In Momento Temporis
Summary: All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.
Characters: Chakotay, Janeway, Kes
Disclaimer: The characters, the background and the reset button belong to Paramount. The rest is mine.
Notes: This story is set a couple of weeks after Unity, because my romantic little heart just had to try to make some sense of that episode.
Warning: Major character deaths. Truckloads of angst. Sex. Also, the occasional profanity.
IV. Loop Four
~The time is 0600. The time is 0600.~
I drag myself out of unconsciousness. My neck complains when I try to lift my head; apparently I haven’t moved all night. I can feel creases from the bedspread on the side of my face, and I smell less than lovely.
I take a hot-water shower, holding my head under the spray in an attempt to soothe my aching shoulders, drag on a fresh uniform and trudge to the mess hall. Neelix is as cheerful as ever and I almost snarl at him – what right does anybody have to be cheerful today? – but restrain myself just in time. It’s only when Tom and Harry come in laughing and sit at my table needling each other about Harry’s latest dating attempt, as though it’s just another day, that I begin to understand.
Heart pounding, I tap my commbadge. “Chakotay to Janeway.”
~Janeway here,~ comes the immediate response. ~Forget something this morning, Commander?~
Tom looks up at the tone in my voice and I have to avert my eyes.
~We had a breakfast date. You stood me up,~ she chides.
“I’m sorry, Captain. I’ll buy you a coffee to make up for it.”
~Be sure you do.~ I can hear the smile in her voice. ~See you on the bridge. Janeway out.~
I’m grinning like a fool, and Tom raises an eyebrow at me. “Chakotay? You okay?”
I collect my tray and get up to take it to the recycler. “It’s going to be a good day, Paris.” To his surprise – because, let’s face it, he and I aren’t the greatest at seeing eye to eye – I give him a friendly cuff on the shoulder as I pass. “Don’t think that means I’ll go easy on you, though.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” he calls as the mess hall doors swish shut behind me.
I take the ‘lift down to Deck Four first; I want to stop by the airponics bay before I see Kathryn. I bypass the bridge and head straight for the ready room, holding the bunch of Aldebaran daisies Kes suggested. “Come,” Kathryn calls when I ring for entry.
She sees the flowers and her face stiffens. “Chakotay –” She puts a hand up to her head. “They’re lovely, but …”
“This isn’t appropriate,” she says quietly.
Ouch. “It’s just flowers, Kathryn. You have them delivered fresh every morning; I thought I’d save Kes the trouble.”
She presses her lips together; I can see she wants to say more, but I turn away and go to the replicator to order her coffee. “Don’t worry, I used my rations,” I joke. She accepts the cup with that tight smile I’ve been seeing for the past two weeks. What I wouldn’t give to see the open, radiant smile she used to give me.
She sits on the couch and I follow her with my cup of tea. “Before you say anything,” I start, “there’s something I need to tell you.”
“Chakotay…” She sighs, placing her cup carefully on the low table. “If this is about –”
“We’re going to be attacked,” I interrupt her bluntly.
“Sometime today, probably very soon, if the pattern holds. They’re called the Draelath, and they like to shoot first and threaten later.”
I have her full attention now. “Explain.”
I give her a recap of the past three loops. I’m not sure why, but I leave out the part about her dying in each of them; maybe because I know I can’t talk about it without getting emotional, and right now it’s clear she’s not in the mood for that kind of conversation. She listens to my story, asks a few questions about subspace scans and tachyon readings, then leads me back to the bridge. “Tuvok,” she orders, “start scanning for alien vessels. Raise shields and ready weapons.”
“If what Chakotay has just told me is correct, we can expect to make a new acquaintance shortly. And not the friendly kind.”
Less than five minutes later, Tuvok’s console lights up. “Captain, I’m detecting a vessel on fast approach. It matches the warp signature Commander Chakotay supplied and its weapons are powered.”
Kathryn grips the arms of her chair. “Hail them.” She glances at me. “Well, Commander, I can’t say I’m happy you were right.”
“Neither am I,” I mutter. I’m already sweating, my stomach in knots.
“They’re responding,” Harry reports.
The huge reptilian appears on the viewscreen. Kathryn rises from her chair. “I’m Captain Kathryn Janeway of the Federation starship Voyager. We mean you no harm.”
~Your ship stands ready to attack,~ the alien responds. ~As does mine. Leave our space and we may not destroy you.~
“I apologise if we’ve intruded on your borders. We’re unfamiliar with this region of space. Perhaps we could negotiate passage?” She pauses. “We have a long journey ahead of us.”
To my surprise, because I’d expected the Draelath to be shooting at us by now, the alien cocks his head to one side. ~Negotiation is not our way, Voyager.~
Kathryn seizes the opening. “Perhaps we could discuss a possible trade agreement. May I ask whom I have the honour of addressing?”
~I am Festan of the Draelath.~ The alien stares at Kathryn and my gut clenches. I don’t like the way he’s looking at her, and I don’t understand why the Draelath have decided on conversation instead of combat.
“May we meet face to face, Festan?”
~Outsiders may not board this ship.~
“You’d be welcome to visit Voyager. We have technology that allows us to instantly transport you to our location.”
Festan’s stare hardens. ~And then I would be at your mercy. No. We will see to our own transport arrangements. Expect us in three hours.~
The screen blinks off.
“Captain,” I say urgently. “You can’t trust these people.”
Kathryn turns to me, her eyes questioning. “It’s not like you to form a negative opinion so quickly, Chakotay.”
“It’s an opinion based on experience.”
“You said they hadn’t opened communications in previous loops. Maybe this time, things will be different.” She glances around the bridge. “I want all senior staff to the briefing room immediately.”
As we’re filing into the briefing room, Kes comes rushing in behind B’Elanna. “I’m sorry, Captain,” she says a little breathlessly. “I know this isn’t the kind of meeting I’d normally attend, but I think I need to be here.”
Kathryn starts to ask for an explanation, but I forestall her. “She’s right, Captain.”
She gives me an even look. “I think you’d better fill everyone in, Commander.”
I give them the same brief outline I gave Kathryn in her ready room, then add, “So far each loop has been different from the last, but there are certain events that have occurred in every one of them. The Draelath attack us, Kes demonstrates some level of awareness of the temporal repetition, and the Captain is killed.”
I feel Kathryn jerk a little beside me. “You neglected to mention that part earlier, Commander.”
I wisely keep silent.
She continues, “And the Draelath haven’t attacked us this time. Perhaps we can avoid a conflict today.”
“I hope so,” I mutter. “But I wouldn’t count on it.”
Kathryn gives me another long look, then turns to Tuvok. “Make the necessary arrangements to meet our guests in the shuttlebay and bring them to the briefing room when they arrive. Harry, I want full sensor scans of that ship. Tom, keep scanning for other Draelath vessels. Chakotay, I’d like to see you in my ready room.”
She keeps her back to me as she orders another coffee from the replicator and takes her favourite spot before the viewport. She doesn’t offer me a drink. I move up beside her, but something warns me not to stand too close.
Finally she turns, placing her cup carefully on the table. “Why didn’t you tell me I died?”
“I didn’t think you’d want to hear it.”
“You didn’t think I could handle it?”
“That’s not what I meant.”
She’s not ready to give it up. “Then what, Chakotay?”
Her chin is up, her eyes flashing, and I realise she doesn’t want answers. What she really wants is a fight, and I’m too heartsore to deal with this right now. I rub the back of my neck where there’s a dull headache forming. She’s still waiting, so I sigh, unable to keep the weariness from my voice when I answer. “I didn’t think you needed to know.”
I watch her mentally running through and discarding any number of possible responses to that. She settles on, “Is there anything else you’ve decided I don’t need to know?”
“How can I be sure of that?”
“Because I can’t lie to you.” It comes out more abruptly than I intend, and I realise even as I’m saying the words that they’re not true. A lie of omission is still a lie.
From the look in her eyes, I can tell she’s thinking the same thing. I find myself studying my feet. When I glance up at her again, the fight has gone out of her and she looks as drained as I feel. It gives me hope, in a strange way; hope that maybe she hates this wall that’s grown between us as much as I do.
“I made a mistake, Kathryn, and I’m sorry,” I tell her. This isn’t about today anymore; it’s about what happened two weeks ago. It’s about the thing I did that hurt her, a hurt she can’t bring herself to acknowledge. “I don’t want to fight with you. I want my friend back.”
She stiffens at that. “Of course we’re friends, Chakotay.” But her voice is cool, polite.
I have three years’ worth of practice at holding an iron grip on my emotions, but I’m hanging by a thread right now and my usual control is in pieces. I do the worst thing possible: I laugh.
It’s not a genuine laugh; it’s short and it’s bitter and I regret it the instant it leaves my throat. I can practically see the titanium stiffening her spine. Ice drips from her voice when she says, “Is there something else you want to say to me, Commander?”
And I’m suddenly so tired of it all that I can’t stop myself. “Yes, Captain, there is. But since you’ve already made it abundantly clear that you have no intention of hearing it, you’ll forgive me if I prefer not to waste my breath.”
For a brief moment she looks like I’ve slapped her, and then her face shuts down. “Then this conversation is over,” she says tightly. “Dismissed.”
I pivot on my heel and stride out of her ready room. Just before the door slides closed behind me, I glance back. She’s staring out the window again, her back to the door and her arms wound around her body as though she’s holding herself together.
At precisely the agreed time, the Draelath shuttle docks in Shuttlebay One and Tuvok and three of his security officers escort the four Draelath representatives to the briefing room. Kathryn stands at the head of the conference table, command mask in place, and offers her hand in greeting. Festan doesn’t bother to introduce his crewmates.
Kathryn motions to the chairs, and our visitors sit. I take my usual seat to Kathryn’s right; Tuvok stands at her left and Ayala remains stationed motionless behind the Draelath. Foster and Jarvin, I know, have taken up positions outside the briefing room doors.
“Thank you for agreeing to talk with us,” Kathryn begins. “I was hoping you’d allow us to travel through your space. We have no hostile intentions; we’re just trying to get home.”
“What is your ship’s weaponry complement?” Festan fires back immediately. “What are your technological capabilities? Where are the rest of your military forces?”
Kathryn blinks. “I assure you, Festan, we are not the vanguard of some invasion force. We belong to a federation of planets situated on the other side of the galaxy. We are in this quadrant by accident, and to my knowledge there are no other Federation ships anywhere near this region.”
“And why should we trust you?”
“What reason would we have to deceive you?”
Festan snorts. “You are outsiders,” he says, as though that’s reason enough.
Kathryn tries a different tack. “Is there something we can offer you in return for allowing us passage through your territory? Perhaps you’d be interested in the astrometric data we’ve gathered in our travels? Or we may have some minerals or other resources of interest to you.”
“We do not allow outsiders to traverse our territory,” Festan says flatly. He stands, and his silent entourage stands with him. “This meeting is over. Escort us to our shuttle and leave our space immediately.”
Kathryn looks like she wants to press him for a moment, but then sighs and stands up. “As you wish. I’m sorry we couldn’t come to an agreement.”
Festan gives her a short nod and jerks his head to his men. Before they reach the door, Kathryn adds, “Festan, one question. Have your ship’s sensors detected any temporal anomalies in the region?”
Festan’s head whips around and his men stop short. And then everything happens so fast it’s impossible to remember later exactly how it went down – and believe me, I try. I replay that moment over and over in my head for hours.
His scaly hand grabs Kathryn around her throat – her pale, slender throat – and before her eyes can even widen, he snaps her neck like a dandelion stalk. For a moment he holds her still, her head at an impossible angle, and then he lets her drop and she slumps into my arms.
I hear shouts and phaser fire and running footsteps and the sound of flesh on flesh, and within moments three of the Draelath are dead on the floor, the fourth held at the point of Tuvok’s phaser. But all I can feel is Kathryn’s limp body in my arms, all I can see is the mark of alien fingers on her broken neck and the faint surprise in her beautiful, lifeless eyes.
Am I destined to watch the woman I love die, over and over again? Is this some kind of punishment for all the wrong things I’ve done in my life?
Or is this some kind of test I’m failing, and failing to understand?
It’s no surprise that it’s Kes who comes to my quarters that night, after we’ve transported the sole surviving Draelath and his three dead comrades back to their ship, after we’ve exchanged fire and both come away battered, after I’ve stood dry-eyed and frozen in the Doctor’s office waiting for him to finish his autopsy so I can witness Kathryn’s death certificate. It’s Kes who brings me my medicine bundle and gently lays my hands on it. She tells me that she doesn’t have the answers, but maybe I do.
But when I open the eyes inside my mind, expecting to stand in the forest and see my spirit guide waiting for me with her smiling eyes, it’s clear I’ll find no answers here. I’m standing in the dust of my levelled and desolate homeworld, the ashes of my people clinging to my boots, and the only sound is the soft shifting of dead soil in the faint, sour wind.
I bring myself out of it and close my medicine bundle. I pour a finger of scotch into a glass, then tip it back into the bottle and swig straight from the neck instead.
I never told Kathryn that I’d slept with Riley. I didn’t have to. The way she looked at me after Riley made her case to reactivate the Borg neural link, I knew she’d figured it out the minute we walked into the briefing room. Just as I knew she would never let me confess, never let me explain, and certainly never let me apologise.
And she’d never admit that I’d hurt her, because she couldn’t acknowledge that she felt anything for me, that she had any kind of claim on me. As if her silence could cancel out the fact that she’s held claim to me right from the beginning.
I hate that I did it. Oh, it can be justified a thousand ways. It was the neural link. I was injured and my defences were down. Kathryn would say that I’m free to be with whomever I want, and I never took a vow of celibacy. And all of those reasons are true, but they’re not the whole truth. The truth is that I needed it. I hate what I did, but what I regret more than anything is never telling her why.
I drink until the bottle is close to empty and gravity forces my body to the carpet. I don’t know if tomorrow I’ll wake up to a world where Kathryn is dead, or a world where I’ll have to watch her die. I don’t know which is worse. But if tomorrow brings today all over again, I can’t let it end that way again.
In the last moments before unconsciousness claims me, I realise what it is I have to do.
I have to save her.