitch of muscles as she stiffens, drawing away from me, and it pains me to realise that for him, for them, it might be.

 

“Well.” She turns to me with a facsimile of her practised smile. “I’m going to head down to engineering and see if B’Elanna could use a hand. Why don’t you take the bridge?”

 

She already moving away when I answer, “Aye, Captain.”

 

=/\=

I’m wolfing down a quick dinner in the mess hall while I wait for B’Elanna’s latest report, when the ship goes to red alert.

 

I’m halfway out the door by the time my discarded fork has finished clattering to the table. Paris, who’d been a couple of tables away with one of the Delaneys, follows hard on my heels. We share a grim and silent exchange as the turbolift rises to the bridge. Inside, my guts are churning, knowing it’s most likely the Borg.

 

We step out onto a bridge bathed in controlled tension and a white-lipped captain. “Species 8472,” she clips out the moment our eyes meet. “A quantum singularity just opened less than a light year away. Three bioships.”

 

“Time to intercept?” I’m already vaulting down toward my chair.

 

“Less than ten minutes.”

 

“The nanoprobe weapons?” I turn my attention to Tuvok’s station.

 

“Four type-6 photon torpedoes have been modified to incorporate nanoprobes. We were unable to obtain enough nanoprobes during our brief alliance with the Borg to modify any additional warheads.”

 

Four torpedoes. Three bioships. Even for a tactical officer of Tuvok’s efficiency, those aren’t great odds.

 

And that’s assuming Species 8472 hasn’t already developed a defence against nanoprobe technology.

 

“Eight minutes to intercept,” Harry reports, his voice threaded with anxiety, and I remember that he, of all of us, is fully aware of what contact with one of these aliens can do to frail human bodies.

 

“Captain,” I turn to her, “we need to get Kes up here. The last time we engaged this species she was able to hear their thoughts. We need any kind of edge we can get right now.”

 

She nods. I start to contact Kes, but it’s unnecessary; she’s stepping off the turbolift before I’ve finished, making her way immediately to the command level. “I can hear them,” she says urgently, her face drained of colour.

 

Kathryn urges her to sit in the captain’s chair. “What are they saying?”

 

“They’ve defeated the Borg,” she answers, forehead crinkling in distress. “Captain, they’re systematically seeking out all Borg technology and destroying it. They detected our weapons. They know we attempted to aid the Borg. They’re here to eliminate us.”

 

“Can you communicate with them?” Kathryn crouches before Kes.

 

“I think so.”

 

“Tell them we meant no harm. We were only defending ourselves.”

 

Kes’ face grows strained. “They don’t believe me.”

 

“Four minutes,” Harry cuts in.

 

“Arm torpedoes,” Kathryn snaps out. “Tom, bring us about. Prepare to initiate evasive manoeuvres at your discretion.”

 

“They claim the Borg entered their realm and attacked them,” Kes continues, her face solemn. “They intend to purge this galaxy of inferior life forms.”

 

“The bioships are increasing speed,” Tuvok notes. “They will now intercept us in one point six minutes.”

 

Kathryn nods to Harry to activate the ship-wide comm system. “All hands, ready battle stations and prepare to engage Species 8472.”

 

“All stations ready,” reports Harry.

 

“The bioships are within firing range,” Tuvok says. “They are charging weapons.”

 

“Initiating evasive manoeuvre alpha-three,” Tom calls, and we lurch starboard. Voyager shudders under a glancing blow.

 

“The energy discharge impacted the secondary hull on decks eight and nine. Shields weakening.”

 

“Tuvok, target the nearest bioship with one torpedo,” Kathryn bites out. “Fire when ready.”

 

We watch as a direct hit takes out one of the alien ships. The other two swing around to flank us.

 

“Take them out,” Kathryn orders.

 

Two torpedoes lance out of Voyager’s tubes. One scores a minor hit on the ship to port. The other misses.

 

I exchange a glance with Kathryn. Our odds just grew dire.

 

“Phasers,” I order Tuvok. “Keep them distracted. Paris, try manoeuvring us into a better position. We’ll need to take them both out with one shot.”

 

“Aye,” he mutters, fingers blurring over the helm console. “Tricky bastards.”

 

I turn to the captain, keeping my voice low. “We’re going to need more than this.”

 

“Any suggestions?”

 

“Only one.” I meet her eye. “Transport me to a shuttle. I’ll pilot it directly into one of the ships and overload the warp core. Tuvok can take out the other.”

 

Something flickers in the depths of her eyes. She knows exactly what that means.

 

Still holding my gaze, she says quietly, “Ensign Kim. Lock onto the commander’s commbadge and prepare to transport him directly to the Drake.”

 

I nod at her. “It’s been an honour, Captain.”

 

“The honour is mine, Commander.” She holds herself straight, never wavering.

 

“Energise,” I order Harry, and as the bridge disappears around me, I’m mentally reviewing every step of the suicide mission I’m about to undertake… but before I can rematerialise inside the shuttlecraft, I’m ripped apart by agonising pain. As I lose consciousness, my last despairing thought is the realisation that I’ve failed to save her – save all of them – again.