In a Hundred Lifetimes

Summary: A temporal paradox gives Janeway the chance to reassess the choices she’s made and those she’s going to make, even when the future seems inevitable.

 

Characters: Janeway, Chakotay

Codes: Janeway/Chakotay

 

Disclaimer: Paramount/CBS own all rights to the Voyager universe and its characters, which I am borrowing without permission or intent to profit.

 

Notes: Written for the J/C Cutthroat Fiction competition, Alpha group, Round 2. My prompt was “a good old-fashioned time loop” and for bonus points, only one character was able to remember.

Rated T

One - Fractured
 

In the space between chaos and shape there was another chance.
― Jeanette Winterson


Voyager jolts hard enough to toss Cavit to the deck, and I grab my armrests just in time to prevent a similar fate. The ship is still shuddering as my XO climbs back to his seat.

“What was that?” I’m already calling up readings on the console. Readings that make no sense.

“Unknown,” Ensign Kim calls from the Ops station. “Warp and impulse engines are off-line. Some kind of anomalous energy field is surrounding the ship.”

There’s something familiar about the off-the-wall sensor information I’m getting. A pattern I’ve seen before, perhaps.

“Sir?” Kim raises his voice. “I’m afraid I don’t know you …”

My neck tightens. I could swear I’ve heard Ensign Kim say those exact same words before.

“Captain,” hisses Cavit beside me. I turn in the direction he’s looking and immediately jump to my feet.

There’s a man standing on my bridge, looking around in confusion. A man who doesn’t belong here.

Apprehension snaps along my spine, and I bark out, “Take him into custody.”

Lieutenant Andrews steps up with his phaser at the ready, two other security officers flanking him quickly.

“How did you get aboard this ship?” I demand, moving to the upper level.

And the Maquis terrorist in a Starfleet command uniform stares at me, and in a tone of soft bewilderment he asks, “Kathryn?”

Wait a minute.

He’s not a stranger. I know this man, and I don’t just mean from his intelligence file.

“I didn’t realise we were on a first-name basis,” I growl automatically, but my voice trails off as I continue to stare at him.

Chakotay.

In the middle of the journey of our life, I found myself astray… The voice in my head is so clear, and it’s his voice.

Shaking it off, I step up close to him, cataloguing his slight intake of breath and the way his pupils widen.

“Captain,” he says quietly, “I know this is hard to believe, but I think I’ve somehow been thrown seven years into Voyager’s past –”

I know this. Deep in my bones I know it, and I don’t understand how.

It frightens me, and I break his locked gaze and nod to my security team. “Take him to the brig.”

Chakotay doesn’t protest as two of my officers usher him into the turbolift. As the doors close I meet his eyes again, and the expression in them makes me frown.

I glance down to the command level, where Commander Cavit stands by his chair.

“Captain,” he says, “we have to consider the possibility that there are other members of the Maquis aboard. Internal sensors are off-line.”

I nod. “Organise security teams to run a deck-by-deck search. I’ll deal with our friend in the brig shortly. In the meantime, Ensign Kim, let’s figure out what’s happened to my ship.”

“Aye, Captain.” Kim turns dutifully to his console and I move over to stand beside him, but I’m not concentrating on the readings displayed on the panel.

I’m trying to understand why the Maquis captain looked at me with the kind of deep, abiding affection that only happens when you’ve known and cared about a person for a very long time.

But I’ve never met the man before in my life.

 

===0===


I’ve only been in my ready room for five minutes when the door chimes.

“Enter.”

Lieutenant Stadi steps into my office. “Captain, I’m sorry to bother you.”

“What is it?”

She comes close to my desk and I can see that she’s twisting her hands together, face pale. “It’s the strangest thing,” she says. “I’m picking up mind-chatter from all over the ship, but –”

“But what?”

“I don’t recognise some of the people I’m hearing.”

I’ve learned to take Veronica Stadi’s instincts seriously. “Could it be the Maquis?”

“Possibly. Some of the thought patterns are slightly aggressive.” She shrugs. “I’m not sensing any malicious intent. More … a sense of alertness, of being ready to fight or flee.”

“Can you tell where they’re coming from?”

Stadi frowns, concentrating. “Engineering, I think. It’s hard to be sure.”

I tap my combadge. “Commander Cavit, please come to my ready room. And bring a security team with you.”

Cavit appears a moment later with Foster and Molina in tow.

“Stadi, I want you to make your way down to Engineering. Report back to me at regular intervals. If you pick up anything else, let me know immediately.”

She nods, leading the security officers through the auxiliary door into the corridor, and I wave Cavit to a seat.

“Stadi says she’s picking up thought patterns from people she doesn’t believe are on our crew,” I explain.

“Are we under attack?”

“I don’t know. I can’t imagine how –”

“Captain!” Crewman Foster rushes back through the door without requesting entry. “Lieutenant Stadi just disappeared.”

“Explain.” I’m already on my feet, following Foster into the corridor. Molina is standing by the bulkhead, tricorder in hand. Stadi is nowhere to be seen.

“She was ahead of us,” Foster explains. “When she moved past that bulkhead there was some kind of disturbance, like a ripple in mid-air. She just vanished.”

My helmsman disappeared when she tried to walk down that corridor.

Pressing a hand to my forehead, I try to shake off the unsettling feeling of hearing my own voice in my head, speaking words I don’t recall ever saying. “Scan the perimeter. Don’t let anybody go past that section. Commander,” I nod to Cavit, “let’s get back to the bridge. I need to know what the hell is going on on my ship.”

 

===0===


“It’s some kind of spatial anomaly.” Kim has the lateral sensors online and we’re staring at an image he’s projecting on the main viewer: malevolent brown clouds roiling with purple slashes of lightning. “It’s putting out terajoules of neutronic energy, but sensors can’t penetrate it. There’s no way the Maquis could have done this, Captain.”

“Then why is that man on my ship?” I mutter. Straightening, I address Cavit. “Commander, I’m going to the brig to question our visitor. You have the bridge –”

The turbolift swishes open, and Chakotay steps out – alone, unrestrained and still in Starfleet uniform.

“Where are my officers?” I demand.

“We passed through a temporal barrier, and they disappeared.” The Maquis captain looks faintly amused.

His cavalier attitude ratchets my apprehension into anger. “If you have an explanation for this, Mr Chakotay –”

“I do,” he cuts in. His head tilts to one side as he studies me, and my back stiffens further at the familiarity in that gaze. “Are you willing to hear me out?”

“My ready room,” I order, brushing past him.

Andrews moves to follow but I hold up a hand to stay him. Protocol would dictate that I have a security officer accompany us, but something inside me, something soft and insistent, is telling me that I’m safe alone with this man.

And in case that inner voice is lying, I have a phaser.

 

===0===


It’s relatively easy to believe his preposterous story of a gravimetric surge that time-shattered my ship. I can even accept his assertion that he’s from seven years in my future. Who could make up a tale like that?

He won’t tell me anything of substance, deflecting my questions with an ease that irritates me irrationally. He quotes the temporal prime directive repeatedly until I’m forced to accept that he isn’t going to budge.

What isn’t so easy to accept is that he knows me. He knows things about me, personal things that only those closest to me would know. The way he speaks to me is so familiar – we’re friends, he says. He stands so close, his eyes warm as I scan the hypospray he’s handed me, his mouth quirking into a smile as I question him suspiciously. His gaze continually drifts toward my lips when I speak. He uses my given name, speaks it as though it’s something familiar and precious to him.

Friends. I can’t help wondering if the nature of that friendship is one more thing he isn’t telling the whole truth about.

The hypospray does contain some kind of chroniton-based serum, just as he claims – and just as, somehow, I knew it would. “What are you planning to do with this?”

“It allows me to move into areas of the ship that are existing in other timeframes,” he explains, then hesitates. “If you’ll inject yourself with it, you could come with me.”

I raise my eyebrows. “On the other hand, you could be attempting to kidnap me.”

“To what end?”

“How should I know? Maybe you’ve concocted some kind of plot to take over the ship.”

A dimple appears briefly in his cheek. “Me and my army of Maquis rebels from the future, you mean?”

I place the hypospray on my desk and lean against the edge of it, crossing my arms. “All right, Mr Chakotay, you seem to have this all figured out. What’s your plan?”

“We need to get to the astrometrics lab. It has temporal sensors we can use to –”

I scoff. “And you were doing so well. There is no astrometrics lab on Voyager.” I tap my combadge. “Security to the ready room. Our guest will be returning to the brig.”

I straighten to move away from my desk, and a brown hand shoots out and circles my wrist.

“What do you think you’re –”

“Sorry, Kathryn,” he says grimly, pulling me in close. My back is pressed to his chest, his arm around my waist, immobilising me. He grabs the hypospray and empties it into my neck.

“Let go of me!”

“We don’t have time for this,” he mutters as he drags me toward the auxiliary access door. “If you’d just trust me…”

Trust you!” I start to struggle in earnest and the arm tightens around me. I can feel his breath against my hair.

My ready room door slides open to admit the security team just as Chakotay wrestles me out into the corridor. “I don’t want to hurt you,” the terrorist insists, wincing as my boot heel connects with his shin. “Please, Kathryn.”

Maybe it’s the way he says it – pleading, desperate – or the way he’s holding me; firmly, yes, but carefully, as though he knows I bruise easily. Maybe it’s the inexplicable, unshakeable knowledge rooted deep inside me that despite his actions, this man would never hurt me.

I cease my struggles, and as Lieutenant Andrews rushes toward us I order him to stand down. Then there’s the strangest feeling – cold so intense it feels as though my heart skips a beat – and Chakotay eases his hold on me.

Andrews stops dead and I can see him staring directly at me, face creased in bewilderment. He taps his badge. “Andrews to the bridge. I need help here.”

“Andrews,” I call. “I’m fine.”

Chakotay says, “He can’t hear you.”

I feel the warmth of his breath against my cheek and the rumble of the words in his chest, and I barely suppress a shiver.

“We’ve moved into a different timeframe,” he continues. “The proof is right down that corridor, Kathryn. You just have to trust me.”

Those words. Those words are familiar, and so is the feeling that I can trust him. Still, contrariness prompts me to retort, “How am I supposed to trust you when you just attacked me?”

His arms drop immediately and I step back, turning to look into his face. He looks dismayed. “Did I hurt you?”

“I’m tougher than I look,” I answer, but there’s no bite to my tone.

“I’ve never met anyone tougher,” he says, and that dimple appears again.

I force myself to look away, gesturing to Andrews and Cavit, who’s appeared from the bridge. They’re barely three metres away but it’s clear they can’t see or hear us. “If I understand this correctly, now that I’m inoculated I can pass through these temporal barriers at will.”

“You can.”

“Then I guess I don’t need you anymore.”

I move to push past him and he steps into my path. His hand is on my upper arm, holding me. “Without me,” he says, “you’ll be walking into a future you know nothing about.”

A future you know nothing about.

I can no longer ignore it: this sense of unsettling familiarity. I stare at him, hard.

“What is it?” he frowns at me.

“You said the ship was in a state of temporal flux,” I answer. “Is it possible that this anomaly has created a paradox?”

“What kind of paradox?”

“A time loop.”

“I haven’t experienced that kind of phenomenon.” He raises his eyebrows. “But you’re the quantum physicist.”

“That doesn’t make me an expert in time paradoxes.”

“No,” he answers with a rueful smile, “but you’ve experienced more than your share of temporal incidents. Or at least you will.”

He grins, and I roll my eyes.

“Why do you ask?” he goes on.

“Because ever since the first time you stepped onto my bridge, I’ve had the feeling that it wasn’t the first time at all. I’ve been experiencing déjà vu – things you’ve said and done, things that have happened. The only explanation I can come up with is that somehow, I’ve been here before.”

He looks at me thoughtfully. “A few years ago you had an experience that prompted you to re-evaluate your belief that everything has a scientific explanation. Maybe this is another of those experiences.”

I have no idea what he’s talking about. “Or maybe there’s a perfectly sound, scientific explanation for it after all,” I reply smartly.

Chakotay smiles. “You’ve never been one to let a mystery lie, Kathryn. But asking questions isn’t the only way to get the answers you want. Sometimes you just have to live in the moment.”

“A soldier and a philosopher,” I comment dryly. “Your intelligence file doesn’t do you justice.”

His answering laugh makes me feel irritatingly warm inside.

“Well, Mr Chakotay, I can’t promise not to ask you questions, but I suggest we start trying to put my ship back together.”

Still grinning, he gestures for me to precede him down the corridor.

 

===0===


The young woman with the strawberry-blonde hair stares at me with tears in her eyes. “Captain,” she whispers.

“I’m sorry, I don’t recognise you,” I check her collar, “Lieutenant.”

“It’s me –”

“Naomi Wildman,” I interrupt her, suddenly sure. “Your mother is Ensign Samantha Wildman.”

I can feel Chakotay turning to stare at me. “How did you know that?”

“I don’t know,” I mutter. My gaze drifts to the dark-haired commander beside Lieutenant Wildman. “Your name is Icheb.”

“That’s right,” he says. He’s staring at me too, and at Chakotay. Staring in disbelief and wonder, as if we’re some kind of apparition.

“Something tells me you weren’t expecting to see us,” Chakotay offers.

“You both died seventeen years ago,” Wildman answers starkly.

“How?” I ask. “What year is this?”

“Captain,” Chakotay murmurs. “I think we should respect the temporal prime directive.”

“Yes,” I force myself to say. “You’re right, of course.”

Chakotay addresses Icheb, “We haven’t risen from the grave. The ship’s been fractured into different timeframes.”

“Thirty-seven, to be exact,” Wildman replies, and at my curious glance, adds, “We’ve had seventeen years to upgrade the sensors.”

“A chrono-kinetic surge impacted the warp core,” Icheb explains. “It shattered the space-time continuum throughout the ship.”

“If we can get to the focal point of the surge, maybe we can counteract it,” I suggest.

Wildman is shaking her head. “That section was completely destroyed. If we could find Seven –”

“Seven?”

“She’s likely to be in the cargo bay, if anywhere,” Chakotay chimes in.

I want to ask why, and who this Seven is, but Chakotay’s constant reminders about the temporal prime directive are fresh in my mind. “Lead on, then, Mr Chakotay.”

“Commander,” Icheb calls as we move toward the door.

Commander? I give Chakotay a hard look which he ignores, turning to Icheb with raised eyebrows.

“I just wanted you to know that I never told Neelix where you kept your cider.”

Chakotay sends him a smile. Just as we reach the door, I glance back at Naomi Wildman. She’s biting her lip, staring after the pair of us with an expression of open longing.

We died seventeen years ago in her timeline. She must have been only a child, and she still looks as though she misses us every day.

I wonder what she would do differently if she had the chance.

I wonder what happened to us. How did we die? Why were we – Chakotay and I – together when it happened? Why does this Maquis rebel I’m duty-bound to arrest wear a Starfleet uniform and call me his friend?

 

===0===


“Commander?” I ask Chakotay pointedly as we walk side by side along the corridor.

His hand strays upward to tug his ear.

“It’s your provisional rank,” I add, nodding toward the insignia on his collar. “How did that come about – that you joined Starfleet again? How did those two officers know you?”

He stays silent.

“Mr Chakotay, if you expect me to trust you, I’m going to need at least some answers.”

“Fine.” He sighs, halting to face me. “I’m going to be your first officer.”

I narrow my eyes. “How, exactly, does that come to pass?”

I can see him choosing his words very carefully. “My ship will be sacrificed to protect Voyager from an enemy, and you’ll take my people aboard. Due to certain … circumstances … we’ll be forced to blend our crews.”

“I can’t imagine any circumstance under which that could happen.”

“That’s because the circumstances are unimaginable.” His eyes are serious as he looks down at me. “But we’ll come through it and we’ll thrive, because we have a captain we’d follow to the ends of the universe.”

The intensity in his voice makes me blink.

“You told me you’re from seven years in my future,” I go on slowly. “If that’s true, and you’re my first officer, what happens to Commander Cavit?”

He just looks at me, eyes sad.

I take the blow on the chin. “How many others?” I demand. “How many of my crew are dead in your time?”

“There will be casualties,” he admits, gesturing to me to continue walking. We step into the turbolift. “But we’ll gain new crewmen as well.”

“Like those two officers in Astrometrics?” I think about the young lieutenant. “Naomi Wildman, the daughter of my science officer?”

“Yes. And Icheb – we rescued him from the Borg a couple of years ago.”

“The Borg?”

“He’s not the only one.” The turbolift stops and we step out, the cargo bay doors opening on our approach.

I stop dead. Fear tightens my spine at the sight before me: the dim green glow of luminescence, the alien technology, and –

“What’s happened to this vessel?” demands an imposing cybernetic figure, halting in front of us.

“Maybe you’d better fill me in,” I address Chakotay tightly.

“Captain, meet Seven of Nine, Tertiary Adjunct of Unimatrix Zero-One,” he introduces us. “You rescued her from the Borg four years ago – my timeframe, of course.”

“Are you telling me Voyager’s cargo bay has become a Borg regeneration chamber?” I glare at him. “And I allowed this to happen?”

“It looks like this section exists in the timeframe when you forged a temporary alliance with the Borg,” Chakotay says reluctantly.

“Your discourse is irrelevant,” declares the drone before I can respond to that unfathomable statement. “We must return this vessel to its original timeframe.”

“How do you propose we do that?” Chakotay asks her.

“Bio-neural circuitry,” I blurt. A memory I can’t possibly own floods over me. “We need to inoculate the gelpacks throughout the ship with that chroniton-infused serum you used on me, then use the warp core to initiate a chroniton pulse.”

Both Chakotay and Seven of Nine turn to look at me.

“Your plan is acceptable,” the drone approves.

“Thanks,” I mutter with only mild sarcasm. I can’t wait to get out of here. “Mr Chakotay, shall we?”

“However,” Seven of Nine rolls right over me, “administering the serum would be more efficient with more drones. We could assimilate you into a small collective –”

“No thanks,” I cut in. “I’d prefer your nanoprobes to stay right where they are.”

Grasping Chakotay by the elbow, I hustle him out of the cargo bay.

 

===0===


Over the next few hours we encounter macroscopic germs, comatose crewmen in the corridors, a monochromatic holodeck program featuring a flamboyant villain who seems to be in love with me – a fact that Chakotay finds terribly amusing – and a holographic doctor who inadvertently lets slip more than the temporal prime directive would allow. Including the fact that my ship is stranded half a galaxy away from home.

It’s only after we visit the transporter room, where a belligerent half-Klingon woman in Maquis leathers accuses me of destroying our only way home from the Delta quadrant, that I can’t hold my silence any longer.

“She said it was my fault,” I burst out. “What did she mean by that?”

“B’Elanna was angry,” Chakotay demurs. “From her perspective, we’ve only just been stranded.”

“Because of me,” I insist. “She was right, wasn’t she? I made that decision.”

“You made it for the right reasons.”

“To save the Ocampa.”

He stops, staring at me. “Yes. How could you know that?”

“Remember my theory about being caught in a temporal loop?” I raise an eyebrow at him. “The evidence is becoming overwhelming.”

“Then why are you the only person who seems to be experiencing it?”

“I don’t know.”

“Do you remember anything else?”

I frown, staring at the deck. Then it comes to me.

“I lent you my copy of Inferno,” I exclaim. “My fiancé gave me that book and it’s precious to me. I’d never lend it to anyone.”

A fascinating array of expressions flits across his features, too quickly to analyse them.

“Why would I do that?” I ask, softer, stepping closer to him. He shifts on his feet and, thinking he’s dodging away from me, I place a hand flat on his chest.

He sucks in a breath and colour flushes into his face. A tingle shivers along my spine and I step back, my hand falling away.

“We should keep moving,” he mutters, and this time when he sidles away from me, I let him go.

 

===0===


I can feel him glancing at me as we stand in the turbolift heading for deck two, but I’m preoccupied with thoughts I have no desire to share, so I ignore him.

This man is a stranger – no matter how familiar, how known he seems – and more than that, he’s supposed to have been my prisoner. Yet somehow he and I will end up serving together for at least the next seven years, thrown together by circumstance but eventually, it seems, growing close enough that I will lend him one of my most prized possessions.

A possession I was given by Mark, no less. The man I’ve loved for years now, the man I’m going to marry. I can’t imagine letting that go. Letting Mark go.

Evidently, sometime in the near or distant future, I will do exactly that. Mark’s place in my life will apparently be filled by my unexpected first officer. At least, to some degree.

And it makes me wonder… just how close do we get?

 

===0===


I can’t do this. I can’t let this happen.

Tuvok’s heart-wrenching farewell as he dies from radiation sickness leaves me shaken to the core, but it’s not only that. All I’ve seen during this strange trip around my future is destruction and danger and, yes, death.

Things only get worse when Chakotay breaks the news about the occupants of Engineering: a Cardassian spy and her companions of a Delta quadrant race named the Kazon. That explains the aggression Lieutenant Stadi was sensing, in any case. Still…

“This Seska was a member of your crew,” I ask, arching a tart eyebrow at him, “and you had no idea she was Cardassian?”

He looks so angry and ashamed that for a moment I’m sorry, but all he does is tighten his lips. I catch myself looking at them, wishing he’d smile instead, the way he seems to do whenever he thinks I don’t know he’s watching me. The stray thought makes me grit my teeth. Chakotay’s lips are the last thing I should be noticing right now.

Still, I can’t help letting my gaze drift to those lips again and again as we walk toward Sickbay, outlining our plan to inoculate crew members from various timeframes to help us overpower Seska. For the first time, Chakotay reluctantly agrees that the work will go faster if we split up.

I have every intention of taking advantage of this freedom from my over-protective future first officer. I’m going to find out as much as I can about life on my stranded starship, temporal prime directive be damned. With that in mind, I volunteer to administer the serum to the crewmen in the mess hall and Astrometrics, but Chakotay is, unfortunately, wise to my tactics. He shakes his head.

“Sorry, Captain. I think it would be best for you to limit your exposure to the later timeframes. I suggest you inoculate the crewmen on the bridge and in the transporter room. I’ll take the rest of the ship.”

“You want me to inoculate a pair of Maquis who have fresh reason to distrust me?” I ask him dubiously.

“B’Elanna and Ayala won’t hurt you.”

He seems very sure of it, but I’m unconvinced.

“All right,” he concedes. “Tell B’Elanna if she harms a hair on your head, I’ll publicly remind her of what happened that time she and Henley had too many drinks on Nivoch.”

I raise an eyebrow at him. “Do I want to hear this story?”

He chuckles. “Let’s hope you never have to. Ready to go?”

I tighten the buckles on the odd over-the-shoulder contraption the EMH has replicated to enable us to carry the hyposprays full of chroniton serum.

“Ready.”

 

===0===


The plan is executed perfectly, and Seska and her Kazon allies are quickly vanquished and stashed in a Jeffries tube. Seska’s murderous glare as she narrows her eyes at me brings a shiver to my spine.

“She really doesn’t like me,” I mutter so that only Chakotay can hear.

He winces. “She wasn’t your favourite person, either.”

Wasn’t,” I repeat. “What happened to her?”

“Let’s just say she’s no longer a problem,” he shuts me down firmly.

I stare at him for a moment longer, then turn to face my assembled crewmen and the Borg and Maquis who’ve assisted us.

“We should all return to our sections,” I announce. “As soon as Chakotay initiates the warp pulse he should find himself back in his original timeframe. He’ll have a few seconds to reverse the deflector polarity to counteract the gravimetric surge. If all goes as planned, the ship should return to temporal sync at the moment it encountered the anomaly, and none of us should have any memory of what’s happened here.”

Even as I speak, I’m wondering if that’s true. I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve experienced these events before. It’s more than just déjà vu. But there are other priorities right now.

They disperse, and I’m left alone with the man who will soon become my first officer, and my friend.

And I have to know. Even though, if everything goes as it’s supposed to, I won’t remember his answer.

“Mind if I ask you a question?”

He looks at me warily as we move over toward the warp core. “Only if I won’t have to break the temporal prime directive to answer it.”

I lean against the console, casting my eyes downward. “Maybe just a little.”

He stands next to me and I look up to see him incline his head.

“I understand the circumstances that led to us blending our crews,” I begin. “But considering you and I started off as enemies, it seems we get to know each other pretty well over the years. You told me we’re friends.”

He nods, dark eyes softening.

I take a breath. “So I can’t help wondering … is that all we are to each other? Friends?”

A hundred different expressions flit across his face. “Isn’t that enough?” he hedges.

I bite my lip. “That’s not an answer.”

Chakotay reads my eyes for a moment longer, then reaches carefully for my hand. I let him take it. His fingers feel warm and strong and unnervingly right, wrapped around mine.

“Don’t assume,” he says carefully, “that our friendship isn’t enough for me. It’s the most important, most meaningful thing in my life.”

“I sense a but coming.”

“But,” he allows, “there are some barriers we’ve never outwardly acknowledged, let alone crossed.”

He’s trying to hide it, but I see the regret in his eyes as he speaks. And then I have a mental flash of the two of us, standing in this very same spot, my hand in his just as it is now, and that same regret rising in my own chest.

I pull my hand from his and offer him a smile I hope isn’t slipping. “Well, Commander. I guess I’ll see you in the future.”

He smiles back at me. “Count on it.”

I can feel him turning to watch me as I walk away, but I force myself not to look back.

 

===0===


My steps are heavy as I approach the turbolift that will return me to my bridge. Faces drift across my mind’s eye – Tuvok, dying in pain; B’Elanna Torres, so angry with me that she could barely hold herself in check; Chakotay, warning me not to ask questions he can’t answer.

And the open sorrow on the vulnerable, pretty face of Lieutenant Naomi Wildman.

I step into the empty turbolift. “Deck one.”

The ‘lift starts to move.

Maybe there are some questions I shouldn’t hope to answer. Maybe it’s better to leave the future unknown.

You both died. Seventeen years ago.

I can’t believe that our deaths could have resulted in a future that was best for that young woman or the rest of this crew. And if I can avoid that fate for all of us, I’ll do it. Temporal prime directive be damned.

“Computer, halt turbolift,” I order, then after hesitating briefly, “Deck eight. Astrometrics.”

© 2021 by Mia Cooper