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

Chapter Two - Splintered
 

How do you go back to being strangers with someone who has seen your soul?
― Nikita Gill


“Mr Kim, report!”

Commander Cavit hauls himself up from the floor, tapping into the console between our chairs. The ship’s shuddering seems to be easing now, but internal systems are fluctuating and the sensor information I’m seeing doesn’t make any sense.

“Unknown, Captain.” Kim sounds apprehensive. He’s so green, so eager to prove himself. I want to reassure him that I know he’s going to become one of my best people, but –

The passing thought causes me to frown. How do I know that? I only met Ensign Kim a week ago…

“Warp and impulse engines are off-line,” Kim continues. “There’s an anomalous energy surge surrounding the ship.”

“Get me external sensors,” I order. “I want to know –”

“Sir?” Ensign Kim’s voice interrupts me. “I’m afraid I don’t know you.”

A prickle tightens the back of my neck and I rise. Somehow, inexplicably, I know exactly what I’m going to see as I turn to face the rear of the bridge.

The tattooed Maquis stands bewildered, hands resting at his sides. There are scorch marks on his uniform – his Starfleet uniform, command red, no less – and his hair is tousled. A feeling swells inside me as I look at him. Warmth, familiarity, joy.

Chakotay.

It unnerves me, and I snap, “Take him into custody.”

At the sound of my voice, Chakotay’s whole body swivels in my direction. His gaze wanders over my face, my hair.

“Kathryn?”

“I don’t believe I’ve given you permission to use my first name,” I retort, stepping to the upper level as Andrews and Molina point their phasers at him.

Except that somehow, sometime, I must have. Because my name sounds so easy, so right, on his lips.

“Captain,” he says, recovering his wits somewhat, “I think I’ve somehow ended up –”

“– seven years into your past,” I finish, then shut my mouth abruptly. How the hell –

“How did you know I was going to say that?”

I feel a slight movement of air at my back and Chakotay’s eyes shift toward a point over my right shoulder. Cavit has stepped up beside me.

“Captain,” murmurs my first officer, “what’s going on here?”

“I don’t know.” It’s the answer to both of their questions. “But I intend to find out. Mr Chakotay, please join me in my ready room. Commander,” I nod to Cavit, “you’re with me.”

 

===0===


The Maquis rebel stands at ease. I rest a hip against my desk, watching as Aaron Cavit scans him.

Cavit nods at me, closing the tricorder. “No concealed weapons, Captain.”

“I’m not here to hurt anybody.” Chakotay’s voice is soft. “Or to take control of your ship.”

“Then what are you doing here?” Cavit demands. “How did you get aboard without being detected? How many other Maquis are on board?”

“Commander.” I raise a hand to silence him, turning back to the Maquis. “Mr Chakotay, you have to understand our suspicions. Our internal sensors are off-line, and we have no way to confirm what you’re saying.”

“The sensors are off-line because this ship was struck by a gravimetric surge. It was emitted by a spatial rift Voyager encountered in my timeframe.”

“Your timeframe?” snorts Cavit.

“Yes,” Chakotay answers patiently. “Seven years in your future.”

“Captain, this is preposterous,” Cavit protests.

“Maybe.” I straighten up, studying Chakotay. “But I believe him.”

“Captain?” Cavit’s face is turning red.

“At ease, Commander,” I warn him. “Mr Chakotay’s story is too preposterous, as you say, to be a lie.” Turning back to Chakotay, I encourage, “Tell me more about this spatial anomaly.”

“I want it noted in the log that I object,” Cavit yelps. “He’s a traitor and a terrorist. He should be in the brig.”

I’ve had enough. “Consider it noted, and return to the bridge. Dismissed, Mr Cavit.”

Cavit’s fists clench, but he turns on his heel and storms out of my ready room. When I look back at Chakotay, I see his eyes are sparkling with amusement.

“Something funny?”

“I was just thinking about how many times over the years I’ve watched you face down bullies twice your size, just like that.”

I harden my glare at him, but it only makes him grin more widely.

“Sorry, Kathryn, that doesn’t work on me. I’ve had seven years to inure myself to it.”

“That’s Captain to you,” I snap smartly, only relaxing slightly at his chastened look. “Mr Chakotay, you may think you know me, but that doesn’t mean you can disrespect my rank.”

“It won’t happen again,” he promises, then tilts his head to the side. “Earlier, you seemed to predict what I was going to say, about being from your future. How did you know that?”

I hesitate before speaking again. “I’m not sure. I just feel as if this has all happened before. You appearing on my bridge in that uniform. Telling me you’re from a different time. Speaking to me as though we’re on intimate terms.”

I regret my choice of words immediately as his eyes widen.

“In any case,” I hasten on, “we don’t have time to wonder about that right now. We need to put this ship back together.”

Chakotay’s eyes narrow. “Put the ship back together?”

“Yes, it’s been fractured into thirty-seven different timeframes …” I trail off, frowning. “How did I know that?”

He moves closer and I find myself looking up into his face, into his gentle, dark eyes. My fingers itch to reach up and smooth back the locks of hair that have fallen over his forehead. Discomfited, I retreat, and he stays in place, obviously sensing my unease.

“You said you’re from a timeframe seven years in my future,” I stumble on through the awkward moment, “so it’s possible that there’s another kind of temporal paradox going on here. Something that explains how I’m sensing things I shouldn’t know. As though I’ve learned them before.”

“A time loop?”

“Maybe.”

“Then why are you the only one affected?”

“That’s another question I’m afraid I can’t answer.”

He looks thoughtful. “Maybe there’s a way to find out.”

“How?”

“In my timeframe, there’s a crewman aboard Voyager who knows a lot about temporal mechanics. If we can locate her –”

“The Borg drone,” I interrupt. “Seven of Nine.”

Chakotay looks at me. “Okay,” he says finally. “I’m starting to buy into this time loop theory. So, Captain, how would you suggest we proceed?”

The answer is there, I know it, but when I try to grasp it, it floats away. I frown in frustration.

“It’s all right,” says Chakotay, and I realise he’s been watching me. “We’ll figure it out, Captain. We always do.”

Before I can respond, my ready room door chimes. “Enter,” I call.

Lieutenant Stadi steps into the room. “I’m sorry to interrupt, Captain, but there’s something I think you should know.”

I wave her closer; to her credit, she only gives my Maquis companion a brief, suspicious glance before she continues, “I’ve been picking up emotions from various parts of the ship, and I think some of them are coming from people who aren’t members of the crew, Captain, particularly in Engineering. If I had to guess, I’d say some of them are from an alien race I’ve never encountered.”

I give Chakotay a sharp look. “What do you know about this?”

“Nothing,” he says, then adds carefully, “but if the ship exists in various timeframes, they could be from a race I recognise.”

There are so many questions I want to ask after that intriguing statement, but there are more pressing issues at hand. Tapping my combadge, I order a security team to the ready room then turn to Stadi. “Lieutenant, I want you to assess the situation in Engineering and report back on your findings. Don’t engage any hostiles if you can avoid it.”

“Yes, Captain.” Stadi nods to Foster and Molina to follow her through the auxiliary door. And I’m suddenly gripped by an urgent need to stop her.

“Wait,” I call, hurrying after them. “That bulkhead, right there. Scan it.”

Stadi flips open her tricorder. “I’m detecting a temporal displacement signature,” she informs me.

I reach over and pluck the tricorder out of her hand, then toss it past the bulkhead. There’s a strange ripple in mid-air and the device disappears.

“What –” gasps Stadi.

Chakotay gives me another penetrating look, then steps forward. “Captain, if you’ll allow me?”

I nod, and he moves in the direction of the ripple. It shimmers again and he vanishes. Moments later, he reappears.

I fix him with a stare. “Would you care to explain?”

 

===0===


I’ve sent Stadi and the security team back to the bridge and called Commander Cavit to rejoin us in the ready room. Cavit moves reluctantly when I wave him to the upper level, eschewing the long couch in favour of stiffly resting his behind against the railing. I notice that he’s wearing a phaser. I can’t really blame him, though I’ve long since left mine on my desk.

Why I’m inclined to trust Chakotay is as much a mystery as my strange foreknowledge of the temporal displacement field in the corridor, or my ability to predict events just before they unfold. For now, I’m trying to stave off the inevitable headache with a very strong black coffee.

“When I woke up after the surge hit me, I was in Sickbay,” Chakotay explains, sipping the tea I’ve ordered him from the replicator. “The Doctor told me that I’d been transported there in a state of temporal flux. He’d injected me with a chroniton-infused serum to bring me back into sync. Captain, I suspect that serum has given me the ability to travel between timeframes.”

“Dr Fitzgerald keeps chroniton serum in his sickbay?” Cavit interrupts.

“Not Dr Fitzgerald,” Chakotay replies warily.

“Who, then?”

Chakotay glances at me sidelong. “The Emergency Medical Hologram. He hasn’t adopted a name.”

“The hologram?” Cavit snorts. “Where is the chief medical officer?”

“He’s dead,” I realise aloud.

The shock on Cavit’s face makes me regret not curbing my tongue; he and Fitzgerald were friends. Are friends. I shake my head. This is confusing enough without getting my tenses mixed up.

“Mr Chakotay, I’d like you to return to Sickbay and bring some of that serum back to my ready room.”

Cavit is still pale, but rouses himself to object. “He can’t wander unescorted around the ship –”

“It seems to me he’s the only one who can,” I reply. I nod to Chakotay, who exits quickly through the corridor, then turn back to my first officer. “Aaron, I understand your concerns, but I don’t believe Mr Chakotay has any hostile intent. You’re going to have to trust my judgement on this.”

“Aye, Captain,” mutters Commander Cavit.

 

===0===


A headache is whispering warmly at my temples and I press my fingertips against the persistent throb of it as another cup of coffee materialises in my replicator. I’ve already exceeded my personal quota of caffeine today, but this is no time to worry about self-enforced limitations.

Except, a little voice insists as my gaze falls on the photograph of Mark that I keep on my desk, it’s exactly the time.

That picture is making my conscience twinge, and I can’t push it aside. A few hours ago, Mark and I were bantering about Molly’s pregnancy and making promises to set a wedding date after my mission to the Badlands. Then the man I was sent to capture walked onto my bridge and acted as though he’d known me for years. And, against all rational sense, I know it’s true. We’re colleagues and we’re friends, and deep in my bones, I know we’re more than that.

How does it come about that we’re thrown together? How do I know, somehow, that seven years into my future I won’t be settled on Earth, happily married to Mark? That Chakotay will be the most important person in my life?

How far do I let him in?

Just how close do we get?

My eyes are still fixed on the photo when Chakotay returns to the ready room. He stands two steps inside the door, silent. I clear my throat, hoping my voice will come out steady.

“Did you bring the serum?”

He moves closer, holding up a hypospray. “May I?”

Standing, I step around the desk and tilt my head, and he presses the hypo to my neck. A faint chill spirals through my body and I shiver. Chakotay places a hand on my shoulder.

“Are you all right, Kathr- uh, Captain?”

I step briskly away from his touch. “Fine. Let’s get started.”

We move into the corridor behind the ready room and I stop short in front of the bulkhead where we detected the temporal displacement signature.

“Mr Chakotay, it occurs to me that you know a great deal more about the things we might encounter as we pass into different time periods. Maybe you should give me a head’s up.”

His fingers stray to his earlobe and I smother a smile. He does that when he’s nervous –

We’ve been acquainted for less than two hours. I’ve never had the time to notice such a thing.

“Captain,” he’s saying, “I’m pretty sure the temporal prime directive applies in this situation. The less you know about your future, the better.”

“Most days I’d agree with you, but it appears I already have some foreknowledge of things I should know nothing about. So why don’t you fill me in?”

“On what, exactly?” he asks, wary.

“To begin with,” I take in a deep breath, “how is it that you become my first officer?”

“I never told you that.”

“And yet it’s the truth, isn’t it?” I fold my arms, glancing pointedly at the insignia on his collar. “Provisional rank, commander. Nobody on my ship holds a higher rank except me. It stands to reason that I’m the one who commissioned you.”

“You are,” he agrees.

“Why?”

I can see him choosing his words carefully. “You and I found ourselves in a nearly untenable situation, and our best chance of survival was to work together and combine our crews. I’ve served as your exec for the past seven years.”

“In the Delta quadrant,” I interject. My eyes widen at the import of my own statement. “Oh, God. That’s it, isn’t it? Somehow we end up stranded on the opposite side of the galaxy, trying to find our way home. People have died. Cavit, Stadi … Tuvok…”

“Captain.” He’s holding my arms, voice gentle but insistent. “Tuvok is fine. He’s your security chief.”

“But he died,” I whisper. “He died of radiation poisoning, in the mess hall. He said it had been an honour to serve with me.”

Chakotay is shaking his head. “That never happened. I swear to you, Kathryn, in my time, Tuvok is alive and well.”

My focus sharpens on him. “And that’s another thing. You call me Kathryn.”

“Yes,” he says cautiously. “You asked me to. Or rather, you will ask me to, about eighteen months from now.”

“Why?”

“Because …” He sighs, fingers straying to tug his earlobe. I can see him deciding what to tell me, and I see the moment he thinks, the hell with it. He faces me fully, dark eyes penetrating. “Because for a few months, you and I are the only two people living on a planet, believing we’re unable to leave. You ask me to call you Kathryn, and we become... friends.”

“Friends?” Oh, the depth of unexplained subtext in that seemingly innocuous word. “We spend months alone on a deserted planet like Adam and Eve, and we become friends?”

Chakotay rubs a hand through his hair. “It’s … complicated.”

Mark’s face appears in my mind’s eye, and I know – I just know – that my loyalty to him is the reason Chakotay describes us as friends. And I understand it. Eighteen months from now, I won’t have allowed myself to give up hope.

But seven years from now?

“Seven years,” I murmur, barely aware I’m speaking aloud. “I can’t believe he’d have waited for me.”

Chakotay shifts on his feet, drawing my attention.

“He doesn’t, does he?”

There’s that ear tug again. “Kathryn …”

“It’s all right.” I draw myself straight, refusing to let the hollow feeling rise in my chest. “It’s not as though it’s a surprise. He and I have talked about –” I stop abruptly.

What the hell am I doing, confiding in this stranger who’s already seen into my soul?

I harden my voice. “We should go. If you’ll lead on, Mr Chakotay?”

He holds my eyes a moment longer, his speaking tender volumes. “Aye, Captain,” he says softly, and we step into the future.

 

===0===


“Captain!”

The young woman’s eyes are wide, and her fingers twitch, fumbling briefly for support on the console behind her, before she obviously recalls herself. She straightens, clasping her hands behind her back.

“Lieutenant,” I reply, then the name comes to me, “Wildman, isn’t it?”

She nods, swallowing hard. I turn my gaze to the tall dark-haired man at her side.

“Icheb?”

Chakotay stares at me. “How did you know their names?”

“Either I’ve somehow developed precognition,” I answer dryly, “or that temporal loop theory is looking more and more likely.”

He presses his lips together, glancing back at the pair standing before the astrometrics display. “I take it you’re surprised to see us,” he addresses them.

“Of course they are,” I say. “From their perspective, we’ve been dead for seventeen years.”

Chakotay goes still.

“That doesn’t matter right now,” I brush it off. “What matters is that we need to bring this ship back into temporal sync with Chakotay’s timeframe.”

“Right,” Wildman offers hastily, stepping forward. “The temporal shattering effect was caused by a chrono-kinetic surge that impacted the warp core. Icheb and I have determined that we’re dealing with thirty-seven different time periods.”

I send Chakotay a pointed glance. “Just as I said.”

“So how do we fix it?” he asks, smiling faintly at me.

“If we can get to the section of the ship that exists in Chakotay’s timeframe –”

Lieutenant Wildman shakes her head. “That section was impacted by the surge. It’s been completely obliterated.” She sighs. “Too bad Seven isn’t here. She’d know what to do.”

“We were on our way to find her,” Chakotay explains. “Astrometrics seemed a logical place.”

“She’s in the cargo bay.”

Three pairs of eyes turn toward me, one amused, two inquisitive.

I shrug. “I can’t explain it, but somehow I seem to be experiencing some kind of temporal loop phenomenon. I don’t know if it’s related to the chrono-kinetic event.”

Naomi has a look in her eye that I recognise; I’ve seen it in the mirror often enough. “Fascinating,” she murmurs. “Captain, maybe I can investigate your situation from here. Do you know how many times you’ve experienced this time period before?”

I shake my head. “All I know is that I have knowledge of people and situations that I shouldn’t. But my condition can’t be a priority right now.” I turn to Chakotay. “Shall we?”

“Captain, wait,” Wildman pleads. “I could modify the temporal sensors to scan you. It will only take a few minutes.”

“All right,” I acquiesce, and the young lieutenant leads me over to a console.

As she taps into the display, I watch Chakotay and Icheb moving to the other side of the room, talking quietly. Icheb says something and Chakotay laughs and claps him on the shoulder.

“Antarian cider,” I murmur. “Icheb knows where he keeps it.”

“Captain?”

“Never mind.” I study my young companion. “It’s Naomi, isn’t it? Your mother is Ensign Samantha Wildman, my science officer.”

“She was,” Naomi says. “Neelix once told me you’d been planning to promote her to lieutenant, but then –”

She breaks off, her mouth clamped shut.

“She died,” I finish softly. “In the same attack that killed Chakotay and me.”

“Yes,” Naomi whispers.

“I’m so sorry.”

She tries to smile at me. “There was nothing you could have done.”

“Wasn’t there?” A memory I can’t possibly have flashes across my mind – Naomi, telling me how I’d died and taken four other crewmen with me. “It was my fault we were in that Borg transwarp conduit. My fault the assimilation virus failed.” I can feel my fingers trembling and I clench them into fists. “It’s my fault you’re in this godforsaken quadrant at all.”

“Don’t think like that, Captain.”

“How can I not?” From the corner of my eye I catch Chakotay glancing our way as my voice rises, and tamp it down with effort. “I can’t explain how I know these things, Naomi, but somehow I do. And I can’t help wondering if there’s a reason for it. What if I could use what I know to make different decisions, save the people who’ve died because of me? What if I could change our fate?”

Naomi finishes modifying the sensors and turns to face me, clasping her hands behind her back. “Which fate are you referring to, Captain?” she asks quietly. “The one where you decide not to chase Chakotay’s ship into the Badlands, and he and all his people probably end up dead? The one where the Kazon annihilate the Ocampa and we never meet Kes, or Neelix, or any of the other crewmen who’ve become my family? Because I don’t think I like the idea of that fate.”

I stare at her, listening hard.

“But,” she whispers, her head bending closer to mine, “the fate where you and Commander Chakotay and my mother die … that’s a fate I would change in a heartbeat.”

“Captain.”

I startle at Chakotay’s voice; I hadn’t even noticed him approaching. He’s watching me closely, and I wonder if I look as pale as I feel. Naomi certainly does.

“Are you ready to keep moving?” he asks me.

Naomi quickly snatches up a tricorder and aims it at me. “I’ll only be a few minutes, Commander.”

“Make it quick, Lieutenant.” He fixes Naomi with a look. “And I’m sure I don’t have to remind you about the temporal prime directive.”

She reddens. “Uh, no sir.”

“Good.” His pointed glance encompasses me as well, and I feel almost as chastised as Naomi clearly does. Irritated, I glare back at him. The corners of his mouth twitch.

“If you’ll excuse us, Mr Chakotay,” I offer frostily.

“Of course, Captain.” His smile blooms as he steps away, throwing over his shoulder, “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”

The moment he’s out of earshot I lean in close to Naomi Wildman again. “The hell with the temporal prime directive. Tell me about the day I died.”

 

===0===


I’m still preoccupied with Naomi Wildman’s tale of doom and destruction as Chakotay and I leave the astrometrics lab. Thus distracted, I barely flinch when we enter the cargo bay and find it full of Borg. Seven of Nine decides that our best course of action is to return to Sickbay and replicate enough chroniton serum to inoculate every gelpack on the ship, and without questioning her I follow Chakotay silently out of the bay.

The Emergency Medical Hologram – whose forehead seems permanently etched in a very exasperated, very human scowl – designs us a pair of harnesses to carry our precious cargo. Chakotay and I buckle them on and make our way through deck five, injecting serum into the gelpack nodes. When we’re finished we take the turbolift up one deck.

We begin in what should be a cargo bay – at least, it’s a cargo bay on my Voyager – but is instead some kind of garden. Chakotay takes it in stride, but I can’t help staring at the towering stands of greenery and exotic blooms.

And then a pixie appears from behind a stack.

“Captain,” she exclaims, her elfin face lighting up. “I’m so happy to see you. What’s happened to Voyager?”

I’m about to ask who she is when Chakotay exclaims, “Kes!”

“You know this woman?” I ask him.

“Yes.” He strides over to the pixie, clasping her hands. “I thought I’d never see you again,” he says to her.

Her smile encompasses us both and makes me feel instantly at ease. “You’re from a different timeframe,” she says. “Both of you.”

“How did you know that?”

Kes turns back to me. “I sensed it.”

“You – sensed it?”

“Captain,” Chakotay breaks in, “Kes is Ocampan. Her species has telepathic abilities.”

“Ocampan,” I repeat. “Your people are the ones –”

“The ones you saved,” she says. “Or rather, the ones you will save.” She releases Chakotay’s hands and steps closer to me. “Captain, I know you’re having doubts about the choices you’ll make. But I want you to know that your decisions have brought life to so many people. You shouldn’t doubt yourself.”

Her eyes are so wide and so earnest that I find myself wanting to believe her.

“Kes, do you sense anything more about what’s happening here?”

“You mean the time loop you’re experiencing?” Kes smiles at my obvious surprise. “I’m aware that it’s happening, Captain, but unfortunately that’s as much as I know. I can’t tell you how, or why you’re the only one who remembers events from one loop to the next. I’m sorry.”

“Well, at least you’ve confirmed that I’m not crazy,” I answer wryly.

Chakotay straightens from injecting the gelpack node. “Captain, we should keep moving. There’s a lot of ship to cover.” He smiles down at Kes. “It was good to see you again.”

“And it was nice to meet you,” I add.

“Captain,” Kes calls as we reach the exit. “Please don’t be discouraged by the future you’ll see. I just wanted you to know that every decision you’ve made has been for the right reasons.”

 

===0===


“She blames me for stranding Voyager in the Delta quadrant.”

I’m still shaken by the encounter with the small, ferocious Maquis in the transporter room, and Chakotay rests a hand on my shoulder. “B’Elanna was angry.”

“But she was right.” I turn to face him. “I made the decision, didn’t I? I trapped them all here, so far from home.”

“Remember what Kes told you?” Chakotay says firmly. “You made that decision for the right reasons. Don’t second-guess yourself.”

“In this case, I’m second-guessing a decision I haven’t made yet.” My steps slow as we enter the turbolift and call for deck three. “Can I ask you something?”

“If I say no, will it stop you?”

I can hear the strain beneath his light tone, but I push on. “How many died when Voyager was brought to the Delta quadrant? How many have died since?”

“We’ve suffered casualties,” he replies carefully. “But we’ve gained crewmen as well. And despite what you might think, the people on this ship are happy. Our lives may be uncertain, but they’re good lives. We’ve seen things no other humans have seen, met alien races we never dreamed existed.” He turns to me, voice softening. “And we have each other.”

My heart trips into double speed. “Are you talking about the crew,” I venture, “or you and me?”

I watch him struggle to respond, but just as he appears to find the right words, the turbolift doors open.

“Saved by the bell,” I mutter, as Chakotay almost races out into the corridor.

 

===0===


“Wait.”

Chakotay stops just outside the doors to Engineering and looks at me inquiringly.

“Lieutenant Stadi told me she sensed aggression from whoever is in this room,” I tell him, frowning at the closed doors. “And I know she was right. The people in here are our enemy.”

“You’re remembering something from a previous time loop?”

“Yes.” I close my eyes to concentrate. “A Delta quadrant race, and –” My eyes snap open. “A Cardassian. She was a member of your crew. A spy.”

“Seska,” Chakotay growls.

I watch his darkening expression. “Want to tell me about her?”

“Not particularly.”

“I see.”

“What I will tell you is if she’s in there, you’re right about her meaning us harm. We’re going to need backup.”

 

===0===


Commander Cavit is, if possible, even more suspicious of Chakotay when we return to the bridge, despite the obvious fact that I’m unharmed. Still, he complies with my orders to inoculate himself with the serum, and seems to relax a little when I dispense it to Harry Kim and Veronica Stadi as well.

When we’ve gathered enough of my present and future crew from various sections of the ship, Chakotay outlines the plan while I watch the assembled faces. The cautious optimism from Kim and Stadi, who are rightly wary of taking orders from the man they’d expected to be hunting. The open devotion from Kes and the Talaxian, Neelix, who keeps stealing glances at her. The scowling attentiveness from the two Maquis, Torres and Ayala. The calm professionalism of the seven-years-older Tom Paris, who from my perspective is fresh out of prison and all cocky bravado. I can’t help a surge of pride as I look at them. These people are in my charge, and soon to become my family.

Maybe Kes was right, after all. Maybe everything Chakotay has been trying to tell me is true, and my decision to maroon this ship so far from home was – is – the right thing to do.

The taking of Engineering runs like clockwork. Seska and her accomplices are quickly subdued and the crew dispersed to their stations, and all that’s left is for me to return to the bridge so Chakotay can ready himself to activate the chroniton surge.

And yet I linger.

“Mind if I ask you a question?”

“Another one?” His lips turn up in the smile that’s been giving me butterflies all day. “I hope I won’t have to break the temporal prime directive to answer it.”

“Maybe just a little.” I lean against the warp core controls, noting that he settles beside me, close enough to touch. “I’ve been wondering – is Naomi Wildman the only child born on Voyager?”

“So far, yes.”

“Why is that?”

He blinks. “I’m not sure what you mean.”

“I mean – seven years, Chakotay. Seven years you’ve been away from home, on a ship with a hundred and fifty people you see every day. Surely in all that time there must have been some relationships formed that are stable enough to consider bringing a child into the family.”

“There are a few,” he admits. “But – and I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, Kathryn – Voyager isn’t exactly a safe haven. We never know from one day to the next if we’re going to be welcomed or shot at.”

“You’re implying that everyone on this ship lives on the knife-edge of fear every day.” I stare at him. “I’m not sure there is a right way to take that.”

“I wouldn’t go that far.” Chakotay tugs his ear. “Besides, I suspect part of the crew’s reticence to pair off is my fault.”

Your fault?”

“When we’d been in this quadrant for six months or so, I caught a couple kissing in the turbolift. I wasn’t prepared for it, and I … overreacted. Unfortunately, Tom Paris witnessed it, and I suspect he also overheard the conversation I had with you about it afterward on the bridge.”

“Why was that unfortunate?”

“Two reasons,” he answers. “One, I was strongly negative about the idea of fraternisation and I suggested you and I institute a policy to govern it. Two, Paris is the ship’s gossip.”

I blink at him. “Are you suggesting that Paris let it be known that you wouldn’t approve of people pairing off, so they didn’t? For seven years?”

“When you put it like that, it sounds pretty ridiculous,” he admits. “But this crew looks up to us – you and me. And frankly, Kathryn,” his voice begins to rise, “they’ve seen us both living lives of almost complete celibacy, and I think they believe that we expect the same of them.”

By the time he finishes, his shoulders are taut with agitation and his fist is clenched at his side. I can’t help staring at him. This is the most worked up I’ve seen him get today. And this man is supposed to a fighter so fearsome that Starfleet sent its newest ship to capture him.

There are so many things I want to unpick from the tangle of information he’s just given me, but one is forefront.

“It’s been seven years,” I say slowly. “I know Mark wouldn’t wait that long for me, and – and I think by then, I’d have stopped waiting for him.”

I look at him for some kind of reaction – confirmation, perhaps – and he looks back with gentle, sympathetic eyes. So it’s true. I take in a breath.

“You said I was celibate,” I affirm. “Why?”

“Kathryn, I can’t answer that for you.”

“What about you, then?” I’m trying not to analyse why it’s suddenly so important that I know. “Why are you single? I mean, you’re obviously intelligent, kind … attractive,” I tail off with a blush. “Haven’t you found the right person?”

Chakotay glances away, and when he turns back it’s with a spark in his eyes that’s almost challenging. “I have found the right person,” he says, his voice soft and emphatic. “She’s the only person for me, and I’m single because even though we can’t be together, I can’t stand the thought of being with anyone else.”

And I know, deep in my bones, that he means me. I’m that person. I’m the one for him.

My pulse speeds up and my hands prickle. I can’t help my gaze falling on his lips, and he feels suddenly so close. Too close, and yet much too far away. I feel my body lean almost imperceptibly toward him, instinct rushing me headlong onto a path I know rationally I shouldn’t follow. But then, as though he knows it so much better than I, he takes the smallest step back.

“Kathryn, I have to initiate the pulse,” he says quietly.

“Of course.” I swallow, then offer him a weak half-grin. “And I should learn not to push for answers to the questions I shouldn’t be asking.”

“Well, if by some miracle you remember this conversation in, say, seven years,” he smiles wryly, “ask me that question again.”

I match his smile with my own, and offer him my hand. “To the future, then. It’s been a pleasure getting to know you, Chakotay.”

“You, too,” he says softly.

He releases my hand and I walk quickly out of Engineering. In the turbolift, I call for the bridge.

The ‘lift begins to move, and I think about all the other questions I haven’t been given the answers to on this long, strange day. I think about all the decisions I’ve learned I will make, the outcomes of my choices, and the ones that can still be changed.

The people I can still save.

“Deck eight,” I order, my chin high and my voice clear. “Astrometrics.”